But the protein, what about the PROTEIN????? Parenting as a vegetarian.

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Apparently this week is ‘Meat-Free Week‘ (yeah, I didn’t know that was a thing either, cheers Mumsnet). The name is sort of self-explanatory but just in case; it’s a week where families/businesses/general people are challenged not to eat meat, like, none at all. As a veggie family this would not be a particularly radical move for us, obvs. And yes, our entire household is meat-free, my 17-month old son included. Dun dun deeeer!

Don’t worry, I’m not one of those vegetarians. I don’t get evangelical or self-righteous about people choosing to eat meat. I pretty much hate self-righteousness in all of its forms (hence the irreverent blog). Plus I eat fish occasionally, so I’m not even a real veggie. I am a sham; that inferior breed known as pescatarian. Or, as I like to call us pesky-tarians. *chortle*

This post isn’t going to about how everyone should go meat-free for ever, or even for a week, but I do think the idea of becoming aware of how much meat you eat and where it comes from is a good idea. Cos, come on people, it has got a bit ridiculouso. Right? Like, apparently Britons eat 1 billion chickens a year. ONE BILLION. I know Nandos is yummy but that just seems a bit much.

But you can read about all that do-gooder stuff elsewhere. All I want to talk about is my family and my life. Screw the planet and animals and crap.*

My husband and I have been vegetarian for a long time now so when Bubs started weaning it wasn’t really a question for us whether we’d give him meat; of course not. We have a generally healthy diet with lots of variety and we know people who have grown-up vegetarian (and vegan) are genuinely fully-functional adults (true story). Plus, we mainly choose not to eat meat for ethical reasons – which I have already promised not to bang on about – but it would seem very odd indeed not to pass those ethical principles, which are held especially dear by Hubs, onto our children. If later Bubs chooses to eat meat, fair dos, but for now we won’t be feeding him any.

So, yeah, he’s a vegetarian, no big deal, that’s just how it is.

Enter the grandparents.

Now, if one of Bubs’ grandparents is reading this, I’m not talking about you, obvs. You are great. I’m talking about the other lot, or the other other lot. (Bubs has 6 grandparents, naturally).

When I was pregnant and talking to, shall we call them The Undisclosed Grandparent?, I made some off-handed comment about how the baby wouldn’t be having sausages or chicken nuggets or something. Oh the horror! In reply I received a contorted expression and the question “Aren’t you going to give him meat??” Now, while I’m not 100% sure said grandparent wasn’t joking, I feel they were just saying what a lot of other people were thinking.

When we broached the subject with most of the family you could see that worried I’m-not-going-to-interfere-but-what-the-bloody-hell-are-you-playing-at look their eyes. I would quickly rush in with some comment about how, obviously if at any time the baby seemed not to be thriving we would consider…blah blah blah.

I can’t blame them for these reactions. Our choice is totally outside the cultural norm. For some the idea of bringing up your child as a vegetarian would be better described as depriving you child of meat. Okay, maybe in the olden days if you were a peasant and could only afford one loaf of bread to share between a family of 14, or if you’re living on a dollar a day in a slum somewhere, but not now, now here! You bloody hippy lunatics! How will they, like, grow and stuff???

Protein is usually the biggest concern in this scenario. ‘Can he get enough protein like that?’ ‘Are you worried about protein??’ or the classic ‘So, what does he eat?’ Protein, protein bloody protein! It’s all a bit over the top if you ask me. I blame Atkins. Not only for the whole ‘carbs-bad protein-good nonsense’ but for the idea that you get only protein from surf and turf. End of.

Well, folks, and I’m gonna blow your mind here, there is protein is lots of food. Even food that is not meat, even food that is not dairy or meat or eggs. Who knew right? (yes, we all did, so why is the whole veggie thing a problem?)

But there shouldn’t be a problem anyway because he’ll eat fish, right? Wrong! I eat fish if I’m out and fancy it occasionally but at home we don’t have it all. Hubs would prefer if Bubs laid off it for now and I have no problem with that. I don’t eat fish for health reasons. I mean, don’t get me wrong, when I started to eat fish again I sort of believed it was for health reasons, but really I just like seafood. To be quite honest when I end up eating fish more than once in a while I get a bored with it. Give me veggie lasagne any day of the week.  Mmmm… lasagne.

