Little Failures

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Thanks to people who have taken the time to comment recently – having an audience, however small, is one of the best parts of writing. Having an engaged audience is even better.

Parenting is hard. I think that’s a given. Everyone knows that.

But I genuinely think of my kind of parenting as the easiest parenting there is.

I call myself an attachment parent, but a lot of our attitudes are also baby-led, free-range, respectful, that kind of thing. We babywear and co-sleep and breastfeed, and we also do baby-led weaning, allow N to roam as freely as possible with only minimal safety concerns, and ask her before we wipe her face. (And leave her with a dirty face if she really protests. It’s not the end of the world. There’s no law that says your baby’s face must be clean.)

So how do we do it?

As I type, my partner is standing in front of the mirror with N, telling her that he’s sorry but he can’t let her play with his (computer) keyboard. He understands that the buttons are fun to press and make funny clicking noises, but when she presses them it does weird things to his game, so he has taken her away from the computer.

This kind of thing happens a lot, which you can take as a sign of terrible parenting (N does this a lot) or excellent parenting (my partner’s response). We redirect her, explain to her why her behaviour is endangering herself or others, try to be lenient when the behaviour is merely inconvenient rather than dangerous. But yeah, we get exasperated. We hand her over to the other parent. We stop what we’re doing and sit with N and give her the attention she needs, which is good and laudable and the kind of parenting we aim to do, but at times we do it reluctantly.

My days are full of little failures. One tenet of gentle parenting which has become more dear to me as my baby grows up is that parents are human, and humans are flawed. We can, and we will, and we do make mistakes. It’s a hard concept to grasp, particularly if your only experience of parenting is being parented. It’s hard to forgive your parents and yourself for these failures.

Recently, I shouted at N for grabbing the toilet brush while I was in the shower. It was the second time I had shouted at her. She sobbed. I felt horrible. I got out the shower, apologizing and saying soothing phrases, dried myself quickly, held her, explained why I’d shouted and told her that though I recognized my behaviour was wrong, I hadn’t known what else to do in the moment. I told her that it was okay to cry, because she was scared, and it had been a scary experience. I want N to learn that everyone makes mistakes – everyone including her parents – and that that’s okay, but that you have to take responsibility for your mistakes.

When I find parenting impossible, there are two thoughts that make me back down and calm myself. The first is that she is not doing this out of malice. This was really, really helpful to me in the early days and is still relevant now. When N would be dead asleep in my arms but wake the moment I laid her into a cot, it was not because she wanted to annoy me. The other day I had a problem with the front door and had to go out the back door, squeeze past some bins and open my front door from the outside – N was perfectly happy, and I’d told her I was going out for a minute because the door was broken but would be back very soon, but I still came back into the house to see her screaming, tears running down her bright red cheeks. She wasn’t pissed off. She was terrified I’d left her.

And the other thought, which is one that is perhaps more helpful for older babies and toddlers, is that she rarely gets her own way. If she wants to sleep in later than me, she can’t; if she wants to play upstairs, she can’t because I want to go downstairs and make breakfast; if she wants to stay in I can decide that we’re going out; if she wants me to walk slowly so she can grab at the bushes I can walk faster and stop her from doing that. I don’t even know the million myriad ways I thwart her desires over the course of the day. Maybe she spent all night dreaming about porridge, and then in the morning I offer her toast. Right now, for example, N is pulling the laptop screen back so I can’t see what I’m typing properly. I’m guessing she wants my attention. So I’m going to let her have her own way.

Floor bed, feminism, and other thoughts

Tags

, , , , , ,

It has been a long time since I have had the time, inclination, energy and content to actually sit down and write a post. (I know I still haven’t written any recipes, but getting a meal photographed is still beyond me just now.) Today we will catch up on a few things that have gone abandoned over the last three months.

Floor Bed

When I decided to move N out of a cot at five months old, I wanted to do a load of research on floor beds: different ways you could set up the nursery, dangers people had encountered, things that seemed like a good idea at the time but turned out to be superfluous or silly, how a floor bed nursery could evolve with the developing skills of a child – that kind of thing. I found very little information along those lines, so I thought I’d figure it out along the way and try to blog about it regularly for others looking for similar inspiration.

