Tuesday, 18 November 2014

ALL mums are full-time mums

I've ummed and ahhed about writing this post for a long time. Part of me felt that, as a stay-at-home mum, I didn't really have a right to rant about this issue. But then it occurred to me that maybe I'm the right person to rant about it, to show that nobody wants this stupid label, not even the mums to whom it supposedly applies.

The label I'm referring to is "full-time mum."

It's a label I've been given a fair bit when I've said that I 'stay at home' with my daughter. (That's also problematic as I don't actually stay at home with her, believe it or not we leave the house on a regular basis. But it's the lesser of two evils.) I've never been comfortable with this label, and have always been careful to avoid using it myself.

Why? Because by calling me a full-time mum, you are implying that working mums are part-time mums. Which is absolute nonsense. There is no such thing as a part-time mum.

I'm willing to wager that a woman who leaves her children in childcare or with another relative in order to go to work thinks about those children all day. In many cases, working mums will be going out earning money that is essential to give their children the upbringing they wish for them. I fail to see how a woman who spends however many hours and days away from her children in order to pay for the roof over their heads, the food on their plates, the clothes on their bodies and maybe even a nice holiday or two for them, is any less of a mother than one who stays at home.

Not that I'm saying that the only reason a mother should go back to work is financial necessity. There are lots of reasons why a woman would want to go back to work - perhaps she has a highly rewarding career, and so will serve as a fantastic role model to her child. Perhaps she needs the mental stimulation of being elsewhere and doing 'non-mum' things in order to be the best possible mum she can be when she is with her children. And there are probably countless reasons I haven't even thought of too.

Whatever the reason, you don't stop being a mum at nursery drop-off. Before I had Eleanor, I went to work five days a week, and for all that time spent in the office I was still a wife. How is this any different?

I suppose next time I'm called a full-time mum I should say this:

Yes, I'm a full-time mum. As is the mum who works three days a week. As is the mum who works five days a week. As is the mum whose children are in school now. As is the mum whose children are adults and have long since left the family nest. Once you become a mum, you never stop being one, not even for a minute. Whatever you do career-wise, it's as full-time as you can get.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Night weaning - the saga continues

In my last post for the Breastfeeding Diaries, I was considering night weaning. I thought at the time that Eleanor was showing signs of wanting to night wean ... nup, wrong about that one!! The problem now is that she's almost dry at night now, but the night feeds tip her over the edge from time to time.

So this week we decided to try night weaning. It was half term so my husband was off work, theoretically meaning I'd be able to catch up on lost sleep during the day. I looked up this guide to gently night weaning by Dr Jay Gordon, which I'd read months before but had never got round to trying. If you don't have time to read it, it basically goes something like this:

Night 1 - Feed child when they wake for a feed, but put them back in bed awake and settle by patting/stroking etc.
Night 2 - Repeat.
Night 3 - Repeat.
Night 4 - Pick up and cuddle child, but do not feed. Put back in bed awake and again settle by patting/stroking etc.
Night 5 - Repeat.
Night 6 - Repeat.
Night 7 - Do not pick up child, settle in bed with patting/stroking etc.
Night 8 - Repeat.
Night 9 - Repeat.
Night 10 - Repeat.

And continue until child stops waking up. Great! Night weaning in just 10 nights! Sign me up!

Except, when I tried it, it looked something like this:

Night 1 - Feed child, but as she instantly closes her eyes, have no clue of whether she's properly asleep or not and end up putting her back to bed asleep by accident.
Night 2 - Feed child, catch her just about on the cusp of sleep so a little back rub suffices. Feel like all is not lost, ignoring fact that she's getting a bit of a cold.
Night 3 - Repeat.
Night 4 - Pick up child and cuddle for a bit, then get confused over whether Night 1 really counted so end up feeding her anyway. Get her to bed just before she falls asleep, again a back rub suffices.
Night 5 - Pick up child and cuddle, but by now the 'bit of a cold' has descended into a full-blown snot-and-cough-fest. Feel guilty. Feed her but still console self with the fact that she goes to sleep in her bed. Just.
Night 6 - Snot-and-cough-fest continues. Abandon night weaning attempts altogether.

So either night weaning in 10 nights is not really realistic as life (and snot) gets in the way, or ... I'm just a bit rubbish at night weaning.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Pink is a colour

"What's your favourite colour, Eleanor?" I ask.

"Pink," comes the reply.

(Actually, it's 'pint' because she can't pronounce k yet. But if I'd just typed that you'd have thought she'd misheard my question and assumed I was asking about her favourite unit of measurement.)

Anyway, back to the point.

'Favourite' is still a very fluid term for Eleanor so her 'favourite' colour changes on a daily basis. Today it's green. But pink does tend to be the one that comes up most regularly. And that bothers me.

But why does it bother me?

I'm not keen on pink personally. I have a distinct memory of saying my favourite colour was pink when I was little, but not really meaning it - I just thought that's what girls were supposed to say. When I got a bit older and developed more of a sense of self I moved onto green, then blue. (Interestingly, both of these colours are regular contenders for Eleanor's favourite.)

I mean, as colours go it's OK. I even own a few items of pink clothing. And actually it didn't really bother me until after Eleanor was born - her 0-3 months wardrobe was almost exclusively pink and white, mainly because most of her clothes were hand-me-downs or gifts from other people, but we did buy some pink items ourselves. She still has a fair amount of pink in her wardrobe, again by virtue of mostly wearing second hand clothes that came in big cheap bundles so I didn't have the heart (or the cash) to say, "actually, just the non-pink clothes, thanks."

But I often see a lot of resistance to pink, and I totally understand that. It has become synonymous with 'girly', which in turn has become synonymous with 'decorative, focussed on appearance, with a bit of a princess complex'. (I've dealt with my hatred of princesses before, and may one day have a big rant about how exactly 'girly' came to be associated with one narrow form of femininity, but that's a bit tangential.) And sometimes I feel a bit uncomfortable dressing Eleanor in pink. Especially when she seems to be starting to show a preference for it.

But why? It's just a colour. One of many.

And that's the crux of it, isn't it? It's one of many colours, so why is it so over-represented in clothes and toys intended for girls? And even more under-represented in clothes and toys aimed at boys? It's just a colour. Surely there should be just as many red, blue, green, yellow, brown, purple, turquoise toys and clothes, for both genders?

The second hand clothes thing is emblematic of the issue. Eleanor wears a lot of pink because I bought clothes from a few other mums whose daughters wore a lot of pink before her. And maybe they wore a lot of pink because if you walk into the girls section of any high street clothes shop there is a lot of pink. And maybe a lot of girls say pink is their favourite colour, but OF COURSE they will if they've been exposed to pink more than any other colour in their early years!

I remember about a year ago I was playing at the park with Eleanor. There was a woman playing with her grandson, and another boy in a salmon-coloured top. He was clearly a boy - his clothes were of a boyish cut, he had a boyish haircut. When the grandson nearly bumped into salmon-top-boy, the woman said, "Be careful of that little girl!"

"He's not a girl, he's a boy," replied grandson. And yet, just moments later when they nearly collided again (are toddlers magnetically drawn to each other? They do seem to crash into each other a lot) she said again, "Be careful of the little girl!" Consciously or subconsciously, she had taken issue with the notion of a boy wearing a top of a pinkish hue.

But why? Pink is just a colour.

This is why I wish retailers would offer more diversity of colours, so that children are given true choice and can decide what their favourite colour is without being swayed by their gender - or a social construct of their gender. If a girl likes pink, great. If a boy likes pink, great. If both reject pink for a fetching shade of teal, also great.

What are your feelings about pink? Or blue? Or any other colour, for that matter??!

(As an addendum to this, on Wednesday I took Eleanor to her playgroup and she dressed up in a blue Cinderella outfit. I cringed a bit at the Disney princess link, but cheered up when she told me she was sad that the dress had a pink trim and declared that her favourite colour is blue!)

Friday, 10 October 2014

Babywearing in Books - a post for #IntlBabywearingWeek

I've been meaning to write this post all week but a certain person is going through a nap-refusal phase! Anyway, I'm getting it in now before it's too late!

This week is International Babywearing Week. For those of you who haven't seen my guest post about my love of babywearing - and toddlerwearing - you can check it out here. But today I want to write about this love in relation to another love of mine - children's books!

