Practising Parenting

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There are arguments that my five month old daughter understands everything I say – and to an extent, I believe this. I believe that the foundations I set now will help contribute to a later sense of well-being, stability, and fortitude in her, and that ingraining habits in myself will help me become a better parent.

I don’t believe that the words I say to her now do actually ‘count’: for example, I don’t want to label N (as a ‘clever girl’, or ‘bad swimmer’, or ‘thumb-sucker’, or whatever), but when a “clever girl!” slips out during swimming lessons, I don’t think that dooms us to a life of N trying and failing to live up to her ‘reputation’ and growing to hate me.

Nonetheless, I try now to model the behaviour that I want to see in myself when she is older. I am taking the chance to practise my parenting-of-child skills on my baby.

Yesterday I went out for lunch with a friend. N was quiet, sleeping for some of the meal and playing happily with her rattle for most of the rest. Instead of saying “what a good girl” and implying that quietness is good (when really it is just convenient for me), I told N what she had done (“you have been quiet while I ate my food”), thanked her  (“I appreciate it”), and praised the underlying concept of behaviour that I would like to see in the future (“you have been very considerate”). I’m pretty certain I sound quite silly to anyone listening.

Evenings have been hard lately, as we try to break the sucking-to-sleep habit that N has formed. Sometimes she gets so angry at us that she is too upset to nurse as usual, and screams and screams and screams. At these times, we make sure everything is okay – too hot? Too cold? Hungry? Wet? Windy? – then just hold her and let her cry until she has finished. Unless, that is, the problem is that we are holding her and she wants some ‘N-time’.

I don’t want to teach N that loudness – shouting, screaming, whining – is ‘bad’ and must be avoided, at the expense of her never being able to express herself. Everyone gets frustrated, angry, upset, and although there are obviously times and places where screaming is not appropriate, I want for her to have spaces where releasing energy that way is safe.

Similarly, I don’t want to learn to say ‘no’ to reasonable requests. I’ve been practising this with adults, mostly: I am asked something (“can I have a drink?”) and instead of saying “no, I am busy,” I make an effort to say, “yes. I’ll just take my shoes off and turn the computer on, then I will get you a drink.” With N, this happens most often when I am just getting out the shower and she begins to cry from the bedroom. I often dry myself while shouting, “N, I’m just coming! I need to dry myself and put deodorant on before I come to you, or I will drip water all over the floor,” then continue commentating my drying routine before I walk into the room. This is for many reasons: to teach her how to prioritize, to feel acknowledged but to learn that she is not the centre of the universe, to learn that I am always there for her but do have my own needs.

These are skills which I am practising now, on my baby, so that they are ready when my toddler and child and teenager needs them.

There are many next steps, but one of them will be modelling how to cope with anger in spaces where screaming is not appropriate. That’s not such a big deal for a five month old (screaming is appropriate in all spaces!) but it means that I will have to show her that I am fallible and how I deal responsibly with making mistakes.

One last thing: a typical ‘practising parenting’ skill is not swearing around your baby. I am not doing this! The planned rule is ‘swearing is okay when it’s appropriate to the situation and under my roof’ – “shit” if you stub your toe on your bedroom door is fine; calling me a piece of shit when out in public is far from fine. But as with any rules, we will revisit it whenever necessary.

Ableism and the Paralympics

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  1. I don’t have a TV and haven’t watched any of the Paralympics (or the Olympics). I do, however, suspect that the commentary might be rife with what I discuss below.
  2. I am able-bodied and not the best person to speak on ableism – I probably engage in ableist language and attitudes myself. I would definitely appreciate helpful criticism on this post, and will gladly correct any mistakes I make. Thanks for your help.

Even without a TV, it’s difficult to avoid the sporting events that have been going on in England this summer, and there’s one idea that keeps coming up in regard to the Paralympics that I have to address.

This idea is best encapsulated by one of my friend’s Facebook statuses:

i truly am around some extraordinary superhumans, with the right will power anyone can do anything they wish no matter what adversities one may face 🙂

Really?

Anyone can do anything? An able-bodied person is saying that anyone, regardless of their physical or mental illnesses or disabilities, can do anything because Paralympic athletes? And if you don’t, it’s because of your attitude?

Hello, bootstraps!