At 10 months old, N walks, runs and climbs. Her bedroom is set up very similarly to how it started out, with a few key differences that have evolved along the way:

  • Back in September, the floor was pretty padded: carpet, rug, two blankets. Now that N is very mobile I found that a lot of dirt accumulated on the large fleece blanket, so I removed it. The floor is still carpeted, with a rug on top, and decorated with a padded toy map of London and a quilt lovingly handmade by someone who cares for N very much.
  • An old bedside table is now placed in front of the wardrobe, with a lamp on top of that. The table is padded with blankets to prevent injury, and the lamp wires hang down behind it. This stops N from playing with the wires or going into the wardrobe, which she had begun to be interested in. One wardrobe door can still be opened for access.
  • A scratch map of the world used to hang above N’s mirror. We found that she was standing on the mattress and holding on to the mirror (pulling it away from the wall) to pull at the map; one day she accidentally tore it and so we moved it to the opposite wall, above her bookcase.

The toys along the top of the bookcase are constantly being pulled down and played with, which is just excellent. I have switched out the toys in the toy basket a few times now – every couple of months – to keep her interest in them, and have a few rotations of “upstairs toys” and “downstairs toys” to discourage mass migration. N can now reach the book sling on top of her chest of drawers and will pull out books for us to read to her.

Back in September, N was allowed access to her bedroom and the landing, but was carefully supervised in the bathroom and my bedroom. Now she has free rein of the upstairs, and we have baby-proofed along the way with her help. By this I mean we let her loose in our room, kept a close eye on her, and removed anything that was sharp or a choking hazard. I mentioned in November that the radiator in the bathroom was a concern, but by teaching N one-finger touching (see below) and warning her through language and sign that it might be dangerous, it is no longer a concern.

Feminism

After publishing Attachment Child, Feminist Child this morning, I realised that we do a couple of other things that encourage N to be a feminist which are not explicitly part of attachment parenting. (They often go hand-in-hand with AP, in my experience, but they don’t really have much to do with it as a philosophy.)

One of these things is baby-led weaning, which I hope to go into in more detail one day. It’s a bit like floor beds in that there is not too much information out there about how it works in practice, but luckily it is a concept that is becoming more and more accessible. Baby-led weaning is skipping the purees and going straight to finger foods, and has been shown in many ways to be better for everyone involved. We add very little salt to food and will not use honey until N is one year old, so basically she eats what we eat. She had baked potato yesterday, and liver last week. Thankfully she is not allergic to anything so for us, there are no other considerations.

I love baby-led weaning for a variety of reasons, but possibly the biggest of these reasons is that I see it as a feminist way to eat, inextricably linked with Health At Every Size and fat acceptance and trusting your body.

A lot of women I know have had poor relationships with food and with their bodies, largely because of social standards of beauty and health. It is a massive topic so I’m going to focus on what I can do, as a parent of a baby, to try and combat a whole culture which tells people – women and young people, especially – that their desire and need to eat are wrong.

I believe that spoon-feeding a baby can encourage hir to ignore hir own feelings of fullness because the adult feeding them is saying “just one more spoonful!” Spoon-feeding can encourage a baby to ignore hir own feelings of hunger because “you just had dinner!” or “lunch is in twenty minutes, I’ll feed you then.” As a baby in charge of her own foods, N can eat as much as she wants (if she finishes what she is given, she is given more) or throws as much food on the floor as she wants. She can eat quickly or slowly, because we are eating our food at the same time and we like to all sit at the table until everyone is finished. She can eat however she likes, because she is not the focus of attention and has no need to feel self-conscious.

And the other feminist thing we do as parents is to never, ever touch N without her permission. We do not grab or tickle or cuddle or pick her up without asking, and explaining our reasons for wanting to do so. We do a running commentary of permission-asking throughout her nappy changes. We have a firm policy of never putting things in her mouth. We do not brush her teeth – she is given her toothbrush and sits in front of us while we brush our teeth, and every single time she mimics our actions and does a pretty good job. N’s body is her own and we do not have the right to do things to it without her permission.

One-finger touching

A friend introduced me to the concept of one-finger touching last autumn, I think. I was worried that by putting a Christmas tree in our living room, we were essentially putting up a big, sparkly, attention-grabbing toy and then forbidding N to go anywhere near it. We tried to solve the issue by putting two soft knitted baubles at the bottom of the three (N’s baubles), decorating the top two-thirds of the tree, and talking to her constantly about how it was dangerous to pull on the tree, electricity can hurt, etc etc… We had no idea how to teach her to do one-finger touching, and I found the whole Christmas decoration thing pretty stressful with an eight month old in the mix. I spent a lot of the month on the floor, explaining and stroking and encouraging gentle touching and redirecting and yes, redecorating.

