After the madness of the end of the year we will be taking a break for the next couple of weeks. Expect blogging to resume towards the end of January.
In the meantime we’d love to hear what topics you would be interested in hearing about in 2012?
Baby to Year 1
- Talk about why you are putting them in a child restraint.
- Always put on your seat belt and say you are doing this to keep yourself safe.
- Talk about where and why you are crossing the road.
- Push the stroller on the house side of the footpath.
- Listen to songs & stories with a road safety focus.
2 – 4 Years
- Hold their hand when walking, and make sure the child is on the house side of the footpath.
- Use STOP, Look and Listen to cross the road.
- Watch out for sneaky (hidden) driveways.
- Show them safe places to play. Explain why these are safe places.
- Explain that driveways and vehicle places are not safe places to play. Make sure you know where all kids are before backing out the car.
- Start a habit of kids wearing a safety helmet when using wheeled toys. Supervise them while riding.
5 – 7 Years
- Walk with them to school when they are very young, holding their hand.
- Decide with them safe places to cross the road, and explain the purpose of pedestrian crossings, school patrols and traffic lights.
- Teach them where to wait for the bus, how to behave on it and where to wait when they get off the bus.
- Make sure they know not to run across the road to the car. Park in a safe place and walk to get your child.
- Help them plan safe routes to school as they get older, avoiding railway lines and parks.
- Teach them what to do if there is a hazard like road works in their way.
- Teach them how to get help in an emergency situation.
- Teach them how to walk safely where there is no footpath.
As of yesterday – and due to the usual holiday influx of relatives – we now have Baby May and Toddler Thomas sleeping in our bedroom. In our very ordinary sized house we are now cramming four adults, five children, and two large hairy slobbery dogs. Aaaah, family closeness! I know in some continents larger families than this exist in spaces far smaller than this but somehow I can’t help but suspect that the rate of familial murder is far higher in those societies.
And so I find myself lying awake at 5.30am listening to baby May snort and whistle while she dreams her sweet baby dreams. What are the chances of more sleep for me? Slim to none I’d say. Never mind, I should get up and make a shopping list. With so many extras in the house we seem to be getting through a mountain of food. I’m trying not to think about the power bill.
With the shopping list done and the household stirring, I have a moment’s insanity and volunteer to take my twin four year old nieces as well as two year old Thomas with me to the supermarket. I think it was the momentary glow of selfless heroism, giving my sister a break after a broken night with her baby, but WHAT was I thinking!!? (Please have the lady committed!)
Having wrestled three recalcitrant toddlers into the car I remind myself with the thought that I do have the edge on the other shoppers. With an early start I’ll race around and be out in a flash. Dreaming, I hear you say? Can you believe it; the car park is already filling up. I’m pipped to the last kiddy park by a sveltely pregnant woman in a two seater – humph I hate her! Swallowing a scream of frustration I console myself by fantasizing about seeing her again in a few months time – sleep deprived and vomit covered with her new little darling in tow! (Oh no I’m one of those grumpy know-it-all parents!) On second thoughts, give me a break, I’m at the supermarket before 9am with three under 5 year olds – you’d be grumpy too!
My frantic race up and down the aisles is more like a drunken zigzag as I chase after the kids and try to limit destruction. They resemble nothing so much as heat seeking missiles this morning but eventually we get through the list, and leave the supermarket (for the most part) intact!
We stagger back to the house, and herd everyone outside to enjoy the sunshine. It’s been one long hard day – would you believe it’s only 10.30am! Still, as I relax back into my deck chair, the kids charge around with a ball, the babies gurgle on the rug, and my nearest and dearest sit back and share the moment with me… it does seem that after all, the holidays are worth the effort!
Your own or your family’s health can be a big driver for women in deciding to return to paid work or not. Everyone’s situations are so unique, but if you, your partner, or one of your children has a chronic health problem, weigh up carefully the pros and cons or you returning to paid work. Again, look into what kind of support may be available to you from local support groups and the government. If in doubt, your GP or Well Child Provider may be able to give you advice on this too.
Guilt, attachment, love, abandonment, strangers, trust, Wow, these are pretty full-on words aren’t they? My fingers are twiddling nervously and my heart is beating that little bit faster, just from hearing them. Am I a bad mother because I go to work in an office on some days? Am I a bad employee because I don’t work late as a matter of course, wanting to get home to my family? Am I hands down, a terrible person because I am not all things to all people all at the same time? No! No! and No!
