Are you a bad mother?

Or, better still, do you think you’re a good mother? That’s probably a far more appropriate question. If I ask myself this question, the answer is easy. It’s one I think about a lot.

And that is, if I’m really honest -

I don’t think so.

I don’t feel like a good mother. There, I said it. Truth be told, I worry all the time that I’m not a good mother. Every time I make a ‘mistake’, I shout or I let them have vegemite saos as I’m cooking dinner, (or that I let them eat saos at all) or I let them get into the car in the morning without having done their teeth, or I leave the TV on for another show despite vowing to turn it off, or I choose to stay on my computer when they ask me to help them build a pirate ship out of packing boxes, or I manhandle someone in order to get them in their car seat or I buy a packet of Tiny Teddies in the supermarket to keep them quiet, or I ‘forget’ to put sorbelene cream on after their bath because I’m too tired, or I pour a glass of wine before their in bed.

There are just too many times, too many regular times, to mention. Times when I cringe to myself and internally chastise myself for my lack of backbone or strength or for letting fatigue get the better of me – all of which cause me to make decisions I know I shouldn’t make.

But the worst of it, (and I have only had one, maybe two, other mothers ever admit to me how hard they find it) is that every other mother I come across does not seem to be as ‘bad’ as me. On the most part, it feels like other mothers do have the strength to make consistently good decisions for their children. They never seem to falter or get flustered or if they do, it’s momentary and it never seems to get in the way of them making good decisions. Have I said that already?

Or, the other type of mother I’ve noticed is one who makes decisions they probably know are not the best but who don’t seem to worry about it. For them, it just seems to be part of the everyday routine.

And I can’t work out which of these ‘mothers’ I more want to be? It’s a tough choice.

See, the way I’ve structured things, my hardship in this regard is twofold. On the one hand, I make decisions regarding my children that I don’t respect and on the other, I experience this constant self-flagellation. And then, these hands clasp the other.

And I feel, well, completely. EXHAUSTED.

I’m reading a great book at the moment, one I’ll speak about more at a later time but the writer’s premise in the first chapter is that we currently parent in an age where everyone seems to have a say concerning the best way to parent. And this, in turn, has created a psyche in mothers (especially) where we are constantly questioning whether we are ‘good’ mothers or ‘bad’ mothers. This is to the point that there is now a ‘bad mother’ movement (just google it, you’ll find many blogs which proudly wear this label) – women embracing their ‘bad decisions’ and arguing that in order to keep yourself together and to remain a loving, mentally healthy mother, these bad decisions are inevitable and even to be celebrated. The premise, I guess, is that these ‘bad decisions’ occasional or otherwise, deliberate or otherwise, just don’t really matter in the scheme of your children’s lives.

I wish I could join this camp too. But I can’t. I get it sure but that little voice in my head (and I guess in my heart) won’t be quiet enough for me to really embrace this.

What about you? Do you worry like me about whether you’re a bad or good mother? Do you even think about it? Are there particular things that cause you to berate yourself?

Shelf help: 2 book recommendations

I’ve got my reading mojo back. For a few months there, I was physically unable to make it past 2 pages of a piece of fiction. It was pretty bleak to be honest. I’ve always been an avid reader. In fact, reading has always provided me an important sanctuary. It always gives me space physically and figuratively from other people. When I’m reading, I feel absolved from engaging in conversation or the building of train tracks. The world in my head is my own. I don’t have to share any part of myself while I’m so seemingly occupied. I have always loved and cherished this.

But, I digress.

I have rediscovered fiction which is a mighty nice thing. I feel better about life. Strange but true. It seems filled once again with that sense of possibility that fiction provides.

Hence, my first 2 recommendations are works of fiction. My third is a parenting book that I have been reading simultaneously (although not as quickly).

The Paris Wife

This is a fictionalised account of Ernest Hemingway’s relationship with his first wife, Hadley Richardson. It traces the beginning of their relationship and then paints a vivid and interesting picture of their life in Paris and his burgeoning career. I am a Hemingway fan. I read A Moveable Feast and The Sun also Rises with gusto.

