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Marriage: Five years in

D and I are still babies at this marriage thing, but we recently celebrated five years as Mr and Mrs.

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This pretty much sums us up – me laughing at D being silly

We have our ups and downs, but mostly we get along well and enjoy each other’s company.  Our mutual happiness must show, as I’ve been asked a few times what the secret of a good marriage is!

Here are a few things that have helped us build a strong marriage:

  • We chose each other!  Whenever I’m asked what our happy-marriage-secret is, I reply ‘Marrying D’.  Before he came on the scene, I was drawn to brooding, moody types but I am sooooo glad that I have ended up with my sunny and silly husband.  For my fellow Jane Austen fans, I liken it to marrying Mr Bingley instead of Mr Darcy.  I’m joking, but kind of not.  I suspect that I would have found life with a moody, brooding type quite difficult.  D is a heart-on-sleeve, uncomplicated soul who is unfailingly kind.  D and I are also fortunate that we don’t have a lot of stresses that many couples have – we’re from the same culture, have nice families, share the same faith, same political views and have no debt.  I’m not saying any of these things mean a couple is doomed – far from it, as I know many ‘opposites’ who are perfectly happy – but our sameness means those stresses just don’t exist for us.
  • We carry each other.  D could get mad about the times my auto-immune disease renders me a tired slug.  Or the fact that I cannot deal with sleep-deprivation AT.ALL.  He has picked up my slack on countless occasions and even took on night-feed duty with our children (because sleep-deprived Angela was just too awful to live with!).  Likewise, I’ve picked up his slack when he’s been busy with his studies or his new business, or has just got some new invention in his head that he needs to get out.  As our ‘busyness’ ebbs and flows, so do our negotiations over who does what.  D is probably going to resume his studies soon, and I’m already thinking of how I can support him during this time i.e. what chores can I take off him so he doesn’t become a stress-bunny.
  • We prepared for marriage well.  We had a short engagement (just over three months), and were blessed to have marriage preparation with a mature couple as our guides.  As it wasn’t available when we were engaged, we ended up doing the Alpha Marriage Preparation Course after we were married, and that was fantastic too.  I highly recommend doing a marriage preparation course to any couple, as the benefits are huge: it gets you in the habit of having intentional conversations, and you don’t get blind-sided by the big (or little) stuff.  Marriage prep covers everything from what your idea of a husband or wife is, your previous relationship history,  how you plan to share finances and household chores, to which side of the family you will spend holidays with.  It covers things that you’ve probably never talked about before.  Marriage prep is not for the faint-hearted.  You go deep.  You may cry.  But it gets you to lay all your cards on the table; the good and the bad, so you both know what you are getting into.  Because of marriage preparation, our transition to married life was seamless.
  • We work on it.  I think the litmus test for any couple is whether you are both prepared to get help if things start to go pear-shaped.  You can’t work with someone who isn’t willing to see a counsellor, a minister or good friend when bad times come.  As my background is in psychology, I ask D regularly to do stuff that I think will enhance our marriage.  And he always says yes.  Together, we’ve read books on marriage, watched a dvd on boundaries, developed a set of family values, gone on retreats together and alone, and had many, many intentional conversations (thanks marriage prep!) that have soothed the sting of our arguments.
  • We connect regularly.  We have a ‘date night’ once a week, and take turns being the one to organise it (see here for cheap or free date night ideas).  Sometimes we get a bit slack or busy and date night doesn’t happen, but we find that we are more content with our relationship when we make date night a priority.  We each get a kick out of planning something we know will make the other one happy, and have both surprised ourselves with our creativity.  D has surprised me with several trips and meals out (one of the best was an anniversary dinner where he treated me to a meal he’d cooked over at his mother’s house, while she babysat our children at our house!), and my favourites have been surprising D with a picnic at a ‘secret’ lake, and a dance party where we each chose our three favourite ‘dancey’ songs, and our three favourite romantic songs.  There’s nothing like dancing with your spouse to remind you why you fell in love with them in the first place.  Unless they have two left feet.

 

As I said, we’re still babies at this marriage thing so take this with a grain of salt.  I’m sure my list in ten or twenty years time will look different, but for now, happy fifth anniversary D!

 

 

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How to care for your introverted or extraverted child

One of the most popular topics in the parenting course I run, is a subject very dear to my heart: introversion vs extraversion.  This is because I believe having a basic understanding of this concept can be transformative for parents who are struggling to understand their children.

