Sometimes I wonder whether, if people actually took the time to read all the stories printed about being a parent in the media, anyone would ever be motivated to procreate again.
If you judge parenthood on the excitable and overhyped stories which creep up on my Facebook feed, it is a constant stream of judgemental Janes, sneering mums and unhelpful shop assistants.
This week my social media accounts have been overwhelmed by stories, blogs and comments about the poor lady who was asked to leave John Lewis because they had received a complaint about her tantrumming toddler. There is no doubt that whoever made that complaint was a thoughtless moron, and the staff member who acted upon it by asking them to leave was naïve and insensitive to say the least. I can guarantee you that no one in that store felt more uncomfortable and put out by that child’s tantrum than the mum, and to be asked to leave in such a way must have been pure humiliation.
Yet we love these stories, because we love to be outraged. We share them with our friends, perpetuating an idea that large swathes of the world are against us mothers, determined to be mean and spiteful just because we have children.
Angry tales about how badly breastfeeding mothers are treated abound. Again, this treatment is completely out of order, but the prevalence of these angry responses paints a skewed view of a world where strangers are lurking in corners just waiting to jump out and shout at anyone who dares to feed their baby anywhere but their own house or the privacy of a dank public toilet.
And if you think the stories paint a bleak picture, just take a look at a parenting forum.
Lonely, exhausted and stressed over my difficulties to feed my son during my first maternity leave, I discovered the horrors of these forums first hand. Desperate for advice on how to feed, I turned to the internet for support and solace but found the exact opposite: page after page of desperate stories and judgemental comments, with only a spattering of kindness to break the misery.
Thankfully, I came to my senses and went out into the real world, only to discover that actually…people are lovely! Random strangers would stop me in the street to talk to me about my baby, passers-by would go out of their way to open doors for me or help me down stairs with the buggy. Having lived for years in London and never managed to exchange more than a few words with a stranger, suddenly I became an actual member of my local community. I’ve breastfed two children and never had more than a handful of funny looks (at least that I’ve noticed!). I’ve dealt with hideous toddler meltdowns in public and only once wanted to punch someone in the face for their unprompted attempts to intervene.
Sadly, there will always be some people who are thoughtless and unhelpful when you are trying to deal with children, and the sleep deprivation that comes with parenthood will inevitably make those moments feel a hundred times worse. But for anyone who begins to feel that the world is against you and your children, let me leave you with this story…
I was having a crap day today. Stressed, sleep deprived, soaking wet, with a whingy baby and having earlier left my son’s beloved scooter on the bus, I boarded the number 73 grumpy and dreading the journey home. When my son suggested singing ‘This old man…’ to cheer me up, I forced myself to join in, hoping the rest of the passengers wouldn’t mind. Then, as we reached ‘he played three’, a jolly old toothless lady on the next seat joined in. Then the lady behind. Then the lady next to her. Before I knew it, half the bottom deck of this busy bus were engaged in a spontaneous flash mob style singsong, before each smiled or told me what a lovely boy I had as they disembarked. It was one of the loveliest moments I have ever experienced.
You see, some people are gits. But most people are lovely.
I am due to give birth to my second child any day now.
I officially only started maternity leave today, but as a teacher I’ve been lucky enough to have the summer holidays to prepare for our new arrival. If anything, it’s been too long. I have become obsessed with making every little detail perfect, both for the baby and our 3 year old boy.
After weeks of sorting, washing, buying and organising, this week I reached fever pitch. I worried that not all the old baby clothes had been washed and ironed; I stressed about the fact that our new bouncy chair didn’t fit together properly; I was close to screaming over the failed delivery of our new oven. How could I possibly be expected to cope with all this when I should be practising my breathing and preparing for birth?
Then, last night, something stopped me in my tracks.
That photo. The photo we’ve all seen and will be haunted by for years. The photo of a young refugee washed up on the shore. The photo of an innocent little boy killed by his and his family’s desperation to find a better life, killed by hideous situations beyond their control. After days of worrying and stressing about nothing, this was the thing that finally made me burst into tears.
Suddenly, none of my worries seemed that important.
The truth is that being able to bring two healthy children into a stable home environment makes me one of the luckiest women in the world. That’s not hyperbole, it’s not hormonal sentimentality: it’s a fact. We don’t need perfectly white baby grows or matching nursery furniture, and I’m ashamed to admit that I’d forgotten that. We just need our home, our family and love.
