Monthly Archives: February 2012

Time, and why it is important to make some for yourself and your partner!

It’s an easy thing in this busy world to get so caught up in the day-to-day minutiae of life that we forget to take time. When your day has started with a fight between your two youngest at 6.00am, then you’ve dealt with a stressful deadline at work, done the after school run, taken one kid to cricket practice here and another to a swimming squad there, made dinner, eaten, been to a committee meeting, folded some washing, made some lunches and then fallen into bed, it’s really difficult to see where to squeeze out a little time for yourself, and impossible to see how you might fit your partner in too. Yes, you have a work-life balance, but where is the time for you?

No matter how busy you are, it is vital that you make time for yourself and your partner. For yourself, to keep your sanity, stay on an even keel, have the ability to stay positive and happy or to remain fit and healthy. For your partner because you cannot nourish intimacy if the only conversation you ever have includes “Please can you change the baby’s nappy/ pick up milk/ take some kids to the bath” and then communal snoring at the end of the day.

Start small. Write a list of things that you would do for yourself if you had unlimited time. My list normally starts with a pedicure, continues with a bath, getting fit and reading a book a day. There might be chocolate included there too somewhere. Now those things aren’t always practical or realistic with 6 kids, a full-time job and community commitments. But I have learnt to incorporate some of those things into my daily life, and am much happier for it.

I had a moment a couple of years ago where I realised that although I was doing a great job at my office,  doing OK with finding time for my husband, and great with finding time for the kids, there was nothing for me built into my life. There is great satisfaction and great reward in being a good parent and partner, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong to take some time for yourself.

After my moment, I made a couple of small changes. The first is that once a month, I take an hour for lunch, walk to the local mall and have a pedicure. This is great for me, because I take a book (or not), have a short walk and break from my desk, and come back to work relaxed and refreshed and feeling pampered and groomed. For the small amount a month it costs me, it is money very well spent.

The second thing I do is that every night before I go to sleep, I try to read. Just for 5 or 10 minutes, but I read for pleasure only. Not a work article or manual, not a parenting book. Just something for pleasure.

The third thing I am doing is that I have started, in the last 6 months, to get fit. This was brought on by the realisation that when my youngest children are 10 year s old, I will be turning (gulp!) 50. At present, I am an active involved parent. I swim, kayak, play games, kick a ball around and rough house with the children. I still want to be able to do that with the small boys when they’re a little bigger. It’s easier to start now than in 5 years time! Most weekday mornings I am up at 6.00am doing an exercise DVD in the family room. I should say at this juncture that I am absolutely not a morning person but it’s the only time in the day I can guarantee that I’ll be able to make half an hour of time available. I am often assisted in my exercise by the 5-year old boys, or sometimes the 3-month old kittens, so I don’t always work out as hard as I could. At the weekends, I often walk with a friend first thing in the morning before it gets too hot. So I’m renewing my social connections and getting fitter at the same time. I’m also teaching my kids by example that it is a great thing to do regular activity.

Belly dancing - one of the things I started doing for myself. That's me in the green at the left back.

These things didn’t all happen at once, but the benefits to me are huge. Just eking out those few minutes each day or each month give me a little breathing space that I didn’t have before. They remind that first and foremost, I am a person, and not just a mother, wife, friend, employee. My list won’t be the same as your list, but I think the key is to find things that refresh and rejuvenate you; that allow you to be the calm at the eye of the storm and that let you breathe through today’s crisis and prepare for tomorrow’s.

It is harder to make that time for my husband, because there are two people involved. But I think this is really essential. I learnt from a failed marriage that living in the same house and sharing children does not constitute an intimate, adult relationship.

My husband and I aren’t just parents. Before we were parents, we were two people in love. Two people in an adult relationship with time to spend together. Two people who had an intimate connection which we nurtured by talking, doing things together, playing and being individuals, not just parents.   Being a parent is a wonderful thing, but it is a job or a role, and shouldn’t be the thing that solely defines you.

We haven’t got all the answers, but there are a few things that my husband and I do each day to try and scrape out some time and remind us that we are husband and wife and not just parents. The first thing is that we make a point of greeting each other, normally with a kiss and a hug and saying goodbye when we come and go at home. It may seem like a simple courtesy, but it’s one which is really easy to let slip in the mass of children and activity. And taking that small moment to acknowledge each other can make all the difference.

The second thing that we do is that we take a regular “Grown-up’s day off” – once a quarter or so. This requires a bit more scheduling and organisation, but is basically a day when the kids are in school or a holiday programme and we take a day off work to spend together. The rules are very simple – no chores, no household jobs and no kids. Just my husband and I, and no other commitments or agendas. We try and keep the day spontaneous and decide what we’re doing on the spur of the moment – not something we normally have the luxury of doing.