Of course, the key to one-finger touching came after Christmas. N received several touch & feel books for Christmas, and as we read them to her, we touched the textured part of the books with one finger. N automatically copied us! We praised her effusively for this – “good one-finger touching!” – and the concept transferred across to other things pretty effectively. We now encourage one-finger touching for things that a baby wouldn’t normally be allowed to touch, which means that N can explore her world and stay safe.

Attachment Child, Feminist Child

This is the sister post to Attachment Parent, Feminist Parent. Drafted back in November and finished up now, in February. I make no excuses.

To me, attachment parenting means fulfilling my daughter’s needs. I do this through breastfeeding, babywearing, playing together, gentle touching, one-finger touching, baby signing, talking, eye contact, and a bunch of other things.

It is not constantly being in physical contact with my child. It is not sacrificing my needs to hers. It is not letting her get her own way all the time.

It is teaching her to expect more from the world – a principle I think is vital for her development as a progressive and inclusive adult.

When I respond to N’s needs swiftly, she learns that the world is a nice place to be in. This is not a discussion on privilege, though that is an important discussion to be had – I can provide N with shelter, food and toys to make the point that the world is a good place for her, although my direct experience is that the more material goods a baby has, the less attachment-style care xe gets from hir parents.

No, what I mean is that she learns that when she needs milk, she will get it; when she needs a cuddle, she will get it; when she wants to play and make eye contact and be silly, she will get all of that. When she wants to be alone, she will get that too.

Some argue that this is ‘giving in’, that from having their needs fulfilled, their desires (at least) considered, their whims (at least) acknowledged, children will learn that they can get their own way all the time. This is not what N learns. Her desires to smash herb jars on the kitchen floor or chew on the DSLR camera are not entertained. Even as a child of attachment parenting, N rarely gets her own way, so I make sure to let her have her own way as much as possible. She will learn that her needs and desires are valid and important. This is a great foundation for her burgeoning self-esteem.

Another way in which I respect N’s desires is through gentle touching and one-finger touching. A new person exploring the world wants to do so through as many senses as possible – babies grab things, put things in their mouths, shake them and bang them and crumple them up. Not good with, say, a chequebook, or daddy’s face, or fairy lights. Many people therefore see babies as destructive and forbid them from experiencing certain parts of their new world. We have tried to come to a compromise, whereby N can touch whatever she wants (yes, even radiators) if she does so gently and/or with one finger. (I will write a separate post on one-finger touching soon.) She learns that her desire to learn is as important as my need to keep documents safe, or T’s need to not have his face pinched, or her own need to not pull a Christmas tree over herself.

N also learns that words are important. Since she was very young I have talked to her constantly, told her what we are going to do before we do it – “I am about to take you downstairs and change your nappy, then we’re going to go out to go to baby signing class! … Now I am putting you in the wrap, then I’ll put your hat on and grab my gloves, and then we’ll leave” – and when I drafted this post three months ago, I could already see that it made a difference. She is calmer during transitions than other babies. On the rare occasions that we do something without pre-warning her, she is noticeably more reluctant and on edge. For example, the noise of the hoover scares her much less if I warn her it’s about to go on and do a brief countdown. I believe this is a good early introduction to the concept of consent.

It also signals to N that I respect her enough to let her know what is happening – an automatic courtesy in relationships between adults, but often lacking in adult-child relationships. Again, I hope that this will evolve into a mutual respect and encourage N to communicate with me in the future.

And talking to N gives her the space to make her own choices. Many families have a problem with radiators and other heating devices. How can a baby safely explore something that might burn her? We opted to tell N the dangers, choosing the language “one-finger touching, please, radiators can be hot” or “watch out, that might be hot”. Not “that’s hot”, because the radiators aren’t constantly on in this house, and I believe that pretending otherwise might cause N to be more reckless and to doubt that we tell the truth (“they think this is hot? They said that about boiling water too…”). Over time, this has worked brilliantly, and if N wants to touch a radiator, she checks it with one finger and makes a choice accordingly. It is not a choice we have taken away from her.