The Paris Wife was well written but also fascinating in McLain’s portrayal of Paris and its expat artists movement of the 1920s. It’s compelling but very easy read and I’ll say no more because I’ve rewritten this sentence five times and each one has given away something that you’ll enjoy discovering all by yourself.

A Visit from the Goon Squad

I can’t even begin to explain how this book works. Each chapter is linked to another in an often tenuous but always magical way. It took me one chapter to get into but after that, I was completely hooked. I can’t speak more highly of this book. The writing, the plot, the character development, the structure all work together to make an unique piece of literature. Egan has created a post modern tome which is a page turner. She takes a highbrow idea and makes it more than simply disgestable. She makes it intriguing and fun. You must  read this book. That’s all I’m sayin’.

Simplicity Parenting

I had read this book recommended on a few occasions before I bought it. I was attracted to its premise “using the extraordinary power of less to raise calmer, happier and more secure kids.” I mean come on, what a hook! But aside from the great subtitling, it has been a really satisfying read. I am aware that I would or could never implement the book’s suggestions in their entirety but it is rich with ideas about how to improve your children’s familial and domestic worlds. And its focus is on simplifying these worlds.

I may write more about this book in the near future. I’m yet to finish it and therefore am still digesting its ideas but I think it’s a lovely read for parents. Put it this way, it makes me feel very calm, very positive every time I read a bit. And that can’t be a bad thing can it.

What about you? What are you reading and enjoying at the moment? I’d love some suggestions.

 

To my book, I must be true – 4 recommendations

It’s no surprise as the daughter of an English academic and a ex-English teacher, and as an English teacher myself with 2 English literature degrees, that I love to read.

Since I was very young, this love was complemented by a reading speed that made consuming books pretty easy. I’ve always read a lot and before kids it was pretty standard for me to get through 2 books a week.

Now, I’m not so lucky. In fact, it took me 4 weeks to get through our last book club book (enjoyable and tortuous both at once) which, to date, is the longest it’s ever taken me to read a 300 page book. I despair over the little time now available to me for reading. I can say without hesitation that it is my passion so when you’re passion is on hold (in a way) you can become quite despondent.

But I digress. The purpose of this post was to share with you my latest reading obsession which is the personal memoir. For me, this genre provides me small windows into the lives of other mothers, something which really fascinates me. I also read many ‘mummy’ blogs (although fewer now as I’ve worked out the ones that really resonate with me) for the same reason. I guess it’s my way of finding a thread which weaves my experience with others. This thread helps me feel strangely connected in that strange world they call ‘online’. I’ve talked before that I have not always had a strong community of mothers around me (although that’s changing) and so reading the experience of other mothers online and in print, is my way of understanding that my experience is shared – my anxieties, my hardships, my joys. My life that is motherhood, is shared. I find this beautifully comforting.

But lately, despite the overwhelming love and moments of joy that becoming a parent provides, I find myself thinking a lot about the ordinariness of this mothering life. The loads of washing, the dinners cooked and left uneaten to be cleaned away. The stripping of beds and restacking of book shelves. The baking of muffins and the feeding of fish. The trips to the park, the kissing of grazed knees and the washing of hair on reluctant heads. The persistence in helping little bodies get back on bikes, the weekly trip to the supermarket. The dropping off and picking up to and from school, daycare, friends, and family. The reading of stories, the building of lego cities, the making of dinosaur worlds. The elaborate designing of train tracks that are so soon abandoned and dismantled. All of this repeats itself again and again to become ordinary life.

And I’ve been wondering how I may make peace with this ordinariness and even come to celebrate or at least appreciate it. I have more to write on this idea in posts to come but for now, I want to share with you a few books whose authors manage to render the beauty of the ordinary in family life.

1. Planting Dandelions: Field Notes from a Semi-Domesticated Life

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pittman’s lyrical writing clearly shows her talent as a poet. Her stories are funny and heartbreaking and she shares so much that is unspeakable which is both refreshing and inspiring. There are so many hard conversations we avoid having with ourselves about things we might not want to face but which are likely inevitable and worth pondering. Pittman does this with candour and grace.

