The Daddy Appreciation Society

For a fairly long while, maybe nine months or so, I had been quite convinced that my daughter didn’t particularly like me. Or rather, that I was fine, but that she would much, much rather spend time with her “dada” than with me. This wasn’t just hormonal, sleep-deprived paranoia. The evidence was incontrovertible. She would cry if I, rather than my husband, gave her cuddles. She would cry if I, rather than my husband, helped her with her meals. She would cry if I, rather than my husband, changed her nappy. She would cry if I, rather than my husband, sat next to her. You get the gist.* She learnt to say duck, dog, light, car, cat, lion, tiger, up and “dada” (obviously), before she came up with “mama” (and even then only because circumstances forced the issue, on which see below). The only thing she was agreeable about me doing rather than him was breastfeeding. (Which was useful, as he is a bloody good father but he absolutely needs to work on his lactation.)

My husband, of course, found this completely brilliant. I’m not sure he would ever admit it but I think he believes it to be divine justice for the fact that my son was the founding member of the Mama Fan Club (No Daddies Allowed) and his fandom continues to such a degree that my teenage Take That fixation looks positively half-hearted.

Because of my son’s approach, I had already read most that the internet has to offer about what to do when a child prefers one parent to the other. I had consulted that oracle of respectful parenting, the mighty Janet Lansbury, whose advice has seen me through many a parenting conundrum. And her words are so wise that they bear repetition here (although I would heartily recommend that you read the article in full** if this is pertinent to your family):

  1. Our children’s adoration is a given, and hard as that may be to believe in the face of “go away, Mommy,” it isn’t at all personal.
  2. Young children live in the moment. So, “I don’t want you” (or even “I don’t like you”) means “I don’t want you in this moment,” or “I don’t want you to do this activity with me”, etc. These are temporary and superficial, rather than deep and permanent rejections.
  3. Our child only feels safe rejecting us because he or she is secure in our love. So, rejection is a back-handed compliment of sorts. We’re doing something right. Of course, it still feels crappy.

Janet advises, essentially, that the “Rejected Parent” rises above it, remaining constant, loving and (ideally) keeping a sense of humour about the whole thing. It’s important for the child to know that the Rejected Parent hasn’t taken it personally. And for the “Preferred Parent”, they should feel confident in their child’s ability to accept their firm and loving limits (so not just caving in and changing the nappy or running the bath or whatever it is that the child has decided the Rejected Parent should not do). They should also (and I think this is particularly important so I’m going to quote) demonstrate their “utter faith in [the Rejected Parent] as an able and loving parent”.

This is Good Advice. And, it turns out, much easier to follow when you are the “Preferred Parent”. So I must apologise to my husband for the fact that I doled out Janet’s sage counsel with all the sensitivity of Donald Trump negotiating border security with Mexico.

I mean, don’t take it personally?! Are you kidding?! Every rejection feels like a twisted knife in my stomach or a punch to the throat. My heart wrenches with every turn of the cheek, with every plaintive cry of “dada!”. And my husband (although he would deny it) has been absolutely revelling in it for the past few months. He has categorically failed to follow Janet’s commandment of not thinking “poor baby” when our daughter remonstrates; the pity pours from him when he extricates himself from her grasp to go to work or even just to another room. “Don’t worry, baby, Daddy’s here,” he says, as he comes to calm her in the night.*** I hate it! How has my husband not spent the last two years in a state of perpetual hysteria? It is AWFUL.

Well. Awful, with a tiny side of convenient, it must be said. We have been able to share the day-to-day care of our daughter to a degree that felt unthinkable with our son. My husband finally knows what it is to have a child who would prefer that you never again take a pee in private. Although he has basked in her adoration, he has also gained experience of the suffocating weight of being seemingly indispensable.

And (the clue was in the past tense at the beginning of the post), the times they are a-changin! Our daughter is hugely, magnificently stubborn. And when my husband told her he was going back to work after a blissful three weeks off over Christmas, she suddenly (and immediately) learnt to say “mama” and turned her focus almost entirely to me. It was so deliberate as to be pretty hilarious. (For me, at least.) She spent three full days doing her absolute best to ignore my husband, indignant as she was as to this apparent betrayal of their special relationship. The following week brought a certain rapprochement, for sure, but I am still receiving considerably more affection than previously.

