You can keep your ‘free’ childcare, I know the real cost: An open letter to George Osborne.

Dear Mr Osborne,

I watched some of your Autumn Statement during my lunch hour today and was filled with an uncomfortable mixture of amusement and disgust. Not towards you personally, I was actually surprised to find that you can be quite funny when you want to be, though I suppose you had someone else write the jokes. But I am angry at the way you very cleverly delivered a speech that appeared to be presenting a generous provision to a ‘prosperous’ nation. I can’t credit you with ignorance, so my only conclusion is that you’re involved in a serious deception.

What larks.

What larks.

Well, Sir, your smoke and mirrors can’t fool me. Quietly announcing 25% cuts to this and following it up with a lively patter on the £6 billion you will be spending on that; I know your game. In fact, while we’re on the subject, could you please explain something to me. Don’t the “£22bn efficiency savings in England and Department of Health to cut 25% from its Whitehall budget” sort of offset that £8 billion you’ve promised the NHS? I mean, isn’t that actually a £14bn cut in NHS spending? #justasking

To be honest, mate, I could go on all day about the many problems I have with the idea you put forward that your government is one that ‘delivers social justice’. I mean, we both know that’s nonsense. I can’t decide which example highlights this better: right now I’m torn between the rather under-played scrapping of grants for student nurses (replaced with loans, naturally) and or a more global issue. For instance, how the denigration of women and routine beheadings don’t bother you so much when it’s the UK arms-buying, cheap oil-selling state of Saudi Arabia doing it.

Nice one George.

Nice one George.

But I digress…

I’m writing this letter because I’d like to make you an offer: you can have my 30 hours of free childcare back, as long as I can tell you how to spend it. Because, Mr Osborne, I know the real cost of your finding money for middle-class ‘hard-working families’ and it’s not a price I’m prepared to pay.

In fact, most of your spending review actually benefits me. I am a middle-class, employed, married, straight, white home-owner; we should be best friends right? Except that we’re really, really not. Because I am not better off in a world that’s going to shit. Your ideological economic agenda will not make me wealthier if it comes at the expense of society’s most vulnerable, such as the poor souls (have there really been hundreds?) who have committed suicide in face of hopeless poverty or abject humiliation due your government’s cuts.

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No, that’s not the world I want for my son and no amount of free childcare bribery will convince me otherwise.

Don’t get me wrong, childcare is atrociously expensive, and many families need serious help. But my family can manage. I mean, as long as we can scrape together the pennies for our weekly delivery of organic veg and a couple of cheeky bottles of Sauvignon Blanc, I think your should have concerns higher on your list. By all means, give free childcare to those who need it, and don’t cap it at 30 hours either. In fact, could I arrange for my extra 15 hours to be transferred to a struggling single parent? Why not? My mum got free child care in the 80s so that she could work full time whilst raising me on her own (and she did pretty well, I got into Cambridge dontchaknow). That’s right, even Thatcher was more generous than you lot in her early days. Even Thatcher. (I am aware that is, to you, in no way an insult, but let’s be clear, it’s meant as one).

Okay, so how about this. 30 hours a week… let’s say that’s 4 days. 4 days a week would cost me around £204, so £816 per month, so £9,792 per year. That is a lot of money. Let’s say the government gets a discount – you know, for bulk buying – so it’s £8,000 or something. Then let’s half it, as there’s already 15 hours free. £4,000, can I give it back please?

I’d like to give my £4,000, which you can apparently afford, so someone else. Can I give it to one of the people you’ve deemed ‘fit to work’, and in doing so in such an exacting, compassionless manner have actually made their symptoms worse? Or one of those who has lost their dignity and independence due to you revoking their Independent Living Allowance, perhaps? Or could I donate to a victim of domestic violence, a third of whom now have to court unrepresented because they can’t supply you with the required ‘evidence’?

Seriously, I don’t need your vote-buying money. Of course I’d like it, of course it would make life a bit easier, give us more in choices and even a nice holiday, but if it means you’re taking important, civilised social security and rights from others who really need them then I’d rather not be party to it. Really. I won’t allow you to masquerade as a man of the people while you rob from the poor and turn a blind eye to the ‘victimless crimes’ of those who fiddle our markets and carefully avoid paying their taxes.

This headline demonstrates everything that's wrong with the world.