This whole no-fish policy (which isn’t even completely the case since Bub’s formula had fish oils in it) is more contentious than I first thought. I think some of my relatives (no not you, obviously, you are totally cool, the coolest of all) think that I will at some point rise up against the vegetarian tyranny and restore my child’s right to eat salmon. Well, I won’t. When he’s old enough to express a desire to taste fish? Sure, go for it. But til then I’m just not that bothered. Because I know he is absolutely fine.

Anyway, yeah, Bubs gets plenty of protein. He gets plenty of everything. Fruit, veg, bread, beans, dairy, eggs, the occasional rich tea biscuit. And, in my assessment, he’s doing alright on the whole growing-up front.

Poor thing, he's basically wasting away...

Poor thing, look at those hollow cheeks and dull eyes, he’s basically wasting away… Oh wait…

And if my unprofessional opinion isn’t enough then let it be known that even the NHS says it’s okay to bring your kids up on a vegetarian diet! And the NHS says loads of shit that I do/did is not okay (see every other post I’ve ever written for details). I mean, they don’t unreservedly celebrate vegetarianism; they say stuff like “If you’re bringing up your child on a diet without meat they’ll need a varied diet to make sure that they have enough nutrients to grow and develop”. But, frankly, that’s a pretty weak statement because I’m pretty sure it applies all children, in fact to all people. I doubt you’ll find a paediatrician or health visitor in the land who says “If you’re feeding your children meat then don’t worry about a balanced diet or nutrients or anything.”

Still, despite being very assured in the fact that my toddler is not having his growth stunted or missing out in anyway, I still feel a bit self-conscious when I tell people. I here myself saying “he’s vegetarian” and think “God, she sounds like a pretentious dick.” But ho hum, them’s the breaks. As long as I’m aware that people disapprove of some of my parenting choices, there’ll probably always be a little voice in my head that agrees with them. The trick is to that voice to sit down and shut-up, then go and make a veggie lasagne. Mmmm….

What’s your experience? Were you brought up vegetarian or doing so with your kids? Or perhaps you think a life without meat is not worth living? Either way get involved by commenting below. Or…

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*P.S. don’t screw the planet or animals or crap, that would be really bad.

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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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Weaning: To purée or not to purée, that is the (tedious) question.

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How old was your baby when someone of a previous generation said something along the lines of ‘he could probably do with some food now’. 3 months? 4? And what was your response? Did you look at them, aghast at their out-of-date information, and make it quite clear that the guidelines say no food before 6 months, thank you very much? Perhaps you smiled and made that non-committal ‘hmm’ sound we all have in reserve for when we don’t agree with older relatives but wish to avoid a pointless confrontation. But maybe you did agree. Your baby had been staring at up as you munched on your cornflakes that morning, with a look of strained longing on their face that very morning. Oh God, maybe there are right, maybe I’m starving her!!

When I was little, the recommendations were to wean babies on soft, mashed food at 3 months. Soon after that the guidance changed to 4 months. But now the NHS has assessed the research and decided baby-led weaning is the thing to do. And for that you have to wait until your baby is six months old.

But what is this baby-led weaning you speak of? Well, it basically means no purees, no mush, just straight onto normal grown-up solids. Not oven chips or a tikka masala, obvs, but normal fruit and veg and pasta and bread and all that good shit. In fact, in a video I was shown at a ‘weaning workshop’ a six-month old chows down a chicken leg. An actual chicken legs. Obvs the little thing has hardly any teeth, so it’s more a chicken lolly-pop (*gag*) than anything else, but you get the picture.

