Rock Around The Clock Tonight: Braving Sleep Training

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Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts, and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”

Baz Lurhmann: Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen)

When I moved to Jozi as a grad in 2003, I wound up in sales (recruitment). My boyfriend (now husband) had many years of sales experiences under his belt and gave me a piece of advice he’d picked up on a training course: “Clients/ customers only buy goods or services when they feel pain.”

In the months following the departure of my first child’s night nurse, I realised that this was how I had come to view sleep training. It was something I knew I probably needed to buy into at some stage. Although I was in pain every time we had a bad night, the agony wasn’t consistent enough for me to attempt sleep training. The idea of sleep training was something I instinctively experienced as a kind of physical fear: the terrorised crying, the guilt of abandoning your helpless infant, the fear of inflicting permanent psychological damage, the self-doubt as to whether the child might be physically ill… it all just seemed too barbaric a concept for me to face. And, in a nutshell, too hard, really. It somehow felt easier to just suffer through four hours of rocking my child and begging her to sleep every three or four nights. Because in between those hellish nights, she’d mostly sleep through and I’d have a chance to recover – physically and emotionally.

But when my daughter, Chiara, was 15 months old, something cracked. We just had too many three or four hour stints where I could not, for love or money, get her back to sleep in the middle of the night. (To this day, I don’t know why she sometimes woke up, but I do know that she had no idea how to put herself back to sleep because she had never been given the opportunity to learn that skill). A few hours cradling a baby in an armchair in the middle of the night might not sound like the worst thing on earth – especially if you have the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom in privileged South Africa. But there is something absolutely soul destroying about the experience when you are going through it. I repeat: soul destroying. Perhaps you have to have experienced it yourself to know what I mean…

I’m glad I finally reached rock bottom because I would not have had the determination to attempt sleep training otherwise.

A few months earlier, I’d had lunch with a friend who was regularly spending an hour and a half putting her one year old to bed. She wasn’t pushy or evangelical at all on the topic but merely stated that sleep training had “changed their lives”. She described how, after the training, her daughter would point to her cot after only a few minutes. It seemed almost too good to be true and I wasn’t ready to put her advice into practice, but I secretly fantasized about a child who pointed at her cot.

So, when I was ready (read absolutely desperate and in emotional pain), I emailed my friend and asked her for her “method” for Project Sleep Training. To date, at 15 months old, Chiara, had only ever been rocked to sleep, pushed to sleep or fallen asleep on her nanny’s back or in a moving car. My mother-in-law first mentioned “putting her down awake” when she was six months old. I’d never heard of such a crazy concept in my life and I though my mother-in-law was mad. It was only later that the information started to sink in…

My friend’s method was gleaned from a range of online sources and she explained it to me in simple terms:

1) Put baby in cot (yes, awake! Imagine?)

2) Leave room

3) Time three minutes on your phone

4) If s/he is still crying after three minutes, go in and lay your hand on him/her to reassure them for less than a minute. Don’t pick them up.

5) Leave the room and time four minutes on your phone

6) If the baby is still crying after four minutes, go in and lay your hand on him/her to reassure them for less than a minute. Don’t pick them up.

7) Leave the room and time five minutes on your phone…

The next day, you start by leaving the baby for four minutes, then five, then six etc. You’ll be surprised at how fast these kids catch on…

For me, sleep training was indeed life changing. It took about two or three days of applying the above method by the book before my daughter got the message. I never experienced another night of being up for two to four hours on the trot – which had previously happened about three times a week.

Of course if your baby isn’t completely well, sleep training is not a good idea. Rather wait till you feel confident that your child is healthy. As for teething, it can be hellish for some babies but teething goes on for two years so it’s worth fitting in sleep training somewhere along the line.

Going away did disrupt my child’s sleep somewhat, but not to the same extent as it had prior to sleep training. I did find that when we got home, it was helpful to re-start the training for a night or two.