2. the gift of an ordinary day: a mother’s memoir

 

 

 

 

 

You really should watch this youtube clip about Kenison’s book. It is inspiring and prompted me to buy the book immediately!

I love the sparsity but acuity of Kenison’s writing. There is so much pathos in the glimpses of family life she provides.

3. Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path to Motherhood

 

 

 

 

 

I read this a long time ago as a new mother. It was moving then but I’d like to reread it now my children are older and we have all settled onto the ordinary, albeit crooked, path of family life.

4. Devotion: A memoir

 

 

 

 

 

And finally, while this book is not ostensibly about mothering or family life, Shapiro shines clear light into what being a mother means (not much and so much all at once) as she explores her own spirituality. This book really moved me as I find myself traversing that fine line between atheism and agnosticism. I was fascinated to read someone else’s exploration, one I have not had the courage to do myself. But really, I was so moved by the snapshots of family life she provides throughout the book, that I had to include it.

Have you got any books to recommend? Personal memoirs or otherwise? I’m lucky that our next book club book, Just Kids by Patti Smith, happens to be another personal memoir although I don’t think mothering is at its heart! What are you reading at the moment?

Book buzz (sort of): Justine Clarke

This isn’t really a book recommendation, in fact, not at all. But given that her CDs are constantly playing in our car (to the point of vague madness) I just had to share this with you.

You’re probably well aware that Justine Clarke is a regular presenter on Playschool. And she’s really great at it too. I’m always secretly relieved when I see her face appear at the beginning of the programme (which, I admit, is a daily fixture in our house).

We have been given so much awful children’s music over the years. And I’ve downloaded a number of albums from iTunes which I am inevitably disappointed with. But Clarke’s music is truly bearable, even for an adult. Actually, better than bearable, I actually like listening to it (albeit not 3 times a day if we’re in the car that often). These CDs are fantastic with songs written by the head of music for Playschool and Justine (as far as I’m aware) so they are full of the trademark catchy, sunny, sing-a-long tunes. The songs are a good mixture of pop, jazz, acoustic and soft metal (did I just make up that genre? perhaps, but it describes a couple of her tunes well) which means enough variation that the kids don’t ever get sick of listening to the whole CD. The boys always sing a long and I know that if Lbaby is grizzly in the car, the one thing that will quieten him down is this CD.

The Abomb and I saw Justine Clarke live once at a community event. Given the pretty poor resources they had available to them at the time, she was GREAT especially because she also appeared with the pianist and trumpeter from Playschool. I haven’t seen her live touring show but I imagine it would be pretty good. Would love to hear from anyone who has?

Do you have any kids music to recommend? We’re always looking for new tunes because the boys really enjoy music, so please share!

*Quick note: I have absolutely no affiliation with Playschool or Justine Clarke

 

Book buzz: Rumble in the Jungle

This childrens b00k-writing duo are dynamite. They seem to get it right every time. Their book, Rumble in the Jungle, is the firm family favourite but this one follows very close behind.

The writers’ use of rhythm and rhyme is brilliant and the style and colour of their illustrations are captivating for children.

C and I have fun doing the different voices for the animals but C is much funnier than I am, so he’s always a favourite to read this story.

It’s one of those children’s books which avoids repetition and is funny enough that I don’t dread reading night after night after night after night. In fact, it’s easy to bring something different to every reading.

And look out for the 3 little ants hiding on every page. Sdash was the one who bought this to my attention. He would chant ‘ants-ants-ants-ants’ whenever he turned a page and I had no idea what he was talking about! He quickly showed me where they were hiding.

Book buzz: When no-one’s looking at the zoo

This book is a big favourite of our toddler, Sdash (someone remind me again when toddlerdom is meant to end? I’m kind of really over it now – but oops, I’m going to go through it all over again!). Each double page reveals a different animal in the zoo. The left page depicts how the animal normally lives and behaves in the zoo, and the right page depicts how the animal lives and behaves ‘when no-one is looking.’

