parenting

Bye Bye Baby

I don’t want another child. I was never especially maternal. So I never thought I’d be someone to mourn the passing of the “baby years”. I used to read stories of women’s sadness at saying goodbye to this time with, if not scorn, then at least bemusement. But you had those years with them, what gives? But now, I’m here.

My youngest child turned three near the start of this year, next August, he’ll start school. I went back to an office job at the beginning of June. It’s a seismic shift in my life, after 4.5 years of being a freelancer and stay-at-home-parent.

This week it’s been hitting me: the baby years are gone.

I thought I’d be pleased, entirely. I have tried to enjoy each step of my two children’s development and I’ve always relished the next stage, skipping ahead, looking forward without regrets. I don’t want to hold them back, or fix them in time. I love seeing them grow and become more independent. I see my biggest success as a parent displayed in their increasing ability to do without me.

And yet, and yet…

I find myself tearing up with regrets. Yes! Me! Maybe it’s a natural backlash to major change to glance back over one’s shoulder as your train leaves the station, wondering if you should have stayed one more hour, one more day.

A passage in a novel described a new mother “kissing every inch of her baby’s body” and had me welling up in tears. Did I ever do that? Did I stop, and take the time to explore his skin, lip-print by lip-print until I’d covered it with an invisible velvet of love? It wasn’t the author’s intention (I suppose) but, like all the bestworst parenting articles I read, it had me questioning myself.

Because maybe… I just got through? Maybe I didn’t stop and simply exist in love. Maybe I didn’t even feel that perfect, gentlefierce babylove they describe in stories. I am not doing mum-guilt here. I honestly do not remember.

I do remember feeling anxious, feeling the need to get things done. Being miffed by the books that said “leave the housework!” because, what is worse than sitting, pinned to the couch by breastfeeding and contemplating a huge, dusty mess? Ugh. I got things done, I met my friends, I did the grocery shopping, I went for long walks listening to music and exploring the suburb while the baby slept. I walked an hour a day, easily. I read books and newspapers. I produced a 48-page quarterly magazine for the local NCT branch. I cooked food and kept the baby fed. I went to the pub occasionally. I organised minor repairs and renovations on the house. I went to the park, to baby swimming, to coffee dates and tea with mates. Did I ever just kick back though, suffused with joy in my small perfect creation? I don’t know.

Probably I did? And maybe I still do. We’re all attempting to be more mindful these days after all.

Perhaps it’s that the moments of quiet joy are just that – so quiet and humble and unmemorable. You can’t recall them, much less write a whole 750-word column about them, unless you’re really smug?

In another novel, the mother regards her newborn as “the most perfect thing she’s ever seen”. OK it’s another one of those clichés, but I don’t know if I ever felt this either. Others must feel it, I believe that. Was I too busy, too sensible, too practical, too nervy to have allowed myself to feel that pure love and contentment? Did I have postnatal anxiety? I do remember describing that first year of maternity leave in London as “the best year of my life” and it was. I went back to work, eventually moved countries and had another baby, then spent another busy “maternity year” and beyond. In many ways, things have just got better and better.

But I can’t remember. Maybe it doesn’t matter. But now, I never will know for sure…

So I’m mourning a little. And it’s somewhat unexpected. Goodbye baby years and all your chaotic, scary, busy intenseness and boredom that means I can almost only remember rushing about and enjoying myself, sometimes frustrated and upset, other times happy and occupied but almost always with something-to-do rather than sitting in a post-natal haze of rosegold glow. Ahh, maybe that’s just my own version of it.

Whatever it is, or was, I find myself surprisingly sad to say farewell to that bright pocket of time as my life moves, ever swiftly, onwards.

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Magic

Zan Zig performing with rabbit and roses, including hat trick and levitation. 1899 advertising poster for the magician (who seems to have left no other trace behind) . Copyrighted by The Strobridge Litho. Co., Cincinnati & New York. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zan_Zig_performing_with_rabbit_and_roses,_magician_poster,_1899.jpg

Zan Zig performing with rabbit and roses, including hat trick and levitation. 1899 advertising poster for the magician (who seems to have left no other trace behind) . Copyrighted by The Strobridge Litho. Co., Cincinnati & New York. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zan_Zig_performing_with_rabbit_and_roses,_magician_poster,_1899.jpg

 

I haven’t changed my habits
Merely shuffled them around
Dealt myself a new hand
From the same pack

Pick two cards
Don’t show me which two
Are they…
Alcoholism and nail biting?
Yes!
How did she do that?

