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Flying with Kids – Top Ten Tips

ImageIt’s soon going to be holiday season, and I thought I would write a few tips about flying with young children. I have been doing long haul flights with my twins since they were three years old to visit family abroad, so my husband and I have negotiating airports and planes with young children down to a fine art.

Here are my Top 10 Tips:

  1. Be prepared for airport hell, but know it is short-lived. Bear in mind when you arrive at the airport you will have your luggage, your hand luggage, your children’s hand luggage, car seats, possibly a stroller, and children to contend with. It’s not a pretty sight. There is no such thing as travelling light with kids, and people are not always eager to help or be patient with slow-moving meandering children. It’s ok. You will get through it, and once you are through security it’s a breeze.
  1. Trunkis are fantastic!! The airport itself is the worst bit of the journey. There’s usually a lot of walking, queuing, waiting and mad dashing. Having a trunki your child can sit on when waiting for security, or be pulled along on when their legs are tired is a godsend. They are a mixed blessing, as you will find if you pull your child too fast on it you may lose them as you round a corner. And there is a very strong possibility you will find yourself carrying the trunki, your hand luggage and your child, but on the whole they are a help. Plus children LOVE to pack them like a grown-up.
  1. Plan your hand luggage. Having a good hand luggage system is something I have refined over the years. I recommend that everyone take one small item of hand luggage that can fit under the seat in front of them, in addition to any normal hand-luggage case they take. That includes the kids. You want these small bags to have anything you are regularly going to need for the journey – toys, tissues, books, wipes, medicines… Anything you are not likely to need during the journey, put in the overhead locker. You don’t want to be messing around getting bits you need from those bags either as you get on the plane or during the flight. This is the best way to make your flight time easy and stress-free. I have a small vanity I take for that purpose, and each child has a trunki in the overhead locker and a small backpack under the seat with toys for the journey. I don’t know why it took me several flights to work that one out!
  1. Pack a change of clothes for the kids in the hand luggage. Just in case.
  1. Let normal rules go out the window. So they want to eat their dessert first – so be it! All children presented with a tray with all the courses in one go would choose dessert first and spoil their appetite. I like to spoil myself on a flight, and your kids will be that much happier if you let them spoil themselves too!
  1. Bring a few snacks. Airlines don’t give as much food on planes as they used to, and the gaps between meals can be a bit long for the children (and adults!) Think biscuits and cereal bars rather than chocolate or yoghurts. You’re going to be in the same clothes for a while, and it’s easier to clean off crumbs. Plus, if your plane is delayed you don’t want starving children to contend with. Consider buying some bottled water once through security, as you can’t pack any in your hand luggage.
  1. Locate the sick bags as soon as you get to your seat. You’ll be thankful of those extra seconds if the time comes.
  1. Plan simple things to keep your children busy. A plain notebook and some crayons (no felt tips!!) can be the source of endless entertainment, and is open-ended so they can use it in a variety of ways. Avoid things with small pieces like lego or Barbie’s shoes, as you will be spending your whole time picking them up from under your, or some increasingly annoyed passenger’s, seat. Of course ipads can be great, but the battery doesn’t last long! Stories, colouring-in books and sticker books are also great, and can be brought out in the airport easily too. (Did I mention the airport is the worst part?)
  1. Bring a variety of toys/entertainment, but don’t show it all at once. Keep the mystique so you can get their attention if needs be. If your kids are happy watching lots of TV, lucky you, you’ll have a peaceful flight. I recommend getting a few new items as gifts, removing any packaging first. It doesn’t have to be expensive – a new notebook, a fun pencil, an activity book. I wouldn’t bother wrapping them as then you are left stuffing wrapping paper in all available spaces.
  1. Choose things that don’t need too much adult intervention – you want to be able to watch the movies! This may sound selfish, but being on a plane is the closest thing I get to luxury – someone is not only cooking my food, but giving it to me and tidying it away at the end! And I’m allowed, even encouraged, to eat in silence in front of the TV! Where else do you get that opportunity? So no, this is one occasion where I am not reading lots of stories to my children. They are busy drawing, colouring in or watching TV.

 

 

 

 

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Twindividuals

There is a line in The Sunscreen Song by Baz Luhrmann which goes “Don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either.” I often think of that in reference to bringing up children. It’s easy to view any positive behaviour your child displays as being evidence that you did something right, and any negative behaviour to be a testament to your failure. I think having twins is a trial by fire which teaches you very quickly that the influence you have as a parent is limited. That first year may be gruelling for the lack of sleep and colic in stereo, but you learn very quickly that what works for one baby does not necessarily work for another, something that may take longer to learn if you have just the one.

