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Children who have an engaged father are 43% more likely to earn A’s in school and 33% less likely to repeat a grade.

In a series of studies in the 1980s on the effects of paternal involvement on child development, researchers discovered that children with highly involved fathers expressed increased cognitive competence, more internal locus of control, increased empathy and fewer sex-stereotyped beliefs.

These studies found that having two highly involved parents increases cognitive competence due to their interaction with different behavioural styles. Paternal involvement allows both parents to pursue rewarding and fulfilling personal interests and have a close relationship with their children, thus creating a family context in which both parents are satisfied.

Also, parents who adopt fewer sex-stereotyped roles result in their children having fewer sex-stereotyped attitudes – as they do not place an expectation on each gender.

Traditionally, the father has been regarded as the breadwinner and secondary parent within the family. Today, the role of the father in the upbringing of their children is more recognised and appreciated. Fathers play a significantly different role to mothers, as they offer new techniques and values, providing a male perspective and contributing to childhood experiences.

What is An Engaged Father?

An engaged and involved father is present in his child’s life, demonstrated through meaningful interction and spending quality time together, such as attending sports events or helping out with homework. This engagement has also been found to improve the psychological wellbeing of fathers, through a sense of generativity

Involvement can be measured by:

  1. Time spent with the child
  2. Warmth
  3. Monitoring and control (rules about activities, food, homework)
  4. Responsibility (tasks including changing nappies, buying clothes, disciplining children, playing)

A secure, supportive and sensitive relationship between an engaged parent and their child has benefits for all members of the family.

The Direct and Indirect Effect of the Father

Direct

Fathers have a direct effect on their children through the behaviour, attitudes and messages that they exhibit.

Fathers tend to spend less time with their children (due to work commitments, etc.) and are not as familiar with the language competencies of their children. Therefore, they are more likely to challenge their child’s pragmatic and linguistic abilities, by using more complex forms of speech. 

Indirect 

Fathers also have an indirect effect on their children in the following ways:

  • Financial support – Financial contributions to the family have been found to improve the psychological well-being of fathers, including improved self-esteem and self-efficacy with increase financial contributions. 
  • Emotional support – Providing support to the mother, who is also involved in the care of the children, can improve the quality of the relationship between mother and child.
  • Marital conflict – An unsupportive parental relationship can be damaging for children exposed to physical or emotional conflict.
  • Housework – Participating in housework eases the mother’s workload and demonstrates behaviour that can be emulated by children.

Dads and daughters

Daughters will model their future relationships based upon their dad’s character and their relationship with him. 

The father-daughter relationship will influence the expectations she places on men – the daughter will seek the same qualities from a man as her father exhibited.

Absent fathers have a negative impact on their daughters, affecting her ability to trust, appreciate and relate to men.

Daughters from father-absent homes are also prone to being either reluctant or sexually aggressive towards men due to their inability to form a meaningful relationship with their father.

Further, a lack of security and attention from the father negatively influences the daughter’s future sexual activity in the following ways, as she will:

  • Take more sexual risks
  • Participate in unrestricted sexual behaviour
  • Be four times more likely to fall pregnant as a teen
  • Partake in casual unprotected sex
  • Have riskier casual flings

There is some evidence on the effect of paternal nurturance on the daughter’s intellectual growth. It appears that strictness and emotional distance between father and daughter stimulates intellectual functioning. Moreover, it is proven that daughters raised by fathers who are challenging and have abrasive interaction are more independent and intrinsically motivated. These characteristics arise from fathers who are firm and demand mature behaviour yet reward independence and achievement.

A 1997 study found that daughters from father-absent homes either under- or over-achieved at college. The tendency to attain a high level of education was part of an effort to receive acceptance from their fathers, whereas the difficulties faced by underachievers were intensified by seperation anxiety, denial, feelings of loss and perceived vulnerability issues.

Dads and sons

The bond between father and son tends to be stronger than that with daughters because sons identify with and model their behaviour based on their father.

Contact between father and son stimulates intellectual development and cognitive growth in children.

A Journal of Genetic Psychology study on the impact of fathers on the social competence of their 5-month-old son found that they were:

  • Friendlier to strangers
  • Vocalised more
  • Show a greater readiness to be picked up
  • Enjoyed play more

Another study from the Journal of Social Issues on the effect of a high degree of paternal involvement on boys found that they:

  • Display fewer behavioural problems
  • Are better socially adjusted
  • Have stronger peer relationships
  • Have a higher degree of self-esteem
  • Are more mature and independent
But why is this the case?

The preference for a son exists before birth, with 3-4 times as many men preferring sons to daughters. This preference is evident in the early years – fathers more frequently communicate with and respond to their son’s vocalisations, play with their newborn sons for longer than their daughters, and are more willing to persist with overcoming challenging behaviour in sons than with daughters.

The reason for this could be that fathers see themselves in their sons and identify with them – viewing their achievements and failures as their own.

So how can I be a good dad?

From conception, fathers need to be making healthy decisions. The negative health outcomes of babies are often blamed on the mother. But the environmental exposure of the father also needs to be considered.

Habits such as binge drinking, poor dietary choices and stress can all have adverse effects on a baby’s health.

Throughout pregnancy, being a supportive and coaching partner helps to develop a bond at an early stage. Although infants may never remember interaction at such an early age, playtime with the child will strengthen that bond.

The difference between mothers and fathers

The difference in parenting style between mothers and fathers is evident in the different interaction style between parent and child.

Fathers are more physical in their interactions with children, as they tend to play rougher and engage in more exciting activities. Conversely, mothers are more verbal in their interactions and have a slow-paced parenting style. The approach from each parent complements and contrasts the other, meaning the child benefits from the diversity.

Other ways in which mothers and fathers differ include:

  • Fathers emphasise conceptual communication, which assists children in expanding their vocabulary and intellectual capacities.
  • Mothers express more sympathy and compassion towards their children, providing constant care to deal with their children’s needs.
  • Fathers tend to encourage risk-taking from their children and provide a broader range of experiences, whereas mothers have a higher focus on their child’s safety and wellbeing.
  • The strength, size and aggressive presence of fathers enable them to protect their children from negative influences and peers. This confrontational quality leads fathers to enforce discipline and encourage positive behaviour.

Warmth, nurturance and closeness are associated with positive outcomes in child development. The behaviour patterns acquired in childhood are caused by observing patterns demonstrated in parents and adopting similar behaviour. Fathers are crucial to the positive growth and development of children, and we should welcome the input and contribution that fathers make.

Perth Weekend Guide

We’ve found some fantastic fun and engaging things for the kids to do in Perth year-round, all you have to do is choose where to go first!

KEEP THEM ACTIVE

Are your kids bubbling with energy? These activities are sure to keep them entertained all day.

