Something I noticed in Copenhagen…

IMG_1103Last weekend, Tamar (my husband) and I spent a few great days together in the wonderful capital of Denmark, Copenhagen. We really enjoyed our stay (albeit we had quite some rain!), and I’ll definitely share some of our favourite discoveries here very soon. In the meantime, I wanted to post about something fascinating I noticed in Copenhagen…

IMG_1102 IMG_1104Even though it rains a lot in Denmark, and it can also be quite cold in winter, the Danes believe it is super healthy for their children to spend most of their day outside. Every time a baby or young child naps during daytime, it sleeps outside. For this purpose, there are special prams that are much bigger than the practical pushchairs we tend to use here in the Netherlands (f.e. the Bugaboo). I was chatting to a mum and she told me that Scandinavian children consistently  sleep in their prams for daytime naps until they are at least three years old! It is generally believed this is healthier for the children, and also that they sleep much better outside. Amazing!

Even when it rains, the babies sleep in their prams. They all have a huge (black) cover that completely covers and protects the sleeping child. When out and about, and a child wakes up and wants to sit, there are are special banana shaped pillows to support it in the back. Also, prams (with the sleeping baby inside!) are often left outside of shops or cafés, while the parents shop, sip their coffees or have lunch inside.

IMG_1100 IMG_1101Another thing I noticed, is that children of walking age all own a special one-piece ‘outdoor suit’. It’s like a thick, warm rain / snowsuit that is worn on top of the ‘indoor clothes’. I’m told that often, the ‘indoor clothes’ are very easy-to-wear: often these are leggings and long-sleeved tops or all-in-one jumpsuits, made out of cosy cotton jersey or thin wool knits. When the child goes outside, the ‘outdoor suit’ is simply put on on top of the cosy (and easy-to-layer) indoor wear. So practical! Even when it’s raining or snowing, Scandinavian children spend most of their day outside.

Tamar and I were so inspired by all of this. We pledged to take our children outside even more, and definitely be bothered less by ‘bad weather’. (We even went to a department store to check out the ‘outdoor suits’!) Because as the Scandinavian say — there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing!

xxx Esther

Tuesday Tips: Going back to work

emilie walmsley_back to work

A few people have asked lately for tips on going back to work following the birth of a baby, because let’s face it —  leaving the baby bubble and heading back into the real world is a challenge for EVERYONE (I defy anyone who says that they did not have even the smallest bit of anxiety about this).
I went back to full-time work after my first daughter turned one and again after the second was one year old, and both times it was such a big change that came with its own set of new challenges.  (I am an animation producer during the day and do my best to write for Babyccino at night ;)). I am happy to be back at work; I enjoy my job and I enjoy earning my living and working with interesting and inspiring people. I did have to make some compromises, especially in the first few years, but in the end, I managed not to literally combust, which I am quite happy with!  So here are a couple of things that worked for me:

1. Be organised.  I am possibly the least organised person in the world but dealing with kids and work has made me (moderately) more so. Spending Sunday night planning out dinner for the week and making sure that everyone has a stack of clean underwear (including me) makes the rest of the week so much easier. Basically it eliminates a lot of stress.

2. Don’t try to be perfect.  Don’t worry about things not being perfect. Good enough is often absolutely enough. If you have forgotten to get wrapping paper and you have to wrap a present in newspaper, no one is going to care or suffer. If the flat is sometimes a bit messy just because you don’t have the energy, it is not going to have any long term damage on your kids.
Roll with the punches and don’t be too hard on yourself. I have decided that it is all about marketing: if you come home and announce that tonight is going to be super exciting because you are going to have cereal for dinner, kids will feel like it is a treat not a let down.

3. Stick with what you know (at least for a wee bit of time). Going back to work is going to be stressful, so if you can, it could be a little bit easier if you can go back to a job you know, with people you know and a routine you know. You will not have to prove yourself as everyone already knows what you are worth and it just take a bit of pressure off you.

4. Take it easy on yourself.  In my case, I started working full time when I was 25 and had my first child at 32 and the second at 34. Considering that I will be working until 65 (possibly longer) I still have the biggest part of my career ahead of me. So I decided not to stress for the first couple of years and take the foot off the gas a tiny little bit. If that means my career stagnated a bit when my children were small, then so be it – there is still a lot of time ahead of me.

5. Surround yourself with a good network. Again this varies so much from person to person, but if you have family you should not be ashamed of asking them for help. In my case, I live in a city far away from my family, so I worked hard to build up a strong base of babysitters and friends. Sharing a babysitter with friends who have kids the same age works for us; it’s cheaper and if one parent is late someone else can help out. With older kids, having someone who helps with homework is key and if you can, you should think about having a cleaner. There is nothing better than coming home to a clean house and clean children. Basically whatever works for you is good, but the network needs to be trustworthy and strong. It needs to survive the unexpected!

6. Don’t feel the need to over do it. A lot of women (myself included) feel like they have to compensate and almost prove that having a child has no impact whatsoever on their working schedule. Unfortunately that is not true, so it might be better just to own that than to try and make everyone happy. Sometimes it is inevitable when a deadline looms, but often people are happy enough to postpone a meeting or conference call if it concurs with your children’s pick up time or dinner. It will mean that you will be less frazzled and more concentrated and everyone is a winner. Chances are your colleagues have similar priorities.

7. Treat yourself. Be it a manicure, driving or walking to work with music on at full volume, an espresso in the bar around the corner, or an hour of yoga at lunch time – find sometime that gives you a chance to relax and re-tank. I go to the cafe around the corner from school after school drop-off and have a cheeky coffee or two. Mornings in our house are hectic and so it gives me 20 minutes to gather my thoughts, talk to friends and get on my way. It is a small thing, but it is enough to give me the energy to move on and conquer the world. ; ) I think us woman have a tendency to forget ourselves with all the demands from work and family. The key it to scrape out one little moment that has nothing to do with work or family and is just for yourself – it is all part of self-preservation.

8. Above all, do not feel guilty. Here is the thing: in most countries at least 60-70 % of mothers work, for all sorts of different reasons, but mainly to support their families. My theory is that women since the dawn of time have been working, so there is no way that that you going back to work is going to mess your children up. (Conversely staying at home is also not going to mess them up). Of course you will miss them and they will miss you but you being happy is, in the long run, going to make your family happy. If you don’t impose your guilt on your children the chances are, they are going to be fine (possibly after a bit of a readjustment period) and so will you! Let yourself enjoy being back at work; it is not hardship, but something that defines you as much as your relationship, your family and your friends.

These tips are just based on my personal experience by the way, so they might not work for everyone! Would love to hear if you have any insights, because there definitely cannot be too many! As I mentioned in a previous post, there is no right or wrong way of approaching going back to work or indeed deciding not to go back, for everyone the right choice is a different choice!

– Emilie

Tuesday Tips: Raising Happy Sleepers

three sleeping babes

As I’ve written before, it always surprises me how much pressure our society puts on baby sleep. It seems that from the moment babies are born, the questions inevitably roll in from friends, family, co-workers, and even strangers in the supermarket: ‘how is he sleeping?’, ‘how long is he sleeping between feeds?’ and even ‘is he sleeping through the night?’. I remember fielding these many questions after the birth of all of my babies and consequently feeling guilty that I couldn’t astound them with stories of my amazing sleeping baby. My babies never slept through the night until they were around one year old — they usually slept in bed with me and nursed on demand, which is something that always felt natural to me and worked for our family. Apart from the pressure from others, I never really minded that my babies weren’t ‘perfect sleepers’.