The last thing I want to touch on is N’s emerging feminist personality. When I began writing this post, N had separation anxiety, and I responded the only way I could: I held her. I put her on my hip when I brushed my teeth. I didn’t leave the house without her, or indeed leave her at all. She is now ten and a half months old, and on one day this week, she spent an hour and a half running round a soft play area with older toddlers and children (she can walk now), came back to me and slept in the wrap for an hour, then woke up and went off to play for another three hours. She is astoundingly confident in herself and in our relationship. She has no doubts that she deserves what she needs and that she will get it. I am so happy to have done that for my child.

Floor Bed and the Crawling Baby

Tags

,

A short update for anyone who is interested in having a floor bed nursery:

At seven and a half months old, N is crawling, pulling herself up, standing unsupported and (rarely) taking individual steps. As such we have had to make a few small alterations to her room in order to keep it baby-safe.

The biggest change was removing a folded-up travel cot from just in front of her door. It was stopping her from escaping, right up until the day she pulled herself up and wriggled over it on her belly. Now she has access to the landing – a small patch of carpet – but we keep both the bathroom and bedroom doors shut to stop her from endangering herself. (She is allowed in both rooms under supervision.) There is a baby gate at the top of the stairs. We have decided against having another baby gate at the bottom of the stairs, instead allowing careful exploration under adult supervision (as I mentioned yesterday).

We have also removed the penguin nesting dolls from the top of the bookcase – since N began pulling herself up to a standing position and discovered the toys up there, we have felt it was safer for her to only have access to soft toys. We have also added a water bottle (half full, with the lid tightly screwed on) to her toy basket, and she has a lot more books than she used to. N is a lot more active and involved when we read to her, and we are encouraging her to touch books with phrases like “stroke gently”, which can be rather difficult for everyone!

Other than that the room is the same as it was when we set it up two and a half months ago. The layout works well for us for the time being, although we would really like to get rid of a few bits of furniture our landlord stores with us.

I mentioned above that N is not allowed unsupervised in the other two upstairs rooms. Our bedroom has not been baby-proofed, and the bathroom has an exposed radiator. I am working with her on the concept of one-finger-touching, which a friend of mine has used to excellent effect with her now-two-year-old – xe got the hang of it before hir first Christmas, which meant they could have a Christmas tree without worry! We also practise the sign for ‘hot’, and I am beginning to introduce ‘slow’, because I worry about her crawling too fast in our bedroom and banging into something.

I imagine the next update will come after Christmas, because I happen to know that we will need to do some room-rearranging then!

Attachment Parent, Feminist Parent

Tags

, , , , ,

This is the sister post to Attachment Child, Feminist Child.

I recently found this article, which criticizes attachment parenting, and am still bothered by it. So much so that I haven’t read all of it, because who needs that kind of judgment first thing in the morning? I hadn’t even finished my first cup of tea!

It reminded me of a greater – and hopefully, false – dilemma that has been plaguing me recently: namely, how can I be an attentive and loving parent to N (now seven months and taking herself up the stairs to bed) and not have it consume my whole identity? How can I meet her every need and still be my own person?

Or, more pertinently, how do I continue being ‘my own person’ when I don’t really have any non-baby-related activities or hobbies? At the moment, I spend my weeks going to baby classes, meeting up with friends and their babies, reading books about parenting, cooking food that N can eat with us, and… well. That’s it.

At a recent breastfeeding group, we were talking about how you manage to do certain things when you have a new baby. The activities pulled out of the hat all met with the same derisive laughter: ironing (but of course), spending alone time with your partner, and looking after yourself. At a different group, with members who don’t follow attachment parenting principles, we were discussing routines, and I thought “we don’t have much of a routine – we follow the baby’s lead and allow her to feed and sleep when she needs those things.”

Both times, I took a mental step back and thought “I used to think this was bad parenting. I used to think this was anti-feminist. And now I do it.”

Why is it different? Why have my views changed?

Like many people, I thought that feminist parenting meant refusing to sacrifice any part of oneself to the needs of the child. Forcing self-sufficiency early; keeping parts of yourself distanced from the child; encouraging strong bonds with other family members at the expense of your own relationship. Phrased differently all of these could be good things, but in practice I have found that it means introducing things like bottle-feeding, lengthy periods of time separated from N, allowing N to cry when I know she would settle happily in my arms. These are not things I was willing to do as a new mother, and they are not things I am willing to do now.

