Apr 132014
 
hidden messages

We drove up to North Wales for our Easter visit to Grandma this week and on the M25 we saw the strangest motorway sign we had ever seen. It said: ‘Pick up litter. Other people do.’ Cue fun and entertainment for the rest of the journey: ‘Break the speed limit. Other people do.’ ‘Drive like an idiot. Other people do.’ ‘Ignore motorway signs. Other people do.’ ‘Mum, buy chocolate! Other people do.’ Honestly, this new car game kept us fully entertained all the way to North Wales. Six hours have never flown by so quickly. We have been entertained before [...]

Apr 062014
 
are you a good mother or a bad mother?

This week I got a leaflet through my door from my local Conservative MEPs, with a questionnaire to fill out about my views. I checked through, and there were no ‘Don’t Know’; ‘Not Sure’; ‘Well it Depends’ or ‘That’s a Stupid Question’ options, so I can’t fill it in. I never know the answers to questions which are phrased in black and white, either/or extremes. Take this one for example; do I agree with: ‘Fairness means people getting what they deserve, with those who work hard getting rewarded and no more something for nothing.’ Or: ‘Fairness means sharing prosperity equally [...]

Mar 302014
 
the perfect gift for mothers day

I was watching an ad on telly last night for a double album of songs, and I just knew it was going to end with the words ‘The Perfect Gift for Mothers Day!’ The reason I knew that was because the album was called ‘Bland Undemanding Songs for Generic People’ – oh alright then, that was a lie. It was actually called ‘Relaxing Classics’ or something, but it contained only bland undemanding songs – and songs that I love, I have to say – but unrelentingly over two discs? I’m old and experienced in life enough to know that that’s [...]

Mar 232014
 
gender stereotyping

We’re good at gender-stereotyping in my family, and for that I think we have to thank Enid Blyton and the Famous Five; reading those books together gave us all much opportunity for gender-based hilarity and mirth when my children were younger. My daughter has had to run the gauntlet of Blyton-inspired patronising and sexist comments from her brothers right through her childhood: ‘Oh wow, brilliant! Sometimes you’re JUST AS GOOD AS A BOY!’ is a particular favourite. And happily a heavily gender-stereotyped media has kept this rich vein of humour alive and kicking as my children have grown up. My [...]

Mar 162014
 
mothers are role models

When I just had my three sons, I saw myself as their blueprint of Woman and I wanted them to think that women are good, but when I had my daughter I learned pretty early on that ‘women are good’ was the most important thing I could teach her. I saw that her greatest need was to respect me as her mother; that in me she saw her future self and she wanted it to be something worth growing up for. In her case, I knew I was the most important role-model in her life. We have rather different hopes for [...]

Mar 092014
 
babies are born with empathy

It’s official, babies are born with empathy. It’s not an add-on. Paul Bloom of Yale University in Connecticut, after carrying out a series of studies of babies, argues that a sense of morality is hard-wired, although it can subsequently be either enhanced or degraded according to experience. This is not new information, it has been shown before, and it makes absolute sense, how could it not be so? Primitive humans depended on empathy – the ability to imagine another’s feelings and desire to help them – because man or woman could not survive alone in the wild (although it’s easier [...]

Mar 022014
 
is my child depressed?

There’s a new report out about kids with bi-polar disorder, and on Dragon’s Den last Sunday there was a businesswoman trying to get backing for her product designed to help depressed children, having been a sufferer herself, so that was good timing. I don’t want to diss her product or question her motives, she seemed absolutely genuine, but the fact that she had the professional backing of psychologists made my heart sink. She had designed an interactive computer game marketed to schools, in which everything was positive, and a series of talking dolls marketed to parents in order to help [...]

Feb 222014
 
how do we encourage our kids to be helpful?

You know when you do that thing where you lie on the settee all day pretending to be ill? No? Only me then? I keep asking parents this question, and I have never met one who has tried this, or if they have they are unwilling to admit it. I only did it once for the whole day to be fair, and although I wasn’t strictly-speaking actually ill, I was exhausted with three little children, my husband was away and I yearned for one of those Sundays where you lie around all day having nothing to do except move as [...]

Feb 162014
 
building self-esteem

I’ve really had it with ‘building self-esteem’ in your child as a concept. Self-esteem is not a Lego set, we can’t follow a set of complicated instructions, get all the bricks of the right colours in the right places and hey presto! A complete Self Esteem model waiting to go, which we can stand back and look at with pride. Where did we get this idea that babies arrive in the world with all their bits intact and ready to grow, except self-esteem, which is some magic quality in the possession of parents, who then have to stick it on. [...]

Feb 092014
 
the third son

Last week my third son came home from one of his regular baby-sitting jobs and burst into the house looking for me. ‘Mum! Mum! Thank you SOOOOO much. Thank you for having me and bringing me up and looking after me! Thank you, thank you!! SO much!!’ I tore my eyes away from the telly. ‘What’s happened?’ I asked him carefully. ‘I.Just.Changed.A.Nappy.’ ‘Ha!’ I said. ‘So now you know.’ ‘Yeah. Oh god, it was everywhere! And the smell! UGH! Thank you Mum, honestly.’ ‘Yup.’ My third son is seventeen today and though I say so myself, he’s a lovely young [...]