Sometimes I wonder if all of this pressure for babies to sleep through the night has a knock-on effect on whether they eventually do. I wonder if these societal expectations encourage parents to turn to techniques that might not necessarily feel natural and that in turn interfere with our children’s natural sleep development. In her new book, The Happy Sleeper , Heather Turgeon aims to teach parents that babies have an innate capacity to self-soothe, as well as the brain machinery to sleep well, and that by being more mindful and open we can encourage children to do exactly that.

We’ve asked Heather Turgeon to share some tips for raising happy sleepers. I love that these tips are more about creating a positive association with sleep and less about following strict methods that might not feel instinctive. Here are her tips below:

1. Build a good relationship to sleep. Schedules, feedings, nap issues…it’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics of sleep, but think about your children’s relationship to sleep (they have a one, just like they have a relationship to food). We influence our kids’ feelings about sleep in our subtle choices of language and tone. If we approach sleep as a “must do” or even a negative consequence, by saying things like, “You have to go to bed!” or “You’re cranky, do you need a nap!” with an anxious tone, or give kids a time out in their beds, it grows into a negative association. Instead, talk about sleep as the fascinating subject and welcome treat that it is. Sleep is something we get to do, not something we have to do. The more we convey that to our kids in small moments, the healthier their relationship to sleep for the rest of their lives.

2. Know that sleep is not learned, but habits are. Sleep is a natural, biological human activity—it doesn’t require “training,” because it’s programmed deep in our children’s brains. But even though sleep itself isn’t learned, the habits and associations around sleep are. Those habits include where your child sleeps, her specific routine, her blankets and loveys, and the sounds, sights, and feels of her room as she falls asleep. Our little ones are creatures of habit and their brains are primed to follow and latch on to patterns. That means (for good or ill), that what you do one night, your child usually expects you to do the next! The best sleep patterns stay the same from bedtime through the rest of the night—bedtime sets the stage for everything.

3. Do a “last call for stuff”. If you have little kids, you know the amazing and random statements they make after bedtime: “My bunny jumped out of the bed,” “I need the water filled exactly to here”… Last week my son called me in and said, “My toenails are pointing inward!” One really helpful idea is to make a “last call for stuff”—in which everyone knows it’s time to gather the right animals, fill glasses, blow noses and ask questions. Once the lights go out, remind your kids that they’ve already had their last call, and now they’re in charge of their own “stuff.”

4. Work with your child’s biology. There are certain facts about our kids’ biology—use these to your advantage. For example, little babies are ready to sleep after about 90 minutes of awake time because they have a very strong “sleep drive” (the amount of time before the pressure of sleep builds to warrant a nap or bedtime). The internal clock is very powerful after the age of 6 months, and it likes consistency. Having a regular bedtime and routine harnesses this power.

5. Run sleep patterns by two criteria. When my partner and I do sleep consultations, we get asked whether certain sleep patterns are okay (like baby coming into bed for the last half of the night, child only napping in the stroller, or baby only sleeping in the parent’s arms). There’s no “right” way to sleep (look at how differently people sleep all over the world!), but a good sleep pattern meets two criteria: 1. People are sleeping enough (except in the case of having a young baby), and 2. The pattern works for everyone involved. If your child starts the night in her own room and joins you at 2:00 a.m., everyone still meets their sleep needs and feels happy with it—no need to change a thing. If one or more of you isn’t sleep well this way, time to change. The good news is that sleep patterns are adaptable regardless of age (remember, they are learned!).

 

I don’t know about you, but her first tip particularly resonated with me. I definitely need to be more mindful about the way I talk about sleep. I’m sure I’ve said things like ‘if you do that one more time, you can go straight to bed’ (making bed be a punishment). Ooops! It makes so much sense why this is exactly what you shouldn’t do!

The Happy Sleeper is available from Amazon (both in the UK and US ).

Courtney x

p.s. The image above is one of my very favourite photos found on Pinterest. Isn’t it the sweetest?

Pretend play — and the past tense

pretend play

There’s something funny that I have noticed: when they pretend play, my children (and their friends) often use the past tense.

I’ll give an example. Playing goes something like this (imagine, in this case, lots of Playmobil characters and horses with accessories, and a completely engaged couple of friends, moving different horses and characters around):

[CHILD 1] I was the horse riding teacher at the manege, and you were the student… And I had the white horse… 

[CHILD 2] Yes, and I had this black horse, with this brown saddle, and the brown pony…

[CHILD 1] Yes, and I had the other black horse as well and the two grey ponies with these saddles…

[DISPUTE — change to present tense]

[CHILD 2] No! That’s not fair because now you have two horses and two ponies and I only have one horse and one pony, so I want to have one of the grey ponies with the saddle!

[CHILD 1] OK but I’m the teacher so I want to have the horse blanket for my horse then!

[CHILD 2] Alright then…

[RESUME — back to past]

[CHILD 1] OK so I had the white horse and the black horse with the blanket and the grey pony, and I was riding the white horse when you came for a lesson on your black horse and you said ‘Please teach me to galop and to jump over these hurdles?’

[CHILD 2] ‘Please teach me to galop and to jump over these hurdles?’  And then my horse saw your horse and they became friends, so their stable had to be located next to each other…

etc

It’s really such an interesting way of communicating, and I find it fascinating that they use this special past tense while negotiating their pretend activities and to outline the ‘stage’ in their pretend play. I even developed a little theory about it — I think that if in play, children use the past tense, it’s more of a ‘done deal’ (since it basically ‘happened’) and evokes less arguments. (In the case that it does, the argument are settled in the present tense, only to go back to the past tense quickly after.)

I also noticed that it seems to happen more in girls’ pretend play then that of boys– the above (fictional) example could well have been played by Sara and one of her girl friends, where Pim with a boy friend is more likely to build giant Lego rockets or marble tracks or dinosaur parks or things like that, without much discussion or negotiating at all. However, Pim and Sara can play together for hours, cleverly combine dolls and horses with knights, war and dinosaurs — and then they do use this special past tense then.

I just wonder — does any of you also recognise this phenomenon? Or is this something that just happens in our little family? I would love to hear more about it — I find it so sweet and funny!

xxx Esther

Tuesday Tips: Simple Food Tricks

cinnamon on pears

This week we thought we would offer some fun tips for getting kids to eat… because every once in a while it’s good to have a trick up your sleeve to outsmart the kids at mealtime.

Esther says…

  • Sprinkle a little bit of cinnamon on apple slices. My kids eat apples, but they LOVE them with cinnamon. And if I add some raisins to the mix, it’s like they’re eating apple pie! Cinnamon also works on porridge, pears, sweet potato, frothed milk (babyccino!), and even on toast.
  • My dad used to play this game with me when I was a child, and now my children play it with us: When eating soft-boiled eggs, teach your kids the practical joke of turning the empty egg shell upside down after they’ve eaten it to trick someone into believing it’s a new ready-to-eat egg. I swear, my kids eat the egg quickly just so they get to do the trick! (Oh, and don’t forget to act surprised!)
  • Make faces, or stories out of the food. Just be creative — broccoli or green beans for hair, a sausage for a nose, tomatoes for the mouth (and mozzarella for the teeth!), mashed potatoes for the bow-tie, etc. So fun! (‘Oh no! You’re eating his eyes! Now he can’t see anything!’)
  • A few years back I got a stash of vintage fondue plates from the ’70s, and my children love it if I use those for their dinner. A little dish in each section (a bit of left-over pasta, some slices of banana sprinkled with cinnamon, a hard-boiled egg, some raw veggies — anything that you can find in your fridge!) — I think it’s their favourite dinner — they eat everything so well. And it’s really easy and fast to prepare ; ).

