Child Wrangling

When I go on a long work trip, I often end up buying some books, because it is one of the rare times that I get to selfishly spend uninterrupted hours just reading. In September, I had a trip where I picked up a couple of parenting books.

My kids are getting bigger, and while at the moment I can get them to go where I need them to go by picking them up and taking them there, this is not sustainable. When we had babies, I read a bunch of books about how to get through that stage, but I hadn’t educated myself on parenting primary-school-age children. So, I picked two best-selling titles that seemed to have differing perspectives, and figured by reading both I would get a good coverage of the space. Now, by writing about them here, I am forced to understand them well enough to explain them.

The first book was 1-2-3 Magic by Thomas W Phelan. It is all about how to improve the behaviour of children 2-12yo through “effective discipline”, and is currently rated 4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon (139 reviews). It is written by a child psychologist and is an easy read. I would say that this book has a basic assumption that children are happy and well behaved when they know what behaviour is required of them.

The second book was Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting by Noel Janis-Norton. It is all about how to improve the behaviour of children 3-13yo through “five strategies” and is currently rated 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon (27 reviews). It is written by a child educator and is a comprehensive theory and practice for child-raising. This book has a basic assumption that children can work out what they are supposed to do, and will do the right things when they are supported appropriately and when doing the wrong things no longer works.

I seem to recall that I was a near-perfect child. So, my memories of how my own parents raised me should not be relied upon, and I find that I need to come up with things that suit my kids. Hopefully they will look back and think they were near-perfect as well.

Despite taking different approaches, the two books do agree on some aspects. There are five common strategies that I have noticed, and they seem reasonably sensible:

  1. Don’t ignore bad behaviour.
  2. Stay calm and don’t shout.
  3. Always follow through.
  4. Spend quality time with each child.
  5. All caregivers in a house act consistently.

However, there is probably more that they disagree about than they agree, as you may guess from their differing assumptions about children’s behaviours. In addition to the above five common strategies, Phelan’s book proposes two fundamental techniques for achieving household happiness:

  1. Impose time-outs for repeated bad behaviour.
  2. Establish everyday routines.

Of course, the book has plenty more detail around how to do this. In particular the title of the book refers to counting instances of bad behaviour, and putting a child into time-out when the third count is reached.

On the other hand, Janis-Norton’s book has different fundamental techniques that support a range of parenting strategies:

  1. Train children to want parental praise and recognition.
  2. Teach them how to verbalise thoughts and emotions.

Hers is a very thorough book, going into numerous examples over its 400+ pages. However, it doesn’t include any examples of disciplining children – at least not in a traditional way. Looking on the Internet, it seems this sort of approach is also known as positive discipline, and there are other authors out there that promote it. Janis-Norton many times states that she knows it may seem unbelievable that this could work, but reassures the reader that it does.

I haven’t decided yet how to put any of this into practice, but I feel now better equipped with a bunch of parental tools that I hope will make life easier and more sustainable. And if I don’t have to pick up and move children any more, my back will be thankful.

Division of Labour

It’s something that I think all couples, and in particular, all parents grapple with: how to fairly divide up the housework. I know that some of my friends have also written about it.

One of the best things I’ve ever read about the division of parenting and housework between the sexes was on the New York Times, and if you’re interested in the topic, I recommend you go read it right now. It’s well researched, balanced and insightful.

And in that article, there’s a reference to something that blew my mind. It’s research done by Professor Esther Rothblum at the San Diego State University. Rothblum’s work, published in 2005, compared the amount of hours spent on housework between the sexes, taking into account whether they were gay or straight.

Given that the typical study into sharing of housework finds that men spend much less time doing housework than women, I expected that heterosexual men also on average spend less time doing housework than homosexual women, or even homosexual men. However, that’s not what Rothblum found when she looked at gay and straight couples’ division of labour.

The research concluded that on average 6-10 hrs of housework per week was performed each by lesbians, gay men, and straight men, and 11-20 hrs per week for straight women. (“6-10 hrs” and “11-20 hrs” were different responses in a survey.) A corollary would be that heterosexual couples spend more time in total on housework than gay couples.

Why might this be so? It’s not clear. Rothblum doesn’t go into that aspect in her study, as she seems more interested in the relative share between partners than the absolute numbers.

