Parenting


According to Kirstie Allsopp, nature is not a feminist. On the face of it, it’s hard to disagree. Gloria Steinem, Andrea Dworkin, Audre Lorde? Feminist. Nature – plants, trees, flowers and stuff? Not feminist. There, that was easy.

Of course, this isn’t exactly what Allsopp means. Her comment comes in the midst of an online “debate” about fertility, one of those in which you’re meant to take a position on when a woman, any woman, should reproduce. The most ridiculous thing about it is the suggestion there might actually be a right answer. Too early? You’re feckless and just won’t cope. Too late? You might have missed your chance. Somewhere in the middle? Way to piss off your poor, hard done-to employer, you traitor to the cause! Face it, would-be breeders, you’re destined to fuck it up, and besides, we haven’t even taken into account the specificity of your situation. We’re talking about this as though it’s an abstract choice, in which issues of safety, wealth, culture, interpersonal relationships etc. don’t play any part (best not start looking into those things, too, or your head would explode). (more…)

I can’t remember when I first realised my son was a person. I guess as a mother you always know these things. Right from the moment he was first placed in my arms I sense there was something person-y about him, almost as though he might be an individual with his own consciousness, fully capable of developing a sense of himself which was not inextricably linked to gender stereotypes. Quite why this should be, I couldn’t say, but now that he’s older, I believe more and more that I was right. Nonetheless, like any mother, I have moments when I still wonder if I’m failing him.

From an early age my son has liked things. Some of them have been pink and some of them have been blue and some of them have been other colours. He has also liked activities, some of them boisterous and aggressive, some of them gentle and caring. Sometimes he goes through phases of liking more pink things than blue things, or doing more gentle things than aggressive things. A more attentive mother might have sat down with an excel spreadsheet, listed the number of boy activities and preferences in one column, the number of girl ones in another, and come up with a suitable gender for such a child. I never did this. I just looked at him and thought “ah, a male person, albeit one growing up in a world full of crappy categories arbitrarily linked to sex difference. Oh well, we’ll do our best to ignore them”. (more…)

One of the many things no one tells you about having kids is just how hard it makes it to have a wee. If you are someone for whom toilets have always been perfectly accessible – if, for instance, you’re neither trans nor intersex, and don’t have mobility restrictions – it can come as an enormous shock to find that suddenly toilets are the holy grail. The chances are this is temporary. Your children will grow and leave you to wee in peace. Nevertheless, in the interim it can be enraging. You’ve always assumed that the world was built around the needs of “people.” Suddenly it’s obvious that this is an illusion only the privileged can entertain.

Today my sons got yelled at in Morrison’s and (for once) it wasn’t their fault. All they were doing was waiting outside the toilet cubicle while Mummy paid a call. Suddenly I heard a woman’s voice telling them they had no right to be there and should go to the men’s. My sons are four and six. I have no intention of sending them off to the men’s toilets unaccompanied, or leaving them to wait outside. I was amazed – unfortunately, too amazed to think of a cutting response to the woman, who’d left by the time I unlocked the toilet door. (more…)

I’ve given this post a really crap title. It’s a title so crap that if, say, Mumsnet were to arrange a debate on it as part of their annual Blogfest, you’d take one look at the programme and think “what a perfectly ridiculous question!” Then you’d swig a bit more free gin and giggle at the famous people but all the while you’d be working yourself up into a state of ever more righteous indignation. Mummy blogger! Feminist! Pah!

Finally the time for the debate would come and you’d be ready, primed to respond to any trigger words the panel (i.e. anyone on stage who wasn’t Alison Perry) threw at you. And then it would begin! They’d say words like “jam”! And “shoes”! And then, horror of horrors, Sarah Ditum would even utter the word “university”! All hell would break loose. There’d be shouting, hissing and fury. See? You just knew that debate would be shit. It was all in the title.

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It’s not often I feel sorry for our boorish, entitled, mundane-face-of-evil Prime Minister David Cameron. Nevertheless, I don’t have a heart of stone so today I’ll make an exception.

Poor David has been badly advised. During a conference week when his party’s looking as nasty as can be, he’s decided to do one of those “showing my nice side” interviews. Unfortunately, he’s rather overreached himself by attempting to prove that a) he knows all about looking after toddlers and b) he doesn’t patronise women. Oh David, you silly man. You really need to know your limits. (more…)

One of the perks of being a mother is being able to tell a woman expecting her first baby any old crap you like. After all, what’s she going to do about it? Facing the unknown,  she’s hardly going to contradict you. You’re a mum. You know stuff. As for her? Let’s face it, she hasn’t got a clue.