frozen peas

Courtney says…

  • Offer your kids a bowl of frozen peas for a little snack — my kids prefer to eat them frozen rather than cooked. Marlow eats frozen peas like it’s candy!
  • Pretend your toddler is a dinosaur eating trees (broccoli) or a mouse eating cheese or a bear eating fish, etc. Somehow pretending they’re an animal gets them to eat the food on their plate with added gusto.
  • Make frozen fruit lollies — insert a popsicle stick or toothpick into sliced fruit (watermelon, kiwi, peach, pineapple, strawberries, a banana, etc.) and stick it in the freezer. Easiest ice lolly you’ve ever made.

ricepaper3

Emilie says…

  • Make DIY dinners (meals that kids can make themselves) like fajitas, stuffed pitas, summer rolls, pizzas or any kind of flat breads or crackers. They seem a lot more inclined to try and test new things if they can assemble it themselves. You can also just serve finger food items and let the kids have fun dipping: guacamole is a great way of eating avocado, houmous a great introduction to chickpeas, etc. I have even made beetroot dips, yogurt dips, broccoli and parmesan dips — basically dips out of everything in my fridge. The fun of being able to dip, rip and roll makes eating a lot of fun.
  • Let your kids help in the kitchen. You are more likely to eat something you have personally slaved over and are super proud of. Be it being the person who has pushed the button on the blender or having mixed the salad dressing or cut the vegetable etc. It also takes away a lot of “prejudices” — if you have made your own pesto (which all kids love) you are less likely to protest about eating basil, pine nuts or garlic…

Please share your food tricks — we can never have enough of them!

Tuesday Tips: Potty training

potty_training

This week for our ‘Tuesday’s Tips’ series, I would love to talk about potty training. Very soon, we will be potty training Casper (second try!), so I thought it would be good timing to dig up some potty training wisdom from my personal archives and share it here with you. And to hear your tips and thoughts, of course. (Please!)

I think the first and most important question raised with regards to potty training is:

When is the child ready?

So here’s what I have learned. Over the years, I have found out that there are quite a few cultural differences with regards to potty training. Compared to the UK, where the consensus seems to potty train around the age of two, here in the Netherlands parents generally seem to wait much longer – until around or after the third birthday, or until the child itself shows an active interest in the potty. Or, until there’s no time left to postpone longer! (At the age of 4 all children here in the Netherlands need to be potty trained in order to start school. The nursery teachers told me that even then, some children are still not fully potty trained — which must be such a huge burden on the poor teachers!)

Because we lived in London when our first babies were born, I followed the English way for Sara and Pim, and they were both successfully potty trained around the age of two. After we moved to the Netherlands, I stuck with this idea and Ava was also without nappies shortly after her second birthday.

In my experience, most children are ready to be potty trained around the age of two – in general, they are communicating well enough to understand basic commends and they understand the concept of potty training. They are open to new ideas, but are also still young enough not to overthink the whole idea. (I have heard stories of potty training being a long, emotional and stressful affair with older children).

Some indications that my children were ready to be potty trained included the ability to understand basic commands, the ability to pull down their own pants, and the awareness that something was happening in the wee and poo department. (Some of my children verbally communicated that they were weeing or pooing, and some simply got up from what they were doing and stood quietly in a corner – all indications that they felt it coming or at least that something was happening.)

To give you an idea about the exact age: Sara and Ava were potty trained within a month of turning two, Pim was not ready until about 4 months after turning two. Emilie’s girls, Coco and Vivi, were potty trained before they were 2 1/2 as well, and Courtney’s little girl Marlow, exceptionally, basically potty trained herself when she was 18 months! They do say that girls are a bit faster with things like this than boys, and I think you can generally say this is true.

On a completely different note, I’ve always been quite eager to get my children out of nappies sooner than later out of an environmental point of view. (Plus, nappies cost a heck of a lot of money too!)

How to prepare for potty training?

A few months before their second birthday, I put a potty in our bathroom and sat the child on the potty for a bit before their bath. Just to get them accustomed to the idea of the potty. We started to casually speak about the potty, read books, and play with dolls (and stuffed animals used the potty as well, of course). We’re all really easy going in our household (nobody closes the bathroom door when we’re on the wc) so we would talk about how mama or papa would use the wc, and of course the bigger siblings once they were there.

Then, we simply picked a weekend where we would ‘do it’. I think it’s best to choose a weekend where there’s little else going on, when you’re home, and you have your partner, a friend or family member around to help. In general, don’t mix major happenings if you can avoid it – so don’t take the dummy away when you’re potty training or around the time you’re expecting a new baby.

A note on the weather: I have potty trained my children in warmer and colder weather, and although it is generally perceived that it’s easier to potty train during the summer (just let the child run around without clothes), I don’t think that to be necessarily true. I think that it might be better to keep the child dressed, so he/she really feels the result of an accident. More of a hassle, maybe, yes, but I don’t think it’s best to wait ’til summer if your child is ready to be potty trained in winter.

What do you need?

Some items that are handy to have around before you start are:

– At least ten pairs of fun underpants for the child
– Plenty of easy-to-pull-down trousers with an elastic waistband, such as jogging pants or pyjama pants
– A few potties – depending on the size of your house, you may want one on each floor or in each bathroom
– A sticker chart with fun stickers – you can just make this yourself, it’s just a big sheet of paper with squares on it. One sticker for a wee in the potty, two for a poo!
– Two buckets prepared with soapy water: one to soak dirty underwear and clothes, and another used to wipe the floor clean
– A portable potty and wipe-clean shoes such as Crocks or Native shoes, for when you’re out and about

So how does the process work?

I strongly believe that the most successful way to potty train quickly and successfully is to go ‘cold turkey’. Which means, take the nappy off, and don’t put it back on unless you put your child to bed. No pull-down nappies, no nappy when you go to the grocery store or music class, no matter how tempting it is. Yes, there will be accidents, a lot of them! But I really think that this way, you’re giving the child a very clear and non-confusing message that a change has occurred and that it is time to adapt: no more nappies.

So on Saturday ‘potty training’ morning, immediately after the child woke up, I immediately took the nappy off and replaced it with the cool big kid underwear (make a big fuss! so exciting!) and set the child on the potty.
The key is to put the child on the potty every 10 to 15 minutes on the first days. We always sat next to the child in the beginning to keep them entertained, reading books (I like the classic books from Alona Frankel for boys or girls ) or watching little films on the Ipad. It’s pretty full on! (This is why it’s nice to have some help around during the first days.)
And, in our case, the first days, most of the poos and wees actually happened next to the potty, so it was pretty frustrating as well. (And yes, it was so very tempting to put that nappy back on!)
But, perseverance and patience was always rewarded, and there were more and more successful attempts. When there was a wee, we made a big fuss about it (cheering and applause!), and we let the child participate in pouring the wee in the toilet, we let the child flush and wave bye bye. And of course, we put a sticker on the sticker chart!

If there was no wee, we would remain encouraging and just try again a little later. In case of accidents (many!), we remained positive but at the same time we made clear to the child that this was not the place were the wee belonged.

When you feel things are absolutely not working well after the first days trying, just go back to nappies for a few weeks and try again later. I’ve heard that some children simply don’t have the muscle control to hold their wee even at two years of age. Or they’re not mentally ready — when we first tried a few months ago, Casper hated the idea of the potty so much that he absolutely refused to sit on it so we quickly abandoned the idea. Now, he actually thinks the potty is really cool, so time for a second try (he turned two back in October). So if it doesn’t happen the first time, don’t fret! Simply take a break and try again in a month or two.

How long does the process take?

For my kids, the first days it seemed that they were just not getting it. I would dutifully sit next to them every 15 or so minutes, but still most of their wees would end up on the floor. By day three, I was so frustrated and so very tempted to put that nappy back on… But, magically, after a few days, they started to suddenly get the idea. So I’ve learned to hang in there! When the child started to really wee on the potty (in my experience by day 3 or 4), I could make the potty intervals longer, and things would really get easier. About a week after the start, my kids were all pretty much potty trained.