I remember at the few baby groups I managed to get out of the house for, a major topic of conversation among new mothers was how long their baby slept. There was always some mother there who claimed her newborn slept seven-to-seven, which seemed to be the Holy Grail of newborn sleep. There was a certain false modesty to how they would say it that showed they thought they had cracked the secret to baby sleep. It left the other mothers (who were the majority) asking her to reveal her secrets, and feeling that they had missed something. I personally believe those mothers of fantastic baby sleepers probably were doing the sorts of things any of the mothers were doing, but had babies who were naturally good sleepers. I also have a sneaky suspicion they had babies who weren’t very hungry and could bring up burps like little troopers. You feel so lost, sleep-deprived and out of your depth when you first have a baby that you keep looking for the miracle answer to having a contented baby. Of course the truth is, there is no one right answer.

From the moment my twins were born they had different personalities and needs. My son wanted to be held all the time, and would cry if left alone. My daughter was more laid back, as long as she wasn’t suffering from colic. My son would get cold very easily, my daughter too hot. My son was ravenous every 2 hours, my daughter had to be coaxed to feed. And as for sleeping, well they did have that in common: they didn’t like it at all, and certainly not at the same time. Here I was performing my own psychological experiment of nature versus nurture, and nature was by far the big winner.

I’m not saying that as parents we don’t have influence over our children. Of course we do. It’s just that the form that influence takes is dependent on the individual baby. I’m sure you could take a naturally good sleeper and manage to create an environment that would make it very difficult for he or she to sleep. But on the whole, if you’re not doing anything drastically detrimental, whether your baby sleeps when you want them to will be down to their own physiology and personality. Likewise with how well they feed, how well they take to weaning, how easily they are potty trained, how sociable they are… the list goes on.

Each one of the milestones I went through with my twins showed me how a person’s approach to any situation is completely dependent on the individual. I still remember my twins’ first taste of carrot – my son gave me this wide-eyed appalled look that something other than milk had been unceremoniously put in his mouth. He then burst into tears when we laughed at his funny expression. My daughter opened her mouth, swallowed the carrot, looked faintly bored, and opened her mouth for another mouthful. Their two reactions demonstrate very effectively their two very different approaches to new situations, which persists even now. It was programmed into them at birth.

I need to make sure I cater my parenting to my twins’ individual needs, recognising that each one has their own likes, dislikes, abilities and weaknesses that are entirely unique to each of them. My aim is not to mould them into my own idea of what they should be. My job is to encourage their best traits to blossom, and help them mitigate traits that are obstacles to their wellbeing, whatever those traits may be. So next time someone congratulates me on how well my children have behaved in public, I mean it genuinely when I say it is all them, not me.

 

 

Learning for Life, not for Rewards

The book that has had the most effect on me in in my life, in terms of how I look at the world, is a piece of non-fiction called Next of Kin by Roger Fouts. Fouts was a research assistant on the very first project teaching a chimp American Sign Language (“Project Washoe”). The book taught me many things: the process of language acquisition, the origins of human language, the profound similarity between humans and chimps and the vanity of thinking we are so different from other animals. What Fouts learnt from researching chimps was that we should not be researching chimps. (He went on to found a sanctuary for laboratory chimps.)

There are so many aspects of the chimps’ behaviour that give us insight into human behaviour that I could not possibly mention them all here. However, I will share one right now, which has been playing on my mind as I think about how I teach my children. It is a passage where Fouts describes the process of learning. He states that conditioning, which is often used to “teach” research animals to behave a certain way, is entirely contrary to learning. A system of reward and punishment actually hinders a subject’s natural capacity and curiosity to learn. Fouts quotes Desmond Morris when he observed chimps doing freehand drawings. Chimps love to draw, much as young children do. Initially the chimps would take a long time over each drawing, carefully making the desired lines on the page. But once the researchers started to give a reward each time the chimp did a drawing, hoping to increase the frequency of the activity, an interesting thing happened: the quality of what each chimp produced went markedly down. Morris says

 Any old scribble would do and then it [the chimp] would immediately hold out its hand for the reward. The careful attention the animal had paid previously …was gone, and the worst kind of commercial art was born!

When I read this I was immediately struck by what that meant in terms of teaching my children. Were the sticker charts I sometimes get out for them in fact holding them back?