Zone Bowling Joondalup

Looking for a place with it all? With bowling, laser tag, an arcade and yummy food, Zone Bowling will keep them busy for hours. Visit: https://www.zonebowling.com/venues/wa/zone-bowling-joondalup

 

LatitudeAir Joondalup

Take the kids to LatitudeAir Joondalup to climb, bounce and fly. With over 3,000sqm of aerial entertainment, including trampolines and climbing walls, get the kids ready for a day packed full of activity. For more information, head to their website: https://latitudeair.com/?_ga=2.60282477.1790865332.1605578656-66651972.1605578656

The Climb Zone

At Kerem Adventure Park, the Climb Zone is a fun adventure packed experience – with high ropes, low ropes and rock climbing in a safe and fun family environment. Go to: https://www.theclimbzone.com.au

Adventure World

A favourite for the whole family, Adventure World is now open with awesome rides for everyone. If you’re a thrill-seeker, check out the big scary Abyss or the Kraken. Or if you’re looking for something a bit tamer, go see the Hawaiian resort-themed Kahuna Falls. There’s even something for the little ones in the Dragons Kingdom. Visit: https://adventureworld.net.au

Island Aqua Park

Located in Hillarys, this floating aqua park features climbing walls and slides, and is suitable for children 6 years and over. Just make sure to book 48 hours in advance. Go to: https://islandaquapark.com.au

Trees Adventure

Just one hour out of Perth, this action-packed treetop and zipline adventure is suitable for kids 4 years and older, and offers a great range of courses and challenges for the whole family to enjoy. Hopefully you’re not afraid of heights! Go to: https://treesadventure.com.au/park/lane-poole-park/

Bibra Lake Regional Playground

This playground has something for children of all ages, with everything from water squirting bulrushes to educational giant rocks telling local Nyungar stories. Located near Bibra Lake on Progress Drive, this playground has plenty of activities including a double flying fox, rope obstacle courses and climbing frames, and plenty of shade, so you can even bring a picnic. For more visit: https://www.cockburn.wa.gov.au/Recreation-and-Attractions/Parks-and-Playgrounds/Bibra-Lake-Regional-Playground

VR-Arrival

For the older kids, this fun and new Virtual Reality experience is suitable for children 11 years and older. Much more than just gaming, VR-ARRIVAL delivers extraordinary experiences, transporting you, your friends and family into immersive virtual worlds. Boasting the best in professional VR headset (HTC Vive Pro) and room-scale motion-tracking technology, VR-ARRIVAL lets you experience virtual reality at its very best, with unmatched immersion and realism. Walk freely inside virtual worlds and literally step INTO the experience. Visit: vr-arrival.com.au 

LEARN WHILE YOU PLAY

Keep them learning and growing on the weekends, by making their time off fun but educational.

AQWA

A family favourite located on Hillarys Boat Harbour, the Aquarium of Western Australia is the place to see and learn all about the underwater creatures of our coast as you go on a journey to learn and gain respect for our sea life. There is plenty to see and do, including diving or snorkelling with the sharks. For more info, go to: https://www.aqwa.com.au/

Fremantle Prison

Fremantle Prison has some fantastic experiences such as an Escape Tour, for children aged 5-12; and their making a mark art workshop! With tours for children aged 8-12, the prison is an excellent and exciting place to learn while you play, getting a glimpse into the life of a prisoner at Fremantle prison.  https://fremantleprison.com.au/visit-us/

Boola Bardip Museum

Located in the heart of Perth, the new and improved Perth Museum has finally reopened its doors and has a multitude of fun programs and activities to get up to. From their “Blast off! Stop Motion Animation” program about meteorites and our solar system, to their “Virtual Vortals program” about virtual reality and interactive digital adventures, plus many more. See: https://visit.museum.wa.gov.au/boolabardip/tours-programs-events

WA Maritime Museum

This weekend, head on down to the Maritime Museum in Fremantle to learn all about the fascinating world of the Vikings, with activities such as a Vikings themed game show, a choose-your-own-adventure story, or just relax and enjoy a fun-filled adventure of sailing, raiding and exploring. Go to: http://museum.wa.gov.au/museums/maritime

 

Gravity Discovery Centre and Observatory

Located only an hour north of Perth, become a rocket scientist for a day with their rocket making activities, and on Thursdays get the chance to become a space explorer with their school holiday program. Visit: Gravity Discovery Centre

SEE THE WILDLIFE

Are you an animal-loving family? There’s plenty of activities to get out and see some furry (or not so furry) friends.

Perth Zoo

A family favourite for wildlife is the Perth Zoo. There is plenty to do, from kids and youth programs to watching live streams of the animals and Zoocoustics where you can see some of the best emerging Australian musicians with your loved ones. Set in the lush gardens of the Zoo, these unique live acoustic music sessions will have hearts fluttering. There will be food trucks for those looking for a bite to eat, or pack a picnic and bring your own food with responsible BYO drinks. General tickets are $30. Perth Zoo members receive a discounted ticket price of $25 (A valid Perth Zoo membership card must be present upon entry).  For more information check out the website:  https://perthzoo.wa.gov.au/programs

Caversham Wildlife Park

Located inside of Whiteman Park, get the chance to meet a wombat, feed a kangaroo, meet the koalas or feed some penguins. Visit: https://www.cavershamwildlife.com.au/daily-attractions/

Yanchep National Park

Have a little explorer on your hands? There are more than 400 caves reported at Yanchep Park, each offering contrasting experiences. Not only this but there are koalas to visit, kangaroos to see, golf to play and the opportunity tolearn about the rich culture and history of the Noongar people of Australia’s South West. For more, go to: https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/park/yanchep

Cohunu Koala Park

Have a chat with over 30 talking parrots, see dingoes, kangaroos, emus, deer and koalas, just to name a few of the animals that live at this park. Take a ride on the Cohunu Park Railway for $4, it zig-zags its way throughout the park most weekends & public holidays (subject to weather conditions). Visit: http://cohunu.com.au/pioneer-steam-museum/

 

Penguin Island

Just a five-minute ferry ride away, the beautiful white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters is an island known for its wildlife. Join them for a cruise to see some dolphins, rare Australian sea lions, as well as the world’s smallest penguins. Plus the chance to swim, snorkel, picnic and explore, Penguin Island is a dream for animal lovers. Go to: https://www.penguinisland.com.au/#welcome-1

Swan Valley Cuddly Animal Farm

Are cuddly farmyard animals more your style? With entry including free tractor/train rides, a free merry go round ride, free bottle and bucket feeding, and free tea and coffee for the grown-ups, this is a lovely day out for the family. Visit: https://www.cuddlyanimalfarm.com.au

Toodyay Fairy-Tale Farm

Located in the Avon Valley town of Toodyay, this family built and owned farm has a range of indoor and outdoor displays of all your favourite nursery rhymes and fairy tales, friendly farm animals for the kiddies to interact with, and even a vintage toy museum. Go to: https://www.fairytalefarm.com.au

“There’s no question kids are missing out on very critical social skills. It puts everybody in a nonverbal disabled context, where body language, facial expression, and even the smallest kinds of vocal reactions are rendered invisible.” – Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist.

Gen Z were the first generation to grow up amidst social media, with the first notable site, Six Degrees, being created in 1997. Rapidly, social media has proliferated out of control, gaining popularity across the well known sites we know today. 

But what effects has this had on generations starting with Gen Z and that of which followed?

A popular documentary released on Netflix called ‘The Social Dilemma’ examines this and the damaging effect that this has had on children’s social skills. Teenagers in particular have been the primary focus and their ability to create new relationships.