Of course, this is a mean thing to do and you should, ideally, refrain from it (unless said expectant mother is especially annoying). If you already know how much uncertainty and self-doubt motherhood can bring, it’s just vindictive to set about stoking it up in someone else before she’s even got started. That’s why I can’t see any excuse whatsoever for Virginia Ironside’s current “advice” column in the Independent.

First of all, allow me to present the dilemma:

I’m about to have my first baby, but I’ve just been head-hunted by a firm that wants me to start work as soon as possible. Friends say I should wait and see how I feel before I commit to a new job but my husband has said he’s keen to look after the baby and become a house-husband  – he works freelance and he’s going through a time when he doesn’t have very much work. Can you or any of your readers offer advice on what I should do? I’m at a loss and can’t make  a decision.

What should this woman do? Well, here’s my suggestion: don’t write to Virginia Ironside. She’s not interested in your life. She just wants to use it as a springboard for promoting her vision of Perfect Motherhood. (more…)

I’ll always remember the day my first son was born. “It’s a boy,” said the midwife. “Urgh, take it away,” said I. “I’m a feminist. I don’t do boys.” The fact is, like all card-carrying feminists, I’m contractually obliged not to give a shit about the welfare of non-women. As far as they’re concerned, I’m all out for revenge.

Of course, that’s the theory, but in practice things are more difficult. When it’s your own children who’ve failed (as yet) to identify as female you end up making compromises. Truth is, I’ve found that I love my sons very much. It’s just everyone else’s sons who can sod off. It’s not as though a social structure which discriminates against them will have any impact on my kids, or on the genuinely important ones (aka girls). So let’s crack on with creating a world in which everything is weighted in favour of the latter.

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Laura Trott, originally appointed to advise David Cameron on how his policies will affect women, will now have to cover education and childcare, too. This reminds me of one of my dad’s sayings, which he’d use to explain why men shouldn’t have to do housework: “why have a dog and bark yourself?” The fact is, if you’ve already got one woman to deal equality (whatever that means, eh?), you might as well get her to deal with all the other “calm down, dear” laydees’ issues – childcare, early years, that sort of thing.

I imagine in another 17 months Trott will get tights, makeup and the colour pink added to her portfolio. Maybe they’ll also allow her to stick a broom up her arse and sweep the Houses of Parliament as she goes along (it’s possible they’ve also confused her with the cyclist Laura Trott and think she’ll win them pretty gold medals, too). (more…)

This weekend I attended Britmums Live 2013. What’s more, I enjoyed it. There, I’ve admitted it. Now excuse me while I watch my imaginary status as “not one of those mummy blogger types” disappear down the drain.

It’s not that I ever used to hate mummy bloggers, or even that I didn’t always consider myself to be one of them. Certainly, I have some discomfort with the term itself. Adding what Pamela Haag calls “the mommy modifier” to words like “blogger” or “porn” instantly seems to render them trivial and cutesy. While this might say more about patronising attitude towards mothers than the things in themselves it’s hard not to be affected by it. When I tell bloggers who aren’t parents that I write about motherhood and childcare, I always feel a little regretful that I’m not saying “world politics” or “art and literature”. I might write the odd post criticizing the low status of mothers yet sometimes I find I’ve bought into it myself. (more…)

Poor old Daddy Pig! As usual, he’s in trouble. This time, however, he’s not broken his lawnmower / dyed his football strip a girly shade of pink / chosen a Christmas tree that’s too big to fit in the car / mistaken a field of potatoes for Potato City. He’s been found guilty of being a bad role model. Ho ho!

According to a Netmums survey, 93% of parents “claim children’s shows don’t represent real-life dads this Father’s Day” (and, one presumes, at any other time):

Almost half of parents polled (46%) slammed books, adverts and children’s TV shows like Peppa Pig, The Simpsons and even the Flintstones which show dads as lazy or stupid. Almost a third of parents (28%) claim it is “a very subtle form of discrimination against dads” while a further 18% were more strident, saying it makes children believe dads are “useless” from an early age and there would be an “outcry” if it was done against mums.