I have been teaching my children to read and write for the last 18 months while living abroad. Initially, I would do activities with them to teach them a particular sound, and I would give them a sticker for each activity they did. They had a sticker chart to mark their progress, with the promise of a little gift or treat once the chart was completed. This worked quite well, although I noticed they were much keener to do the work when their chart was very near completion. All of a sudden they wanted to read three books in a row, or do multiple writing activities to reach the goal. Of course that’s not really what I wanted, as reading three books in a row without much care isn’t as useful as one carefully read book a day for three days. I also noticed that once a new sticker chart was started, they were much less interested in doing the work, as the promised treat seemed a long way off.

This isn’t really surprising behaviour, but it hadn’t occurred to me that the sticker chart itself might be a stumbling block to their learning. Without realising it, I had made the achievement of stickers appear more desirable than the achievement of being able to read a book. I started to think about the fact that if I wanted them to do reading and writing, they needed to want to do it too. So I had to make the activity attractive enough that to capture their interest and curiosity. As Fouts says,

Learning cannot be controlled; it is out of control by design. Learning emerges spontaneously, it proceeds in an individualistic and unpredictable way, and it achieves its goal in its own good time.

This is wonderful in theory, but it isn’t always easy. Sometimes I just feel out of ideas, and often they would probably rather play freely than do what I suggest. And sometimes you just need your children to learn what you are teaching. But the times when I have been a little more imaginative, the children have been much more engaged and able to concentrate for longer. I also avoid giving them a sticker for an activity that they have enjoyed, so that they don’t get the idea that what they just did was in fact work!

All this also made me question the use of sticker charts, or regular rewards, in general. I’ve watched Super Nanny – I’ve seen the results of a well-used sticker chart. But is it possible that we are made to believe that they are the only way to get our children to behave or do what we want? Should we be conditioning our children so readily? Maybe we need to take more effort to make the behaviour or activity an end in itself. The problem with giving consistent rewards for a given behaviour is that once you take away the reward, the behaviour may disappear also. I don’t want my children to stop reading because I don’t give them a sticker after each book. I want them to pick up the book because they enjoy reading. In the same way, I don’t want my children to stop eating their vegetables because they aren’t getting a sticker for it; I want them to eat vegetables because they understand it’s good for them. If conditioning inhibits natural learning, I think it also inhibits natural good habits.

I’m certainly not suggesting we should not reward children for doing something good. I think encouragement and praise are very important for children and adults alike. I just think that when we give an automatic reward consistently each time a child does something we want, we are teaching he or she the value of rewards, rather than the intrinsic value of the behaviour. There are always times when the benefit of what we want our children to do is much more obvious to us than to them, and I am not opposed to a good dose of bribery in those cases. And sometimes I find that the use of rewards is the only way to promote certain behaviours that I have failed to cajole, explain or rant into being. But before I reach out for the trusty sticker chart again, I will try to see what I can do to turn something that I want my children to do into something that they want to do for themselves.

 

Where the F*** are my Slippers?

I am constantly asking my children to wear their slippers in the house, as our floors are hard and easy to slip on in socks. It doesn’t matter how many times I ask, it always seems to be surprising news to them. Here is a typical daily conversation with my daughter:

Me: Where are your slippers?

Her (in a joyful, sing-songy voice): I have no idea, mummy.

Me: When did you last have them?

Her: I don’t remember.

Me (getting irate): How can you not remember? Go and look!

(Off she goes and returns merrily some minutes later)

Her: Good news, mummy, I found one of them!

This would all seem like normal child/parent behaviour, only I end up having a little pang of guilt as I say the words. The reason? Because more often than I would like to admit, I end up saying to myself (away from children’s earshot, naturally) “where the f*** are my slippers?” And I have absolutely no idea where they are, or even any recollection of where I last had them. Replace ‘slippers’ with ‘mobile phone’, ‘handbag’, ‘car keys’ and you get a pretty good gist of how I spend my days, not to mention how organised I am.

Once again I am aware that I have turned into a hypocrite. It turns out that everything I get fed up with my children for doing, are the very frustrating behaviours I have myself. Even worse, they are the behaviours I remember my mother complaining about when I was young. I lose things. I get distracted. I eat slowly. I avoid tasks I don’t like doing. I don’t tidy things away. The list goes on.

Of course the worst part is the knowledge that children can sniff out hypocrisy like bloodhounds. So I end up with three options:

  1. Try to hide my not-so-good behaviours from my children
  2. Try to improve my behaviours
  3. Care less about their not-so-good behaviours.