When my second child came along, I cuddled and rocked him to my heart’s content, secure in the knowledge that I could train him to self soothe as soon as he – or rather, I – was ready.

This post first appeared on Parenting Hub
http://parentinghub.co.za/2015/04/30/rock-around-the-clock-tonight-braving-sleep-training/

Project Parenting: Applying Project Management Principles to Child-Rearing

DETAILED PROJECT PLAN: PROJECT PARENTING

PROJECT SPONSOR

Whether or not you planned on becoming a parent – and whether you like it or not – YOU are the sponsor of “Project Parenting”. Sometimes the project participants (also known as children) may be of the opinion that they are the sponsors. This may be expressed in the form of statements such as “You are not the boss of me!” Whilst you may sometimes wish that this were the case, you are the boss of these participants and you may not resign as the project sponsor.

PROJECT CHARTER

Scope

The scope of Project Parenting is vast and includes:

meeting physical needs of the child(ren), i.e. food, shelter, clothing, education

Some project participants – particularly girls – may present you with out-of-scope clothing requirements. The only way that said participants will be persuaded of this is if you make reference to the project budget. You need to state unequivocally that a particular item(s) of clothing are not provided for in the budget. If the participant suspects that funds can be channeled from another budget (home maintenance, sibling clothing fund, education, groceries) they will stop at nothing until such funds have been re-allocated.

– meeting emotional needs of the child(ren)

Take solace in Philip Larkin’s poem with the lines “They f*ck you up, your Mum and Dad/ They don’t mean to but they do/ They fill you with the faults they had/ And add some extra, just for you”.

Do your best to raise an emotionally well-balanced child, but when you fail, you can always resort to laying on the guilt and exclaiming that “It’s so hard to be a mother/ father! You will see one day when you have your own children.”

Objectives

1. To raise a child who hopefully moves out of your house around the time they start having sex. Often times, the project budget will not allow for this since the scope of the project includes the provision of an education which may extend beyond schooling. However, tertiary education will hopefully assist you to achieve objective number 2 below:

2. To raise a child who becomes financially independent before you and your spouse are too old to enjoy your new-found financial freedom.

Participants

– Project Manager: you, the parent(s). This role can sometimes be outsourced to:

– nannies (as many as project budget allows)

– teachers

– grannies (and progressive grandfathers)

Project Participants: your children plus any of their friends who may be tagging along at any given time.

PROJECT APPROACH

Sleep when you’re dead. (Lack of sleep is an opportunity cost of child-rearing often not quantified, nor included in the project budget.) Your approach to Project Parenting should be that the project is always “live”.

PROJECT LIFE CYCLE

The timelines for Project Parenting are indeterminable. However, take solace in the fact that once Objective Number 2 has been achieved, the intensity of the project may lessen for a period, until your project moves on to its next stage: Project Grandparenting. Project Grandparenting is not as time-consuming as Project Parenting and handovers to parents occur regularly and after short periods.

PROJECT GOVERNANCE

Project parenting includes governance structures such as: Mother-in-laws and Other Parents. Some mother-in-laws have a hands-on governance approach which may include feeding, bathing, nappy changing, school lifts and sleepovers. Others may take more of a steering approach where they dispense parenting advice and point out the flaws in your project management style. If your mother-in-law takes the latter approach, you may duly note this in the risk log but you may find it more effective to move countries.

PROJECT BUDGET

Rest assured that your project will always be over budget. Period.

RISK LOG

The risk log for Project Parenting is a large and ever-changing document. It should be up-dated regularly and then leather-bound and presented to the project participants on their 21st birthdays. Here are some more common risks and issues:

1. The iteration that “Everyone else’s parents allow them to… (insert potentially risky activity)”. This is an effective tool for participants to employ if they sense that you are concerned about appearing “uncool”. If not, you can employ the age old retort “If everyone else’s parents were to jump into the fire, should I do so too?” If, however, you are concerned about being branded Most Old-Fashioned Parent Ever (sadly, my parents never were), then you will need to put in a few calls to fellow parents to find out the lay of the land.