And I say pretty much, because there would still be the occasional accident, but less and less of them. And in the beginning, we would still have to very regularly remind the child to think about the potty. Also – in the beginning they would tell me they needed to go, but wouldn’t be able to hold it up very long, so we would need to act fast. But they have always learned very very fast!

What to do for naps?

Some kids can be potty trained during the day for years before they master holding their wee overnight. So for nap time and nighttime, we always put the nappy back on. When we saw that the nappy would be consistently dry after the day nap, we would start trying without. And then eventually, when the child would be ready, we would try without during the night as well. (Waterproof bedding is really helpful during that period.)

Out & about

Although it’s probably handier to stay around the house the first few days of potty training, there is no need to stay housebound during the rest of the process. Just make sure that when you leave the house, you have at least one change of clothes including shoes that can be wiped clean, and a plastic bag for the dirty laundry. We always brought a little potty on the road (for Ava, someone gave us a portable potty and it was brilliant!) because in the beginning of the potty training process, little children can not keep in their wee for very long, so if they need to go, they need to go! Right where you are! (On the pavement if necessary!)

Daycare

If your child attends daycare, I really believe that the staff should respect your choice and parenting method and should be willing to accommodate your efforts and work with you on potty training your child when you think it’s the right time and the child is ready.

Fallback

All my kids (and I hear it from friends too) have had a fallback about half a year after we potty trained them. For a few days (up to a week!) they start wetting their pants again! It’s crazy, but it just takes a few days and then they ‘get it’ again. I’m not sure why this happened, but it did!

So… that was a long story, but I felt it would (or could?) be helpful to write it all down. Of course these are just my experiences, and every child, and family, and parent is different. This weekend we’ll be potty training Casper, and we will see how it goes this time around!

xxx Esther

Tuesday Tips: Preventing Sibling Rivalry

Easton and Quin in Venice
adamo kids

We’ve decided to dive straight in to our new ‘Tuesday Tips’ series with a weighty discussion about sibling rivalry! We hope you’re up for it, and we really hope you’ll share your tips and experiences too. Here goes…

Growing up in a big family, the eldest of five children, I remember how important it was to my mother that my siblings and I were friends. It was a worse offence in our house to hurt your sister’s feelings than it was to be told off in school or to forget to do your chores. Get in a fight with a schoolmate and you were given a stern talking to. Get in a fight with your sibling and you could feel the deep disappointment before she ever said a word. My mom always maintained that her biggest goal as a mother was to raise children who liked each other, and it was this goal, above others, that guided her parenting practices throughout our childhood.

I remember when I was pregnant with my second baby and we found out we were having another boy. Sitting there in the ultrasound clinic, it became immediately apparent what my mother had been talking about for all those years. The only thing I could think of was how much I hoped my two boys would become the best of friends. Becoming a mother of two, I could feel the focus of my parenting shift: it became less about me and more about them. A loving relationship between my children became, and has remained, my biggest commitment as a mother.

Over the years, as our family has grown from two to now four kids, it’s become even more apparent how much my children are shaped by each other, how their individual personalities are so influenced by their birth order and relationships with their siblings. (Do you remember this post and the article in Time Magazine noting that children are more shaped by their siblings than by anyone else?) Even more reason to ensure that the relationships between my children are happy ones.

Here are a few tips we’ve learned along the way:

1. Don’t compare your children, not even to raise ambitions: Try to resist the temptation to make comparisons with the hopes of encouraging your child to do something. For example, at the dinner table when my kids are eating and Ivy is sitting there eating VERY slowly, my first instinct is to say something to Ivy like “Ivy, hurry up and eat your broccoli. Look at Marlow – she’s eaten all her food already”, but I have to bite my tongue here because I don’t want to create a competition between the girls or pit them against each other.

Thinking back on my own childhood, I remember one sunny summer’s evening, standing with my mom in our backyard watching my three brothers play basketball. My middle brother was so clumsy; he was short, even shorter than my youngest brother, and he couldn’t make a basket no matter how hard he tried. My mom just sat there smiling and encouraging them all. Never once did she let on that my youngest brother was better than my middle brother, not even to light a little fire under his behind. Looking back on it, I think my brother just played because he liked playing with his siblings. He didn’t play to win or to be good at it. And I think my mom didn’t care if he was good either. She was just happy to watch them play together.

2. Resist the temptation to intervene:  My natural reaction as a mother is to step in and make sure things are always fair and right, to ensure the older ones aren’t coercing the younger ones into doing what they want, or that the younger ones aren’t just breaking down in tears to get their way. But I’ve learned that actually my children play better when they know I’m not going to get involved in their little disputes or sort out their disagreements for them, and that in most cases when they sort things out for themselves, they usually do so in a pretty fair and decent way. If my kids are playing outside in the garden or upstairs in the playroom, they tend to play better knowing I’m not within earshot of whining or tattle telling. Of course if an argument becomes physical, or if someone’s feelings are really hurt, I will step in. But if they’re fighting over toys, or arguing over who gets to choose the bedtime story, I have learned that sitting on the sidelines and letting them work out their differences is the best approach.

3. Encourage your children to empathise with each other: I was talking to Esther a few days ago and she explained that whenever one of her kids comes to her complaining about their brother or sister being cranky or mean, she tries to encourage them to understand why their sibling is acting this way — perhaps they’re tried, or hungry, or not feeling well (usually it’s something quite simple like this). Esther told me that she wants her kids to understand and empathise with their sibling rather than to immediately feel attacked or be angry with them. Isn’t that so sweet? It’s something I hope to start doing with my kids too.

It also got me thinking about my own siblings and how whenever I have a small argument with one of them, I can usually understand their point of view almost before I start to feel defensive. (Perhaps my mom used the same approach as Esther!) I think it’s such a great problem-solving technique; if only we could employ this with every relationship and with every argument!

4. Encourage your children to share a bedroom (or even a bed): I’ve written before about how my boys share a bed, but I think many of the same benefits can be said of simply sharing a bedroom. I think by giving your children a shared space, it naturally gives them a sense of being on the same team. They have a shared responsibility of keeping their room tidy, making their beds, putting the books away, etc. Plus, the bedtime chats before they fall asleep are just so sweet; the bonding that takes place during this ‘secret’ hour can only bring siblings closer.

5. Ask your kids to help you by helping their sibling: One of the obvious downsides of having several children is the lack of one-on-one time with each of them. It is something I’m constantly aware of and always trying to improve on.  The benefit, however, is that your children rely more on each other, and it creates a sense of teamwork between them. I remember when Marlow was born, I asked for a lot of help from the older kids with her, and it helped to encourage a nurturing relationship with the baby and it built up their confidence as care-givers to their younger sister. I don’t always have time to sit down and read with all of my kids in the afternoons, but I will ask Easton to listen to Ivy read and help her with words she doesn’t know, or often Quin will read to Marlow, or Easton to Quin. (My mama heart!)

6. Allow your kids the opportunity to negotiate their own way with each other: I always use bath time as a perfect example of this. I usually put all my kids into the bath together, and while it’s a bit of a squeeze for them all, it is the perfect time for them to learn important life lessons: like vying for space, sharing and swapping toys, arguing over who gets to sit closest to the faucet and negotiating who must get out first based on the previous bath, etc. Not only do they learn to love and play and care for each other, but also to argue, negotiate, and share.

