Friday, 28 March 2014

Motherhood, Guilt And The Fantasy of 'Choice'

Is there anything in the world of parenting quite as awful and contentious as the debate over working and stay-at-home mums? All that talk about the 'choices' we have apparently made, and the impact these might and might not have on our children... As if choice had anything to do with it, for most of us.

But even though necessity, not choice, is what drives us, we still feel manage to feel guilty. We all know about the guilt of the working mother – many of us have been there – but there is plenty of guilt for stay-at-home mothers too I have discovered. Equal quantities for all, just differently allocated.

Which means, more than ever, that we need to be kind to each other!

Here is a piece I wrote on the subject that seems to have sparked off some fairly hot debate, for the excellent

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Surviving The First Three Months

'The higher they come, the harder they fall.' Its a motto that is just as true of expectations as it is of financial markets and big guys with glass jaws. Which is why the first few months after your baby is born, instead of being a delirious dance of joy, can be difficult, awkward and even a little bit miserable.

Because you have waited for this, longed for it, and most of all, built it up in your head into a cross between graduation day, your birthday, Christmas and Oscar night, with perhaps a dash of last-day-of-school thrown in. And so, when finally it happens – They hand you your baby, and actually let you take him or her home – you may very well find that, once through your own front door, all that Expectation suddenly comes up against Reality, and the result is a mighty crash.

Its a bit like the irresistible-force-unmovable-object equation, except with more snot and tears.

Exhaustion you were expecting – everyone busily warns you about that bit – but probably not some of the other emotions that can come with a tiny baby. Yes, you are in love like never before, but you may also be frustrated, lonely, bored and obscurely deflated. These feelings may bother you, because they are not part of the official mantra of The Wonderfulness of Motherhood, and because they feel like a betrayal of your adorable baby. Actually, they are perfectly normal, in my experience, and will wax and wane, like the moon and your waistline, for the next year or so.

But in the meantime, here a few tips to help make those first few months more bearable, written for my favourite US site: Quick and Dirty Tips

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The Horrors of Homework

I think I hate homework now even more than I did when I was a kid and actually doing it. The daily misery of sitting with my middle child as he stares into space, fidgets with pencils and starts conversations that have nothing to do with the worksheet or book in front of him, while I feel my own impatience mounting until I am choking back the words 'Just concentrate!', has reached gasket-blowing proportions. The daily torture shows up all that is worst in my personality: Impatience, intolerance, downright snappishness.

Here is a piece on that misery written for the wonderful Irish parenting site

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Are We Too Quick To Make Them Use Their Words?

My six-year-old son came home from school the other day saying that he had been in trouble for fighting in yard and had been put on the steps. I asked him why he had been fighting, and he said ‘because I love it!’

Now, the other kid may not have loved it, and of course the school were right to take the action that was in line with their rules and principles. I do not dispute that. But, it did make me wonder, have we taken too much of the rough-and-tumble out of our children’s lives?

These days, if children begin an altercation – over a toy, a game, some name-calling, whatever – every available adult in the vicinity seems to immediately rush forward and diffuse the situation, urging them to ‘use your words.’ Equally, if a child complains that another child has done something mean – and children can do very mean things to each other – there is a good chance the complaining child will be encouraged to look at the situation from their aggressor’s point of view and consider whether that child might have had a bad day or be upset about something. They may even be asked ‘but what did you do to him? (Or her)’

Now, this might mean that we are raising a bunch of highly empathetic, soul-searching, ‘Indigo’ kids who will view all sides of a situation and merrily walk a mile in each other’s shoes. (And of course it might not – children can be notoriously perverse about efforts to mould them).

But, we may also be weeding out the natural urge to push back, to grab back the toy that was taken, or say ‘so are you!’ to the kid who calls them an idiot.

We may be teaching them to be afraid of their own aggression – so busy forcing them to empathise with others, that they are losing sight of their own entirely natural responses.

Of course the spectacle of small children attacking or insulting each other is not an edifying one, and as a society we have done tremendous work in taking violence out of the playground, and encouraging our children to find other ways of expressing dissatisfaction and upset. This is a good thing. But, I wonder, have we perhaps gone a little too far? Is there a place for aggression that we are not acknowledging? Are we now too quick to make them use their words, rather than react physically?

When adults attend self-defence courses, the very first thing they are taught is to respond with aggression to an attack. To yell – loudly! – and do something; hit, shove, throw. Often, it takes a while to get this response out of them, because by adulthood, we have all spent so many years suppressing those reactions, squashing down the instinct to greet like-with-like because ‘its rude to shout,’ or ‘ we don’t hit,’ that they are deeply buried and cannot be activated without a struggle. When the world takes a toy away from us, or pushes us, instead of demanding it back or shouting 'stop!', we tie ourselves in verbal knots, telling the world how that makes us feel and trying to second-guess why the world would want to do such a thing to us.

This might be a mistake. Life is a long and difficult business, that needs to be treated delicately, sympathetically and empathetically at times. And at other times given a good shove and told to back off!

Now, I am not suggesting that we raise our children to be monstrous Wall Street trader types, who think they are Masters of the Universe and that the world is a jungle they must fight their way through. Of course I’m not. Those are the people who destroyed financial stability for millions through their greed and arrogance. And they are generally not known for their subtlety of mind or sense of humour, either.

But, I do think the ability to swing a punch where absolutely necessary, or at the very least to know that we could if we had to, is vital.

And I believe this for girls too, who are even more likely than boys to be discouraged from giving physical expression to their feelings of anger, hurt and humiliation. Boys aren’t allowed to hit girls (despite the fact that we are ostensibly an equal-opportunities society, and little girls are often just as strong as little boys) and girls aren’t allowed to hit each other. Which means no hitting at all for girls.

I grew up, second eldest of six, cheerfully fighting my brothers and sisters. I fought the boys in my class, when that seemed necessary, up until the age of 11 or 12. I don’t mean King of the Travellers-style bare-knuckle boxing in a ring of whooping spectators, just the odd thump or kick. There were never any hard feelings, in fact those exchanges were usually perfectly good-natured and swiftly concluded. So it is difficult for me to feel properly outraged when I hear that my son has been fighting. There is a part of me that thinks, ‘well so what?’ And a part of me that, when my daughter cries and says ‘he took my dolly,’ thinks, ‘well take it back!’ even as I rush forward busily to say ‘now children, no taking people’s things, that’s not nice. You made your sister feel sad. How would you like it if someone took your things…?’

Mumsnet Blog of the Day 7/03/2014