Like so many people, it took that photo to remind me what matters. Even though I’ve written about it before, I’d lost all perspective. In another time and place, that little boy could easily have been my little boy. There but for the grace of God…
It’s not just me who should be ashamed: in years to come, I’m sure we’ll look back as a nation and be ashamed of ourselves. Of how concerns over our own lives and comfort made us forget that everyone deserves somewhere safe to bring up their family. Children are children, regardless of where they come from.
In the meantime, I’m giving up on my obsessive preparations to think about what really matters. I’ll hug my son a little tighter and cuddle my bump a little more. If anyone I know is reading this and was thinking of buying us a baby present, give the money to Save the Children or send the presents to the migrants in Calais. We’ve got everything we need.
Let’s not let that poor little boy’s death be in vain. Let it give us all the perspective to see what’s important and have a little more mercy and humanity.
‘What are you up to today then?’ ‘I thought I might go to baby massage at the Children’s Centre, then I might make a start on the ironing this afternoon’ ‘Well, that sounds fun. Quite a busy day!’ So would go the morning conversations between myself and my husband during my first maternity leave. After the final ‘busy’ comment, I would generally stare at him with a contempt I would struggle to muster up for any offence these days. Busy? Seriously? The patronising assumption that an hour of waving your baby’s limbs around followed by discussing signs of teething with a group of women I barely knew hardly counted as ‘busy’ or ‘fun’ in my eyes.
I loved being a mum, but in those early months I struggled with maternity leave in a way I never expected. It was boring, the days stretched out and, above all, it was lonely.
This week Action for Children published a report stating that a quarter of parents feel lonely, isolated and ‘cut off’. They claim this level of loneliness is shocking, but I’m not shocked.
Prior to giving birth my days had been genuinely busy. Working as a secondary teacher, I barely get a moment to myself. At times it drives me crazy, but I’m never isolated and in 7 years I don’t think I’ve ever clock watched. I can honestly say I love working.
Yet when my son was born, I made this choice to give it all up for a year and revel in the domesticity of motherhood. While I’m glad I did, there were definitely times when I found it more frustrating than fulfilling. I’m far from the only person to ever feel this way, and it certainly isn’t a modern phenomenon. In 1963 Betty Friedan published the hugely influential book ‘The Feminine Mystique’, credited this book with kick starting the second wave of feminism. In it, she exposed the unhappiness felt by many supposedly well off women, blessed with a comfortable home and a healthy family, who simply couldn’t find fulfilment through domesticity alone.
If such struggles were felt by mothers who had grown up in a society expecting such a life, I wonder if this loneliness and disaffection isn’t felt all the more keenly by women of our generation who have grown up to expect so much more? These days many mothers have spent years educating themselves, working and often carving out successful careers. To go from a respected colleague to a stay at home mum is never going to be easy. It’s not just the lack of work colleagues, but everything that goes along with it: the structure, the intellectual stimulation, the post work socialising, the sense of purpose and achievement, and having something to talk about other than snot, vomit and poo! Viewed in this light, the loneliness felt by many new mothers is anything but shocking.
However, far from a sentence of loneliness, parenthood can also be the doorway to a whole new community. I lived for years in London never meeting a neighbour, but now know so many they even offer to babysit so we can go out! These days I can go shopping and run into friends in a way which I never thought possible in a busy metropolis: I was happy to believe the ‘everyone in London is grumpy and will never talk to you’ stereotype. After weeding through the boring baby chat, I’ve even made a couple of good ‘mum-friends’ who I hope will remain part of my life for many years to come.
Plus, for those of us who really can’t cope, at least the work of people like Friedan means we do have the choice to return to work when we just can’t take any more baby yoga!
Having said all that, my due date is a week away and I’m about to start this whole stay at home thing again. Could someone maybe pop round in a few weeks and make sure I haven’t gone completely mad??
As December approaches, I am faced with my annual Herculean task of enthusing my other half about the festive season. It is the time of year it becomes most apparent that we are totally and completely incompatible. While I run around covering everything with tinsel, blaring out Nat King Cole day and night and scheduling in a visit to every vaguely Christmas-themed event from the moment I open the first door of my advent calendar, my husband all but sits in a corner mumbling ‘Bah Humbug’. He leaves all his shopping until Christmas Eve and then moans that the true tragedy of the demise of the high street is that you can no longer just run and buy everything in Woolworths.