2. Tantrums. There are various ways of dealing with these risks which are totally unavoidable. All children come with equipped with an innate predisposition to totally freak out when their desires are not met. The modern methods of threats to deny access to expected sugary foods and/ or TV seem to have the most instantaneous effects. Sometimes, however, one actually has to deny, not only threaten, and this often leads to elevated freak outs. These must be endured by parents with the aid of loud music/ earphones, yoga/ meditation and/or wine.

BUSINESS CASE

Once upon a time, when man lived off the land and when manual labour was critical for procuring food for survival, the business case for procreation was clear: your children would hunt for you and thus provide for you in your old age. However, since the advent of the knowledge economy, project management experts have been trying to devise a return on investment formula for Project Parenting. Thus far, they have been unsuccessful. Project participants cost more to raise than ever before and will not necessarily be in a position to send you and your spouse on a Carribean cruise in your twilight years.

In light of this, human capital experts have put forward a less tangible business case for Project Parenting. These include the velvet feel of a baby’s skin, cradling a perfectly contented, sound asleep infant, having your toddler crawl into your bed and cuddle you… and other such parenting perks.

Postprandial infant nap on the chest. One of the perks of parenting
Postprandial infant nap on the chest. One of the perks of parenting

Validation & The Stay-at-home Mom

We all want the same thing: to feel comfortable with our choices and to feel validated by those around us. Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In

It took just over two years for me to experience validation in my role as a stay-at-home mom. One of the teachers who helped out at my daughter’s play school described her as “clever”. For the first time in two years I felt a sense of achievement, and, I suppose, validation. Of course, the praise was not directed at me, it was about my child. But somehow, in this particular instance, coming from an external party, it felt like I was being validated.

I have some theories about why it’s hard to feel validated as a stay-at-home mom.

1) They’re kids, not colleagues.
The first and most obvious reason is that in the eyes of our children, we exist as extensions of themselves. Of course we do. And of course this is natural. (There are times when I think I still see my own mother as an extension of myself). Children cannot empathise with our roles, our feelings, our challenges. And neither should they have to. But as stay-at-home moms they are our colleagues, our peers, our friends, our family. They are the people we spend our days with, talk to (even when they can’t talk back) and share moments with. And yet it is not their job to tell us that we’re doing a good job.

2) Modern moms compete
We seek validation from other moms through our children’s achievements. This too, I think is fine and natural. But, to refer to Sheryl Sandberg once again, we women are our own worst enemies: we compete with one another, rather than support each other. When your child first sat, walked, spoke, started counting in Spanish (thank you, Dora The Explorer), swam unaided: these become points of comparison. Partly I think this is a female problem that extends to so many areas of life besides parenting and partly I think it’s because we were raised in a competitive culture. It’s almost as though we are already competing on our children’s behalf when they are six months, a year, two, three, four or five because we somehow feel we’d be disadvantaging them if we weren’t. In any event, despite the fact that other moms might be our de facto colleagues, it is sadly not inherent in our culture to praise and support our female peers. (Much has been written on this topic of late, so hopefully we are heading towards a tipping point for change in this respect).

3) Partners may struggle to relate to full time parenting…
A while ago I read a brilliant article in the Huffington Post entitled “Please don’t ask me what I’m up to today“. The author described how her husband left the house when she and the kids were in pyjamas surrounded by a messy kitchen and eating area. When he arrived home in the evenings, the scene looked the same: pyjamas and post-meal mess. Sometimes, just feeding multiple kids several times a day feels like an achievement, but it’s not really one you can expect validation for. “Guess what, honey? I fed the kids three times today, did the school run twice, soothed six tantrums, got a quote for the leaking pool, went food shopping, picked up the dry-cleaning, built a Lego house, took the kids to swimming and went for a run. Can I get a whoop whoop?” This is hardly what you are going to say to your partner after their long day at the office. And the energy required to assuage a meltdown or negotiate putting on shoes with a toddler is immeasurably great – you actually have to experience it to believe it.