This headline demonstrates everything that’s wrong with the world.

Of course it’s appropriate for people to consider how the government’s choice affect them, but it’s not right for us to only think about that. So I’m going to ignore the part of me that wants to punch the air when I think about not having to pay my son’s nursery fees, and do the right thing, if you’ll let me.

And if you won’t, will you tell me why you have decided to prioritise the childcare costs of families earning up to £100,000 over the funding of nurse’s education or the proper payment of doctors or the right of every person to dignity and legal representation?

I await your response,

Yours very, very sincerely,

Aileen Few

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Dear Reader, I don’t come out to play much any more, but this has made me need to scream in public. I’m sending this letter to George Osbourne any way I can, and if you’d like to tweet him with it (@george_osborne), or email it to him too, that would be fab, or at least mildly amusing. #KeepYourMoneyGeorge

Cheers x

Parents: We’ve all gone a little bit mad.

Hi there good people. Just a little note today from you’re resident malcontent to say ‘Hey, are you feeling a bit mad?’ Well you’re not alone!

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As you may have guessed from the general (fucking hilarious) tone of this blog, I’m not exactly okay with the current advice-culture-quagmire we modern day parents have to wade through. And, frankly, I think we’ve all gone a bit mad. Why? Because there are so many bloody ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’. Neuroses about food and sleep and behaviour and development continually pop up on our Facebook feeds and get rammed down our throats in the form of ‘news’ articles and ‘helpful’ books. Seriously, I continually write about how all this stuff is utter BS but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect me. It’s like how I get well angry with the general “be thin, be thin, be reeeeeeaaally thin” bombardment women face on a daily basis’ but also hate my upper arms (I mean they are utterly hideous, as showcased above) and read the calorie counts when deciding which sandwich to buy. Bleurgh. Continue reading

The Five Stages of Toddler Discipline!

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

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

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

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All My Single Mummies!

(Dear Beyonce please don't sue me for using your image: I'm trying to be nice.)

(Dear Beyonce please don’t sue me for using your image, thank you please.)

It’s Mothers Day so by rights I should be reclining on a chaise longue, having a foot massage whilst eating peeled grapes. But I’ve got something to say! (no surprises there then)

Firstly I’d like to big- up all mums. Birth mothers, adoptive mothers, foster mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers, god mothers, people-who-aren’t-called-mothers-but-maternally-care-for-many-others. You all rock.

But as I was lounging in bed this morning, being brought brekkie by my lovely Hubs (and Bubs who has no idea what day it is and just wants to eat my croissant) I realised that there were probably some Mothers Days when my mum didn’t get any of that. She was a single parent and when I was four-years-old I doubt I popped down the shops for a bouquet of a Sunday morning. Maybe other people did stuff for her. I imagine my Dad would have marked it in some way now and then (he’s lovely and they are together now so don’t go making assumptions #It’sComplicated). And she had some kickass friends who were totally my extended family growing up. (seriously guys, when my mum had tonsillitis and I was a baby they made a 24-hour rota and took care of use both, hurrah for friends!).

Still, we were lucky in ways that many single-parent families aren’t, so there must be a lot of women waking up this morning to no card, no flowers, no cup of tea. Just a hungry child and a pile of washing.

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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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When Toddlers Attack! #WickedWednesdays

We all know that it’s natural for toddlers to have bumps and scrapes. So far this week Bubs has whacked his head against the side of the cot whilst wriggling violently away from having his face wiped, he’s also smacked his head on a door frame and probably done some other stuff that I missed completely. But that’s all a natural part of development, ‘finding your feet’ and what not. I was prepared for that. I was less prepared for this…

I have been mauled by a one-year-old.

I have been mauled by a one-year-old.

 

Or this…

 

Actual, genuine bite marks.

Actual, genuine bite marks.

Neither of these were done in a temper. I just hadn’t cut his nails (let this be warning to you all) and for some reason he quite calmly bit me last night when I was putting on his pyjamas. It bloody hurt, as you may have deduced.

Toddlers: handle with care!

 

 

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I know I’m adult. But am I a GROWN-UP?!?

Sometimes when I’m watching Bubs waddle around, playing and what not, it hits me: I have a child. An actual child. Ergo, I am an actual parent.

Can that be right? Am I really grown-up enough to be a parent? Why haven’t the authorities been alerted?!