It's hard to find images of babywearing in children's books because pushchairs, prams, buggies etc are so much the norm here. It's something that bugged me when Eleanor was younger as it was quite hard to find images she could relate to her own life - lots of prams and bottles, which were totally alien to her, but hardly any slings or boobs! Then last Christmas her godmother bought her a box set of Shirley Hughes books - and while reading Alfie's Feet I was delighted to see this picture:

OK, it's not a great representation of babywearing - how exactly is the baby not slumping out of the side? What's keeping the carrier up? But still, this is BABYWEARING! By a MAN! In a children's book from the EIGHTIES! Wow!

A few months later, my brother sent Eleanor a fantastic book called Around the World with Mouk by Marc Boutavant. It's a really bright, cartoon-style picture book which is fab for teaching - and learning - about different countries. And in the section about Burkina Faso (I know!) there's this cute little image of babyhippowearing:

Books about other countries and cultures tend to do well at showing babywearing, probably because it is so much more common in other parts of the world. Take these pictures from Mama Panya's Pancakes, a lovely story about Kenyan life:

Or there's these pictures from Off We Go To Mexico, a book which has made Eleanor desperate to visit the country:

Although it's great to see babywearing shown in other cultures (and it should be noted that the mother and baby in Off We Go To Mexico are tourists) I would love to see more books showing it in the UK. There is a growing popularity for slings and baby carriers and it would be great for babies who are carried to see more images they can relate to.

Do you know any other children's books feature babywearing?

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

A little victory

I'm feeling pretty proud of myself at the moment. To the point that I actually feel the need to write a whole blog post about it. (Egotist, much?)

This morning was challenging. We went to a playgroup. Eleanor is still potty training (that's 'still' pronounced with a laboured groan) and prone to accidents when we're out so I put her in training pants. Almost immediately upon our arrival she started doing her 'need the potty' dance (you all know the dance, right? Or is that just my child?) so I put her on our portable potty and she did the world's smallest number two. (Sorry, dear daughter, I'll delete this post before your friends are old enough to read it, I promise.) The little dances continued so we visited the potty FOUR TIMES to no avail, then eventually she went in her training pants.

Then when we left the group, which she'd been very good-humoured at, she realised she hadn't had chance to play dress up and promptly broke down. After about ten minutes of trying to calm her down and persuade her to walk home, I strapped her to my back (not ideal as I have major SPD pain today) and marched home. When I got home, already late, I was rushing to make lunch when Eleanor announced she wanted to play with glitter pens. I got them out and went to get the lunch things, then she demanded my assistance with said glitter pens. As I helped her to squeeze out the glitter, she announced that she'd done a wee. It was a big one. I peeled off the wet tights and training pants and was dashing around trying to find a laundry bag to put them in when I turned round and saw that she'd grabbed the cucumber off the table, where I had dumped it in order to help her with her flipping glitter pens, and she was trying to chew through the plastic wrapping.


A week ago I'd have shouted. I'd have REALLY shouted. I felt so stressed by this series of events and I just wanted Eleanor to stop being a nuisance while I got things sorted. And recently my method of getting her to stop being a nuisance has been shouting.

But I've been really frustrated with the amount of shouting I've done recently and I've been trying to stop myself this week. And today, when I was really feeling at the end of my tether, I did stop myself. I wasn't wholly calm, I did tell Eleanor how stressed I felt because I want her to know that people do get stressed and that's OK. But I was able to stop myself from losing it, get things sorted out and get lunch on the table without shouting.

That, to me, is a win. And it's one I'd like to celebrate.

Anyone else had a parenting win today?

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Breastfeeding Diaries: To night wean or not to night wean?

Last time I posted for the Breastfeeding Diaries I was really struggling. The whole experience of breastfeeding a toddler was becoming really irritating, and part of me really felt like stopping.

Then, all of a sudden, it got easier.

I can't even tell you what about it changed. She's still messing about quite a bit, although perhaps less than before. She still has days where she seems to want mummy milk every time I sit down. She still wants feeding in the night.

I think it must just be that my attitude has changed. Writing my last post, and reading the responses, seemed to prove to me that I do want to carry on until Eleanor is ready to stop. And, in hindsight, things were generally quite stressful at the time of the last post - my husband is a teacher and so had just gone back to work after the summer holidays, so we were both getting used to our previous routine and not having Daddy around as much. Once we'd got back into the swing of things, everything, breastfeeding included, felt easier.

Something interesting has happened this week, though. We've been talking for a long time about attempting night weaning, but it has never felt like the right time - nights would probably get worse for a while before getting better and there's always something we need to conserve our energy for! However, in the past couple of weeks Eleanor has started to be dry at night. (She's not dry in the day, far from it - trust my daughter to do things the wrong way round!) This has thrown up problems as she has woken in the night asking for the potty a few times, then it's really hard to get her back to sleep, so we have revisited the idea of night weaning as a way of reducing these night-time potty visits. This is something my husband and I had only discussed, and not in front of Eleanor, but suddenly she started talking about sleeping all through the night without mummy milk! Hurrah! Could this mean that she might night wean of her own accord?

We're not getting our hopes up yet, because it still hasn't happened! Although at most bedtimes recently she has said that she'll just have a cuddle in the night and go back to sleep without mummy milk, when she has actually woken up and I've offered a cuddle she has been distraught. It's interesting. Last night, for instance, I went through, sat by her bed and offered to cuddle her and she started to cry. At first in amidst her sobs were phrases like, "want to go to sleep without mummy milk," and, "want to have a cuddle," but if I put my arm round her she'd push me away. She got more and more worked up, then started saying, "want mummy thing! want mummy thing!" then she pointed at my chest and cried, "want THOSE!" (Nice, kid.) So I picked her up and took her to the chair for a feed.

I'm not sure what to make of this. Is it Eleanor wanting to night wean but struggling with it? Or has she picked up that we want her to night wean and is trying to do it but doesn't really want to? The fact that she felt she couldn't ask directly suggests maybe it's the latter, but then we've talked to her about night weaning before and she hasn't even tried. Maybe she's caught between still wanting the comfort of breastfeeding in the night but also feeling uncomfortable from a full bladder and starting to understand the link between drinking and needing a wee. I really don't know.

So, at 33 months, breastfeeding is feeling a lot easier generally but is throwing up some tricky questions! Still, it does seem that we may be a step closer to night weaning, even if there are many steps to go, so that's a bonus!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Breastfeeding Diaries: 32 months ... and struggling

In most of my posts for the Breastfeeding Diaries I've tried to focus on the positives of nursing beyond infancy, or at least end on a high note. Unfortunately, I don't think this post is going to fit that trend.

Eleanor is now 32 and a half months. I had hoped to allow her to feed as long as she wanted to. But now I feel like I'm hitting a wall.

It's hard to put my finger on what's different suddenly. We've had tough spells before where I've felt like giving up, but that was generally when she was teething and nursing could get quite painful. I kept going through those times by telling myself that she needed the comfort of breastmilk at that time, and of course by the time the tooth emerged, things were easier again and I was happy to continue.

But this time the issue isn't pain. It's, for want of a better phrase, pratting about. Those cute little quirks I mentioned in my last post on this subject, like the weird positions and the attempts to read and talk whilst feeding, are getting exasperating. I don't know whether they're becoming more regular, or I'm becoming less patient! It's compounded by a lot of 'on-off' behaviour and little habits like trying to put her fingers in her mouth while feeding. She's also getting more grabby and will try and pull my top down when she wants milk, of course oblivious to whether not it is a good time and place to be exposing her mother.

On more than one occasion recently I've said that if she can't be sensible with mummy milk maybe we need to stop. I'm not just saying it to get her to stop messing about in that moment - I'm genuinely feeling like maybe it is time. But then I've no idea how I would go about stopping anyway. I still feed her to sleep for her nap and when she wakes at night, and I don't know if I can really face the hassle of changing that. Also, she still asks (nay, demands) to be fed quite regularly so I know she's still keen and deep down I don't want to put her through the upset of stopping.

I think I do want to carry on. I think. But I don't want to carry on if it's always going to be this annoying. I've tried talking to her about it but she is not quite ready to understand yet I don't think.

If anyone reading this has been through something similar and has some pearls of wisdom to share, please do comment!

Friday, 5 September 2014

How (not) to potty train your toddler

We're in the throes of potty training at the moment. It's not going well. In fact, it's not been going well for around three months now. Three months or, as it feels, a PIGGING ETERNITY.

I'd love to be able to write you a really informative blog post about how to potty train in a gentle, respectful way. But I can't. I can, however, tell you what NOT to do – because I've done it all myself.