So much about parenting doesn’t produce fast, tangible results. And even when it does, isn’t it lame to expect validation from our spouse for something that our kids – not us – have achieved?

So, how then, do stay-at-home moms find validation? Some examples I have seen or experienced include party planning/ cake baking/ crafting, charity work, blogging, serving as “Class Mom”, sporting goals or part-time studies.

One of my personal quests for validation included signing up for the 94.7 cycle challenge when my son was 10 days old. He was not quite four months when I rode the race, never having ridden a bicycle with cleats in my life. I was so determined to finish the race in the cut off time of 6 hours that I refused to stop to apply sunscreen when my husband warned me that my legs were burning. These were the results:

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How silly, in hindsight. But that’s how desperately I was seeking some sort of sense of achievement and validation…

To the stay-at-home moms out there, do you feel validated by those around you and if so, how do you achieve this? I would love to hear your comments…

Flying with Kids: Who Needs Pants Anyway?

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You know those recurring nightmares where you dream that you go to school/ to town/ to a party without any pants on? Well, sometimes dreams do come true…

Yesterday we flew to Port Elizabeth for this Sunday’s Ironman South Africa. The kids were wearing their “When I Grow Up I Want to Be an Ironman” t-shirts, David met a Kona qualifier (Ironman World Champs) in the row behind us so we were all excited and in good spirits. Plus we were travelling “light” – ie our car & trailer had been driven down to PE the day before. It was a one hour 4o minute flight with one parent per child, so I thought, “how hard can this be?”

Despite the fact that a 12:25pm take-off is clearly “lunch time” no matter where in the world you are, SAA is evidently cutting costs and served a packet of Lays crisps for “lunch”. Not the kind of rubbish I like to give my kids but I find that crisps do have their travel advantages compared to sweets and chocolate: they contain no caffeine and hardly any sugar so they shouldn’t make kids hyper, they don’t make kids sticky and they are loaded with a whole lot of crap that makes them taste great so they can keep kids busy for ages. For peace on an aeroplane, I am willing to overlook the health hazards…

I confess that I ate a few myself and noticed that the particular “sour cream & chives” variant is kind of rich. Joe, my 20 month old, is not used to being handed a bag of chips to do with what he likes, so before I knew it, he’d polished off two thirds of the bag.

Other than that, the flight wasn’t too bad. Not too much fighting over the Ipad, no number two’s and no major tantrums. But then as we were coming in to land, I realised that Joe was about to vomit. I could see the air sick bag in the pouch in front of me, but somehow I froze, holding my wretching son and hoping that he was done. By the third projection, I had mobilised myself to get hold of the bag and managed to catch some of that batch. Most of it, however, had gone all over him, all over my lap and then spilled over onto my seat, which now contained large flecks of sour cream Lays and some poorly chewed Trailmix (also courtesy of SAA). In order to avoid sitting in the vomit, I squatted above the seat for some time, but after a while my quads couldn’t handle the strain anymore and I surrendered and planted my arse in the squelch. By this time, Chiara (4) had produced a small sympathy vomit which David had managed to catch in a bag. She was holding her nose and pronouncing that Joe and I STANK and David was handing me bum wipes to try and mop up the vomit.

Welcome to Port Elizabeth.

We’d had a similar experience about 6 months earlier and it had been unpleasant only until I was able to get a clean pair of jeans out of my luggage once it arrived on the carousel. So this time, I just told myself to be patient until we got our bags. Just before the bags arrived, however, it dawned on me that I’d sent all my clothes for the trip ahead of us in the trailer (now parked at our hotel) and that I had only toiletries and a few kids’ items in my check-in luggage. My jeans were literally soaked in vomit, replete with little flecks of thrown up food which David noticed while we stood at the carousel and which he tried to remove with bum wipes (thank god for those things).