“We’ve created a world in which online connection has become primary. Especially for younger generations. And yet, in that world, anytime two people connect, the only way it’s financed is through a sneaky third person whose paying to manipulate those two people. So we’ve created an entire global generation of people who were raised within a context with the very meaning of communication, the very meaning of culture, is manipulation.” – Jaron Lainer, founding father of Virtual Reality Computer Scientist

In America, a short survey was conducted to discuss this by The Teen Advisory Board (TAB), and they discovered:

– 75% of teens said social media negatively affected their romantic relationship

– 77% chose texting as one of the popular ways to start a relationship

– 82% said texting is one of the two ways to end a relationship.

As children engage in face-to-face communication, they are developing social skills through vocal and visual cues which brings context to the situation. These communication cues can be portrayed through eye contact, tone of voice, facial expressions and space between individuals (Knapp & Hall, 2010).

But if children are communicating solely through social media, they aren’t learning these non-verbal communication skills that are necessary to succeed in life.

It has become trendy across all social media platforms for Gen Z to joke about their social incompetencies with comments such as needing their parents to book doctor’s appointments for them because they’re afraid to talk over the phone, but to what extent is this going to affect how society will function in the future? 

“We’re training and conditioning a whole new generation of people that when we are uncomfortable or lonely or uncertain or afraid, we have a digital pacifier for ourselves. That is kind of atrophying our own ability to deal with that.” – Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google and co-founder of Centre for Humane Technologies

Perhaps social media isn’t the future, but something that needs to be changed or consumed in extreme moderation.

An OSHC coordinator shares what she wishes parents knew about the educators and programs their children attend.

Outside School Hours Care (OSHC) programs can often be overlooked by the community as a babysitting service, but it’s more advanced than that. Educators of an OSHC program are required to do a number of things based on the National Quality Standards and National Regulations set out by the Department of Education

During my eight years as a coordinator and running a large service of 60+ kids, here’s a few things that I wish the parents knew and feel they would have benefitted from. 

Child portfolios

Every service dedicates a portfolio to each child. In these portfolios, they will have the child’s development using My Time, Our Place. Alternative to school-based education, educators will observe the children in a social setting, paying attention to their ability to learn adequate life skills. These skills can be in making friends, solving tense situations, being environmentally conscious, considering their community, interacting with others in a respectful way, being resilient, and many more. 

Portfolios often have photos and examples of what they’ve done within the service, accompanied by a written learning story/observation.

These are used for the educators to document the child’s development and ensure that they’re developing specific to their needs. The educators focus on one key area of development, determined by the parent or the educator’s observations, and then work on developing that skill.

Parents can gain access to this by asking the educators, but this should also leave with the child at the end of their journey at the OSHC program.

Daily reflection journal and program

Most OSHC services will have a reflection journal near the sign out desk. The intention of the journal is for the educators, children and parents to critically reflect on the program for the week. This is also used to document experiences within the program such as evacuation drills, community participation, and any major changes. 

OSHC can get loud and busy so it’s important for parents to read the reflection journal or planner so they are aware of what’s happening within the service. Parents can also use the journal to make comments about the program, whether that’s positive or simply a suggestion of improvement.

Parents are always encouraged to provide their feedback and get involved.

Complaints

More commonly, services are run by large companies (Camp Australia, OSHClub, Team Kids, Big Childcare, and more). It can be easier for a parent to address any complaints directly to the company and avoid confrontation, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to communicate with the service educators.

Most educators take pride in their work and working with children can often lead to miscommunications or misinterpretations. Each child and family are different, and unfortunately, educators aren’t perfect.

With an industry that is incredibly personal and high intensity, I wish parents would communicate directly to the educators with any concerns.

Communicate clearly and build that relationship. If it doesn’t improve, then take it further. 

Documentation

There are expectations set by the Department of Education and National Regulations about specific documentation that is required from the parents for their child to attend. It is stressful for the coordinator because if it’s not perfect, this can leave the service non-compliant and unsafe under the Regulations. 

This type of documentation commonly includes enrolment forms (filled out correctly and fully) and medical management plans with their corresponding risk minimisation and authorisation to give medication (medication provided should be in the prescription packaging including full name of child and dosage labelled).

The government sets high standards for the safety of the children and if the service doesn’t comply, they can risk being shut down. If parents don’t provide this, they have to then confront the parent and have a difficult conversation about excluding their child until compliant. It’s unfortunately not as simple as “letting them come” anymore. There are laws and regulations to follow, so I hope that parents have this in mind when working with their educators.

Assessment and Rating

Every service goes through a process with the Department of Education called Assessment and Rating where they will attend and assess the service based off of the seven National Quality Areas. These areas include: 

  1. Educational program and practice
  2. Children’s health and safety
  3. Physical environment
  4. Staffing arrangements
  5. Relationships with children
  6. Collaborative partnerships with families and communities
  7. Leadership and service management

These assessments should be completed frequently, but usually occur every couple of years. These rating outcomes can be accessed on the ACECQA website and is a good indication of where the service is at for quality of care. 

I highly recommend that parents get involved in this process and ask where they can assist in improving the quality of care as having the community and families involved is a huge part of this. A service that has a rating of Meeting, Exceeding Themes or Excellent is doing well. If a service has received Working Towards, it usually means that they weren’t compliant when the department visited (back to that documentation!).

Food provided

Each service has a licence to serve specific food through the local council and must abide by the level of that licence. This means that some services can’t provide food that requires refrigeration. 

Educators understand that children might want butter on their toast and real milk with their cereal, but unfortunately the licence doesn’t allow this. And no, families can’t provide these items to be consumed by their child. If any of these foods are found by the council, the service could receive a fine and be closed for breaking their licence agreements. 

Please, be understanding with this. Most educators at the service can’t control this or change it. The same goes for nut products. Most schools do ban nuts, but being in a space that has a large variety of children attending, it isn’t worth a child’s life so another can eat a Nutella sandwich.

Educators buying supplies using their own money

Most companies have a clause in the employee’s agreement that they’re not to buy anything for the children using their own money, but most educators don’t comply. Throughout my eight years in the industry, I bought many things like craft supplies, storage solutions, candy canes, Halloween and Christmas decorations, books, costumes, Easter eggs, speakers, movies, games, sporting equipment and many more. 

There’s a budget for each service and it’s usually never enough to decorate the room and provide enough supplies to entertain the children. It means the world when parents recognise the hard work educators put into not only the presentation of the service, but also the activities provided. There is a lot that goes on outside of those couple of minutes parents’ step into the service, so recognition is always appreciated.

With all of this in mind, I just ask that parents take the time to appreciate their educators more.

I understand that this isn’t applicable for all educators (I know more than anyone that there can be a few awful educators out there), but for the majority, they work really hard. They go above and beyond for the children in their service to ensure that they feel at home while their parents are working late. 

Parents can get busy, but taking the time to stop every once in a while, and having a conversation with the educators, read what they write in the journal, asking to see their child’s portfolio or even complimenting how the room looks can completely change an educator’s day. 

Building those trusting and respectful relationships can be incredibly important not just to the children, but also the adults involved. 

