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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Attention, Attention! Why all play is hard work.

Did you know that you’re supposed to talk to your baby? Well, you are. You should talk and talk and talk. All the time. At every opportunity you should be spouting forth nonsense in order to stimulate those tiny synapses. Or something.

Seriously, dude. Go and TALK TO YOUR BABY. DO IT NOW! Why are you still reading this? I don’t care if she’s asleep, go and whisper your shopping list into her little ear.

Of course, I jest. But it sort of feels like that sometimes doesn’t it? All the leaflets and webpages and well-meaning suggestions on engaging with your small, and perhaps as yet uninterested, person; it can be a bit daunting. There are pages and pages of this stuff. I came across one article whilst researching this post called ’50 simple ways to make your baby smarter’ (Google it if you like, I’m not going to dignify it with a hyperlink). It’s like, WHAT? Seriously? Make your baby smarter? Your BABY? The implication here is that you can also make your baby more stupid, by not following all 50 ‘helpful hints’. Bleurgh to that.

I kept seeing those articles about making sure your child was getting enough stimulation in the early days. It’s. Really. Important. *hyperventilates* One health visitor told me to talk to Bubs constantly. She used that word. I’m sure she didn’t actually mean constantly, but, you know, I was sleep-deprived at the time. Nuance wasn’t a thing.

So, I endeavoured to talk constantly to my baby, giving him a running commentary on nappy changes, shopping lists and antibacterial wipes. Let’s face it, I haven’t got much good chat these days. But still, we do as we’re told don’t we?  One NHS guide tells us

“When you cook, show them what you’re doing and talk to them as you’re working.”

Cooking is always used as an example. “Now, Bartholomew, I’m just sauteeing these onions and then I’ll tomatoes, thyme and a dash of salt.”  It’s a bit like being on Saturday Kitchen, except without make-up artists, an appreciative audience or getting paid.

Sometimes I just want to make some pasta. In silence. Who’s with me?

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Is ‘baby led’ a bit misleading?

baby led

I love the ideas behind ‘baby led’ weaning. Waiting until your baby actually wants food and, therefore, escaping the vicious circle that is ‘mush on spoon à spoon in mouth à much spat out à mush on spoon again’ sounds like a reasonable proposition. Then there are the added benefits of not spending your evenings pureeing ‘batches’ for the freezer. Instead you just hand your baby a broccoli floret and let them suck on it for half an hour whilst you play Candy Crush. What’s not to love?

My health visitor was the first to explain the basics of ‘baby led’ to me. She was awesome; always really supportive and reassuring. She told me about the signs that your baby is ready for solids. They can sit in a high chair, has a gag reflex, hand-eye coordination and is interested in food etc. “You go with your baby” she encouraged me, and said that it didn’t really matter if I didn’t wait until 6 months as long as I was being attentive to Bubs’ needs. So, you know – baby is leading. Coolio.

Cut to a month or so later, when I attend a baby led weaning workshop at my local Sure Start centre. The nurse who ran it announced that ‘baby led’ weaning is waiting until six months and then only giving finger foods. To be fair, she did mention earlier weaning as an ‘option’ but it was clearly not recommended. It was a really useful workshop in a lot of ways, especially learning the difference between gagging and choking (that shizzle looks SCARY if you don’t know what it is). But I did not abide by the guidelines it laid down, no Siree. There were definitely some spoons and mush involved.

Still, Bubs eats almost everything with his hand nowadays; veg, cereal, spaghetti, you name it! And that makes things a lot easier as I can eat when he does. At some meals I even get to eat sitting down, using both of my hands, at the same time!!  #winning

So, I have no beef with ‘baby led’ as a method. Well, almost none. It’s just that I’m a bit irked by the fact that it’s called the ‘baby led’ method.