To be honest my first thought was ‘6 months?’ Six. Whole. Months? 26 weeks?? That is approximately 180 days of constant boob or bottle. So either your baby is attached to your body all day long (exaggeration alert) or you’re stuck in the tedious cycle of bottle washing, sterilising, formula buying and all that expensive nonsense. And that wasn’t my only objection. From pretty much the moment he exited my womb Bubs was hungry. Like, HUNGRY. And he let us know. Oh boy, he let us know. That scream. *shudder* Even when he was guzzling formula he still very often wanted copious amounts every two hours. Any hoo, as you may have guessed I didn’t make it to 6 months, alert social services immediately

But whatever my uninformed objections are, at least the guidance on weaning is pretty straight forward, you know, no mixed messages or anything…

Um, hold on a minute, I may be incorrect on that point.

When Bubs was about 4 months old I went to a weaning workshop put on at my local sure start centre (free at the point of delivery guys; you gotta love the NHS). The lovely and well informed nurse began by saying “NO FOOD BEFORE SIX MONTHS and, basically, then you can give them anything.” She gave us info about the ‘signs’ that your baby is ready for food and we watched that video. She answered our questions and it was all quite helpful. But as the session went on she started to say things like “ABSOLUTELY NO food before 17 weeks.” Wait, what? That’s a lot less than 26, right? I mean I only have a B in maths GCSE but even I know that’s, like, well different. Then she started to add “and if you do it should be SAFE WEANING, which is just pureed fruit and veg”. Purees? What? Confusion strikes!

I understand really. The nurse was aware that not all of us (me) would wait that long and she wanted to give a bit of information about what was safe for our babies. Fair dos. But then the books get involved too. Those darned books.

Enter, Annabel Karmel.

Karmel is the Gina Ford of weaning. By that I don’t mean that she recommends that you impose an anally retentive, unrealistic regime on yourself and your baby (sozzers Gina, truth hurts), but that hers is the go-to book for weaning. And good for her, I say! (Except not good for you for putting your name to a food range that includes E numbers; not cool Annabel, not cool) This was the book half of my friends bought and found very helpful. Though I think they pretty much just read the middle bit that gave them a little plan of which solids gradually. ‘At 6 months they can have everything’ is a bit vague, to be fair, so it’s not surprising that they wanted some guidance.

But here’s where it get’s tricky. After all the baby-led stuff we’ve been told about, Karmel’s book tells you to introduce totally smooth food first. That’s right folks: purees are a-go-go. Yes, with this method it’s all mushy pears and baby rice. But you’ve still got to wait until the baby is six months old.  Worst of both worlds, anyone?

May I interject at this point and just ask WHAT THE EFF IS BABY RICE? ISN’T IT JUST GROUND RICE? WHY IS IT A THING???

Needed to get that off my chest. I’ll continue.

It’s not just Annabel Karmel who still insists on basically making smoothies for your baby in the first month. Lots of books do. Including the one pictured below, which I was given whilst pregnant. Under the heading How to Wean Your Baby we are told that ‘first foods should be more like thick milk’ (#babyrice) and weaning is a “process” from liquid to solid. One could forgive a new parent for feeling like they’re getting mixed messages at this point!

pure ebba

I think you’ll agree that both the level of glamour and expression of joy seen in this picture accurately represent the average mother-of-four at tea time on a Tuesday evening.

 
To complete the muddled mixture of over-bearing instructions, throw in the advice of umpteen friends and family members (wewere told to feed them as soon as they hit 16 lbs; oh baby-led is the perfect way to do it; can’t you just give her a bit of banana??; oh, don’t give them ANYTHING sweet, it leads to obesity).

I was (sort of) lucky with weaning in that a) I had a pragmatic and supportive Health Visitor and b) I didn’t really give a shit. Early in my parenting ‘journey’ I had gone right into the middle of crazy town, oft to be found on Worry-about-every-tiny-decision Street and I-can’t-do-this Avenue, but by the time Bubs was five months I was out onto the open road heading towards How-Wrong-Can-it-Really-Go’sville.

Because here’s my assessment: Pretty much everyone who is now old enough to have a child was weaned at 3 or 4 months on mush. But also LOADS of babies have been in situations and times when pureeing wasn’t an option, ergo baby-led happened. In my current circle of friends some went hard on the baby rice, whilst others committed solely to finger food. And now? Well, all of our babies are healthy and they all eat food. And they are all, at times, fuss pots. Because they are toddlers, and that’s what happens when a human begins to discover it has free will (more on that in a later post).

