Tuesday Tips: Preventing Sibling Rivalry

Easton and Quin in Venice
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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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louise with kids

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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kids drawing in front of fire

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!

casper_ball5

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!).

casper_ball6 casper_balls7

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!)

casper_ball3 casper_ball2 casper_ball

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…

boys in one bed2

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

Sadness and outrage and gratitude all in one

I’m finding it really difficult to write this post and I think it’s because I have so many emotions swirling around in my head. But before the weekend starts, I wanted to share what’s happened and also wanted to thank you all for your encouraging comments. More than anything it is this overwhelming outpouring of support that has made me so emotional.

courtneyadamo_Instagram feed_screenshot

Yesterday evening my Instagram account was disabled due to ‘violating the community guidelines‘. After a bit of research I discovered that if you receive too many reports of ‘inappropriate’ images, it sends a red flag to the Instagram team and their automated service will disable your account entirely, without warning and without notice. Last week I received five different emails from Instagram to notify me of these reports and to tell me they had removed images from my feed. They don’t tell you which images they’re referring to, and even though I looked back through all my old photos, I was never able to decipher which photos were removed. I figured it must be incorrect — I have never violated any of the rules!  Earlier this week I received another couple emails from Instagram to tell me they had removed more images. And yet, still I could not find any missing images. Again, I thought it must have been an error.

CourtneyAdamo_Instagram photo

On Wednesday evening I posted the above photo of Marlow in her yellow rainboots and her ‘big girl undies’. I wrote about how, despite me trying to delay it, she had decided to be potty trained, and how she had kept her undies dry all day. I thought it was such a sweet photo of my baby girl and her gorgeous, round belly (and outie belly button). And I love that her pride is so evident in the photo – such a sweet and innocent shot of a successful day of potty-training. On Thursday morning the photo was gone from my feed and a another Instagram email was in my inbox. At least this time I knew which photo they had removed.

I went back to re-read the guidelines; I read the entire page twice and was positive that I had not violated any rules. Unless a baby’s belly is considered ‘nudity’…but surely it isn’t! She is a BABY!  It is no different than a photo of a baby wearing a nappy, or a little boy in swim trunks, and to entertain the idea that it is even remotely inappropriate is a disgusting thing in itself. Again, I was sure there was a mistake, so I reposted the photo. And by yesterday evening my account was disabled.

I never, ever, ever would have thought that posting this photo of Marlow would lead to this. Instagram has deleted four years of my family photos and memories: all the photos of our travels, my children’s birthdays, all my notes and comments about my children’s traits and milestones, all the comments from friends and family, the messages I received when Marlow was born, the hashtags I created to help organise my photos, and all the direct messages I shared and received from my siblings and family members whom I rarely see. All of it gone. I am sick just thinking about it.

The most infuriating thing is that there seems to be no recourse for the unilateral decisions Instagram makes to delete accounts. There is no contact information, no email or phone number. It seems that an automated system has deleted my account, and I can’t get a single human being to review the case.  If anyone has any ties to Instagram or knows anyone who can help, I would be hugely grateful if you could get in touch or leave a comment below.

In the meantime, I wanted to say just how much all of your support has meant to me. I have broken down in tears several times today, and not because of my deleted photos but because I have been so surprised by the outpour of support, the kind comments, the Instagram posts and re-posts, the emails I’ve received, and all the help I’ve been offered. More than anything this whole ordeal has confirmed for me how wonderful the IG community can be, and it has made it even more difficult to have been kicked out of it.

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend.

xx Courtney

 

Just say No?



In a recent parent-teacher meeting at my girls’ school, the teachers brought up some interesting points. They were not worried about the lack of support coming from parents, but interestingly were more concerned that, in the last few years, it appears parents want to be friends with their children rather than an authority figure. In short: parents just want to be liked by their children! While it makes sense to want your child to like you, the teachers were noticing that discipline was becoming less important to parents than being the child’s buddy. One example they gave was a parent dropping her child off inappropriately dressed for the weather. When the teacher mentioned this to the parent, the answer was: “But she really didn’t want to wear a coat, so….”. Another example was a kid throwing sand into another kid’s face. When the teacher mentioned this to the parent, the comment was: “But he really likes to throw sand”.