As a child who fought more with her two imaginary friends than laughed, I reflect on how real it was for those around me.

Amelia today as she remembers her childhood companions.

“Alright, that’s it!

Tom and Ellie get out of the car now, you’re not coming back home,” I remember my mum yelling.

It was a casual afternoon in mid-2001, I was two-and-a-half years old and the back seat of our forest green Subaru was filled with three children fighting over the last Twistie. I kicked and screamed, not happy with the designated chip outcome, begging the other children to give it to me.

However, I was the only physical child in the back seat. Tom and Ellie were “invisible” fragments of my imagination. Invisible fragments that I fought with so much, I forced Mum to throw them away.

This day was the tip of the iceberg for my mum, feeling like she was the mother to triplets instead of just me. Throwing these “friends” out of the car seemed like the only way to keep the peace and her sanity intact. She was beyond patient with my constant demands. Making sure these unseen beings were properly bathed, dressed, fed and securely buckled into the car before leaving home.

“It was really draining,” says Mum, when asked to reminisce on this stage of my childhood.

“I would have to give everyone a bath each night and when told I didn’t dry them properly, the process had to start all over again.

“As a mum, I knew it was my responsibility to remove a problem that was so obviously agitating my daughter, so ultimately that is what made me stop the car that day.”

Fast forward to the present and I cannot tell you what Tom and Ellie looked like, but when I was a child, they were so vivid within my imagination. They kept me company, forcing me to explore social situations at such an early age. There were plenty of times the three of us were the best of friends, but unfortunately, the fighting outweighed the calm. I knew the playmates I was bickering with over toys, food and personal space were fictional characters within this chapter of my life, however, they were still emotionally and intellectually alive.

My make-believe friends were most likely born out of boredom or the fundamental desire for company, as Tom and Ellie emerged into my life before my little sister was born. Even though we all drove mum crazy, these beings allowed my parents to gain an insight into the creations of my inner world. They noticed what made me shriek with both laughter and anger, my likes, dislikes and inventiveness.

Mum worried I had psychological problems or was meant to be a triplet and had separation anxiety. However, with copious research, she discovered having imaginary friends was a normal part of growing up and developing.

Studies show that imaginary friends are an extremely natural and healthy part of a child’s development. Up to two-thirds of children create make-believe playmates, usually between the ages of three and eight. Dr Psych Mum says these friends are more common amongst firstborn or only children, as they satisfy the need for friendship and companionship, notions in which many only children crave.

The stigma surrounding imaginary friends used to be harsh. Up until the 1990s, people believed they were a psychological red flag, being a sign of loneliness within the child or a reluctance to accept reality. Others also thought these invisible companions were a sign of an evil demonic possession or early signs of mental illness.

However, developmental psychologist Marjorie Taylor said in an interview with The Globe and Mail, that children who manifest these beings grow up to be creative adults, with further links to higher developed social and verbal skills.

Psychologists from all around the world agree children with imaginary confidants – whether that be friends or personified objects – tend to engage more with their peers as they grow up. They also found that these children are more advanced in knowing how to react with imagining how someone else might think and behave in certain situations.

The inclusion of pretend friends within a child’s life fulfils three fundamental psychological needs: competence, relatedness and autonomy. Competence is met by the child assuming a leadership role towards the imaginary friend, an established invisible hierarchy. Relatedness is accomplished by teaching a child ways to connect socially with real-life human beings as they grow older. Autonomy is satisfied by a child gaining a sense of control over their parents, by demanding they complete tasks for their companion.

Imaginary friends inspire children to explore their curiosity in a make-believe world they constructed within their own minds. They provide a sense of comfort, freedom for life lessons and learning curves in the real world.

Looking back and laughing with Mum over these crazy antics with my treasured friends, I am grateful my two-year-old self could invent such precious company. They fulfilled my needs for companionship then, and maybe they fulfil my needs for creativity today.

Precautions taken by medical staff left new mum, Jess Bowen, feeling traumatised, “diseased” and excluded during her first birthing experience.

 “I felt like I was diseased. The doctor would whisper to the nurse that I should have my mask on like I had the Corona Virus. It felt awful.”

Credit: Jess Bowen

Melbourne mum and hairdresser, Jess Bowen, gave birth to her first baby on the 28th of March this year, when the pandemic was beginning.

“My pregnancy was wonderful. I didn’t have any complications and I was excited to give birth,” shares Jess.

At Jess’s final appointment with her midwife, protein was found in the urine indicating pre-eclampsia, whereupon she was admitted into the hospital and immediately induced.

Jess laughs about not having enough time to gather her things, pack a bag or worst of all, “put on fake tan”.

Being a new mum is stressful without the added pressures of a global crisis. Jess describes her experience at the hospital as “traumatic”. She says the nurses were cold and “on edge with Covid happening. This made them short and abrupt.”

Once admitted, Jess was induced using a Foley Bulb induction, commonly known as the “Balloon Method”, where a Foley catheter is inserted into the cervix and is inflated, with sterilised water or air, over a period of time to help the cervix dilate for birth.

The nurses monitored her during the process by checking her dilation using their fingers. “It felt awful,” Jess recalls. “There’d be no warning. Just enter the room, stick their fingers in and would be disappointed because I wasn’t dilating fast enough. They weren’t reassuring me so it would just make me feel anxious.”

Credit: danielledobson_photographer

Eventually, the doctor arrived to examine her.

“He was really quite abrupt and rude. He basically told me that I had a disease (referencing her pre-eclampsia). I’m a new mum and it’s not really something that I want to hear. He just said I have a disease and we have to get this baby out.”

Jess says at one point she coughed to clear her throat, and the doctor immediately pulled the nurse aside and whispered, “she should have a mask on”.

“It was horrible to hear that. I felt so excluded and was already feeling disgusting from when the doctor called me diseased earlier.”

Jess can’t help but think how her experience may have differed if she wasn’t giving birth during these unprecedented times.

Jess rarely saw the doctor after this. Any interactions from the medical staff were limited until she was ready to deliver. After a day of the Balloon, she had only dilated one centimetre and needed to try another method.

Credit: danielledobson_photographer

 

Jess speaks highly of her head midwife, Jenny, throughout this process saying, “She was out of this world amazing, overall an experience from having that doctor, she made it so much better.”

She was then induced through the use of Oxytocin, which is a synthetic hormone that is administered through a drip in the arm to start the contractions.

Jess describes these contractions to be the most painful thing she’s ever experienced before.

 

“Immediately I felt anxious. I felt really depressed. They basically said to me that I needed to try, because at this point, I was feeling deflated and wanted to have a C-section.”

A few hours after starting the Oxytocin, Jess felt a sharp pain to the right of her stomach and had the urge to go to the toilet. The head midwife checked her and told her that she was three centimetres dilated. Jess immediately asked for an epidural, which was a 15-minute wait. During that time, Jess says she dilated 10 centimetres and was ready to deliver.

Jess went into shock and was crying through “the worst pain of her life”.

“Throughout the pushing process, I didn’t opt for any gas or pain relief because I was in such shock. It was a traumatic experience for me with everything that was going on and the treatment of the staff with Covid-19. It was frightening.”

