Potty Training Reflections

potty training

Everyone has a potty story to curl the toes of most child-free persons and not a small amount of card-carrying parents. In the next few weeks and months, I am going to embark on another potty training adventure with Luciole and I am not particularly relishing the thought, considering how long-winded an affair it was with her sister. At the moment, 2.7 yrs old Luciole is well aware of what she’s doing, but has no interest whatsoever in telling me about it until after the event. Instead, she waits until she has a brand new nappy on to use it as clean canvas for her little jobs. She sometimes even gives me 5 minutes respite before I have to change her again.

When we were first helping Little Girl to use the toilet a year ago, I once lay in bed and listened to the joyful shouts and exclamations emanating from downstairs ‘you did a poo in the potty, well done! Woohoo!’, which was one of those ‘what is my life?’ moments that you get every so often as a parent. The reality of parenting is that our successes are as random as they are dependent on the child, their personality, the circumstance, hell even the time of day, and there’s only so much mitigation you can do to steer them one way or another.

I have a friend whose eldest self-trained early, and whose second also self-trained before she was even 2. I would not have believed it possible had I not seen it with my own eyes. And despite her early difficulties with the toileting process, Little Girl took to being clean at night like a fish to water. No amount of reading, prep or training could have predicted this outcome, it’s just something she did (can I hear a hallelujah!).

potty training toddler

I’m being a bit lax this time and am just waiting for the summer holidays before actively steering Luciole to be clean. We have carpets everywhere downstairs and I just can’t face it. Potty training is still my parenting nemesis, the one thing that is just pure pain for me from start to finish. She has a potty, knickers that she loves to put on top of her nappy-pants, a potty training book, access to poo-themed YouTube videos (yes they exist, and she found them on her own), and generally she has an endless fascination with pee, poo and body parts so surely it is bound to happen at some point in the next six months.

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My two pence on Frozen

Frozen_(2013_film)_poster

WARNING: contains spoilers for the 2013 Disney movie Frozen.

Much virtual ink has been spilt already over Disney’s most recent animation ‘Frozen’, how beautiful it looks, its catchy songs, its lovely depiction of sisterly affection, its message and subtext, etc.

Having heard so much about it, I was half expecting it to be good but not as special as everyone was making it to be. I was the same with Toy Story 3: after being told so many times I was going to cry at the end, I totally didn’t. I would have cried had they all died in the fiery pit but the end? Touching, but not tear-jerking for me. I know, I am a hard-hearted woman.

For once though I reckon the hype was justified. I loved Frozen; it was wonderful from start to finish. My only (finicky) complaint is that I dislike Idina Menzel’s voice so whilst I enjoyed Let It Go as a song, I found Idina’s voice too harsh, especially on the lower/nearly spoken bits, which means I can’t listen to the song unless the movie is playing. It’s just not an enjoyable experience; whereas I could listen to the Tangled music all day – and I might have to, since Little Girl loves the songs and wants to listen and sing to them a lot.

The story touches on so many interesting ideas and as a parent, I was particularly struck by one thing in particular: Elsa and Anna’s parents’ were the absolute worst. Their response to Elsa’s powers: appalling. I understand their fear; I really do. But their decision to isolate the girls from the world after the accident pretty much gave both of their daughters the worst upbringing ever, and prepared them not one bit to deal with anything the world would throw their way. It’s not to say that both sisters didn’t have any agency in their fate but they were shaped by their confinement in such a way that they did not learn the tools one needs to make healthy decisions.

Despite the fact that the trolls very clearly stated that fear would be her worst enemy, Elsa was raised in a climate of fear. She was instructed to keep herself separate in order to protect others and only learnt to fear her powers; she was hidden away ‘until she would learn to control them’. When would that be exactly? How would this happen, unless some specific proactive action was taken by her parents to help her face her powers head-on?