Ok, next
Give me your watch
Don’t worry, you’ll get it back at the end of the show
See how the time tick, tick ticks away
When you’re
Checking social media in bed?
Bingo!

I will now saw this lady in half
Because she’s not always ‘present’ and mindful!
This half – the parent. That half – the worker.
And that’s it folks, I can see you’re astounded
By this completely ordinary woman performing two diametrically opposite roles
But I’m afraid
A magician never reveals her secrets

For my next trick. Handkerchiefs! How many can I pull from my sleeve?
One – grocery shopping.
Two – cleaning the oven.
Three – the park.
Four – can there be more?
Five – how is she be so busy?
Six – oh, oh stop you’re making me dizzy.

Abracadabra one two three

Boom

Magic me.

How to be happy

Have children, they make your life complete

You’ll learn more from them than they ever will from you

As long as you use these parenting methods… no, wait

Don’t have children, they’ll ruin your lifestyle

They bring joy but also pain and annoyance

 

Find your dream job

Unlikely?

Don’t work. It sucks. We support you.

Find something fulfilling to do that is not-work

Maybe parenting?

 

Think big

Or give up your dreams. Both will have similar results on net happiness within 3%

Be a good wife/mother/daughter while perusing your dreams

Understand that the dreams of your 30s and 40s are not the same as those of your teens and 20s

But think back to what you loved doing as a child and do that

 

Exercise regularly

Make time for yoga and/or pilates

Practise mindfulness

Limit screen time

Take some me time. Where did all the time go?

 

Get your body back after childbirth

But make sure you breastfeed for around 4 years (world average!)

Some of those long-breastfeeding societies may also still smack their kids

Or practise female circumcision

Don’t do that

 

Travel – it broadens the mind

Always be aware of your carbon footprint though

Also spend time on not-travel, because travel can be stressful

And expensive

You need to switch off!

 

Banish negative thoughts, anxiety and judgement

Although, since those thoughts are part of you,

Observe them, but let them pass you by, like cars on a highway

Not real cars of course

Too polluting. Just like those negative thoughts. You don’t want to get cancer

 

Learn a new skill

With all that spare time you have

Explore astrophysics.

Teach yourself German

Sehr gut

 

Avoid banks and call centres

unless you work in one.

It’s not the worst job, right?

Be the best middle-manager you can be

Job satisfaction is important!

 

Shop local

Buy beautiful, artisanal, unique products

Like everyone else

You’ll notice a big difference when the producer really cares

But save by getting the basics from Lidl, Aldi and Ikea

 

Be careful using your card details online

As a good, global e-commerce citizen

Shopping online reduces your carbon footprint!

And it’s so quick

Cheaper, too

 

Eat organic, local, seasonal products

Even if organic is just damned lies and marketing

Watch those food miles, even though your smartphone is from Korea

With components sourced by slaves

(I know. I know… But I need it)

 

Cut out sugar and trans fats

Except the occasional treat – you deserve it!

Or if you’re really sleep deprived

I think pulled-pork on a brioche bun with hand-cut chips is OK

But a Big Mac Menu is not

 

Care about the environment

Sign petitions and Donate here!!!

It feels so good to give something back

The pebbles in my garden come from a mine in India but

I buy dolphin-friendly tuna

 

Plant a garden

Bake a cake, learn to knit, jump into a mountaintop jacuzzi

Do some adult colouring-in

Spend quality time with everyone you know, and your kids, and don’t forget to factor in some me-time

Once you achieve all this, there is no excuse not to be happy

 

Today’s National/Global Poetry Writing Month prompt/challenge was to write a didactic poem that focuses on a practical skill. I hope I’ve covered all the tips for a happy life here, but if I’ve forgotten anything, please let me know in the comments below… 

The Spring Thing

Springtime in Zurich

I wanted to write a more cheerful post, as promised. This is not so easy for me – as anyone who has read more than two entries on here will know, I tend to go for cynicism over sentiment, self-deprecation over life affirmation. But hey, it’s springtime! Let’s bring the happy.