Luckily, I have a secret weapon: Macaulay Culkin. For some unfathomable reason, even my husband’s Grinch-like demeanour is thawed the moment Home Alone appears on the TV and renders him, momentarily, susceptible to the festive jollities. I’d like to think it’s because of the heart-warming message about the importance of family, love and not judging by appearances. In reality, it’s probably far more to do with Joe Pesci being whacked repeatedly in the face with large metal objects.
Whatever your feelings about Christmas, or Macaulay Culkin, there’s no doubting that Home Alone a great family film, albeit riddled with plot holes and unresolved issues. Top of the list: where the hell are social services? If they don’t see fit to intervene in this hapless and disorganised family’s clear neglect when they leave their 8 year old home alone at Christmas (even when they call the police to tell them they’ve done it!) surely alarm bells should start ringing by the sequel?
Taking a far stricter stance than the movie makers on parental responsibilities, this week a YouGov poll found that two thirds of parents think that the government should set a clear minimum age at which parents can legally leave their children home alone. It was generally agreed that 12 was a sensible age for this limit.
Telling people how to parent their children is always going to be controversial. There are so many mitigating factors, so many issues to be taken into consideration.
What if your 11 year old is especially mature and sensible? What if your 13 year old is reckless and you wouldn’t trust them alone for a minute? What if you have younger children whose primary school is in one direction, but the elder’s high school is in the other? Surely at the age of 11 they are old enough and sensible enough to let themselves in and out of the house and grab themselves a biscuit until you can get home safely with the ones who really need looking after? What if you’re a lone, working parent to several children and just can’t watch all of them all the time? If it’s ok for 10 minutes, does that mean it’s ok for 1 hour or 3? Does it make a difference if it’s an hour on a Tuesday afternoon in the summer holidays versus an hour on a Friday night in winter? Considering all the factors as well as age, where do we draw the boundaries?
In reality, the vast majority of parents can be trusted to make sensible decisions about their own children. Many of them are probably panicking and stressing so much about little decisions there’s no way they’d ever put their child in danger. I live on the second floor of a flat block with no lift and when my boy was a tiny baby I would drive myself to distraction wondering if it was ok to run down and put the rubbish out while he was asleep, or go to set the buggy up outside while he was strapped into the base in the kitchen rather than attempting to carry both downstairs. I would spend a good ten minutes rearranging everything in the room in case there was an unexpected earthquake which shook everything within a 2 foot radius so it all inexplicably jumped off the shelves and directly on top of the boy. Even when I had done this, I would spend the entire time I had left him (a total of about one minute) preparing my defence in case a health visitor turned up unexpectedly and threatened to take him away as a result of my neglect.
This insane panic is probably a feature of much parenting and, though often ridiculous, ensures most people make reasoned and very safe judgements when it comes to their children.
Still, there are instances where people do make potentially unsafe judgements, and guidance is needed. But is potential criminalisation the answer?
If parents really are making decisions which put their children in danger, then surely safeguarding procedures would immediately be put in place the moment those dangerous actions were discovered. It would concern me that by adding an extra layer of prosecution into this mix you are simply complicating the problem, potentially alienating the parents further from a system which should be helping them, or adding work to a system which is already extremely busy dealing with children at risk.
Where decisions to leave under 12s may be seen not to be enough of a risk to warrant ongoing child protection intervention, where then is the benefit in putting a parent through the justice system? You would almost certainly teach that parent a lesson and they are unlikely to do it again – assuming they had a choice in the first place – but at what cost? Both to that family and the justice system?
There is already clear, simple guidance from the government and NSPCC on when it is appropriate to leave children at home. If some parents feel this needs to be made law, perhaps they were unaware of the guidance to start with. If parents don’t want to leave young children at home but feel they have no choice, perhaps they need more support and the money which would be spent on passing and enforcing a change in the law would be better spent on helping those who are struggling, or subsidising childcare to support working parents.
Surely, as is most often the case in society, education and support is a far better option than arbitrary criminalisation.
I have never understood why anyone would want to be filmed giving birth. Having a baby is a wonderful, magical thing but, let’s be honest, giving birth to a baby is bloody awful.
Throughout my pregnancy people harangued me to watch One Born Every Minute. “It’s so lovely” they cooed. “Don’t you want to find out what it’s like?” they asked in bewilderment.
“No!” I’d reply “I don’t need to. I’ve seen films, I’ve been to ante-natal, and I know what it’s going to be like: incredibly, torturously painful but necessary.”
