Mummy Mantra #5: Some things we’ll just never know.

well never know

If you had to describe your parenting experience in 3 words would one of them be ‘unpredictable’?  Do you find that whenever you detect and begin to ease into a pattern it suddenly changes again? It’s like as soon as you say anything out loud (e.g. ‘he has a really reliable nap in the mornings now’) it just stops happening. Mildly exacerbating, no?

My previous mummy mantra was all about sleep. ‘All babies sleep eventually’. I did mention in that post that Bubs was sleeping pretty well these days. So, guess what happened that very night? Wakey wakey, mumsy!! What a fool I am!

Now, this time I’m pretty sure I know why he’s waking. It’s the obligatory bi-monthly snuffly nose fortnight. He’s currently pulling of the snot-moustache look with some aplomb and I’m pretty sure it’s that that wakes him up. (Can I take this opportunity to thank Calpol for all it’s done for parent kind??) However, there have been other times when I’ve had no clue why, after 5 nights of sleeping through (aaah, sleeping through, those magical words) he suddenly decides that he needs two feeds a night again. Good one.

How many times have you heard the phrase ‘it must be a growth spurt’ come out of your own mouth? Or said ‘maybe she’s teething’? Or agreed with a friend over coffee that it must be a ‘developmental phase’ as they are ‘processing so much new information at the moment.’? I mean, there’s got to be an explanation. Riiiiight?

In the modern era we are used to having our questions answered. Gone are the days of long drawn out debates in the pub over which actor played So-and-So in that Bond film, or which year it was that Channel 4 came on air. Nope, our pocket Google-machines have rendered all that unnecessary (other search engines are available). Even at work where we may face knottier conundrums there is usually, eventually, a satisfactory answer to whatever the problem is.

So, when faced with our baby’s crying/not eating/being hungry all the time/not sleeping/being in a right mood, it’s understandable that we think we should be get to the bottom of it all. The books (arg, those pesky bloody books again) encourage us to think that way. ‘How to soothe a crying baby’ promises the chapter title, followed by basically a ticklist – hungry? dirty nappy? tired? bored? etc. When we have exhausted these lists and our baby is emphatically not soothed it can be more than slightly disconcerting. ‘What had I missed?’ We ask ourselves.

But, the truth that we all come to learn, Dear Reader, is that sometimes, we’ll just never know. By the time Bubs is old enough to explain why he was so screamy on that night back in February, or why one day he went from eating whatever I put in front of him to throwing most of it on the floor, he won’t remember. In fact, I’m not really sure he remembers now. Babies don’t work like that.

As loving parents we all want to solve every problem our children will ever have. But we half of the time we won’t even understand what the problem is. We’ll just never know. A wise woman (OK, my therapist) said to me last week ‘you can’t solve an emotion’. Sometimes there’s nothing to solve, no question to answer. So we’ll just carry on trying out best. And that’ll be good enough. Promise.

Mummy Mantra #4: All babies sleep eventually, all babies sleep eventually, all babies sleep eventually…

Honestly, they do.

Honestly, they do.

It’s 3am. Your baby didn’t settle until 11pm. Now they are just crying. And crying. And crying. You are soooo tired but if you so much as sit down the decibel level increases tenfold. How do they even know? I’m still jiggling around but somehow the 2 foot descent provokes screams of despair. Bleurgh.

We’ve all been there. For most of us it’s in the first months, or when our children are teething or ill. For those of you who endure this nightly for more than 6/12/18 months, we salute you. Hang in there!

I don’t know about you but when my baby has had a few atrocious nights I start to feel quite mad. The depleted brain function caused by sleep deprivation is coupled with a nagging mental search for the cause of this nocturnal malfunction. Is something they ate? What have I done or not done to cause this??? Double bleurgh.

When your mind is thus befuddled it may help to repeat this simple phrase: all babies sleep eventually… This little mantra works on two levels.

1) No human can fight sleep forever (though it sometimes feels like it) and so you can rest (or not) assured that at some point the crying will give way to that adorable sleepy face. You know the one, it makes you remember how cute and lovely they are. It may not last as long as you want, but sleep will happen.

2) I don’t know any 18 year olds who still wake 4 times a night demanding milk/cuddles so when you say ‘all babies sleep eventually’, you can be telling yourself that the night waking won’t last forever (I know for some it lasts far too long though).