Walking to the toilets to change Joe, I considered my options. Maybe I could buy a pair of shorts or ANY bottoms at the airport? I surveyed the shops but all I could see in the way of clothing was mohair scarves in a gift store and then a tourist shop selling nothing but T-shirts. Absolutely nothing for the lower half of the body.

I changed Joe and carried on thinking. I could use a muslin or a baby blanket as a skirt. But of course, on this particular occasion, I really had packed light and had neither of those items. I actually could not stomach wearing my vomit drenched jeans a second longer. I would simply wear my long jacket. Except that when I put it on without pants I found it actually wasn’t long or even longish at all. If I stood dead still, it barely covered my panty line. All I could find was a cardigan which I tied around my waist so that at least from the back it looked like I was wearing shorts or a mini skirt covered by a jersey. From the front it look like, er, well, it looked like I didn’t have any bottoms on.

I marched back through the airport with throngs of Ironman competitors and supporters trying to hide the fact that I was half naked, by staying close to Joe’s pram. Maybe David had some bottoms in his luggage I could borrow. But he had also sent all his clothing in the trailer – which was probably a good thing, in hindsight. If I had pulled on a pair of my Ironman husband’s pants and found they wouldn’t pass my thighs, I think my day would have gotten significantly worse. Instead, I climbed into the transfer vehicle and planted my handbag on my lap to cover my bare legs. When I got out, I tried to strategically position my bag in front of my things and then walked over to the front desk half hiding my lower body behind the pram.

The side view remained a bit of an issue…

I managed to survive the check-in procedure, the packed lobby and my fellow guests in the mirrored lifts…

Never in my life have I been so excited to see a hotel robe.

On the bright side, I don’t have to swim 3.8km, cycle 180km and run a marathon on Sunday like all these crazy Ironman athletes. I am walking around in workout gear though, just so that I don’t stick out too much. Feels great to be wearing pants again!

On French & South African Whine: An Observation from Val Thorens

Val Thorens
Val Thorens

A few weeks ago, I was privileged enough to go skiing in France. The resort our friends recommended was Val Thorens, part of the Three Valleys (made up of Val Thorens, Meribel and Courcheval) in the French Alps. The nearest airport is Geneva which is approximately two and a half hours’ drive from Val Thorens. When I met my friends in Geneva, they had heard news at Charles de Gaulle airport that the road to Val Thorens was closed because an enormous boulder had fallen onto it the previous evening.

"Concerted Mobilisation to Get Road Back into Use"
“Concerted Mobilisation to Get Road Back into Use”

Soon enough, this rumour was confirmed by, Thierry, our taxi driver. He had been delayed getting to Geneva because of the road closure and as we drove, he listened to radio up-dates about the situation. Since 6am that morning, a tiny alternative route was being used. This road was so narrow it only allowed for one-way traffic and, as such, the local authorities had chosen to allow traffic down the mountain. It was a Saturday and the second last day of school holidays for the Paris school zone so it made sense to try to allow the people whose sojourns were ending that day, to exit the village.

At one stage we heard that vehicles would be allowed up the mountain at 2pm. But 2pm came and went and that wasn’t the case. By then we’d been in our mini-van for about four hours, driven alongside the magnificent Lake Annecy.

Passing Lake Annecy
Passing Lake Annecy

We’d managed to avoid a fair amount of bottle necks, thanks to our taxi drivers’ knowledge of back routes. We finally came to a halt in the village of Moutiers – at the foot of the closed road – and drank beer and espresso inside the local Carrefour’s cafe, where men still in ski gear, sat. They had made it down the mountain via the one-way road, but I overhead them saying that some had chosen to walk the last six kilometres as it was the quickest way down at that stage. The latest official information was that the (two-way) road would re-open at 6pm.