Finally, one night a few weeks before my due date I found myself home alone and decided to give it a try. I should have stuck with my gut instinct. 40 minutes later I had been completely traumatised by watching a woman trussed up in surgery and zonked out on local anaesthetic calmly placated while at the other end of her body the baby had become stuck, was turning blue and had to have it’s shoulder broken just to edge it out into the world. It was like a horror film, but instead of being able to turn off and forget it at the end, I sat there thinking: ‘Oh God! this is definitely going to happen to me!”
A few months later, when I had successfully survived my own ordeal, I gave it another go. Flooded with post pregnancy hormones, I turned into the blithering emotional wreck I was supposed to be, oohing and aahing every time a newborn was passed to it’s mother.
Yet it still baffled me. For all the beautiful, tender moments at the end, the programme was awash with blunt, brutal and at times graphic depictions of one of the most undignified moments of a woman’s life. I know it’s natural and of course it’s wonderful, but I have never held with this opinion that it’s beautiful. It’s not. How can anything in which the majority of participants defecate, generally without realising, in a room full of people – some strangers, others the people you love most in the world and who are supposed to still fancy you after this! – be considered beautiful?!
You can imagine my reaction when my husband wandered into our living room last week, laughing at his phone and said ‘Watch this’. It was, of course, the much viewed video of Robbie Williams serenading his wife Ayda while she was in labour.
“What would you have done if I’d done that?” he asked with a cheeky grin.
“Punched you in the face”
I would have done. Imagine if mid-contraction, creased up in pain and knowing you had hours more of this to go – fearing in your darkest moments that your body was about to be ripped apart like you were James Bond with a circular saw headed straight for your personal bits – imagine if at that precise moment some moron leaned in, grinned inanely and began singing the opening lines to Rock DJ. What would you do?
For me there are two key issues with Robbie’s labour serenading video. First, the oblivious insanity of singing at someone in the throes of child birth and second, filming it and sharing it with the world. Both seem to me completely incomprehensible and unforgivable.
Yet some argue that it’s just a bit of good fun; labour lasts hours and while it’s dramatic at points, it can also be mind bogglingly dull. We can also assume there is a good chance that she was in on it; it is the only feasible explanation why the world did not witness Ayda Field knock out her husband on the hospital floor. While I will never understand it, apparently some people are fine with sharing these moments with the world and his wife.
Which leaves me with only one final objection, and this is what I judge Mr Williams for the most. If he was going to serenade his wife, did he really have to sing his own songs? Hasn’t she heard enough of those by now? Isn’t that genuinely the most self-centred, oblivious, thoughtless thing you could possibly do during the birth of your child?
Then again, if you marry Robbie Williams, you surely know what you’re letting yourself in for.
Last week the Daily Mail ran a typically odious piece designed to panic parents and turn them against one another. The subject: big kids in buggies.
The article ‘explored’ the phenomenon of parents pushing children practically old enough to go to school around in buggies rather than encouraging them to walk. The arguments against it are clear: it encourages laziness, prevents parents from interacting with their offspring and may, in the long term, lead to obesity as children fail to develop an appropriately active lifestyle. A few parents made reasonable arguments for – they didn’t have cars where many parents who judged did, and walking to, around and home from the supermarket with an ambling pre-schooler could well take over half your day.
On the whole I’d prefer not to judge but, let’s be honest, it does look a bit weird.
Imagine a giant squid, long tentacles waving and twirling freely with grace and charm, skilfully reaching out to grab whatever it wants and propelling the whole strange creature smoothly through the sea. Then imagine squashing that squid into a cereal box, attaching wheels and pushing it around Morrisons. Imagine it’s long, flowing tentacles being gradually worn down and deformed as they trail underneath that box, bashing against ugly mechanical wheels. Then, to top it all off, shove an inappropriately technological gadget in its hand and watch its goggly eyes glaze over as it watches 15 consecutive episodes of Peppa Pig on YouTube.
Not a pretty sight.
My problem is that it was all well and good secretly judging when my boy was a baby, but now that he’s two and getting pretty big, I’m starting to see the dilemma.
I don’t drive. I cycle and have a child seat, but there’s no way in hell I’d dare take him out on the main roads. So, if we actually need to go anywhere or do anything, we have to walk.
Walking’s fine. Great in fact, but walking at toddler pace when you actually need to get anywhere is torturous. If Zeus thought Sisyphus’s punishment of continuously pushing a boulder up a hill was enough to create eternal frustration, he’s never spent the afternoon with a to do list, a deadline and a toddler whose sense of urgency is less well developed than a stoned snail’s.