Knowing that there are plenty of healthy babies who are Strictly-Karmel and another swathe who chomped on chicken legs before they could crawl made me think “Well, they both must be fine then!” Rebel that I am, I gave Bubs solids at 5 months (which he loved, btw) in both finger food and puree form. At the same time. What can I say? I’m just crazy like that.

So, whilst I should add the disclaimer that I have literally no expertise in weaning, or child nutrition, or really anything TBH, I want you to know that if your decisions about what to give your baby when are based on the welfare of that child then they are probably fine. Aren’t they?

 

What do you think? Maybe I’m being too blase and should get my facts straight? Or perhaps making decisions about weaning drove you up the wall. Did you have lots of unwelcome advice? Or would you have liked a bit more? Get involved by commenting below, tweeting me @aafew or heading over to my facebook page

This post is part of my ‘welcome to weaning’ series. Get the rest delivered straight to your inbox by subscribing above. (Yep, up there on the right, you know, where it says ‘subscribe’).

 

 

Making a Millstone Out of Milestone.

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If you have never read a piece of information that said your baby “should” be doing something that it isn’t yet then I’m pretty sure you’re in the minority. (But congrats to you, you have the mythical unicorn child).

For me it was sleep. When my son was tiny he woke pretty much every 2ish hours. This was for the first, maybe, ten weeks, so pretty normal but still exhausting. As you may imagine I spent rather too much time googling and looking up baby sleep solutions. We all do it – even though basically it’s up to our babies when they decide to sleep and wake- we cling to the hope that there must be some sure-fire technique to give us a stretch of sleep more than 3 hours long (or even one hour long for some of us, solidarity sisters!). So, any way, I’m reading this stuff and I find some helpful hints, but mostly unhelpful ones. For example, this helpful little factoid:

“By about six weeks your baby could be sleeping for at least one stretch of up to 6 hours.”

Well really? Could he? He bloody isn’t! The problem with telling us that ‘some babies’ do X at X weeks is that if our baby isn’t one we either feel cheated or, worse, that we’ve failed in some way (there goes that guilt again!)

Currently, I am sick of reading that by six months “your baby shouldn’t need to be fed in the night-time”. Shouldn’t he? What if he is hungry in the night time? Bubs is now 11 months old and each night is different. Some glorious, wondrous nights he sleeps through. Aaah, bliss. But on others wakes up when he is hungry and he doesn’t go back to sleep until you give him food. You can cuddle him, you can give him a dummy, you can leave him to cry, but nothing will soothe him because, guess what? He’s hungry! The books (gggrrr, the books!) say he shouldn’t be because he’s almost one. But he is, so there. Also, to be honest, sometimes it’s just bloody easier to feed him. Every now and then I muster up the energy to so half-an-hour’s soothing in the dead of night, but I usually have to feed him eventually any way. So why waste time? Whatever gets you through the night, that’s what I say!

I write that last paragraph as if I don’t worry that I’m doing something wrong in feeding my boy in the night. As I don’t get that “oh, are we doing it wrong?” pang on a regular basis. Of course I do. Because when you’re a first-time mum it’s hard not to doubt yourself, especially when the “experts” dole out their shoulds and shouldn’ts so liberally. But I don’t think the sleep stuff is half as harmful as the other developmental ‘milestones’ we’re told about.

We parents can drive ourselves mad with movement and speech milestones. That’s one of the reasons the Ages and Stages Questionnaire winds me up so bloody much. If you believe your child ‘should’ have been doing something months ago that they still aren’t then it is difficult not to let the anxiety fairy in. Mothers may feel themselves become self-conscious in groups of children of a similar age, as if their child’s stage of development reflects on them. We seem to have created a timetable for rolling and crawling and standing and using words. This timetable can become a tyranny. Because ‘milestone’ timings are just averages. That’s all. Instead these milestones become millstones around our necks (thanks, I’m pretty proud of that one), weighing us down with worry.