It’s not as simple as “feminism means everyone gets to make the choices that are right for them”, although that is a major part of how my feminist, attachment family functions; for me it is a more complex situation, in which all of these things can happen. N can be a happy, well-adjusted child whose needs are met, whose desires are encouraged, whose development is allowed by the use of space and watchfulness. (For example, she has learned how to climb stairs! She has done this by being allowed to explore under supervision, rather than being contained within a playpen for my convenience.) At the same time, I can be a happy, well-adjusted mother whose needs are met, whose desires are encouraged, and whose capacity for parenting is constantly challenged, and hopefully improving.

Yes, my personality is, on occasion, engulfed by N – by her needs, her desires, her own personality. But I have found it effortless to retain my own identity. So effortless, in fact, that I haven’t even realised I’m doing it, and have been spending time worrying about it instead!

That list above, of the things I spend my week doing? That’s not ‘it’. I read other books. I talk to my friends about things other than our children. I am interested in learning British Sign Language from what I’ve seen in baby signing classes. I spend time on the internet reading feminist and social justice websites, or talking to non-parent friends about all manner of things; I drink wine; I write this blog (occasionally). I do all these things near N. If I do need space away from her, I tell her and my partner gently and with love, allowing them some alone time to play and bond together while I withdraw with a book and a bath. And if my need to be away from N coincides with a time she desperately needs me, I take a deep breath, remind myself that I am an adult and have a concept of time (i.e. it can happen later), and think of times when N has made me unbelievably proud and happy to stop my bad mood from affecting her.

Next time I will talk about how attachment parenting is (for us, anyway) feminist parenting – how my meeting N’s needs is teaching her principles that are vital for her well-rounded, feminist upbringing.

Happier When Fatter

Tags

, , , , ,

[Content Note: reference to methods of dieting and weight loss]

18 months ago, I was a teacher in Korea. Despite running a cooking blog, I was pretty thin – my parents later told me that when they visited, they couldn’t believe how much weight I’d lost in the 10 months since I’d seen them. It wasn’t intentional – I had just really gotten into fat acceptance and was very uncomfortable with anyone making comments about my body.

Now I am about ten to fifteen kilograms heavier. I have been pregnant, given birth, and still breastfeed. A friend told me, last month, that I seemed so much more confident now than when xe last saw me (summer 2011), which xe put down to parenthood.

And yes, I am a confident parent. I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by people – women and mothers especially – who followed their own instincts and shun much advice from the ‘experts’, and I believe unwaveringly that am the expert on my relationship with my daughter (though of course she is the expert on herself). I don’t always know exactly what to do, but I am sure that my partner and I are flexible and imaginative enough to parent N the way she needs to be parented, and I am very happy as a mother.

But my increase in confidence over the last year or so is not just down to the change in my circumstances. It is also down to the changes in my body.

When I was three months pregnant, long before I was visibly pregnant, my partner and I got to spend a month backpacking around China. The other day I was looking through those photos and on seeing a full-body shot of the two of us on the Great Wall of China, my first thought was “that’s not my body.” And suddenly I was thinking back on years of being discontent with my body – ill-advised diets, fasting, going to exercise classes and really hating them, the new year that I sarcastically made the resolution to “not eat all year.” (I happily broke that resolution with a very delicious breakfast, then continued to break it all year.)

I realize now that I was unhappy with my body and its shape, but I assumed that I wanted to be thinner, in accordance with the patriarchy’s constant drumbeat of thin is good, fat is bad. Lose weight and take up less space in the world.

No. I am not the kind of person to take up a small amount of space. I have more presence than I did eighteen months ago, and – as clichéd as it sounds – I feel like an earth mother goddess type. I know that my larger body can do amazing things. As a bonus, my body is now a “fuck you” to the patriarchy.

You know how people sometimes say of fat people, “there’s a thin person inside waiting to get out”? For me, there was a fat woman inside waiting to get out.

Public Breastfeeding as Activism

Tags

, , ,

I breastfeed in public.

I do this for a number of reasons: mostly, of course, to feed my hungry baby. To remain involved in social contexts. To show that neither the ‘feeding’ part nor the ‘exposed breasts’ part are a big deal. To refuse to allow my body to be hidden away. To refuse to participate in the unnecessary sexualisation of breasts. To continue living my life as I would do were I not breastfeeding.

I also do it so that people who will one day become breastfeeding parents themselves see me.

For these future breastfeeders, I try to be an example of what breastfeeding can be.