Misandry a-go-go! Or possibly not. This is, after all, Netmums, not exactly known for enlightened views on gender equality. I don’t trust them on feminism (or feMEnism, as they like to call it), so I’m hardly going to take their word for it as far as Daddy Pig’s concerned. (more…)

There are certain things to do with parenting which, although parents of every class engage in them, still seem to be the preserve of a certain type of upper-middle-class mother (I use “upper-middle-class” in the vaguest and most annoying sense of the word). For instance, “doing the school run” has become one of these. Long before Gill Hornby gave it the mummy-lit treatment in The Hive (which I’m sort of enjoying), the simple act of dropping off your kids at the school gates has felt like something only posh, Polly Filla-types do. I blame Easy Living’s School Runway for the fact that, the first time I had to take my son to school, I honestly expected to get back to my car and find it had been magically transformed into a 4×4 (for better or worse, it hadn’t).

“Throwing a children’s party” has become another of these “just for posh parents only it isn’t really” things. This Friday’s Daily Mail reports that the average cost of a child’s party “soars to £309 as parents battle to outdo one another”. Indeed, because that’s totally what parenting is like. When we’re not panicking about looking catwalk-ready in the playground, we’re stressing over who’s throwing the coolest parties for their tots (to be fair, according to the survey by VoucherCodes.co.uk only 14% of those interviewed reported feeling this particular pressure but hey, it’s always a nice conceit to pretend parents are every bit as petty and superficial as their kids. Which we’re not. AT ALL, okay?). (more…)

According to journalist Angela Epstein – whom I hadn’t heard of until five minutes ago, when I happened to tune into 10 O’clock Live – feminism  has “spooked” a generation of women into not having children. Blimey! Poor women, and bad, bad feminists. What will they think of next?

Epstein was debating “feminism” (as if such a thing is debatable) with Christine Hamilton and Laurie Penny. Epstein has children, the other two do not. Epstein is anti-feminist, Hamilton and Penny are not (I know! Christine fucking Hamilton!). In such a situation, it’s clear that Epstein sees herself as the only person qualified to discuss what motherhood does to women and why certain women are missing out. This is total bollocks. Funnily enough, having children does not make a woman an expert on why other women should or shouldn’t breed. (more…)

My son’s best friend isn’t his friend any more. It’s been that way for a while. I’ve noticed, gradually, in the school playground. Ex-best friend doesn’t look out for my son any more, doesn’t respond when he calls his name. Ex-best friend has other friends, high-value friends. For a while I wonder if I’m just being paranoid. Maybe that’s just what five-year-olds are like, I think, but no.

“It’s okay,” my son tells me. “He says I’m allowed to sit next to him on a Tuesday if no one else is there.”

Fuck that, I think.

“It’s not for him to decide where you sit,” I say. “Aren’t there better people to sit with anyhow?”

My son says yes but looks unconvinced.
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I am the mother of two boys. I know I’m not perfect but I do try to be a good parent. Unfortunately it appears that for the past five years I have been remiss. I have failed to “channel” my sons’ boisterousness.

According to James Delingpole – now the Ross Kemp of posh rightwing journalism – “we seem to have forgotten that boys will be boys”.  I for one am guilty of this. I look at my boys and think “they’re boys”. But rarely do I go on to conclude “and thus they will be boys”. This might sound like a minor omission but it’s not.  What it actually means – and this is a serious fact, because the Telegraph says so – is that they’ll grow up to beat the shit out of other boys. And possibly also girls. And maybe even household pets. Basically, because my boys have not been allowed to “be boys” (as defined by the Victor Book for Boys circa 1964) they will grow up to be violent hooligans as opposed to men of courage – the kind of men who win wars, slaughter beasts and present Top Gear.
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Parents! Ever felt that a long bank holiday weekend in the company of small children just isn’t tiring and stressful enough? Why not set yourself a hugely ambitious and unnecessary project such as building a massive castle for some little plastic knights? Look at me – I did it! And after much swearing and “not now, kids, Mummy’s wielding a lethal piece of DIY equipment” look what I’ve ended up with:

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A castle fit for a Playmobil king! (Not that the ones Playmobil make aren’t and I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy one of those, too. This is purely a supplementary play resource *crosses fingers that this covers any legal issues*) (more…)