Anna, on the other hand also suffered terribly from being kept away from the outside world. Her parents might have had good intentions but they left her completely unprepared for life and without the means to discern people’s intentions. As can be the case with naive sheltered girls, Anna thinks herself in love with the very first man she meets, and he turns out to be a very astute manipulator and abuser.  I’m not saying it happens every time, but if you don’t know any better, you are an easy prey for this kind of person. I was impressed at how the myth of ‘love at first sight’ was dealt with in this movie, considering Disney’s own past record. I also liked that it clearly showed that manipulators and abusers rarely look like villains, often they are the nice guys of our communities.

We all want to protect our children from harm. It is a most natural instinct. We see what we consider to be the world’s ‘bad influences’, and we have good intentions. Unfortunately, often we overemphasize the perceived threat the world poses and we seek to protect our children from it instead of preparing them to live in it.

I want my children to make good choices as they grow older. But I also want them to make informed ones, and sheltering them from bad influences will not stop them from encountering them. Certainly, fear should never be the motivator behind any decision I make as a parent.

Courageous Parenting: stepping away from the comparison wars

daring greatly - courageous parenting

A couple of days ago, I reviewed Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly. It was an engaging and deeply challenging read, and I was so impacted that I decided to devote a couple more posts to discussing the contents.

Brown spends an entire chapter addressing Wholehearted parenting and has many wise and challenging things to say about our culture of comparison. This is one of those chapters where I just want to quote everything because all I’ll end up doing is paraphrase what she said and make a bad job of it. I managed to get it down to this one powerful message, that we can’t expect to teach our children how to become healthy adults if we can’t model it ourselves. No pressure or anything but she is so right of course.

 

“Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting. In terms of teaching our children to dare greatly in the ‘never enough’ culture, the question isn’t so much ‘are you parenting the right way?’ as it is ‘Are you the adult that you want your child to grow up to be? In other words, if we want our children to love and accept who they are, our job is to love and accept who we are. We can’t use fear, shame, blame, and judgment in our own lives if we want to raise courageous children. Compassion and connection – the very things that give purpose and meaning to our lives – can only be learned if they are experienced. And our families are our first opportunities to experience these things.”

 

I don’t know what it’s like in other parts of the world, but here in the UK, competitive parenting often feels like a real battle and it has a hideous name, the ‘mummy wars’. And it is SO easy to fall prey to that way of thinking, to toe that black and white line of ‘my way is the best way’ and everybody else’s different parenting choice borders on child abuse. Yes, it can go that far language-wise in some corners of the internet. Breastfeeding vs formula feeding, attachment parenting vs controlled crying, dummies, how many crisps, is he walking yet, which pre-school, is their lunchbox healthy enough, are they getting enough sun, the list goes on. And on. We compare, we worry, we agonize over every little choice and hope our little precious babies will turn out ok despite the fact that we haven’t got a clue what we’re doing. It’s EXHAUSTING.

I hear that whilst we can’t help but observe other parents do their thing, this way of comparing and judging others is not quite as relentless in some other places as it is in the UK. Why this should be I have absolutely no idea but whatever the reason it’s not that British parents care more about their offspring than anywhere else in the world. The reality, of course, is that we all parent differently and there are (mostly) no rights nor wrongs, if this wonderful forum thread about parental practices from around the world is anything to go by (although, no car seats? I did judge a little. So what, sue me).

Being human and all, whilst I feel I know myself better and this has led to being far less concerned about other people’s opinions than I was in my early twenties, there are nonetheless times when I have to fight against making comparisons. We all have our insecurities and there are a few areas where I feel unsure or ‘less than’; from time to time, I will read something or see someone who seems to have it more together, or whose child appears to do better, and I will doubt myself. I can’t help it, and there’s not much that can be done about the actual experience of these emotions. I do however have a choice in how I respond within and without myself. Should I express those feelings or not, should I share my opinion, should I lean into the discomfort and question my motives; in all cases my response should be led by compassion rather than judgment, and it goes both ways. I should be compassionate and not judgmental towards myself and towards the object of my discomfort too.

This is just one of the many things I have taken out of Brown’s chapter on parenting. For more, do check out her book.