I’ve recently noticed a new dynamic in our family: because Easton now spends more time reading and doing homework in the afternoons, Quin, who is normally Easton’s playtime pal, is left to play with Ivy or Marlow. The relationship between Quin and Ivy is a somewhat ‘new’ relationship, and I have to admit it hasn’t really been smooth sailing. I guess it all comes down to pecking order and Quin, being the eldest in this relationship, becomes the dominant ‘player’, and Ivy ends up being bossed around or somewhat bullied by Quin (who has always been the sweetest, most loving little boy). I’ve been watching this relationship unfold from a distance and noticing that it is certainly a bit of a rocky one. I’ve decided that it’s important for the two of them to learn how to play with each other even if it means the occasional argument needs to happen, and I’m hoping that it will only strengthen the bond between them, and of course help with other relationships in the future. (At least I’m hoping — I’ll let you know how it goes in a few month’s time.)

 

So, those are some more general tips and experiences that have worked in our family. I’d love to hear your experiences and any tips you would like to share.  Please leave your comments below.

Courtney x

 

Tuesday Tips, a new series

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Over the years we’ve been asked by readers to share our thoughts and tips on parenting-related topics. Whether it’s a question about something basic like potty training, weaning or dining out with children…or something slightly more complex like preventing sibling rivalry or raising healthy eaters, we’ve received these questions somewhat apprehensively, as we didn’t quite know how best to respond.

Apart from the odd post (like views on electronics or co-sleeping) we have mostly shied away from writing these more advice-driven parenting posts. I think it’s because none of us have ever felt qualified enough to offer advice (none of us have ever officially studied or read up on these topics). And yet… the questions keep coming. Which got us thinking: perhaps it’s not about reading all the books. Perhaps it’s the actual trial and error of raising kids that makes a mother an ‘expert’? And perhaps, even more than that, maybe we don’t necessarily want an expert’s advice; maybe we’re more interested to hear how other like-minded mothers approach all the many parenting stages and challenges.

Between the three of us, we have spent the past ten years birthing, sleep-training, weaning, potty-training, feeding and raising ten children! That’s ten years of parenting, learning, discussing, questioning, adapting and becoming generally more confident as mothers. Perhaps we do have a trick or two up our sleeves? (At least for parenting young kids — we’ve got a lot to learn about the next stages…. like teenagers… yikes!!!)

Actually, the more we think of it, the more we realize that all mothers, regardless of how many children they’ve had, are experts. Don’t we all have some tips we’ve learned along the way? Wouldn’t it be fun to create a platform where we can all weigh in with our tips and suggestions (and questions!) so that we can all learn and benefit from the wisdom of other mothers?

We would love to start a weekly series here on this blog where we pick a parenting topic and shed some light on what we’ve learned and what has worked for us (not in a preachy way, but in a hopefully helpful way). We would love for this series to encourage healthy discussion and to prompt even more questions and topics to discuss. And of course we really hope you will all chime in with your own tips and tricks. We’re super excited to kick it off!

In the meantime, please feel free to offer suggestions for topics we can cover. We’ve got a list from previous questions but would love to hear your suggestions so we can start to organize these topics. Also, if there’s a question or topic we don’t feel qualified to shed light on, we’ll try to seek out a mother or expert who has the experience and insight to share. This is going to be so fun! Our first ‘Tuesday Tips’ post will be up later today…

Love,
 Courtney, Esther and Emilie

Some thoughts about the recent events in Paris…

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Last night, as the end of a long day drew to an end, I had the need to jot down a couple of thoughts about the events in Paris since Wednesday. It has been terrifying, horrific, violent, senseless on the one hand… and beautiful, peaceful and full of hope on the other hand. It is very hard to describe what has been going on in this beautiful city of ours over the last few days, so apologies if I ramble. ; )

I wanted to start off by explaining to the non-French contingent the importance of Charlie Hebdo and how much it symbolizes so much of French culture. Here in France, illustrated stories and cartoons are a huge part of our culture. Adults as much as children devour illustrated novels. (One of my 9-year-old’s after school activities is a cartoon class.) My generation grew up on the cartoon books by Wolinski and Cabu, so these guys were not just people working for a small satirical magazine that sometimes found itself on the fine line between offensive and provocative, they were illustrators that have formed the rebellious spirit of a whole generation.

The French are, on the whole, cynical, critical and irreverent (I mean this as a compliment). They are also, compared to all the countries I have lived in, the most politically aware and politically engaged. This is why the attack of Charlie Hebdo was so significant: it represents an attack on something us French hold the most dear: our freedom of expression. A quote by Voltaire has been repeated again and again this week: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to death your right to say it.” People here feel strongly that provocation by cartoonist are incredibly important, as the irreverence and humour is such a historic way in France to mock the government and society in general.

For most of Wednesday and Thursday, Charlie Hebdo was our main focus – Friday’s attacks irreversibly changed the scale of the attacks. “Je Suis Charlie” suddenly became so much bigger than it had been. It came to represent all groups targeted in the attack. “Je Suis Charlie” suddenly came to mean: I am a journalist, I am Jewish, I am the Police. The slogan became bigger than just France, it started to represent all the people targeted senselessly by terrorists.

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On Wednesday late afternoon, after letting sink in the terror of what had happened in my neighbourhood and in my city, I took the kids over to Place de la Republique. A spontaneous gathering was taking place and I felt like it was important to show the children (and myself) how a tiny little group of people can commit a senseless crime and how in the face of that, thousands of people gathered together peacefully to stand up against violence. The atmosphere on the square was so calm and strong and it was incredible to see how everyone needed to unite together and gain strength from likeminded people. I think, hopefully, that showing the children what was going on (both the good and the bad) was the best way for them to deal with the tragedies. The Charlie Hebdo shooting and the shooting of the first police man happened so close to us that ignoring it and protecting them from the events was not a possibility. But I do hope that by participating in the demonstration today and laying flowers down for the victims will give them an understanding of what happened and how important it is to stand up for our basic rights.

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- Emilie

P.S. For anyone living in France or whose children read French, I really liked the gesture by Le Petit Quotidien, a children’s daily newspaper who have made a version dedicated to the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attacks downloadable free of charge.

Organ donation and one mum’s incredible story

Last month at our ShopUp event, I had the pleasure of meeting fellow London mum, Louise Hannon. We started talking about children and life in London, and she told me her incredible story about her son’s illness, his life-threatening surgeries at Great Ormond Street Hospital and his heart transplant through organ donation. We spoke about organ donation and how important it is to spread the word about it. Did you know that, according to statistics, more than 90% of us would consider donating our organs and yet, here in the UK, only about 30% of us are registered? It all comes down to spreading awareness.

Here in the UK, more than 10,000 people need a transplant and three people die every single day waiting for one. In the US, there are more than 120,000 needing a transplant and 17 people die each day waiting for an organ. Also, one organ donor can save up to eight lives!

I was so moved by Louise’s story, we asked her to share her story with us and she very kindly agreed. Here is her story, a rather brief re-cap of a very tumultuous past 18 months:

On 28th January 2014, my six-year-old son Joe had a life saving heart transplant at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. This was due to the amazing generosity of a lady who, through organ donation, chose to save other’s lives in the event of her death.

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Up until summer 2013 he had been a non–stop little boy, full of energy, who loved being outdoors, playing football and climbing trees. We had just moved to South Australia when he suddenly became unwell, and Joe received a diagnosis of ‘Dilated Cardiomyopathy’ – serious heart failure that would most likely require transplant in order for him to survive. We were utterly devastated and struggled to deal with the news especially being on the other side of the world away from friends and family. Calling our parents back in the UK to tell them the news was incredibly hard and the first of many difficult phone calls we had to make to them over the following months.

After a month in Adelaide Women’s and Children’s Hospital Joe was repatriated back to London in a medical jet in the hope that he would receive a heart transplant more quickly in the UK. However, Joe’s heart transplant did not come as quickly as we had all hoped and he continued to decline despite the maximum IV drugs he was on. It was frightening to see how quickly his heart was giving up and the effect this had on him as he lost huge amounts of weight and would lie listlessly on the bed unable to really talk to us. We were desperate to get the phone call each day to say a heart was available. We were also aware though that when a heart did come that meant a family somewhere else would be experiencing tragedy and this was such a difficult process to reconcile ourselves with.