Jess finally gave birth to her beautiful girl, Isla. Fortunately, she had her partner with her through this process.

Credit: danielledobson_photographer

“No one else was allowed to visit me in the hospital and my partner was only allowed during a small time-frame in the day, so during the inducing process and after giving birth, I didn’t have support from my family to get me through this. I just wanted my mum there.”

Hours after Jess gave birth, the nurses continued to monitor her bleeding through a weighing process to ensure there weren’t any further complications. Jess explains being “on a high with adrenaline” throughout this and wasn’t paying attention to the rising concern from the nurses as she surpassed a litre of blood.

After 20 minutes from her last check-up, Jess had sat up and explained the sensation of her “water breaking”. Jess lost 1.8 litres of blood and the head midwife called the surgeon. She recalled nurses accidentally dropping blood on the ground and described her room to be a “murder scene”.

During emergency surgery, Jess says they put a plastic box over her head. “It made me feel really small. The surgeon felt bad about it and was trying to reassure me that it was just protocol with Covid-19.”

After this, Jess was relatively okay. She had spent the last remaining hours after surgery with her partner and her new baby girl, but at 5 AM, her partner was told to leave.

“My partner was annoyed but I was still running on adrenaline, so I was less upset. I was happy and messaging my family about the good news and it was just one of those situations where ‘it is what it is’.”

Credit: Jess Bowen

When Jess was finally able to go home, Victoria’s first round of lockdown’s was in full effect and she spent her first weeks as a mother trapped in her home alone with her partner. Jess was suffering from the baby blues and wasn’t able to lean on her family for help.

“It felt like everything I was doing was wrong. I was barely sleeping, could barely walk because of the blood loss. I just didn’t know what to do. There wasn’t a single day during the six-week lockdown where I didn’t cry.”

Jess speaks about the importance of seeking help. The moment lockdown ended, she went to her psychiatrist and was put on anti-depressant medication.

“No one ever warns you about the way you feel after you give birth. I felt like it was unusual to be experiencing this level of sadness and anxiety when I have the most perfectly healthy baby girl who was gaining weight. Everyone else seemed so happy after their birth that it was hard not to compare myself to them.”

Isla is now five months old and Jess is feeling tremendously better. The lockdown had lifted so that gave her time to introduce her new baby to her family and friends.

“The medication is really helping. I’m starting to feel like myself again and my partner is seeing the improvements too.”

Even though Melbourne has gone back into lockdown again, she’s sad that her family don’t get to see Isla during some significant milestones, she feels much more prepared and stable to tackle what comes next.

We rely on health advice from an industry that simply promotes the latest fad, designed to exploit the vulnerable out of their money. Diet culture wants us to feel bad about our bodies, leading us down a dangerous path of disordered eating behaviours and exercise misuse, inevitably, only profiting those who fool us.

Weight loss TV shows, stick thin celebrities, the ‘obesity epidemic’, Body Mass Index (BMI), bad foods and ‘skinny’ jeans. As a millennial, these were terms and images I was heavily exposed to throughout my childhood and teenage years.

I was a 15 year old girl, eagerly jogging on my treadmill in front of the TV while watching The Biggest Loser. I would dream of living a life like the contestants, exercising for hours on end and following strict eating regimes to ‘transform’ my body.

At school we learnt about BMI, and were required to calculate our own measurements; an activity becoming a petri dish of comparisons and judgment.

The influences that I grew up with were seen as normal, and even healthy, but have resulted in detrimental and dangerous outcomes. I am not alone in my history of disordered eating.

Close to 1 million Australians are living with an eating disorder, with less than one quarter of those receiving treatment or support. A 2012 report commissioned by The Butterfly Foundation, found that females make up 64% of the total.

Eating Disorders

An eating disorder is a mental illness which can be identified as an unhealthy preoccupation with exercise, body weight or shape, and eating habits. Eating disorder behaviours can include restricting, bingeing, compulsive overeating and purging. Purging can extend to vomiting, laxative abuse and excessive exercising.

There are also secondary eating disorder behaviours, which can often fly under the radar due to the influence of diet culture, which creates a sense of normalcy when it comes to obsessing over wellness.

Secondary Eating Disorder Behaviours

Carolyn Costin is a clinician, author and speaker, well-known for her expertise in the eating disorder field. In her book 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder, she discusses food rules, food rituals and exercise dependance.

Food rules:
  • Being unable to trust internal hunger and fullness cues without a ‘rule’ or ‘guide’.
  • Limiting choices of foods or food groups based on rules.
  • Measuring foods based on numbers such as calories or time.
  • Feeling a sense of control over food, and therefore out of control when food rules cannot be followed.
Food rituals:
  • Participating in food behaviours that create a sense of ‘safety’ around food.
  • Preparing food in a specific way.
  • Consuming foods at the same time every day.
  • Eating foods in a particular order.
  • A feeling of anxiety if the food ritual cannot be followed.
Exercise misuse:
  • Compulsive exercise is a commonly justified behaviour.
  • Exercise is no longer a choice, but an obligation.
  • Exercise is linked to self worth.
  • Exercise is continued through injury and illness.
  • Social engagements are cancelled for exercise.
  • Exercise is used to compensate for eating.

Diet Culture

Diet culture has a long history, and its roots are embedded in the media, science, medicine, religion and racism today. The anti-diet movement has been established to fight back against an industry that we are conditioned to believe has our best interests at heart.

Christy Harrison is an intuitive eating coach, anti-diet dietitian, and author of Anti-Diet: Reclaim Your Time, Money, Well-Being and Happiness Through Intuitive Eating.

She describes diet culture as a system that:

  • “Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, which means you can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal”.
  • Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, which means you feel compelled to spend a massive amount of time, energy, and money trying to shrink your body, even though the research is very clear that almost no one can sustain intentional weight loss for more than a few years.
  • Demonizes certain foods while elevating others, which means you’re forced to be hyper-vigilant about your eating, ashamed of your food choices, and distracted from your pleasure, your purpose, and your power.
  • And oppresses people who don’t match up with its supposed picture of “health,” which means you experience internalized stigma and shame—and perhaps external stigma and discrimination as well—for all the ways in which you don’t meet diet culture’s impossible standards.”

Diet culture is cunning and clever, we may not even realise when it is meddling with our lives. The identifying trends and behaviours are so normalised in society today, that it sneaks up on us in workplace lunch rooms, at social events, even through our internal voice, which may echo the food rules from our dieting pasts. Diet culture is inescapable.

“The implication is clear: eating anything other than the correct diaita made people less than fully human. The term diet, then, was bound up from the start with ideas about morality, restriction, the renunciation of pleasure, and the superiority of certain races.”

The Anti-Diet Approach

Anti-diet is anti-diet culture. The approach has a focus on overall wellbeing, rather than weight loss, and it shows us how the foods we eat and what our bodies look like, are not tied to moral virtue or social status.

Diet culture makes us believe that we have to ‘beat’ our hunger and change our bodies in order to find happiness and self worth.

Christy says, “Diet culture is a form of oppression, and dismantling it is essential for creating a world that’s just and peaceful for people in ALL bodies.”