They see that breastfeeding is easy. They see me unclip my bra with one hand and move my baby in the general direction, trusting her to latch on (she is practised now, after all, practically six months in). They see me cradling her gently while holding a book, while watching out for the bus, while chatting with friends. They see me taking the opportunity to bond with her, looking into her eyes as she sucks, or playfully biting her fingers to make her laugh.

They see that breastfeeding is not easy. They see me struggle to pull my bra down from under a squirming, wailing baby. They see my perfectly content baby pull off my nipple mid-feed and start observing it with a deep look of concentration on her face, or kneading it like a cat. They see me not knowing what I’m doing, whether a crying N is arching her back with hunger or anger (or both!), trying to force my nipple into her mouth. They see her push me away in tears, me continuing to try feeding her for a few moments before I realize what I’m doing and let her be. They see her eventually calming down enough to get what she wants, on those occasions that she does want to feed.

They see me reading my baby’s most subtle signals, and completely misreading those signals too.

They see strangers supporting me: I can’t count the number of thumbs-ups I’ve gotten, particularly from middle-aged women. They don’t see strangers disapproving of me: as far as I’m aware, I’ve gotten one negative comment and even that was a begrudging compliment (“she’s brave”).

In my six months as a breastfeeding mother, I have seen very, very few women breastfeeding in public. I get excited when I do – grinning broadly at them, telling people later on “I saw a woman breastfeeding today!”

I get that it’s scary to expose yourself in public, both physically and emotionally. What if someone looks? What if someone says something? What if the baby cries? What if the baby starts twiddling your nipple and gazing sternly at it and spraying milk all over the table behind her? (A situation I’ve been having to deal with this past week – congratulations on your inquisitive mind, N!) As much as the NHS pushes breastfeeding over bottle-feeding, and as much as bottle-feeding can be demonized, breastfeeding in public still remains a thorny issue.

I want more women to breastfeed in public, for themselves and for future breastfeeders. For example, although I use a variety of positions to feed N, there is only one in which I sit up and therefore which I use in public.

I think it would greatly benefit future breastfeeders to remove much of the stigma associated with pulling your breasts out in public to feed your baby; not just directly, but also for them to see a wide variety of breastfeeding, both successful and unsuccessful. The learning curve once you have your newborn is a steep one, and making breastfeeding safer and more visible can only help.

You Are The Expert On Yourself

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Dear N,

You are the expert on yourself.

You know when you want to feed, how long you want to feed, when you want a nappy change, when you are tired, when you want to sleep (different things, apparently!), when you want to wake up, when you want to play, when you want to babble, when you want a cuddle, when you are itchy, when you are cold, when you are happy, when you are sad.

I can make educated guesses on some of these things (you are rubbing your eyes and crying – let me help you settle to sleep!) but I often get it wrong, because I don’t have all the information. No one does, except you.

As you grow and become more self-aware, you will know what kind of toys you like, what kind of clothes you like, when you want to cut your hair, when you want to eat and what kind of food you want, when you are full and want to stop eating, when you want a bath, when you want to go outside and run, when you want to read a book, when you want to play a game, when you want to spend time with me and your dad and your sibling(s) and your friends, when you want to be alone. If you want a partner, or more than one partner, or no partner. If you want children, and how you want to have them, and how you want to raise them. If you want to be a girl, or a boy, or a woman, or a man, or neither, or both, or something entirely different.

I’m not the boss of you. If I ever tell you “it’s not that bad” when you hurt yourself, or “you can’t be hungry now” when you ask for a snack before dinner, or “smile!” or “hug your grandparents” or “you’ll be fine” when you’re uncomfortable – please remember that I don’t know a thing, because you are the expert on yourself, and neither I nor anyone else can tell you otherwise.

And so I want you to learn yourself. Pay attention to the things that make you feel good, the things that don’t, the kind of books you disappear into, the injustices that make you rage, the clothes that show off the parts of your body you want to show off, the food that satisfies your hunger, the food that satisfies other urges, the movements that come easily to your body, the pronouns and descriptors which feel right to you.