The introvert-extravert spectrum is a theory popularised by Carl Jung several decades ago.  Since then, there’s been a great deal of research on this area and his theory has been found to be valid.

In a nutshell, the introvert-extravert spectrum is all about where you get your energy from.  How you recharge your brain.  

We probably all know someone who is a lone-wolf.  They don’t have a lot of friends.  They don’t need a lot of friends.  And we probably all know someone who is the life of the party, who seems to have a large circle of friends, and who is loud and exuberant.  A good friend of mine from university is very extraverted.  I would turn up at her parties, meet a new person and say ‘How do you know A?’  It was not uncommon for them to reply ‘Oh, I met her at the bus stop today’!  These two types sit at opposite ends of the spectrum, but most of us can be placed around the middle of the spectrum.

What the science points to is that introversion and extraversion seems to be hard-wired.  We’re born that way.  Introverts process things differently to extraverts.  It is a spectrum, and depending on what happens to you in life, or the situation you find yourself in, you can go move along that spectrum.  But how you recharge is unlikely to change; that is, you are unlikely to switch from being an introvert to an extravert (and vice versa).

Extraverts are energised by being around other people.  They tend to be friendly, gregarious, happy-to-chat-to-anyone sort of people.  They work well in groups and prefer activities that are social.  They get bored easily when alone, and are usually undaunted by new situations and can be impulsive.  They like novelty, and are often the first people in a group to give something a go.

Extraverts think by talking.  This is very hard for introverts to understand as they would never speak without thinking it through.  But this is the case.  I’m an extravert, and when something happens to me or I am asked to express my opinion on something I haven’t articulated before, I often need to talk it through with others.  Having to articulate my thoughts helps my processing become clearer.  This is why some people flip-flop on an opinion during a conversation!  They are probably an extravert who just needed a sounding board to think things through.

Introverts recharge by being alone.  Being around others – especially large groups – is draining for an introvert.  Going to a party where they know no one is exhausting.  Introverts prefer small groups or one-one-one social interaction.  They often have solitary hobbies, which allow them precious time to relax and unwind.  Introverts have a deep need for alone time, and are analytical before they speak.  They are not people who jump in boots and all into a new situation.  They prefer to spend time sussing out the situation, and will join in when they feel comfortable.  Where they fit on the spectrum will determine how long that may take.

Introversion is not shyness (which is fear of social encounters).  Let me say that again – introversion is not shyness!  Indeed, many introverts can be perfectly friendly and chatty, although they dislike small-talk.  This is because trust is a big issue with introverts,and they tend to only open up to select people.  Introverts are deep processors, and view small-talk as shallow, preferring more meaningful interactions with trusted others.

So, why is it good to know this stuff?

A couple of reasons.  One, it’s important for parents to know where they fit on the spectrum in terms of their own self-care.  Extraverted parents who are stuck at home with young children can get isolated and depressed, so it’s vital they have enough social interaction to meet their needs.  Introverted parents need alone time, which can feel impossible to get.  Carving out that alone time during the day is crucial, and might involve getting up an hour before their kids to sit quietly with a cup of coffee, or swapping childcare duties with a friend to get some free time.

Two, it’s important to know where your kid fits on the spectrum so you can care for them in a way that honours who they are – especially if you and your child differ.  I see many parents pushing their introverted child to ‘join in!’, when little Johnny clearly doesn’t feel ready to join in.  My daughter has a rather introverted boy in her ballet class.  It took him FOUR classes before he would do anything for the teacher.  In the meantime, his Mum was right beside him, moving his arms and legs in the hopes that he would ‘join in’.  If she knew about introversion, she might have cut him some slack and realised that it would take her son time to warm up to new situations.  And that this was perfectly okay.

Likewise, I see parents apologising for their child who rushes straight for the toys or play equipment, or for their child’s enthusiasm and loud exuberance.  That kid is probably an extravert.  I also hear parents say ‘I can’t understand it.  Little Amy is a devil at home, but a perfect angel when we’re out and about’.  Little Amy is probably an extravert who needs more stimulation from being around others.