However, some possible explanations that come to mind are:

  • There may be some kind of cultural pressure that applies in the female heterosexual community, but not in the homosexual community or the male heterosexual community, that requires women to keep their house to a higher standard. (But can such communities be distinct enough for this effect to have significant force?)
  • When straight couples have children, it is known to reinforce traditional gender roles, resulting in women spending more time on household duties than they did prior to children. Perhaps gay couples are less likely to have children and this reinforcing effect is then less likely to occur.
  • Straight men may be, on average, so bad at housework that more time is required by straight women to keep a house to the same standard as that of a gay couple’s, even when straight men spend the same amount of time doing it as, say, gay men. (But if they are “practicing” for the same amount of time each week, why would they be worse?)
  • Men are likely to overestimate the amount of time spent doing housework on a survey, and surveys were used in this research. But does this apply only to straight men and not to gay men?
  • About 200 people in each category were surveyed, and perhaps not enough people were included to get a representative result of the whole country. Although, the women’s results were statistically significant (p < 0.0005).

Still, this is a counter-intuitive finding, and it would be interesting to see if other research reinforces the conclusion. If valid, it may go some way toward defending (heterosexual) men against the charge of not pulling their weight around the home.

But in any case, these results describe average situations across a large number of couples. There’s no “right” figure, of course. Every couple needs to find their own balance, taking into account their own unique circumstances. Which is why, I guess, it’s interesting for us all to write about it.

The second child

I return to work in just a few days, leaving Kate to carry the burden of two small children on her own. Although the time spent with my family over the last six weeks has been great, it can’t go on forever without someone working.

But reflecting on what it has been like this time, compared to the last time we had a newborn, I’ve realised how different these weeks have been.

For our first child, Harriet, we were jumping off a cliff together and we didn’t know what was at the bottom. We lacked confidence, we lacked knowledge, and the only thing we knew was that our lifestyle would be changed irrevocably.

To prepare that time, I read books and went to classes, read my parent friends’ blogs and stocked-up on frozen dinners. And it was all very helpful, and we survived intact.

This time, for our second child, Philippa, I waited until a week before and re-read parts of one book for preparation. A major difference was that this time, we had knowledge (although, a quick refresher helped) and confidence.

But what we had last time that we didn’t have last time was time. While last time, we could relax, rest or sleep during the periods when the newborn was unconscious, this time we didn’t have that luxury.

As well as Harriet having long awake periods, she has also realised that she needs to be more demanding to achieve the level of attention she received pre-Philippa. This may also be explained by simply being two-year-old age, but some is likely due to the competition.

One aspect that is easier is we’ve now well and truly given up on our old lifestyle. Going out most evenings is now a distant memory. The struggle to retain some of the old lifestyle was a part of the adjustment in having Harriet in our lives, and this is a struggle that didn’t need to be repeated for Philippa. I guess this is an advantage in having the two children relatively close together – we hadn’t strayed too far from the way of living that we’d developed to accommodate a baby.

There are plenty of nice things about having another little baby around, though it’s hard not to look back on the early days with Harriet fondly, to now think of how good we had it. This is, of course, looking with eyes that now have the confidence and knowledge that we didn’t have back then, but the yearning for more time is very strong.

So, it’s unsurprising that many of the strategies that we’ve discussed for when I return to work involve getting Kate more time. For example, enrolling Harriet in care for one day a week, visiting Kate’s parents to share the kids around for one day a fortnight, etc.

I know we’re not the first people to have a second child, so it can clearly be made to work. I guess we’ll find out how.

Enquiring minds

I want to know if there are any answers to parenting’s big questions.

  • What topics of conversation are there, aside from spew and poo?
  • How long can your baby scream for before you can expect a knock on your door from the police?
  • What is the legal limit of poo that you can dispose of via the garbage?
  • Exactly how unpleasant was life as a parent before nappies were invented?
  • What is the line between jiggling a baby to sleep and unhealthily shaking a baby?
  • Is lack of sleep a valid defence against loss of humour?

A different perspective

It’s something that Kate and I are doing together, but we’re clearly having very different experiences. I don’t think we’ve been so divergent since that time we saw Bowling For Columbine. But this time Marilyn Manson isn’t making a guest appearance.

We’re both caring for Harriet, but due to anatomical differences, we have different roles. Kate handles all of the feeding, while we share the playtime, and I do most of the settling.

Currently the breakdown in hours is something like this:

  • Sleeping – 14 hours
  • Feeding – 5 hours (including mid-feed nappy change)
  • Settling – 4 hours (including bath-time)
  • Play – 1 hour

There’s no play at night-time, and happily she requires minimal settling after midnight, so my participation is generally limited to civilised hours. However, Kate is involved 24/7.

The other aspect is that I’m involved to this level for only these weeks before I return to full-time work, while Kate is looking at doing this for months and months into the future. I’m hoping that at the six-week mark, when I go back to work, the most dependent and most unsettled parts of Harriet’s early life are behind us.

But we are living different lives here, despite spending all our hours together. I guess I wasn’t expecting that.