The illustrations are wonderful, very vivid and colourful. Each right page opens to reveal another scene of animals; what they do when no-one is looking. There are no words and so Sdash loves me to make up a story about the hidden scene (with an implicit suggestion that the animals are doing something a bit naughty). This also gives us an opportunity to talk about the animals and discuss what’s going on.

Sdash is animal mad so I figure he likes thinking that animals have a secret life that we don’t know about. It’s a great idea, animals behaving differently with each other than in front of people and the illustrations bring this to life.

The last page asks the reader what they do when no-one is looking and again, this provides a great platform for conversation with your child. It’s a funky idea that they are just beginning to understand at this age.

Book buzz: Goodnight Moon

When we first received this book as a gift, I was struck by the absurdity of it. This got in the way of enjoying it despite the fact I was aware of how widely acclaimed it has been since it was published in the 1940s. Nothing about it made sense to me, so for a long time I avoided reading it to the boys.

You know, there is a fine line between the inane and the absurd in children’s literature and it’s not often easy to make that call. In the case of Goodnight Moon, I certainly made the wrong call and I’m willing to admit my mistake.

As I now read it to Lbaby every night, it is exactly this aspect of the book, the ‘childish,’ nonlinear pattern of the text, which is so enjoyable! Any parent will know that when you’re reading the same thing over and over, enjoying what you’re reading matters!

Goodnight Moon is a beautiful bedtime story in which a little bunny says goodnight to everything around him. It is less a ‘story’ and more a recounting or ritual. The simple use of repetition encourages children to join in and I can’t help but feel this is a good sign of a book’s worth. However, it is my non-reading youngest who, at all of 6 months, absolutely delights in the book. Aside from the fact the cardboard edition provides perfect pages for the teething baby, he loves some of the characters and even laughs at the same pages every night.

There is amazing detail in the illustrations (you can read about them here) and the book links with another of Brown’s books, The Runaway Bunny, another lovely story about what a mother will do for the love of her child.

This is a ‘must’ in any child’s bookshelf and is a lovely new baby gift as well.

 

Book buzz: Each Peach Pear Plum (early childhood)

I bought this book for the boys because I remembered it with fondness in my own childhood. It remains a steady favourite in our house especially with Sdash who is 2 ½. Every page in the book introduces a character or characters from well known fairy tales, like Thom Thumb, Cinderella and Robin Hood.

It uses repetition both within the page and between pages so that the child is able to anticipate the story. Another lovely feature for children is that in each page, the child has to find the ‘hidden’ character that is being ‘spied’ (each page includes ‘I spy [character’s name]). I found in the beginning it was quite a challenge for the boys to find the characters but as they grew more familiar with the book, they would get more excited to find the characters on each page.

This is another book by the famous Ahlbergs and I’ll be discussing another of our favourites, ‘Peepo,’ in a later post. I can’t help but feel that they perfect both text and its accompanying illustration. Their books have great rhythm and never seem to overdo repetition (as so many early childhood books seem to). And the ‘worlds’ they create in the drawings are just magical.

I’m going to start reading it through with the Abomb who is starting to read because I think it will be ideal as an early reader. It is both repetitive and anticipatory and the illustrations are fantastic.

 

Book buzz: The Best of Paddington Bear on CD read by Stephen Fry

 

I have planned to launch this feature with many different books in mind There are so many that we have all enjoyed and that we keep coming back to. I can’t wait to share them all with you but for some reason this was what I kept coming back to in my head. Not a book in the ‘flesh’ but something more.

Paddington Bear is a talking bear who comes to live in London from the ‘Darkest Peru’. The Brown family adopt Paddington after finding him on a platform at London’s Paddington Station (hence his name) and he is a good contrast to their slightly uptight, middleclass, English sensibilities. The stories follow Paddington’s adventures and mishaps in England and include pieces of information about his past (including the fact he was orphaned by an earthquake in Peru and taken in by his Aunt Lucy who is still there.)