Every baby insists on having these battles with sleep even though, as I often tell Bubs, this is only time in their lives when they can literally go to sleep whenever and wherever they want (it’s like, duh, take advantage!). To call this a bit frustrating is a bit like calling Ryan Gosling mildly attractive; it just doesn’t cut it. But we get through.

So as you sit (if you’re lucky) rocking back and forth in the corner of the nursery, you can repeat this mantra for some reassurance. Or even just for something else to listen to! Yes, you will look ever so slightly insane, but hey, it’s 3 am, who’s watching?

FYI: This post is dedicated to my own mother. I woke every two hours, every night until I was 9 months old. And she was a single parent. So. Much. Bleurgh. Sorry mumsie!

Got your own mummy (or daddy) mantra? Please share by commenting below or tweet me @aafew

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Mummy Mantras #3: We do what works!

we do what works

 

Dear Reader, this #mummymantra is perhaps the closest to my heart. This is probably because it works in two ways. First, it stops us judging/torturing ourselves. We can’t always do what the books, or the guidelines, or our in-laws say is ‘best’. You will be told that ‘every baby is different’ and that ‘you know your baby best’ until the cows come home, but you will also be told in a thousand subtle ways that what you’re doing is wrong. Not directly, not necessarily by an actual person, but by the acres of advice that piles down upon new parents these days. So it’s helpful to remember that most of us, in the end, just do what works for our family. For some the idea of controlled crying provokes a shudder of dread; for others it is a lifeline and the key to getting your evenings back. The former parents may end up feeling like they are ‘giving in’, whilst the latter could worry that they are being neglectful. Neither is true, of course. We just do what works.

But, unfortunately, it’s not just our inner-guilt factory that churns all these feelings up. There are a few real Judgey McJudgepants out there. Whether it’s an evangelical breast-feeder or a Gina Ford devotee, there are some parents (I’d say less than 1%) who really do think their way is best. But the problem isn’t these people, really, because they are a tiny minority and, frankly, they are a bunch of self-righteous knobs. So there. The real problem is that we often worry that we’re secretly being judged by way more people than just the narcissistic 1%. My big thing is using a dummy. I’ll do a whole post on it another time, but basically I use a dummy to get Bubs to sleep, and sometimes just to pacify him if we’re in church or the supermarket and nothing else is working. I often get worried that I am being judged for this. And that’s mostly because BC (before children) I was totally judgemental about dummies! But now I just do what works! And the thing is, no one actually cares whether or not I use a dummy. In fact, loads of mums I talk to are jealous that my baby will actually take a dummy! And others just know I’m doing what works. So, good. Jog on.

‘We do what works’, then, can become a great thing to say during parent gatherings. It is a blanket statement of non-judgement. It says “yes, I moved my baby to their own room at 10 weeks, but I think it’s great that you still co-sleep, it seems to be working well”. Or whatever; you get the picture. I’ve done loads of things you’re ‘not supposed to do’ and I know my friends don’t judge me for it. Because if you manage to get through the first year of your baby’s life and never diverge from the guidelines then, bloody hell, you deserve a medal, or admission to some kind of band of elite parenting ninjas. And if you don’t manage that then you’re just normal, and you can be my friend.

What’s your #mummymantra? tweet me @aafew, or leave a comment below, and the best mantras will be retweeted and featured on the blog later in the week.

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Mummy Mantras #2: He’s not sad, he’s just a baby!

image

As I have mentioned before, the cry of your own baby is genetically designed to pierce your very soul. Fact. It is then, quite useful to have a few phrases you can repeat to yourself as you are incessantly rocking your screaming bundle at 2am. Because, let’s face it, when you’ve reached that point in the day/night (what’s the difference? I hear the new mums cry!) you’re just not really in a lullaby place. You’re in more of a anything-to-retain-my-sanity type place.

Hence our second #mummymantra (you gotta love a hashtag people!)

They’re not sad; they’re just babies!!

If I ever heard an adult crying the way my son does when he’s hungry/overtired I would immediately assume that one of three things had happened. 1) they had suffered a heinous injury 2) they were dealing with a massive and very recent bereavement 3) they had just been kicked off the X-Factor and were playing up to the cameras in order to squeeze out every last drop of publicity possible whilst still on TV.