And so we find ourselves here. Both Preferred and Rejected, not quite in equal measure any more but probably to a degree that we can both tolerate. We have a better understanding of the position of the other. Neither of us can find a moment of peace in our busy home.

We are both bloody lucky.

Life is good.

Team Daddy

* I knew she didn’t despise me entirely because she was quite content for me to do all of these things in the absence of my husband. Which was fortunate for all of us, I guess!

** Janet Lansbury’s great article is here http://www.janetlansbury.com/2015/02/when-children-prefer-one-parent/ I would also really recommend her amazing book “No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame”, one of the very few parenting books I have ever reached the end of! A complete game-changer.

*** I realised, after a while of growing increasingly outraged by this flagrant undermining of my position, that my husband was actually just mirroring what I have long said to my son when coming into his room to soothe him upon a tearful night waking: “Don’t worry, darling, Mama is here.” I never for a second meant that my son should take his comfort from the fact that it was me and not my husband who was there. Sorry again, darling!

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Stop insulting my cunt

I love to swear. I really (fucking) do. Expletives add so much to our language. They can be creative, lyrical, emotive… I certainly don’t regard swearing as evidence of a lack of imagination, as some teachers used to chide; indeed, my most inventive moments have often been celebrated with a veritable firework display of the obscene.

I don’t shy away from the big ones and historically have been quite happy to deploy the c-bomb where I felt the situation required it. In many ways, cunt is a perfect profanity – it’s so explosive and sharp and it can be spat out with absolute venom. Everybody knows that you really fucking mean it if you’re calling someone a cunt.

But the trouble is, a cunt is a vagina. And the people for whom I have used the most offensive of all the swear words are absolutely, categorically, not worthy of being named after my fanny or anyone else’s. A cunt is far too glorious a part of anatomy to be wasted on those deplorable specimens of humankind.

So, a few months ago, I stopped calling people cunts. I’ve slipped up a couple of times (some people really are fucking awful, aren’t they, and I’ve yet to come close to an adequate replacement) but I’m doing quite well. And so I thought perhaps some other folks would like to resolve to reclaim the word cunt from their swearing arsenal and put it to better use describing genitalia instead.

And if you have any ideas as to an appropriate substitute, please let me know in the comments.

(With thanks to my friend, Peter, who prompted this change in approach by pointing out that Donald Trump definitely didn’t deserve the epithet. And apologies to my dad, who has requested on multiple occasions that I desist from swearing on social media platforms but whom I continue to ignore on the grounds that my language is none of his business but whom I love very much.)

New Year: New Starts or Same Old?

New Year’s resolutions seem to be getting a bit of a bashing on my social media this year! I have no interest in obsessing about my weight or adopting a crazy diet or giving up booze or any such nonsense, but personally I really enjoy the ‘new term’ feeling of January and the opportunity to reflect and plan for positive change. I might not keep up everything over the whole year, but some things usually stick and I feel better for them.

This year I really want to focus on my own well-being, physical and mental. The adage “you can’t pour from an empty cup” resounds. I have spent much of 2017 tired, in pain and feeling anxious and I feel as though I’ve reached my limit of what I can give to others (my family and the community) in this current state. So I’m desperate to get back to good health. For me, this means a renewed focus on exercise – I’m going to commit to one hour of PT and one run a week, in addition to my current Pilates session – and also an attempt to eat better. I’m not about to give up sugar or caffeine but the two comprise around 60% of my current diet and I feel totally shit for it. And I think in December my Deliveroo count was at around… *whispers*… five a week. So, more home-cooking and fewer sugary snacks. Takeaway is going to be limited to Friday night only and I’m going to try to cut down to one ‘treat’ a day (I know this is still loads but I can’t even admit what I’m reducing from!!). Hopefully more sensible, balanced eating will develop over the year. And I’m sure that if I can feel less crap physically, I will feel better mentally too.