So, if you want a child who can use the potty AND to preserve your own sanity, DO NOT:

  1. Pounce on the very first tiny sign of possible readiness at a ridiculously young age (19 months, in case you're wondering) with such zeal that your child then becomes afraid of the potty and refuses to tell you what's going on in that nappy of hers.
  2. After giving up the first attempt, abandon the very notion of looking for signs of readiness and decide that the only sign you need is that her cloth nappies aren't fitting her very well any more. Yeah, that's really not an indication of readiness.
  3. Other things that aren't actually signs of readiness include: it's summer, daddy is on holiday so around to help, all her peers are doing it already. No, honestly, NONE of these things are connected to your child's ability to control her bladder. Who knew?
  4. Aim for complete inconsistency. Try nappy free time but then decide you are squeamish about breastfeeding a bare bottomed toddler so insist on training pants. And a nappy for outings and naps. So basically she has NO IDEA what covering (if any) her posterior will have in the next ten minutes.
  5. Try to avoid clean ups by persuading your child to spend her nappy free time sitting on the potty watching TV or YouTube videos, thus making her think she's entitled to screen time EVERY TIME she sits on it.
  6. As soon as you're starting to make progress, go away for a few days. Somewhere that makes continuing with potty training hopelessly impractical.
  7. Get to the point where it's been dragging on so long and you're so frustrated you start yelling about how all her friends have figure it out already. (Seriously, even if you end up doing all the other things, please please PLEASE try not to do this. Although if you have done all the other things, you'll probably feel as stressed as me, so ... yeah, try not to do the other stuff either.)

And finally, under any circumstances, DO NOT:

  1. Forget to check whether there's anything in the potty and then trip over it. Really. No.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

6 Things a Mother Who Breastfeeds Her Toddler Will Recognise

OK, that last post was a bit heavy, so to distract myself and lighten the tone I've been pondering about the things that make breastfeeding a toddler different to breastfeeding in the early months. It's one thing nursing a little baby who can barely support it's own head and who can only coo or cry – when you've got a little person who is fully mobile and almost talking like an (albeit, fairly drunk) adult it's a whole different ball game! How many of these do you recognise?

1: The naming – OK, I've covered this one before, but I still think hearing Eleanor ask for 'mummy milk' is immensely cute ... most of the time. However, when we're going through the supermarket and she yells, "WANT SOME MUMMY MILK," I kind of miss the days when her only means of requesting said mummy milk was gnawing at her own fist.

2: The shape throwing – I've heard it called gymnurstics, I've heard it called lactobatics. Whatever you call it, it's ... umm ... interesting. Eleanor's piece de resistance is balancing with one foot on my leg, the other in the air, bottom above her head and arms outstretched. It's quite something to behold.

3: The multitasking – Eleanor will regularly leaf through a book while feeding. Often a big hardback with nice pointy corners to jab me with. And then there's the attempts to continue talking/singing through a feed: "Old MacDonald had a mmm, mm-mm mm-mm O!"

4: The need for an object – Linked in with the last one, anyone else have a toddler who just has to have something to hold onto whilst feeding? This started a few months back when Eleanor was getting in a pickle because I asked her if she wanted to play with her trains or have mummy milk. Turned out the answer was both!

5: The 'subtle' comments – OK, this one isn't Eleanor's doing. And it's probably quite universal. Seems that however you feed your child, other people will have an opinion, and some will feel the need to 'hint' at that opinion. And feeding beyond infancy seems to attract a lot of 'hints'. From the person who tells you how they once heard someone say breastfeeding a toddler is weird, to the person who suggests to your child that she's too old now, other people will find a way of indirectly expressing their view on the matter. Well-meaning, I'm sure. And at least it's not outright condemnation. Sigh.

6: The snuggles – Everything above considered, the best bit by far, the absolute icing on the cake, of breastfeeding a toddler is the cuddles. A newborn wants cuddling ALL THE TIME. A toddler has far too busy a schedule, thank you very much. What with re-imagining her bedroom furniture as an assault course and acting out episodes of 'Charlie and Lola' with a range of farm animal finger puppets, sometimes the only chance I get for a cuddle with Eleanor is when she's feeding. And for just a few minutes, I can sit back and relax, my lovely bundle in my arms, and remember how sweet it was to hold that much smaller bundle all those months and years ago. And then she's off again.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Gentle Parenting Through Grief

"Mummy's sad."

"Yes, darling, Mummy's sad."

"She's had some really bad news."

"Yes, that's right."

You may have noticed I haven't blogged much this month. (What do you mean, you haven't? You hang on my every word, right?) That's because this month got off to a pretty bad start.

At around 7am on Friday 1st August, just as I sat down to breakfast, I got a phonecall. Or rather, my husband did, from my mum. When my mum calls my husband's phone, I know that means it's bad news – she does it to make sure I've got someone with me. As he talked to her a number of scenarios raced through my head, but not one of them was close to what had actually happened – my aunt had died, completely out of the blue. We learned a week later that she had been ill for a while, but nobody knew this – she probably didn't know it herself.

I could make this blog post a tribute to her, but really, I don't think I have the words to express what a wonderful, inspirational woman she was. Instead I want to talk about the impact the news had on my parenting.

As I burst into tears that day, Eleanor became deeply upset too, and my husband took her out of the room to try and calm her. I didn't tell her what had happened – I didn't feel up to explaining it to her, and besides, it was seven months since she'd last seen my aunt, so I didn't think she needed to know straight away. So we just said I'd had some really bad news. But as the day wore on, my obvious distress was making her very upset, and the smallest thing was setting her off into a full-blown tantrum. I decided that the best thing I could do for her was to go out for a bit, so I left her with her dad and went to see my cousin.

It was a hard decision to make. Having practised attachment parenting/ gentle parenting since Eleanor was a few months old, I was used to being her main source of comfort, her rock. But that day I was a very shaky rock, and I was bringing distress rather than comfort. It was hard to admit it, but she needed space from me at that time, and I needed space from her.

One thing that has surprised me about the effect grief had on my parenting was the way my patience seemed to wear thin so much more easily. When I went home that day, I found Eleanor's high emotions, testing at the best of times, deeply frustrating. I'd spent the last few hours with people who were deeply grieving, I was grieving myself, why did she have to cry over not having the right toy to play with?

It's that frustration that I'm still struggling with. It got easier for a while, but the funeral was last week, and that has made the grief feel very raw again. I've found myself with very little patience for Eleanor's perfectly normal toddler behaviour – her refusal to follow instructions, her tendency to mess about when I'm trying to get her changed, her tantrums, and recently her nap refusal. Being a gentle parent feels really, really hard right now.

Last Saturday I took to Twitter to express my annoyance at myself for taking my low mood out on Eleanor. I got a number of responses from some lovely, wonderful mums telling me it's normal, we all do it, and I'm really grateful for their show of solidarity. One tweet really stuck. It said:

"it's hard to be there & present for someone else's needs when our own needs are unmet ... Self-compassion."

This really struck a chord. I realised the reason I was being so impatient and snappy was because I simply don't have the headspace to remember how to be a gentle parent right now. There's a large part of my mind still desperately trying to grapple with the fact that my wonderful, active and apparently healthy aunt is gone from this world forever. I'm still deeply worried about the effect this is having on my relatives. Remembering all those tactics to stay calm and handle the challenges my spirited and independent girl will inevitably throw at me is just beyond me right now.

The trouble is, the only thing that will fix this is time. In time, I'll come to terms with what has happened. In time, those who were even closer to my aunt will adjust to life without her, although we will, of course, all miss her deeply and unendingly. But while that time passes, I need to carry on being a parent, and raising my daughter in the gentle way I believe is right for us. How I'll manage this, I don't quite know yet. But I know I need to be gentle with myself, too.

Thank you to those lovely mums who comforted me on Saturday night without even knowing why I was down, your kindness means a lot to me.

Monday, 11 August 2014

The Toddler-in-church Challenge

"Let us pray."

Those three words have come to strike fear into my heart.

Not because I'm not a Christian. I am. I've been going to church since I was around 17 years old, and I've been attending my current church for nearly 9 years. I like going to church, it keeps me in touch with my spirituality when the demands of life make it hard to do so day to day, and it's nice to be surrounded by people who have broadly the same beliefs as me, if only for an hour or so a week.

No, the reason the phrase, "let us pray," fills me with dread is because that signals a part of the church service where the congregation is quiet. Except now, my toddler is part of the congregation. And she doesn't really do quiet.

Some weeks she does OK - she will happily munch through the box of snacks, or draw with the paper and pen, that we have cannily brought along to entertain her until the offering is taken and I breathe a sigh of relief while taking her out to the 'creche'. (Actually, the creche sometimes just consists of the two of us playing in another room, but at least it's somewhere she can move around and make a noise.)