At about 4pm, our taxi driver raced into Carrefour and hustled us back to his van. He’d heard a rumour that the road might be opening. Once again, this proved untrue and instead we read our books in the van, while Thierry chatted to fellow taxi drivers and locals peered out of their windows at the curious sight of stationery cars lining their streets. By this stage of the day, there were cars lined up in every direction, up and down every nearby road.

At around 4:30pm, the authorities made way for buses to begin lining up in front of the closed off road as there were to be allowed up first. At exactly, 6:05pm, the road was opened to all traffic. Thanks to Thierry, we were well positioned towards the front of the queue.

We then began making our way up the mountain. Besides a crane and other machinery, there were no signs of any disruption.

About half way up the pass, a woman taxi driver from the region was being interviewed about the situation. Her emotions were running high and she went on and on about the local metro police, about how unreasonable she had found them and how she vehemently disagreed with the way things had been handled. Lots of anger, lots of superlatives and lots of repetition. I confess if the rant had been translated into English and given a South African accent, I would have felt completely at home – as though I was tuned in to Radio 702 and someone had called in to complain about our local metro cops policing a road closure. In short, it sounded exactly like a quintessential South African whine, but instead it was being delivered by a French taxi driver in the Alps.

I try not to seek solace for the troubles of my country by finding fault with other countries, but hearing this woman losing her marbles and lambasting the authorities, did make me smile, in spite of the latter. This takes absolutely nothing away from France – the world’s most visited country with 84 million tourists per annum. It has just given me another perspective on whining: I no longer regard it to be quite so unique to privileged South Africans.

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Thierry’s response to the crisis is probably one of many reasons France has such a booming tourist industry. He fielded calls from clients and potential clients all day and was ultra professional throughout. He must have lost out on a fortune of revenue that day, but he never showed an ounce of frustration. He simply did what he could to make our experience as comfortable as possible, under the circumstances. He even went as far as to lend me Euros to buy lunch until we could get to a bank machine.

Despite the possibility that we may have been stranded in the village of Moutiers along with thousands of other tourists in the same boat, we were in our hotel having dinner by 8pm that night.

Sometimes, no matter its provenance, the glass really is half full…

Mauritius with Young Kids: Sugar Beach vs The Westin

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Our family of four has been privileged enough to have spent part of the last two December holidays in Mauritius. In December 2013 we stayed at the beautiful, colonial style Sugar Beach on the west coast. At the time, Chiara, our daughter was just over two and a half and our son, Joe was nearly five months old.

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The Manor House at Sugar Beach Resort

In December 2014, we stayed at The Westin, Turtle Bay (formerly the Grand Mauritian Hotel) in the north west of the island. Chiara was therefore about three and a half and Joe was 17 months.

The Westin, Turtle Bay
The Westin, Turtle Bay

The aim of this blog post is to compare our experiences at each. I specifically mention the ages of the children because tiny, little people and their needs change a huge amount in just twelve months and said tiny, little people and their needs can largely determine the extent to which their parents enjoy their holiday. (First world problems, I know).

THE POOLS
Sugar Beach has the most stunning pool called “The Quiet Pool” – literally. Kids are not banned from The Quiet Pool but there is a guy who walks around and tells anyone (big or small) who is making a noise to please be quiet. I have no problem with this (I fondly recall the days when I read books next to pools before I had kids) and we did manage to spend a few glorious early evenings at The Quiet Pool as Joe was still an infant and, at two and a half, Chiara could be made to understand that she needed to be quiet. A year later, however, I wouldn’t have gone near this pool with a seventeen month old.

The kid friendly pool with a fairly large shallow section at Sugar Beach is very nice, but we were there in peak season and we were NEVER organised enough to go early and put our belongings on the loungers to “reserve” them for when we had finished breakfast. So we never really had a spot to sit at this pool. I think the hotel was pretty full and the pool reflected this.

Aerial View
The kid-friendly pool with a shallow section at Sugar Beach

At The Westin, we LIVED at the “main” pool. (Not the “Reflections Pool”, in the “Whisper Zone” – we never went there as we never trusted our kids to whisper in or around the pool).