From what I understand (and I’m certain some of you will correct me if I’m wrong), baby-led simply refers to offering your baby finger foods etc from the beginning, rather than starting on puree etc. It also refers to waiting for them to be sitting, with good hand-eye coordination and the ability to swallow (okay, that last is pretty obvious, obvs). Then you have the whole six-month milestone, when they are ready for proper solids. Hmm.

If we’ve decided which foods we’re going to give our baby and what age they’ll be when we start, aren’t we the one’s leading?

I don’t know how else to put this, so I’m just gonna come right out with it: to me, the name ‘baby led’ just sounds a bit, well, smug.

Obviously the average parent chooses when and how to weaning their children based on a) what’s best for the child and b) what works for the rest of the family. So please don’t think I’m saying that parents who start with finger food are smug. I’m not. But what I am saying is words have power! If one group of people gets to say that they have engaged in ‘baby led’ weaning, whilst the other say ‘spoon-fed’ I think the latter might feel a bit belittled, or even disempowered.

Let’s just say, hypothetically, that a mother has a very big baby, who cannot get enough milk down himself. He’s depleted the breast milk supply and is a  formula fiend: hungry hungry hungry!! Say that mother does A LOT of research and decides to give him food bang on 17 weeks; just easily digestible mush on a spoon for the first while. Perhaps the baby is much more settled and happy after that, sleeps better, doesn’t cry as much… You see, to me that would seem pretty ‘baby-led’. But this mum might feel she isn’t doing the ‘right thing’, she might be seen as old-fashioned or, much worse, selfish for her decisions. She might even be told by a health visitor that she had “put her baby at risk”.

This is all hypothetical, you understand, and defo didn’t happen to someone I know or anything. Sigh.

No informed decision that a parent makes, lovingly or pragmatically, should be seen as inferior. I mean, come on guys, let’s not create an additional infant-feeding hierarchy. We already have ‘breast-feeding v formula’ pretty much nailed (insert angry comment below).

Terminology surrounding parenting choices often becomes value-laden. THIS way is the right way, and all others are what lazy/uninformed/bad parents do. Most of us know that is utter tosh but that doesn’t stop us from worrying that we are in the latter category sometimes. So perhaps we could choose our words more consciously. If it’s going to be ‘spoon feeding’ for the puree-first stuff then maybe the other approach should be called ‘finger feeding’ or something. Okay, that’s not the most inspired name but it’s a lot more accurate and not half as up itself!

Or maybe, perhaps, possibly, we might think about just not labelling ourselves in camps. Let’s face it, when it comes to parenting the only ‘method’ most of us actually stick to is trail-and-error (my new book Trial and Error Child-Rearing: the technique for parents who can’t be bothered will be in all good bookstores next Spring).

But that’s not enough is it? We have to have something to say about our choices. It has to be this guideline, or that book, or someone else who led us to our conclusions. We have to have thought it all through. Otherwise how will we explain ourselves?? I mean, imagine the scene:

Have you weaned your children?

Yes, I have.

What method did you use?

Oh, I pretty much stuck to the give-them-some-food method. You know, food in the mouth, swallowing it and then pooing a bit later. Then some more food after that at some point.

Great, where can I get the book?

Sigh.

What do you think? I ‘baby led’ an accurate and helpful name? Maybe you’ve felt judged for you weaning choices, either way? Get involved by commenting below, tweeting me @aafew or.going to my Facebook page.

Parenting: It’s actually a bit boring.

 

an average day's parenting - Word 15122014 205030.bmp

As a parent, you will experience more contradictory emotions than ever before. This little person that you love most in the world will, in all likelihood, also drive you to complete and utter distraction (destruction??) on multiple occasions. You may be infinitely happy that your baby was born whilst still remembering actually giving birth to them being the worst. The absolute worst. But that’s parenting for you isn’t it? It’s just a roller-coaster. From the sublime to the ridiculous and back again, all in one afternoon.

Well, no, not quite. That would leave out one important detail.

