By Robin Barker 25 May, 2017

Following the interest in the story about breast refusal - Twit-Twoo Guru - posted on my Story Blog ( ) I’m putting up a post on the topic as it seems to have  struck a chord.

‘Twit-Twoo Guru’ is a story about early breast refusal soon after birth, however breast refusal can happen at any age. Possible causes tend to vary with the age of the baby.

Breast refusal is a broad term describing a range of behaviour at the breast where the baby, for reasons that may not be clear, fusses and fidgets, screams or gets distracted and refuses to feed.

 It’s potentially extremely distressing for mothers. The nurturing instinct strongly revolves around feeding our babies. Feeding babies is deeply preoccupying and emotionally satisfying. When it goes pear-shaped all manner of gloomy thoughts bubble up and spill over. What am I doing wrong? Doesn’t my baby like me? Is there something wrong with my breasts, my milk, my baby?

The up and down nature of breast refusal adds to the anxiety. Wondering whether a feed will be a dreamy, drifty pleasure or a frustrating, miserable ordeal has the potential to wreak havoc on the mother’s well-being and enjoyment of her baby.

 On the plus side, breast refusal is common. It is nearly always temporary and often with patience, some moral support and the right advice the breast refusal will end as mysteriously as it began.

By Robin Barker 12 May, 2017

             Avoiding Smacking

Judging by the comments on my Facebook page not everyone wants to avoid smacking their children, however I meet many who do.

It’s impossible to talk about ways to avoid smacking without talking about discipline in general.
What follows is a summary of the basics of discipline. It is a brief look at proven ways to help children behave the way we’d like them to without resorting to giving them a good smack.
For more in-depth information on discipline, there are many good books available (see bookshelf below for a few suggestions).

Most of us go into parenthood with barely a clue on discipline apart from what we’ve picked up from our own parents. This may have been great or terrible or something in between. Getting help from a book or an expert in the field can do a lot to smooth the path especially if, as is common, parents are not quite sure what they are doing.

          Why do parents smack?

  • Some parents smack sparingly in a cool-headed way as a last resort for things they judge as serious misbehaviour or to get their child’s attention when his or her safety is at risk. They smack because they believe physical punishment is more effective than any of the other alternatives offered up by child discipline experts and researchers.
  • More commonly, parents smack impulsively because:
They have reached the end of their tether and are exhausted, angry and worried about a whole lot of things that have nothing to do with their children (relationship, mortgage stress, work commitments).

They don’t know what else to do.

They feel pressured by other parents to smack, for example, toddler bites another toddler at playgroup.

Frightened parents smack when their child runs onto the road, tries to touch a hot stove, climbs up onto something dangerous.
By Robin Barker 12 Apr, 2017

Fifty-one countries have laws banning the smacking of children. In December 2016, France became the fifty-second country to bring in a law banning smacking however, in January 2017, the short-lived law was overturned on technical grounds.

The French law, intended to be read out to couples when taking their civil wedding vows, was largely symbolic as there was no criminal sanction for those found guilty of disobeying the law.

Penalties for smacking in some countries where the law exists, vary from fines to community service to restriction of parental care to jail time. It is unclear whether these penalties apply to assault and abuse or light smacking or both.

In most countries, unlike laws against child assault and abuse, there is no criminal penalty applied to anti-smacking laws.

          What about in Australia?

Australia doesn’t have an anti-smacking law. Like many countries, we do have laws against excessive, harmful physical, emotional and psychological ‘chastisement’ that falls under the umbrella of child assault and abuse.

While details vary from state to state, smacking by parents in the home is deemed legally acceptable on the proviso that it doesn’t involve excessive force.

          And in Australian schools?

When I was at primary school getting a whack with a ruler on bare legs or knuckles was a normal part of school life.
In high school, girls escaped corporal punishment but boys were given ‘six of the best’ on the palms of their hands for serious misdemeanours.

This continued, with variations according to individual teachers and principals, in many schools, private and state, until the 1990s.

Since the 1990s (some earlier, some later), many countries around the world have banned corporal punishment in state schools, and private schools receiving government funding.

In Australia, it’s left up to the states, which makes interesting reading:

  • Victoria, NSW, Tasmania have explicit legislation banning corporal punishment in all state and private schools
  • Northern Territory – corporal punishment is banned in private schools but still allowed in state schools unless a parent expressly withholds consent.
  • Queensland – not explicitly banned but previous provisions that allowed its use was repealed in 1989.
    The Queensland Criminal Act still cedes authority to parents or figures acting in their stead to use ‘reasonable corrective force’, which could mean anything. 
  • South Australia – similar to Queensland
  • Western Australia – banned in state schools, not in private schools.

Regardless of the inconsistency and ambiguity most Australian schools don’t use corporal punishment however there are still a few private schools whose code of conduct includes physical discipline by the school principal.

By Robin Barker 11 Mar, 2017

Is sharing your bed with your baby as contentious as journalist and mother, Jacinta Tynan claims in a recent article – Co-sleeping can be a great thing.?

Tynan, clothed in the hair-shirt of co-sleeping martyrdom, claims that sharing beds with babies and children is not only contentious but a ‘sure-fire lightening rod for parental judgement and disapproval.’