This is pure conservative rhetoric – that by thinking hard enough you can overcome any obstacles that life throws your way. That if you are miserable or ill or infertile or physically incapable of certain things, it’s your own fault. Think positively, work harder, and things will get better. This attitude transfers easily to government and social institutions, so we begin to believe that poor people deserve their lot in life, that we should slash benefits to get them off their collective arse and back into work, with no consideration that there are very few jobs available at the moment.

Everyone faces different adversities. My facebook friend’s status is not inspiring or affirming or whatever xe intended it to be; it is a blatant lie, and it is victim-blaming.

When Are You Going To Give Me Grandchildren? Childfree by Choice

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Okay, so not a recipe. The camera battery died, so have this instead: not a post about parenting, but about not parenting! Perhaps an odd way to start off something that is ultimately a parenting blog, but I’m full of surprises. I will be using gender-neutral pronouns in this post: xe for s/he, hir for his/her/him.

For a long time I have been aware of the Desperate Grandparent phenomenon online – the forums I frequent (Shakesville in particular) are full of people who do not want to have children and whose parents don’t understand or believe them. Recently I’ve become aware of it in my own life, although (obviously) not applied directly to me, but to a relative of mine who is ambitious, works hard, and appears to be completely happy in hir chosen career. Furthermore, xe is vocal about not wanting to have children. And I can understand why.

Thirteen months ago, I had a full-time job with a good salary, worked part-time as a freelance writer, and updated my cooking blog several times a week. Now I do no paid work, have only just started writing again, and spend my days catering to N’s every whim. This is not something I begrudge, but I do worry about my career, about my family finances, about my ability to interact with other adults, about my sanity (there are occasional days where I hate N’s behaviour and the situation I’m stuck in, and on those days I fear depression). At the same time I love N and enjoy my life with her, relish the opportunity to spend so much time watching and helping her develop, feel pride in the fact that she is exclusively breastfed.

Ultimately, none of the things I was doing thirteen months ago were that important to me. I hated teaching and was beginning to resent the internalized pressure of keeping a blog updated regularly (foreshadowing? I hope not!). The only thing that was important to me was continuing to write, and that is something I have managed to keep doing – but only just. N is nearly five months old and only now have I got the mental energy to write.

If I had loved my job – like my relative does – then things would be entirely different. On becoming pregnant, I would not be able to do that job for a significant period of time. I would miss out on anything that happened in my field during my maternity leave. I would not progress any further in my career – in fact, it’s more likely that I  would slip back a notch or two, and when I returned to work, have to waste another few months (or years?) getting back to the position I started in. I would be passed over for promotion in favour of men, or of people without children. I would have to use my holiday and sick days to look after that child during school holidays and hir illnesses. In hir early years, a large proportion of my salary would go to childcare providers. My superiors would think less of me for having children – my family and peers would think less of me for being so career-minded. To me, this sounds like some form of hell.

These desperate grandparents say things like “it’s different once you have your own!” It is, yes. I love N fiercely. But that love does not change anything else about the world. I’m still less likely to get a job than another twenty-two-year-old with a good degree.

I wanted children. (I still do.) I knew some of what it entailed as my parents were always very honest with me about parenting – I was present at my sister’s birth, I witnessed my mother breastfeeding my siblings, I watched my parents raising us and discussed it with them when I felt there was something better they could do (as only a teenager could) – but I still had no idea.

I don’t know why my relative – or anyone else – doesn’t want children, and I don’t need to know. Personally, I can imagine not wanting children because the working world is unfriendly towards parents (especially, I believe, towards parents who experience pregnancy), because some people value their career and/or lack of dependents above potential children, and because pregnancy is kind of horrifying.*

It baffles me that you would want to force children on anyone – let alone your own offspring.

 

*This is something I feel very strongly about and intend to revisit in another post. Pregnancy is natural, sure, but also weirdly like a horror movie.

In Support of Feeding Babies

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I’ve been struggling a little with this post because I’m so excited and so full of ideas I can’t pin down one thing I want to talk about! (I’m expecting this post to be a bit scatty. We’ll call it a warm-up.) Right now I’m doing more research into floor beds – that throwaway comment at the bottom of Sleep got me thinking that it might just be possible. And I’m planning for my next post to be a recipe, to cover all bases in our first week.