My husband and I on our holiday last year (only 1 child!)

We also make sure that we have at least two nights a week most weeks where we have no other commitments. Even if we just sit and watch a TV show, it is still time spent with just the two of us. Now that our oldest is able to babysit the younger children, we may start making this a walk a couple of times of week, perhaps with a rule that we talk about things other than the children.

For each couple, and each individual, there will be different things that you do to make time. I would love to hear what others are doing – what are your suggestions?

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Why my 5-year olds are sleeping on mattresses with no sheets.

It started with Zac having a time out. When I came back to see if he was ready to rejoin the family and follow our family rules, he had calmed down nicely, and engaged himself with building a construction using their bed bases and mattresses. His bed was three feet out from the wall, one mattress was leaning up against a wall and the other was spanning the gap between the two beds. The bedroom was completely trashed. We came to an agreement that it would be restored to its former state when it was bedtime.

With chest puffed out with pride, Zac took me by the hand at bathtime to show me the job he had done tidying up the room.  The beds were back in place, mattresses on them. He had even tidied up a little. And he had very smoothly laid the duvets on the bed. The sheets were rolled up in a little ball in the corner. “Zac,” I said, “you’ve done a lovely job of tidying up the bedroom. Well done. But the sheets are missing from the beds.” “I know”, Zac patiently explained, “I thought it would be fun to sleep without any sheets tonight. We can put them back on tomorrow.”

My instinctive response was “no”. You have sheets on a bed for a reason, and anyway, it feels much nicer to sleep on sheets than on a mattress. But I’m working hard on applying a “WHY NOT” filter to requests the children make. When I applied my why not question, I actually couldn’t think of a decent reason to say no. So I agreed.

The delight on Zac’s face, and then the almost identical delight on Conal’s face when he came in from the bath, and the “Don’t we have to sleep on sheets tonight Mum? That’s so COOL!” from him, were my reward.

This brought to mind my first why not experience, when the older kids were around 4, 6 and 8. It was a hot sticky humid rainy summer’s day, not unlike today actually! They begged to go out in the rain, and at first I said no. One of them asked “but why not? We’ll wear raincoats” and I completely changed my mind! They ended up going out with no clothes on at all, got soaking wet and muddy. We threw them straight into the bath and cleaned them off, then had dinner. The end result? I got to have a quiet cuppa while they rampaged outside and I had four ecstatic children who still remember that afternoon.

My learning for today? Keep applying the why not filter. Try and view the world through more child-like eyes. And as always, have more fun!

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Books – to censor or not to censor?

I love to read. I am an avid reader. I’ve been a reader since the age of 3 and a half when, as my mother tells it, she grew tired of constantly reading to me and taught me how to do it for myself. I read very widely – and completely inappropriately.

I recall at a very young age, reading a Reader’s Digest Condensed book called ‘Where are the Children’. I vividly remember the plot, because it revolved around two murdered children and two more kidnapped children, and I was so terrified that I spent the following few nights huddled under my covers with a torch, reading the Bible. I was sure that even if a mass murderer was around, the Bible would keep me safe (I am a minister’s daughter after all!). Needless to say there were no mass murderers, eventually I started sleeping again, and I am not scarred for life. I do remember the basic plot of the story very clearly though (I’ve just googled it and Mary Higgins Clark is the author and I have all the key plot points firmly locked in my head!), and there are some scenes that have stayed with me to this day. I should note at this juncture that I had read the Bible cover to cover a couple of times, and was completely in favour of the somewhat more gory Old Testament!

Then there were the Anya Seton novels. The one I remember most clearly is The Winthrop Woman, with its vivid depictions of scalpings and lots of children, many of whom died. I also loved Seton’s Katherine, and this was far less gruesome! Jean Plaidy was another favourite and I think by age 9, Georgette Heyer had completely captured my imagination. I have been a most intolerant Regency romance ever since, because she set the bar so high for me.

There were the Wilbur Smiths, and other books of my Dad’s. Pretty harmless stuff for the most part, although a few were a bit racy (well, racy for a 10 year old!).  I didn’t tend to filter or censor, I just read anything I could get my hands on. When I was that young, living miles out in the country, there wasn’t a lot of readily available young adult fiction. I do recall my Standard 1 teacher giving me Famous Five books, which were certainly age appropriate and thoroughly enjoyed. I’d read my way through the classics – the Brontes, L M Montgomery, Mark Twain, Johanna Spyri, Louisa M Alcott, Tolkien, C S Lewis, Robert Louis Stevenson and others such as Susan Coolidge and Arthur Ransome by the time I was 9 or 10.

We moved into Gisborne City when I was 10, and there was the bliss of the public library. It wasn’t uncommon for me to take out 10 books and bring them back a few days later. By the time I was 13,  the Childrens’ Librarian was showing me the catalogues of young adult fiction, and together we added Anne McCaffrey, Susan Cooper and a host of others to the Young Adults section.

