Sibling holiday arguments

We have just returned back to school after a two week half term break. 

We spent half term mostly at home as we’re trying to save ready for the summer holidays. I also childminded 3 days of the 2 weeks so we were a bit more restricted on activities on those days. 

Finlay and Daisy went away for a few days for a break to their Grandma, and had a few arguments whilst away as expected, but on returning their arguing persisted and continued right up until school drop off on Monday morning. 

I know that it’s just human nature for siblings to argue, especially when they’re still having to share a bedroom together and their friends aren’t around to play with.  As normal as it is that every little thing they do they have to comment on, tell tale or torment each other, it can just be so sad and negative to listen to. 

Having to be a referee all day, everyday, is quite frankly utterly exhausting thus leaving me in a negative mindset for the day. It’s not only unfair on me but unfair and not a good example to set to Teddy our 3 year old. 

I would tell myself they need a structured fun activity to break up the argument cycle, so we would get a craft activity out and then after a short while it would proceed to arguments of who gets what and how it should be done. Therefore the only time they would show signs of getting on would be when they weren’t interacting with each other or anyone else in front of an iPod or tv screen. You can see how it’s far easier to let them switch off from interacting with each other and just play on iPods. This isn’t ideal and not what we consider a healthy way to spend half term and so I would limit their screen time and then the arguments would then ensue as soon as screen time was reduced. 

I mentioned with more concern how I felt to my husband at the end of this tiring second week and he thought that maybe going forward they need more structure and routine to the holidays. Something of which yes I agree, but it is good on the other hand to have less constraints on holiday days. 

Anyhow after thinking about what he suggested I have decided as it’s 6 weeks away til the longest holidays of the year I need to plan ahead and put in place ideas and a rough timetable in preparation. 

Is this normal to plan out with controlled precision the summer holidays? Maybe this is how others get by and survive the holidays? I would love to hear people’s take on this subject. 

So now I want to look at each week and draft out plans for days out, clubs, and time for them to have space  from each other. I also feel that it will be nice have a few days to leave for being lazy or spontaneous and just to be able to go with the flow, and this will be interesting to see if these days work or whether I’m going to want to plan every day in the end!

If anyone can provide tips on how to survive sibling rivalry please do let me know and any tips on how to structure activities for siblings to allow more harmony in the house to ensue.

Don’t get me wrong they can be a great little team together and come up with some imaginative games together when on good form, it just seemed this holiday it wasn’t the case and so I need to prepare for the next holidays to avoid being a full time referee! 


The Baby-Led Weaning recipes – Daddy attempts!

So we got the new Annabel Karmel book recently and I decided to have a go at a couple of things on a rainy Saturday afternoon. 
We’ve used her recipe books for as long as we’ve had children, and some of her recipes have become real go-to family favourites over the years.

First up was Chocolate Beetroot Brownies. I love dark chocolate brownies, and the addition of beetroot made this an easy sell. The recipe itself is a doddle to follow, even for an enthusiastic amateur like myself. I ended up giving them an extra 5 minutes in the oven as I wasn’t convinced they were ready, and that seemed to be just right.

Everyone enjoyed them, even Daisy (who has a natural aversion to fruit & vegetables!).

Next up was Chicken, Cherry Tomato & Sweetcorn Quesadillas, with a Cottage Cheese Dip.Again, dead easy to knock up as an easy Saturday night dinner, and quite healthy ingredients as you would expect from Annabel Karmel.This went down well with the kids too (a bit of a pizza feel to the meal as it was cut up like wedges), and Florence enjoyed tearing her wedge apart and eating it in the baby-led way. Look forward to Charlotte’s blog post of what she was doing in the kitchen alongside me, it was delicious!

The Pramshed

Father’s Day

For anyone looking for Father’s Day ideas. We searched Pinterest and quickly ordered some craft items off eBay. They arrived in a couple of days and then the kids enjoyed creating these masterpieces. There wasn’t too many arguments between them, leaving me free to supervise whilst having a relatively hot coffee! We are trying to have quite a frugal month here in preparation for summer holidays and 3 family birthdays, so homemade gifts under Β£10 are just the ticket for us right now!

I thought you’d like this board on Pinterest… 

Age Gap Parenting- slow parenting approach

With four children spanning an age range from baby to 11 years old we have faced different stages of challenges, levels of independence, ways of entertaining and parental joys.  With our eldest we have blindly entered each year of different childhood challenges, parental techniques and worked our way through. We are fortunate that our eldest has been for the most part a very contented child. This giving us a foot up the parent ladder in working out techniques for dealing with all of our children and aiding us in proactive ways to entertain them, discipline them and support them in their childhood years. Of course each of our children have different personality traits to keep us on our toes and not all are as easy as he has been so far. 