So I’m going to talk about parenting again. Funny story, actually. Last week I spent Mon-Weds working quite a bit, and doing my German. Then I took “time off” Thurs-Friday and spent it with my kids without working (ahem-much-except when they were asleep-ahem). And it was SO NICE. It made me realise two things. 1. I tend to think of myself as a Stay At Home Mum but I guess I’m really not. (I actually read a nice blog on this very thing – the Stay At Home Mum (or parent) Who Works) and 2. It’s soo fucking hard to get the balance right.

I make point #2 because it seems like the obvious answer to More Happy should be – well, just work less and spend more time with the kids. But I know that wouldn’t work either. I’d get bored, frustrated, and feel like I was losing myself, losing my edge in the workplace. Or do I protest too much? Hmm maybe I should try it. Unlikely. And, to be honest, I don’t think many Stay at Home Parents (SAHPs – waitasec – Saps? Really?! yikes) are “just” that anyway. Whether you’re doing the muffin tin meals I talked about last week, or not, or whatever else, there’s loads of stuff to get through when you’re fulltime on “home duties”: from grocery shopping, bill paying and, yes, fun crafternoons as well (which, I’ve since been informed that dads do do with their kids, although that wasn’t quite how I meant it… but I digress). I guess what I did last week for a couple of rare, early-Spring days was push all the other stuff aside and just hang out with my kids and my mum friends (I’m afraid I don’t know any local SAHDs – ooh, another unfortunate acronym!) and it was lovely and it made me happy.

As kids will do, both of mine seem to have moved into a new stage lately. The baby started walking a week or so ago, he sleeps better at night and is generally a pretty happy chap. It’s lovely although not unexpected – poor old second child is not breaking any new ground! I find I’m far more content to sit back and enjoy each stage with him, as opposed to chivvying for the next development. The downside is, we’re full-on into that Clash of Schedules time, which I also remember from my first kid. This seems to happen in the months around their first birthday… you’ve got yourself into a nice little groove with doing stuff with the baby, seeing your mates, maybe a bit of daycare in place… then suddenly: everyone’s schedules change! The kids are no longer napping. Well, not at the same times. Some are still doing 2 per day. Some have a longy in the morning, others have to be home by 11.45am for lunch and arvo nap or the whole day is shot. Some kids are walking and need to run around outside a lot now. Others are just observing life so their parents are still keen on the cafe. Some parents are starting to get back to work, so there’s a juggle around that too. It’s an awkward time. In a weird way, almost lonelier than the early days of motherhood when at least you’re in a sleepless babylove daze most of the time. Now things start to feel a bit more serious, a bit more this-is-how-it’s-gonna-be.  A new normal.

At the other end of my parenting spectrum, my big boy is nearly five. He’s been at Kindergarten / school for six months now and he’s just started some swimming lessons too. I don’t really see him in action at school but I took him to his second swim class last week and Oh, my heart. In half a year, he’s gone from being a toddler who wanted to carry his bunny everywhere to a proper schoolboy. There he was, bobbing about in the water, with a bunch of other kids his size, following the instructor, doing the stuff, occasionally getting distracted. So normal. Until I became a parent, I never wanted to be normal. But from my pregnancy onwards, I have started to appreciate the comfort of normality. “Everything’s normal” is mostly what you want to hear when it comes to child development from the womb onwards. OK maybe eventually you want to be told they’re super-special-whizzbang-genius at something… maybe… I dunno. But for now, normal is good. I never thought I’d say that.