We were told his only option now was to undergo open heart surgery for a ‘Berlin heart machine’ to be fitted to keep him alive until transplant. He had a number of serious complications whilst on the machine requiring further surgery including pneumonia and bleeding into his lungs. There was a huge amount of uncertainty as to whether he would pull through and we literally held our breath for weeks willing him to fight and get better. Our four months in intensive care was an awful experience of watching him suffer horribly. I naively hoped that, though unconscious, he wouldn’t suffer pain. I hoped that it was only us suffering as we watched and waited to see if he would recover. The reality was that he was often conscious and very distressed, unable to speak or swallow due to the breathing tube in his throat. We would watch him cry and feel completely helpless. This was the hardest part of the entire ordeal.

photo of Joe after his stroke

His biggest complication arising from the Berlin heart machine was the severe stroke he suffered on Boxing Day, 2013, which is one of the most significant risks associated with the Berlin Heart machine. After the first brain surgery to relieve the bleed in his brain we were told he would not survive and we asked my parents to bring our three year old daughter up to the hospital to say goodbye. They operated for a second time as a last ditch attempt and he miraculously survived, but was left paralysed down his left side. A heart finally became available a month later and Joe had his long awaited transplant. We then began the arduous road to recovery, involving rehab to help him learn to walk again and use his left arm. Joe spent a total of six and a half months in hospital, enduring thirteen operations and a further six weeks in a children’s neurodisability rehab centre.

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He is truly a living miracle and we are hugely proud of all that he has battled through at such a young age. We are slowly coming to terms with what has happened to our family in the last eighteen months and the far reaching effect this has had on all our lives. We never thought something like this would happen to us. We had coasted along in life ticking off our plans for career, children, and travelling, believing we were in control of our lives and future. As Christians, this experience has taught us we need to rely on God who is the only one who has ultimate control and it has been a hard test of our faith.

Joe takes lots of medicines every day and will do so for the rest of his life. He can now walk short distances and has returned to his old school part time. Day to day life holds lots of challenges for him that can leave him angry and depressed. He is much more volatile as a result of his stroke and tires easily. We also live each day knowing that a heart transplant is a palliative option, not a cure, with the average life expectancy being ten years. As we near the first anniversary of our son’s transplant we think about the woman who donated her heart to him and the family she left behind. To see our son in the garden kicking a football around again or playing with his sister reminds us of the incredible gift she gave us. (Below are some photos of Joe since coming home from the hospital.) 

Louise and family

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Please consider signing up online for organ donation, for yourself and your children that in the unfortunate event of an untimely death, a second chance at life for others can be brought out of tragedy. Signing up for organ donation costs nothing but could mean everything to another family facing their worst nightmare.

To read more about organ donation and to sign up in the UK, click here. To sign up for organ donation in the US, you can click here. For international registry, click here.

Louise, thank you so much for sharing your story with us, and we wish you all the best with your two beautiful children.

Women: Are we our own worst enemy?

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The other day I was on the phone to my great university friend Suzie, who is a stay-at-home mom with four kids. In contrast I am a single, working mother of two, so our lifestyles are pretty different.

Now, what was very interesting about our conversation was how defensive we both were of our life choices and how we felt, both of us, that we needed to prove to each other that our life was hard and not at all an easy choice. Luckily enough we both picked up on that and had a really much more interesting conversation on how critical woman can be of each other and how much we each admired one another. Ha! (I think actually, it was our mutual admiration that made us feel we needed to justify our own choices. It’s almost a sort of insecurity in ourselves that leads us to feel we need to pick holes in the choices others have made).

Working mothers are criticised for neglecting their children and for putting work before family. Stay-at-home mothers are criticised for not contributing to the finances of the family and for having an ‘easier’ life. Seems like none of us can get it right! I sometimes have the feeling that women are so much harder on themselves – and each other – than men are. We constantly scrutinise each others appearance, ageing process, career paths and behaviour.  But why? Here is my theory: we are still very insecure about what is the right role for a woman in society, and to believe that the choice we have picked for ourselves is the right one, it is necessary to justify ourselves.

If it was just up to choice, it would be so much simpler. But the problem is, some women have to work to support themselves and their family, while other women have partners who have time-intensive jobs and so they themselves aren’t able to work and be away from family. Some women are simply more fulfilled by looking after their children, and of course there are others who simply cannot find a job at all! It’s not always an easy choice to make.

I guess what I am trying to say is that it would be great if we could avoid judging other women for their choices or look down on them. We should be celebrating individuality and accepting that different scenarios work for different people. If we did everything the same way, we would live in a very boring world. Life is so complicated anyway so why do we seem to be each other’s worst critics rather than enthusiastic supporters?

And we also need to learn to accept that the choices we’ve made are what work for us, for our lifestyle and our families. We shouldn’t need to feel we have to justify this to anyone. There really is no such thing as ‘having it all’; everything is a balancing act and we all balance our many roles in very different ways. Let’s make sure we stand up for ourselves – and all those other women juggling their lives too!

– Emilie (and Suzie)

Above is a photo taken a couple of years ago of mine and Suzie’s kids, who, though brought up very differently still get on like a house on fire!

My thoughts on TV and other electronics

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I’ve had lots of questions recently about my parenting ideas, especially when it comes to electronics, so I thought I’d answer the most common questions in one post. I want to emphasise that this is what works in our family and for our children. I know it won’t work for every family… and it may not work forever for us. As our children grow, so will our parenting style. Below are some answers, and as always I welcome your thoughts and comments.

1.) Do your kids ever watch TV?

Almost never, except for the World Cup and the Olympics. But let me explain a bit… Both my husband and I grew up in big families and in homes without cable TV. Growing up, my family had a really old television that on good days, broadcast three channels. As a young child, I watched the occasional Sesame Street show, and sometimes, if the antenna had blown in the right direction, we could watch cartoons on Saturday morning with clear reception. Watching TV was not something we did as a family. Instead, we played a lot outside (I grew up on a farm), and we played a lot with each other (a benefit of having loads of siblings). Apart from the odd conversation where I couldn’t contribute my views on Doogie Howser or the Wonder Years, I don’t think I missed anything. I am really thankful for a childhood filled with imagination and adventure and I hope to create the same sort of upbringing for my own kids.

We don’t have some absolute no-television-whatsoever rule. We have a TV. We just aren’t really interested in TV. And we keep it in a cupboard—out of sight, out of mind. I also encourage my kids to play and find creative ways to entertain themselves without a screen. There was a short period when we allowed the boys to watch Scoobie Doo on Saturday mornings. After a few months I started noticing that, instead of crawling into our bed and enjoying a slow-paced morning, they would wake up and run straight downstairs to sit in front of the television. They stopped helping to make pancakes, couldn’t be bothered to set the table, and were cranky at breakfast time. It was then I decided that I prefer Saturday mornings without Scoobie! It really only took a couple weeks to break their interest and they went back to helping with the pancakes.

We DO let the kids watch the occasional movie, usually an old Disney classic (Robin Hood, The Rescuers, Peter Pan!) or one of the pretty films by Hayao Miyazaki, etc. In my dreams we would live in Australia or somewhere sunny and my kids would play outside and would never sit in front of a screen. But… a good family film on a cold, dark winter’s day is a nice treat every once in a while. Now that my kids are on school holidays I’m looking forward to the next rainy day so we can all sit down and watch ‘The Sound of Music’. My favourite!

2.) How do you keep your kids from the commercialisation of Disney? Do they ever ask you to buy them t-shirts with Disney princesses or super heroes on them?

