Tag Archives: Mother

What makes me great?

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What is a great mother? Is she a great cook? Does she work outside the home? Volunteer at the school bake sale? Is she calm and unflappable? Does she spend hours devising great craft and educational activities for her cherished brood? Is she strict or easy? Stern or warm?

Jane Caro wrote this week of the departing Prime Minister. In her article she argues that women in high places have the problem of being held to a standard that it far too black and white. You’re either incredible or terrible. If you make mistakes, they are held against you harder, longer and your gender is included in the misstep. I wonder if it is a little the same for mothers. The image of the bumbling, slightly inept father not getting his parenting quite right is endearing, funny, perhaps even expected. After all, it’s not the natural role. Is it? But we mothers are supposed to get it right all the time. If we lose our nut in the supermarket it’s shocking. If we can’t be bothered changing the grubby clothes and wiping the sticky face before we go out it’s neglectful. If we don’t volunteer at school it’s a real shame. If we completely drop the ball well….we must be in need of a diagnosis and some medication.

I can be very mediocre at parenting and I can be really good at it. I’m good at teaching behaviour change. I’m good at conflict resolution. I’m good at meal planning. I’m good at helping my children learn to be kind, share and love one another. I’m good at loving them. I am bad at craft, imaginary play, handing tantrums, not yelling, being involved at school and energetic parenting. I can’t think what it is that makes me a good mother, but I know I am. Perhaps it is the simple fact that I love to watch their little faces just to see the minute changes in expression as they think, discover and feel. Perhaps it is that I see into their souls and no matter what dreadful thing they might get up to, I will always know they are pure gold at their core.

We mothers are, like the fathers, good, bad and a million shades in between. We win, we lose, we surrender. I’m yet to meet a mother who doesn’t love her child. Even if that love is buried under brokenness, it is still there. Even if she doesn’t get it right, the love is still there. Even if she looks to the world like the worst mother you could imagine, the love is still there. Even if she’s numb and feels nothing, the love is there. Are we great? I don’t know. What makes us great is defined by far more than just our parenting prowess. I for one want to be much more than a mother. There are lots of great things about me, a few of them have to do with parenting. To quote a woman I admire, my motherhood doesn’t explain everything about me, nor does it explain nothing. It explains some things.

Do you have Post Natal Depression?

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Here’s my own personal checklist. A layperson’s Edinburgh Scale if you will. If you tick off anything on this list, see your family doctor, or another doctor you like and trust, and talk. Please. It’s not supposed to be like this. I’m not a doctor or psychologist or a mental health professional of any kind. This list just comes from my own experience and I think a lot of women, like me, miss what’s really going on because they put themselves last all the time and they think well, parenting is just hard that’s all. Well, yeah it’s hard. But it’s also joyful and brilliant. Life is supposed to be a mix of both, not all one or the other.

1. Are you sad? Like really sad? If you are awfully, awfully sad, for no particular reason, 80% of the time and the sadness is like a great big hole that stretches into a dark tunnel that has no end? This is not normal sadness. 

2. Do you look at your newborn/baby/toddler/child and feel…..nothing much? It takes lots of women a while to bond with their newborn babies, but if you just aren’t getting there and all it feels like is duty, it might be your chemicals out of whack, not your heart.

3. Is going out too much of a chore? Like obviously going out with a baby/toddler/kid is always a chore but if you are actively avoiding your social life, your friends and your family (where you didn’t used to) you may be experiencing a symptom of depression.

4. Is parenting absolutely no fun at all? Does the idea that it could actually be fun seem ridiculous to you? Is it all just duty and work and sadness and surviving? Call your doctor.

5. Do you feel like you missed something when you watch TV ads for baby products? Like, hang on, aren’t I supposed to be wearing a white bathrobe (with no stains) while gazing adoringly into my baby’s face while standing by a window overlooking paradise? Should I shake my head with good natured humour as my baby wakes for a feed in the night for the eleventh time but adore the bonding time such a feeding session affords me as a mother? Why don’t I quiver with motherly thrill as I softly caress my baby’s skin which is as soft as, um, a baby’s? Should I perhaps be taking more time to lovingly rub that expensive baby lotion into my baby’s post bath skin, as seen on TV? Actually no. If you relate to this one you’re actually pretty normal. Note to self: TV representations of motherhood are pretty much without exception, bullshit.

And while I’m at it, TV representations of motherhood do not help those of us who think we are failing miserably because we don’t measure up to some unattainable image. It’s like thinking that the airbrushed images on magazine covers are actually of real people. It’s the stupid idea of the yummy mummy. What? I have to be an organic, earth mothering, homeschooler AND sexy too?

Depressed or not, stop looking at crap about mothers and reading crap about motherhood. Love yourself and your imperfect bumbling attempts at raising your child. Laugh when you screw it up. Laugh at others who reckon they don’t. Cry if you need to. Say sorry to your kids and forgive yourself. Know that you are the only person who is qualified to be the mother to your child. And rock your stained and slightly grey used-to-be-white bathrobe. All day if you want.

