Of home births and hero worship.

Recently, it’s really struck me how we all (or at least those of us who spend too much time googling shit and carry around an abundance of middle class guilt) aspire to a certain kind of birth. Pain-relief free, in a birthing-pool and, ideally, at home. The natural way.

(Incidentally, this line of thinking partly started because of the whole Helen-home-birth storyline on the Archers, which has since paled into insignificance).

Before I go any further I should say – if you did give birth at home, then props to you. I ain’t no hater.

But I do feel like women who manage to do it all ‘naturally’ receive a particular, celebrated status. They are sometimes talked about in a way that I rarely hear women who had assisted births being described. “Such a hero”, “amaaazing” etc.  And I don’t think that status serves anyone. Because, for one thing, it dictates how you should feel about your labour. At home with no pain-relief? You should feel good! In hospital with an epidural and some ‘assistance’. Bad. Obvs. Continue reading

‘I can’t cope’ she said, whilst coping.

coping

We’ve all been there. On the sofa, still in your nightie at 4pm, sobbing into a cold mug of tea, probably with one boob hanging out, wailing “I just can’t cope” to anyone who’ll listen.

Whether this scenario conjures up memories of parenting or just recovering from a the-world’s-gone-to-shit level hangover, I’m sure many of you will relate. Especially around the #JanuaryBlues post-Christmas, come down period.

But back to work blues aren’t just for those returning to the office – they effect those on maternity leave too. You go from having family around, an extra pair of hands, maybe even the odd nap, to being alone again. Well, not alone, there’s a tiny small human being to take care of. *panics at the thought*

At anytime of year, having a bit of a weep is par for the course for new mums, and dads too I reckon. But for some of us it goes a little bit further than that. Instead of having a ‘moment’ (albeit a daily/hourly ‘moment’) at some straw-breaking-back time of the day or night, we start to believe these three little words all of the time. I can’t cope. We fear being alone with our child for any length of time because we seriously doubt our ability to just get through. We start to believe we simple can’t do it.

That’s what happened with me any way. And around this time in January, when my husband was heading back to work after the Christmas holidays I pretty much lost my shit. No joke of a lie.

I mean, it wasn’t just that, there were lots of other crazy-making things that happened, like not getting enough milk to breastfeed, and having a particularly screamy baby. (I know all babies are screamy, but seriously. So. Screamy.) Anyhoo, I ended up in a post-natal mental unit for mums and babies, as many of you will already know.

Whilst there I learned many things that helped me return to reasonable levels of sanity. Among them was that I did, in fact, have some skill at this whole parenting lark. I knew my baby pretty well and, even though he didn’t go 4 hours between feeds (barely 2 sometimes) and ‘tummy time’ made him cry furiously and eat the floor, he was fine. And so was I. Shock horror.

The thing is, most of the time when we’re having a sob about not being able to cope we are actually coping, in that very moment.

Have I just blown your mind? You’re welcome.

While I was in floods of tears, thinking I could never cope without my mum/hubs around to help me, there was this healthy, vaguely clean and, frankly, alive child right in front of me. He wasn’t ‘the contented baby’ (a fictional character, in case you’re wondering) we all dream of, but he was okay. More than okay. I think I just thought I should be enjoying it all. And I wasn’t, which really, really worried me.

Let’s just getting something straight – looking after a tiny baby is tiring as all fuck. It is a barrage of newness and sleeplessness and epicly daunting responsibilities. And sometimes it just a bit shit. More than a bit. Sometimes you won’t enjoy it because it’s mostly dealing with bodily functions and crying. That’s okay too. It doesn’t mean anything about you, except that you’re a normal human being. It certainly does not mean that you’re a bad mother!!!!!! (there aren’t enough exclamation marks in the world to emphasise that point, so I thought 6 would do).

And because it’s all a bit crap at times, it’s also very natural to regard an entire morning with no company and no planned activity with a mixture dread and battle-readiness. That doesn’t make you weak or mad, and it certainly doesn’t mean you won’t be able to cope with a morning like that.