I think I’m lucky with this one in that my kids never ask me for Disney t-shirts or Disney toys. Living in Europe I think we have less exposure to these things (and they don’t see them on TV). We also try to keep our kids out of shops. Most of our groceries are bought online, clothing is bought when the kids aren’t around and we avoid malls at all cost (which is easier to do when you live in a big city).

Even if they were to ask, I’d be unlikely to buy these things (mean mama, I know). Perhaps they don’t ask because they know they won’t get, but I like to think they are generally not interested. Here again, our policy is not absolute. I once bought Ivy some Hello Kitty underpants and this year I bought some miniature ‘Frozen’ figurines for the Advent Calendar. But… I rarely buy the kids anything pink or plastic, branded or battery operated, and I hate the idea of kids being sold to everywhere they look or feeling like they must have the latest branded toy.

It’s not always easy (given my business), but we try not to make a big deal about ‘new’ things—especially clothes or toys. We hardly ever give them a new toy unless it’s a special occasion, like a birthday or Christmas, and even then we only give them a few things, placing emphasis on quality over quantity.

My kids are young and so I’ve been able to influence their wants for now. I know that may change someday and so will my strategies, but I hope the values will stick with them.

3.)Do you let your kids play electronics? Do you bend the rules for educational games on the iPad?

Not really. We believe electronics are addictive. No matter if it’s a Nintendo game or an educational one on an iPad, once picked up they are hard to put down. And you rarely walk away from a long session on a device feeling wonderful—mostly the opposite. I notice this firsthand — I have to give myself breaks from my iPhone and remind myself to be more present. Like other addictive things in our lives, limiting our children’s exposure to electronics just makes sense to us.

We also believe they get only one childhood and the rest of their lives to be tethered to a device if they choose. Their education, their careers and their social lives may demand it some day, but for now we would love for them to find joy in the ‘real’ world. And most importantly — play together! Every once in a while, they will ask to play a game on the iPad or watch a movie because they are bored. When I tell them to go play, they might moan for five minutes, but then ten minutes later I’ll find them building towers or playing games together. If we gave our kids an iPad every time they told us they were bored, there would be far less imaginative play in this house!

As above, we know this all will change someday. Already Easton has math homework on the computer three times a week and I’ve noticed how it has changed the play in our house on those afternoons. As our kids grow our parenting style will grow with them, but we will always maintain our focus on family, friends, nature and activities.

4.) Do your kids fight? Do they moan? Do they throw fits? Do they nag, make messes, and sometimes torment each other?

Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, and Yes. Do I feel compelled to reach for my camera in these moments? No. Does anyone? My photos are about celebrating the joys of bringing up kids — the simple and the beautiful things in life. I would never pretend parenting isn’t hard work. It is. It is the most difficult and the most important work in our lives. I choose to focus on the positive side of family life and I hope it comes across as honest and loving (and hopefully inspiring too).

Courtney xx

p.s. I’ve written before about electronics here, a post which stirred up quite a healthy debate!

Marlow is two! A birthday photoshoot with Little Kin Photography

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My baby turned two a couple weeks ago and like a good mother I had organised a photoshoot with Polly Geal from Little Kin Photography for the day of her birthday. Actually, the honest truth is that I booked the photoshoot for November 12th because it was the only empty day in my diary… and coincidentally it turned out to be her birthday. (She’s my fourth child, after all. Tell me I’m not the only parent who forgets these things!)

But what a lucky coincidence! I’m so happy to have these photos of my birthday girl and our happy morning together. There was a notable excitement in the air that morning and Marlow was full of extra cheek and enthusiasm knowing it was her special day. It was really the perfect opportunity to capture her spunky little spirit on camera, and I think Polly did such a wonderful job (I’m so impressed any of these photos are in focus as Marlow did not stop moving the entire morning! A true testament of her photography skills!). Here are some of my favourite photos from the selection she sent over:

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I love that Polly captured the excitement in the air but also managed to snap some real everyday moments: Marlow closing the shutters even though we asked her to keep them open (cheeky girl!), me trying unsuccessfully to get Marlow to sit on my lap on my bed, putting Marlow’s tights back on after a trip to the potty, Marlow running around the kitchen refusing to stand still, etc. Ordinary moments on a not-so ordinary day. Just looking at these photos makes me want to smooch her sweet, smooshy face. Like this:
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Thank you so much, Polly, for spending Marlow’s birthday morning with us and for capturing these sweet moments. I’m thinking I might organise photo shoots for future birthdays! Clever idea that was. ; )

Courtney xx

A big giveaway just for moms over at Puj!

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The lovely team over at Puj have just announced an inspiring Moms are Beautiful campaign and a big giveaway just for moms! They recently asked a few mothers to take part by submitting a quote about motherhood to help to share the ‘moms are beautiful’ love. I was thrilled to be asked and so happy to take part! (Celebrating mothers is something we should all do more often, no?)

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I sent over the above quote because it’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned as a mother, and something I continue to remind myself at different stages of my parenting path. It can sometimes feel like we mothers are constantly inundated with information and tips, whether it’s from the latest how-to books or whether it’s the advice we hear from other mums on the playground. (I, myself, am guilty of passing on advice and sharing opinions. I have also found myself on the receiving end of it too.) In any case, I think it’s important that we mothers give ourselves a bit more credit and that we trust our intuitions and be assured that we really do know what’s best for our children.

You can click over to Puj to read other quotes about motherhood, check out the great prizes to win and enter the giveaway here.

x Courtney

Glasses for Sara!

sara_glassesWith two very nearsighted parents, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Sara started to complain about not being able to read the letters on the digiboard very well from the back of the classroom. So I took her to an optometrist, and sure thing: he measured a 1.25 nearsightedness.

I remember very well, that when I was about 10 years old, I had so much trouble reading the blackboard and the subtitles on the television that my mum scheduled an appointment with the schoolnurse for me. Admittedly, the whole aspect of having to wear glasses was appalling to me at the time — gosh, how I disliked that poor schoolnurse when she told me that I very much needed a pair of glasses. Glasses were definitely not as cool then as they are nowadays!

Thankfully, glasses are considered to be very fashionable and stylish these days and Sara was beyond excited when she was told she could pick out a pair. So we got her this darling purple beauty, which I think look so, so good on her. (But which also make her look so, so much more grown-up!)

When we picked up her glasses from the store last week and she put them on her nose for the very first time, she experienced that feeling that I remember so very well — the revelation! So much light, colour and detail to be seen! To be able to read the street signs! The pavement looks so much bigger! A whole new world! So sweet. Next day, she was so proud to show her glasses to her class, her teachers and her girlfriends. And I’m so very proud of her!

xxx Esther

This boy, and balls!

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Pim’s football (soccer) season has started and yesterday we went to the first training of the term. Pim really enjoys his weekly football, and Tamar and I always joke that he is a real team player, but certainly not a champ. Meaning, he loves to be in the company of his friends, chit-chatting with the boys and having a good time — and if in the meantime a ball happens to roll in front of his feet, he will happily give it a kick! Perfectly fine, of course. But now enter his baby brother Casper… This little boy is simply obsessed with balls. I took him to Pim’s training yesterday and he had the time of his life. He kept on running around for the full hour, kicking a ball behind the side lines (where I had trouble restraining him because this boy was ready to enter the fields!).

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Fact is, Casper has been completely ball obsessed since he could even grab the concept of a ball. Crawling after them, wanting them. One of his first words was ‘ball’, and he would spot them everywhere. And get rather upset when we didn’t give them to him! For example the relatively large globe on top of the cabinet in the kids’ room — he would be SO angry with me that I didn’t give hime that ball! We have also seen him kick a fancy, decorative solid wooden ball over the floor of a restaurant… (Oops!)