Still, I hate pushing a buggy around. Half the time it’s empty as the boy toddles alongside, meaning I’m taking up all the space and getting in everyone’s way with no real reason for being such a pain.
I’ve tried several times now to abandon the buggy, resulting in:
1. Being followed round Boots by a security guard as my son played the toddler equivalent of supermarket sweep on the bottom shelves.
2. A quick nip to the shops to buy bread and milk turning into a near 3 hour mission.
3. Lugging a big flopping lump the 20 minutes home from the park after he literally fell asleep while walking.
This is the real problem no one sees. Kids may be able to charge round with seemingly boundless energy, but eventually they’ll crash and burn, and unless you’ve got the arm power of Geoff Capes, at some point you need to put them down to go to sleep.
Eventually nap times will tail off and the excuses for still having a buggy will gradually fade away. It’s tempting to think you could start to train toddlers out of nap times, or be one of those annoying mums who have an actual schedule and make it home for their child to sleep in an actual bed. Smug gits.
But as long as an impromptu nap time is the only chance I’ll get to indulge in this…
I’ll be sticking with the buggy and ignoring any judgemental looks.
What do you think?
Being a grown up is rubbish for many reasons:
– having to work all the time
– paying rent/mortgages
– paying bills
– having to be aware of how much you spend on bills
– curbing your spending on more fun things to make sure you have enough left to pay the bills
– assembling flat pack furniture
– buying flat pack furniture
– spending a whole day of your precious weekend looking at and buying flat pack furniture
The list could go on forever, but in many ways the worst aspect of modern adult life is the relentless obsession with how you look. Some would say this peaks during teenage years, but really that’s just the beginning of a lifelong torturous routine of spending hours of your time and oodles of your cash trying to look a just little bit different than you do naturally, and even more hours being annoyed that it hasn’t quite worked.
Since becoming a parent it has gradually become clear to me how much of my time, money and energy I have wasted on the way I look. When my son walks in to my bedroom and says ‘what mummy doin?’ I give the simple answer: ‘straightening my hair’. This is followed by a puzzled but accepting look. I imagine him thinking ‘That’s weird – why do that when you could be doing jigsaws or running up and down the hallway? Seems like a waste of time to me.’
Numerous instances of this exchange have got me thinking: what am I doing? I spend about 30 minutes every morning getting myself ready: washing hair, drying hair, straightening hair, putting on make up (if hair straighteners confuse him, god knows what he thinks when he sees me drawing lines of concealer across half my face in an attempt to hide my sleep deprivation!). Pre-baby I spent about twice that time. If I spend about an average of 3.5 hours a week just getting ready (almost certainly an underestimation) since I officially became an adult at 18, I have spent 2548 hours just making myself look a little bit better than I did when I woke up. 2548 HOURS!!!! That’s 106 full days of my life.
Just looking at the figure makes me feel sick. Imagine what I could do with an extra 106 days! But I won’t change, I know I won’t. Occasionally I leave the house with my hair tied up instead of straightened and I genuinely believe that’s progress. I’m brainwashed. I really feel I need that 30 minutes of pampering before I can face the world, or rather let the world face me.
That’s why being a grown up is rubbish. Kids don’t think like that. My son won’t accept he can’t keep wearing the same nappy until it’s so full it falls round his ankles and stops him from playing ready, steady, go. Twice I have picked him up from the childminder to find him wearing pyjama tops because they had cars on and he wanted to wear a car that day. He doesn’t care that he looks like no one can be bothered to dress him in the morning, he’s got a car on his top!
How many of us have sat in conversations with friends who are intelligent, sensible and rational in every way, except when they begin checking the calorie content of a snack bar, complaining they need to be healthier then later that evening ordering a large glass of rosé? Or listened to them moan about how skint they are and that they can’t possibly come and met you for a coffee but, oh yes it is a new top. Do you like it? I bought it last week. On sale of course.
In my view, one of the best and simplest things we could do for our children is to protect them from this bullshit. Particularly the girls. Some boys and men may fall prey to these too, but we all know that in our society it’s the women who come under the most pressure to look a certain way and who are constantly objectified and sexualised.