Of course, the three are equal in horror, and I hope I would run to this person’s aid showing little thought for my own well being.

If this kind of crying were to begin occurring several times a day however, that kind of response would quickly become unsustainable. Sound familiar?

I got to a point early on with Bubs where I was essentially phobic of his cries. I was on edge almost constantly, even when he was calm, because I knew he’d start up again soon. Of course, I didn’t really notice this until I’d gone partially mad but I can see it now. And why did I feel like that? Because when your baby is doing it’s I’m-being-tortured-save-me-save-me routine there’s a major part of your brain that gets all shouty and says “Do something! You’re responsible for this human, just bloody sort it out!”

The thing is, babies cry. Sometimes they cry because they’re hungry; sometimes because they’ve got a dirty nappy; sometimes because they want a cuddle; sometimes because they’re tired. But we’ve all had times when the crying remains a mystery. We shall never know why that half hour in the dead of night last Tuesday was designated a scream-fest. Partly because within a day your baby will have forgotten it ever happened.

So if we let ourselves believe crying=sad we have a problem.

It doesn’t help when friends make comments like ‘Aw he’s so sad!’ when Bubs has an inconsolable meltdown on a visit to their house. In fact, I often deploy this particular mantra to counteract the gnawing guilt that immediately wells up in me whenever such a remark is made. “He’s not sad!” I snap impatiently as I struggle to get Him into his buggy for a march around the block.

But it’s true. 99.9% of the time any baby is crying it’s just communicating or protesting or shouting or requesting. And we’ll try our best but sometimes they will just carry on. Perhaps 0.1% of the time their sad but they are human beings so, you know, that’s gonna happen now and then.

When I remember that it makes the melt downs just a touch more bearable!

Mummy Mantras #1: “I’ve got a life to lead.”

Please ignore the random and mildly unnerving tapering arm in this picture.

Please ignore the random and mildly unnerving tapering arm in this picture.

Hello there, Dear Reader, here beginneth a little series on what-I-call ‘mummy mantras’. These – you and your clever little brain may have guessed – are a collection of phrases I like to repeat to keep me vaguely sane. Yes, they are naughtily named in gender-specific way but ‘parent mantras’ doesn’t have the same alliterative punch and, frankly,  sounds far too earnest for my liking.

Now, mummy mantras are not to be confused with the other kind of parental catchphrases that crowd our verbal world i.e. those directed at our children. ‘Get down’, ‘can I have it please?’ ‘where’s baby gone? There he/she is’ ‘one more mouthful’ etc do not count. I’m talking about mantras for mums (or dads) by mums (or dads).

I’ve got a life to lead.

When my son got to about 5 months old I began to use this phrase a lot. I used it in reference to things I had started to do that had the potential to fill me with guilt. And, franklly, to remind myself that I was, in fact, a separate entity, with a separate identity to my Bubs (shocking, I know).  You see, at some point in your child’s life you have to make a choice: cater to their every need instantly, or have a life of your own on occasion. I chose the latter, as most of us do. It is a totally legitimate choice, but one that requires you to behave ever so slightly selfishly now and again. And we parents aren’t always very good at that. Well, actually, we are but we just have the potential to feel intense guilt for doing perfectly reasonable things like watching TV and peeing alone.

I shall now demonstrate the use of this mummy mantra, which I have come to find essential.

I decide, despite my previous snobbery towards the method, to give my son a dummy to help him sleep (and keep him from screaming the car/church/museum down). This invokes in me some paranoia. Am I being judged by other parents whose children magically go to sleep without a dummy? Am I retarding my son’s speech? Am I setting him up for an adolescence of orthodontist appointments and train-track braces??

No, he’ll be fine and I’ve got a life to lead.

I decide to use the ‘controlled-crying’ technique after a few nights of hour-long pre-sleep screaming-in-my-face sessions. Am I neglecting my him?

No, I’ve got a life to lead.

I move him into his own room at 10 weeks because he was waking so much and was SO LOUD even when he was asleep.

Because I know what the bloody guidelines say but I’ve got a life to lead. 

I often plonk him down in front of CBeebies for a bit whilst I check email/tidy up/play Candy Crush.

Because I’ve got a (albeit quite unexciting) life to lead.

Sometimes I feed him food out of jars, or pouches, or packets. If I’m out later than planned and haven’t brought his food I will even occasionally give him food with added salt. Dun Dun Der!