There is too much emphasis in this society on external cues for phenomena we can regulate ourselves. Girls especially are taught not to trust themselves. Some of these are well-intended – think of a parent saying “just one more mouthful” when you’re full but they’ve slaved over dinner at the end of a long day, or “you’re not wearing that” when they just mean to protect you from predators (who, by the way, only care what you’re wearing because they can use your clothing as an argument in court, not because it actually makes them ‘lose control’ or whatever bullshit). Some of these are not – think of starving yourself because there are whole industries which make their money from teaching you that your body is wrong, and binging because you’ve lost your natural instincts to eat what you want, when you want.

It’s going to be hard, N, to hold your ground against a world which tells you that we know your body and your mind better than you do. (I’ll tell you about my labour with you through that prism, one day, if you’re interested.) (And I’ll probably tell that story to other people on my blog, too.) Which is why I want you to immerse yourself in yourself. You are the expert; be the best expert you can be. Don’t be the ‘expert’ who makes assumptions and learns from amateurs. Do the original research. Experiment. Form solid conclusions, and use those conclusions, and publicize those conclusions. Experiment some more. Do this so that when people say “go on, you know you want to,” you can say “no” with utter confidence.

Don’t let yourself be swayed by others. Stand your ground, have boundaries, and don’t let other people tell you who you are.

I, for one, will never pretend that I know you better than you do yourself. If I slip up, I am sorry. Like Will Smith, I want my daughter – you – to own her body, to understand her mind, and to make her own choices.

Floor Bed: The Beginning

Tags

,

First of all, thank you to the people who commented on my last post – your words mean a lot to me. I’m thinking of using it as a jumping-off point for a “My Parenting Philosophies/Attitudes/Rules” post but that will take some work.

Secondly: the floor bed! I’ve mentioned several times that I wanted to create a bedroom for my daughter, not for the adults who will occasionally enter it, and with a bit of difficulty (our house is rented) we’ve managed it! Photos follow – for all of them I had to crouch down to child-height to give a proper sense of the room. It’s really not a space for people over four foot tall!

The bedroom is usually tidier than this*, but you get the idea. There’s a cot mattress on the floor, with a mirror next to it. The floor is carpeted, covered with a rug, and then there are two blankets on top of the rug. In the corner, by a wardrobe, is a lamp (the wires are usually tucked out of sight, I’m not sure why they’re on display here) but that will be removed as soon as the baby starts crawling. On this wall we have stuck up a scratch map.

(Yes, my baby has a lightning bolt for a face.)

Sorry about the light in this one – this photograph was taken facing the window (which is just above this chest of drawers). The drawers are pretty full because some of the (many) gifts we got when she was born are still in use, but as she gets bigger and able to choose her own clothes, we’ll have fewer items in there for her to choose from – that way she hopefully won’t get overwhelmed. There is a book sling on top of the drawers where her picture books live. The purple basket is full of toys plus a couple of ‘playsilks’, which are really just old sarongs that N enjoys chewing on.

The toy basket has worked excellently for us. Previously I was sitting N in the middle of the room (with her back to the mattress), surrounded by toys, and she would look around and then wail. So I started putting all her toys and a book or two in the basket, then putting the basket in front of her – now she removes toys from it one by one, playing and shaking and chewing and inspecting each item for ages before moving on to the next thing.

To the right of the chest of drawers is a tall bookcase lying down. Only one of the four shelves was screwed in, so we removed the others for safety. The books inside are mostly children’s books (T’s old “Horrible Science” books, for example). The picture on the wall is something I chose months before she was born, because it’s beautiful and because we thought it would go with her cot (which we painted red).

On top of the sideways bookshelf are some more toys, the penguin nesting dolls which my parents bought as a “congratulations you’re pregnant and it’s Christmas” present, the baby monitor, and a box full of night-time nappies. We’ve been using reusable nappies since N was five days old, and I’ve found it incredibly easy (which is not, of course, to say everyone would!). Buying second-hand and reassessing when necessary has meant that we’ve tried a lot of different things before finding the particular nappies that work for us: right now that is Tots Bots Easyfits and pocket nappies during the day (which allow N to be flexible and reach her toes), and Little Lamb fitteds with PUL wraps at night (which are super-absorbent). In fact, we’re going on holiday next week and can’t take our reusables and I’m scared!

One shot from adult height to show off the globe lampshade. On the wall is a map of the Antarctic – in case you couldn’t tell, the vague ‘theme’ for the nursery is “intrepid explorer”.

 

 

Hello!