 

French Parents Don’t Give in – A Book Review

A couple of years ago, when the book ‘French Children Don’t Throw Food‘ was published, I reviewed the accompanying Wall Street Journal article by the author Pamela Druckerman. I didn’t disagree with everything but I had a number of ‘issues’ and I had a bit of a rant. It turned out to be one of my most popular entries on the blog.

Unbeknown to me, she released a follow-up last year called ‘Bébé Day By Day‘ in the US and ‘French Parents Don’t Give In‘ in the UK, and when I stumbled upon it at the library last week, I just couldn’t resist and had to check it out.

And would you believe it, I actually quite liked it. It’s a quick read, with one entry per page and covering 10 aspects of parenting: pregnancy, babyhood, sleep, food, learning, patience, the cadre i.e parenting philosophy, motherhood, couple relationship and authority. I share some thoughts below on the entries I found most helpful, and the ones that set my teeth on edge.

Pregnancy

French mothers eat sushi (sometimes): people have this idea that nothing will keep a French person away from their food and drink, even pregnancy. But that’s not actually true. French women are as aware of the risks of catching Listeria and Toxoplasmosis as British women are (and drinking and smoking are big no-nos). More so even, I’d say, as they get regularly tested for toxoplasmosis throughout their pregnancy, whereas it’s all left to chance in the UK. So similar food restriction recommendations are in place, with the knowledge that contamination is rare so sushi, and prawns and the like, need not be treated as if they were radioactive. This is good news considering the number of times I forgot that I ought not to have pepperoni on my pizza…

Epidurals aren’t evil: no they’re not, but Ms Druckerman forgets to mention something very important here. In France, pregnancy and birth are in the main highly medicalised processes. Think about the difference between the UK and US versions of One Born Every Minute. In the UK, you see lots of women giving birth and walking through the pain with just gas and air. In the US version, everyone has an epidural. It’s the same in France. Most women are monitored to within an inch of their life. Unless you are intent on a natural birth and you go out of your way to find a local birthing centre (which is by no means guaranteed) and fight tooth and nail for the kind of birth you want, it will be expected that you will just have a heavily medicalised hospital birth. So of course epidurals aren’t evil. But they are the norm in France, and doctors are gods among men so this is a bit misleading.

Babyhood

Formula isn’t poison: breast is best but formula isn’t evil and most people who’ve had it are healthy, blah blah blah. How many times have I heard this. I hate this rhetoric so, so much and it’s especially ironic when you think that breastfeeding isn’t the norm in France at all. And you know what, I agree. Formula isn’t poison, and there should absolutely be no guilt attached to whichever way you choose to feed your baby. But using highly emotive words like ‘poison’ is not helpful to anyone on either side of the fence on this issue and it causes a great deal of damage to the conversation. Misinformation about breastfeeding really annoys me, especially when we are talking about health, because whilst it is absolutely true that formula is the next best thing after breast milk, it is also as ‘like breast milk’ as the moon is close to the earth, close enough I guess but also thousands of miles away. And breast is best is not a good argument, breast is not best, it is normal. Rant over, I am moving on.

Sleep

Argh, argh argh, there is so much to dislike about this chapter! The myth of the baby who sleeps through at 3 months, ‘tell baby it’s bedtime. Explain that the whole family needs rest.’ AAAAARRRGH!

I do like the idea of practicing ‘La Pause’ however i.e not rushing to pick up the baby as soon as it stirs. Sometimes picking them up is the thing that wakes them up.

Food

Unsurprisingly, I liked everything in that chapter, probably because most of the suggestions already feature in our house. One did stand out to me, about giving just one snack a day in the afternoon. In the UK, you tend to have a snack time in the morning as well, and I find myself offering food to Little Girl far more often than that. I wonder if it is possible to cut back by keeping a routine of an early lunch around 11.30 am and a restorative snack around 4 pm. In typical French fashion, my girls don’t often eat a separate dinner to us adults in the evening, and they certainly do not eat it at 5 pm (which is still afternoon as far as I’m concerned). We eat between 6.30 pm and 7.15 pm and so a decent snack can go a long way.