Whatever options you are considering for paid work, at home time, care for your children, there will be people who are diametrically opposed to it (i.e. their way is the best and only way!). It’s realistic to assume that if you go out into the paid workforce, there will be people who think you are an uncaring money-driven corporate slave. Then again, if you stay home full-time, others will think you are a lady of leisure who is living off both the government and your husband’s hard earned money. It’s hard not to care about what others think, but try try try to shrug it off and be motivated by what is important to you and yours. If you are going to spend hours at work, staring at photos of your baby and crying in the toilets, maybe it’s just not for you. If you are going to burn with resentment staying at home full-time feeling like a drudge, consider going back into the paid workforce.
Guilt is surely the lifelong companion of parents all over New Zealand. If your own choices are unacceptable to you, then change them! But if it’s only unacceptable to other people, forget them!
Changing your mind
A final note – don’t be afraid to change your mind. If you go back to work and hate it, you can always quit. If you have decided to stay home and then your dream job comes up, you can always take it. Parenting is all about change and flexibility – nothing is absolute. Give any new situation a few weeks to iron out the kinks, but if after that it’s still just not right for you, change it.
Don’t believe us? Check out this cool article on what researchers have discovered about the connection between mums and babies.
“Mothers and their babies are often said to share a deep, intimate connection…but even so, this new discovery is weird. Simply by looking and smiling at each other, moms and babies synchronize their heartbeats to within milliseconds of each other.
Researchers at Bar-Ilan University in Israel found that visible affection from their mothers had tangible physiological effects on three month old infants. Previous studies in animals have shown that social interactions between “attachment partners” can actually affect the animal infants’ body, but this is the first time such an effect has been observed in humans. Writing in Infant Behavior and Development, the researchers explain what they discovered:
Mothers and their 3-month old infants were observed during face-to-face interactions while cardiac output was collected from mother and child. Micro-analysis of the partners’ behavior marked episodes of gaze, affect, and vocal synchrony. Time-series analysis showed that mother and infant coordinate heart rhythms within lags of less than 1 s.
Bootstrapping analysis indicated that the concordance between maternal and infant biological rhythms increased significantly during episodes of affect and vocal synchrony compared to non-synchronous moments. Humans, like other mammals, can impact the physiological processes of the attachment partner through the coordination of visuo-affective social signals.
However, humans can actually synchronize in ways other animals cannot — while other animals are dependent upon physical contact for this synchronization effect to occur, a mother need only look at her baby affectionately for the heartbeats to synchronize. It hasn’t yet been tested whether infants can form similar levels of attachment with other people, such as their fathers.”
(Article from http://io9.com/5865557/mothers-and-babies-can-instantly-synchronize-their-hearts-just-by-smiling-at-each-other; Via Infant Science and Development. Stock image by Noam Armonn, via Shutterstock.)
You may be worried about losing the intellectual stimulation of your professional world. It’s true that the constant cycle of feeding, changing, settling, combined with the endless quantities of dirty washing and mashed pumpkin can be somewhat mind numbing! For many women, the buzz of being in an adult workplace and challenging their intellect can add real balance to their role as a mum.
I found that once I had the basics of caring for my first child sorted on a day to day basis, I started craving ‘something more’. It wasn’t that I didn’t absolutely LOVE my time at home with her, and I adored my days at home, mucking in, reading Hairy Maclary over and over, and expressing my delight at the gift of a loved but grubby soft toy thrust into my hands. But I also love the rush of the workplace challenge and the satisfaction of a happy client. The solution that I found was to do a small amount of part-time work while she slept. That way I didn’t feel like I was compromising my time with her, but I got that brain-buzz.
If you are thinking of staying home full-time, but worried about how you might get this extra intellectual stimulation, consider getting involved in a voluntary organisation. They always love new volunteers and there are often some meaty leadership roles or projects that you can really get your teeth into. A bit of part-time study could be the answer too and many mums take up something that is relevant to their new role – childbirth education, early childhood development, teachers college, to name just a few.
You’re at the point where you’re weighing the decision about whether to be a mother who works in the home, or to undertake some form of paid work. The next few posts will look at some things to consider in making your decision…
a) I love my job.
b) I’m on the brink of promotion.
c) I’m passionate about my company.
d) I’m proud of what I do.
e) All of the above.
Okay, so this is not a magazine quiz that’s going to assign you an easy stereotype of motherhood (are you the “domestic goddess”, the “harried housewife”, the “part-time parent”, or perhaps just the “confused cogitator”). But if any of the above options apply to you, you may be feeling torn about spending time at home with your baby. It is okay to love your job and want to go back to it. It’s also okay to hate your job and be glad you get to stay home and never go back! If you want a bit of both worlds, the professional and familial, have a think about how flexibility might work for you.