Cars and a book about WWI

Cars and a book about WWI

Another interesting factor of my kids growing up, particularly the older one, is he’s starting to reach an stage when I can clearly remember myself at that age. I have some memories of Kindergarten (which you attend for a few hours per week from 3- and 4-years-old in Australia) but I recall a lot more of early primary school (from ~5yo). I’m remembering the toys and stationery I had, going to friends’ houses to play, the games we had at playlunch, lunch and afternoon recess… I hate to say it, but it’s given me another pang about not having a girl. All the stuff with dolls and hairstyles and glitter pens and dressing up and whatever else. I loved that shit. And it’s not that boys can’t or won’t do that but at the moment mine seem pretty content to play with cars, trains, weapons (we try to discourage this but what can you do, it’s the reality) and read books on animals and World War 1 (again – eesh. I don’t mind him knowing real history but I guess I wish he’d turned his attention to this a bit later). And it’s not to say that a daughter would necessarily be into “girl” stuff either. But still… a small sigh.

Anyway, my kids are generally awesome. And they really made me feel good last week. I even managed to channel some of the fight-play into a heavy metal battle dance off to Soundgarden with my eldest so I shall not complain. Plus, it’s springtime after what suddenly feels like it was a looong winter. The blossoms are coming out in Zurich and there’s lots to look forward to.

So that’s my cheerful post. Happy Easter.

 

 

The pointy end of parenting

Muffin-tin meal Claire-style

Muffin-tin meal Claire-style

I know anxiety is scratching at my door when the Perfect Mom Blogs start affecting me. I don’t need to see this shit about muffin-tin meals and crafternoons that people put up in some wack Pinstagrammed version of real life. No one is doing that stuff all the time (unless they’re paid to, surely!?). Ignore, ignore, ignore. And yet, some of the ideas are great, so I keep on clicking through…

But sometimes I reach a sort of critical mass when it all gets too much and I start feeling inadequate and grumpy. Because I don’t WANT to do all that stuff, most of it is just silly bits from the pointy end of parenting, or should I say motherhood (are any dads doing this stuff?). The 2% – where it’s like, the kids are fine, smart, happy, well fed and, by dint of their lucky, lucky birth, in the top 5% of the world’s wealthiest people anyway. And we’re also white. And (in my kids’ case) male. So, basically: life’s birth lottery won, and rest-of-life odds stacked massively in our favour.

And then there’s this final 2% of parenting where you’re not meant to say “good job” you’re meant to say “I’m impressed by how hard you tried” or some bullshit, just to tweak out any final flaws and ensure these perfect human specimens who are happy and obedient, but not too obedient (because they need to be able to say “no” to drugs and bad sex when they’re 15 – or something). And so they’ll always know that we love them unconditionally but what about when we sort of hate them because it really REALLY is time to turn off the TV and come to dinner now, and I just stubbed my toe on your toy while trying to get you to come to the table, you ungrateful little twerp. And they say “No” again and you just feel so much rage because you’re tired and they’re always undermining you and, and, and… And then they finally do the thing you want and then the love comes flooding back. I mean, that’s not unconditional love is it? Maybe it still is.

And you know what? The kids are fine. But they’re going to end up with a bundle of neuroses and insecurities, and feeling like they’re unlovable and getting too drunk and having bad sex and getting underage tattoos no matter what probably because: teenagers. And they are people and that’s what people do. And so they should. Or else there would be no art, no music, no writing, no politics, no cars, no iPhones, no science, no moany blog posts, no geography, no online reviews of mountaintop jacuzzis, no poetry, no love. No progress, no devolution, no society, no me, no you.

I am actually secretly worried that we’re yet to see the first generation of “gently parented” kids attain adulthood. I mean, what if by never raising our voices, we’re raising a generation of empathetic monsters who are so mutually understanding of each others’ boundaries and stuff that all that art, culture, politics and taxi drivers just disappears into one big puddle of polite political correctness (gone mad)? Nah. You know it won’t happen because, as I said. We’re people. They’re people. They will grow up no matter what we do. Even if they end up crying to a counsellor one day about the interminable crafternoons of their childhood… The kids are alright. And I guess I am too.

