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Aaaaand another

Before I had children, one of my passions was for religious debate – in particular, comparative Judeo-Christian religion and debating Christian proselytism attempts in light of details of the origin of Christianity. (Look, don’t knock it; everyone needs a hobby.) When I had my first child, I found my interest in this was subsumed by my interest in debating the ins and outs of parenting dogmas, which, believe me, is similar enough to religious debate to be an excellent substitute.

Lately, I’ve been moving back into the world of religious debate; so, of course, I’ve decided it’s time to have a blog about it. So I have now set up Thoughts From An Atheist. If you like discussions/debates on contentious topics on the subject of religion, do come and join in. If not, then, well, don’t. 🙂


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The Britmums weekly prompts this week include a couple of questions to tie in with NaBloPoMo – is it realistic to publish a post every day?  And, when it comes to blogging, how can we find a happy medium?

Is it realistic?  Hell, no.  I cannot tell you how many times this month I have cursed the whole concept of NaBloPoMo as I sat up late to write some unnecessary post when I needed to be getting to bed, as I let something else go undone to write a post, as I felt my stomach twist into a knot of tension at the thought of having one more thing to do, dammit, on the already-too-long list of the day's jobs.  For a month, I can just about stretch to it; but I'm going to be bloody glad to see the first of December.

So I'm probably deluding myself when I say that I'm still glad I chose to do it.  Nevertheless, for all the stress it's caused and is still causing me… I am still glad I chose to do it.  Sometimes, the right course of action just isn't the one that seems to be indicated by logic.  I needed something to kick me out of my near-terminal writers' block, and this did the trick.  I've faced up to my phobia of posting mediocre work, and discovered that nobody actually seemed to object particularly and some people liked it.  I've committed myself to a challenge I initially thought I just couldn't manage, and I've found out I actually can.  I've posted some sheer drivel, but I've also posted some stuff I wanted to post and wouldn't otherwise ever have found time for.  And the anecdotes about the children seem trivial in the short term in the face of everything else I ought to have been doing with that time, but maybe not so much in the long term – ten years from now I won't care exactly what date I got round to getting this month's bank statement reconciled or the laundry put away, but I'll still enjoy going back and reading what Jamie and Katie said when they were on the cusp of turning seven and four.

So… coming down the home stretch of NaBloPoMo, and with a reasonably good chance of actually making it through to the end, I have to ask myself where I'm going to go from here.  Am I going to be able to carry my new habit of non-perfectionism forward into non-NaBloPoMo-ing months?  After all, the thing about NaBloPoMo is that it's just substituting one form of perfectionism for another – instead of perfecting the quality, I've been focusing on perfecting the quantity.  When I no longer have the challenge of writing something, anything, each day, am I going to be able to hang onto the knowledge that it's OK just to type a quick account of something funny or cute or memorable without agonising over every word?

I suppose time will tell.  But I'm not going to be imminently putting it to the test, because, come the first of December, I'm really looking forward to a few days of not blogging.


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The Happiness Project and Lori Gottlieb

A few weeks back, carried an article about parenting by therapist Lori Gottlieb by the intriguing title How To Land Your Kid In Therapy.  I may or may not ever get round to blogging about Gottlieb's views on parenting and how they match with mine (which they do, for the most part, though I don't know if I'd agree with all her points).  But I do, however, just need to point this out: she has totally misrepresented Gretchen Rubin

Rubin, as many people will know, is the author of The Happiness Project, in which she chronicles her year spent working on increasing the happiness level in her life; a month each of focusing on eleven different life areas or aspects of happiness (energy, marriage, children, fun, etc.), wrapped up by a final month of attempting to put into practice everything she'd learned in all eleven areas. She did this by means of working on several resolutions each month, many of them delightfully prosaic – the first month's resolutions included getting to bed on time and decluttering her apartment.

Although I'm always a bit baffled by the concept of needing to work on being happy and don't feel any need to start a Happiness Project myself (plenty of other potential projects, but not one on happiness – I'm happy already, thanks, so I'd rather spend my time and energy conquering some other mountain), I still loved the book.  It's not everyone's cup of tea, obviously; it is, essentially, the story of an exceptionally privileged woman painstakingly teaching herself how to stop whinging about relative inconsequentialities and enjoy her privilege, and I do get that this is not everyone's idea of an interesting read.  But I was fascinated by the concept of working on the different areas and resolutions, I loved reading about her successes, her backsliding, and her general experiences throughout the year, and I'll often get the book off the shelf to reread a few pages for inspiration and/or sheer fun of reading.