But, you know, I’ve got a life to lead.

 

So, I think you get the picture. It’s funny because even as I type this I feel a wave of guilt wash over me. I can’t believe I’m admitting to the whole wide web that I’m a human being who serves their own needs at times. How dare I think about myself? How dare I have days where I just can’t be bothered? How dare I have a life to lead???

Well I do dare, Dear Reader, and so should you.

 

 

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Thanks for the congrats *voms into handbag*: Are Will and Kate really ‘immensely thrilled’ right now?

breaking news

 

The Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant with her second baby. That’s really lovely, I’ve got nothing against her. I do fear for her sanity with the whole newborn-toddler combo but, you know, each to their own. Obvs, this has caused a twitter explosion and seeing as I’m becoming increasingly embedded in the mummy-blogger scene my feed has been chock-a-block with comments such as “always lovely news” and “hope it’s a princess!” Of course there were also hilarious responses including, if I may say so, my own above (but no, you can read some really good ones here, you just have to scroll past the politicians).

What isn’t really lovely is that Kate (if I may call Her Highness that) has ‘acute morning sickness’ again, bless her. In fact that’s the only reason we know about the pregnancy; because she’s too ill to attend to her Royal duties. Now, I didn’t suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum (to use the proper medical term) but from what I gather calling it ‘acute morning sickness’ is a bit like calling a hurricane a ‘severe breeze’. It just doesn’t cut it. So, amidst all of the excitement (which, as you can see from above, I’m not that into) I’m wondering whether Kate is feeling much like celebrating at all.

I remember feeling like crap in the early days of my pregnancy. And when I say ‘the early days’, what I actually mean is the first 20 weeks (bloody ‘second trimester’ rubbish). I also remember all of the awkward questions people suddenly feel it’s okay to ask you. My favourite being, “was it planned?” Erm, sorry, WTF?? Since when did work colleagues feel it was appropriate to ask me if my baby was an accident?? And what if I said ‘no, actually, and I’m terrified’, what would they have done then, hey? Hey??

Another frequently asked question was ‘Are you happy’? Again, this is not something anyone would normally ask you whilst standing in the foyer of a church over a cuppa, or in the sandwich queue at work. There is only one socially acceptable answer to that particular question. So I would stand there, feeling like I wanted to vom due to the close proximity of a hitherto inoffensive smell, or so tired that I wanted to cry despite the fact it was not yet noon, and I’d muster up my sweetest smile and say ‘Yes, I’m thrilled’. Now, in the grand scheme of things, that was definitely true. I’ve wanted to be a mum every since I was a bit older than a baby. But at that precise moment, no, I wasn’t happy. I felt like crap. But we can’t say that can we? We all have to be ‘immensely thrilled’. Bleurgh.

Have you seen Prince William’s press statement? Have a look:

Now if that isn’t Royal-speak for ‘F off’, I don’t know what is. He’s basically saying ‘My wife is feeling awful, she’s not even 12 weeks pregnant yet, and yeah it’s nice in the long run, but can I go and look after her?? Oh, and I forgot to mention I’ve got a son who’s just old enough to realise mummy is ill, so, you know, I’m not really into standing in front of you all smiling right now’.

My favourite line of all is definitely “It’s important that we all focus on the big news, the big international and domestic things that are going on at the moment. That’s what my thoughts are at the moment.” So, if I decode that one for you I think it translates as “Scotland is seceding! There’s another Gulf War looming. Leave us alone and report some real news!” Okay guys, even Prince William is telling you to get a life/take an interest in politics, and I think it’s time you obeyed your future king.

So Kate and Wills, and anyone else who is currently in the early stages of pregnancy (like, loads of people, some of whom will have tried for years) I offer you many congratulations and a few commiserations. Because your entire body readjusting to another being living in it is, well, a bit much sometimes.

That’s all old chaps. Toodle Pip!

 

Life in Plastic, it’s, well, alright.

life is plastic

 

Way before I had my Bubs I heard that the worst thing you can do from an environmental standpoint is have biological kids. Although this would not in a billion years have deterred the ball-of-brooding that I have always been, it did make sense. Cos, like, another person, breathing and eating and maybe driving and just generally existing = a lot more carbon emissions, right?