One technique we rely on is a term I suppose that comes under ‘slow parenting’. We feel it’s not necessary even with our first to rush their childhood as it only lasts for such a short time as it is. This parenting approach we use all the time in our minds for planning our family time together. We don’t feel that we’re holding our children back as they have the opportunity to have one to one time at home when we split our parenting (tag team parenting) so I will help Daisy bake a cake whilst Dougie parents the others or he will do fitness sessions with the older ones whilst I have the baby or some much needed quiet time! 

Our older ones also have time out away from home to gain much needed independence and have age appropriate activities. Our children attend a variety of after school clubs where they can be with their peers and gain lifelong skills for example at Scouts, cubs, swimming, judo, gymnastics, piano lessons etc. Along side this they have weekends away throughout the year with and without Daddy at scout/cub/beaver camp. 

So when we are together as a family we pitch our activities and daily routines to try and encompass all four and lean towards including the younger ones. We just need to plan and think about ways to age gap parent to please all. 

Here are some of our tips that work for us:

Out and about – When we’re in parks, having walks or picnics the little ones are entertained by playground equipment, woodland trails and playing catch and blowing bubbles. To keep our older ones happy we set them challenges such as climbing trees, geocaching, and running a game of hide and seek / what’s the time Mr Wolf! Failing this we allow them a little independence such as exploring an area by themselves with a time limit set. We also invested in battery operated 2-way walkie-talkies, which the big ones love and means they can roam a little further without us having to shout to call them back for lunch! Ours love 10 minutes to visit tourist souvenir shops independently in a museum or visitors centre for example. This also means our toddler is not becoming impatient with everyone whilst they’re looking around. 

Shopping – In shops (not that we shop often all together!) we give them age appropriate jobs to keep them on task and to save our sanity such as writing lists, collecting the trolley, fetching items. 

Age appropriate Movies – At home we stick to a few rules regarding age and that is we only allow our children to watch films rated appropriately to their age (few exceptions the first 3 Harry Potter films and Star Wars films) this makes it easier as when our eldest reaches 12 he will have lots of films to look forward to watching and will do so in his staying up time. We can then pick films that mostly entertain all 3 of the film watchers in the house. 

Morning routine – During the week in the morning we have the Milkshake Children’s channel on the tv to keep the toddler in one place whilst I’m getting organised, and allowing the big two to get organised for school without being distracted. They get a chance to view older programs in cbbc etc at the little one’s bathtime.

Homework time – Strategies we use are advance warning (children do not like to be ambushed by homework!), picking your time so they’re not too tired, trying to be encouraging/not overly critical, and downright bribery!

Reflection – Having just a few minutes a day to ask them all one by one about a good fact of the day and anything that wasn’t so good? You’ll get a useful insight into how your children think!

Playing outside – we have a tree swing for the older ones, den area and trampoline for them all, and a little house, slide and water play/sand pit area etc for the toddler. Our older two are also allowed some independence playing outside our house with friends as we are lucky to live in a relatively secure environment. 

Bedtime Routine – We stagger bedtimes and have done so since Finlay hit about 5. Even if it’s 15 minutes difference it gives them a brief window of one to one bedtime, or allows them peace to read without tired siblings annoying them! 

Chores & Pocket Money – Our  eldest is often doing his normal tween groaning on how unfair it is that he gets more to do. He is swiftly reminded that he has weekly pocket money hence a few more chores that others. We started Β£1 per week pocket money around aged 8, as before this we have found that they just aren’t that motivated nor old enough to grasp it. We also keep our money levels low as we have 4 and we don’t want them to have money thrown at them from a young age. It’s also good to encourage them to save up for bigger toys. Our 11 year old is now on Β£2 a week. There are plenty of weeks in the year that he will slack off and not be paid for but then he will also boost it by cleaning the car/ shed etc for more coins when he’s motivated! He has an Osper Card which is loaded by us, and this has made him more aware and hopefully more mature when it comes to thinking about money. Now even our toddler is encouraged to take his plate to the sink, clothes to the wash basket etc to then justify the odd packet of chocolate buttons at the end of the week. At this age they really are happy to do such basic chores as they find it a good challenge!  

In all of our plans to keep every age happy we find that our eldest love to share and show their younger siblings things that they know how to do, have seen before or can help them tackle. This can be even sitting and playing with duplo, blocks, happyland, pushing the baby swing or even watching Peppa Pig. Let’s face it we all love to act younger than we have to sometimes! A perfect example of sibling games occurred tonight when Finlay made up a game for Teddy with Star Wars figures and a soft ball- called Star Wars skittles!  This then makes for a happy team and good team work skills for life. So then everyone is entertained and gives us grown up children a chance for a much needed coffee, breather and chat! 