She writes that ‘it’s regarded as the genesis of dependent, needy children at best, with a potential to kill them at worst’.

To support this statement, she cherry-picks a case from the UK where a judge recently removed two children from a mother ostensibly for sharing a bed with her children. Certainly, the reporting of the case emphasised the bed-sharing aspects however tucked away in the fine print was the disclosure that the children were being physically abused.

Babies are never removed from parents simply on the basis of bed-sharing. Social workers do not prowl suburban streets waiting to pounce on parents who are sleeping with their children.

By Robin Barker 15 Feb, 2017

I’ve always liked the idea of teaching  kids to read and swim as soon as possible. Apart from any other considerations – fun, pleasure, pride in self-sufficiency, - once children can read and swim life for their parents becomes much easier.

 Thus, when I became a grandmother I decided to take responsibility for my grandchildren’s swimming. Not just lessons but how to have fun in the water as well.

When Sage was a toddler we spent Friday mornings at the Boy Charlton Pool where we frolicked in the water under big shade cloths. Sometimes we were frogs, ribick, ribick, ribick, hopping slowly along the steps, sometimes we were dolphins leaping up and down, and sometimes we made a shopping list and swam to the fish supermarket located at the far end of the pool.
At intervals, we sat on the warm timber deck and ate chunks of watermelon and squinted across the harbour at the boats.

 Sage’s water skills improved over the summer until she was able to keep afloat by treading water. But as her body was still vertical I decided we’d join the swimming classes held at the pool in the mornings where I’d noticed  babies and toddlers having lots of fun bouncing around with their mothers guided by the teacher, a kindly, energetic woman who gave everyone massive amounts of individual attention. Perfect.

 I signed us up for a term. Secretly I thought I was a groovy granny. I had visions of telling my granny friends how I taught my granddaughter to swim.

 Sage looked dubious on the morning of the first lesson but I ignored it. I knew she was going to love it.

She hated it.

Not because anyone was being mean or because she was being forced to put her head under or to do anything scary. She was puzzled because our play time had suddenly turned into a classroom. As I struggled to make her join hands around the magic carpet and ride the noodle she kept pushing away.

‘Why can’t we go and play Grandma?’

My composure wobbled. The other toddlers were doing it. Why wouldn’t Sage?

‘I want to go to the fish supermarket.’

‘Sage I’d like you to join in…here we go…round and round the mulberry bush’

‘I want to be a dolphin’

‘Sage please sit on the noodle like the others.’

‘I want to get out.’

To my horror, I felt a knot of exasperation in my tummy. Lips thinning, I told the teacher we were leaving the class.

‘Are you sure?’ she said. ‘Sometimes it takes a while for them to get used to the structure.’

‘Grandma, I want to get out.’

 I was aware of sympathetic eyes upon me. I closed my eyes, counted to ten and together we left the pool. I stared out at the harbour while Sage got stuck into the watermelon then, pointing her bum to the sky, peered through the cracks of the deck at the water below.

‘Now can we go and play?’

 I laughed. My tummy knot dissolved. If it’s so easy for a grandma to fall into the activity trap what hope is there for parents? Somehow, I’d managed to turn fun with granny into ‘it’s time you learnt to swim whether you want to or not’ without stopping to consider whether that’s what Sage would prefer on our Fridays together. It was important that she learned to swim but it didn’t have to be with me, right then.

By Robin Barker 20 Jan, 2017

Until the 1970s, baby advice was straightforward and simple, if a trifle bossy and prescriptive and somewhat overladen with scary warnings about spoiling baby.

I sometimes wonder if this was preferable to the loaded warnings parents - mostly mothers - are deluged with now about making sure they respond adequately to their babies' needs to ensure the optimum flow of attachment from mother to baby.

In the first half of last century mothers were too busy with basic household jobs and running homes on strict budgets to get overly excited about the possibility of attachment problems from putting a sleepless baby in the laundry for a few hours so everyone could get some sleep.
Ditto tying a toddler to the clothesline while they dealt with boiling the nappies in the copper.

The 'parenting' word, and all its subsequent manifestations, arrived sometime during the 1970s and was taken up with gusto.

Prior to the noun morphing into the verb, people had babies, became parents and raised their children. Some - many in fact - did it well, others not so well and still others rather badly.

There have always been appalling parents and despite a vastly improved standard of living in countries like Australia and gallant attempts in the last 100 years to turn this around, appalling parents are still with us.
I'm writing about truly appalling parents here - neglectful, abusive, absent - not having a shot at the vast majority of conscientious parents doing a good job, sometimes in trying and difficult circumstances.

Variations on the 'parenting' word illustrate the spectrum of conflicting advice conscientious parents must work their way around:

Attachment parenting, profound attachment parenting, detachment parenting, mother-led parenting, baby-led parenting, calendar parenting, helicopter parenting, free-range parenting, night-time parenting, intuitive parenting, permissive parenting, authoritative parenting and authoritarian parenting (spot the difference between the last two).

In baby's first year the over-riding theme between conflicting 'parenting styles' and their proponents can be summarised as 'never pick the baby up'   versus 'never put the baby down' .

This has reached a manic stage today where opposing advisors and parents face off and sling mud at each other in a manner similar to politicians at election time.

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