In Hollywood movies mothers usually either the embodiment of all that is kind, wise and maternal or a hot mess. You know those films, with the friend who has six kids (yeah, that’s pretty much all the character development you’re going to get love, sozzers) who is always arriving late with her hair a complete mess and a child on each nipple? Oh what larks! But most of the time parenting is not an extreme sport. You aren’t either completely nailing or basically dead: there are other options. Day to day, it’s more likely to be just a bit dull. Parenthood is so dramatised at the moment that it’s often these normal experiences that trip us up.

Picture the scene: It is mid afternoon. A child, surrounded by an array of educational and expensive toys, sits playing with an egg carton. A few feet away his mother sits on the sofa. She is staring into the middle distance, her eyes are glazed over and her expression is lifeless. What is happening here? Perhaps she’s got post-natal depression, or has she just received some bad news? Maybe she’s just a neglectful mother.

Erm, no. She’s bored. It’s 3 O’clock in the afternoon and she’s been attempting to entertain her children for the past 8 HOURS. She has prepared two meals (one of which was scraped into the bin and replaced with toast). She has picked umpteen bits of crap from the floor. She has embarked on 3 nap attempts (two failed, one successful). And now, just run out of steam, and ideas. So she’s just sitting there.

If you hadn’t quite decoded my cryptic third-person, hypothetical, throw-em-off-the-scent nonsense, then I shall just clarify that she is me.

Yes, Dear Reader, I too get bored. There, I’ve said it. I love my son, he is great company, but spending all day every day with a one-year-old gets a tad repetitive. I love children’s books, but after the 50th reading I feel I have entered into the subtext of the narrative just about all I can. The suspense is gone. I know it’s not your duck. I know where baby’s belly button is. I know which pet the zoo sent you. I know it all. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll keep reading those classics of modern literature, because it makes Bubs happy and it’s educational and all that good shit. But every now and then I’ll be doing it on autopilot.

I do try to mix it up.  I even venture onto the internet for inspiration, even though Pinterest usually makes me want to vomit with jealousy and the creativity and energy some parents seem to have. ‘Today tabatha and I made a fully functioning space rocket using only the contents of our recycling bins and some small pieces of dowelling. #thrifty #ecomum #recycle #educational’ Hashtag keep your parenting successes to yourself, knobend. Ahem, motherly solidarity and all that. Let’s move on…

Honestly, we get all of my scarves out and do lots of wafting and giggling. Or we build towers out of various toys. The other day I actually made corn flour paste and added different food colourings to make a sort of messy play scenario. Of course, Bubs was only interested in eating it and consequently got high on e numbers. The thing is, Dear Reader, that however long I spend coming up with these activities, whatever effort I put in, they only ever last about 10 minutes. 15 max. You look at the clock, you eyes wide with pleading hope, but it was 10.25am when you started playing and now it’s 10.35am. That’s basically the same time.

Then are the excursions. We’ll head off to play groups. I do have some nice chats with mums some of the time but it’s mostly just following Bubs around, making sure he doesn’t poke any babies in eye and that no toddlers step on his hands. Play groups are an absolute life saver, but they aren’t necessarily a particularly social experience for the parents. And what is it with the ones that don’t give mums a cup of tea? I mean what is the bloody point? 

When you have a child, parents of older children will constantly encourage you to ‘cherish every second, it goes so fast’. I have previously expressed my thoughts on saying that to parents of newborns here, but I do think the general principle is absolutely right. Of course you could spend your child’s first years only half-present, scrolling your Facebook feed looking at other people’s kids instead of giving full attention to your own. Of course that would be a terrible shame. I’m not a frickin’ monster! But the idea that every moment, of every day you can be fully engaged with your child, watching their every move and storing it all up as treasure in your heart? Jog on, mate! I’ve got a life to lead.

In all seriousness there are ways I could probably help myself. Bringing some mindfulness into my parenting would be one (there’s a parenting on that, but we all know how I feel about the books). Buying in a massive amount of craft supplies would be another. And I might do one or both of those things, time shall tell.