When I was 10 or 15 or whenever, I would imagine the things adult-me would do, like, waaaaaaaaaaay in the future. You know, getting married, having kids, living in a family home. Well, guess what? Those things have happened. That is my life now. I am basically living in the future. When did this occur and where’s my bloody hover car???

Okay, I’m 30-years-old, I can accept that this means I’m firmly in the ‘adult’ category. And I’m really okay with that. What’s the alternative? You couldn’t pay enough money to be a teenager again and the twenty-something ship has sailed. But when Hubs and I talk, we often still refer to our parents as ‘the grown-ups’. Because they the real adults, aren’t they? Unlike me, 79% of the sentences that leave their mouths don’t have the word ‘like’ needlessly injected into them. I mean I know all of the words to Fix Up, Look Sharp by Dizzee Rascal, for crusts sake!*

ALERT THE AUTHORITIES

(This photo of me was taken two Saturdays ago. No joke of a lie. I seem to be making gangster-style hand gestures. Heaven help us.)

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Cave women: A perfect model of motherhood?

og og

As far as I can tell, ‘attachment parenting’ seems like a good thing to do. Though I’m not really into ‘parenting philosophies’ (the very term makes my skin crawl, tbh) I think keeping your baby close etc sounds pretty lovely and I know a lot of people that it really works for. I mean, some of it’s defo not for me. Your kids sleep in you bed? For as long as they like? Like, every night?? Er, thanking you kindly, but no. However, the whole emotional-bonding-closeness-communication stuff is fab. Obvs.

Like any ‘parenting philosophy’ though, about 5% of people who follow attachment parenting get a bit smug about it all. #understatement2015. Their way is no longer just ‘what works for me’, it becomes ‘the best way to do things’. Bleurgh. Not the stuff on the Attachment Parenting International website, that all seems very kind, thoughtful and inclusive to me.  No no, it’s all  the blogosphere-forum-comment-section chitter chatter that goes on about doing what comes ‘naturally’ and being in-tune with your baby’s needs. I mean, yeah, obvs, no one is purposefully being out of tube with their baby’s needs, are they? But does it not occur the writers of these comments that the very fact of describing what you’re doing for your baby as ‘natural’ is a pretty sure fire way of making another parent feel like they are doing something unnatural? And wrong.

One of the biggest and most vexing culprits of all this is references to what ‘cave women’ did.

Comments such as “I mean, cave women wouldn’t have (insert modern parenting practice here)” appear on blogs and forums regularly, usually in reference to attachment parenting. They are likely to have been inspired by articles such as the gem “Why Cavemen were Better Parents than we are Today.” (I know, Daily Mail, why do I even do it to myself?).

Somehow, we have come to associate the practices of our distant ancestors with the way of parenting that ‘nature intended’. More than this, that nature’s intentions are the ones we want to follow. You know: high mortality rate, fight-or-flight, survival of the fittest. Now, am I alone in not wanting to apply these principles to the care of my children? Didn’t think so.

So I’ve decided to outline a few reasons why you should not feel obliged to emulate cave people parenting. Commence ranting mode!

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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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A little note on choking…

Hmm, what a cheery headline this post has! Well, despite my wry and cantankerous ways I didn’t feel right doing so many posts on weaning without putting in a little something on choking. If you haven’t seen this fab PSA from St John’s Ambulance yet then take a look:

Weaning is part stressful, part fun and (hopefully the smallest) part terrifying. Whether it is mashed banana or a raw carrot, when food gets to the back of your baby’s mouth they will gag. While this a natural reflex they need to develop, it looks a hell of a lot like they’re choking, so that’s fun! I recommend you learn the difference between gagging and choking, for your own sanity. (Briefly, choking is usually silent, gagging is not).

If you feel you want to be more equipped, Millie’s Trust is a fab charity that runs basic first aid courses. The story of its founders is heart-breaking and inspiring in equal measure. And of course good old St John’s won’t steer you wrong!

And last but not least, did you know that, by law, nurseries only have to have one first aider per building? No matter how big that building is or how many children there are in it???????? I know riiiight? W the actual F? If you fancy writing to your MP about this you can do so here. Go on, bash out a strongly worded email. You know you wanna!

Well, that’s my good deed for this weekend. Back to being an eyebrow-raising cynic.