So why, oh why, oh why do I keep seeing children in bikinis? CHILDREN in BIKINIS! They are not a practical choice for charging round paddling pools or jumping off water slides (any grown woman who’s had an embarrassing slip at a holiday water park could testify to that!). They are boring – what child would choose pink leopard print (one of the joys I saw in the park today) over Peppa Pig or multicoloured spots or giant stars? But most of all, they are just too adult. Literally, they are designed to cover up the adult parts of the body which children either don’t have or should not be worrying about yet. I can just about forgive the frilly spotty crop top and shorts I saw last week, striking a balance of just enough frills to be childish and just enough covered not to be garish. But when a child so young they have no curves and still giggle at the word poo is running around in just enough material to cover their nipples, with briefs held up by the flimsiest of ties, I can’t help but cringe. Clearly copied from a design intended for women to highlight their best assets, it masquerades as swimwear but is actually a sign of how little we have come to respect childhood. It might be fun to dress a child up in a suit for a day, to give them a t-shirt which matches their dad’s so they look like a mini-me, but that’s what it should remain. Fun. Dressing up.
Teenage years and adulthood are fraught enough with concerns about out sex and appearance – why the hell introduce your child to all that when you could wrap them up in an all-in-one wetsuit covered with colourful fish? Plus, you’d save a shed load on suncream.
I am living my very own Groundhog Day, but instead of a day it’s the never ending repetition of a single conversation. It goes like this.
Stranger: Aww. He’s lovely. How old is he?
Me: Just turned one.
Stranger: Aww. What’s his name?
Stranger: Ooh, like the prince! Hello Prince George [laughs]
Me: Hmm [plastering on a fake smile until the stranger gets bored and walks away or starts talking about the royal baby]
I’ve already had this conversation four times this the week. It’s the one I’ve been dreading ever since they announced the name of the royal baby. Actually, since the birth of the royal baby. Actually, since the announcement of the pregnancy, when a whole range of royal-baby-name-experts (is that really a thing?) crawled out of the woodwork and started pontificating about possible names. It seems that when you’re a royal it isn’t the job of your parents to choose your name; it is the job of pompous, snorting, overbearing aristocrats on Radio 4, and they chose George months ago.
We chose George several months before that.
In many ways, it doesn’t matter. It’s not exactly an unusual name. Our George was born a full year earlier so people shouldn’t think he’s been named after the prince (though from the conversations I’ve had, it’s as if people do). It’s not likely that we’ll be socialising with the royals and have awkward but amusing incidents where the two get confused. Ha ha ha!
That’s the thing. We have absolutely nothing to do with the royal baby, but now somehow seem inextricably linked. Before, people would engage in a discussion about my son, but now as soon as they learn his name they’re talking about some other child, a child none of us know and none of us will ever meet!
It’s symptomatic of the strange fascination with ‘The Royal Baby’ which has always baffled me. There are approximately 370,000 babies born in the world every day. The vast majority of those I will never meet and don’t give a second thought. I’m not being mean, it’s just a fact. I will almost certainly never meet Prince George, he will have no impact on our lives as we will have no impact on his, so why would I care?
I thought this was a pretty sensible and logical approach but soon found myself being labelled a cynic, a misery and even cold-hearted.
I wouldn’t call myself a Republican – in reality I just don’t care that much – but I did find myself becoming increasingly cynical as the media coverage of ‘The Royal Birth’ became so preposterous it was practically parodying itself: the ridiculously intrusive and pre-emptive announcement that she’d gone into labour led to endless speculation about every detail of the poor child’s life before it had even taken its first breath in the world and press camping outside the doors of the hospital like a group of deranged stalkers hoping that a stray piece of placenta soaked tissue might accidentally float out of the window so that they could splash it across the front page and analyse it in disgusting, intrusive detail, giving them the world’s greatest exclusive. All it needed was for Chris Morris to pop up in the press throng and it could have been an episode of Brass Eye
Then there was the horrendous commercialisation of the whole thing. Companies launched themselves on to the royal bandwagon, capitalising on the birth of an innocent, oblivious child to sell more toys, clothes, shoes, socks, mugs, dribble bibs, cakes, washing powder, toilet roll, sink and plughole unblocker – well, you get the idea. George at ASDA especially must have been over the moon!
Label me cold-hearted if you want, but I was happy to turn off the TV and computer and wait until the whole thing blew over.
The only problem is, when I finally came out from hibernation, I discovered a side that wasn’t so bad after all. Seeing a photograph of Kate, William and George for the first time my initial thought was still ‘For God’s sake, isn’t there any other news?’, but another part of me (I guess the mum part of me) thought ‘Aww, they do look happy’. I guess that’s the thing about being a parent, while you can recognise the increasing amount of nonsense in the world, you also know the most simple pleasure in the world: looking at and loving your child. Seeing them look at their George made me look at my George and for a brief second, I could find something in common with a family so far removed from my own life.