This post is dedicated to all my mum friends who don’t think they’re doing enough. You are. X

Mountains: I think I finally get it

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New year ahoy! I approached the start of 2016 full of plans for the new year. I figured now that my baby is nearly a toddler and we’ve been in Switzerland for two years, I could get stuck into a few projects as well as getting out and about a bit more with friends and such. However 2016 has also heralded an unwelcome return of those black and yellow dogs – depression and anxiety. Not quite sure why – something about overhyped expectations maybe? Or the fact I still seem to feel lonely no matter how much socialising I do (OK so it’s not THAT much but still…) But let’s stop right here, that was just a little segue in case you wondered why I’d been quiet of late (oh, you didn’t? Oh… okay…). And I don’t really want to talk about that.  I would prefer to talk about mountains.

I may have mentioned in the past that Switzerland is quite an outdoorsy country that’s full of outdoorsy people and and since I’m not, I do wonder if I’ll ever truly gel with this place. Himself loves The Nature and in the past year has started doing regular mountain hikes, which he finds is an enjoyable “me time” break from the everyday. Oh wait, I had some “me time” right before Christmas, do you know how I spent it? Catching a train for 1 hour to meet another parent to buy 5kg of secondhand Duplo off them. Then I caught a train for an hour back home. I also had Burger King. Wooh. Rock and roll!

But I digress – mountain climbing – as well as getting away from it all, you’re seeing stunning scenery, plus a healthy dose of fresh air and exercise etc, what’s not to like? Well… I’ve recently realised that for me, who spends way too much time alone already due to working from home, or with only young children for company, the ideal “me time” – actually, can we ban this term now – the ultimate Good Time is preferably spent with other adults – it’s just the way I am: an extrovert who needs to bounce off people. I’m OK on my own but my best times are with people I love, and/or who make me laugh and/or who I can have an interesting conversation with and/or who are champion drinkers. A combination of all these is the ultimate, obvs.

Anyway – so we had our niece and nephew staying and we went up this mountain (Mount Titlis) and I was blown away. It was a bit of a faff to get to, involving three trains, a walk and two cable cars but… wow. I think now I see how this can be addictive. It was funny because to get on the cable cars, there’s a bit of a crowd, right? Most people clomping along in their ski boots (to this non-skier, they looked very uncomfortable to walk in, but I guess it’s worth it). Anyway, I felt a bit guilty, as I always do, being in the way of civilians with our giant buggy and travelling up to the ski fields as mere “pedestrians” (as we overheard some guy in the queue grumpily calling us – he was Australian of course!)

But as we crowded onto the second cable car to begin the final descent, everyone’s faces suddenly got happy. We were looking out over this incredible vista of mountain peaks and the sun was shining off the sparkling snow, the sky was blue and everyone was grinning from ear to ear – like we were lovers who shared a secret: How good is this?

We had such a wonderful day up there above 3,000m (or 3 kilometres, as my nephew was tickled to note) where the sun always shines (I guess – it’s above the clouds, right?). I think I finally get why people are so fanatical about mountains. Maybe Himself is onto something. He’s usually right about these things, damn him. So, while I may be dogged by loneliness even when I’m among friends; clawed by anxiety over my “hands-off” 1970s parenting style (it’s all cocktails and swingers’ parties… yeah right) and beset by depression over where the f*ck my life is going, maybe it’s not so bad after all. I’m here, you’re here, there be mountains… Happy New Year.

 

What will work?

Helvetiaplatz

I haven’t had much time for this blog lately. Life has definitely got in the way! It feels like a new chapter in my Zurich life is beginning – or maybe it’s already begun. And that chapter is loosely titled: Work

I’ve been doing bits and pieces of work for a while, of course. Maybe I never really stopped. I seem to remember submitting in a very scattered piece of writing the week before I gave birth (thankfully salvaged by a kind editor who was aware of the situation and forgave not being up to my usual standards!) and I’ve been chipping away at various things ever since. Including taking on quite a lot (too much!) freelance while Himself was away for a month. It kept me sane. Or rather, helped me feel insane in a reassuringly familiar way.

But now things seem to have ramped up a notch. The baby is 8 months this week (time flies!) and I’m ready to put some regular childcare in place and increase, or at least formalise, my workload.

But

What about those German classes? I did a few back-of-envelope calculations this week during some much-needed downtime (thanks to Himself and the in-laws being around) and, well… I find myself in a bit of a quandary. Assuming I can find a childcare place for the baby (I’m thinking half-days at this stage) should I use that time to work, or to learn?