Courtney and I were talking about this a few days ago and we starting wondering: are parents of our generation getting a bit too soft on our children and is it getting harder and harder for us to use the dreaded word “no”? If so, what is the affect this is having on our children and the way they interact with others and respond to their teachers?

This is just a personal observation, but I am interested to hear if you have experienced this too, especially in other countries? I am not feeling in any way nostalgic towards the good old days when discipline was enforced with a ruler and a dunce cap, but I do believe there is a happy medium, where children don’t consider parents their equal but know which line not to cross.

– Emilie
PS Above are a couple of very old photos of Violette’s reaction when I once told her “No”. She did not take it too well!

When your babies grow up…

You know that feeling you get when you look over at your daughter and she suddenly looks bigger? Like she must have grown a couple inches over night? Well that happened this weekend. I swear she went from squishy little toddler to tall young lady in the matter of seconds. My heart!!!

I have felt this way with the boys as well, but it seems especially quick with Ivy. Maybe it’s because she IS actually growing quickly — she’s one of the tallest in her class despite being one of the youngest, she was the first in her class to lose a tooth, and because she has older brothers she’s always playing with the big kids. (Such a contrast to me as a young girl — I was the oldest child in my family so I was incredibly naive and was always a late bloomer both emotionally and physically.) Ivy will turn five next month and those five years have sped by. I can’t believe it!

Is it just me, or does time seem to move more quickly with each passing year?!  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just slow it down a notch?

xx Courtney

p.s. Ivy’s pretty dress is from Marmalade & Mash (currently offering 15% off), and the Saltwater Sandals are from EenyMeeny. x

Let’s talk about electronics and our children

This is not your average Babyccino post but I wanted to speak openly about a topic I feel really passionate about. I want to talk about electronics and the way they are affecting our children.

I recently went on a school field trip with my 9-year-old son’s class to see the Vikings Exhibition at the British Museum. What lucky children to live in a city where they can take a short subway journey to one of the world’s best museums (and I must say, the Vikings Exhibit was incredible)! While in the museum, I noticed that some of the children had brought a Nintendo DS. The more I looked around, the more children I noticed who were playing games on iPhones, Nintendos and various other devices. I think my jaw must have touched the floor; I was absolutely shocked! Here we were, on a once-in-a-life time school field trip, in one of the world’s most fascinating museums, and these children were completely unengaged and uninterested in their surroundings. Some were sitting down against a wall with their little thumbs pounding against their device, others played as they walked around, bumping into people because they were so focused on the little machine in the palm of their hands.

When I asked the teachers if this was allowed, I was told that they weren’t supposed to be playing games, but that they were allowed to bring cameras on the field trip. It seems that nowadays iPhones and Nintendos are considered cameras because they all have photo-taking capabilities. So, the line between cameras and video games has become blurred, and to my astonishment, we now have children going on field trips with their video games in tow.

And not only this, but I am increasingly aware of young children sitting in restaurants with an iPhone, playing video games on the bus, watching DVDs on every car journey no matter how long.  It seems children aren’t being given the chance to be bored, they aren’t being encouraged to create their own fun or to be present in the moment. What ever happened to good old-fashioned conversation? Talking to our children over dinner? Encouraging them to talk to each other? Or just waiting patiently to eat? What ever happened to observation? Taking in your surroundings on the bus? Experiencing exhibits in a museum? Asking questions, sharing observations, making memories?

In a few weeks my eldest will be going on a 4-day school camping trip. In a meeting this week to brief the parents, I asked if electronics would be allowed. And I opened a big can of worms! The teachers explained that the children would be allowed to bring electronics because it ‘keeps them quiet while on the journey.’ Another teacher explained that he thinks it’s good for children to embrace modern technology and to learn how to use electronics from an early age.

This is rubbish, and I feel compelled to say so.