Well, that was BC (before children) and now I am now more informed and enlightened. The truth of the matter is that when us rich Westerners become parents (yes, you are rich in global terms, deal with it, move on) there suddenly descends upon us a whole heap of plastic ‘essentials’ which, up until now we were not existed. Yes, alright, I did know bottles existed, and high-chairs, and sippy cups… But, you know, poetic licence and all that.

And then there are all the things that aren’t essential but ‘everyone’ seems to have. It’s like being back at school; suddenly feeling self-conscious because your baby is the only one without a Sophie the Giraffe (sorry Bubs, mummy has failed you). Or on a much larger scale, all the walkers and flashy lights things, not to mention the apparently indispensable Jumperoo, which I totally buy into. I mean, it is pretty darn awesome with all it’s bells and whistles. Also it’s a prison from which your baby cannot escape, #bonus. Plus I got mine on gumtree, which is basically recycling. When my husband went to pick up the woman who sold it to us looked him straight in the eye and said “This will save your life!”

 

jumperoo

Um, mum, like, what the hell is this? (he learned to love it)

Plastic is basically oil that has been magically transformed into toys (sorry to get so technical, take a moment to mull that one over). Sooo… something else to feel guilty about? Bleurgh.

Yes, yes, I know, I know, you can probably get baby-walkers made out of hemp that was grown on co-operatively owned farms and sown by widows who would otherwise be penniless. Or fairly-traded plastic cups that were recycled from scavenged plastic collected in rubbish dumps by the happy and hard-working indigenous inhabitants of various South American nations. Oooh, and I bet someone out there makes high-chairs out of ethically sourced, renewable bamboo, grown in forests where concert violinists walk through playing sonatas at regular intervals. But the one from Ikea is £16, so…

Loads of my friends have bought the Bubs clothes and, knowing we’re more than slightly lefty, led with a comment like “and the cotton is organic and fairtrade…” as we unwrapped the presents. Because, you know, if it’s not organic then it’s not going on or in my child, thank you very much. Except that it is. Because I have no job and my maternity pay has run out, so I shall be buying my son plastic toys that are reduced to £1.45 in Aldi (that happened this week; I was far too excited about it). I will do all this with that occasional sinking middle-class guilt that accompanies too many of my middle-class life choices. I know, right? #firstworldproblems.

But, to end on an uncharacteristically cheesy note, whilst I often feel pangs for buying unnecessary baby paraphernalia, no amount of The Inconvenient Truth could make me feel guilty about having my Bubs.

Burn the books!

So apparently it’s #archiveday on Twitter so I’m reblogging this early offering. Enjoy!

The (mal)Contented Mother

Are you reading any baby books at the moment? How’s that going for you? Are they offering you an affirmation of your innate parenting ability? Are they giving you handy hints and tips without being dictatorial? Are they offering you useful guidance that doesn’t make you feel overwhelmed or inadequate in any way? Oh good, that’s great.

Wait? What’s that you say? These books aren’t affirming your parenting choices? They are making you feel confused and inadequate? You do feel overwhelmed by the mountains of advice you’re receiving from all of these ‘helpful experts’. Well then, my friends, I’ll tell you what to do with those books; burn them!!

Ok, scrap that. Please don’t actually burn any books. In general I find not-doing-stuff-the-nazis-did a solid rule to live by. But if we’re not going to burn them we should definitely bin them.

That’s right, you heard me. Bin them! That…

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Pincer Grips and Cheerios #2: Test or guide? You decide!

“It’s not a test, it’s just a guide.”

These were the first words of the lovely staff nurse who was about to go through my son’s 9 month health check. I had sat down mumbling something about not knowing what to put for some questions in the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (which I rant about here) . I was supposed to be able to say if Bubs did the random things listed such as poke for a Cheerio in a clear bottle (again, see previous rant). The options are ‘yes’, ‘sometimes’ and ‘not yet’. But the thing is my son hadn’t fancied playing with the blocks I wanted him too in order to make it all into a game “that is fun for you and your baby”. I surround him with stimulating and creative baby activities and he decides whether or not he’s up for them. He can sniff out a remote control/phone/ipad at 20 metres so something like that usually distracts him. That or climbing around the furniture.