Work it, baby

Work it, baby

Picking up my German studies again is something I’ve been trying to do since I stopped prior to our Australia trip last October. It’s been a year. Oddly, despite thinking I’m “going backwards” by forgetting some of what I learnt, I actually feel more confident to bust out some Deutsch lately. Maybe it’s just my brain is so full of other stuff I have to give less fucks about being embarrassed. Tiny things like making myself say “Ich habe ein termin mit Laura” at the hairdresser instead of “I have an appointment with Laura” – which they would totally understand of course, but it’s so much better to attempt German. (and I’m sure I got tenses, articles and spellings wrong there, but the point is, I should say it anyway). Because otherwise, I just speak English and then I hear English in reply and how does that help?

And working is… work. I dunno. I’ve always worked. I like it. I get a lot of my personal identity out of the work I do. Maybe (probably) I identify more with being a writer-and-editor than I do with being a mum, for better or worse. I’ve done the latter for much longer, after all. So there’s that. Versus being a student, which I’m not exactly bad at, but maybe not great at either. I don’t know if I enjoy learning as much as… doing? Doing my job? Doing a job. Being a parent? Maybe I shouldn’t include parenting in the mix. It’s not something I can chose to do or not right now.

So working versus learning. It’s something familiar versus something new and challenging. But the familarity of work also has challenges within it. And, of course, I get paid for working. Whereas I have to pay to learn. Speaking to another expat recently (about a job), she said she didn’t feel 100% at home in Zurich until she joined the workforce here. And I get that.

Work can be fun

Work can be fun

Then again, there’s no doubt that learning more German will also help the assimilation process. And it will probably even enhance my career prospects in the long- or medium-term. Hell, maybe even in the shortish term if I can get to the stage where I could do basic translations/editing from German to English (with the help of Google no doubt!).

Work also stresses me. Quite a lot sometimes. Does language learning stress me? I think maybe not so much.

Assuming that I can, and will, work for the rest of my “working life”, but I can probably only learn German now, while we’re here in Switzerland (for however long that may be) I should probably take this opportunity… But if I have to pass on work to do so? Tough one. I guess I want to do a bit of both. But I don’t want to do a bad job on either. Hmm

I also have to give up some parenting time, particularly to do both. It’s quite a juggle. And time with friends? I haven’t yet attempted language learning while having a baby so that will also be interesting.

I read a really good article recently – Why Does Learning a new Language Feel Soo Bad? – about how we often feel it’s a moral failing if we haven’t mastered the local language. It really struck a chord with me. I don’t want to tie my self-worth up in German lessons. But I do seem to tie it up in the work I do (and in parenting, and maybe my social life). And now all these things are duking it out for my time. I’m not quite sure where that leaves me.

 

 

To the mom who blahblahblah

 

20150625_123559 (2)

There’s three different parenting no-nos in this picture alone

I am so bored of mum blogs and clickbait parenting articles telling me what to do, what not to do, 5 things to avoid and why I’m not coping (but here’s how). Yeah right. And the snarky comments. But if you can’t beat em, join em, so here’s my snarky response…

To the mum who said she liked the blog about not judging others then went on to say “except I just get so upset when I see mums like the one I saw today who did xyz” you are an idiot

To the mom who asked about changing her surname and mentioned in a longwinded story that one minor reason was a guy at work who’d asked if she was One of Those Feminists but she explained to him “no and oh how we laughed” you suck – aren’t we all “those” kind of feminists? The kind who believe in equality for women?

To the parents who post up that story about secondary drowning at the start of each summer. Stop it

To the dad who links to the latest pseudoscience story pertaining to something you should or shouldn’t do because it could KILL YOUR BABY or at the very least CAUSE IRREPARABLE DAMAGE even though you no longer have a baby but, like, a 4 year old. You’re just scaring people

In fact, to all the folks who link to stuff that’s supposedly “helpful” but is just some horrible scare story that makes the rest of us feel terrified and/or inadequate: please think before you click share. Please. Just for a moment. We’re not idiots, we could find this stuff online if we wanted to. Who are you helping?