 

Double standard for Slackers

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Yikes. There sure is a lot of parenting controversy out there. I had no idea. There are mothering ‘movements’ I was not aware even existed but it appears I belong to at least one of them. There’s the Attachment People, I’m not them. There’s the Anywhere, Anytime people, nope, not me. And now I’m reading about  Slacker Mums. Now this seems more like me. These, I think, are the Mums who don’t give a crap that they are not perfect. Yup. That’s me. Jane Caro is one too and she wrote this about being slack. Andie Fox is the thinking woman’s Slacker and she wrote this response to Jane. Read them both. Do. It’s a slap in the face, followed by a kick to the guts rounded off with your mother telling your she raised you to THINK GIRL!

I had mixed reactions to both of these articles. I’ll start with the fact that neither mentions a male parent and that again and again we are having ‘parenting’ debates that are really ‘mothering’ debates. I’m nauseated by how much criticism is out there for mothers and the squillions of ways we can get it wrong. Andie  (Blue Milk) brilliantly asks “…what business is it of yours how another mother does her care work, because it’s inherently sexist that we routinely consider women’s lives our business and that we also have so many ways to criticise women?” Let’s spare some of the vitriol shall we for the douchbag Dads who are responsible for the not-by-choice single Mums. Let’s write blogs and opinion pieces about how fathers could do more, read more, play more, work less and share the cooking. Or maybe, let’s just shut our damn mouths and thank our lucky stars that our worst parenting moments are usually hidden away from public view.

I am missing the point here, I know. Back to Jane the Slacker. As I read her article, I mentally ticked off a list of agreement with her every point. I am her yet I disliked her – why? She’s waving a red flag to a pack of bulls. She’s a self confessed ‘stirrer’. She wants to be accused of not loving her children enough so that her point will thus be proven. It pisses me off that women find themselves needing to adopt this IN YOUR FACE kind of it’s my party and I’ll parent how I want to attitude with a hands on hips stare down for anyone game to gasp at the brutality of saying sometimes you just don’t care. I am so glad she did not wrap a yes but around her brutal confessional. I drank (but only a little bit), they drive me crazy (but gosh they’re so cute aren’t they), I hate being a mother (but only sometimes). I thank Slacker Jane for giving me credit for knowing that mothers are not one dimensional, simple or all the same.

And then there is what I decided today I’d call the Blue Milk smack down. This writer has a way of grabbing your face and rubbing it in the obvious like you used to do with your dog when he shat on the carpet. Andie’s cautionary response to Jane is that you cannot say Slacker-type things if you are in any kind of marginalised, disempowered group. You can’t because then people will not chuckle knowingly at your cheekily imperfect parenting choices. They will report you to the Department of Child Safety. You will then know the sharp end of the snobbish judgement of the middle class school staff, the middle class doctor, the middle class Centrelink bitch and everyone that walks past you at Westfield rolling their eyes and whispering as you pass. I have seen it in the way I get treated by Doctors and so on in comparison to how some of my clients have been treated. I know, I’ve been there and I’ve seen it. If you are a poor Mum, a young Mum, a desperate Mum, a beaten Mum, an uneducated Mum or a mentally unwell Mum the system is suspicious of you, routinely talks down to you and withholds your rights to information, choice, compassion and a say in the treatment of your child. If you then start going round saying how you’re a Slacker too, the system will not be amused. Who among us of us really understands what it might be like to mother under extreme pressure? Do you think this mother loves her kid one scrap less than you love yours?

I’m now well and truly lost in the cornfield of my own argument. I’ll try to pull it together. I love Jane the Slacker, I especially love her for this:

“I had no birth plan, except an adamantine determination to avoid any pain, and so I aimed to take as many drugs as were on offer. I had no interest in the grim maternal competition that equates a ”natural” birth with being a good mother. Consequently, I had no interest in home births, birth centres, birth coaches, water births or whale song.”

I’ll add that while this tickles my sense of yeah me too, birth centres and birth coaches are not usually a resource available to Marginalised mum.

I love Blue Milk and her special brand of intellectual smack down. I especially love her for this:

“…the slacker mum movement often neglects to directly acknowledge the debt it owes feminism. It’s frequently liberation without the radicalism.”

I wish parenting debate meant parents and not just mothers. I wish desperate and disempowered mothers were properly supported from day one. I think we all love to whine about how hard parenting is. I think none of us have even an iota of a clue how hard and heartbreaking mothering can really be for some. I think we all love our children.

From China to eternity part 2

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I felt hellishly smug that I had finally got some value for money out of an insurance company. I figure even with a lifetime of the maddeningly futile ‘private health insurance’ that we are forced to pay for and never use in Australia, I may still yet come out on top. Strangely the insurance company did not feel as happy about their 7 to 1 shortfall. When I enquired about renewing my policy the next year, not only had the premium increased to about $5000USD, maternity had been capped at $18,000 and there was a new clause whereby I had to buy TWO policies (one for my husband also) as maternity was no longer available on a single policy. So I may have been single handedly responsible for screwing international health insurance for the rest of you. Sorry about that.