Another thing that I know will help my mental health is to cut down on my spending, which frankly had gone NUTS by the time Christmas arrived. I have a few exceptions already agreed with myself (ear piercing, teeth whitening and a Keep Cup and reusable water bottle!) but otherwise I’m going to cap all non-essential spending until the end of March. If I want to buy anything new, I need to sell something to raise the funds. I’ve done this before and it was hard but satisfying. I have already started to unsubscribe from the many, many emails I receive from my favourite online shops, which feels worryingly like a bereavement. The next step, that I am dreading also, is to unfollow the online retailers who tempt me daily on Instagram. It feels sad, because I love to be inspired, but actually it is too hard to resist the lure of beautiful things, multiple times a day. I’m less sure about Instagram influencers – should I unfollow them too, even if I find them funny and/or interesting? It’s hard, when the lines have become so blurred between marketing and entertainment. What do you think?

Another aspect of life that has been getting me down is the state of our house. It is cluttered and, frankly, a mess. I am going to write a list of things we need to do and focus on getting at least one job done each week. First up – BE GONE, CHRISTMAS! I’m so sick of our droopy tree!

So far, so selfish! Looking outward, I want to get back to volunteering and I’m going to take January to explore some options, with the goal of starting something new in February. I previously helped as a legal volunteer at the Prisoners’ Advice Service and Liberty and I’m hoping to gain some further experience in the social welfare/human rights areas. If anyone has any suggestions/opportunities, let me know! I’m also going to continue my work as a trustee of A Mile in Her Shoes – we have lots to do in the year ahead, including from a legal perspective, so I’m excited about that.

I also want to do MUCH more to improve my waste from an environmental perspective. I absolutely loved the idea of @arthur_eats on Instagram to change one small thing each month and I’m determined to get on with it instead of merely admiring from afar! First up, I am going to stop bulk-buying 500ml bottles of sparkling water (and drinking about five a day). It is so terribly wasteful and simply not justifiable. I am completely addicted though, so I am going to be kind to myself and buy some large 2 litre bottles to make the weaning process a little more gentle. So, a reusable water bottle is one of my ‘permitted’ purchases! Any recommendations? I need something that can go in the dishwasher or I’ll never use it! Next to go will be my preposterous disposable coffee cup use (hence the Keep Cup on my ‘allowed to buy’ list).

Next up, I am going to borrow a resolution from last year, that I stuck with for a few months, which was to read more. I adore reading but often find myself in an unsatisfying cycle of Instagram/Facebook scrolling and online shopping instead. Hopefully the spending ban will help with this one! Any must-reads for the new year? Nothing too taxing to begin with please!

Finally, I want to see much more of my loved ones. 2017 has been a completely brutal year in terms of health for my family. Unfathomable in many ways, to be honest. But what has been made clear is that taking people for granted is for fools. You have to invest your love, and time, to make the best memories. The moments I’ve had watching my children bond with their grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and close friends have been, without doubt, the best moments of the year. So I need to do better. Invite people, travel more, be less absorbed by my little life and more committed to my wider family. I can’t fix anything, or anyone, but at least I can be there.

And that is a LOT to be getting on with. I am excited to begin: I love fresh starts!

What’s your NY resolution policy? Do you have any plans?

Just do it indeed. Less talk, more action, Gemma!

Gender Expectations: A Tale of the Unexpected

Clearly I’m biased, but I think my daughter is seriously cute. A little bundle of pale skin, gappy teeth and chubby thighs, with a smatter of ginger-ish hair on top. Recently she’s become a bit suspicious of anyone new, but if you can win her over, her smile will make you grin. She was strikingly similar to my son when first born; they have diverged a bit now – in particular my son has deep brown eyes that remind me of chocolate buttons (somewhat cruelly given that his allergies were responsible for my dairy-free diet for more than three years) and the colour of my daughter’s eyes is hard to pin down but seems to be settling into a steely sort of grey/blue – but they remain pretty similar. Which is perhaps one of the reasons that she is mistaken for a boy approximately 90% of the time. Although, come to think of it, that would make more sense were it not for the fact that my son is mistaken for a girl around 30-40% of the time.

And wow, people are EMBARRASSED if/when they realise they’ve made a mistake. Like, completely mortified. To the point that I try to ease their discomfort: most frequently, I hear myself saying, “it’s ok, she just looks like a baby! Babies don’t need to look like boys or girls, do they? They’re just… babies!” (you’d think that perhaps I would have honed this, given how many times I’ve said it, but nope – that’s pretty much verbatim). And if they still look desperately uncomfortable, I add that if I thought it were a problem, I would dress her in more “girly” clothes; man, if I really cared, I’d stick one of those (I’m sorry but) RIDICULOUS bows on her almost-bald head.