In the mean time I’m not going to stress. You know that thing that people used to say when you were a kid? Only boring people get bored. Well, that’s crap. Everyone gets bored sometimes. Just because you’re getting bored in the presence of your child it doesn’t mean you we need to have an existential crisis. I imagine train drivers, or accountants, or nurses, often get a bit bored doing repetitive tasks. But it doesn’t mean they suddenly become paralysed with shame and think ‘What have I done? I never should have become an accountant, what if I’m no good at it? Oh my God, I’ve ruined multiple lives!’ Being a parent is a job, and all jobs getting boring for time to time. I bet Beyonce wakes up some mornings thinking ‘Oh damn, another makeover a photo shoot? How dull‘.

So, yeah, just be bored for a bit. There’s no shame in it. Your child will inevitably doing something funny, adorable, stressful or a combination of all three, and that’ll soon snap you out of it.

bored

What bores you the most about childcare? Do you feel guilty about the duller days? Or maybe you think I should shut up moaning? Whatever your thoughts let me know. Comment below, go to my Facebook page or tweet me @aafew.

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“I’m a bad mother”: The constant refrain of a good mother.

It’s been a bit of a rough few days in the (mal)Contented household. Bubs had a bit of a reaction to the MMR jab. Nothing major and a lot better than having measles, mumps or rubella. But still, there’s been some screaming. Quite a bit of screaming. In the night. Like, all night.

I suppose it’s a of a parental rite of passage to finally in give at 5.50am and take your poorly child downstairs to stare a blank television screen until CBeebies starts up (teletubbies is still on, who knew?). Anything to distract from the screamy fever! Thankful it worked; Bubs was transfixed and I could lie semi-conscious on the sofa. There was a lot of TV watched that day, A. LOT. Partly because he was too poorly to want to do much else and partly because I was too tired to be engaging in any way, shape or form. Bleurgh.

That afternoon, as I was carrying the boy upstairs for nap-attempt number 1,385, I thought to myself “hmm, I’ve been a bit of a bad mother today.”

Wait, what?

As I am carrying my fed, watered, talked to, cuddled child, I am simultaneously telling myself I’m a bad mum. Because we watched TV. Have I mentioned yet that I was also ill? I had one of those sore throats that makes your whole neck tender. But how dare I not lay on at least twenty stimulating, creative and educational activities? Someone call social services!!!

I have heard so many mums call themselves ‘bad mothers’. This is usually because they allow their children to eat biscuits, or they occasionally feed them from a jar, or they let the kids sleep in their bed, or never let the kids sleep in their bed, or they leave them to cry, or never leave them to cry, or they don’t own a ‘that’s not my…‘ book or a Sophie the Giraffe, or… Well, you get the picture.

What I think is happening here, people, is that we are getting being a ‘bad mother’ mixed up with being a human-being-who-is-also-a-mother. Easily done. In our weaker moments we think that the only way to be a good mum is to be a perfect one. Seeing as that’s impossible we should probably find a more logical approach.

When Bubs was just a few days old we had a midwife visit. True to new-parent form we bombarded her with a thousand questions. What temperature should the bath be again? Should I wrap him up more? How can I tell if he’s over-heating? Is this okay? Is that okay? She was very good natured and answered us patiently, often just saying what we were doing was fine. When we had finished our onslaught she said “If you’re worried whether you’re doing things right, then we’re not worried!’ Basically, we cared enough to worry, so we’d be fine. (obvs my particular worry grew into new and uncharted levels of bleurgh, but that’s another story)

If someone is actually a bad mother – like that woman in the news today who told her kids she was popping to the shops but actually flew to Australia for 6 weeks – I doubt they advertise it much, or feel guilty enough to categorise themselves in that way. You have to actually care to feel guilty; it seems to be a natural side effect of (good) motherhood.