So, if everyone else going back at work whilst you languish in the nappy-laden land of maternity leave is striking fear into your very soul, I want to tell you this…

Thinking you can’t cope isn’t the same as not being able to cope.* Is your baby fed? Vaguely clean? Cuddled often? Well then, you’re doing fine. You are coping. You’re worry, and you’re tired and you’re probably a bit bored, but you’re definitely coping.  It’s a bloody slog though, isn’t it? Bleurgh.

You’re a good mum. You are. Really, I’m quite sure of it.

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* if you’re in a situation like I was and have PND then it is of course possible that you really can’t cope alone, and that’s okay too. I got to a point where I was afraid I would hurt myself and didn’t feel safe on my own. If that’s the case for you then please seek help and talk to someone. You can also go to A&E if you’re really scared.

 

 

Don’t be a dummy: why pacifiers are just totally fine.

  
Breaking news: a four year old is seen with a dummy! Hold the front page! This whole Beckham pacifier debacle that’s got the chat rooms abuzz has drawn me back from a summer blogging-hiatus. Dear Reader, I am fuming.

Maybe it’s because I hate parents being hated on, or maybe it’s because this kind of nonsense passes for news while there are actual deprived children suffering in every nation of this world *screams into pillow*

If you haven’t heard (well done for avoiding the toxic judge-fest that is the daily mail) ‘experts’ have been warning that the Beckhams are putting their daughter at risk by still letting her use a dummy aged 4. As far as I can make out, this is total bullshit. Granted, if the girl was plonked in front of the TV every day with a bag of Haribo, a can of coke and a couple of soothers, there’d be an issue. But she’s not, is she? You can say a lot about the Beckhams, but they certainly seem to love and care for their children.

Before my son was born I thought I’d never use a dummy. Ever. I was all ‘children need to be able to comfort themselves…blah blah blah.’ Needless to say, I was a bit judge about the use of ‘pacifiers’. Well, it took me all of about 2 weeks to drop that self-righteous nonsense. 22 months on, Bubs still has a dummy, mostly to go sleep with, but also in the car, and sometimes just because. If he’s worked up it helps him calm down; if he’s teething it eases the pain.

So, as a dummy convert and a ardent opponent to the parent advice culture that most of us find ourselves drowning in at some point or other, I have decided to respond directly to some of the choicesquotes from the (literally) offending Daily Mail article directly.

“Last night parenting expert Clare Byam-Cook, a former midwife, said that the Beckhams were putting Harper’s wellbeing at risk.”

Did she? Did she actually say that? No, she didn’t. Neither is she a ‘parenting expert’, because that’s not a real thing. Ms Byam-Cook is a well-respected baby feeding expert, others might be experts in maternal health, childbirth, behavioural psychology, child nutrition, peadiatric dentistry… But not parenting. Even if was possible to have the wisdom, sensitivity and breadth of knowledge, you couldn’t possibly apply that to every individual child without spending a lifetime looking after them yourself. You know, actually being their parent? Moving on…

“I can’t believe she is still using a dummy. If she has a dummy in their mouth at this age, at four, it really can damage her teeth and it is very likely to hinder speech development. You are far less likely to speak if you have a dummy in your mouth than if your mouth is free. Many dentists will agree that dummy use at this age really is not good.”

This comment begins by sounding like a cliquey mum at a stay and play group and ends sounding like a Colgate advert. ‘I can’t believe she is still using a dummy!’ Give me a break.

But thank God we have an expert to tell us that if a child has something in their mouth they are less likely to speak, no one would work that out on their own and regulate their little one’s dummy use accordingly. Sigh.

“After about three months, most babies should not need a comforter. Children at the age of four really don’t need a dummy.”

New parents, here is a trick for staying sane: If you see any parenting advice with a) the word ‘should’ in it b) the words ‘most babies’ in it or c) an arbitrary age at which things should start/end, try not to take it too seriously. If all three components are present in the same sentence, run. Run away and never look back. This is not good advice, there is nothing constructive in it and therefore it has the potential to be destructive, at least to your confidence levels.

#JustSaying

“David and Victoria seem wonderful parents and I’m sure they give Harper lots of attention but, like it or not, they are role models and lots of people will see this and think that having a dummy at this age is normal when it is not.”