To the people who crap on about how dangerous Cry-it-out is: Are you honestly suggesting that any of your peers would be doing this unless they felt like they really, really, really had to? Do you genuinely think their middle-class children with well-educated parents will end up like those Romanian orphans? OK then, shut up.

To the humans who post all that kind of stuff – who are you hoping will read it? Surely you and all your mates, just by dint of the the fact you’re articulate and social-media savvy enough and you care enough to be reading parenting articles at all, means you’re probably not doing The Thing, or are all too aware of why you are doing The Thing.

Even if all these supposed People Who Are Willfully Doing The Thing exist, they would never read the article you just put up anyway.

I hate this kid-in-danger-from-its-terrible-parents porn that seems to do the rounds. It’s a sick sort of thrill to read this stuff and think Oh My Gosh, these PARENTS! What are they doing?! Thank god that’s not me or anyone I know. In that case, why post it? If you honestly thought a friend or acquaintance was doing this shit, either confront them personally or button it.

IT’s NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS HOW ANYONE ELSE IS RAISING THEIR KIDS. BUTT OUT. Unless genuine harm or abuse is going on, in which case you should report it. Yep.

My advice (is it completely hypocritical to offer advice after all this? ha): Do what you feel is right for you, your family and your kid/s (probably  in that order). Follow the stuff you like, ignore everything else. If you don’t know what “feels” right, well… you do.

(This is not to say never share any of those parenting articles. I actually like a lot of them, particularly the gentle parenting stuff. And I find some of the advice useful. But all the scaremonger, don’t do this, do that, IRREPARABLE DAMAGE stuff and the passive-aggressive BS comments such as “oh it’s just her kids I worry about” can fuck off).

 

I wrote the above in a fit of pique earlier this week and had been debating whether to publish it when a similar post from my fave mummy blogger arrived in my inbox. Her piece, When did we start trusting experts over our own eyeballs comes across as much less nasty than mine! Which, in turn made me start questioning why I was so angry. Simple answer: fear. These stories about the myriad, unthought-of ways in which I may damage or even kill my kids scares the shit out of me.

Like everyone, I’m far from being the world’s most perfect parent (although I’d like to think I come close to being the perfect parent for my own children) and it’s so easy to focus on all the stuff you’re not doing, rather than thinking about the stuff you are. And, I guess, we have to be ever-vigilant. (Do we? I dunno. Maybe we should just relax and trust our own common sense?). Anyway, I’m about to start babyproofing my house because Baby S is getting increasingly wriggly, and when I start reading safety articles online, well they’re just full of things I haven’t done (and kind of can’t be bothered with) and a whole host of new dangers I hadn’t even considered. Gah! But I managed to steer one child through early childhood without any major mishaps, so… yeah.

I also realise that my reaction to people posting “aggressively helpful” articles is really my problem, not theirs. What one mum sees as “raising awareness” another mum sees as unnecessary scaremongering. So I’m wondering how I can address my attitude to that. I think taking a Facebook holiday when I’m feeling my anxiety rise is probably a good idea. But that would result in an increase to my FOMO anxiety! Once again, life’s tough in the first world.

 

 

The Great Divide

grandcanyon

Ok I’ve enjoyed the first two months of new-motherhood but now I’m ready for some time off. Maybe a week’s holiday? Or a two? Perhaps I’ll tackle a fresh project now, or return to an old one – get back to my German lessons maybe… What’s that? I can’t? No leave can be granted? Well maybe I could just chuck a sickie? Nope, not that either. What… not even one day to myself?

Sigh – just one of the many laments of early motherhood – it’s relentless and there’s no holidays in sight. Especially at this stage. Feed, sleep, poo, repeat. And the baby doesn’t do much more than that either.

It’s got me thinking about the roles of mum and dad (in general) again. I say “again” because the last time I properly contemplated this was the first time Himself and I became mum and dad (specific). And let me tell you, nothing highlights the Great Divide between the genders* much more than having a new baby. This huge change in the status quo of your relationship is something I’m yet to see listed in all those “Why I’m never having children” articles, but it should be right up there. Alongside the zero-holidays policy.