So, what I am proposing isn’t some complete eradication of guilt. I mean, that would be awesome but I am just not sure it’s realistic. Instead, I reckon we could all stand to take our guilt a bit less seriously. Or even (pushing it?) see it as a good sign; a sign that we are thoughtful and caring mothers who want to do the best for our children at all times. Even if that is massively ambitious and unsustainable.

Dear Reader, have you thought or said that you are a bad mother/father in that past weeks? If so, congratulations, your parenting skills are more than adequate.

 

What do you think? Are you convinced you’re a bad parent? Do you compare yourself to others? Or maybe you don’t give a crap? Comment below, tweet me @aafew or share on my facebook page

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

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.

Lies, Damn Lies and Breastfeeding Workshops.

Arg. We hate 'SHOULD'.

There’s that ‘should’ again.

Are you pregnant? Have you been to any breast-feeding workshops yet? Well, you’re in for a treat! Let me give you a little preview.

I went to two breast-feeding workshops when I was pregnant. One was run by the NHS at the hospital I gave birth in, the other was part of the (otherwise excellent) NCT antenatal course my husband and I had booked onto. They were very similar. Well, one was more awkward and strange than the other, but that’s another post entirely. The information they gave was almost exactly the same and was arranged into two distinct halves. First half: why breast is best (and, implicitly, formula is bad). Second half: why breast-feeding is basically a lovely, easy thing that is natural and instinctive and great.

Hmm, you may well know where I’m going with this.

At the time these workshops seemed pretty helpful (though one was totally odd, will have to post about it now I’ve mentioned it twice). The workshop leaders demonstrated how to get a good latch and all that so I felt pretty good about it. You know, before I actually had a baby.

Before I go any further, and before I am bombarded by ardent breast-feeders, nothing I am about to say should discourage a woman from trying to breastfeed. It is obviously a good thing to do, for all kinds of reasons. So if you are doing it then hurrah! That’s not what this is about.

So, breast is best. Well, yes, that is the research based conclusion that has been drawn over some decades. I think the idea that the milk produced by the human body, tailor-made by nature, is superior to anything even the cleverest of us can manufacture seems pretty reasonable. My problem is that everyone at the breastfeeding workshops was already at a breastfeeding workshop. They had chosen to sit in an uncomfortable chair, for two hours, in the evening, whilst heavily pregnant. This may be a clue that they are already intending to at least give breastfeeding a good go.

But no, half of the workshop (over an hour in both cases) was devoted to listing the benefits of breastfeeding. We had to take it in turns to give a reason why breast-feeding is important. You know, like school.

“Yes, Mary, that’s right, your child is less likely to become obese.” “That’s right, Brian, children who are breastfed are less likely to get ear infections.”

Irrefutable fact???

I feel this may be slightly exaggerated.

Good, well, thanks for that.

We then had to share reasons why you wouldn’t breast-feed. At one of the workshops (the weird one) I said “Well, some people might want to drink and smoke.” This was not well-received. Not at all. The breastfeeding coach turned to me wide-eyed and said “Breast milk with alcohol and nicotine is still better than formula.”* I muttered something about this is not being a personal reason, just an example. Then I stared at the floor for about five minutes.

In fact, the whole ‘reasons why not’ section was definitely just an exercise in refuting any statement we made. At one point during the NHS workshop the midwife leading it had a five-minute exchange with a woman about how it was possible to find comfortable nursing bras for every size.** The woman had already been all over trying to get a fitting that didn’t give her back ache, but that’s no excuse.

Any way, you would leave those rooms with no doubt in your mind that breast-feeding was the far far far far far superior option for the health of your child and your bonding relationship.

The second section, basically a ‘how to’ could have done with borrowing some time from the pro-breast feeding drilling because it lacked detail and, frankly, any relation to reality. But here’s a quick round-up:

1) The main reason women give up breast-feeding is lack of support (so we did a bit about how our partners could support us, fair enough).

2) Breast-feeding is natural and the baby knows what to do. Cue video of a newborn baby pretty much latching themselves on to their mother. Lots of cuddly moments and mums saying how happy they were that they breastfed.