Paddington is scatty, sincere, and well meaning. He can’t help but find trouble but somehow always manages to escape any real danger because he’s just so damn nice. The fact that he is a risk-taker is one of the most endearing things about him, particularly for the boys. This aspect of the character is so important as it encourages children to understand that sometimes risks are worth taking, particularly if the outcome may help someone else. And, if the outcome is not successful, there are important lessons to be learnt anyway.

The stories are read by Stephen Fry which really is a significant reason I include this audio book in our recommendations. The telling of the Paddington stories by Fry is simply brilliant – entertaining and at times, mesmerising. We have a couple of Paddington books at home and while the boys have always enjoyed me reading them, I don’t compare to the wit and suspense that Fry brings to the tales.

The stories are enjoyed by my 5 year old and 2 year old equally. There is enough complexity in the stories to engage Abomb and the silliness of Paddington (and many other characters) provides much entertainment for Sdash. As I said above, it is Paddington’s willingness to take risks, especially in his attempts to help other people, which I like. This, and Paddington’s little regard for what others think about him, are important lessons for the boys.

I am also a big fan of audio books (we listen to many and I’ll include our other favourites in future posts) because I think they encourage active imagination in kids. In a sense, children are able to create imaginative worlds of their own based on these different stories which itself is an important creative process. We always have an audio book playing when travelling in the car. It’s an easy way that the whole family can listen and it’s a nice move away from crappy commercial radio stations.

This audio book in particular is hugely recommended for the whole family.

Inaugural

There have been many parenting issues that have sprung up for our family over the past 5 years. The Abomb began life as a very easygoing, happy, pretty straightforward baby. This changed. About 6 months after the birth of his first brother, things became tougher. Since then, we’ve had our ‘easy’ phases and our more ‘challenging’ phases. He’s very sensitive and does not seem to manage extreme emotions well. Extreme excitement, happiness, anger and sadness all play out in exaggerated behaviours which can be challenging to handle and even more challenging to fix. I guess, in all honesty, to date I’ve approached parenting with a ‘fix it’ attitude. That is, I can’t help but feel I need to ‘fix’ him, ‘fix’ the problem. I am starting to learn, albeit slowly, that this approach is both exhausting for me, frustrating for him and generally totally unproductive.

Fact is, the Abomb pushes all of my buttons. My mad, bad buttons at that. We clash but our expressions of love are as intense as our expressions of frustration. I am aware that I have been responding to him as a person, rather than to his behaviours. This I now know to be fundamentally unproductive and basically unfair. I know I need to manage the behaviour because who is he is, is a vibrant, thoughtful, loving and generous human being.

It is this challenge, to manage his often extreme behaviour, which has motivated my search for tangible alternatives. I’ve begun reading parenting theory and parenting ‘self-help’ madly. Often I’ve found the philosophy compelling, heartfelt, inspiring but not practical. Sometimes, I read information which provides many alternatives but fails to explain why these are effective. And then, there are times I read, listen or watch something that resonates so strongly with me that I begin to feel inspired as a parent.

I want is to share this search with you. To discuss with you what has worked for us and what hasn’t. To share my ongoing attempts to create a positive and generative family dynamic. To share my attempts to foster the individual gifts and idiosyncrasies my children possess.

I so want to give each one of my children the opportunity to thrive and to appreciate each of life’s moments, the delightful and the challenging.

This is my attempt.

Each Monday I bring you, Shelf Help, my review of parenting theories and information I’ve read.

We are mad readers in this family so on Wednesdays I will post Book buzz, a review of children’s literature that we’ve enjoyed.

On Fridays I will post Family Fables, which will look at how we’ve implemented some of the strategies I’ve read about and how successful this has been.

Every second Thursday there will be a guest post, Food for family, on children’s nutrition with a recipe.

Of course, this is all bound to change but it’s the current plan.

I’m really pleased you’ve found me, or in fact, found us because my family will be littered across these pages. I always find reading great blogs with a nicely brewed cup of coffee or glass of red wine quite perfect. So feel free!