Research supports this notion and confirms that diet’s don’t work. A 2019 study concludes: “The increases in BMI and WC were greater in dieters than in non‐dieters, suggesting dieting attempts to be non‐functional in the long term in the general population.”

To adopt the anti-diet approach, we need to keep our wits about us. Organisations know that diets don’t work, and have been moving away from language such as ‘diet’ and ‘weight loss’, instead, changing their language to terms like ‘wellness’. The diets have not ceased, they have just changed forms.

Diets are often disguised through buzz words such as ‘protocol’, ‘clean eating’, ‘health reset’, ‘nutrition challenge’ or ’lifestyle change’.

How can we adopt the anti-diet approach and fight back against diet culture? We can keep an eye out for diet culture red flags.

Diet Culture Red Flags

  • Wellness programs with a weight loss focus.
  • The use of before and after photos.
  • A program that gives food a moral value such as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, including ‘traffic light’ systems and the like, that categorise foods.
  • Eliminating foods or food groups, without a medical reason.
  • Focusing on numbers such as calories, percentages, or time.
  • Buzz words like ‘cleansing’ or ‘detoxing’.
  • Tracking of calories, exercise or steps.

What can we do now to start adopting the anti-diet approach? We can identify diet culture through it’s red flags, notice our own internal dialogue when it comes to food, say no to fad and perfectionistic diets, and unfollow social media accounts that make us feel bad about our bodies or food choices. When we stop engaging in diet culture, diet culture loses its power.

“Weight loss doesn’t heal people from their internalised weight stigma. Bad body image is not cured by weight loss.” – Lisa DuBreuil in Anti-Diet.

As Australia’s cosmetic surgery rates surpass America’s, our obsession with social media and the current COVID-19 pandemic creates a minefield for those who struggle with disordered eating and body image issues.

 So far, 2020 has been a lot to process. In what will most likely be a once-in-a-lifetime historical event, the world has been totally affected by COVID-19 – a virus which has so far killed more than 264,000 people.

As Australia combats this, most of us have found ourselves on leave, unemployed or working from home. As the lockdowns have progressed many businesses have shut down and the nation’s gyms have not been immune.

In recent weeks, there has been a lot of content online focused on exercising from home, especially on Instagram, which has become flooded with posts about ‘body goals’, losing weight and becoming ‘healthier’ in quarantine.

The COVID-19 pandemic offers numerous triggers for those who are struggling with an eating disorder or those with distorted body image and low self-esteem.

“We understand that the prevalent discussions around stock-piling food, increased hygiene measures, food shortages and lock-ins can be incredibly distressing and triggering for people experiencing disordered eating or an eating disorder,” states The Butterfly Foundation in relation to COVID-19. 

When you combine these triggers with an increase in spare time to spend scrolling social media, such as Instagram, this can create the Perfect Storm.

Instagram and its tribe of entrepreneurs and models is no stranger to criticism from body positivity advocates, largely because the app is focused on images, a majority of which are highly edited. The concept of Instagram is the ideal social media app- share images and see images of your family and friends – plus your favourite celebrities, bridging the gap between fan and friend.

Instagram launched in 2010 and had 1 million users within two months, it has since been purchased by Facebook and become one of the largest social media platforms in the world.

The New Yorker journalist Jia Tolentino has talked extensively concerning the phenomenon of Instagram models, and their strikingly similar looks in ‘The Age of the Instagram Face’. 

She writes, “The gradual emergence, among professionally beautiful women, of a single, cyborgian face. It’s a young face, of course, with pore-less skin and plump, high cheekbones. It has catlike eyes and long, cartoonish lashes; it has a small, neat nose and full, lush lips.”

The commodification of women was once selling the products to make us beautiful, but as ‘Instagram Face’ rises and social media continues to excel, cosmetic surgery becomes more commonplace than it ever has been before.

Presently Australia’s cosmetic surgery numbers have surpassed America’s; in 2017 Australian’s spent more than 1 billion dollars on plastic surgery, surpassing America’s procedures per capita numbers, a feat considering America is often considered the ground zero for enhanced beauty.

Since when did this new prototype of a woman, a mish-mashed version, a high light reel built to bend over; a tiny waist, big lips, no blemishes- become the new standard of beauty, and how achievable is this?

Claire Finkelstein has been a clinical psychologist for fifteen years and is co-founder and co-director at Nourish.Nurture.Thrive, a multidisciplinary practise based in Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula that specialises in helping young people who struggle with eating disorders and body image.

Claire and fellow clinical psychologist, Ainsley Hudgson, started Nourish.Nurture.Thrive after years working in the public health system and seeing how overwhelmed it had become with a “growing population with eating disorder concerns,” says Claire.

Isolation, quarantine and an increase in social media can be very triggering for not only those who struggle with eating disorders but anyone who finds themselves feeling out of control in this stressful time.

“Everybody is showing their exercise routines at the moment, everybody is making those jokes about putting on weight during lockdown and I think it’s just incredibly triggering even for people with a fairly robust sense of self-confidence and body image but particularly for people who are in the eating disorder space,” says Claire.

The showing of exercise routines is found on Instagram amongst other social media, promoting diet culture.

Diet culture is defined as a system of beliefs that worship thinness and oppress people who don’t meet this beauty standard and idea of health. The one underlying fact for nearly all diets and wellbeing programs is that thin is best, demonizing certain food groups and body types, all while promoting the most important idea of them all; if you weren’t so lazy you’d have the body of your dreams.

“It feels like you can control your weight, so in a time when you feel out of control you try and control your weight and what we know is that your weight is biologically determined within a set point and that’s one of the difficulties – all these messages around ‘this is something we can do’ and if you’re not doing it successfully you’re inadequate and that is such a damaging, damaging story that is part of diet culture,” says Claire.

The infamous ‘beauty is pain’ mantra handed down to young girls from their mothers has a whole new meaning, the pain having grown from a waxing strip full of pubic hair to a surgery scar or a vigorous training regime.

Earlier this year glamour magazine Girls Girls Girls collaborated with Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon to create a video titled ‘Be a Lady they said’. The piece included various clips from movies, news, and glamour shots to tell the story of the myriad of requests and expectations women are meant to be adhering to, ironically the women featured in the video are beautiful, thin and passive.

One of the most impactful lines reads,

‘Be a size zero, be a double zero, be nothing, be less than nothing.’

Cynthia Nixon spits these words at the screen as it turns dark and the sound of someone’s heart flatlining takes up the darkness. It is powerful commentary on the notions behind our desires for female perfection and the gruesome control it creates.

As Naomi Wolf states in her classic, The Beauty Myth, published in 1990, obsession with beauty and thinness is a form of control and oppression.

“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one,” says Wolf.

The US health and weight loss industry is worth an estimated $72 billion and Australians are estimated to spend $452.5 million on weight-loss counselling services (and the low-calorie foods and dietary supplements that go with it) in 2019-2020.

These figures show what has been in the shadows all along – this business is big money built off the back of diet culture. A truth hid underneath the bright lights of Instagram, the ‘life updates’ and the relatable posts – the influencers who make you feel like a family, like you could look like them if you had the grit – when you’re just a customer.