NO! No, Clare, there is no but – if they are wonderful parents then bloody well leave them be, God knows this world has enough people who really don’t care for their kids.

And, sorry, if your reference for what’s ‘normal’ comes from David and Victoria Beckham you have bigger problems. Also, if the pictures are so bad, maybe the Mail shouldn’t publish them. Just a thought. Finally, our first expert adds:

“It could be last child syndrome – because she is the youngest David and Victoria could be clinging on to her being a baby.”

Are your self-righteous bullshit detectors bleeping yet? If not wait until Sue Atkins wades in:

“It is an easy option for parents, because if you give them a dummy they shut up and are quiet. It’s the same as giving them an iPad really.”

Here it is people, the flat-out unashamed judgement of other peoples choices. No mention of the fact that we all need the ‘easy option’ sometimes; we shouldn’t feel guilty about using a soother (or an iPad) to quiet a tantruming toddler every now and then. It’s called real life, and every parent is just a human trying their best. Even the Beckhams. The idea that people who use dummies do so because they want their child to “shut up” is frankly insulting. Oh, but wait, she’s not finished…

“Some parents use them as an easy way to keep their kids quiet, and their language development is impaired by it because they don’t have to talk. It delays their vocabulary if they have them too long.”

Oh, just fuck off. Undoubtedly there are a few naughty/sad/ignorant people out there who just don’t want to engage with their children, but that isn’t most of us. This association between an ‘impaired’ vocabulary and dummies is at best a generalisation and at worst a nonsense based on extreme anecdotal evidence.

Just for the record, my son (the toddler with the dummy) counts to 5, sings the alphabet and knows the difference between a circle and an oval. #mikedrop

  

My son with a dummy. And what?

Okay, time to get a bit serious. This shit is toxic. What may seem like a fun ranty article to some people leaves others cowering in the corner, racked with guilt about their failure as a parent. I’m not exaggerating. It makes us doubt ourselves and our knowledge of our own children. This is damaging for all involved.

The world doesn’t need less dummies, it needs less overtly judgemental bullying of parents who are obviously doing a very good job in general.        

Funnily enough, shoved in right at the end of the article is another opinion. Though it is also from an ‘expert’ it is not included in the headline, probably because this particular person says something completely reasonable. And reasonable doesn’t sell newspapers…

“She said: ‘It is up to the parents – famous or not – to decide when their child is ready to stop using a dummy. It’s a personal decision in every family and they know best […]

The most important thing is that she feels loved, safe, secure and able to engage with the world.'”

Finally, a bit of bloody sense. The only experts we should listen to are ones who acknowledge that, when it comes to our children, we are the true specialists.

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What do you think? Is it all a bit much or are you really shocked by what the Beckhams have chosen for their daughter? Leave a comment below and I shall respond duly!

  

The Five Stages of Toddler Discipline!

Processed with Rookie

You’ve probably heard of  the ‘five stages of grief’. It is an actual really useful and sensitive theory coined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. But for me they were made immortal by the inimitable Homer Simpson.*

As I observe Bubs’ transition into the ‘terrible twos’ (yes, he’s one and half, but the name is false advertising, trust me) it strikes me that my coping-mechanisms for all his wobblies fit eerily well with these ‘stages’. Sometimes I’m pretty Zen about it all, whilst in other moments a baby-shaped strop can bring on the mists of deep self-loathing (#dramaqueen).

When I say ‘stages’, I don’t mean that there’s a clear progression. No ‘from denial to acceptance in five easy steps’ here I’m afraid, and I know that you discerning readers wouldn’t buy that kind of crap any way. It’s more of a cycle, not a vicious one, more a sort of normal-and-slighty-annoying cycle. Let’s see if it rings true for you…

Continue reading

Money money money: how do you feel equal with your partner when they earn all the cash?

  

Hello Dear Reader, I’ve gone and done the whole writing-on-another-website thing again. So neglectful, I know! But if you’d like to read about the topic above you can click THIS LINK, which will take to the lovely Mumsnet website. Oh yeah, I is down with the mums. #MumsnetForLife

Toddlers watching TV: It’s, like, totally fine, isn’t it??