While all children need to learn pro-social behaviour, if we do not honour their hard-wired nature we give them messages that who they are is not okay.  This is particularly true for introverted children.  Western society rewards extraverted behaviour.  If you were to ask parents if they would like their child to be friendly, ‘confident’ and eager to try new things, most parents will say yes.  Introverted children are never going to be the life and soul of the party (unless, of course, it’s a small party with their BFF’s), and shouldn’t be forced to be.  In fact, coercion tends to make things worse.  Introverts who are allowed to take time to settle into new situations, and are given the space that they need, learn that they are okay.  This in turn, helps them to slide a little bit up the scale towards extraversion.

Finally, I’m going to leave you with these excellent infographics, which give tips on how to care for introverts and extraverts.

*Extravert is also sometimes spelled extrovert.

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Tawhero Tots update

 

It’s been a while since I posted much about my delightful tots.  They are growing like weeds, and it seems like they master a new skill almost every week.

Sausage is now three and a half, and is the Queen of Silly Stories.  She tells long, rambling tales about giants, Octonauts, magic, lions and farts.  She and I play a game where I start the story off with ‘Once upon a time, a little girl named Sausage woke up, got out of bed and saw…’  The story inevitably ends with her and I riding a pair of dragon-chickens to picnic at her favourite playground (apparently dragon-chickens just love cupcakes and carrots!).

She is at Forest Kindy one day a week this term.  They’ve done cool stuff, like making pine cone bird-feeders, practising their climbing and jumping skills using pine trees, discovering a dead sheep and pondering what might have happened to it (apparently some pirates got to it), feeding the oh-so-adorable baby chickens, and much, much more.

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Sausage making her bird-feeder.  In her ballet cardi.

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Stopping for some morning tea

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Nature rocks!

 

I have a blast taking her to ballet classes once a week.  It’s hilarious watching their antics (last week they had to be the Big Bad Wolf), but also fascinating for the psychologist in me.  Sausage is in a class just for three year-olds, and most of them couldn’t copy the teacher to save themselves last term.  But this term – they’re getting it.  Skipping is still far beyond Sausage’s capabilites, but by jove, she is quite the tiny dancer now.

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Taking her turn as Little Red Riding Hood

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Looking for pirate treasure

Sausage’s very extroverted nature is given free rein to shine during class.  She is always the first one to volunteer for something, and she loves to show her teacher what she can do.

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Guess who volunteers to be leader every time?

I will blog more about extroversion (and introversion) in a later post, but for now I just want to say that while her extreme extroversion has many advantages (old people LOVE her as she never fails to say hi and have a chat), I am having to help her learn a socially appropriate level.  She is a very huggy child, and will hang all over other kids – which most of them don’t like!  Learning to read others is such an important skill, and I’m enjoying watching her playing with other children more and more.

Chip is almost two(!) and provides a non-stop monologue of everything he sees from the second he wakes up.  This is a particularly amusing phase that tots go through when they learn to talk.  They will say the same word over and over to you until you respond with ‘yes, that’s a digger/combine harvester/surrealist painting/statue of Chairman Mao/insert object of your choice here’.  They are solidifying their ability to generalise during this phase of speech development.  They are learning that a particular car-like object they see is a car, just like the other car-like object over there is also car; but another car-like object is a ute, and still another car-like object is a van.

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Chip has an encyclopaedic knowledge of heavy machinery and emergency vehicles, and now corrects me if I get my graders mixed up with my bulldozers.  He, like his sister was, is a very early talker.  I’m grateful for this as it saves on tantrums when he can tell us what he wants.  His sense of humour is growing, as is his cheekiness.  He likes nothing more than being silly by ‘hiding’ in the curtains, or running around and around and around our kitchen island.

He went through what felt like an interminably long period of separation anxiety, but in reality it was probably less than three months.  He would freak out – and I mean freak out – if he couldn’t see me, and would go from zero to waaaaaaah in 2 seconds flat.  We were lucky that Chip is very attached to his Oma and Nang-Nang (his grandmothers), otherwise leaving him with anyone else would have been a nightmare.

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Nothing is safe 🙂

While he was going through this phase, I was rather surprised at how people reacted to it.  I got asked many times if it was because I had started working (one morning a week), or other such musings as to why he was behaving that way.  The answer is: separation anxiety is totally normal behaviour at his age.

It can start around 10 months and tends to peak around 18 months, but it can show up from time to time until age 4 or 5.  Normal separation anxiety is a good sign.  It means your child has a healthy attachment to you.  What D and I found helped with the freaking out was not sneaking away when we had to leave him, but rather saying ‘goodbye’, and asking him to shut the door behind us as a bit of a distraction for him.  He is now totally fine with us leaving him, and this has been timely as we’ve had to hire a temporary nanny while I recover from a back injury.