I have started a series of videos on ideas of age gap activities on our YouTube channel for anyone needing a bit of inspiration.

Cuddle Fairy

Being a Dad – It’s a work in progress.

I’ve heard people say “oh there’s no manual for being a parent”, but there are many, many books out there on the subject, and in our digital age answers to questions are only a click away. However, despite the abundance of information and advice out there (blogs included!), it remains a fact that there really is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ manual for being a parent. It comes down to one simple fact. Individuality. You are an individual, and so is your child. My kids are currently 11, 8, 3 and 9 months, and I have changed in my parenting style as the years have gone on. I was tougher on the first and had high expectations, but have softened (slightly) over the years and have learned to accept that things will happen when the child is ready. 

As a 35 year old first time father I certainly wasn’t young, but it was daunting nevertheless, and I had definite ideas of how I was going to be as a daddy. Turns out you can’t really plan like that, as the little rascals keep you on your toes so much sometimes you don’t know if you’re coming or going! 
Top Tip (and you’ll be pleased to know it’s only this one, I’m not about to turn into a ‘been there done that’ dispenser of wisdom) – Do not be too hard on yourself, you’re doing better than you think. That’s it.

There are times when you raise your voice, times when you make them cry, and yes (don’t hang me), times when you may say unkind things to them you wish you could take back. After you’ve finished beating yourself up about it, move on, because it’s guaranteed that your kids will forgive you and move on quicker than you. Their capacity for forgiveness is humbling. And let’s face it, anyone who’s watched Supernanny realises it’s not all bad! 

Confession time – I’ve dropped my kids, lost my kids (found one in the service lift in a department store after a frantic 2 minutes once!), forgot to feed them, left nappies on too long, forgot to sunscreen them and generally done a few things that, on face value, probably put me in the bad daddy category. At that time. And that’s the important thing to remember; it’s transient, so relax. Who knew you could still grow up in your forties? Don’t answer that! 

Joking aside, that part is true. You never stop learning, and because each child is different means that you have to test and adjust your style to find what works. Sometimes I feel I’m totally on top of it with my 11 years’ experience, and other times I feel as if I’ve been at it just 11 minutes.

I’m kept on the straight and narrow by my wife (obviously!), who will readily offer an alternative method of delivery for my grumpy dad-rants; she has a gentler parenting style than me and remains calmer for longer, so I try to listen when I can, as I’m a hot-headed/short-fuse type by personality.

By and large we learn from both good and bad experiences with adults as children. As a 6 year old I vividly remember being smacked hard by the father of a friend for some small 6 year old misdeed, but equally vividly I remember as a 9 year old a different friend’s father showing me how to draw a Dalek from Dr Who (I’ve long since forgotten your name but thank you!).

Based on that thought, I try to do enough of the memorably good things and as little as possible of the memorably negative ones.

So what’s solution to getting it wrong sometimes? Getting it right more. Sounds simple, but it’s about balance. Like Dr Seuss says, ‘Life is a balancing act’. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Just keep going as best as you can, because being a dad is, always, a work in progress.

Cuddle Fairy

The Weekend Dad.

I’m a weekend dad. Not through choice, it’s a work thing. Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do, and sometimes that thing means working away from home. I know there are loads of dads in this situation, some through choice and some, like me, through circumstances beyond our control. 

I’ve been doing this since January and it has its ups and downs, which I’ll describe in a bit.

So my Monday routine is like this: 4am alarm, bike to bus stop 4 miles away, get bus to train station, get train, then another 4 mile bike ride to work. Get showered and changed in time to be in the office for normal time. Thursday I reverse the route (with one additional train) and am home in time for a late dinner with my wife. I’m lucky to be able to work from home most Fridays, so actually get 4 nights in my own home. 

There are some downsides despite this flexibility. I never, ever, planned to be the ‘weekend dad’, it’s not what I see as something that works for me or my family. I miss them during the week, and although we sometimes FaceTime or speak on the phone I know the kids miss me being around too. My wife has to be mummy & daddy mon-thu, and although I have intervened when asked, it’s difficult to discipline/have a word with your kids effectively over the phone. Charlotte will admit she resents the freedom I have mon-wed to do what I choose in the evenings while she does everything for the kids & household with no help, although most Mondays I’m in bed early as I’m tired from the early start! The financial aspect is irritating too as I pay for accommodation I’m only in 3 nights, but that’s part and parcel of the commuting life I suppose. 