When you’re the one parenting a new baby at home while your partner is back at work, there’s no getting around the fact that in these early months, you are doing the motherload of childcare (pun intended) and dad is, well, working. In other words, you’ve suddenly taken on very traditional gender roles. And it makes your day-to-day lives very different indeed. Granted, this was more of a shock to the system the first time around when we went from the relatively equal footing of both being full time working “people” to a Mum-at-home-with-baby and a full-time-working-Dad (as opposed to just full-time-working person).

But in a funny way, the gender gap is gaping even wider now. Because I’m also a “trailing spouse”, I currently exist in a weirdly segregated world. The only new people I meet are other women, mostly mothers and other expats who are also usually trailing spouses. The facebook groups I join are generally populated by females and are parenting-focused. I never come across males in a social capacity, unless they’re the partners of mums I’ve met. It kinda sucks.

On the flipside, I chose this.  And I’m lucky to be able to spend this time caring for my kids and not having to work for money outside the home. Himself would love to be home with them more often. If money were no object, I’m sure he’d quit work in a nanosecond (although how long it would take him to reach the boredom/resentment/need-a-break threshold I’ve just bumped into is hard to say… and I guess we’ll never know). If only it were easily possible for me to go out and find employment in this foreign country that pays as well as a male salary…

Not that I even want to work full time. Do I? I’d be lying if I said part of the appeal of this move to Switzerland wasn’t the sweet notion of being able to QUIT formal work indefinitely. Of course nothing is ever quite as good as it seems. And this is an almost entirely female problem. Not many men even get the choice of whether to quit or take a break from work to stay home and look after their babies, although it would be great if they had real options for this**.

As the kids get older, stay-at-home Dads become slightly more common. Slightly. [ASIDE: You don’t hear the male voice in parenting very often so I found it really interesting what Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard writes in his semi-autobiographical book A Man In Love about the mind-numbing mundanity of life as a primary parent. It’s basically several chapters of Toddler Time but more brutal! I can’t imagine many mums admitting the “job” bores them so starkly although it certainly struck a chord with me.]

Then there’s the money and value factors. Of course, rationally, we’re equal partners who are both contributing valuable work so we can afford to live and raise a family. But in reality, it can be hard to see it as entirely “our” money or perhaps more importantly, half “mine”, especially when it comes to the more frivolous purchases I might want to make. And in terms of valuable work, sure I’m doing a very important job but, well, no one’s flying me business class to Boston to be a Mum for 8 hours then back again.

So it’s an odd conundrum. A paradox of feminism? We have the choice but we have no choice. And things aren’t equal, but how can they be? Parenting, at least in the first year or so, is not really an equal opportunity playing field.

In some ways I can see it’s actually worse for the dads – slogging away at a crappy job (all jobs are a bit crappy right?) and missing out on time with the babies that goes so quickly. Plus, he has to do a big chunk of childcare and housework too – particularly putting in the hours with our first child in this second-baby situation. And yet, and yet… he also gets to go out of the house every week day, he gets to talk to people who aren’t obviously involved in their own childcare battles about things that aren’t to do with kids, he gets validation for skills that have nothing to do with parenthood. And he gets the chance for 7-8 hours unbroken sleep per night. It’s not a competition, but if there were a ledger of achievements and sacrifices, I’d say sleep is a biggie.

Likewise, I’ve been wondering about breastfeeding and feminism. Is breastfeeding a feminist issue? Feminism is about choice and equal opportunities. So Bfing is another paradox. Sure you have a choice, but there’s also no choice, as in, no one else can do it for you (with rare exceptions), well, your partner can’t anyway. And, like giving birth, it’s in no way an equal opportunity situation between the sexes. So I’m stuck. But I chose this. But, only by dint of being a woman was that choice possible. And, based on where we are at as modern, first-world people and parents, it was in many ways the only option. So therefore I had no choice. But still… I chose this. Argh.

I’d really like a day off.

 

 

*I suppose this is true for same-sex couples (assumptions, assumptions!) if you substitute “mum” for “primary carer” and “dad” for “the one who continues to go to work”.

** I’m a total advocate of The Wife Drought theory articulated so well in Annabel Crabb’s book – for society to move on, men need a life and women need a wife.