Obviously I noticed your daughter before I noticed you. I expect you are used to that. Legs so thin, how could it be any other way? I tried not to stare but it’s so hard not to. People used to stare at me in much the same way, or so I’ve been told (I never noticed at the time). Once you’d both signed in, you came and sat next to me, with her on the other side of you. I noticed you then but only because I couldn’t see her any more.
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Yesterday evening I suffered the misfortune of witnessing the latest Barclays Bank advertisement. It’s one of those wry, cynical ones which show the customer going through various life stages, from youthful optimism right through to middle-aged resignation as the realities of family life slowly asphyxiate all hopes and dreams. Everyone’s been there, haven’t they? And by “everyone”, I mean all middle-aged, middle-class men, for they are the ones who have Stages Of Life and Related Financial Concerns. As for the rest of us? Why, we’re mere plot devices. Middle-class women exist only to have intermittently swollen bellies which produce parasitical children. Working-class men? Only there to screw over long-suffering middle-class men when they need their car fixed or their drain unblocked. Working-class woman? Doesn’t exist, at least not in bank ad land (perhaps one day she’ll be permitted to pop in, Mrs Doyle-like, with a tea urn and a duster with which to metaphorically “clean up” your finances). (more…)

Until this week I had no idea that Hugo Chávez formally recognised the economic value of traditional “women’s work” . To be honest, I didn’t know much about Chávez. The one Venezuelan I know didn’t like him, but then none of us like our political leaders, do we? The most I’d assumed was that Chávez didn’t like women overly much, given the state of abortion law in Venezuela. Seems I was wrong, at least where a certain type of woman is concerned. It appears Chávez acknowledged that women who, to use the terminology of the average pay gap apologist, “don’t work because they’re raising children”, were bloody essential to a country’s welfare. Even if things were a bit more complex than that, as a basic principle that seems brilliant. Globally, we pay lip service to the devotion of mothers, yet so often stop short of saying you could actually put a price tag on it.

With Mother’s Day coming two days after International Women’s Day, I can’t help wishing it was more about that – genuine, heartfelt recognition – and less about a bunch of flowers, a pat on the head and yet another year of being horrendously undervalued. Don’t get me wrong, on a very personal level I love it. The card my five-year-old has written for me (“Thank you for all the love yoof givan me”) is just marvellous and I’ll treasure it forever. But as a cultural event, I wish Mother’s Day kicked a bit more arse. The commercial focus of it these days all feels rather KFC “Mum’s Night Off” in how it values what mothers do, bigging up inequality as a noble sacrifice in return for which you get, if not a bucket of chicken, then the only marginally better box of Thornton’s Continentals. It celebrates a particular type of motherhood – twee, self-effacing, repressed, waiting for that one day of the year when it can truly let rip with a half-bottle of rosé wine and a Lush bath bomb. It has got, let’s be honest, fuck all to do in appreciating what a wide range of mothers, all of different backgrounds and with different needs, do for their own children and society at large. If it did have, it would at least offer some form of meaningful response to all the things which piss us off.  (more…)

For reasons best known to no one, my children have got back into reading, watching and listening to Thomas the Tank Engine. As you can imagine I am devastated. I thought we were over this phase. We’d put it all behind us, weren’t going to speak of it ever again. The hateful phrase “really useful engine” was set to become a distant memory, but suddenly, out of nowhere, the old obsession has returned.

I really hate Thomas, and by that I don’t just mean the series, I mean the individual. “Thomas, he’s the cheeky one”. The cheeky one? He’s the most self-satisfied, obstructive, arrogant little prick on the whole of Sodor. Every single “adventure” involves him smugly deciding he’s going to outshine everyone else in being “really useful”. This invariably leads to some kind of major fuck up, usually involving a crash and some paint / bunting / milk churns, whereupon Thomas seizes on the opportunity to pile on the smarm in his efforts to “make amends”. God, I truly DETEST his supercilious little half-smile. Not that the other engines are that much better. The only one I like is James, except the TV series has got his accent wrong. Rather than chirpy Liverpudlian, it should be pure Leslie Phillips. He’s a rake, is James, welcome to chuff into my tunnel any time he likes *cough*. (more…)

This evening my eldest son and I had our worst ever fight. Or not even really a fight. A contretemps (me), or “Mummy being mean” (him). It ended with him sending me to my room because I wouldn’t get his cherry tomatoes – a sustitute for the lasagne being described as “poo” – out of the fridge. To be honest, I think he was surprised at how eagerly I accepted my punishment, but there had been worse moments than that and I was rather glad to retreat to my duvet and kindle while he stomped around downstairs throwing alphabet fridge magnets onto the floor.
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