Anyway, home with Archie, parents visiting from Australia, getting on with finding out how to be a mother. I did suffer from early baby blues, but took some action which really helped me feel better. I invited a friend around for a glass of wine, had a chat to the GP and bought some feel good DVDs (in a shop that may or may not have been legal). Finding Nemo cheered me up so much that it will always have a very special place in my heart. I started to find that motherhood was actually fun. I remember thinking how tiring and exhausting it was at the time. Oh you, I think now. All tired with your one little baby.

Generally speaking, the custom in China is that the mother and newborn baby do not leave the house for the first 30 days. This is mainly to ensure that the baby and mother do not get sick and to help the mother recover from childbirth. It makes sense, on many levels, but it wasn’t something I would consider. I was told by my husband’s boss that because I wasn’t housebound and swaddled in warm clothes that I would suffer from arthritis later in life. Can you imagine the ruckus I caused at the local supermarket when I took Archie out at one week? I had a gaggle of squealing (yes, actual squealing) Ayis (older ladies considered to be about my Mum’s age) flapping their hands to their faces like they were about to faint. Anyone would think Justin Bieber had just swanned in.

This brings me to the curious case of pseudo celebrity. Prior to Archie, we were an anomaly that was worth a good stare whenever we went out in public. After Archie, we were a travelling freak show. I was completely uncomfortable with the almost frenzy to touch, look at, photograph and fuss over my baby. Once, I heard running steps behind me on the street and suddenly a breathless young girl appeared and tried to shove her camera in his pram. Another time, we were standing at a hotel check in counter and the pram was beside me. I noticed too late that the lady standing next to me had reached in under the shade cloth and was gleefully snapping away. Once, while changing Arch in public (partially hidden behind some shrubs, I turned to see a line of women watching. Even young men would go silly in the presence of my mini celebrity. At an art gallery a super cool group of 20 something dudes were giggling and pointing like schoolgirls. At our local shops, next door to our apartments, Archie was known by name. As we’d walk past, a line of Ayis would gather on the verandah above calling out his name as we passed. I could go on and on.

It is important to me that I don’t sound as if I am trashing China. It’s an amazing place with some really incredible sights, people, customs and history. Some of the challenges in living there were hard to overcome, and this was the hardest as it went so much against what I was used to, how my own country operated.  In our own country, we largely close the doors and get on with the business of raising our children alone. Customs, history and the advice of others be dammed. In China, the child is kind of like communal property. You only get one shot at it (for the most part) so it is a hugely exciting thing that everyone wants to share. And with that one shot, why take any chances of infection and illness, especially in brutal winters with no heating in your house. Hence the 30 day confinement. It’s easy as a foreigner to deride antiquated or strange customs. Thinking about where those customs come from and the intent behind them though often reveals that we are the ones doing it strange.

Let’s be fair

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A friend told me a story (see comments on Honesty Breeds Honesty) about how she reacted upon hearing a story about the perfect mother with the perfect sleeping non-crying newborn in a total Johnson and Johnson commercial type situation. I think if we’re honest, most of us would have felt a gnawing feeling of resentment in our guts when we hear stories like these. It’s hard when you’ve struggled as a Mum to hear that others actually loved being pregnant, loved giving birth and love every minute of being a mother. He doesn’t cry, sleeps through at 1.5 weeks, drinks from the fountain of motherhood like clockwork and coos adoringly the rest of the time.

The sad thing about it all is that it is that Mother Guilt at the heart of it all. We who struggle feel guilty about our reality, and are fearful that if we tell the truth we’ll be judged as bad mothers and someone will come and take our kids away. Sometimes what’s worse is that people think we’re telling a funny story and they laugh. NO! We scream on the inside, this sucks for me, I’m trying to be heard! And we give up. Lock it all up so nobody can see and we pretend. And when we hear those perfect stories it’s too much. It just reinforces our belief that we’re no good. So we go on the attack. Just you wait we think, you may have a fantastic baby now, but may the curse of the toddler years fall hard on your house lady. If we haven’t said it out loud, we could probably all admit that we’ve thought it once or twice. If we’re honest.

I bet you anything that some of those utopia mothers out there are actually too afraid to be honest about their  experience. I bet there are mothers who make things sound a little worse than they really are, just so that they don’t come across too smugly happy. What are we doing to each other ladies? Struggle Mummies feeling guilty about things being shit, and Happy Mummies feeling guilty about quite the opposite! I was once told that motherhood is guilt, but if we could just hear each other a bit more, hear and not judge would some of it go away?

For what it’s worth, I have a fair bit to do with Child Safety in the course of my work. I know about where the benchmark is where they start thinking about taking your kids away. And it’s got nothing whatsoever to do with failing on a daily basis to be the perfect mother.