Well, it didn’t matter any way, because it’s not a test. Not a test, not a test, not a test. Aaaaaand breathe…

As she went through the form, all of the ‘yeses’ I’d ticked were passed over quite quickly. One section she read over herself and said, almost to herself,  “that’s perfect”, which is obviously good, except that I didn’t really know what she was referring to. However, any time she got to a question for which I’d ticked ‘no’ or even ‘sometimes’ she’d stop and say something like “so, we’ve not got 3 words yet?” and I’d confirm that we hadn’t. Obvs. She always responded to this with the phrase “that will come”, which was lovely and I am sure meant to be reassuring. But the thing is I didn’t think I needed reassuring, because there’s nothing wrong! Of course immediately the irrational anxiety fairy pops up on my right shoulder and starts to whisper “are you sure there’s nothing wrong? I mean you’re not exactly a baby expert are you?”. Shut up anxiety fairy! Shut the F up! 

Then we came to the ‘problem-solving’ section of the guide-not-a-test. I hadn’t ticked ‘not yet’ at all, I don’t think, but I had ticked ‘sometimes’ a lot. Mostly because my son doesn’t often hold two toys simultaneously for a minute or poke at crumb inside a clear bottle. ‘Sometimes’ seemed the most accurate. He’s actually a pretty good problem solver. For example the other day my mum brought round some figs in a plastic box for him to try. She put them on the ground in the garden whilst I went inside to cut up a fig up nicely for little Bubs. Meanwhile, had got into the box and bitten and squeezed the fig until he got at the fruit himself. Pretty nifty I thought. But still, that was not such a ‘perfect’ area according the ‘guide’.

 

Problem Solved

Problem solved, biatches.*

 

I am open to the possibility that there are some really good medical and psychological reasons to test ‘problem-solving’ at this age, but I am not sure I like it. They can say ‘it’s not a test’ til the cows come home but it feels like we’re already assessing children’s ability/intelligence against each other before their first birthday. I’m a bit like, can you not?? Okay, I know comparison is not the objective here, it’s more about catching any developmental problems as early as possible, but some of the stuff it’s looking at is quite advanced (in my humble opinion) so a mum does start to fret. I mean, does the fact that my son only ‘sometimes’ plays ‘pat-a-cake’ with by banging two toys together really point to any significant developmental issue? I don’t think so. O do I? I said SHUT UP, anxiety fairy!

Any way, I think all would have been fine in this “not a test” scenario, except that when we’d gone through the questionnaire the nurse went to get the scoring sheet, and totted up all of my baby’s totals for the different categories. Right…

Sorry if I’m being a bit dense but I thought ‘questionnaires’ that are scored and assessed were, well, you know, tests. The score sheet looked like a bit like this…

 

Yes, you get the idea. I've cropped this image so that my fellow obsessive mothers can't start doing self-assessments on their children.

Yes, you get the idea. I’ve cropped this image so that my fellow obsessive parents can’t start doing weekly self-assessments on their children.

So she adds up it all up and then she says that, yeah, everything’s great and he’s doing really well. All of his scores are ‘in the white’, it’s just problem-solving that is in the ‘grey area’, so can she get in touch about that in a month or so? ‘Yes, that’s fine.’ I reply meekly, despite the fact that I actually think it’s over the top and will just worry me. I then tell her about some other ‘problem-solvingish’ tasks that he does regularly and she agrees that that’s great and says that the questions are specific so there are other examples you can use. But she’s still going to call me to check up. I don’t feel particularly listened to at this point. Breathe, Aileen, breathe.

Does anyone else get this weird thing when they’re with health professionals that they become meek and mild and eager to please? It happens to me all of the time. I mean, I am gobby to put it mildy. I can rant on with the best of them (oh, you’d noticed that?) but when there’s a nurse or a doctor there I lose my nerve. What if I’d said ‘I don’t really see the point of you chasing this up, I’m sure you’re really busy and we are very attentive to our son’s development so I’ll call you if I need to.’? It would have been perfectly polite and within my rights. But I am inexplicably drawn to agree with whatever the person who has the ticklist and the medical training says. Now, yes, this is partly because they have the medical training, fair dos. But these professionals will be the first to say that you’re the best ‘expert’ on your own child.