Feb 022014
 
nobody likes a lecture

Nobody likes a lecture do they, especially when it’s a long moral self-righteous one. There are just some forms of communication which are never going to produce the desired result and a lecture is one of them. You just make it impossible to respond in any other way than ‘Yeah and what makes you so bloody perfect?’ Moral lectures are full of shoulds and oughts: we suffer them, we put up with them, but we never welcome them because they only tell us what we already know but can’t live up to. I have a memory from childhood of my [...]

Jan 262014
 
nature, nurture and culture

I’m really perplexed at the way toys have gone over the twenty odd years I’ve been bringing up children. When my boys were little I remember seeing extreme gendered toys only in those really cheap tacky little catalogues that came through your door urging you to buy fully functioning big black heavy-duty automatic rifles for your sons, and big garish pink plastic make-up sets for your girls. All the ‘girl’ pages were pink and all the ‘boy’ pages were black. What an un-nuanced view of the genders I used to think (with horror), who lives in this kind of world? [...]

Jan 192014
 
in which I compare Mumsnet to a pub

I remember the exact moment when I lifted my head up, looked around and noticed that there was still a world going on out there outside of mothering. I was sitting in a pub having a Christmas meal with colleagues and friends when I looked up and noticed that there were other people in the pub talking about things. I’d forgotten about these places where issues of the day are thrashed out amongst ordinary people and all the problems of society solved, I hadn’t been a part of that for many years. I used to debate issues fiercely in pubs [...]

Jan 122014
 
a game of role reversal

You parent your kids when they’re little and then at some point, I don’t remember when, the role-reversal begins. Or Payback Time as I call it. Like playing games for example. The three games that have survived our family’s growing-up are Scrabble, Monopoly and Rummikub, and these are the games that come out every Christmas with whoops and yells. We’ll play all with varying enthusiasm, but it’s Rummikub that every member of the family loves. For those who don’t know it, it’s a numbers game that’s just as much fun to play with two as with four, and you can [...]

Dec 222013
 
It's Christmas!

So I’ve finally stopped going round saying ‘Why have all the shops got Christmas stuff in them already?’ and acknowledged the fact that it’s because it’s nearly Christmas. I’m a bit behind this year, I’ve been working so hard I just  haven’t had the chance to look up and see Christmas coming. With a family of four children that’s a lot of present-buying for everyone but luckily they are growing up and saying the same as me, which is ‘Let’s just relax this year shall we? Doesn’t matter if we forget things, let’s just have fun.’ Good to see my [...]

Dec 152013
 
it's good to fail

I usually wake up before my alarm goes off and enjoy that luxury of lying in bed listening to the tinkly sounds of Radio 3 without having to get up for a bit yet, but this week I overslept not once but twice. I was woken by my alarm, switched it off and went straight back to sleep. On one occasion I heard the news announcement, yawned, stretched, thought ‘Ooh, I’ve overslept a bit, not to worry’, and prepared to crawl out of bed when it suddenly hit me that the announcer hadn’t said ‘News at 7′ but ‘News at [...]

Dec 082013
 
I'm a celebrity

My daughter and I are nearing the end of our autumn reality t.v. fest during which we have gorged ourselves on X Factor and I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here for the past few happy weeks. I love how by watching these programmes we get to naturally observe, comment and chat about all sorts of issues, and I’m a Celebrity this year has been especially rich. For those of you who haven’t been watching, here’s a quick synopsis. One celebrity in the jungle was Amy, Miss Universe GB, and another was Rebecca Adlington, Olympic swimmer and gold medal [...]

Dec 012013
 
grown-up kids

We have a new huge cardboard box in my family, it sits in the living room because there’s nowhere else for it to go, it won’t fit through the doors. I don’t want to get rid of it though (as I might a smaller one) because it’s probably the biggest box we’ve ever had in our house and I can’t waste its unique play value, even though my youngest child is now fourteen. It came into the house as a container for a new computer my 19 year old son had ordered from a company that apparently puts the different [...]

Nov 242013
 
homework

I’ve always hated homework, I’ll set out my stall from the start so that you know in advance that in this subject I am biased. I remember as a child the awful misery of Sunday evenings trying to get all my homework done in time for school on Monday whilst listening to the chart count-down on Radio 1. I’ve recently started to listen again to the chart countdown on Sunday evenings – just to keep in touch – and just hearing it brings out all those old familiar feelings of fear and dread. What I really remember is the total [...]

Nov 172013
 
rewarded for breastfeeding

So there’s a scheme proposing that mothers who breastfeed should be rewarded with £200 worth of ‘shopping vouchers’ we heard on the news this week. I feel there’s so much wrong with this scheme, not least because it doesn’t tackle the underlying reasons why breastfeeding rates in this country are so low. Maybe we should look at how breasts are displayed prominently as sexy fun-bags everywhere we look, combined with the fact that breast-feeding is still frowned upon in public in too many places. Looking around our culture as an alien, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the greatest value [...]