Learning, Patience, The Cadre, Motherhood and Authority

All five sections were full of interesting and positive suggestions: not becoming a praise addict; teaching children not to interrupt; slowing down response time so they will learn patience;  learning to cope with frustration as a crucial life skill; explaining the reason behind the rule (also known as treating your children like the intelligent people they most likely are); not becoming a ‘taxi-parent’. All great stuff, but very common-sense and it made me wonder what sort of culture the author is addressing. Not the one I am a part of it seems, but one where overbearing helicopter parents say yes to all of their children’s demands.

Your Relationship (Adult time)

Your baby doesn’t replace your partner: this is SO TRUE. I remember reading a thread on a parenting forum where the question asked was who do you love the most in your house, your children or your partner. The overwhelming majority said their children were their whole world and if one had to give, it would have to be their partner. I was astonished. I don’t understand this at all. I think it is especially important to take care of your relationship with your partner and to carve out time for it. My children are absolutely not my priority all of the time, and this does not mean that they are neglected in any way. When your children grow up and leave, what then? Do you want to spend the rest of your life with a stranger? I don’t love my children in the same way that I love my husband, and I don’t see why I can’t have both.

Fathers are a separate species: now, this one led to an actual ‘WTF, Pamela Druckerman?’ moment from me. The whole entry is so condescending to men and implies that parenting haplessness is to be expected from them. I don’t even have the words to say how much I think this is a lot of bull. Well, I do, but I’ve already written too much so we are going to Let It Go. For now.

Conclusion

On the whole, this is nevertheless a little book I can recommend to parents. It is a flawed but entertaining read. ‘French parenting’ is still really NOT a thing in my opinion and the book (probably both books but I still haven’t read the first) should not be read as you would an expert parenting book. Ms Druckerman is open about the backlash she got after the first book was released in her introduction and she admits it herself, she is not a parenting expert but a journalist, and these are her observations as a parent. Also, there are recipes at the end of the book, of the type that Parisian nurseries offer to their charges. Read and be amazed.

Life With Two Kids

Life has been crazy over here chez la Frog. Pregnancy did its usual thing of taking over my brain space so that there was no room left for anything other than ‘and the next day… And the one after… And the one after that…’. Not that anything terribly wrong happened, just the usual horrors of acid reflux, low iron and the June heat but I just couldn’t focus long on anything, couldn’t settle to think, all my energies were spent cooking up that baby and doing life with a nearly 2 year-old.

And now of course there are two! So my brain is just as struggly as before when it comes to multi-tasking and thinking.

Little Girl is now a big girl, she turned 2 a month and a half ago and is lovely and exasperating in equal measures (thanks for spreading all that lovely flour on the floor darling; love you xx).

Luciole is 10 weeks, and what a lovely baby she is. Much easier than her sister at the same age, in that she doesn’t cry at night. I know, I’m embarrassed to admit it because I know it’s so rare but it’s true. She wakes up to eat but doesn’t cry. We’re co-sleeping so I feel/hear her all the same but it turns night feeds into a dream. I am so much better rested than I was with her sister, despite having had as rough a birth this time as the first time, that I now realise how unwell I really was in the first couple of months with Little Girl. Anyway… It’s all in the past now and I am enjoying this new stage of life. The trickiest thing really is not having four arms. Even with Luciole in the sling, I am not quite tall enough to be able to easily multi-task. I can’t bend down properly, let alone cook, do the washing-up or whatever else you’re supposed to be free to do if you carry your baby in a sling. I can’t do it! So I sit down a lot, and hold the baby, and play with Little Girl. These early days are so precious and fleeting that it seems a shame to spend them cleaning – although I do do some of that too, and cook, and change an awful lot of nappies, just not as often as I probably should – if you come visit, the house is just more likely to look like a bomb site than a stately home, that’s all!.

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The two sisters getting to know each other