So what works? Well, I always look forward to getting home & seeing everyone (absence makes the heart grow fonder!), and Charlotte & I try to make an effort with each other as a consequence.

Good communication is the key. I don’t always get this right, but as a minimum we speak at bedtime every night (never go to sleep on a disagreement!), and I always let her know if I’m not available so she doesn’t wonder if I’m ok or not. I also always let her know when I’m on the way home. With her being the only parent during the week I can sometimes come home and make the wrong suggestions, or agree to the kids’ requests before checking with her. She is very organised (unlike me!), and usually plans our weekend activities and meals. Some weekends I come home and expect it to be like a holiday, forgetting that there are always jobs to do around the house, but this is because I want to have fun with the kids. When Charlotte lets me know her expectations (and to a degree vice versa), it works better. She will often message me before I arrive with what’s been going on, what needs done, and what she would like to do as a family at the weekend. We all like the outdoors, and Charlotte & I love finding nice little coffee shops, so our weekends often incorporate a family walk including the obligatory coffee & cake stop! There are also lots of places nearby with family friendly activities, from RSPB centres, to adventure playgrounds, rivers and to the seaside. With a little imagination and minimal equipment (picnic is a family favourite!) we have great days out on a regular basis.

I try to bring a little something home for the kids each week as a Friday treat, but it’s small (e.g. chocolate Freddo or pencil/eraser) and just to let them know I’m thinking of them when I’m away.

 One of the hardest things as a father is to feel like I’m missing out on little milestones – Florence is changing so much in these early months, and the others all have little achievements I miss too. Before moving I was a volunteer school governor at my kids’ primary school, and a Cub Scout adult helper every week. It’s losing this kind of involvement in their lives and development that I notice. Charlotte does also document lots of the little things that the kids are up to, so that helps when I feel like I’m missing them growing up.

It isn’t forever, and hopefully we will all be together again in a few months, but it’s definitely a test of strength for all of our relationships, and I respect those for whom it works.

The Pramshed

Our little Summerborn continued…

If you follow our blog then you will be aware that we applied to defer our 3 year old son Teddy a Reception start until the term after he turns 5 (compulsory school age), which for him is September 2018. Lots of local authorities are rightly open and agreeing to allow the parents the choice of when to start their summer term born 4  year olds in Reception, so these children would have just turned 5 the September of their entering school.

We are for now living in Lancashire and we have a fully supportive head teacher at our local school and a supportive nursery.  As parents with older siblings at school we have always had a good relationship with the school, as has my husband in his role as a volunteer parent governor, and we couldn’t have asked for more with their support towards this request. Nursery also have been brilliant; after several chats and a letter of support they were very happy to continue caring for Teddy up until July 2018 when he turns 5 at the end of the school term. 

We sent our own heartfelt reasonings as parents to Lancashire County Council as to why he should be given more time to be at home with myself, his sister and my childminding setting whilst also in a nursery provision for 15 hours a week. This is discussed more in our previous post, see the link below. 

We heard from Lancashire CC just before primary places were announced. Their decision was as we expected from this stubborn local authority. Like others in this area it was a ‘no’. We feel that they are just in a corner of ‘them and us’, and they are backed into their corner of stubbornness in wanting to keep denying parental choice and are keeping this stance. Our correspondence gave us the choice of accepting a place for Teddy for the intake of September 2017 or re-applying next year for a Reception start, which will be decided by the school and their attendance levels for that year, thus running the risk of Teddy missing Reception  and being placed into Year One. 

We spoke with our headteacher who was surprised by their decision, and feeling more determined than ever we have opted to reapply for September 2018 for a Reception place. 

We have high hopes that the government can move towards a consultation and stop the postcode lottery of summerborns by making it a nationwide parental choice. However now with another general election added to brexit these such parliamentary issues are put on a back burner it seems. 

With relocation of our family in the near future we have no firm idea whether we will be applying to our local school in LCC or indeed another school and LA somewhere else, therefore not having a definitive answer until spring/summer 2018.

In our eyes having to miss Reception and being placed into Year One is not in the interests of any child. Who knows what we will be up against next year with our current local authority, or maybe another one with a similar viewpoint who fail to comply with requests of change from MPs, education professionals and parents. We feel that we have only just started our small battle. 

For now we prefer to be positive in the fact that we have a supportive school on board for next year, and that if we have moved by September that we will by chance be in a forward thinking, open LA who believe it’s the parents’ right to choose. For now, our summerborn journey continues……

Mudpie Fridays