At the same time, I was taking out biographies, category romance novels (these are your fairly standard Mills & Boon novels), murder, mystery and thrillers. Looking back, not many of the books I was reading, whilst they were adult, had significant adult content. I do recall reading sex scenes, but they were fairly tame. I do recall reading murders (Agatha Christie anyone?) but again, nothing too graphic. I was introduced to Jane Austen about this time too, and continued to read widely.

I have read all through my adult life, and loved my couple of years in England where the books were cheap and there were stores like Forbidden Planet. And an excellent public library down at Clapham Junction stopped me from buying too many books to ship home.

Then I had children, and lo and behold, they were excellent readers. And we had the same issues my parents had – finding suitable content which was still challenging for a young child. I was mindful of my own experiences, and so tried to steer them away or towards certain books. The children never got into Swallows and Amazons, but the girls loved Anne of Green Gables and Little Women. Actually, the boys secretly did too and enjoyed it when I read to them. The joy of passing books I love on to the children, and having them love them as much is indescribable.

We chose not to stop the children from reading anything, but we tried to make sure one of us read it first. The limits for me are when books were just outright nasty – child violence or sex, paedophiles, children being murdered, very graphic sex or violence scenes. Then our oldest girl started reading Jodi Picoult. Picoult’s stories are excellent and the ones that I have read raise very good ethical and moral dilemma questions, but I wasn’t sure that at 13, Genna really was ready for the depth of these. Until she started reading the one about the teenage murder-suicide pact. That was a grim one, but Genna was able to discuss it in some detail, talk about her feelings on the plot and what she would have done in their place. We had some amazing talks because of that book.

It does seem to me that many of the new books published are more graphic in their portrayals of sex and violence, and whilst I think it is very important for children to know about these things, do they need to read graphic descriptions of them? On the other hand, you have wonderful books like ‘The Help’ which my 13-year old and I both loved recently. So the end result of all my musings is that the children will self-censor. If they’re not comfortable with what they’re reading, or it goes above their heads, then they will stop. If they have questions, they will ask. I will give guidance if they come across an author or a story which one of us feels is too graphic, but the choice is normally up to the kids.

And the plus side? They are recommending books to me! The Hunger Games trilogy was a complete favourite, and in return, I recommended Ender’s Game. Some things I’ve held back on a little. My now 13-year old has just embarked on Wuthering Heights. My own experience tells me that 9 was too young for it. At 11, she read and loved Pride and Prejudice, just as I did. My 13-year old stepson has been working his way through his Dad’s collection of Raymond Feist and Janny Wurtz, and has read Lord of the Rings more than once.  On the other hand, my 11-year old son, whilst an excellent reader, isn’t really interested in books. He’s just abandoned Zac Powers (very simple spy type stories) for the Percy Jackson books, which the older children have been trying to persuade him to read for years. He’s setting his own reading level and enjoyment.

Are my older children more sophisticated than they should be? Possibly, when it comes to books and movies, but none of them is showing any signs of distress, angst or terror.  So that’s where I’ve come to. Trying to find books which they will enjoy, recommending excellent writers and stories I’ve enjoyed. Taking the time to discuss the stories they’re reading, applying it to our lives, reading their books.

What books have you shared with your children that you loved? And are there any that you would hesitate to give them?

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The pitfalls of sharing a favourite movie with your children…

Not so long ago, my girls (aged 15 and 13) and I got to have a girls’ night at home. I thought it would be great to share a movie that I had really enjoyed with them.  We browsed through the movies we had at home, and couldn’t find anything that we all wanted to see. Aha! I thought in a moment of inspiration, Bridget Jones’ Diary. What a lovely movie that is – a nice rom com with some very funny bits. And of course Colin Firth and Hugh Grant.And it had been years since I’d seen it.

We duly went out and bought the movie. Tucked up on the couch with chocolate, popcorn and fizzy drink (wine for me), we settled in. And it turns out there were some things I’d forgotten about good old Bridget Jones. First there was the language. Nothing the girls hadn’t heard at school of course, but I’d forgotten quite how bad the language is – particularly from that quintessential English cad, Hugh Grant.

Then there was the sexual content and innuendo. There is almost no actual sex, and it’s certainly not graphic, but there is a lot of sexual allusion, double entendre and sexual references that I somehow thought my daughters shouldn’t be able to understand. There was very little that went over their heads I have to say, begging the question “what are they learning at school?”

Along with that of course, is the lovely romance I remembered, the screamingly funny moments and the hilarious fight between two Englishmen who fight like girls. We thoroughly enjoyed the movie, but I was a bit concerned that I’d scarred the girls for life. A foolish concern of course, but I thought then I should make sure I watched any movies I decided to share with the kids.