Now, before you scroll down and type furiously into the comments section, I am not saying that if an 18-month old can’t sit up or make noise we should just ‘you know, give the kid some space man!’ But we all know loads of kids who took longer than average to roll-over, start speaking, pick up a bloody Cheerio between their thumb and forefinger or what ever. In the end they got there and it just wasn’t a big deal!

Next time I see a ‘at X months your baby should…’ sentence anywhere I am going to give myself two challenges. The first will be not to panic, or at least not to respond to my panic, if Bubs isn’t doing whatever he ‘should’ be. But the second is not to feel any pride if he is. A healthy, happy baby is an achievement to be proud of but beyond that if we start congratulating ourselves on the milestones then we will inevitably berate ourselves when our babies don’t meet these approximated deadlines. Worse, we will promote a culture in which mothers with babies who walk at 15 months rather than 12 will feel ashamed.

So many of us were professionals before we were mums and this skews our vision sometimes. We see milestones as targets to be met, rather than just stuff that will happen for our babies at some point.

There are very few concrete shoulds or shouldn’ts when it comes these little humans; they just do what they do, and we can trust them.

How do you feel about milestones? Have you been unduly worried about your child? Or maybe they flagged up something you’re glad you know? Comment below or Tweet me @aafew

Getting Deja Vu? Back in the annals of time (well, actually, in July), when my blog about 3 followers, I wrote a post called ‘Ssshh to the Shoulds’. And seeing as a) it is apparently #archivesaturday b) a few more people might read it this time round and c) I just really really hate the word ‘should’ being applied to children, I thought I’d rejig, rename and reblog it. So, there you go.

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

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…

Baby development checks: Pincer grips, Cheerios and a thousand more things to worry about.

Be afraid, be very afraid.

Be afraid, be very afraid. 

Through our letterbox this morning arrived a very important document. It was the letter notifying us of our son’s 8-9 month health and development check. I had been eagerly awaiting this as he is already 9 months old and, you know, I think he’s pretty well developed. However, I was not quite prepared for the Spanish Inquisition that lay inside the envelope.

Now, before I go any further lets just get one thing straight. I am eternally and overwhelmingly grateful to live in a country where my son receives a health and development check, free at the point of delivery, as standard. The NHS is quite a wonderful thing. I have been to hospital 3 times since my son was born (including the birth) and I have never had to worry about anyone handing me the bill. This is a brilliant part of our society and one that I’m scared will be eroded over the next decade if bloody ‘Dave’ and his school friends have anything to do with it (grr, arg). So I will proceed to have a good long moan with the proviso that you know I really really really love the NHS. Good.

So, the 9 month ‘Health and Development Review’ letter arrives. The title is enough to instill fear into the heart of any previously employed mother. Review? That’s what they do at work to see if you’re doing your job right or not. You know, they get you to fill in that crappy self-assessment form, which you always lie on because your boss is going to read it, and then there’s the meeting. *shudder* It’s hard not to immediately jump to the conclusion that my parenting thus far is about to undergo a performance review. And guess what? There’s even a self-assessment questionnaire attached.

If you are a parent who has not yet received a questionnaire like this then I just have one piece of advice: DON’T LOOK AT IT. Leave it neatly folded in it’s envelope and put some time aside the day before your appointment to go through it with your baby. Granted, that will still give you 24 hours to obsess over the weird and wonderful list of accomplishments your baby doesn’t have but but you will marginally more sane than if you had been thinking about it a fortnight in advance. So, just ignore it as long as you can. It’s either that or be an uncommonly balanced individual who has no care for what health professionals think of their child and feels completely secure in their parenting abilities. Though, if you are that person I’m really not sure why you’re reading this blog. Can I read your blog please?

The reason I give out this sage advice is that a) the questionnaire is about what your baby can do at the point of the ‘review’ and b) because the amount of things that it asks if your baby can do is insane. I shall give you a few choice examples (if you are easily prone to my-baby-is-underdeveloped-paranoia look away now):

Does your baby pick up a small toy with tips of his thumb and fingers? (You should see a space between the toy and his palm.)