Aaah, CBeebies. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways! You have created a continual stream of benign, advert-free and (generally) educational children’s television. You lovely bloody geniuses!  I mean, where else can we find shows that explore emotional intelligence at a 3-year-old level, or encourage kids to use their imaginations to enjoy classical music, or even covertly teach counting through the cunning use of an eccentric beige character who has a love of stones?

That’s right, people, I love CBeebies. I’m not afraid to admit. And I let Bubs watch TV. Quite a lot.

*hyperventilates with the overwhelming fear of self-righteous parental judgement*

Joking aside, for some reason TV has recently been added to my “oh my God, am I ruining my child?” list of irrational fears. As I type this I can genuinely feel my anxiety heightening. We all have these moments. Panic sets in as a giant, bright red neon sign switches on in your mind. “DANGER: BAD MOTHER ALERT!” it warns, flashing violently.

But it’s weird I should feel that – even in a self-aware sort of a way – because almost everyone I know lets their kids watch TV. It’s a totally accepted, alright thing, isn’t it? Okay, some people choose not to let their kids watch any screens, which seems reasonable, but it doesn’t mean that they are kinder, more creative, better parents, does it?

IT DOESN’T, DOES IT???

No, it doesn’t. Breathe.

There is always something or other in the news linking behaviour to health issues. Not that it takes a genius to work out that if a child plays X-Box all weekend and doesn’t go outside at all then they are more likely to become obese (I’ll take that PhD now, please). But still there always seems to be some study saying kids who do/don’t do this are more likely to become underachievers/unhealthy adults/murderous rapscallions.

Like research on other parenting issues that can get a bit judgey (e.g. formula-feeding and the use of dummies) this stuff often gets simplified by the media. I mean “researchers have found possible negative outcomes to TV watching but these may also be due to socioeconomic factors” isn’t exactly clickbait is it?? No, we want a headline that goes something like “Children Who Watch TV Are Basically F*cked, Scientists Say.” That’s the one that will go viral.

The problem with this kind of sensationalist rubbish is that it draws a false divide. On the one hand there are children who are read to and sung to, who love books and spend a lot of times outdoors, who have oodles of face-to-face interaction with their parents; on the other there are kids who watch TV. Of course this also implies two kinds of parents; those who can be bothered and those who can’t. Bleurgh.

But what if your kids can be both kinds of kid? Or parents can be both kinds of parents? What if those of us who spend most of our time being very much bothered with entertaining and caring for our children sometimes just want to sit down for 20 minutes? What if that was okay?

My Bubs loves books. LOVES them. We were on a plane when he was about 10 months old and he was kicking off majorly, and what was the thing that finally calmed him down? Being read a book. (we did feel a flutter of parental triumph at that particular moment). Bubs likes drawing and playing outside and watching bubbles and singing and dancing and all that good stuff. But you know what? He also enjoys a spot of TV. He can actually sing the Pingu theme tune and points at the TV in delighted surprise every time the Ninky-Nonk/Pinky-Ponk bursts through the hedge in the Night Garden. It’s really very cute.

Bubs is on an advanced reading programme.

Bubs is on an advanced reading programme.

However, I recently discovered that TV isn’t ‘recommended’ for kids under two-years-old and have been a slightly torturous inward debate ever since. Before they are TWO? Oops. That ship has well and truly sailed. I reckon Bubs was first introduced to CBeebies at around the 3 month mark (oh the shame!).

So I had to have a look at why these recommendations were put in place: “A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.” We are told by the American Academy of Peadiatrics. Well, duh! Like, that is totes obvs!

It’s so black and white, I mean why does that statement mean no screen time whatsoever? NO TV OR ALL IS LOST! It’s as if a few episodes of Tinga Tinga Tales is somehow a gateway-drug to a hardcore TV addiction in which children become unable to imagine and create. I’m not saying this can’t happen. In fact, I’m sure it does in homes where the TV is a third (first?) parent and no one talks about their day or reads or sings song. Sad face.