Here, however, is what Gottlieb has to say about it:

The American Dream and the pursuit of happiness have morphed from a quest for general contentment to the idea that you must be happy at all times and in every way. “I am happy,” writes Gretchen Rubin in The Happiness Project, a book that topped the New York Times best-seller list and that has spawned something of a national movement in happiness-seeking, “but I’m not as happy as I should be.” …Still, Rubin writes, she feels “dissatisfied, that something [is] missing.” So to counteract her “bouts of melancholy, insecurity, listlessness, and free-floating guilt,” she goes on a “happiness journey,” making lists and action items, buying three new magazines every Monday for a month, and obsessively organizing her closets.

Minor point: Rubin does, indeed, as I said above, organise her closets along with the rest of her apartment.  However, I'd hardly call it 'obsessive' – she spends one afternoon on the project early in the year, and then goes on to make something of a thing of offering the service to any friends of hers who are having difficulty doing the job but would like to, but there's nothing to indicate that she spends any time re-organising her own closet during the rest of the year.  A one-off afternoon project is hardly what I'd call 'obsessive' – hell, I've spent twice that time this year on my own closet (so of course I may be biased, but I really don't feel obsessive on the subject and, believe me, I know obsession).  This comment just left me feeling that Gottlieb was looking for a bit of an easy shot as a way to discredit Rubin.)

At one point during her journey, Rubin admits that she still struggles, despite the charts and resolutions and yearlong effort put into being happy. “In some ways,” she writes, “I’d made myself less happy.” Then she adds, citing one of her so-called Secrets of Adulthood, “Happiness doesn’t always make you feel happy.”

Modern social science backs her up on this. “Happiness as a byproduct of living your life is a great thing,” Barry Schwartz, a professor of social theory at Swarthmore College, told me. “But happiness as a goal is a recipe for disaster."

Only one little problem with this interpretation; although Gottlieb conveniently omitted to mention this little fact, Rubin's project actually worked very well indeed.  Far from being a disaster, it did exactly what she'd hoped – left her feeling far happier with her life by the end of the year. 

So why that comment about having made herself feel less happy?  One of Rubin's aims, throughout the year, was to work on behaviour that detracted from her happiness by leaving her feeling guilty about having done things she knew she shouldn't, such as gossiping or eating junk food; inevitably, this was often difficult for her in the short term, as she had to focus more on the behaviour of hers that she felt worst about, and the need for changing it.  In the long term, of course, it was worth it – she did manage to cut out a great deal of this behaviour, and this was one of the biggest factors in feeling a lot better about her life by the end of the year.

I don't know whether Gottlieb deliberately misrepresented the book; more likely, she just skimmed through it in search of a couple of lines that appeared to work well to back up her point when taken out of context, and didn't bother looking more closely.  But what she says about the book simply doesn't represent it fairly, and that annoyed me.  I may agree with a lot of what Gottlieb says about parenting, but, on this one, she strikes me as just plain out of line.


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House rules

I suddenly remembered tonight that we're supposed to be writing lists of our house rules to bring to the Webster-Stratton parenting group for discussion next week.  (By the way, this may be a good moment to mention that I've done absolutely none of the rest of the chart-keeping and recording we're meant to be doing – I didn't know about it for the first session because of leaving early, and by the second session it was obvious nobody was going to check up on whether we were doing it or not.  So, if you're on one of those courses and feeling daunted by the amount of written homework that seems to be required, just let it go.  Your worth as a parent is not dependent on your tolerance for writing.)  Since I also had a ridiculous number of results to look at for work (I have remote access login to the work computers, so I can do this stuff in the evenings) and a pile of stuff on the spare room bed to tidy away before my in-laws arrive tomorrow, plus I was late getting the kids to bed again, guess what you guys are getting for my NaBloPoMo post today?  Why, this scintillating list of our house rules.  Aren't you just so thrilled you read this blog?

This, by the way, has not previously appeared as a formal list and probably never will again (well, apart from at the meeting tomorrow…) it's just a list of rules that one or other of us has, at one time or another, needed to clarify.

  1. No hitting/kicking/biting/otherwise hurting other people.

  2. No saying nasty things to each other.

  3. No under-10s in the living room after dinner starts.

  4. All under-10s stay upstairs after dinner finishes.

  5. No computer in the morning on school and/or Christine days.

  6. Stay quiet after bedtime.

  7. Bathwater stays in the bath.


I've probably missed one or two, but those were the ones I could think of.  What about my readers?  Anyone want to share their house rules?