But other times things don't go so well. The offering isn't taken in it's usual place, meaning I've no idea when to take Eleanor out and end up sat in the pew for longer than she can cope with. Or she's just in a particularly lively mood and doesn't want to be quiet and sit still (and will happily announce that at the top of her voice). At times like that, I don't enjoy church.

It's frustrating. I am very thankful to God for my daughter. And I am thankful for exactly who she is - for her energy, her curiosity, her confidence, her vivacity, her physical agility, the joy she finds in playing pretend and re-imagining stories she's read or seen. But when I'm in church, all of those things I'm thankful for suddenly become challenges. She's noisy, she's fidgety, she climbs on the pews, runs up the aisles, tries to stage-crash the preacher, shouts lines from TV shows - in short, she's 'unruly'. And I'm acutely aware of the eyes and ears of the rest of the congregation with their myriad parenting styles and experiences, and I worry about what they think of me as I desperately try to persuade my wonderfully lively daughter to do the very things she's just not built to do - sit down and keep quiet.

It's not the fault of the church - it just happens to be a time when there aren't many other children Eleanor's age in the congregation. A few years ago, there were more, and so there would have been power in numbers - at least I wouldn't be the only one trying to keep a toddler entertained. But those children have either grown up or moved on. And I'm sure nobody is really casting aspersions on my parenting, in fact I've only ever had positive comments about how lively she is, so that is probably my own neurosis. But the fact remains that it is a very uncomfortable time for me. I don't want to stop going, but equally I often find it so stressful that church is no longer very spiritually fulfilling.

I'm not really sure what the answer is here, but I would love to hear the experiences of other Christian mums. Is this a common situation? Are there ways of handling it? And, most importantly, does it pass? Oh please tell it passes!!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

The line between support and pressure: A post for World Breastfeeding Week

When I was a child I went to a childminder. I don't have many recollections about that time, but one thing which has strangely stuck in my mind was the time when, after finishing my lunch, she told me to put my knife and fork together on my plate. I didn't understand what she meant and tried several different positions, all with the tips of the knife and fork touching - because that's together, right? But every time I tried, she would say, "no, put them together," in an increasingly exasperated tone until she lost patience and put them side by side for me. Only then did I realise what she meant. I felt pretty stupid.

What has this got to do with breastfeeding? Well, the other day I was talking to a friend who said that she'd read (I don't know where) that all the pressure to breastfeed is stopping new mums from even trying because they don't want the hassle. Having not read the source I don't know how true this is, but it does point to a problem, or a perceived problem, that there is more pressure than there is support. Telling someone to do something is useless unless that someone is shown how to do it, much like my childminder repeating an instruction over and over when I needed to be shown what she meant.

It's quite hard for me to write about this topic, as actually, I didn't feel pressured to breastfeed at all. I was asked at one of my midwife appointments how I planned to feed and I said I wanted to breastfeed, and that was it. Of our three NHS antenatal classes, half of one session was devoted to watching a DVD about breastfeeding and asking some questions afterwards. And when my Health Visitor paid her first visit she gave me some leaflets and a little demonstration with a doll and a knitted breast (which I found rather comical). Personally I didn't feel that constituted pressure, but then I wanted to breastfeed, so the information was useful.

Similarly, after birth I didn't feel particularly pressured. At one point when I was really struggling my husband said he thought I was being put under a lot of pressure, but I didn't see it that way. Yes, I had a lot of midwives giving me advice, and when I mentioned feeling like giving up and using formula they would just give more advice - but that was exactly what I wanted them to do. To me it was support, it was encouragement. When I said I was thinking of giving up I expected them to agree with me, and I knew that I'd be heartbroken if they did. So their continued advice gave me the courage to just keep trying until I cracked it.

I don't doubt that there are genuine instances when mothers are actually pressured - I've read stories of women being told they were bad mothers and didn't love their child enough if they gave up. But equally, I've probably read a similar number of stories about mothers being pressured to give formula for health problems such as slow weight gain or reflux, even though in the cases where the mothers persisted in breastfeeding these problems did work themselves out in the long run.

So when does promotion become pressure? I think the big problem lies in what happens in those few weeks after birth, perhaps even in the few days after birth. I was in hospital for three days, and if I'd left sooner I'm not sure I'd have been able to carry on breastfeeding, but a lot of women are rushed out after 24 hours or sooner. When in hospital, midwives are overstretched and just don't have the time to support women who are having difficulty with feeding. Back home, one midwife visit a day (if that) is not enough to keep breastfeeding going when things are tough - mothers need access to support groups, breastfeeding counsellors, peer supporters etc. Support groups aren't always easy to get to, and counsellors and supporters are usually volunteers who, wonderful and dedicated as they often are, have their own lives and therefore may have limited time. There is the option of seeing a lactation consultant, but my understanding is that many of these charge (as they are generally not employed by the NHS) so new parents with all sorts of other money concerns may not feel able to afford this service. And besides, are new parents told that this support is available? I was given a leaflet with the numbers of local breastfeeding counsellors (of the two in my town, one had given up counselling and the other didn't seem forthcoming with help - although I may have just got her on a bad day) but it was months later that I heard the term 'lactation consultant'.

This all adds up to a situation like little me desperately trying to figure out how to place my cutlery without being properly shown, then feeling embarrassed and ashamed that I couldn't. As much as pressure may be in the eye of the beholder to some extent, promotion without proper follow-up support will lead to mothers not being able to breastfeed then feeling guilty about it. I don't know what the answer is, but I think that more funding to allow for increased midwife numbers (in the wards and in the community), more support groups and more access to professional support such as breastfeeding counsellors and lactation consultants would certainly help. That funding, however, doesn't seem forthcoming as this government just doesn't see breastfeeding as a priority.

In the meantime, we'll just have to help each other. I have huge admiration for mothers who give up their time and money to train as peer supporters and breastfeeding counsellors, whose only payment is the knowledge that they're helping other mums. But even without that training, I think we can all play a part in normalising breastfeeding, talking about the highs and lows, offering support to friends and family members (even if that is just bringing a meal round so a mum can have an extra hour to focus on feeding instead of cooking) and generally showing that it can be done, in an unpressured, non-judgmental way.

If women are being put off by all the pressure to breastfeed, that's really sad. If you feel like that, please know that support is available, you may just need to do a bit of digging to find it. You don't have to figure it out on your own. And, when it does work out, it really is a wonderful thing.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The Breastfeeding Diaries - no, I can't just cover up!

The other week I saw this article which shows exactly why a breastfeeding mother can't always 'just use a cover' when feeding in public. The photos in the article made me really chuckle - anyone who has a child over the age of two months will know they're wriggly things when they want to be (which tends to be when you don't want them to be) so covering them up with a blanket/scarf/sheet becomes a battle! But one thing frustrated me, and that was the comments.

Aside from the predictable "I'm going to ignore all your points and tell you to cover up anyway" comments there were some from people who claimed to be 'all for' breastfeeding in public, BUT (and if there's a but, you are by definition not 'all for' anything) if this mother had covered from the very start the baby would be used to it.


First of all, why should a new mother, still getting the hang of breastfeeding, have to contend with covering up too? It's hard enough figuring out how to support their wobbly head with one arm while guiding their frankly clueless little mouth with the other hand, should poor mum have to do all this while trying to keep a scarf in place?

Secondly, while some babies will happily go along with being covered, many won't like it, and will register their dislike as soon as they have enough coordination to start flailing about and dragging the cover off. It doesn't make a difference whether you've only just started using a cover or have fed under a blanket from day 1 - babies develop, and as they develop they find new, often forceful ways of expressing themselves.

Why do I say this? Because when Eleanor was a baby I really struggled with feeding. There is no way in the first two months of her life I could have managed to coax her to feed under a cover, because I needed a completely clear view of what I was doing. Even the slightest bit of fabric could cause an obstruction that would send my reluctant feeder into a tizz. I did managed to use a cover briefly after this period, but then Eleanor worked out that those funny things on the ends of her arms actually BELONGED TO HER (seriously, her mind was blown by this) and, not only that, she could USE THEM! And use them she did - to shove away anything I attempted to cover up with while feeding. She wanted space, she wanted a clear view of me. As she got older she wanted to see her surroundings. No way was this kid submitting to a cover.

And what was the upshot of this? I didn't feed her in public until she was around eight months old. I was too embarrassed, I thought that because these covers existed that meant I had to use them in public, I didn't want to make a scene, I didn't want to be stared at.