But that’s not what I’m talking about here. No one is advocating sitting your 4-year-old to binge watch an entire season of Breaking Bad. That would be properly awful.

Sometimes I let Bubs watch TV in really sensible way. I use iPlayer to select the programme and I limit him to one episode, just long enough for me to get something done (often a nappy change: TV is a Godsend for parents of pooey, wriggly toddlers).

But other times I just put it on because I can’t think what else to do. It’s only 10am and I’ve already read that book 5 times and sung my full repertoire of nursery rhymes. The day stretches out before me like a particularly shouty question mark and I just need 10 minutes to stare into space or check my email or something.

Then there are those times when, franky, I just want to watch some telly. I like telly. Other than the smorgasbord of delights offered on CBeebies the only TV show my son is aware of is Pointless, which I occasionally put on for us to watch ‘together’. What? It’s super educational man! I mean, who knew there was an element called Einsteinium? Huh?

I’m not pretending this is the ideal in parenting habits. But I’m not the ideal parent. I’m a human. Shock horror.

Based on the anecdotal evidence I have, I am pretty darn sure this regular TV watching will cause Bubs no long term harm. As a child I watched a fair bit of CBBC, and Neighbours, and then switched over to BBC2 for The Simpsons (those were the days!). Still, I have managed to grow up into a relatively emotionally intelligent person who holds a Masters Degree in Cultural History with Distinction. #justsaying. I also have a friend who, as the 3rd child, was pretty much plonked in front of the TV with a colouring book for much of her childhood. She is now, as well as just being lovely, a qualified doctor who’s taking a year out to do an art foundation course. Well-rounded much?

Don’t get me wrong, I think parents who don’t let their kids watch TV are awesome; I just wish my admiration wasn’t accompanied by a stomach-curdling dose of inferiority complex. It’s not their fault I feel this way, of course it’s not. It’s the fault of a society that has come to believe we must consult ‘experts’ at every turn. Every parenting decision must be scrutinised under the microscope of Research, conclusions reached and expounded. A one-size-fits all code of parenting.

What if we, I don’t know, made decisions based on common sense that were guided by our love for our children, as well as a healthy dose of realistic expectations of ourselves? I mean, isn’t that what most of us are doing?

Yeah, I thought so.

So, in conclusion. TV, it’s like, totally fine. Isn’t it?

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Sex A.D. (After Delivery)

so hot right now

Have you had a baby in the past few years? If so, how long after the birth did a midwife start talking to you about when you could/couldn’t have sex? I think I got about 24 hours before someone asked “Now, have you thought about contraception?” I think I answered, probably with something like “Erm, no, erm…*adjusts small person attempting to breast feed*”. A more genuine response would have been  “Have I thought about contraception? HAVE I THOUGHT ABOUT CONTRACEPTION? And frickin’ kidding me??”

Yes, I am aware that it is very responsible for hospitals to explain to women that they could potentially become pregnant straight away and that breast-feeding is not a guarantee against baby number two popping up on a scan in 12 week’s time (was that a collective shudder I just heard?). But, seriously, 24 hours after Bubs was born a more pertinent question would have been “do you think you’ll consider ever having sex again, ever in your entire life?” Because, let’s face it ladies, there’s nothing about pushing out a tiny human that makes you wanna welcome a fella into your lady garden any time soon, now is there?

Weirdly, though, I have heard stories from multiple midwives about couples being caught ‘at it’ on the post-natal ward. Yep, that’s right, on a ward, behind those flimsy blue curtains. And they say romance is dead! All I can think when I hear about this is “WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?” I mean, forget the psychological element, my first day of motherhood saw me walking around with a bag of my own pee. It’s just not practical, now is it?

Next time I had ‘the talk’ it was when I was being discharged by the community midwives. Same question again: “Have you thought about contraception?” I think I laughed this time. She was well aware that I had infected stitches (over-sharing?) and a particularly screamy baby. We both knew that this was a box-ticking exercise. (no, I did not intend that to sound like a joke from a carry-on film).

Actually, due to the afore mentioned stitches, I was also advised to wait until they had healed before resuming bedroom antics. And, you know, I was pretty okay with that. A lot of my friends had assisted births or caesareans and so were in the same boat. I’m pretty sure none of us minded putting off the hanky panky. At all.