Because, as a second child, she wears her fair share of hand-me-downs from her big brother. And I have always thought that gender-neutral clothing makes sense for kids. I absolutely hate the idea boys should be interested only in cars and tractors and fire engines and have them emblazoned on their clothes at all times, or that girls should wear pretty shoes even if they are too slippy-soled to allow for climbing a slide or kicking a ball, or that certain colours should be reserved for a child according to their genitalia… This approach has allowed me to enjoy buying clothes for my son over the last few years, without the fetters of expectation. He really suits pink, he loves animal prints and sparkly things and pom poms and metallic shoes – AND WHY WOULD HE NOT? These things are all awesome! I wouldn’t feel comfortable using his wardrobe as some sort of political statement about the ludicrousness of gender-based stereotypes; I haven’t bought him dresses or skirts (although I am perfectly relaxed about the idea that he will want to dress up as Elsa from Frozen in the future, as is his Generation Alpha rite of passage). But I don’t feel limited to the “boys’ section” of the shop for sure and, in fact, I try to buy from independent brands that generally don’t seek to segregate their range into two distinct parts.

Because of this, I had assumed that his clothes would pass easily to his wee sister. She does wear some of them. And when she is wearing them, she often gets mistaken for a boy. People are obsessed with gender as a binary construct and with allocating one of those genders to babies, that is without doubt. And they are extremely likely to assume that your baby is a boy if they are wearing blue, green, brown, grey, red… anything but pink it would seem. It turns out gender-neutral might actually just mean clothes for boys that aren’t awful traditionally “boyish”.

And I would have thought a few months ago that this post would end here. She wears his clothes, she gets mistaken for a boy sometimes, I don’t care but wow other people seem to care a lot, isn’t that funny, the end.

Except that I seem to have developed a taste for dressing her in beautiful, traditionally “feminine” clothes. Dusty pink cashmere and Liberty prints and adorable little rompers… And she looks so bloody cute I can’t even handle it.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

WHITHER MY PRINCIPLES?!

I honestly, HONESTLY don’t care when people think she’s a boy. I genuinely feel nonchalance when having the conversations described above, occasionally some mild bemusement depending upon how awkward the other person seems to be feeling. But now I’m second guessing myself. Maybe I do care? Maybe my subconscious is in charge of my online shopping? Maybe my subconscious is a big fucking hypocrite?!

As I think about it more, I wonder if I would feel more upset for my daughter if she were five and everyone thought she was a boy. I don’t *think* I would worry for her. But if she were ten? Fifteen? Twenty-five?

I am a woman who has never felt particularly feminine (indeed who feels totally ridiculous using the word “woman” to describe herself), who definitely wonders if some aspects of life might have felt a bit easier if she was pretty…

Am I trying to reclaim femininity for my daughter now, in case she needs or wants it later?

If that is what I am up to (and I genuinely can’t work it out), then it strikes me as a profoundly futile task. My daughter’s femininity is resolutely none of my business or doing. I will teach her, and my son, all I know about womanhood, and what (little) I know about femininity, if they are interested. But how she lives her life, how she presents herself to the world, how she feels about her self: those are matters for her.

So as long as her clothes remain practical – as long as they don’t fetter what she can do or what I will allow her to do – hopefully it doesn’t matter too much what colour they are or what preconceived notion of gender she meets when she wears them. And if she’s anything like her brother, she’ll be styling herself within the year anyway.

Number of times he was called a girl in this outfit? At least three in one afternoon. Leopard print is for girls apparently.

Number of times she was called a boy in this outfit? At least six. Lightening bolts are for boys apparently. I thought, as per the previous photo, that leopard print was for girls but not when teamed with lightening bolts it seems.

Blush pink cardigans and cashmere bonnets and hearts and sparkles on shoes. My guilty pleasures, it turns out. Cute, huh?

Material Girl

I realised recently that I had slipped into a bit of a rut, in terms of my appearance, and that perhaps it was reflective of a sense of exhaustion and maybe even futility about life currently. Not in a dramatic way; just in a kids-tag-teaming-through-the-night-and-I’m-completely-knackered sort of way. And I realised that my lack of effort in terms of my appearance was not only reflecting my ennui but also feeding it. So this week I have been taking a bit more care: drying my hair rather than scraping it into a ponytail, wearing shoes other than my trusty Nikes, putting on some lipstick… and it feels good. I’ve felt more confident, eager to face the world, and that makes me happier. 