But for those eight months, it was a nightmare. I had to try and plan social engagements around feeds, which meant I often ended up late and stressed, or having to leave early. At a time when my life had already changed beyond recognition, this increased my sense of isolation. I would become panicky about going out for a longer stretch of time because where would I feed her? I missed large chunks of a friend's wedding reception by going back and forth to our hotel room to breastfeed.

I really, really, REALLY regret not breastfeeding in public sooner. It was only as I became more informed that I realised that I had every right to do so, and nobody should make me feel like I ought to cover up. And do you know what? I've never actually had a negative comment. I don't think people even notice most of the time. I still get nervous about feeding in public, but I've come to realise that most people couldn't care less what I'm doing, they're just going about their daily business. As am I.

Don't get me wrong, if mum and baby are happy using a cover, then great. But don't assume that, just because your baby was happy to be covered up, then all babies are happy to be covered up. Or that all babies SHOULD be covered up. Making new mums believe that feeding their baby is so shameful that Joe Public must be shielded from possibly glimpsing the act could lead to them becoming isolated at a very vulnerable time.

So no, we can't 'just use a cover'. For many mums, it's a heck of a lot of trouble to go to. If Joe Public is that offended, it's far easier for him to look the other way.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Breastfeeding Diaries: "If they can ask for it, they're too old."

I've heard a lot of 'reasons' why toddlers shouldn't be breastfed, and they do all tend to be pretty illogical. But the one that confuses me most is this: "If they can ask for breastmilk, they're too old for it."

Say what?

Eleanor figured out ways of asking for various foodstuffs from around the age of 18 months. She could ask for "apoo" (apple), "mana" (banana) and "bedtit" (breadstick) before she worked out a word for breastmilk. Should I have denied her these foodstuffs as well? And when she comes to me now asking for "tow mout" (cow's milk) or "orange doose" (orange juice) should I say, "no, you're asking for it, so it must be bad for you"? If this rule doesn't apply to any other food or drink, why should it apply to breastmilk?

I think it's quite sad, though, that this particular old wives' tale is so prevalent, because it could deprive mothers of some pretty amusing (and occasionally heartwarming) conversations!

Eleanor's first word for breastmilk was "mut" or "mot". That gradually evolved into "mummymut". Or, more commonly, "MORE mummymut!" Then one day, tired out from the regular feeding that marks a teething session, I cried, "But you've had LOADS of mummy milk!"

Yep, you've guessed it. The demands then turned into, "LOADSA mummymut!"

Eventually she realised that phrase didn't really make me feel inclined to feed her, so she progressed onto "little TIIINY bit of mummymut" in a wheedling voice. She still uses this phrase sometimes, or a variation on it. And she never just has a little tiny bit.

Then there's her signal to swap sides. At first it was just "side" then that turned into "errside", usually said with a grin and a wrinkled nose. I was actually quite sad when she figured out how to say "other side" properly. Although it sometimes comes out as "udder side" which makes me feel GREAT. I love being quietly reminded of my similarity to a cow. Really.

Once when I was feeding her before bed she climbed down after one side. I like to tank her up before bedtime so I gently said, "have you forgotten something?" She grinned, said, "other side," and climbed back up. That then became a little skit she did at practically every feed. She'd wriggle off, look back cheekily, say, "dotten something?" then throw herself back on my knees shouting, " OOOTHEER SIIIDE!" She still does that sometimes. It still makes me chuckle!

Other times, what she says makes me realise how important "mummymout" (as it is now called) is to her. A few months ago she fell and badly grazed her knee. After cleaning and dressing the graze the only way I could calm her down was to feed her. For weeks afterwards she would regularly relive the incident, almost always with the phrase, "you had some mummymout to mate you feel better." (She refers to herself in the second person. And, as you've probably guessed, she can't pronounce 'k'. I'm trying not to stress about it.) Even now if she's hurt or very distressed she will sometimes ask for, "mummymout to mate you feel better." I love knowing the comfort it brings to her.

Then there was the line she came out with the other day, which really touched me. Mid feed, she looked up and in a very matter of fact tone told me, "mummymout is tastier than water or tow mout." May not be much competition, but it made me happy!

Seriously, anyone who feels they have to give up breastfeeding because their child can talk is missing out on some weird, funny and sometimes very moving conversations!

Monday, 7 July 2014

Our First Day Apart

I'm under no illusions about the fact that some, nay, most people who read this post will think this is a big fuss over nothing. But hear me out.

On Saturday it was a momentous day in our region. The Tour De France set off mere miles from where I live, and the whole of Yorkshire went Le Tour mad. Bunting, yellow bikes, Frenchified pub names - you name it, we did it. It really was a great event. I have minimal interest in cycling, I can't even ride a bike, but even I was swept up in the excitement.

But it was also a momentous day for Eleanor and me. Because, after two and a half years, it was the first day we spent apart.

Yes, yes I know. Most of you reading had to go back to work in the first year of your child's life. Some of you will have spent weekends, maybe even longer away from your little ones. One day away after two and a half years seems trivial, right?

But it didn't to me. Because every day for two and a half years Eleanor had been with me. And I'd been there for her. I'd spent the odd afternoon away from her, but never a full day. But I had an all-day event booked, and due to road closures I had to get there before 7am, and didn't finish until 5pm. Ten hours. Twice as long as I'd ever left her before.

In the run up I was really anxious about how she'd cope. Just a few weeks previously she went through a particularly close-to-me phase (I flatly REFUSE to use the word 'clingy' because I hate the negative connotations associated with it) and wanted me around all the time. I was so worried this would last, and she'd spend the day being miserable.

And then there was breastfeeding to factor into the equation. She still feeds pretty regularly - I'm talking newborn frequency during the day - so I worried about how she'd cope without that. I also worried about the effect suddenly not feeding for 10 hours would have on me - would I get engorged? Or would it reduce my supply?

In the end, it turned out I had little to worry about. A couple of weeks before she suddenly started asking for daddy throughout the day, and lighting up when he got home. Don't get me wrong, she has always loved her daddy, but something definitely changed. So on the day she had a lovely time with him. They hung out at our church and watched the caravan and the race go past. Then they went back to his parent's house with Eleanor in the carrier so she nodded off. She had a decent nap (another concern as I usually feed her to sleep at naptime) then hung around the house until I was all done. She asked for 'mummy milk' just once, as Daddy laid her down for her nap, but she has half asleep and nodded back off straight away.

And me? I actually cried saying goodbye (she was fine about it though) and missed her loads through the day. But there was some relief there - we'd had a particularly intense week as I was stressed about work, she was ill on and off so we didn't get out much, and there were some major tantrums going on - on both our parts! So a day away from being Mum probably helped to relieve the pressure. And the lack of breastfeeding didn't seem to have any effect at all.

Afterwards, I assumed she'd be up half the night wanting to catch up on mummy time (and mummy milk) but she only woke up once. In fact the only negative issue we had was when I fed her to sleep for her nap the next day. When I laid her in her bed, she started crying and saying, "Don't want Daddy to stop," obviously thinking she was still in the carrier. When she realised she wasn't, it woke her up properly. We tried to get her to sleep but in the end she wouldn't, which resulted in a particularly kicky-and-screamy bedtime. But everything's been fine today, so hopefully it was just a blip.

I know that all this will be commonplace for many mums. But it was a completely new experience for us. I feel so lucky to have been able to spend every day with my daughter for 30 months. She was very separation-sensitive when she was younger so I absolutely believe this was the right thing for our family and I'm glad I could do it this way. But equally, I feel so proud of how my little baby who hated to be put down has grown into a confident little girl who can spend time away from mummy without even a tear.

It's so reassuring to know that all those days spent together haven't hindered her confidence and independence. In fact, I'm convinced that all those days spent together were exactly what she NEEDED to grow into her own little person. This may not be the case for every child, but it was for mine. And the reunion cuddles were just LOVELY!

Friday, 27 June 2014

Breastfeeding - there is no normal. And that's normal.

I don't know if it's because I'm a first-time mum, or particularly neurotic or a bit of both, but I seem to spend a lot of time worrying about what's 'normal'. As if there's some benchmark of child normality and if my daughter doesn't fit that, then I must be doing it all wrong.

Now that I've had a bit more practise at parenthood, I can usually quash these worries with the silent mantra, "It's normal for her." Eleanor is very much her own special person, and she's all kinds of ace, so who cares if she's not like another child her age? But when she was a baby, when that brilliant personality wasn't quite popping out yet, when all I had to go on was her weight and nappy habits, I was always anxious about whether she was 'normal', by which I mean whether I was doing it 'right'.