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We are convinced that his love for football was the trigger that made hime take his first steps. Before that, Caspie would crawl to a ball, stand up, and kick, but now he could get to the ball much quicker! And… he mastered some technique since. Of course I’m biased, but really, he does have technique — he can kick the ball really quite far and with an admirable aim!

It’s funny, because neither Tamar nor I ever had any real interest in football (until now, of course); we also don’t have a specific talent for ball-handling or anything. So we don’t know where it’s coming from, it was certainly not purposely encouraged, but it’s there nevertheless. A ball obsessed boy. Isn’t that funny? Sweet babe!

xxx Esther

 

Get organised! This month’s column in Baby&Me Magazine

Baby&Me mag

Every year I promise myself I’ll be organised come the first day of school. I’ll be ready for early morning wake-ups and prepared for the rush to school. But no matter my best intentions, I’m never ready.

We still have another two weeks until school starts for my kids, but this year I’m determined to be prepared for the inevitable routine that’s coming. This month for Baby & Me Magazine I’ve rounded up some of my favourite products to help get organised: notebooks, planners, pens, name labels and an office wall organiser I’ve coveted for years. You can find my selection in this month’s issue here.

x Courtney

I lost Ava on the beach!

beach_gurski

Yesterday, I took our 4 children to the beach because it was hot and humid and the beaches in the Netherlands are windy and fresh. I met up with our friend Maud and her two children, and we were lounging and chatting and drinking fresh fruit juices and watching our children play. You get the gist. At some point, when Pim had asked me to play beach ball with him for the gazzilionest time, I finally got my lazy bum up from the deckchair for some tennis with my boy. After 3 minutes I looked around, and I noticed Ava was missing. Gone!

I started to walk around, looking for her. Nothing. I checked the water. Nothing. I went up to the beach club, nothing. And then I started to panic. I started to run around, calling her name. I called the alarm number, I went back to the beach club, where the part time manager was a police agent, and who took my calls from the coast guard (!). He tried to calm me, assuring me that she would be fine, she would get back. But the only thing I could focus on, is on that tiny chance that she wouldn’t be allright! I don’t think I have ever been so afraid in my life. In the meantime, there were loads of people (other mums) helping me search. Maud was running all over the beach and to the streets. But she was gone!

After a few minutes (in which I died a thousand deaths), my hero policeman finally got a call that she was found. Safely, further up on the beach. Quite a very far walk away!

Thankfully, she was safe. Tired, but safe. And I learned a few things, that I wanted to share with you here…

1. Beaches can be busy. In our case it was! Ava lost her way, and couldn’t find our spot again. So she started to walk, looking for us. What I usually do (and stupidly forgot this time), is to look for an anchor point — a certain flag, pole, bright umbrella, any reference that is noticeable enough for a child to find their way back to our spot.

2. Children should always wear a phone number on their arm. My other children were wearing their RingRings, but Ava had taken them off and I hadn’t checked / noticed. Stupid.

3. When children loose their way on the beach, they generally start walking away from the sun and the wind. So best to start looking in that direction. (So true — in our case, this is exactly the direction in which Ava went).

4. There’s an Amber alert app for your phone, in which you can save a current portrait photo of your child and other crucial information for when your child goes missing. I’ve had this app on my phone for a while now, but I never filled out my children’s details until now. Apparently, finding a decent photo of your missing child and recalling crucial information like length and eye colour is super difficult if you’re in a state of total stress and shock.  So best to do this now.

Hopefully none of this is ever necessary, but I thought to tell you just in case. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

xxx Esther

(Artwork by Andreas Gursky)

 

Do (or would) your kids share a bed?

boys in their bed

I’ve posted a few photos over the years of my boys asleep in their bed, and usually when I do it raises some interesting comments and questions about my boys sharing a bed. Do they really share a bed? Have they always? How did you get them to sleep in the same bed? Do they wake each other up in the night? Do I recommend it?

It’s something I’ve been thinking about lately because Marlow is now starting to ask to sleep with Ivy, and while I don’t want to risk messing up her good sleep habits, I’m thinking I might get rid of Marlow’s cot and let her join Ivy in her bed.

I love that my boys share a bed. Perhaps it would be the same if they each had their own bed within the same room, but those two boys are so close and I really think it has a lot to do with the bond that is created by sharing a bed. I think there’s something magical about bedtime, a time when they know they have to be quiet and play peacefully, no tattle-telling or fighting over toys. Whatever quarrels they have during the day are completely tossed aside at bedtime. It’s like there’s a mutual understanding between them that at bedtime they join the same team: boys versus their parents. I’ve always put them to bed around 7:00 for this reason. I know it’s early, but I figure they’ll end up talking or playing quietly together anyway, so why not make the most of it?!  We often find them asleep, lying side by side under the same book. Or sometimes we find a whole heap of little toys under their covers, evidence of some cheeky playtime before they fell asleep.

We didn’t make the decision to put the boys in one bed; they decided all on their own. When Quin, the younger one, was 6 months old we moved him into the room with his older brother. By the time he was 18 months old, we gave him a matching toddler bed like his brother’s. We joked they had beds like Ernie and Bert from ‘Sesame Street’!

boys' old bedroom

But… Quin never slept in his own bed. We would tuck each of them into their own beds, but every night we would come upstairs to find them in the same bed together. Like this…

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or like this…

boys in one bed

Every single night!!

So when it came time to move into our new house, I gave the boys a choice: they could each have their own beds, or they could have one big bed to share. And of course it was an obvious decision.

The boys sleep so well together. No complaints about bed hogging or snoring. It’s like they just figure out their little place in bed and know how to sleep together (Quin always likes the flatter pillows and Easton always sleeps on the left side of the bed. They’re like a couple of old men with their little quirky ways!) I’m sure at some point they will decide it’s no longer ‘cool’ to share a bed, but for now we are happy with this sweet bed sharing arrangement. Here are some other benefits worth noting:

  • It makes traveling easier because they always sleep together and can comfort each other in new places. (We have never heard either of them say they were scared.)
  • We’ve never had a problem with scary dreams or other sleep issues. They must feel comfort knowing they have each other so near.
  • Easton often reads books to Quin. It used to be simple picture books, but now Easton reads his chapter books to Quin and I can only imagine it is beneficial for both of them to be reading together like this.
  • When guests come to stay, we can use the boys’ bedroom as a guest bedroom because the bed is big enough for adults.
  • One big bed takes up less space than two single beds, so for space-saving reasons, it’s worked out nicely in their little bedroom.

We will definitely let the girls sleep together as well, and I really hope they’ll sleep as well together as the boys do, and hopefully it will strengthen their relationship even more. (They already have bedtime conversations from their separate beds, but I can’t wait until they’re snuggled into the same bed, reading the same books, and sneaking in a few minutes of extra play.)

So tell me, do your children share a bed? Would you consider it?

x Courtney

Thanks for your comments

What an unexpected and crazy ride this past week has been. I just wanted to thank everyone who has taken the time to leave comments both here and on my Instagram account. I have been overwhelmed by all the support but also by all the thoughtful and intelligent criticism. I wanted to let you know that your comments have really made me evaluate my own actions and beliefs, and I am thankful for a platform where we can discuss and debate parenting issues like this.

There has been a lot of media coverage highlighting both sides of this story, and while I think there are some important issues to be raised, I have also felt pretty exposed and vulnerable. A lot of stories have been very sensationalised, many of them have had incorrect facts, but this story from The Southland Times in New Zealand seemed to raise some interesting points (it is also one of the only papers I submitted quotes to). There is also a column in The Telegraph which, although mostly critical of my decisions, also highlights some interesting points, and for many reasons I enjoyed reading this editorial too.

Thank you again for all of your comments.

Courtney x

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