Now, my friends and I don’t actually talk about our sex-lives; come on people, this isn’t Sex in the City. Still, every now and again one of use would hint at their, shall we say, lack of enthusiasm and we’d all laugh knowingly, then move on to more talk of puke, dribble-bibs or other such highbrow subjects.

Depending on your experience of labour (I haven’t met anyone who loved it yet, tbh), I’d say there is a sliding scale of how weirded out you feel by your body A.D. (After Delivery) It goes from, well-that-was-super-intense to oh-my-freakin-days-whose-boobs-are-these to AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH. Many of us spend a good few months (longer?) feeling our bodies are not our own. So it’s no wonder we aren’t feeling that up for it.

And must give a shout-out to the partners here too. Watching your loved-one give birth may be awe-inspiring but I imagine it is also pretty darn gross! I saw Robbie Williams on the Graham Norton show a while ago and he said “it’s like watching your favourite pub burn down.” Now, obviously Robbie Williams is a dick who prefers to live tweet his wife’s labour than, you know, actually be there for her, but I think he’s probably illustrating a wider issue. I mean, once you’ve seen that you can’t un-see it. Ever.

But I haven’t even got to the best part yet. The most effective form of contraception that arrives after the birth of your first child: That’s right folks, it’s your first child!

bubs CRYING b&W

Screaming babies: nature’s contraceptive.

 

A little baby sleeping inches from you bed, or indeed in it, every night isn’t exactly an aphrodisiac. In fact, let me rephrase that. A little baby not sleeping inches from your bed every night; that’s the real kicker. When our little ones do eventually drop off at 1am after hours of coaxing and rocking, our priorities tend to be capitalising on a two-hour window for sleep, not having a quicky.

This is all perfectly reasonable, but after a while, if we’re not careful, the guilt starts to creep in. However feminist you think you are, there’s probably some 1940s-BBC-RP voice in the back of your mind shouting “Women of Britain: Do you duty!” It’s nonsense of course. Your duty is to look after yourself and your baby and, hopefully, stay sane in the process. Any partner who doesn’t understand that needs a punch up the bracket I say!

Looking at the NHS website, though, it would seem some women do feel rushed into sex before they’re ready. Why else would the page on episiotomies feature sentences like “If sex hurts, it won’t be pleasurable”, well, that isn’t something that should need saying! Even more worryingly it goes on “If penetration is painful, say so.” I mean, bloody right you should say so, but I would hope the bloke would notice too!!

So, just in case there is anyone reading this post who hasn’t read the NHS website or had other women to talk to, I just need to let you know a few things:

If you don’t feel like having sex after your baby is first born, then don’t worry THAT’S NORMAL. Still feel the same two months later? That is ALSO NORMAL! Still feel like it after a year? Well, to I’m sure that’s pretty normal too, but you might wanna talk to your partner (or someone else) about it, because if sex was fun B.C. (before children) then surely it can be fun A.D.  (It can be, don’t ask me how I know, my parents might read this).

But, basically, your body, which by the way has produced an actual human being, should be respected and given the time it needs to heal. So should your mind for that matter. It seems weird that this is a thing that even needs to be said in 2015, but it probably does, so I’m saying it.

 

What’s your experience? Has labour put you off sex for life? Or maybe you were the ones getting jiggy on the post-natal ward? Whatever you think do get involved by commenting below!

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I’m a mother, not a martyr!

Earlier this week I wrote a post on housework, perhaps you saw it? Like most of my posts it was 90% sarcastic ran, but at one point I got all, like, deep and reflected that it was my feelings of obligation and guilt around it that were the real problem, rather than the actual chores themselves. It’s like, does the floor need sweeping? Then sweep it. It doesn’t have to be an existential crisis woman! I also mentioned how my Hubs does the majority of the washing and is generally very nice and supportive and all the pressure comes from me and the Evil Patriarchy.