N is in her room for daytime naps, and for the first half of the night. Once she cries for a feed (around 1am), I move her into my bed and we co-sleep for the rest of the night. The only problem we’ve had is her rolling off the mattress and waking herself up, but we had the same problem in the cot – she would roll over and stick her limbs through the bars, and I was terrified she’d break something. At least there’s no real danger to her now.

I love sitting in N’s room during the day, playing and reading and lying peacefully with her, and find feeding her to sleep a lot more comfortable for us both. T has commented that it’s like walking into an early childhood classroom, which I think is a good atmosphere to recreate – after all, those classrooms are geared towards the people who populate them, both in terms of size and content.

Any questions?

*No it’s not.

The Feelings Police

Tags

,

It’s been a while since my last post, and that’s because I’ve been busy, and also not allowing my jerkbrain to make me feel guilty about letting this ‘responsibility’ slip. It’s okay for me to not write for a while if I don’t have the time.

Today I’m thinking about self-policing one’s emotions because of being a parent – specifically, as the parent of a young baby.

Last week, I had a bad time. Visitors had left, other parents had been rude about me, a health thing didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, and on Friday afternoon I’d arranged to meet my partner after his day at work for us to all go home together. I’d spent a lot of time on my feet (with a baby on my front and a rucksack on my back, carrying a full-length mirror), and when I got to the place where we’d arranged to meet, he wasn’t there. I couldn’t get through to him. Eventually he called and it turned out that he’d left work early – his phone had had my old number on it so when he tried to call me, there was no answer, so he’d gone home assuming I’d changed my mind. Slightly convoluted, and rather annoying, but a situation that was not really anyone’s fault.

When I eventually spoke to my partner, T, I was really angry. Unfortunately, N was tired, and we had a twenty minute wait before T would arrive for us. I fell silent and let angry thoughts swirl around my head – and the baby started getting more vocally upset. People were looking at me. So I started making eye contact with her, bouncing and grinning and singing and signing and commenting on everything I could see. When T picked us up, I put N in her car seat and spent the car ride fuming; we got home and I switched back into Jolly Mother mode.

I’ve noticed similar things happen before. One particular moment that sticks out in my memory was after witnessing a long and loud battle between N and the sleep monster, with both T and I were getting increasingly stressed. I held N closely, thinking about the time when she first sat up and couldn’t stop laughing in delight at her newfound skill, and as I relaxed she finally fell asleep.

I feel like this is a really complicated phenomenon: I’m forbidding myself from feeling negative emotions, which isn’t fair on me; by pretending to feel happy, I’m cheering up N; by refusing to feel anger, I’m showing her that we should mask our negative emotions and teaching her an unhealthy way of dealing with valid feelings; by ‘faking it’, I’m decreasing the length of my bad moods and making myself feel happier.

Now, while she is still so young and held close to me (I babywear), I think continuing to force myself not to physically feel certain emotions is the best thing. Newborns and young babies are so attuned to their parents, particularly the parent who bore hir and/or breastfeeds and/or provides the bulk of childcare – aware of the parent’s heart rate, body temperature, smell – that I think the best thing to do, before N can communicate and understand more complex ideas, is to avoid triggering upset behaviours by avoiding them myself.

However, I automatically find any parenting guideline that changes according to the age of the child… dodgy. Behave one way with a newborn and another with a toddler? It just sounds wrong to me – unless, of course, the underlying concept is the same. I want the underlying concept to be Emotions are okay, although they can be hard, and you need to deal with them appropriately. Maybe the answer is to explain to N: “I am annoyed now because a plan I made has gone wrong, and I’m going to stand out in the cold for another twenty minutes. The weight I am carrying on my back and hips is heavy, and people are giving me funny looks for carrying around a full-length mirror so I feel self-conscious. My legs are tired and I want to go home. But I don’t want you to be upset too, so how about a few verses of Row Row Row Your Boat?”

With any luck, this behaviour will segue nicely into “N, you’ve drawn all over the walls, and now I am annoyed because I am going to have to clean it up when I wanted to sit down and have a cup of tea” or “N, I am very tired. When you shout loudly like that, my head hurts, so I am going to go and lie down” – i.e. being able to explain anger when I am feeling it, and showing her how to deal with anger without resorting to shouting and screaming.

I still worry that I will accidentally say things that teach her that she is directly responsible for my feelings (“I can’t get angry because it will make mummy upset! I must pretend I am happy!”) but this seems like the best I can do. If nothing else, explicit communication is a parenting skill I will always want to improve.

Thoughts?