Anyway. I read this article over the weekend, and one sentence in particular resonated with me:

We’re pushing breastfeeding as a message but we sure aren’t embracing it as a culture.”

The author is talking about the US, and goes on to talk about workplace culture and other things that I’m not sure entirely apply to the UK (or at least not to me at the moment).

But this particular sentence is applicable to my direct and indirect experiences of breastfeeding. I am extraordinarily lucky in that breastfeeding has never been a problem for me or N: I was confident, she was good at suckling, we were surrounded by women who had breastfed and who supported us totally, and we never came across any problems.

The one issue I did have was right after giving birth, when the midwife asked me not to feed her until the placenta was delivered. I think it was maybe half an hour before it came out, and then when I did try to latch her on, we both struggled. My partner left and went home to sleep, and N and I were left alone, and it was the strangest time: I was so elated but so terrified that Breastfeeding Was Going Wrong, and is the baby starving, and oh my god look there’s a baby, and just a general buzzing throughout my mind. When she was eight hours old, she did it, and we’ve not had an issue since. But now I wonder what on earth that midwife was thinking, and regret that I was so placid and obedient just after labour (and during, too, but that is another story).

One of my friends was less lucky, ended up not breastfeeding (not through choice), and was shamed at every turn. Did you know that when looking up how to make a bottle feed, the Aptamil website reminds you that formula is a poor substitute for breastmilk before it lets you watch the video? I’m guessing it’s not the only one. Women who are not formula feeding voluntarily should not be made to feel any worse than they already do.

A breastfeeding friend was warned that her baby was not gaining weight fast enough, and encouraged to supplement with formula. She spent two weeks trying to force more milk into her perfectly happy baby; thankfully, the next time she took the baby to be weighed, a different health visitor reassured her that her child just happens to be on a lower percentile. Women who are breastfeeding should not be made to worry unnecessarily about their baby’s weight gain, nor should they be forced to doubt their capability.

One of the books I have (Your Baby Week By Week – not recommended for attachment parents, exclusive breastfeeders, co-sleepers, baby-led weaners, babywearers, and more) pushes the importance of giving your baby a bottle of expressed breastmilk. I have read arguments (possibly in this book, I can’t remember and don’t care to look) that breastfed babies must be able to take a bottle so that their parents can feed them in public. Women should feel completely free to feed how they want, when they want, where they want.

I hate the idea that I should make N take a bottle so strangers won’t run the risk of seeing part of my breast.

This is a feminist issue: we are expected and encouraged to use our bodies in a certain way, shamed if we do not or cannot, expected to fail, expected to hide our successes so other people do not have to risk looking at our bodies.

How do people keep all these bigoted ideas in their head at once!?

The current culture is pushing breastfeeding without understanding the social, biological, and emotional contexts.

Society at large is not ready for, or supportive of, public breastfeeding. Some feminists are pushing for equal topless rights, arguing that breasts are unnecessarily sexualised. I would go further and say that breasts are constantly unnecessarily sexualised. If I wear a push-up bra and a low-cut top and go clubbing, I’m purposely sexualising my body; wearing a stretchy-necked top and a nursing bra and periodically pulling my breasts out to feed my baby is a totally different thing. So different that I’m beginning to think that anyone is uncomfortable with me feeding my baby is imagining me in high heels and nipple tassels… anyway.

It is embarrassing to feed your baby in public because people are staring (trying to catch a glimpse of a nipple?) or looking away (desperately trying not to catch a glimpse of a nipple?) and I do feel the pressure to balance N in the feeding position to hide me undoing my bra.

Biologically, some women struggle to breastfeed. I’m going to leave this here as I don’t know much about it, but basically, if you physically cannot sustain a baby on your own breastmilk, this is not something you should feel punished for. We’ve (mostly… partly…) gotten past blaming people for attributes they were born with, like homosexuality*, but for some reason we believe that women can want their way into successful breastfeeding?

Furthermore, it requires a lot of mental energy to breastfeed in a world where women’s bodies are simultaneously public property and something sinful to be hidden. We feel as if we are inviting comment when we expose our breasts, because strangers already make rude and frightening comments on the parts of a woman’s body that are visible. If I did not believe in fat acceptance, I would struggle to bare certain parts of my body in public (for example, refusing to wear short-sleeved tops in summer as a teenager).