And on the plus side, we’re never going to struggle to buy gifts with the name George on them.
I love The Apprentice but, to be honest, I had long forgotten who Katie Hopkins was until her, ahem, eccentric views reared their ugly head several weeks ago in a TV interview about how and why she judges children based on their names. I didn’t see it, but I soon knew about it because people were outraged and made it known on every social networking site they could find.
Tempting as it was to jump on the outraged-mums bandwagon and boost my Twitter hits, I resisted. ‘Don’t feed the trolls’ my husband wisely advised me. While at first I thought he was making some obscure reference to The Three Billy Goats Gruff (I’ve still not really go my head round Twitter), I agreed. As said before, I had totally forgotten who Katie Hopkins was (she didn’t even make the final did she?) and it seemed fairly obvious that this vile, judgemental diatribe was a calculated, and sadly successful, ploy to fling herself back into the limelight.
Clearly dismayed by how quickly her views were overshadowed by an infinite number of more interesting and important news stories, she’s bounced back and this time aimed her hate-rifle at family life once again.
This time she’s annoyed that we want to spend time with our children. She’s angry at mums who, rather than sucking their post baby bellies into a power suit and heading straight back to the office within days of giving birth, actually want to spend a few months nurturing and getting to know their newborns: feeding them, playing with them, trying to figure out how on earth to get them to sleep. Bloody hell, Katie’s right, we really are a right load of selfish gits us mums!
I refuse to give in and I’m not going to feed any trolls, figurative or literal. I may however inadvertently shed a few crumbs in their direction as I leave a Hansel and Gretel like trail in the hope that it may lead Ms Hopkins and others with similar opinions to a calmer, more humane and pragmatic view point.
So, here’s my very sensible, measured and unemotional response to her article (seriously, I’m trying not to feed any trolls).
1. Children are not a ‘luxury’.
You can’t equate a person’s right to procreate, the one thing we are all biologically designed to do, to owning a flat screen TV or holidaying in the Canary Islands. By all means people should be responsible when making the decision to start a family and try to ensure they can afford it, but that doesn’t mean if you don’t happen to have been born into a wealthy family with a personal nanny on tap, you should have to forgo your dreams of parenthood in order to have a job, or vice versa. Besides, to imply that all small business’ problems would be solved by abandoning maternity benefits and encouraging women not to have children is ridiculous: What about businesses that cater for babies, children and families? What about the people who own small businesses who want to have children? What about small businesses which succeed only to find they can’t recruit anyone because everyone stopped having children to avoid putting a burden on small businesses? It’s ridiculous. Though it might make a good basis for a modern dystopian novel.
2. Ms Hopkins claims that “women are effectively legislating themselves out of the game.”
This final statement implies that a working woman has only two options: go back to work within weeks of giving birth or give up work altogether to be a stay at home mum.
I love my job and am glad to have made the choice to be a full-time working mum. However, faced with these narrow options I’d have had no choice but to stay at home. Partly because I wanted the chance to bond with my new son, partly because I was his only source of food for six months and partly because I would have been crap at my job! With the pitiful amount of sleep I snatched in those first five months, I dread to think what would have happened had I attempted to teach GCSE classes. At the very least there would have been children screamed at for the most minor mischief, at worst I can fully imagine teaching entirely the wrong set of texts and only discovering on the day of the exam, then hiding in a cupboard wracked with sobs and anguish awaiting the onslaught of parents demanding my sacking. Legislating myself out of the game? If I hadn’t risked that I’d have almost certainly been legislated out of the profession for good!
3. I’m not a businesswoman, but have worked in more than enough different organisations to know that some of the most important things you need for success are stability, experience and motivation.
Certainly, having a colleague go on leave for 6-12 months with a baby will cause disruption, but if you treat that colleague well, she’ll return happy, grateful and willing to put her all into that organisation. Prior to my current job I barely stayed in any job for longer than a year, but 3 years into this job and I’m happy to stick around. There are the practicalities around being near to the childminder and having set working hours which I know fit around my life now, but there’s also the fact that they treated me so well before, during and upon return from maternity leave that I really appreciate my colleagues, work ten times harder as a result and am sure to be a committed worker for some time to come. Yes it’s a short term loss, but for a much longer term gain through staff retention and motivation.