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One of those posts of utter drivel that I knew I’d end up writing if I did NaBloPoMo

Last night, as I stretched out in bed, I realised I'd better check what I already had in the way of clothes for the kids for next year before going on a shopping trip.  So I dragged myself out of bed and went into the spare room/general storeroom/dumping ground and started sorting out the garments I'd been picking up on my past few visits to Sainsbury's, whereupon it rapidly became obvious that in fact I already had far more than I thought and, once the old clothes of Jamie's that Katie could wear were figured into the equation, we had enough not to need to bother with an immediate shopping trip.  This, of course, simplified the day's schedule a heck of a lot.

I ended up spending most of the morning catching up on sleep, which was all very nice but did mean I didn't get an awful lot else done of my huge list of Things To Do.  But at least now I'm caught up on sleep, which is good.  And I did get Jamie's glasses temporarily repaired, the laundry done, birthday cards bought for both children, and a huge pile of old journals chucked that I'd been saving and really didn't need, so that's good.

Jamie's parent-teacher evening went fine.  The potted background here, for those who don't know, is that he was diagnosed with high-functioning autism when he was three, and had quite a few problems with school for a while (he's mainstreamed, by our choice), but, after a fair amount of to-ing, fro-ing, and general difficulties we got him statemented for 25 hours of support each week and since then he's done far better.  The latest update is that he's doing well overall at school, but they still have issues with him being reluctant to work and with him hitting or throwing things, which is sometimes in anger but sometimes just seems to be his way of trying to express affection, so his teaching assistant is going to work on social stories looking at more appropriate ways of doing so. 

Aaaaaand… that's the news.  Signing off.

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Because I need a quick post…

From the 'always felt I should blog this but it never quite fitted in anywhere' archives, a conversation from our house dating back to Jamie's toddlerhood:

Me, handing Jamie a drink: "Here you are, Jamie.  This cup's half full." (thinking for a moment about what I just said)  "That's quite optimistic, isn't it?"

Barry: "I always think that saying's the wrong way round."

Me: "Huh? How so?"

Barry: "Well, an optimist expects the glass to be full, so, when it isn't, he's going to see it as half empty.  A pessimist expects the glass to be emptty, so, when it isn't, he's going to see it as half full."

[slight pause]

Me: "Jamie, here is a cup containing approximately equal volumes of fluid and air.  You may impute this with whatever life philosophy you feel appropriate."


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Just another…

Things I did today:

Got up around six-ish.  Put eggs on to boil for breakfast while starting to unload the dishwasher, but got called away from both when Jamie woke up around 6.30, so had to juggle completing those tasks with helping Jamie get ready and trying to convince him it was a school day (he had it in his head he was staying home, and an idea in an autistic child's head is the original Immovable Object).  Had breakfast.  Got a protesting Katie out of bed and ready.  Changed Jamie from the home clothes he'd insisted on putting on into school uniform, a process which involved physically wrestling with him to stop him pulling the clothes off as soon as I put them on.  Sat with him to stop him pulling his clothes off while Barry finished getting ready to take kids to childminder's.  Arrived at work ten minutes late after all that, although I made the time up when the second patient turned out to take much less time than expected.  Did work stuff all day.  Left late as usual.  Played with Katie while Barry got dinner ready and Jamie played on his computer.  Hustled kids into bed late.  Hung up laundry (we have a dryer, but I hang heavier stuff – tops, trousers, bedding – on the clothes horses).  Made lunches for Jamie and myself for tomorrow.  Cleaned up the kitchen counters.  Logged into work computer to get some stuff done that I hadn't done earlier.  Tried to think of something requiring minimal time and minimal brain power to write for NaBloPoMo.

Jamie doesn't often wake up that early, and he doesn't often kick up that kind of a fuss over going to school in the morning – both of those are fairly occasional events, fortunately.  Other than that, it was a pretty average Monday.

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Mama’s got a brand new blog

A timely blog prompt from Britmums – What is my blog about, and what is my unique selling point?

So glad you asked.  My blog is mainly about parenting (theoretically it's about anything I want to write about, but, in practice, it turns out I mainly want to write about parenting).  However, it's covered two completely different aspects of parenting – my own personal experience of it, and my views on the various parenting controversies out there and debunking of myths thereof.  My sister has therefore been urging me to divide these two separate strands, fissioning the mythbuster posts off into a new blog solely for that purpose.