The first one is not an option. They are going to notice that I am hunting around for car keys while they are waiting at the door, or that I’m wearing socks when I’m telling them to look for their slippers. The second one is clearly the best, noblest option. But I know that I am simply not going to turn into someone who keeps an immaculately tidy house, who never procrastinates and who knows where everything is at any one time. In fact, I think I would find someone who was capable of all that a little bit frightening.

So that leads on to number 3. Obviously, as a parent, I want my children to be the best little people they can be. But part of that is recognising that they will never be perfect, or rather, that it is their ‘imperfections’ that make them the wonderful little people they are. My daughter’s head is often in the clouds. In her mind it makes perfect sense to wear just the one slipper, and have the other one stuffed down the back of the sofa. It’s what makes her so imaginative. My son wants to do everything as carefully as he can, which is why cutting up his food or getting dressed can take an eternity. It’s also what makes him so precise with his drawings and so honest when he’s done something he shouldn’t have.

On the other hand, I still have a duty to get them to improve certain behaviours, but I just need to keep in mind that my expectations should be compatible with their personality. My daughter will probably always be a little disorganised, so trying to turn her into an organised person is probably impossible (especially as she doesn’t have the best example to follow!) The best I can hope is to help her be more organised. My son will probably always have a preference for precision over speed, but I can help him balance the two a little more. I need to become a little more accepting of their strengths and weaknesses, and realise that while I may have influence over these, it is limited.

As for me? I am going to become more accepting of my own weaknesses. I have come up with another option:

  1. Accept hypocrisy as a natural part of parenthood.

 

 

 

Maternal – Instinct?

Recently a few people I know have had babies and it made me think back to when I had my own, and how the reality of having children is so different from your expectations in so many ways. One of the expectations I had was that I would immediately develop a “maternal instinct” that would switch on as soon as I gave birth. It is something you always hear about – that mothers instinctively know exactly why their baby is crying, and how best to console them. I had always loved babies and children and so I didn’t ever doubt that I would have this instinct.

So I gave birth to twins. And they cried. So I fed them. And they cried.  So I changed them. And they cried. So I burped them. And they cried. So I cuddled them. And they cried. And I cried, because I still had no blooming idea what was the matter.  Their cries sounded like baby cries, and I had no better idea than before I had given birth what they meant. Never in my life had I considered that I would be one of “those” mothers who don’t get the maternal instinct. If I, who loved children from the moment of still being a child myself, couldn’t develop it, what did this mean? All those years I had thought I was cut out for motherhood must have been a delusion because here I was failing at the first test!

When you are in the throes of dealing with sleepless nights, colic, and physically recovering from the trauma of birth, you don’t think straight. I wasn’t able to sit back and look logically at what was happening (there wasn’t the time!) I just kept waiting for something to “kick in”. I looked at other people around me who would say with assurance “they’re hungry” or “they have wind” and I would accept it as fact, because I had nothing inside me telling me otherwise. No preternatural ability, no primitive instinct switched on in my gut. I was lost at sea, rotating through a series of possible solutions to their cries; hunger, trapped wind, wet nappy, too hot, too cold, too lonely. I felt ashamed that those around me seemed to know better than I did what my babies needed.

Now those days are so far behind me, and the idea that someone else would know my children’s needs better than I do seems thankfully alien to me. I’m not saying I always get it right, but through those first few months and years of sleepless nights, the colic, the tears, the booboos, the giggles, the cuddles you come out the other side having a pretty good idea what your children need. It’s precisely through that floundering and not knowing what the heck you are doing you end up knowing your child’s every mood, facial expression, like and dislike.

If there is such a thing as maternal instinct, it’s the instinct that you want to find an answer; you want the crying to stop, you want to understand your child’s noises, you want to know how to make them happy, how to get them to behave, how to get them to eat their vegetables. You keep trying, failing, and trying again. You get it wrong. You think other parents manage better than you. (You also think some parents are loopy…) But at the end of the day no one else knows and loves your children as you do.

So for anyone who is about to, or has just had a baby, be patient. Maternal instinct is not a switch, it’s more like a rapidly changing dimmer that converges to “on” without ever really reaching it. You just get more comfortable with not having any idea what you’re doing – just as you master one skill, another problem will come up that you’ve never seen before, and you have to make it up as you go along all over again.  None of us know what we’re doing, we just do what we can and hope for the best.

 

 

 

 

How Do Reindeer Fly?