So, after writing this post, which many of you seem to have related to (cheers for the comments my dears), did I spend the rest of the week in a spirit of productive yet gentle self-awareness? Was I kind to myself, doing what I could and not giving myself a hard time when the house was still covered in crumbs and bits of squashed banana? Was I heck! Instead I seem to have set out to prove that I am, in fact, the domestic goddess I’ve been aspiring to all along. #denial Continue reading

Speaking of housework… #WickedWednesdays

Whether or not you feel a guilt-inducing obligation to do the housework due to your own indoctrination by the patriarchy, the chores have gotta get done. That, however, is difficult with a toddling person around. If they don’t want to be played with or picked up, then they inevitably decide to follow you around attempting to eat all of the crumbs and fluff and dust you’re attempting to sweep up. *gag*. So what to do?

This household’s ‘life hack’ (does anyone else detest that phrase?) is to pop Bubs into our hiking baby ruck sack – Yes, we’re that kind of family #NationalTrustForLifeBitches – This usually works a treat as he’s close to you, but not close enough to snatch the anti-bacterial spray from your hands. And, any way, he is now in the perfect position to enjoy a good hair-pulling session!

Sometimes, though, it feels slightly neglectful. I am basically ignoring him whilst tricking him into thinking he’s involved. Mum skillz!

One morning I went to the mirror to make a token funny face at him before continuing with the tasks at hand, but he was asleep! How long had he been in that neck-cricking posture? I shall never know. But, hey, at least I’d emptied the dish-washer!

Bored much?

Bored much?

 

 

 

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Housework: since when did I care?

kitchen housework

We were all young once. Young and naive and idealistic. Yes, that was me way back in the day (<2 years ago). I was, a) a feminist (still am one) and b) someone who wanted to stay at home full time whilst her children were young (um, not so much). Unsurprisingly, then, I enjoyed getting on my feminist high horse about the ‘gendering of housework’.

“The problem is, really, that having children is largely shown to change the division of labour within a household; it gets skewed towards the woman, as if the role of mother somehow involves being cook, cleaner and laundry-woman! Whether a woman ‘works’ or not shouldn’t be the issue. I mean, child-care is a full time job, we pay other people a lot of money to do it, it should be valued as an occupation in and of itself…blah blah blah.”

Aaah, to be young and free! I now realise two things: 1) That pretty much all childcare workers – nannies, child-minders, nursery staff – do a crap load of cleaning. 2) If you spend your entire day with a child and do absolutely nothing domestic (i.e. picking up breakfast from the floor or clearing a pathway through the toys) then by 5pm your once lovely home will have disappeared under a heap of used baby-wipes, small wooden blocks and breadstick-crumbs.

Don’t get me wrong, by 5pm everyday my house looks like I’ve done absolutely no housework. What I have actually been engaged in all day is damage limitation. Oh and, you know, entertaining/feeding/soothing an actual tiny human being. So basically, lounging!

So I have come to accept that side of it; the clean-as-you-go efforts that keep your house looking messy rather than utterly rank. I can deal with that, it’s fair enough. The part that irks me is the strange thing that happens to my mind when my husband arrives home from work. I feel an irrepressible urge to explain the mess to him. “Sorry about all the pans. We were out all afternoon, and I had to leave right after lunch, and, I didn’t mean it, and, I’m gonna clean it up…”

Why do I do this? It’s not Hubs making me feel this way. He’ll usually just respond along the lines of “that’s fine love, you don’t need to explain.” Oh but I do, Hubs! I doooo! Because I am a mother now, and that involves being a cook, cleaner, laundry woman… Hold up! What has occurred in my brain? Dear Reader, I have become the very thing I once scorned!

Anyone who knows me will probably be reading this with an expression of glaring incredulity. I am not a domestic goddess. My house is never spotless and rarely thoroughly tidied (see image above). Yes, I cook the tea most nights but when I do Hubs washes up. Pretty sweet. I’d say I do 30% of the laundry, at a push, so really nowt to complain about there. I sweep the floors multiple times a day (#blamethebreadsticks) and am generally the resident toilet-cleaner but as households go, our division of labour is pretty darn healthy. In fact, I took the Woman’s Hour ‘chore wars’ survey and, although I am apparently a ‘Clean Machine’ Hubs is rated as ‘Super Human’. So, in my face.