So, after humming and hawing and putting it off for that jam-tomorrow When I Have More Time, I've finally gone ahead and taken the plunge.  My new blog is now live, although still very much under construction – I'm kind of visualising it as a newly-built house with windows and doors still to be fitted and carpets still to be laid and a smell of plaster everywhere.  But I decided to take the Britmums prompt as a sign that I should stop with the perfectionism already and just go ahead and announce it to whatever very small part of the world possibly happens to be interested.  Feedback hugely welcomed, especially if positive.  Suggestions for further posts even more welcomed. 

My dramatic unveiling was somewhat spoiled by the fact that I somehow managed to mess the link up, but thanks very much for those of you who had the patience to figure it out/come back later.  Sorry about that.  Trying again – I hereby give you Parenting Myths, Parenting Facts.


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Let The Incoherent Ramblings Commence

Regular readers of this blog will probably have noticed that my New Year's Resolution to blog more about the children petered out even more quickly than I would have anticipated.  The reason for this (well, apart from all the usual stuff – busy life, writer's block, blah) is that decent Katie-related anecdotes have been outnumbering decent Jamie-related anecdotes by, oh, about infinity to zero.  A year ago Jamie discovered the pleasures of Nintendo DS games while at the childminder's, and, since then, has pursued this passion with a level of obsession achieved only by the autistic.  Since non-autistic young boys come in a close second on that one, he has at least made a friend through it, another child at the childminder's who is a seven-year-old boy and therefore considers it completely normal and appropriate behaviour to talk about Nintendo games to the exclusion of everything else.  All the rest of us, alas, have just a trifle more difficulty putting up with Jamie's insistence on relating an entire game level keystroke by keystroke to us in a non-stop monologue.  And these monologues are only brief (in relative sense of the term) interludes in the hours he spends either playing the game or watching recordings of it, with commentary on YouTube.  Ever heard of Chuggaaconroy?  Neither had I a few months ago – now I almost regard the guy as a family member. 

Sorry.  There is a point in here eventually.  Honestly.

So, what with Katie's constant running commentary on life and all its quirks and her opinions thereof and Jamie's constant running commentary on Super Mario Bros and Sonic, the child-related anecdotes have been hopelessly unbalanced, and I couldn't figure out a way to blog them without it looking like some sort of 'Hey, now we know which child Mummy really likes best' evidence for future years.  Add in aforementioned busy life and writer's block, and I gave up.  And have been trying to figure out how to get myself restarted – blogging about the kids, and generally blogging more – without a New Year to motivate me.

After six and a half years in blogdom, I've done variations on the 'Gee, I know I've really not been blogging much but I hereby resolve to do better' post so many times it's getting old even for me, and I couldn't face doing yet another.  So, on the principle of doing something differently even if it's totally mad and illogical (what, that isn't a principle? oh, well, whatever) I've decided that this year I really will sign up for NaBloPoMo.  One post every day, for one month.  If I really do well, I may even manage some that are more detailed than this.

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My next project, and a question for the masses

This week, the Britmum's Blog Prompt is 'My biggest pet peeve is…'  Mine, as many people who read this blog will have noticed, is the misrepresentation of clinical research to try to prove a theory that it does not, in fact, back up.  I wouldn't have bothered writing a blog post just to say that, but it happens to be a good lead-in for something on which I'd like your opinions.

I have decided to take my sister's advice.  For those of you who don't know, I occasionally, when I can get the time, write posts discussing and debunking popular parenting-related claims on such thrilling subjects as sleep training (has it really been shown to be harmful to babies?), breastfeeding older children (bad? beneficial?), and the MMR (was there any good foundation to the supposed link with autism?).  (With apologies for the spoilers, my conclusions were that the answers to those questions are, respectively, no, no, not particularly, and no, respectively.) 

Anyway, my sister has suggested that I set up a separate blog for this genre of post – a debunk-the-parenting-mythology blog, along the lines of the wonderful but now defunct Mainstream Parenting.  I objected that it would be a pretty empty blog given how infrequently I find time to write that sort of post.  So what, she responded (I'm paraphrasing) – just put the posts up there when you can, and people who are googling for information on those subjects can still read them.  So, I have decided that, some time over the next couple of months when I have a bit of spare time, I'll give it a shot.

Now, the important question – what should I call it?  So far, my ideas are:

Parenting Myths, Parenting Facts

The Science Of Parenting (which also happens to be the title of a well-known book, so I would have to put in a disclaimer about not having anything to do with the book, and I'm not absolutely sure where I'd stand on copyright terms even then.  On the plus side, it would be handy for increasing the Google hits.)

Mythbusting Mum (hmmm.  I don't think so.  Alliterative, but too twee.)

So I throw the floor open to you, my dear readers, inviting votes and vetoes on those and/or alternative suggestions.


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