Kid friendly pool at the Westin with large shallow section
Kid friendly pool at the Westin with large shallow section

The main pool has an enormous shallow end which was amazing for the kids. It feels brand new and gorgeous, it’s enormous and we loved it. I doubt the hotel was very full (it re-opened under the Westin brand some time in 2014 so they are still building up a clientele) and we had a choice of well located loungers every morning. After about 5 days, the staff started booking our preferred loungers for us near the shallow end. I suppose it will become alot busier as the hotel gets more and more popular but I think it would still feel more spacious than the main pool at Sugar Beach.

THE BEACHES
Both the Westin and Sugar Beach Hotels have sandy beaches. The Beach at The Westin wasn’t huge but it was cute and never very busy. There was a lovely giant rock pool and the sea was nice and gentle for small kids.

The beach at The Westin Turtle Bay
The beach at The Westin Turtle Bay

If memory serves, the beach at Sugar Beach is alot longer and more sprawling. Rubber or neoprene water shoes are recommended for kids and adults alike.

But our kids at this age seem to be happiest at the pool, given the choice, so we didn’t spend large amounts of time on the beach. The beaches and the sea are very nice at both resorts, but if you’re after velvety sand and long, sprawling beaches first and foremost, rather venture to the four star Paradise Sun on Praslin in the Seychelles (the pool is average and the flight times from Joburg are hell with small kids but the beach and sea are unbeatable, in my opinion.).

THE ROOMS
David, my husband spoilt us and booked superior interleading rooms for both holidays. Our rooms at Sugar Beach were nice. There wasn’t much space to spare but they were bigger than the standard rooms.

Our rooms at The Westin were utterly unbelievably luxurious, gorgeous, massive, brand spanking new, magnificent. We could have moved in forever. We paid roughly the same amount for both holidays but I strongly suspect that The Westin heavily discounted its rates to attract people to it and I think that by December 2015, our interleading rooms will be charged out at alot more. (According to the paperwork from The Holiday Factory – the tour company that our travel agent booked our holiday through – we booked “Ocean Deluxe” rooms, but when we arrived, one of the rooms had the word “suite” attached to it. But even the room that wasn’t called a suite with twin beds, was huge and stunning, as were the bathrooms.)

A top floor version of our room (ground floor doesn't have this view, but makes pram usage so much easier)
A top floor version of our room (ground floor doesn’t have this view, but makes pram usage so much easier)

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION (OF YOUR ROOM)

At Sugar Beach, I requested ground floor rooms not close to the main pool as I was worried that Joe wouldn’t sleep during the day if there was too much noise. This turned out to be a mistake because getting to the kid friendly pool and the main restaurant was an almightly schlep (Sugar Beach is an enormous resort). I would definitely request a room near the main pool and restaurant next time.

At the Westin, I simply requested ground floor rooms. Fortunately, the rooms we were allocated were a stone’s throw from the restaurant and the main pool which was really convenient and just made our lives so easy with the kids and all the paraphernalia you somehow always need with them.

THE KIDS CLUB, BABYSITTING & KIDS’ MEALS

At Sugar Beach, you can drop your kids at the kids club from the age of 3, whilst at The Westin, they need to be 4 or older. If your kids are younger than these minimum ages you need to hire a babysitter to be with them at the Kids Club. In terms of the physical premises, the Kids Club at Sugar Beach is in need of a revamp (but the staff more than make up for that), whereas at The Westin, the Kids Club is brand new and gorgeous. You can also go and hang out there with your children if they are too young to be left which you might fancy doing if it’s raining or you just need to get out of the heat for a bit.

At Sugar Beach, we hired a babysitter every evening through the Kids Club. She was fantastic. Some mornings we hired another babysitter to watch the kids for just over an hour so that my mother-in-law and I could walk on the beach which was such a treat. I remember it being a really easy and seamless process and it felt like everyone I encountered at the Kids Club was exceptionally nice and very experienced with children.