No, I think I’m afraid. Not quite sure of what. Of being told off I suppose. Of being seen as something less that a perfect, attentive, give-my-all sort of mum. I don’t think I’m the only one with this feeling. There are thousands of mothers out there who can talk the talk of relaxed parenting but, ultimately, can’t bear the thought of not being seen as Supermum. We really do need to chill out, guys, like, seriously. Or even, God forbid, have enough confidence in our own parenting to be open to a bit of criticism without it destroying our very being.

I don’t think the anxiety I experienced was the fault of any of the health professionals I encountered. I am quite capable of whipping myself up, not to mention what happens when that pesky anxiety fairy gets involved! But I do think it was partly the fault of that bloody questionnaire. It is sent out so long in advance you have plenty of time to ruminate over any ‘not yet’ you may have ticked, wondering what the answers to these questions, which are frankly bizarre at times, all mean. Someone may well be screaming at their computer screen right now, saying ‘Well pull yourself together woman, the checks are for your child, it’s not up to them to look after your precious little feelings’. Fair point, except that it sort of is. Especially as this particular centre were key in supporting me through PND. Healthy mother, healthy baby, right? In the dream scenario all parents would look at the questionnaire objectively and not fret on any level about their own child’s strengths and (more pertinently) weaknesses. But that ain’t gonna happen any time soon, so let’s work within the a-lot-of-parents-are-easily-worried parameters.

So, I have two suggestions:

1) Don’t send the questionnaire out in the post. I know it saves time, but you go through it all any way and Health Visitors et al have a MUCH better idea the real issues that the questions are actually getting at any way. (Dear Mr Stupidface Health Minister, this will involve actually funding preventative children’s services, grr).

2) Don’t show the parents the bloody score sheet! The nurse I saw (who was lovely and good at her job, just to say again) pointed at the grey area she had marked next the problem-solving section. This was not the mental image I needed. Then I got to thinking that, actually, what if all of his scores were in grey? Or a few were in black? There are a lot of 10 month olds that don’t do all the crazy malarky on those lists. I know people who didn’t crawl before they were one, or speak before they were two. Guess what? They are very clever and can stand up on their own and everything! So, yeah, we just don’t need to see that. Tot it up after we’ve gone on our merry ways. Because, let’s give credit where credit’s due, these people have trained for 3+ years, they will know if they need to follow anything up with having to look at a score sheet.

Actually, on second thoughts, I just have one suggestion:

1) Scrap the questionnaire! Bin it! It’s a stupidface!

The nurse we saw made a few jokes like ‘who wrote this questionnaire, hey?’ with the accompanying comedy eye roll. She also said this check used to be a more informal chat but that now it’s more ‘thorough’. I have worked in the public sector, ‘more thorough’ may well have been code for ‘a crapload of extra paper work’.

The thing is that when you put a list of questions between two human beings it automatically shuts down any natural conversation. You’re both focussed on the piece of paper and not so much as each other. It can leave parents feeling like they haven’t been listened to, though this is often not the fault of the Health Visitor.

Apparently the Ages and Stages Questionnaire is now being rolled out UK wide. I’d like to read the evidence that says it picks up things better than the previous system of letting trained health professionals talk to and spend time with families. I haven’t had any luck googling it so far (please comment if you know about these things). But I have a horrible suspicion that has more to do with the governmental obsession with standardisation and stats. Oh no, we can’t just trust professionals to do their jobs well and their managers and colleagues to flag up any problems, no no, what they need in more forms! 

And then of course, there’s the fact that sending that getting parents (who are more likely to over- or under-estimate their children’s abilities for varying reasons) to fill in the form and having a more ‘ticklist’ approach in the meeting saves time. Which saves money. Which means you need less health professionals. Which means you can make more cuts. Bleurgh. Boo. Naughty naughty Tories. Etc.

So, parents of Britain. Don’t worry too much about the ‘not yets’. You and your Health Visitor will know pretty quickly if there is a glaring issue. And maybe think about raising the ‘what the F is this ASQ business about???’ issue with your MP. People power and all that.

But, most of all, just bloody chill! It is possible you have produced a child that will not be ‘top of the class’ in every arena at every stage. That is OK. They will still love you. And it takes a lot more than the lack of a pincer grip for social services to be called. 

 

Just to drive the point home, I think Sure Start centres are, like, well good.

Just to drive the point home, I think Sure Start centres and Health Visitors are, like, well good.

 

 

 

*I feel both heartily amused and slightly ashamed that I have captioned my 10-month-old son using a swear. Ah well…