Chip is a way more dexterous sort than his big sister, and is quite competent at climbing and sliding, kicking balls, and running like a lunatic.

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Oh, so you’re a bit nervous about me climbing so high, Mum?  Mwahaha!

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Take that!

As far as my tots go, they act like normal siblings.  They play together, squabble, play some more, bash each other over the head, cry, play some more, and insist on watching The Spotbots.  We are trying to teach Sausage to either ignore her brother when he snatches her toys, or give him another toy to play with.  Sometimes she does, but other times I feel like I should apply for a job as a hostage negotiator, because I am honing my skills in this area.  ‘Come on Chip, put the toy down, and step away…’

They keep me on my toes, and take my breath away when I get unsolicited cuddles or an ‘I love you Mummy’.

 

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Free time…

My regular readers will have noticed my lack of posts of late.  There’s a couple of reasons for this.

I’ve been asked to take another class at my work (I am a parenting educator, and am now facilitating a woman’s group) so that’s been keeping me busy.  I absolutely love my job – it really is my dream job.  I get to work with people, see them have light-bulb moments, and hopefully leave them feeling more empowered than when I met them.  I work two mornings a week, and that’s been a great balance at this time of my life.

And then there’s my back.

My back has never been that crash hot as I have scoliosis (a slight curvature of the spine), but I really damaged it during labour with Chip.  I thought I was recovering from last month’s vacuuming-o-doom incident, when I re-hurt it and spent several nights not getting much sleep from the pain.

I eventually admitted defeat and took myself to the doctor to get some painkillers, because sleep and I are BFF’s and if I don’t get enough I’m like this:

My doctor’s visit left me in tears and really angry (I cry when angry, it’s sooooo annoying).  I’d never seen met this one before, and she was very nice – but she said really unhelpful things like ‘Don’t lift anything and go easy on the housework.’  I snorted and muttered something about the fact that I have two toddlers and lifting them, like a million times a day, was part of my job description.  She nodded sagely and said ‘Yes, it’s hard.’

No enquiries as to what help might be available to me, or any practical suggestions as to how one manages to not lift a 20-month old in and out of his car seat/pick him up when he falls over for the 12th time that day/respond to his request for cuddles/put him in his cot/take him out of his cot; let alone any suggestions about how to keep my house clean while not actually cleaning it myself.  I already try to do all these things carefully – getting down to their level, bending my knees etc, along with back-strengthening exercises but it clearly isn’t enough.

She also said I needed to ‘get serious about losing weight’ without actually making any enquiries as to my diet and exercise habits, weight-loss history, or anything.  I was too upset to do anything other than nod, but I wanted to scream ‘as if I haven’t been trying to lose weight for EVERY FUCKING DAY OF MY LIFE SINCE I WAS 16, YOU BITCH’.  You know, because if you are fat, all you do is sit on the couch and eat pies.  I guess she’s never read my blog.  🙂

For the record, being fat is not the cause of my back pain.  I know being overweight doesn’t help, but the cause was having a damn baby.

Anyway, enough ranting.

D and I have taken the sensible-but-expensive option to help heal my back – get a nanny.  Albeit, a temporary one.

We are fortunate enough to know a nanny who is between jobs, so she will be caring for Chip for the next few weeks while I focus on getting my back in tip-top shape.  We are also fortunate that we can afford to do it!  I’d rather not have to, but I really can’t see any other way of being able to give my back the rest and recovery it needs.  Not the best for our bank balance, but forking out for doctor’s visits, physio and painkillers isn’t cheap either.  I’d rather fix the problem than box on.

It’s never worked having someone watch my kids while I am present, as they naturally run to me when they need something.  So I will be making myself scarce while she’s here.  After finalising things with the nanny, I suddenly thought ‘what on earth am I going to do with myself?!’  I will have a month with lots and lots of free time.

I couldn’t think of how to possibly fill it.

But of course once the shock of actually getting some to myself set in, I realised there are a zillion and one things I could do.  Like swim and do yoga to help my back.  Write.  Go for walks.  Visit a friend.  Make a craft.  Obviously parkour is out of the question ( 🙂 ) but I have no doubt I will find the time whizzes by.