Breastfeeding was a particular source of anxiety, especially as most of my mum friends were formula feeding either partly or wholly so I had a skewed sense of comparison. I remember worrying about how long each feed took, and obsessively counting the number of feeds Eleanor had in a day to make sure she was getting enough. And the older she got, the woolier the guidelines got and the more I worried!

But recently I saw some interesting research carried out by Medela which I wish I'd seen in those early months with Eleanor. It showed that when it comes to breastfeeding, as with so many things in child-rearing, there is no 'normal'. Take a look at this, for instance: 

I wish I'd seen this when Eleanor was a nipper! She took aaages to feed - I remember once being late to a baby group because she had spent 70 minutes on the first side!! Some of the reactions and comments I got at the time made me feel like this was completely wrong, that she was just 'using me as a dummy'. (A bizarre phrase - what exactly did babies do before dummies existed? Oh yes, they comfort fed!!) But actually, I think those long, leisurely feeds helped me to build the strong supply I needed at the time - and that has seen me through for the last 30 months of breastfeeding!

When Eleanor was a newborn, knowing how many feeds she needed per day was easy - "8-12 times in 24 hours" was seemingly plastered on every surface of the maternity wing! But as she got older, there was very little guidance about how often she 'ought to' be feeding - aside from baby training manuals which I steered clear of due to the fact that they generally made me want to hurl them against the nearest wall. I got the vague impression that Eleanor 'ought to be' feeding less from around the age of four months, and then still less after solids were introduced at six months, so I gradually reduced the number of times I offered a feed. Looking back, I don't think it's a coincidence that it was around four months that she dropped off her centile line, never to return. I wish I'd known then what I know now - that it's perfectly fine for a non-newborn to still want regular feeds. Heck, at two and a half Eleanor still has around 7 or 8 feeds in a 24 hour period!

I think it's really encouraging that research is out there to show new mums that 'normal' just doesn't exist. Ignore the advice that says babies should be fed every four hours, or that you should limit time at the breast. Every baby is different, every mother's supply is different. Trust your baby to show you when they're hungry, and trust your body to give them what they need. Because in most cases that's all you need!

Monday, 23 June 2014

Pushchair bans - Is our society anti-child?

A few weeks ago I blogged my ire at the story of a couple who were given a discount at a restaurant for having a "well-behaved child" (note: I wasn't angry at the couple - read the post, I explain myself there!!) but recently I saw a story much closer to home that got my goat.

A cafe bar in Leeds has imposed a ban on customers bringing in pushchairs, citing health and safety reasons. But this isn't what has got me annoyed - no, it's the comments from Joe Public commending the cafe for their actions, and even saying pushchairs should be banned from buses.

Yes, you read that right. There are people who think PUSHCHAIRS SHOULD BE BANNED FROM BUSES.

I'll come back to the hideousness of that point later. But even the comments that restrained themselves to merely discussing the horrors of buggies in eating establishments also tended to rail against the noise of crying and screaming from the children. So even if the parent had used a sling, or carried baby in using a car seat, this would still not have met with the approval of these miseries. This is the revealing part of these reactions: the pushchairs aren't the problem. It's the children.

There seems to be a surprising number of people who see children as an inconvenience. Never mind the old adage about children being seen and never heard - these people don't even want to see a child. They apparently think that parents should stay at home and raise their offspring behind closed doors, so that they don't get in the way of the oh-so-important grown ups.

Back to the bus point. Imagine this - you're a mum of two small children. You don't have a car. You need to get somewhere that isn't in walking distance - perhaps you need to go to a particular shop, or you have a medical appointment. Now, it's conceivable that if you had one child you could pop them in a carrier, but if you've got two, unless you're really adept at tandem carrying then your only real option is a buggy of some kind, and to take that on the bus.

But what if that wasn't an option? What if these perpetual moaners got their way, and buses banned pushchairs? What would you do then?

Being a parent can be a very isolating experience. Suddenly just getting out of the house is tough. If you have no car, getting anywhere further than you can walk is a battle. And yet there are people in our society who want to isolate parents even more, to cut off their access to public transport. There are still more that feel aggrieved by parents who dare to try and have a nice lunch out, or even just a coffee, with their children in tow to break up the monotony of the day or to have some much-needed time with friends.

It makes me fume. Children, and by extension their parents, are increasingly treated as irritants. In one of the playgroups I go to, the version of 'Wheels on the Bus' they sing contains the line, "The children on the bus make too much noise." Yes, that's it, tell them they're noisy and annoying from infancy. That'll really help their sense of self-worth and belonging.

The trouble is, a baby who is kept indoors for fear of offending others, a toddler who is taught that they are inherently bothersome, a child who is made to feel unwelcome in public places becomes a young person who is disengaged and disrespectful. Because why should they engage in a society which has been putting them in the wrong since birth? Why should they show respect for people when they haven't been shown any themselves?

Perhaps if we all accepted children as part of our society, wholeheartedly and with open arms, then we would be able to maintain a more harmonious relationship with young adults. Just a hunch. And wouldn't that be worth walking around a buggy for?

Thursday, 19 June 2014

The Breastfeeding Diaries: nursing a nearly two-and-a-half year old

One thing I haven't talked about much on this blog is the fact that I'm breastfeeding my toddler. Part of me has reservations about posting about this, as I know breastfeeding can be an emotive and divisive issue - and 'extended' breastfeeding even more so! But it feels strange to gloss over it, as it is a pretty significant part of my relationship with my daughter. After all, it's something we do surprisingly regularly on a daily basis!

A few weeks ago I saw that Zena's Suitcase was starting a Breastfeeding Diaries link up and I started to wonder whether I should join in. It is such a great opportunity to share stories about nursing, and perhaps a voice from the 'extended' breastfeeding camp would add something to the mix. Also, by talking about my experience, perhaps I could go some way towards demystifying the slightly thorny issue of breastfeeding a toddler, by showing that it isn't the preserve of hippy earth mothers* - all sorts of mums breastfeed beyond infancy!

At the time of writing Eleanor is just eight days shy of being two and a half. So what is it like breastfeeding a two and a half year old? Well, it's fidgety - if she's in a restless mood she will twist and contort to alarming degrees during a feed. She also likes to have things to hold onto and play with while feeding, so I will regularly have to breastfeed her while being hit in the face with a book or while a toy car navigates its way round my chest.

But it can also be calm and snuggly - nowadays, the most sustained cuddles we have are during feeds, especially when she's a bit tired or has just woken up. Yesterday she wanted 'mummy milk in Mummy and Daddy's bed' after she'd woken from her nap so we snuggled up together for about quarter of an hour. I could practically feel the oxytocin flooding my brain as I held my still-slightly-snoozy little girl in my arms and told her how much I love her.

It's draining at times - if she's teething, or something developmental is going on, she can feed on an hourly basis during the day. Fortunately she only has one or two night feeds, but the demands of regularly producing milk throughout the waking hours can be tiring. On the flip side, if I wasn't breastfeeding I'd have to find some other way of comforting and reassuring her - at least this way I get to have regular sit-downs!

And, most importantly, it's her call. Some people say that breastfeeding beyond infancy is just about the mother's needs. It's not. Seriously. Have you tried getting a toddler to do something they don't want to? Do you really think a toddler could be persuaded to latch on and feed against their wishes? I only ever offer 'mummy milk' at nap time (to get her to sleep, because I'm too lazy to battle her to sleep through other means) and before we start the bedtime routine. The rest of the time, she asks for it - nay, INSISTS on it! The time will come when she decides to stop, and that's fine, but it's her call. I'm not forcing her to breastfeed, I'm just not forcing her to stop either.

I hope that joining in with the Breastfeeding Diaries means that more people will get to hear about 'extended' breastfeeding in a positive, down-to-earth, normal way. Because really, I'm not much different to any other mum. And Eleanor is not much different to any other toddler. We just happen to do something that, in this society, is seen as different. But it's the most ordinary thing in the world to us.

* P.S. Sorry if you're a hippy earth mother, you're great too! In fact, I'd love to be more like you but I'm a rubbish hippy. Honestly, I've tried.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Five reasons why 'Charlie and Lola' annoys me

For many years, long before Eleanor came on the scene, I'd heard a lot of praise for 'Charlie and Lola'. The premise of two siblings playing together (mostly) happily, the ever-attentive big brother, the strong female character - it seemed everyone loved it. And the first few times I saw it, I loved it too.