At The Westin, hiring a babysitter felt like alot more of a mission. Their policy states that you have to physically go to the Kids Club and select your babysitter from their list (pictures included) of ladies. You then hire the person directly and pay them directly in cash (local currency), plus you need to pay them for their transport (which added quite a bit to the cost). So hiring a babysitter for an hour’s walk on the beach was more effort and money than it was worth. We also happened to have very little cash (in any currency) on us and the nearest ATM was about a 20 minute taxi journey away, so we only hired a babysitter twice during our stay. The effort of needing to pre-plan and pre-book with someone external to the hotel (aside from having to mission in to town to get cash) made the option a little less attractive. That said, the ladies who work in the Kids’ Club are allowed to do babysitting when they are not on duty, but I only found that out later and when I asked one of these ladies to babysit there was a schedule clash.

There were alot of South Africans staying at the hotel while we were there and I noticed that most people put their babies to sleep in their prams and brought them to dinner. We did that twice with Joe and it worked well. Fortunately we had met a great couple with a daughter Chiara’s age and they entertained one another at dinner (with the help of an iPad). Otherwise, most nights we put the kids to bed in one of the rooms and had room service in the adjoining room, watched movies and sipped wine on the balcony. (The downside was that in-room dining doesn’t form part of the half-board offering).

At Sugar Beach, the Kids’ Club offered a kids dinner from about 5pm or 5:30pm which suited my kids’ usual routine perfectly. At The Westin, we tried to organise early dinners a couple of times for the kids but it was a huge mission and 6pm was the earliest it could be arranged so the best for us was simply to order a starter from room service for them at around 5pm. Joe lost his sense of humour at around 6:15pm every night, gulped down his bottle and pointed to his bed by 6:30pm so the 6pm dinner thing didn’t work for us.

WASHING & STERILISING BOTTLES

At Sugar Beach, I dropped Joe’s bottles and dummies off at the Kids’ Club where they were washed and sterilised for me with a smile. At The Westin, I called room service and they were equally great. (I took Medela microwave steriliser bags with me both times). Some large international hotel chains have policies about washing and sterilising bottles (in case they get sued, I guess), so one might not always be so lucky…

THE RESTAURANTS & THE FOOD

Main restaurant at The Westin
Main restaurant at The Westin

Personally, I loathe buffets – especially at dinner. It feels like musical chairs and kills the mood. Fortunately, both hotels have a variety of a la carte options for dinner (and lunch). These all come at a price, of course, but at least you have options. I don’t remember too much about the food at Sugar Beach so I assume that it was pretty good!

We stayed at the Westin before we had kids in 2010 (when it was The Grand Mauritian) and found the food to be excellent. We found it equally fantastic this time. The lunches were fresh and delicious (with deliciously expensive price-tags to match).

THE SERVICE AND THE STAFF

In general, I recall the service and the staff at Sugar Beach to be outstanding. At The Westin, we had a more mixed experience – some staff members were amazing, some were not great at all. I would say overall that there was a much better culture amongst the staff at Sugar Beach, whereas I felt like I heard alot of “I am not able to do that because we have a policy…” – i.e. very rules based culture, presumably based on a fear of being sued.

COSTS & EXTRAS

As I mentioned, I think The Westin’s prices for December 2014 were significantly lower than their prices for December 2015 will be so I am not sure they will necessarily compare well with Sugar Beach from a cost perspective, even though they are both five star resorts. At both resorts, any food or drinks that were not included in our half board packages were exorbitant (but, in my experience, that is the same in all the luxury Mauritian resorts).

CONCLUSION

We would choose The Westin again over Sugar Beach for one simple reason: the main pool. Perhaps the resort will grow in popularity and there will be a bun fight for sun loungers, but until then, I would go again tomorrow.

Please comment below if you have experiences at Mauritius resorts with young children that you’d like to share.