I don’t want to overthink it, as I am clearly prone to do. I’ve been mulling over a post  on self-esteem, body image, and being a good role model for my children (my daughter in particular), but the soul-searching is proving a bit… bleak. So, I’m actually going to let myself enjoy the process of making an effort for a while, instead of lamenting my inability to separate my appearance and my sense of self-worth! And instead of fighting our image-obsessed, patriarchal society (I’ll do that soon though, I promise), I thought I’d share some of the things that have been improving my mood this week:

  • glittery brogues from Taschka (I don’t think I need to explain why these are life-enhancing!)

  • this dress from Hush (look, it can be styled in lots of different ways, thereby enabling an extremely low cost-per-wear assessment! #abbottonomics)

  • Living Proof No Frizz shampoo and conditioner: compensating for an increasing number of greys by making the gingers shiny! (currently on sale at Blow via the link)

  • Aftershokz Treks Air bone-conducting headphones (I have hardly been able to run in the last four years and I am seriously excited to get going again. And with these awesome headphones, I can run! I can hear my music! I can hear the traffic/ general harassment from unpleasant men! It’s (mostly) good to be back!) 

None of these things will change your life in a big way, but one of them might cheer you up a little bit. And sometimes it’s the little things that keep you going when the big things are too tedious or immovable or difficult to do anything about.

Be happy, lovely readers!

Village People

It’s become something of a cliché to talk about a parent’s need for a village to raise their children but, as I lie in my bed failing to sleep off a debilitating bout of infective mastitis and I hear my wonderful nanny taking care of the children downstairs, it feels like an omission not to talk about it.

I live far from my parents in Scotland, and quite far from my husband’s parents in the south of England. I didn’t go to school or university in London. Many of my friends from law school or work have since moved to the sticks to raise their kids: escaping terrifying stabbings on the doorstep, choking pollution and exorbitant house prices in search of charming village greens, enormous back gardens and (it would seem) a fucking hideous commute.

My sister moved to south London a couple of years ago; though it’s not really *that* far, it involves a day trip, organised in advance, rather than popping in to see each other. (My other sister moved to Mexico, so it’s a good job she’s so lovely or I’m not sure we’d be on speaking terms.)

So to where/whom do I turn, when my left boob turns a blazing red, I have a dizzying temperature and I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck?

My husband, luckily. He is supportive and amazing and I’m very very glad he’s mine. But he works tremendously hard (largely so that I can focus on looking after the kids) and I can’t call upon him every time that I wish I could: he has meetings, deadlines, responsibilities that can be passed on only in fairly dire circumstances.

My best friend, thank god. I’m not sure exactly how we managed it, but 17 years after meeting at university, we live literally around the corner from each other. She also has two kids, one of whom is just a few weeks younger than my son. There have been times when our circumstances haven’t allowed for anything more than toiling through life’s mundanities with our heads down (and will she ever forgive the betrayal of me moving to New York shortly after our sons were born instead of staying here to enjoy our maternity leave together?!) but more recently we have increasingly found ways to help each other: sometimes we take care of the other’s kids so we can get some work done or go to an unavoidable appointment; some blissful days we hang out all together and we drink tea and (increasingly often) take it in turns to offer mediation services for toddler squabbles; sometimes we all have supper together (although always at her house – did you see my previous post?!). I am so grateful that my best girl is so close.

Finally, I have the world’s most incredible nanny. She started working for us when I started working part-time when my son was around 16 months and she continues to improve my life in every possible way (not just when I’m too sick to get out of bed).

This triumvirate of THANK GOD are my saviours.

But three makes a pretty small village! And sometimes my husband is stuck at work and my best friend is doing the school run and my nanny is looking after her other charges or (god forbid) on holiday and I find myself thinking that I need more support!

I often find refuge online: I chat to fellow parents, some of whom kept me sane and made me laugh (usually to the point of waking a sleeping baby with a snort) during endless spells of cluster feeding, worries about allergies and reflux, problems with breastfeeding and weaning, and wondering if dungarees make me look like a children’s TV presenter and, indeed, if that is actually a problem… I’m not sure I can overstate how important some of these friends were to my confidence as a parent and to my mental health when I moved to New York and my village of three was a tiny village of one.