And Eleanor loved it. I mean really, REALLY loved it. Still does. In a 'watch-it-at-least-4-times-a-day-and-talk-about-it-non-stop-and-try-to-be-Lola' way. So, having seen it A LOT recently, I've started to notice some not-so-good points about it. Some little niggles which, with near-constant repetition either from the original source or through my daughter's imaginary play, have turned into major irritants.

So here are five of those irritants:

1. Charlie - Ahh, the lovely, attentive older brother. Or is he? Watch a few episodes and count how many times he says, "But Lola ..." He's not attentive, he's on a flipping power trip! Everything Lola wants to do, he's there pooh-poohing the idea and bossing her around. Every effort she makes, there he is, rolling his eyes and making rueful comments to his sidekick Marv. His opening gambit about Lola being, "small and very funny," is basically his way of saying, "I'm big, and very sensible." There should be a spin-off where Lola starts every episode saying, "I have this big brother Charlie. He is tall, and very patronising."

2. Lola - But don't think I'm on Lola's side either. Yes, it's great that we have a female co-lead in a children's TV show. But does she HAVE to be such a cliche of a little girl? Obsessed with pink to the point where she goes to her brother's monster party dressed as a pink rabbit, fills the party bags with pink jewellery and toys and covers up the decorations with pink ribbons. Complains about getting wet and cold when they set up camp in the garden. Yes, there is a shred of balance, particularly her interest in 'Bat Cat' which would normally would be seen as a boy's film, but still, does she have to be so very "girly"?

3. The friends - Marv is Charlie's friend. Lotta is Lola's friend. Morton is Marv's brother and occasionally comes along for the ride, but mostly, the girls talk to girls and the boys talk to boys. Lola is apparently the only girl at Charlie's birthday party. Now I don't have any primary school age children but when I was that age I'm pretty sure I played with both girls and boys. Yeah, yeah, Marv 'plays' with Lola in a 'humouring my mate's little sister' kind of a way, but I refer you to my previous comments about Charlie.

4. The parents - Seriously, where are they? They're referred to occasionally but never seen. Most responsibility seems to be delegated to Charlie (oh I bet he loves that, the little power fiend) and Lola was apparently charged with making sure Charlie had a nice birthday, presumably because the parents weren't around to make it nice. Is this actually a documentary on neglect and permissive parenting masquerading as a children's cartoon?

5. The music - not much to say here other than, flipping heck it's catchy. Gets stuck right in your head. I feel like my life is now accompanied with whimsical, plinky-plunky music.

In case you were reading this thinking I'm serious, don't worry, my tongue is so far in my cheek I look like a lopsided hamster. And really, it is a lovely little show. The first time you see an episode. But when that episode is replayed half a dozen times in one day, that's enough to drive anyone to distraction!!

Monday, 2 June 2014

Encouraging independence, balancing needs

Sometimes I feel like I'm not really cut out for this gentle parenting malarkey. Actually, not sometimes, most of the time.

This morning I put on a load of washing early because I knew it was going to rain in the afternoon. The morning flew by in a blur of breakfast, reading stories, watching the same episode of 'Charlie and Lola' three times etc, and before I knew it I could hear the washing machine was nearly done and Eleanor wasn't dressed.

I coaxed her upstairs and after the usual teeth-grinding ordeal of getting her to choose an outfit when she's busy climbing on her furniture, I tried to dress her. She refused. I tried a tactic I picked up from reading 'Playful Parenting' by Laurence Cohen - having a 'conversation' with one of her toys about whether we thought she could get dressed. This won her cooperation and between us we got her into a dress and top (top over the dress - her choice).

Then I asked her to choose some socks and she started playing again, so I turned to her monkey and said, "Oh Monkey, I don't think Eleanor can choose socks for herself. What's that Monkey? You think she can choose?" Eleanor dutifully chose some socks and - unprompted - started trying to put them on. She isn't normally bothered about trying to dress herself so I decided to follow her lead and let her have a go. I talked to Monkey about whether she was going to manage it, and reminded her that if she wanted help she could ask, but I said I wouldn't help unless she asked for it.

25 minutes elapsed. Still no joy getting the socks on. To her credit, she was amazingly calm and determined, when I had expected her to get frustrated sooner. Instead, I was the one getting frustrated. It was 10.30am, I was acutely aware of the wet laundry sitting in the machine when it needed to be hanging out while we still had nice weather.  I was getting stressed, even a bit panicky. So I told Eleanor that she'd had a really good try but if she hadn't managed to get her socks on in two minutes I would put them on for her. Two minutes passed, still bare feet. I picked Eleanor up, put her on my knee and tried to get her socks on. Predictably, she got cross, protested at me doing it, and kicked about. Then, something almost inexplicable happened.

I burst into tears.

Not a slight wetting of the eyelashes and wobble of the chin. All out, face-in-hands, sobbing and wailing. At first Eleanor thought I was playing, but then she started to hug me, then sat down and said, "Mummy put your socks on." (She refers to herself in second person.)

I still don't quite know why I started crying. In that moment, I felt like a failure. I'd tried my best to allow my daughter to grow in independence by getting her own socks on, but in the end I couldn't prioritise that over the washing in the machine. I'd got worked up over something silly, and when Eleanor wouldn't let me put her socks on, I reached breaking point - either I was going to yell at her, or I was going to cry. I went for crying.

I thought about other blogs I've read by far more chilled out parents than me. Parents who would happily let their toddlers dress themselves when they were much younger than Eleanor, no matter how long it took. I thought especially about a post on the wonderful Lulastic blog, which suggested that forcing clothes onto a child is a form of oppression and discrimination. I felt awful. Why don't I have the patience to let Eleanor dress herself? Am I oppressing my daughter by putting her socks on?

It seems silly now, but often with parenting it's the trivial things that get us thinking about the bigger things. I felt like I'd let Eleanor down - I'd given her a bit of freedom, then I'd taken away again when it no longer suited me. I started thinking about what I could have done to make things easier. If I'd kept a closer eye on the time I could have started getting her dressed sooner, then I wouldn't have felt so rushed. I could have taken her downstairs and let her carry on trying to get the socks on while I nipped out and hung the washing up. I could have forgotten about the washing and hung it inside later.

After the event, I explained to Eleanor that I'd got upset because, while I knew she really wanted to get her socks on, I needed to hang the washing out. I don't know if she took it in, but maybe if I'd had that conversation with her beforehand, it would have been easier. Retrospect is a wonderful thing, isn't it? And by wonderful, I mean infuriating.

It's made me realise that I need to be more organised to preempt these issues. I don't want to put Eleanor on a strict routine, but time does tend to run away with us in the morning and if I was a bit clearer on just how much TV we had time for her to watch, just how many stories we had time to read, maybe I could start the dressing stage quicker and take longer over it. And somehow, I don't know how, I need to learn to chill out.

But perhaps most of all I need to remember that my own needs matter too. Yes, in an ideal world, I'd be more organised, and I wouldn't get stressed over silly things. But this isn't an ideal world. And maybe it's better to gently intervene when Eleanor's attempts are dragging on than for her to see Mummy crying or, worse still, yelling. I'm not perfect, and there will be times when I need to choose which version of imperfect I want my daughter to see.

In the end, perhaps Eleanor enduring the 'oppression' of having her socks put on is preferable to her seeing her mother, her role model, stressed to the point of tears or shouts. I need to remember that.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Am I a feminist?

If you've read around my blog (and if you haven't, please do!) you will notice that a particular concern of mine is resisting sexism and gender stereotyping in the way I raise my daughter. From this, you may extrapolate that I am a feminist.

The thing is, I don't actually know if I am.

The trouble is that whenever I try to find a definitive definition of what feminism is, I run into difficulty. Because there doesn't seem to be a definitive definition. Different groups think different things about what it is to be a feminist, so it's really hard to work out if my values and way of life are compatible with the label. I'll read one thing and think, "yes, I agree with that!" Then I'll read something else and think, "oh, now I'm not so sure if I fit."

On the one hand, I am a bit of a traditionalist, although perhaps an accidental one. I took my husband's name when we married, which some feminists would frown on. I left my job to 'stay at home' with my daughter, and while I do have my own business now, I do still think of myself as a mum first and foremost. I do the lion's share of the housework. And before I became a mum I had some very stereotypically 'female' hobbies, including knitting and baking. I do sometimes joke that I should have been around in the 1950's!

But if I think more carefully about it, I'm not quite the anti-feminist walking cliche I appear to be on the surface. I had thought about double-barrelling my surname when we got married, but then we booked our honeymoon before we had the conversation and it hadn't occurred to me that they would ask what to put as my surname. In a moment of panic I blurted out my then-fiance's name, and that was that. Decision made. Besides, when I think about it, my maiden name was my father's surname so whatever I chose I'd have been named after a man anyway.