I like teaching my children. I love it when they ask me questions like “What makes a rainbow?” and “Why do we have lips?”  I encourage their natural curiosity and try to give them a simple grounding in science and nature. But every so often come those slightly awkward questions, like “how do reindeer fly?” I was caught off-guard with this one, distracted by the bed-time mayhem, and at first answered “well, they can’t.”  But when I saw their confused little wide-eyed faces looking up at me saying , “but how does the sleigh fly then?” I realised my terrible mistake. I quickly backtracked. “Oh, you mean Father Christmas’s reindeer. Oh that’s something different. They have special magic.”

And here-in lies that delicate dance parents have between teaching their children science while allowing them a childhood filled with magic. I have taught my children about how drops of water bend the sunlight to make rainbows at the same time as telling them stories about pots of gold at the end of them. The incongruity of it isn’t lost on me, but I couldn’t possibly imagine bringing up my children without their believing in magic, Father Christmas and the tooth fairy.  It may be an inconsistent approach to teaching children, but it’s one I stand by.

I often ask myself, how do I draw the line? Which parts do I give the “honest” answer to, and which parts do I allow them a little whimsy? Am I clouding their understanding of nature, explaining on the one hand that animals need wings to fly, while telling them Father Christmas’s reindeer can do it without them? And, crucially, are they going to start thinking they can defy gravity and fly without wings if they believe a little too readily in it? My answer is, I make it up as I go along.  I answer with science 90% of the time, and give them just a little magic the rest of the time.  Learning the laws of nature, and knowing how to observe and understand the world around us is incredibly important. But so is believing in magic.

Growing up I believed easily in everything. I believed so firmly in Father Christmas that even when other children at school started to tell me that it was my parents filling the stockings, I simply did not believe them. “I have proof – he wrote me a letter,” I would inform them confidently, and ever so slightly condescendingly. When my parents began to worry that I might be laughed at at school, they decided to break the news to me. I remember the moment vividly, and how it rocked my world and everything that I held as certain.  However, I do not regret for one moment ever having believed. My childhood was magical and wonderful because of it. When else in life can you have the opportunity, and innocence, to believe that a kindly old gentleman of indeterminate age gives all children around the world the very gift they had been wanting? When else can you believe that maybe, just maybe, if you concentrate enough, your magic will change the channel on the TV, or (as my daughter believes) change the colour of Daddy’s boxer shorts. It’s a world of possibilities and wonder, of children’s stories so vividly exciting just because you believe they might be true. It’s the birth of imagination.

Science, logic, observation and enquiry are essential to our minds, and to answering important questions about the world around us and our place in it. I firmly believe that feeding and satisfying children’s natural scientific curiosity is essential. But imagination also has a very important place. We need it in order to come up with innovative ideas and new concepts. But, most importantly, we need it because it’s fun. Believing in fairies and pixies and pots of gold are all part of developing that imagination, as well as creating some magical memories.

My son has a naturally scientific mind. He is very logical already at six years old. He questions my “magical” answers very closely. He has already asked me outright whether Father Christmas is real. I feel a little guilty, but I just told him a bare-faced lie, because I couldn’t imagine having a six-year-old who didn’t believe in magic.  He will have his whole life to believe in science and the laws of physics, but the time to believe in magic is so precious and short, I’ve kept it going a little longer. So for now, while most reindeer are ground-dwelling even-hoofed herbivores, Father Christmas’s reindeer fly using special Christmas magic.

Make a Choice – Why you can’t have it all

I read an article by Rosa Brooks the other day lambasting Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”, saying that we should instead “lean out”.  We should stop trying to achieve so much in so many spheres. If we try to be the best employee, networking and travelling at the same time as volunteering at our children’s school, making crafts and cupcakes, and taking them to endless clubs and enrichment programmes, we end up exhausted, overstretched and miserable. Of course this is true for people with normal energy levels (there are always some who are born to be Duracell bunnies…) The author’s solution to counter a culture of endless ambition is to instead enjoy “long lunches, afternoon naps, good books and some nice, slow hours in the La-Z-Boy.” She also encouraged that we spread the word, that men and women alike must try this so we remove the pressure of being ubiquitous both at work and at home, and challenge the idea that more work means better work.