What we need is a world where people breastfeed publicly, where breasts are not sexualised in non-sexualised settings, where those who do not breastfeed are allowed to look (so that young people can learn what breastfeeding looks like, thus ingraining certain ideas such as positioning to aid their breastfeeding experiences in the future), where parents do not feel like they are hounded for their feeding choices, and where women and their bodies are trusted. Instead we have none of those things and a breastfeeding campaign which attempts to ignore that.

*This might be a bad example; please suggest others!

Sleep

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I’ve got a four month old baby. This post is about some of the struggles we’ve had with sleep so far.

Before N was born, I knew I wanted to co-sleep with her, but didn’t realize how much easier it would make my life in the first few weeks. Once I’d discovered the lying-down nursing position, I stayed mostly asleep during night feeds. I liked (like) being close to her while she’s calm and still, the affirmation that we are both so good at breastfeeding that we can do it in our sleep, warming each other with body heat. It was like being pregnant without the discomfort.

As she grew (and believe me, this girl grows) it began to get more uncomfortable. She is long and flaily, and kicks and punches and wriggles and basically takes up far more than a third of the not-quite-double bed. I still didn’t move her to the cot, because I didn’t want to. She started the night out in there quite often, and I would lie awake staring at the mattress monitor until she needed a comfort feed (usually about an hour in) then hold her close and sleep the rest of the night.

Then, not too long ago, I realized that she’s not benefiting from co-sleeping as much as I am. She wants to be able to move around and that’s not really something that can happen in our bed; she is comfort-sucking to get back to sleep when she is more or less capable of getting to sleep on her own anyway; very recently, she has started waking up and crying because she is too hot cuddled against me.

For about a week now, she’s had daytime naps in her cot. I was very much against this idea for a long time: I didn’t want to be running up and down the stairs during the day, felt like she should be close to me so that I could make sure she was still alive, felt like she would sleep better close to me. This transitional period is hard: she wakes every 45 minutes, and sometimes she’ll go back to sleep, sometimes she needs one of us to roll her over on to her side, sometimes she needs a cuddle or even to comfort suckle. I watch the audio monitor like a hawk and jump a little every time one of the lights flickers. But she sleeps for longer, and is happier when she wakes up. At night, she goes to bed in her cot, comes out occasionally for feeds or comfort feeds, moves between our bed and hers depending on how tired I am and how awake she is.

My thoughts about sleep are fragmented, disjointed, just like my sleep patterns. But it’s okay. I don’t like it when she wakes up at 5am and refuses to go back to sleep or even to be quiet, but I’ve never been a great sleeper. I don’t mind feeding her during the night but I would like to know that she can sleep through. What I want is for N to be able to go to sleep without the crutch of a nipple and sleep through the night. I like our pre-sleep and mid-sleep feeding sessions, so I don’t need her to do without them entirely.

(P.S. How awesome is the idea of a floor bed?! I wish I had more room and could do that, but unfortunately there are some pieces of child-unfriendly furniture in the nursery. N’s floor bed will have to wait until we move, or until I figure out a new way of storing clothes and books.)

First post: hopeful

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I’m Francesca: radical feminist, attachment parent, sometimes-keen cook, hopeful writer. I say ‘hopeful’ because most of the things I write eventually fall by the wayside (see: baby) but I’ve been longing for a space to vocalize and record some of my thoughts so here goes.

I will be blogging what I know, so being a stay-at-home mother and angry feminist and how those two roles interact. My old blog was exclusively a cooking blog, so I’ll post the occasional recipe. I also believe that some revolutionary food attitudes are an integral part of being a feminist, so expect some musings on food too.

Introductions are always dull, so let’s get on with it! Here are some topics I have ideas about and will be writing posts on, hopefully sooner than later:

  • Sleep. What’s the best approach for the baby, and what’s the best approach for us, her parents? How have her sleep requirements changed over time and how have we adapted to that?
  • Dressing a big baby girl – the onslaught of pink dresses in size 3-6 months.
  • My experience of pregnancy: accidental but within the contexts of a loving relationship; wanted but living in a country where abortion is illegal; a very physical experience that I don’t believe is told often enough.
  • The politics of eating as a woman, and baby-led weaning.
  • Letters to my baby with a twist – releasing tension and anger so she doesn’t see me dealing with negative emotions in a non-constructive way.