It's similar with me leaving work when I became a mum. As I've mentioned before, I had every intention of going back to work, but then I was offered voluntary redundancy and, well, it made sense. I wasn't especially happy in my job and I intended to train as a teacher anyway, so why go back to a job that I knew I'd leave before long. Of course, the teacher training hasn't happened yet, and there are a number of reasons for that, but the main one is that my daughter seems to be particularly sensitive to separation, so I sought an option which meant I could be there for her as long as she needs me. It makes sense for me to be the one to stay at home at the moment as any regular job I could get wouldn't attract a salary we could live on - not because I'm a woman, but because I don't have the requisite experience or training.

Then there's the housework thing. Yes, I do most of it, even though I now work at my own business. But the great thing about my job is that it's flexible - I can set my own hours, which means I can make time to cook tea, do the ironing, etc. My husband's job is not nearly as flexible and considerably more demanding in terms of hours, so again, it makes sense that I look after the house. When I had an office job, the split was far more equal, and when my husband is on holiday he helps out a lot. And besides, I'm hardly an obsessive housewife - the washing pile often reaches a critical point before I tackle it, hoovering happens once a week at best, and meals tend to fall in the 'can make in less than 30 minutes after husband is home' category. Maybe my ineptitude in this area cancels out the gender stereotype!

What it all boils down to is that I've chosen this path. I made the decision to change my name, even if it was a spur of the moment choice. I didn't become a 'stay at home' mum grudgingly, but gratefully - I was so happy to have the chance to spend more time with my wonderful child. I'm less happy about the housework, but I certainly don't feel shackled to the kitchen sink, I just accept that I've got the lighter workload so it's only fair that I pick up the slack around the house.

And isn't that part of what feminism is all about? The right to go for any role we want, even if that role is a 'traditional' one. The right to be a CEO, or a stay at home parent, or anything in between. Isn't it about having access to the same opportunities as a man, but making our own decisions about which of those opportunities are appropriate to us?

I believe that men and women should be raised equally, educated equally, paid equally, treated equally. I am angered by the widespread treatment of women as second-class citizens, something which has been highlighted by a number of recent events, including the abduction of over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls, and the murder of a Pakistani woman for choosing her own husband. Interestingly, I am much more fired up about these things now than I might have been five years ago - whether this is to do with my age, or the fact I have a daughter of my own, I'm not sure. But it has made me realise that, globally, men and women are not even nearly equal yet. And that makes me angry. The creeping sexism in childhood - the pink/blue divide, the pointlessly gendered toys, the pressure on girls to prettify themselves and boys to play it tough - makes me angry too. I hate that my daughter could be forced into a pigeonhole she may not want to fit in by this bizarre swing in attitude toward childhood.

So, does that make me a feminist?

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

A discount for "well-behaved kids"??

This is probably not going to be a very eloquent post as I'm tired and ill, so please bear with me, but something has got me annoyed. Flicking through twitter just now, I saw this article about a couple who took their one year old daughter out for a meal, and were given a discount because she was "well-behaved."

First of all, I want to say my annoyance is not at the parents. I'm very happy they had a nice meal. It's the way this idea is symptomatic of an anti-child culture, where natural childlike behaviour is branded as bad.

Most parents will have suffered the ill-effects of taking their child to a restaurant when they're having a tough day. Or even when they're not having a tough day, they just happen to be a lively and exuberant (read: fidgety and noisy) child. It can be a very stressful experience. Walking round with the child trying to amuse them before, between and after courses, trying to stop them making a grab for the cutlery and glassware when they're at the table, the almost inevitable fight getting them into and unfamiliar highchair, persuading them that food should be on the plate or in their mouth, not on the floor or smeared across the table. I feel panicky just thinking about it. And it's even worse if you feel that you are being judged by fellow diners and staff, that they are all thinking your child is naughty and you're not doing enough to control them.

How much worse would it make you feel if you knew that the family at the next table, whose child happens to be having a good day or who is naturally quite chilled-out, has been given a discount because staff have deemed that child to be "well-behaved"?

I take issue at the suggestion that a one-year-old can be well-behaved anyway. That age is far too young, in my opinion, for the child to grasp the nuances of social propriety and modify their behaviour according to the situation. My two-and-a-half-year-old is only just starting to grasp the idea that it's wrong to do some things, and those things tend to be the big things like hitting or pushing. Restaurant etiquette is entirely beyond her. Does that mean I'm a bad mum? I don't think so, I just think she's a lively, spirited young girl who is learning an awful lot right now and will figure out "good behaviour" when she's done figuring out more important things like sentence structure and just how high is safe to jump from. (Importance is relative!) Saying that a one-year-old who happens to have the right temperament and conditions (i.e. not tired, hungry or ill) to sit quietly for an hour is well-behaved implies that any child who doesn't meet that criteria is badly-behaved.

The tone of the article annoyed me too - it talks about the parents getting a discount, "simply for having a child who didn’t terrorize the dining room." Terrorize? Really? I know that there are times when kids take it too far, but saying that anything less than quiet acquiescence is akin to terrorism just shows how intolerant of children some people are. And I say this knowing that I too used to get annoyed at families with noisy children - until I discovered what it was like to be that parent. Until I realised how hard it is to "manage" a child who is out of routine, in an exciting new environment, probably hungry, and not accustomed to sitting around a table waiting for food to appear. 

There is a slight suggestion in the article that parents just shouldn't take their children to restaurants if they're likely to be, well, children. Is that fair? What if the meal is for a birthday, or pre-arranged with other people? What if exceptional circumstances like a house move or being on holiday mean a meal out is the only option? What if the parents would just like the opportunity  to go out and enjoy something they used to do without a second thought?

As nice as it must have been for the couple in the article, rewarding parents for having "well-behaved" children (and, as I've mentioned, that concept is ridiculous when applied to a baby or young toddler) is a subtle way of stigmatising parents whose children don't fit the restaurant manager's ideals. Is it really for a member of staff at a restaurant to say whether your child is being "good" or "bad"? And is it right for them to make families feel unwelcome if their children like to stretch their legs and make some noise?

Frankly, on the rare occasion that we take Eleanor out and have a nice, quiet, undramatic meal, our reward is just that - having a nice, quiet, undramatic meal! How about a restaurant that acknowledges that taking a child out for dinner is a potential nightmare and acts with compassion towards the poor parent who is letting their food go cold while they try to entertain, calm and feed their over-excited, over-hungry, overwhelmed child? How about we show a bit more understanding towards each other?

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Turning work into play: Watering the Plants!

I think I've found a job for Eleanor.

Don't worry, I'm not talking child labour here. She's not even two and a half yet. But I've found something she can do, and she likes to do, and it needs doing anyway.

Watering the plants!

We've started to get our back garden sorted out so it's more child-friendly and productive. It's still very much a work in progress but we've managed to plant out some veggies, fruit bushes and flowers. Eleanor's quite interested in it all. She 'helped' to pot up some of the plants (actually she wasn't a huge help, but she was there, and she did stuff with a trowel) and she knows what most of the plants are going to produce.

But of course, a lot of plants means a lot of watering, which takes a lot of time. Fortunately, Eleanor regards this as a fun game. We spent ages watering the plants yesterday afternoon. She loved coming to the tap so I could fill up the can - although she was a little too impatient to fill it more than an inch! She loved carrying the can up the steps. And she loved the watering itself, and proudly telling me what she was watering. "Watering the bottoli!" (That's broccoli to you and me.) "Need to water the batturant bush!" (Yep, blackcurrants.) She came back to the tap again and again, and when we'd run out of plants I got her watering the newly emerging grass!

She had a lovely time, and it means one less job for us. Win! I think I'll try to encourage her to do this little chore every afternoon, it's a great way to keep her occupied in the garden and hopefully it'll give her a great sense of achievement when we're eating food from the garden and can tell her it's all down to her excellent watering! I just hope the novelty doesn't wear off too quickly for my plan to work!

Has anyone else found that they've been able to turn work into play for their toddler? I'd love to hear what works ... and not because I want to offload chores ... I'm nurturing her independence ... right?!

(By the way, yes, that is an interesting outfit, isn't it? Her choice. She insisted on the 'boo dess'. And the 'Leeds Rhinos top'. And that she wanted the 'dess under the top'. As I've discussed before, when her outfit's weird, it's ALWAYS her choice!)