3) A little demo of different breast-feeding positions, with photos and a very light doll that bears little to no resemblance to the weight and shape of a newborn baby.

4) Constant reminders that it shouldn’t hurt if you get it right. It’s all about the latch ladies. And you do not need nipple cream. No no no.

I shall stop here to briefly mention that in an unscientific survey carried out by myself it was found around 97% of women, those who continue and those who don’t, find breastfeeding pretty darn painful for a good few weeks, even months.

This is omitted from the information given, as is any mention of the serious issues that can arise from breastfeeding.  I heard nothing about mastitis or any painful infections that could occur. Nothing about blockages in milk ducts. Nothing about the sheer exhaustion of being the only person who can feed your baby. Nothing about other ways to soothe your baby so that you don’t feel like they are constantly stuck to your boobs. Nothing about how a traumatic and/or physically taxing birth and recovery can effect your milk supply. Nothing about the fact that for this reason and others some women’s milk doesn’t come in at all, or not sufficiently for your baby to be satisfied; that was my problem and I had no idea it was even a thing until 4 weeks in.

So, generally sort of informative but not particularly helpful. The main reason I say this is that if you have any of the issues I’ve listed above, or one of a thousand other reasons means you can’t/decide not to breastfeed then you feel like utter crap. I suppose they want to keep it positive in order to encourage us all to try. But if you encounter any problems (and most do) the memory of these workshops becomes utterly discouraging.

Here are the messages you have been given: Your baby is less likely to develop all kinds of health issues if you breastfeed AND almost everyone can breastfeed if they give it a good try and have support. This, my friends, is the combined moral of sections one and two.

Now, let’s flip that around: Your is baby is more likely to develop all kinds of health issues if you don’t breastfeed. If you’re finding it difficult you’re probably not trying hard enough or you just need more support.

Oh, hello guilt attack of the highest calibre, what an depressing surprise!

When my son was 4 weeks old he was still below his birth weight. I just didn’t have enough milk. And I felt like a failure. I couldn’t feed my child. Except that I could, I just had to do it with a bottle and some powder. And you know what? It was the Health Visitor who actually advised me to make the switch. After months of midwives insisting it was the last resort, another healthcare professional actually recommended formula feeding. In 2 days by son put on 300g and had exceeded his birth weight. After this she said to me that I could decide what I did from here on in: breast, formula or combination. Mostly importantly she added “Whatever you decide, no harm will come to your baby.” The magic words.

“No harm will come to your baby.” And it hasn’t, he is such a happy healthy bundle of fun and light. He is the proof that formula is fine.

So, you know, if you don't give your baby breast milk, it's probably because you don't think they deserve the best start. Yeah, that'll be it.

So, you know, if you don’t give your baby breast milk, it’s probably because you don’t think they deserve the best start. Yeah, that’ll be it.

By all means promote breast-feeding. Educate those who don’t feel confident. Involve partners and provide support. This is all great stuff. But maybe, somewhere in all of this, remember that some women decide that breast is not best. Not in their circumstances. They don’t decide this out of ignorance or neglect. They aren’t lazy or uninformed. They still desire, and will maintain, a close bond with their child. So maybe somewhere amongst all the unnecessarily pushy advice there could be one small disclaimer: whatever you decide, no harm will come to your baby. 

Or how about this: Breast is best, but formula is fine! That is surely a research based slogan? Not sure the NHS will be adopting it any time soon though.

The way in which advice is delivered can have major psychological effects on mothers. Surely if I’ve noticed this then so has someone who can influence the way we provide parent education? The best gift you have give a baby is a happy mother; not one stripped of all confidence, feeling guilty and doubting herself. So maybe it’s time for a change. Who’s with me?

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What was your experience of breast-feeding support? Wonderful? Terrible? Leave a comment below, go to my facebook page, or tweet me @aafew 

* I reckon this is probably not true.

** This is more likely to be true but, again, probably not.

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