There are a whole raft of options open to mums (and dads) these days in terms of workplace flexibility. If you think it will work for you, sit down and talk to your boss about options – flexible hours, part-time hours, working from home… Currently in New Zealand, your workplace is legally obliged to at least consider a request for flexibility on a return from parental leave, although this is no gurantee that it will be agreed to. As a starter, check in with your manager or HR (in a larger organisation). It can help your case immensely if you can show your value to the organisation and the benefit to the company (starting with the fact that they get to retain your knowledge and skills in house). There are heaps of international studies that have shown the financial benefit to employers of retaining staff after parental leave so educate your employer and hopefully they’ll come to the party!
As a family with young children, you may be eligible for some government assistance. In recent years, New Zealand governments have been more willing to support families so take a look at the Work and Income site and see if you are eligible for a tax credit or ongoing income supplement. Bear in mind, that with election year, this can bring changes to government assistance.
The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) have a free budget advisory service which is excellent. They can work with you to find out what your income and expenses are, whether there’s a gap, where you’d like to be, and how a new baby are going to impact your life financially. They can help you with lots of ideas on how to trim your expenses.
The Department of Labour has information about your parental leave entitlements, which in many cases will include payment for a little over the first three months of your baby’s life.
Talk to your bank about options for your mortgage and banking, including how to meet debt repayments while you have a young family.
When talking to mothers who have decided to go back to paid work, it seems that the biggest factor for most modern families is money. Paying that mortgage, servicing credit card debt, or just keeping some spare for the unexpected expense can be a real struggle. It is a huge change for most families going from two incomes to one. But you’d be surprised at what you can live on. If you are considering returning to work out of financial necessity, but don’t otherwise want to, see if you can downsize your outgoings in some of these ways:
- Downsize the big items – pay less rent or mortgage by shifting to a cheaper area or smaller place. Stretch your mortgage back out to 25 or 30 years to lower weekly repayments. Get a smaller, more fuel efficient car.
- Reduce expenditure on ‘luxuries’. This will be an individual thing, but for us it meant CDs and DVDs, going out to dinner, and expensive clothes. That’s not to say we don’t occasionally splash out – just not on a regular basis.
- Use the car less and car pool if you can (most capsules can be strapped into another car). Petrol and running costs for cars is constantly increasing, so taking public transport or walking can help reduce costs (good exercise too!).
- Take a good look at your expenditure on food. Now, we’re not suggesting eating less! But many of us these days spend a lot of our grocery money on convenience foods. Whether it’s pasta sauce, tortillas, or baby food, the pre-made packaged foods are priced at a premium. There are some really good ‘from scratch’ recipe books out there (I love the “Destitute Gourmet” series) that give good advice on how to cut your grocery bill and still provide your family with yummy, nutritious food. Meal planning can help a lot too!
- Buy second hand. Kids clothes, furniture, books, you name it, there’s a second hand market out there. Try online auction websites, local Plunket jumble sales, or just ask around if anyone is selling stuff. Some of my daughter’s favourite toys have been at bargain prices at a local bring and buy sale for around 10% of the original price – you can’t beat that! End of season sales are great if you buy ahead for next year too.
And finally, make sure you take into account the costs of going back to paid work – childcare, transport, clothes etc – when you are weighing up what you will bring home at the end of the day.
Next post considers what kind of assistance you may be entitled to as a family and where to get assistance with budgeting.
Over and over you will hear people talking about “returning to work”. What do they think motherhood is, a walk in the park? We would liken it to more of a rollercoaster ride with huge highs and lows, a bit of screaming, some whooping, white knuckles, and a huge sense of accomplishment and pride. But that aside, motherhood is joy but it is also WORK. When someone asks if you are returning to work, it subtly suggests that you might be spending your days as an at-home mum draped on the couch watching soaps on tv. (And even if there is a bit of that while bubs is napping, hey, everyone else gets a lunch break right?).
So parents don’t re-enter the paid workforce simply because they have nothing better to do. It is almost always a carefully weighed and sometimes painfully made decision with so many factors taken into consideration. If you are undecided, or feel that you only have one option but it’s not a choice you would make voluntarily, ponder on some of these things, and see how you feel at the end of it. At the end of the day, you’ll make a choice that’s driven by the desire to do the best thing for your family, and no-one else can tell you what that is, including us.
The ideas that follow in the coming posts are not meant to direct you towards going back to paid work or staying at home full-time. In fact, we both returned to paid positions while our first babies were under one, but managed to juggle this part-time and have our husbands both spending time at home during the working week. We’ve also both been through the carefully thought through decision to spend more time at home, for less money. So the ideas in the coming posts are really meant to get your thinking about what your family’s priorities are and then embrace those and make it work for you.