I have also noticed, since writing this blog in particular, that Facebook and Instagram hosts friends from school with whom I’ve not spoken in years and family friends and friends from my former work and friends of friends and some complete strangers, who are parents now or hope to be and who want to talk about parenting, who are going through many of the same things as me and who are helpful and kind. The best bit about posting a new blog article is, without doubt, the conversation that often ensues; it makes me feel a part of something, and maybe sometimes like I’m helping a bit too.

So I am growing an online village too, which makes me feel happy, mostly. But it also leaves me wanting more sometimes. In part because I think the internet can bring a sense of false intimacy, a feeling of closeness that might be a bit less profound than you realise. The second is that I can’t leave my kids with a virtual babysitter (obviously the TV has its place, but it isn’t very good at feeding them or changing nappies). So when the shit hits the fan and I am struggling to cope, my online village is generally too distant, literally and sometimes figuratively, to be able to help.

And I don’t just want a village for emergencies! When a long day looking after two kids stretches before me, with the only prospect of adult conversation the Amazon delivery driver or the woman who makes my takeaway coffee in our local cafe, it would help (definitely a little but sometimes a lot) to meet up with a friend in the playground or have them pop over for a cup of tea (or wine, depending on how long the day in question has been thus far).

But… (and I feel like a teenager writing her diary as I type) making new friends is so hard! I’ve often chatted to fellow mums in a cafe, at a baby music class or even in the GP’s waiting room, but I’ve never been brave enough to bridge the gulf of unfamiliarity and vulnerability to ask them for a coffee.

I’ve also seen lots of meet-ups for mums on Instagram but I’ve only been brave enough to go to one so far (an “OLA Mama mum meet” about photography, which was fantastic but I arrived late, perhaps missing the mingling, and I didn’t feel like I’d overcome my nerves by the time I left again!). Tomorrow afternoon, if I can shake this wretched mastitis, I’m going to Victoria Park in East London for a picnic/chinwag/couple-of-hours-of-preventing-my-son-climbing-into-the-lake-like-the-last-time-we-went-there organised by a lovely local mama with whom I share a love of leopard print and the Dalston Curve Garden, which I’m pretty sure means we are bound to be lifelong friends. Maybe one day I’ll FINALLY go along to Forest Kids Hackney, as inspired by that same local mama (though I will perhaps hold off until my son’s favourite thing to do in public isn’t to run away from me and hide), or try out one of the many new apps that launched in the last six months or so for making mama friends, like Peanut or Mush (I *think* they’re a bit like Tinder but with (I assume) much less shagging).

There are so many opportunities to meet people if you want to, but so often I find that I’m too anxious or too shy or too preoccupied with life (does anyone else spend most of their free time (“free” in the loosest sense of the term) doing laundry, ordering groceries and packing up clothes to return to online shops?!) to make the effort. I’m inherently lazy; I want the benefit of friends without having to put in the work! Clearly the answer to that is to sort out my priorities, but ugh: speaking to new people is so hard!

It’s time for another antibiotic and hopefully some sleep now, so I’m going to press post and check in the morning if writing with a fever is as productive qualitatively as well as quantitively. I suspect not, but hopefully in the meantime you can let me know if you have made new mum friends and, if so, how! (And can I come along next time?)

Where is everyone? 

No offence intended, but…

You may have noticed a bit of a gap since my last post. I started blogging full of enthusiasm and feeling as though I had something I really wanted to share. And I was surprised by the kind response and the extent of engagement, from friends, acquaintances and some complete strangers. But then, if I’m honest, I felt tired, and worried about writing anything more. I found myself stuck on the question of why it is so hard to address the different ways in which we reconcile motherhood and life beyond. In particular, I thought it would make sense for my next post to discuss why I am currently a stay at home parent, but I felt apprehensive about broaching the topic. And then, in fairly time-honoured tradition, I allowed my anxiety to spiral, wondering if I could continue to talk about any of my personal experiences of motherhood – breastfeeding my toddler, co-sleeping with my baby, possibly delaying the school start of my August-born son until he is five, etc – without inadvertently offending someone or instigating a stressful debate.