 Resources and coping mechanisms

For those who are spending a lot of time online and feel triggered by the change in routine, there are ways to seek help, guidance and support.

The Butterfly Foundation suggests that stretching, light exercise, talking to a loved one, drawing, being creative and mindfulness techniques can help you support your health and wellbeing during this crisis and stop negative body thoughts.

Their Helpline is also open on webchat, email or phone from 8am-midnight, 7 days a week.

Claire Finkelstein from Nourish.Nurture.Thrive admits boycotting social media is unrealistic, especially as it is one of our main sources for communicating with the outside world, however, she does recommend an ‘audit’ of who you follow.

“Use social media to connect rather than compare, use it to engage with people who are important to you, who you feel supported by, who give you a laugh who make you smile, who make you more connected and less alone and try to engage less with social media that leaves you feeling terrible afterwards,” says Claire.

Unfollowing accounts that make you feel inadequate or leave you feeling unhappy and starting to follow body positive accounts instead can stop that downward spiral of self-loathing many of us find triggered by social media.

“Research shows if you have a diverse imagery, diverse bodies, diverse beauty, or other images like architecture, animals or whatever makes you feel good – that that can really dilute the impact, the negative impact of imagery that doesn’t make you feel good,” says Claire.

Below are resources for those who need help.

The Butterfly Foundation:

T: 1800 33 4673

W: https://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/

Beyond Blue:

T: 1300 22 4636

W: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/national-help-lines-and-websites

This is a story about lost love, grief and the strength of one mother to keep going on after losing her husband the the father of her kids in a sudden and fatal accident.

On Saturday 25 June 2011, Graham Santich kissed his wife and two young children goodbye and left for work. He never returned home. A tragic accident on Perth’s Mitchell Freeway left a family shattered and struggling to find a new sense of normal without him.

The Santich family were in a state of bliss with their tenth wedding anniversary celebrations quickly followed by the birth of their second child Darcy, a much loved brother for three year old Charlotte. Sadly, their time together as a family of four was to be brief. Just eight weeks.

Michelle, still recovering from the caesarean delivery, vividly remembers the phone call from police telling her Graham had been in a car accident and how her world stopped in an instant.

“I have thought back many times to things that happened that day,” she recalls. “I was at the shops with the two kids when the police called and told me Graham had been in an accident and I needed to get somebody to drive me to Royal Perth Hospital as soon as I could. All I could think was that he was not going to make it and had horrific images going through my mind of what he might look like when I finally got to him.”

Her parents rallied to her aid, and soon they were met by uniformed police at the emergency department doors and led to a small conference room.

He was perfect. His eyes were closed. He looked like he was sleeping. There looked to be nothing wrong with him.

“It was then that I really knew,” she says. “I knew he was gone and the police confirmed my worst fear.”

Reliving the events, Michelle recalls seeing Graham for the first time after what seemed liked an eternity, on a hospital bed, in a hospital gown, with not a scratch on him.

He was perfect,” she says. “His eyes were closed. He looked like he was sleeping. There looked to be nothing wrong with him.

“I am grateful he looked the way he did but it was also very confusing, because what was in front of me didn’t match the images in my head.”

The details surrounding Graham’s death quickly raised more questions than answers. Police explained their suspicions that Graham had passed out while driving. It was a relatively minor accident, with minimal damage to the car. He became a case for the Coroner. And so began the long wait for answers.

The question of organ donation was raised and consent was given to retrieve his corneas. DonateLife quickly became the liaison between Michelle and the Coroner because, despite the retrieval, a transfer could not be made to a recipient until a cause of death was found.

In the weeks after the accident, as Michelle and her family struggled to come to terms with their loss, DonateLife offered counselling and information packs which included Bunnings vouchers to purchase a tree to grow in his memory. Michelle now utilises the free counselling service, which also provides some counselling to young Charlotte, and attends support groups.

Michelle describes one of the things that plays constantly on her mind is the memories the children will have of Graham and how the organ donation services have offered them ways to make special connections to him, including adding his name to a memorial wall at Lake Monger honouring all Western Australians that have made the ultimate gift and donated their tissues and organs.

“Since Graham passed we have always told Charlotte that her daddy is magic and lives amongst the stars,” she says. “So when DonateLife adopted a star for WA Donors, it gave us a place to send our goodnight wishes. Charlotte is always so eager to see if her daddy’s star will be the first one out.”

“As time goes on I know I am going to become more my own person and less the person I was with him. I don’t want to but I can’t stop it. I hate this new sense of normal.”

“For me, putting his name on the wall and having the coordinates to a star gives us more connections to him, more than just our memories. The kids will always know their daddy was someone special and did something wonderful. It gives us places to go and prompts us to tell stories about him.”

But it is the lack of personal memories the children will have that causes Michelle angst, in particular that Darcy will never have memories of his own and eventually Charlotte’s will fade.

“While family and friends will tell stories and teach Darcy about his dad, the difference will always be that Charlotte will have three years worth of photos with him, while Darcy has very few,” she says.

“I still go over the accident in my head and ask why him, what could I have done differently, worrying he was alone and if he suffered, and my anger that no one stopped to help him.

“I hope Darcy will develop a strong connection with Graham through our family, our love and our memories. I know that Charlotte will always feel close to him, she was his little girl and they thought the world of each other.”

Michelle has tried hard to establish traditions in his memory such as taking the kids to the beach and collecting shells on Graham’s birthday, something he loved to do with Charlotte. On his anniversary there is the Crackerjack Cup lawn bowls tournament at the Fremantle Bowls Club, the place of his wake and where he spent many hours as a keen player.

Meanwhile, balloons and rainbows have become symbolic with balloons often released in his memory and rainbows bridging a connection to his unforgettable grin.

“Any chance I can get to keep remembering him, I do it. I want to feel like he is still part of our family and to include him in our lives even if though he isn’t here,” she says.

The question of organ donation was raised and consent was given to retrieve his corneas. DonateLife quickly became the liaison between Michelle and the Coroner because, despite the retrieval, a transfer could not be made to a recipient until a cause of death was found.

Listening to Michelle describe how she is learning to live with only half a heart without her soul mate, it is obvious the love and adoration this couple shared. Michelle describes Graham as loyal and loved by many.

“He was one of those people who made friends wherever he went,” she explains. “He always had time for his family and was passionate about sport and music of all genres, and he was exceptionally dedicated to his landscaping business. But above all he was thrilled to be a dad, uncle and godfather and was always full of life when he was with the kids.”

Michelle recalls how she often had to pull the reins to get him to hurry along putting Charlotte to bed after numerous songs, books and giggling, and how at birthday parties he was termed King of the Kids, usually swamped by a pile of ankle bitters vying for his attention. But for Graham, it was never a chore. He saw it as a privilege and revelled in it.

“As much as I still expect him to walk through the door each night after work and sometimes still pick up my phone to send him a text, I have settled into this new life and it is hard to accept, especially because it is starting to feel normal without him. As time goes on I know I am going to become more my own person and less the person I was with him. I don’t want to but I can’t stop it. I hate this new sense of normal,” she says with a heavy heart.