We have had long discussions over the years about what to let the children watch and read. Our three oldest children are all readers and of course were reading far beyond their comprehension at a young age. The challenge of finding books that were age appropriate but suitably difficult was a huge one.  Now that they’re older, they’re reading very widely indeed. We let them read what they want for the most part, although we make sure that at least one parent has had a look at what they’re reading. That’s a whole other post!

You would think I had learnt my lesson. But no. This time, it was our own little tribute to Whitney Houston. The day of her funeral, my husband and I decided that we would watch the movie, The Bodyguard, with the four older children. A good story we thought, dramatic, amazing music, a fitting thing to watch.  Of course, it had probably been 15 years since we last saw it, but we remembered the plot pretty well. So we sat down with the boys (11 and 13) and the girls (13 and 15). Did you know how much swearing there is in The Bodyguard? Primarily from Ms Houston’s character I have to say! The story is good and so are the performances, the music IS amazing, but the language is pretty out there. Again, nothing the kids don’t hear at school, but the vernacular for making love is used in all its variety and flavour. Extremely dubious for an 11-year-old and possibly not the right movie for the 13 year olds.

The verdict from the four young people was that they loved it. They got very anxious at the end, and the girls especially loved it, and there was quite some discussion about whether it had a happy ending or not (opinion was divided! Miss 15, our hopeless romantic, thought that they did. The 13-year olds were pretty sure that they didn’t). The children retired to their bedrooms, singing variants of “I Will Always Love You”.

Will I continue to show them inappropriate movies and let them read adult books? Almost certainly. And will I occasionally regret it and think that I should perhaps be censoring a little more? Probably. But you know what? It gives us great things to talk about in the car! Tell me what you think – or tell me about movies you’ve shared with your children that you possibly shouldn’t have!

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Don’t step on the carpet – there are sharks!

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These are not the words a father expects to hear when he walks in the door, hot, sweaty and tired after a morning of cricket. They are also not the words you expect to hear from a 15-year old.

Master 5 was the initial instigator of this event. He built a cushion road from the lounge to the family room. I added a little fuel to the fire by suggesting that they be careful of the sharks in the “water”. Miss 15 and Miss 13 decided that it would be excellent to have a loop of safe islands around the ground floor of the house. Master 13 and Master 11 added the stairs and before we knew it, we could circumnavigate the house via cushions. The jump from the door of my bedroom to my bathroom was a little hairy, but was accompanied by the sound of hysterically giggling teenagers. My husband just remarked, somewhat pitifully as he negotiated his way to the kitchen via cushion island, “I hate sharks!”

Why am I sharing this admittedly entertaining story with you? Well, to entertain of course! But also because it illustrates a concept which I believe is integral to a happy family life. F-U-N.

Life in a large family – life in ANY family – can feel like a daily grind of laundry, meals, taxi drives, cleaning, noise and mess. But it doesn’t have to be like that all the time. Adding a bit of fun, or a bit of silliness can make the day run more smoothly and happily and completely change the atmosphere in the house.

So what do we do to add a bit of fun into our day? There are the family contest nights, where we balance on one leg, wrist wrestle (I am #2 and am still stronger than all the children, but my days are numbered!), plank or see who is the most flexible. These are normally followed by rowdy games of charades. The small boys are often taken upstairs to bath via a horsey ride – and sometimes my husband and I race up! Sometimes we are just downright silly. We play word games, board games and “let’s pretend” games. Visiting children often have a perplexed look on their faces at some new silliness that we have perpetrated, until they figure out that we are joking. We kick balls around at the park, act like monsters, dance, sing and make complete fools of ourselves in public without batting an eyelid. I have been known to serve dinner with an apron on, towel over my arm and a fake french accent. We are often downright ridiculous.

The downside to all this is that it takes energy. Something that we don’t always have after a long day of work and looking after the basic needs of the children and ourselves. My husband is better at this than I am. For this reason, the only New Year’s resolution I make is “HAVE MORE FUN” and I try on a daily basis to think before I say No. I try very hard to look at the world from my youngest childrens’ viewpoint, and thank my lucky stars that our children are young enough to still enjoy a little fun in their day.

So for the rest of the day, I will continue to navigate the shark-infested carpet from the safety of the cushion islands. I am relieved that the children listed the tiles as an island area, otherwise making dinner might have been more challenging than normal!

What do you do to put the fun into your life, or your family life? I’d love to hear and get more ideas!

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Hello world!

Welcome to my new blog, Family Matters. I’ve been blogging for a while, over at Being Gluten Free in NZ, but have been finding lately that whilst that’s great as an information site, I’m wanting to blog more about what goes on in my life generally. So here I am, with a second blog to my name!

Check back here for more posts as I get myself organised!

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