So why do I still feel like a housewife?

chore wars

We briefly interrupt your regularly scheduled rant-a-thon to bring you this statistical information. (This is not representative of my household).

Well, for a start, the whole ‘unpaid’ thing doesn’t help. Suddenly I am not even remotely the bread-winner. I win no bread, not a crumb, (Dear Editors, I will work for crumbs). And so it’s a bit like Hubs is paying me. Which is a bit like being a employed as a Stay-at-Home-Mum by your husband. Weird. Maybe that’s why I feel the need to show employee accountability and undergo professional development reviews: Over the past twelve months I really feel I have expanded my kitchen repertoire and am placing a lot more emphasis on surface-wiping than I used to.

No one is demanding this from me. No one is even really expecting it. But somehow it has become part of my identity. For all of my post-baby feminist ranting I have completely bought into the idea that staying at home with your kids means taking on more of the housework. And maybe it should mean that, whatever gender the care-giver is. But much worse is the flip-side of this idea: that if you don’t do this then you’re a lazy failure of a mother/wife/woman. I mean, I’ve only got one kid. It’s really not that hard. Shouldn’t I be baking bread and running-up curtains or something? *bangs head on keyboard repeatedly*

Many of us have fallen into the trap of measuring our parenting ‘successes’ based on, I don’t know, how many meals we’ve cooked ‘from scratch’ this week, or how often we mop the bathroom floor. But, hold up, isn’t there another exemplar of our hours of labour? (Pun intended). Don’t we have some pretty strong proof that we are doing something with our days?

That’s right people, we have children! Actual alive, looked-after, fed, read to, talked to, cuddled, tickled and loved children. Have we just come to think of raising kids as ‘what you’re supposed to do’? Is it somehow that bare minimum of daily achievement?? You know, I t’s in your genes and, therefore, you should be good at it. Don’t expect any bloody praise for bringing up the next generation of the human race. That be women’s work! *NB: we will simultaneously bombard you with so much contradictory advice you never feel you’re really good at it all. ha.*

Of course, it’s not women’s work. It’s human’s work. It takes a village to raise a child and all that. But, still, child-rearing exists in the collective imagination as a feminine and organic process, one that just sort of ‘happens’. Of course there’s lots of ‘oh she’s such a good mother‘ and ‘go mums!‘ stuff around but that’s usually more about being a nice person than the day-to-day tasks one has to perform as a primary care-giver.

If you stay home with your kids you’re more likely to be thought as ‘lucky’ because just get to do ‘one thing’ (try a bazillion tiny unquantifiable unnoticed tasks). In a way I am lucky that we can afford for me to do this, but I wouldn’t mind also being thought of as capable or creative or efficient. Okay, that last one would be inaccurate, but I stand by the first two!

I don’t know whether I have really been duped by the patriarchy into guilt-tripping myself about my domestic short-comings. Maybe I just need to shut up and get on with. (Incidentally Shut Up and Get On With It will one day be the title of my first self-help book, catchy, huh?)

Somewhere down the line, though, I fell into the thinking that being a ‘full-time stay-at-home mum’ was not enough. That I would have to prove my utility in other ways in order ‘be okay’. As if anything could please, or indeed impress, my family/friends/the world more than that gorgeous, hilarious, wilful little boy of mine. This is the problem; not the amount of cleaning I do but the obligation I feel to do it. I should do it because I am at home. I should do it because I am a mother. And the guilt if (when, several times a week) I don’t do any of it. That is not on. It needs to stop. Guilt doesn’t clean the loos. In fact, guilt belongs down the toilet. So there.

I’m going to keep on doing the housework, because it needs doing and I live in the house and make a lot of the mess. One day I’ll be employed again and hire a cleaner, so I can feel guilty about neglecting my womanly duties in that way instead. Them’s the breaks. That’s the patriarchy. Bleurgh to it all.

How do you feel about housework? Do you feel more responsible for it than your other half? Or guilty when you have a frozen meal for dinner? Get involved by commenting below, visiting my Facebook page, or tweeting me @aafew.

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