Objectively, I know that my opinion on the best childcare option for my children has absolutely no bearing on the merits of someone else’s decision regarding the care of their own children, and vice versa. And this is also true for the multitude of other decisions I make about the raising of my children: some agonised over for weeks or months with my husband; some instinctive or obvious or not even needing discussion, but all specific to our personal circumstances and beliefs and therefore largely irrelevant to anyone else. But even knowing this, some recent discussions I have had, and my failure to articulate my view without upsetting some other parents, has been bothering me.

When does attempting to be objective turn into “no offence intended, but…”? Nobody wants to be the “no offence intended, but…” person (ranking second only to the “I’m not a racist, but…” person on the Katie Hopkins Scale of Odium). But (ha!), when it comes to our children, it seems very difficult to talk about our opinions, why we have made the decisions we’ve made, without that being heard as a judgment or a criticism by (and of) others. Why is it so hard to step back and consider things impartially? Why are so many of us on the defensive? Against whom, or what, are we defending ourselves?

And is it even worthwhile raising these questions, if what is at stake is either so personal so as to be inapplicable to anyone else or so difficult to discuss, or inflammatory, that people become upset or angered?

I don’t know the answers to these questions (although it feels like one of those situations where “The Patriarchy” and/or “The Daily Mail” would be a reasonable response to at least one of them). I don’t think that just because a topic is hard, or contentious, that it should be avoided, but, at the same time, I don’t currently feel sufficiently robust, or informed, or articulate, to take on all that divides us!

It might be a bit cowardly but, for now, contemplating my personal experience, asking some (probably rhetorical) questions and perhaps prompting a gentle discussion on Facebook or Instagram is all I can muster.*

Bear with me if you can.**

Processed with VSCO with a8 preset

You said WHAAAAT to a group of working mothers? Oh Christ. 


*I’m currently reading “The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck” so perhaps will feel more comfortable courting controversy in due course 😂

 

** I just realised I’ve asked you to bear with me for two of my three posts so far. I am extremely demanding of your patience. Thanks if you’ve managed.

Balance

I hesitated for a considerable time before sharing my first post. I wondered if it made me seem miserable. I wasn’t sure if my honesty might be misinterpreted as unhappiness. I was also concerned that I might be crossing a line in terms of the sanctity of our family life. I share a lot on social media, Instagram in particular, but I have always been very mindful not to post anything that I think could upset or humiliate my children later. I asked myself: what would they think if they read this? 

Would they worry that they weren’t enough? 

As I said in my first post, these reflections on my life, and my confusion as to my identity presently, don’t stem from feelings of sadness or regret. So why the need to (over)share them now? 

I think my current wistfulness comes from a couple of places.  

The first is my belief that, as a society, we do not value the role of a stay at home parent (or, in fact, the act of caring for anyone, whether as part of a family relationship or professionally). Even the terminology* feels derisive: as though a person who chooses to be the primary caregiver for their child has failed to maintain a meaningful contribution to modern society. They have ‘stayed at home’; checked out. Few people seem to recognise any worth in what I am doing. And I’m not looking for a medal, incidentally, or my name in lights. Just an acknowledgement that caring for children all day, every day, is hard work, as well as a privilege. I haven’t become a “lady who lunches” (that particular gem was, quite genuinely, said to me by one of the male partners when I went into the office to resign in person at the end of my maternity leave). I do not believe that I am “Helping Kill Feminism and Mak[ing] the War on Women Possible” (thanks for the solidarity, Elizabeth Wurtzel**). I do not accept the suggestion that I have let myself, or anyone else, down by making this choice. I know I shouldn’t let these stereotypes bother me and, on a good day, they don’t. But I’m unfortunately not quite so robust so as to manage perpetual indifference as to what others think of me. I’m working on it.

The second is more significant and also much simpler: although I am confident in the decision to stay at home with my children for this stage of their lives, it has involved a sacrifice in terms of my identity and my career (perhaps in part because the former was so wrapped up in the latter). It would be too easy if I saw motherhood as my vocation; if there was nothing else I wanted. That isn’t realistic. I will not do myself or my family the disservice of pretending that I am one-dimensional. When my children grow up, I want to be able to show them how much I adore them but also how important it is to find a balance. 