It was a very entertaining article, aimed at “the rest of us”, ie: those who can’t hope to achieve all that Sheryl Sandberg has. Clearly I fall into this category, and I liked the idea of moving away from a culture of long hours and 24-hour availability to your work. Having a husband who is a successful lawyer, these are issues that we discuss at home on a regular basis. But I was left a little unsatisfied after reading it. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first. The author was, after all, shining a light on the impossible ideals that are put on women: finding that perfect balance of successful career and caring for your children. And then I realised what bothered me:  nowhere did she suggest that you should choose between the two.  She suggests you simply to do less of both, and spend more time on yourself. She was not much different from Sheryl Sandberg herself, it was just that their source of happiness was slightly different. True, I think most women, in fact most people, would probably prefer Rosa’s model of happiness, but her article is still pervaded by a sense of entitlement that I find worrying.

What has happened to making a choice, accepting a trade-off and living with the consequences? As far as I am concerned, gender equality is about giving both men and women free and independent choice to make decisions in their lives. The more I see women struggle with “finding the right balance”, the more I feel that they have not made a choice at all, but rather are trying to have their cake and eat it. Rosa bemoans when parenting becomes an “intensive, round-the-clock” activity, in competition with your work, and rightly asserts that you may simply become crushed under the pressure. But what is parenting if not an intensive round-the-clock activity?

Rosa compares the pressures of ubiquity at work to that of the “equally-pernicious culture of intensive parenting.” Should the two really be so quickly tarred with the same brush? I certainly believe the culture of constant availability to your work is damaging to people’s health and happiness, and is indeed a culture. However, I don’t believe that constant availability to your children is a matter of culture, nor is it “pernicious”, but just the reality of being a parent.

Rosa describes women who leave the workplace due to the pressures of balancing work and home as “dropping out” of work. This seems rather condescending to me – why shouldn’t it be considered a free and valid choice for a woman, or indeed a man? I exercised my free choice when I gave up work to be a full-time parent at home. I had always known that that was what I wanted. I am lucky that my husband has a well-paid full-time job that allows me to make that choice. Many people don’t have that option, in particular single parents or those on low incomes. But of those who could make the choice to stay home, whether women or men, many don’t. Why is this?

It seems to me that the main problem here is that we still use careers as our key measure of worth as an individual in society. And full-time parenting has been put very low on the list.  Many women (or men) feel that they would go crazy if they stayed home full time. I know this because that’s often the response I get from people when I say I am a stay-at-home mum. They tell me they need the outside stimulation, socialisation with other grown-ups and the ability to use their education and skills. I don’t quite know how to take this – as a compliment that I am able to survive the deprivation of these elements of normal social integration, or as an insult that somehow they ‘need’ that stimulation, but that my brain can do without it.

My response is somewhere in between. I do miss that some of my education and skills are being underused, but that is true of any job I could think of. I have had to develop a whole set of new skills. And anyone who tells you that they are not intellectually stimulated when they are around children have never had a conversation with an inquisitive six year-old. I have found myself racking my brain (and plundering Wikipedia) for answers to questions so fundamental I never think to ask them. In the process I have relearnt things I used to know, and learnt a whole lot more besides. The world around you seems so much more interesting and miraculous when viewed through the eyes of a child.

Children also have a tendency to ask you some difficult metaphysical questions, such as why do people do bad things, what happens when I die, and do you miss your Granny in heaven, at odd times of the day, like when you are brushing their teeth or in the car home from school. You can’t plan these conversations, they come when they come.  I made the choice that I don’t want to find that it is someone else’s thoughts and values that are passed on to my children because they happened to ask the question when I was at work.  I may not be using the skills learnt during my degree, but what I am doing keeps me thinking on my feet and matters more to me than any job could.

That’s not to say there aren’t days when I feel utterly fed up with the endless laundry, the making of packed lunches and the Sisyphean task of tidying the house.  I fully admit that I don’t feel intellectually stimulated by the vacuum cleaner, and I am not going to get a pay rise for getting the kids to school on time four days in a row (a mighty achievement for me!) But then every job has its elements that are necessary but tedious.

I often think of the episode of The Simpsons when Lisa is going crazy because school is closed, and she is asking Marge maniacally to “Look at me! Grade me! Evaluate and rank me! I’m good, good, good and oh so smart!” That’s me! Society isn’t going to congratulate me or give me a promotion for what I do.  It has become taboo to champion stay-at-home parenting, as it doesn’t generate taxes and would seem to encourage a return to the dark ages where women had no right to choose. But here is my manifesto: Don’t lean in or out, but take a decisive leap.  Make being a stay-at-home parent a valid and valued life choice.  Show the world that it is a timeless role that has nothing to do with “dropping out” and everything to do with wanting what’s best for your children.