An answer to his death finally came almost five months after the accident. The Coroners Court ruled that Graham died from choking. Michelle still finds it incredibly hard to accept this simple answer.

She, like many others, suspected the Used car, which he had owned just two days, had played a part in his passing. But other than perhaps isolating him from vital assistance, three independent mechanics ruled the car played no role.

“I have had lots of appointments with police, DonateLife and even the Coroners Court to try deal with my ongoing confusion about how he died,” she says. “I still go over the accident in my head and ask why him, what could I have done differently, worrying he was alone and if he suffered, and my anger that no one stopped to help him. More recently I have struggled with the terminology used to represent his cause of death.”

As horrible as the circumstances, Michelle marvels at the love and beauty she has discovered exists in the world through the seemingly endless lengths of support and friendship offered, at times from complete strangers.

As horrible as the circumstances, Michelle marvels at the love and beauty she has discovered exists in the world through the seemingly endless lengths of support and friendship offered, at times from complete strangers. She explains there have been donations to a trust fund for the children, grocery shopping and cooked meals, Graham’s business suppliers wiping their bills, his favourite football team signing a card and the drummer of one of his favourite bands visiting and having a mini jam session with Charlotte, and everything in between.

“I know people often didn’t know what to say or do but somehow they got the balance right. And clearly the willingness to help me and the kids is a testament to the person Graham was and the influence he left on the world,” she says.

And so the saying goes, and never rings more true than here, if love could have saved you, you would have lived forever.

 

For more information on becoming an organ donor with DonateLife visit www.donatelife.gov.au

“If I can’t find my perfect job, then I need to create it.”

This was the catalyst that encouraged 33-year-old Perth mother of two, Chevon Semmens, to launch Little Land, an interactive role-play centre for young children to play and learn.

 

From a young age, Chevon had a passion for play, she aspired to work with children and own a childcare centre. Despite these dreams, Chevon opted for a career in marketing and advertising.

 However, her interest in play and learning persisted. Chevon volunteered for over 10 years with Radio Lollipop, providing entertainment to children during their stay at Perth’s Princess Margaret Hospital. Chevon recalls always finding a way to integrate play and learning, even if they were “just playing Uno.”

While on maternity leave with her first child, Chevon stumbled across a photo of a little girl with a child size shopping trolley at a role play centre in the UK. Chevon was excited by the idea of a role-play centre, “I knew this concept would come to Perth eventually and was looking forward to being able to take my own children.”

 

Prompted by a desire to transition into a different career, Chevon used the opportunity of maternity leave to consider her options and compile a list of priorities, “I wanted it to be a business that involved working with children and it had to be something creative”.

Photo credit: Lanie Sims

“I knew my ideal job probably didn’t exist, so I had to invent it.”

Inspired by the image of the little girl with the shopping trolley, Chevon announced to her husband Kayne, “I am going to open up a role play centre. He thought I was mad.”

With unyielding determination, Chevon took on the challenge of convincing her husband she could make this dream a reality.

Chevon’s family and friends became sounding boards for her new venture. “Many thought it was a good idea but probably never assumed I would go through with it, while others felt the idea was too gimmicky.” Undeterred, Chevon used their constructive feedback as encouragement to eradicate potential flaws.

“I knew the concept could work and I knew I would enjoy taking my kids there, but would others?” Chevon put together an advisory group, consisting of Paediatric Occupational Therapists, Paediatric Speech Pathologists, Early Childhood Educators, Primary Teachers and professionals who worked with children with autism. Chevon used their expert knowledge in conjunction with her marketing expertise to educate parents about the benefits the role play centre would bring.

Despite Chevon’s confidence and robust business plan, the process from conceptualisation to delivery was anything but quick. Two years of extensive planning included a painstaking search for the right premises.

“I did not want to settle for a half option. The location needed to be central, close to families, with plenty of parking and onsite facilities.”

In the midst of the search, falling pregnant with her second child threw another “amazing spanner into the works.” Financially, Chevon also needed enough money to launch the business. Rather serendipitously, she was offered voluntary redundancy from her existing day job. “It happened to be the exact amount of money needed to get the idea of the ground.”

The dream was about to become a reality.

Chevon opened the doors of Little Land in May 2019. “We were fully booked for the first three months” and the success has continued, with some ebbs and flows in the mix, as they approach their one-year anniversary.*

What can someone expect from a trip to Little Land?

Little Land offers a welcome break from the usual loud colours and noises you expect of a childcare centre. “Many parents comment on how surprised they are at how calm the environment feels.” The welcome area is filled with calming pastel colours, while the sound system plays modern songs in the form of lullabies.

Beyond the welcome area, you will find Little Land’s ‘little town’, complete with a shopping centre, school; home; doctor’s surgery; café; hairdressing salon; construction zone and veterinary practice.

Role-play is at the forefront of play between the ages of 18 months and 8 years and so each area is uniquely designed to meet the needs of children within this age range. The numbers are kept to a maximum of 30 children per session with a total of four sessions per day to avoid overwhelm for the children.

Children are given the opportunity to explore formal settings in an informal way, enabling them to take control of the experience. Many children were recently role-playing evacuations and ‘safety first’ procedures following recent bush fires. Parents who visit the centre express how valuable it is for children to be able to visit these locations on a small scale and at their own pace.

What does the future hold for Little Land?

Chevon is proud to announce Little Land have worked with the Autism Association in Western Australia to launch weekly ‘Sensory Sessions’. “We reduce the number of people who attend, change the format and provide a story book for children to read beforehand of what to expect, we also use a timer instead of a bell to mark the end of the sessions.”

Chevon’s dream is for play and learning to be accessible to all Australians. “We currently have people travelling over an hour to see us, so I would like to possibly open a second location to make it more accessible. We have also launched several pop ups, including four stalls at local events and shopping centres to help spread awareness of the benefits of our centre.”

How to balance motherhood and business

As a mum to three a half year old Zack and 16 month old Archer, Chevon admits life can get busy.

“Someone said to me recently, maybe it’s not so much as trying to find a balance between being a mother and business owner, perhaps it’s finding a blend of the two.”

“I am fortunate that I have a great husband who helps pick up the slack, whether that’s with our children or the business. We try to eat well and get as much sleep as you can with a 16 month old.”

Chevon and her husband make time for themselves separately to re-energise, “I try to get up earlier a couple of days a week to go for an hour long walk, this gives me the energy I need for the next couple of days.”

Chevon also has a day that is non-negotiable, “I always have Mondays with my boys, to play and just spend time with them, it revitalises me and reminds me how we never stop learning.”

Photo credit: Lanie Sims

Despite the huge success of the business, Chevon has realised it’s the small wins she celebrates, “I found in the initial stages of Little Land, we were so busy ‘doing’ that we didn’t stop to appreciate what we had achieved, so now we make an effort to regularly pause and express gratitude for what we have accomplished.”

Keep up to date with the latest Little Land news, @littleland_perth

Thank you to Photographer, Lanie Sims for all images supplied in this article.

 *Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Little Land has closed for the unforeseeable future. During this time, we’re determined to continue inspiring play and learning for the community and we hope it isn’t too long before we see the return of big smiles on little faces as they run through our big and little doors to wander and explore the magic.