When my son was born, I was completely overwhelmed by the gravity of my love for him. It was all-consuming and disorienting. It left almost nothing in its wake. Combined with his fairly poor health and a temporary move when he was just eight weeks old, far from family and friends, I was submerged by motherhood, completely. It took quite a long time to recover and, by the time I was beginning to raise my head above the parapet once more, I was pregnant again! 

Although I currently find myself thoroughly engrossed by life with two children, the arrival of my daughter hasn’t subsumed me in the same way. I have felt much better equipped to cope. I think that’s why the time feels right to explore and enjoy something beyond motherhood. I know that it won’t be the same something as before. Life has changed, irrevocably, and I have changed with it. 

And so, the question of whether my children are or should be “enough” just isn’t the right one. They shouldn’t have to be “enough”. 

They are so much more than that! 

They are my everything. 

But at the same time, they can’t be my only.  

Trying to find a balance 


*I do use the term “stay at home mum/parent” for convenience but suggestions of any good alternatives would be welcomed! 

** I appreciate that I haven’t managed a very timely rejection of this piece but reject it I certainly do https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/06/1-wives-are-helping-kill-feminism-and-make-the-war-on-women-possible/258431/

Where to start

I feel like I want to start a blog, but I’m not sure exactly why. Perhaps I’d just like to start a conversation; have a chat. I know there are so many blogs out there. What would make mine different? Me, I suppose. There’s only one of me.

I recently read an article in the Guardian about mothers who regret becoming mothers: one of the final taboos.

The article quotes Sarah Fischer, who writes, “The reality of motherhood… is incontinence, boredom, weight gain, saggy breasts, depression, the end of romance, lack of sleep, dumbing down, career downturn, loss of sex drive, poverty, exhaustion and lack of fulfilment… [The father] fall[s] in love with an independent career woman who turns into a cook-clean-bake mummy; or suddenly only wants to talk about the children; or becomes depressive; or ignores you.” Whereas, she says, “when a mother is born, the person she used to be is left by the wayside”.

It hurt to read this. I adore being a mother and I absolutely do not regret it. But this does ring true. I was a successful lawyer in the City; now, my husband comes home from work and talks about his day and, when he finishes, I tell him about going to the playground or what my son said or when my daughter rolled over… One day I spoke to him for at least half an hour about an altercation I’d had with a woman who walked in front of me on the pavement and whom I accidentally clipped with my buggy. (I remain completely indignant. She shouted at me and, when I pointed out she had changed direction on the pavement and so walked into my path, she said “what do you think I should do, look behind me when I’m walking?” To which I said, “yes! If you’re changing paths!” Anyway. Let’s hope she doesn’t often drive on the motorway). I could hear how boring I was being. I couldn’t stop. I have nothing more to share. My days are sometimes tedious as I live them; they are almost always tedious in the retelling.

I don’t know how to explain how this isn’t a story of regret. I adore my children. I live for them. I take a hundred photos a day so I can look at them again when they’re sleeping. I share their photos on Instagram, mostly because my family are far away, but also because I want to shout their beauty and wonder to everyone. I am completely besotted.

But I am also pining for old me. I miss my independence. I don’t miss my job (and I especially don’t miss the politics), but I miss having something that was mine and that I was good at. I miss the prestige. I feel like a dick for admitting that but it’s true. Few people value the role of a stay at home mother. (I’m not sure *that* many value the role of a corporate tax lawyer either actually, but more do). People from what feels like a past life look at me oddly (or I think they do) because I’ve stopped working. I was once the woman described by Fischer – determined, independent, fierce and excellent at my job. What am I now? Why does “stay at home mum” not measure up? Is it because you can be a mother *and* those other things? I don’t know how to reclaim my value without sounding like I’m denigrating those who don’t stay at home. I don’t want to pit myself against anyone. But I want to be recognised. I want the world to see my worth.

Ooof. Maybe this was not where I planned to begin a blog. Perhaps this is a post for later on. I might start instead with my post-natal hair loss, my obsession with kids’ clothing (they are so much better dressed than me), the burgeoning of my new career (current status: stalled by new baby), my favourite things to do with my kiddies, my experience of home birthing or “extended” breastfeeding, my terrible attempts at cooking or how we manage with multiple food allergies, my current dilemma about my summer born boy and when he starts school, or my efforts to get fit again after two kids… I don’t know. Should I start a blog at all?

Looks like I have. Bear with me.