I recognise that there are, unfortunately, a couple of key flaws in my response to Ms Hopkins.
Firstly, she does actually have a point. While I absolutely believe we should fight to preserve the maternity rights we have in this country, I can see it must be so devastating to be setting up or running a business which is so reliant on a few members of staff, only to discover one is leaving for up to a year, you’ll have to find a replacement and to worry that they might fall in love with parenting and not come back at all. Maybe more should be done to help. Perhaps the government could subsidise maternity on a sliding scale, offering more help to those in small businesses while allowing large corporations to manage it more themselves? I don’t know, but I do know the answer isn’t to just turn the clock back and prevent the vast majority of mums being able to work at all. That benefits no one.
Secondly, as I have probably just demonstrated in my suggested solution, I am not a businesswoman.
Thankfully as she’s put so much energy into propelling herself into the media spotlight as a rent-a-gob on anything vaguely related to business and or parenthood, Ms Hopkins isn’t likely to be seen by many as a serious businesswoman either, so I don’t need to fight my corner quite so hard.
“I can’t believe I have to pretend to be a lawyer today”
So says Miranda Hobbs, the control freak uptight lawyer character of Sex and the City and essentially my kindred spirit in motherhood, moaning wearily down the phone to Carrie after a typically bad night’s sleep.
In the early days of motherhood, stuck in the house on a relentless feeding schedule, trashy TV was my saviour and Sex and the City series 4 was my Holy Grail. Watching Miranda struggle to come to terms with pregnancy, desperately wondering how to fit in with childless friends and trying to figure out how to cope with being a mum but knowing being just-a-mum wasn’t enough I felt I’d found someone who understood. Albeit someone who wasn’t real, whose friends were ridiculously obsessed with sex and who were often not that nice.
Months passed, I learned how to balance motherhood and I passed the joys of my SATC box set onto another friend who was expecting.
Then this morning, I had a major Miranda flashback.
Several weeks ago I blogged about how much I enjoyed being a working mum. I was confident, proud and possibly verging on smug. This week the gods of parenthood have taken their revenge and come to taunt me.
A husband with food poisoning (I told him not to eat those pork pies), a childminder with stomach flu and hay fever so bad I can barely open my eyes in a morning. All these are things I could cope with. Even with a holiday for 10 people to coordinate and a summer full of family visits to organise, I could cope. Even with a baby party practically every weekend and my own family birthday season in full swing (oh god, just remembered there’s one this weekend!), I could just about stay on top of things. Even in a week when I have 2 schemes of work to write, a performance management observation and an assessment to prepare for despite never being able to actually get hold of the kids doing it, I reckon I could just about manage it all.
But throw in an-almost toddler who is so excited by his ability to almost pull himself up and almost walk that he’s decided he no longer needs sleep and I start to falter. Add to that his determination that means he screams blue murder numerous times in the night if you don’t get him up to practise, and I’m verging close to the edge. Top it all off with his amazing ability to sleep crawl, meaning when I finally give up and put him to sleep in the same bed as me I wake up every 20 minutes to discover he’s about to nose-dive off the edge of the mattress or get rudely awaken with a swift punch or kick to the nose, and I start to lose it.
Scrap that, I’ve lost it.
Looking at the bedraggled vision in the mirror this morning, with a grouchy one year old balanced on my hip, I thought ‘I can’t believe I have to pretend to be a teacher today.’
I just about managed it, smiling kindly at students as they entered my room and staring intently at my school planner whenever I had the chance so they didn’t notice I was actually holding on to the desk to stop myself from keeling over. I even managed a few productive chats with students before part way through the day I felt myself begin to sway like a tipsy middle aged mum during a ballad at a Take That concert. Finally I made it to the end of lesson bell before being washed over with a wave of nausea so strong it could wash all doughnut wrappers off of Blackpool Pleasure Beach in an instant.
I couldn’t cope. I couldn’t pretend to be a teacher anymore. I had to go home.
Thank God I don’t teach Friday afternoons and have a boss nice enough she didn’t even let me finish my sentence before ordering me out of work.
I imagine not many people are so lucky, and I intend never to take it for granted that having a nice employer and nice colleagues makes it so much easier for me to be a working mum.
I’d love to sign off with a witty note, an interesting message or just something vaguely clever but I’m still knackered and really need to go to bed.
After all, I still have to pretend to be a decent parent tomorrow.