Well, that’s oddly specific for a start. I don’t if the person who compiled this questionnaire is aware of this but babies have quite small hands. How exactly am I supposed to observe said space? Should I crouch on the floor and crane my neck? Won’t that just freak him out? Also, have you ever tried to get a 9 month old to pick up the specific toy that you want them to have? Unless you complete this task in an entirely white room with no objects or furniture, I guarantee that they will charge off to play with a table leg as soon as you place the item in front of them. And believe me, I tried it today. Oh no, I am not above getting irrationally anxious about whether or not I can see a gap between a building block and my son’s palm.

Next question:

Does your baby say three words, such as “Mama”, “Dada” and “Baba”? (A “word” is a sound or sounds your baby says consistently to mean someone or something.)

Well, thanks for clarifying what a word is. Those brackets are really starting to irk me. And the answer is no, my son doesn’t have THREE WORDS at the age of 9 months. And even if he did, how would I know? He says “dadadadadadadada” a lot and, less frequently he says “mamamamamama” (encouraged enthusiastically by yours truly). Who’s to say when that random babbling suddenly turns into words? Not me. I know babies who haven’t had any language til they’re closer to 18 months. So, back off survey, alright? (Actually, I had words at 9 months and am still perversely proud of the fact, bleurgh).

And last but not least, the pinnacle of randomly specific infantile feats:

Does your baby poke at or try to get a crumb or Cheerio that is inside a clear bottle (such as a plastic soda pop bottle or baby bottle)?

Again, thanks for clarifying what a clear bottle is, would have struggled with that one. And, more importantly, what the fudge? In what scenario would I know the answer to this question? Why am I taking food from my baby’s hand and putting inside a vessel that he has no hope of retrieving it from? I’ve got it! They’re trying to trick us into doing this and then, when they see we’ve ticked yes, they will point their fingers in ours faces and say “Aha! So you torture your child with food they can see but have to hope of eating??” Enter social services.

Okay, maybe not, but what’s all this Cheerio business? There are actually three questions that refer to a “crumb or Cheerio”. What’s that about? You better not try this out with a Cornflake, mate, or the whole exercise will be null and void. You’ll have to start all over again. Crumb or Cheerio. These are your only options. I feel like Nestle paid someone somewhere serious money to get their branding on the Ages and Stages Questionnaire. I really wouldn’t put it past them. I have visions of mothers rushing out to buy the ‘multigrain Os’ just so that they can make double sure their child has that prefect pincer formation that the Health Visitors will be looking for. And if you think the supermarket own brand will suffice for this activity think again, cheapskate. 

Oh and by the way, you’re not supposed just fill in this form based on your existing knowledge of your own child; you’re supposed to observe your child doing all of it and “make completing this questionnaire a game that is fun for you and your baby”. Fun? Fun?? In what universe is attempting to get a 9 month old to complete a series of specific tasks fun? “Reach for the Cheerio darling, no, no, not the remote control, come back here!”

What makes this whole process even less fun is the dawning realisation that you will have to tick ‘no’ several times. It’s like someone is coming into your home and pointing out what your baby can’t do yet. “Oh, he can’t hold onto the sofa, bend down to pick up a toy and then return to standing?” Awkward.

The thing is that my rational mind knows that no one is expecting my Bubs to be able to do everything listed on the survey. I’m pretty sure that no baby can ever do all of it. They must put extra-advanced stuff on, you know, just in case. But if that’s true then I think there should be a little note stapled to the front of the questionnaire that reads:

Dear parent, we would like to reassure you that you’re baby is in no way supposed to tick all of the following boxes. In fact, if they did then it is likely that they would be one of those weird genius children* who take their Maths GCSE at the age of 8 and never truly fit in with their own peer group. Rejoice, therefore, in your own child’s uneven and average development; it bodes well for their future social interactions. Yours sincerely, the NHS.

Or something like that. Just a suggestion.

 

 

 

 

 

*Apologies if you have a weird genius child. I actually think that’s pretty awesome. But you know, comedy value and all that.