We did not have iPhones or iPads when we were young, but miraculously we all know how to use them. Even my technologically impaired father uses a laptop and an iPhone with ease. Is there really any advantage to be gained by letting our children play games on our iphones? No. And with regards to ‘keeping the children quiet on the bus’… Really?! Shouldn’t they be singing songs, chatting to each other, looking out their windows, making silly faces to the people in the cars they’re passing? That’s what we did when we were kids and the bus ride was often one of the best parts of school trips. Why would we give them a sedative dose of Nintendo?

Our children are only little for such a short time. The window for imaginative adventures and play is so small. They have the rest of their lives to be attached to a device. Why start now?

x Courtney

p.s. I very rarely share my parenting views on this blog. I am generally quite open minded about the decisions other parents make, and I know that I am by no means an expert. But for some reason, this feels different to me. I hope you too will share your thoughts and comments, in favour or against my view. I would love for this to become an open dialogue between us all. xx

(Image above found here)

Head Lice woes

Lice – they are the bane of my life! I even dream of them. I guess because we live in a big city, lice are unavoidable. I have tried lotions, potions, shampoos, some of them ecological, some of them positively radio-active! I even managed to spend a crazy amount of money on a real jar of Hellman’s mayonnaise (difficult to find in France) because I read somewhere on the internet that I could get rid of lice with it.

This weekend the schools in our area decided to organise a collective delousing campaign. We were all asked to delouse our children on the same weekend. The hope is that this will stop the lice circulating — at least for a while. I am interested to see if this is successful, but it is really nice to see how everyone got on board!

So here are some tips I have gotten to prevent lice. (Once you have them, I find that the only thing that really works is brushing the hair with a fine tooth comb in front of a good movie!)

Lavender essential oil: Lice seem to be sensible souls who do not like the smell of lavender, so I drop a couple of lavender essential oil drops onto the girls’ pillows. That way their hair smells good and I think it does help to keep the lice at bay. I have also been told that teatree oil helps.

Braids: I told my 93-year-old grandmother about my lice issues and she looked at me incredulously and asked why my girls’ hair was not braided at school. I had never figured out why, in the olden days, all the little girls had nice, tight braids… It prevented lice!

Cleaning linen, and everything in the house: It is such a pain, but it helps. Every time there is even an suspicion that someone might have lice, we wash and clean our bed linen and towels and spray the sofa and armchairs.

Apart from that, I just freeze when I see anyone scratching their heads and throw my hands up in despair! I am interested: Do other countries also have the lice problem? How do you deal with it?

– Emilie

P.S Above is a photo I took of Violette pretending to be scratching her head and having lice. She got a bit annoyed with me because she was in the middle of measuring something, but I think the annoyed expression goes with the theme…

Chickenpox

Here in the Netherlands (and I believe in most parts of Europe), no vaccine is given for chickenpox. Which means it is a very common childhood disease here, and all parents know that at one point their child will come down with it. At least, they hope they do, because apparently getting chickenpox as an adult is seriously no fun!

Ava still hadn’t had the chickenpox at the age of 3 ½, so when her little girl friend from across the street showed signs of the disease, I decided to let her go over for a playdate. As the virus is highly contagious, I deliberately exposed her to it, in the hope she would develop the disease and get it over with. (After having had the disease, you’re immune for the rest of your life). And sure thing — after an exact incubation period of two weeks, I discovered the first blisters on her back.

Chickenpox is mostly completely unharmful, but it is a very uncomfortable disease. First there’s a fever and flu-like symptoms, and then hundreds of tiny blisters develop all over the head and body, and they itch! The whole thing usually takes no longer than a week, and thankfully Ava was her usually happy self just before Christmas.

But then of course, again exactly two weeks later, Casper got it too! He was suffering for a week as well, and the worst part were the blisters on his nappy area — the poor boy. But now, after a month of dealing with the chickenpox, I am proud to say that our entire family is chickenpox immune.

Did your kids get a vaccine against chickenpox? Or did they get over it the natural way? (Or maybe they still need to get it?) Would you deliberately expose them like I did? I’m curious to find out!

xxx Esther

PS The photo is of Pim as a baby, just after he had the chickenpox at age one. Casper’s age!

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