Friday, November 5, 2010

You are not doing anything wrong

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This revelation came to me when I was nursing my five month old daughter to sleep one night.

It had been a particular testing evening. My daughter and I had been regularly experiencing what my Aunt calls the ‘witching hour’. I was trying everything in my toolkit and nothing seemed to be working. I sat on the bed with my daughter screaming in my arms and wondered where I had went wrong. Why was she screaming and how had I caused it.

The myriad of conflicting advice I had received since announcing my pregnancy was running through my mind. Maybe I should have a better routine, maybe I should not be nursing her to sleep, maybe I should not be trying to put her to sleep, maybe her bed is in the wrong place, maybe maybe maybe. Then it occurred to me, a revelation that put me at peace…

"You are not doing anything wrong”

It has stuck with me ever since. Anytime I begin to doubt my choices as a mother I remind myself that I have not done anything wrong.

There is not right and wrong in mothering. There is no perfect  method that will produce a perfect child. There is only mums who make choices based on the very best of their reasoning abilities.  Next time you begin to doubt your choices or wonder whether you took (or ignored) the wrong advice, just trust yourself. You are not doing anything wrong.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What to do about anger

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As a follow up to yesterday’s post about dealing with anger I would like to post an excerpt from Robin Grille’s book “Heart to Heart Parenting”.  This book is a must have in any parenting toolbox.

One of the times we most need the support as parents is when the travails of caring for a baby incite us to anger. Doesn’t your baby drive you made sometimes? Are you sure? Come on, let’s not romanticise: sometimes parenting can feel like a right royal pain in the tuches.  If you’re wondering why, then let’s have a quick reality check about some of the downsides of this venture.

Your baby asks more and more from you each day, without saying thank you, not even once. She makes you feel useless when she endlessly cries. She makes you wonder if you are really a bad parent. He has ruined your svelte figure. He has thrown a spanner in the works of your sec life. She wakes you up at night – often. She has snuffed out your night-time social life. You have never seen so much excrement in your entire life. You have never done so much wiping, and for your trouble, he pisses in your eye when you are changing his nappy. You feel drained, tired, unappreciated. And you are not angry? Tell me where you went to saint school, I want to sign up.

Meanwhile, the rest of us who are less holy get pretty pissed off sometimes. But we hide it from each other and smile out from under our pile of nappies and dirty laundry. It horrifies us to notice that we are feeling angry with our baby. It frightens us, makes us ashamed. Most parents bottle up quite a bit of anger. The internal guilt police blows the whistle: How could I be angry at such a beautiful and helpless creature? What kind of a monster am I? We bury our anger under six feet of syrupy denial. This suppression is not good for our health and it contributes to our exhaustion. What’s more, it takes a lot of energy to suppress anger. The worst thing about suppressed anger is that it can often come out later, explosively, inappropriately and even dangerously.

Suppressed anger is like a self-perpetuation vicious circle. Since we all feel so guilty and ashamed about the anger we feel as parents, we sometimes hide it from each other, and so we all think that everyone else is coping better than we are. It makes us feel even more ashamed when we look around and see how well all the other parents seem to be doing – and so we bury our true feelings even deeper.
Be reassure: some frustration and anger are a completely normal part of the parenting adventure. It is fine and healthy to feel angry. What is not OK is to think that your frustration is your baby’s fault. Anger can be safely and gracefully managed, whereas blaming a child is unjustified, injurious to the child and harmful to your relationship.

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I would like to go on however I do not want to breach too much copyright. The book is brilliant and I thoroughly recommend it.


References:
http://www.our-emotional-health.com/book-heart2heart.html
http://togetherparenting.blogspot.com/2010/11/beyond-reason.html
http://togetherparenting.blogspot.com/2010/03/heart-to-heart-parenting.html

Monday, November 1, 2010

Beyond Reason

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Last week a woman in the US pled guilty to killing her baby son. What made this international news (at least on the mum circuit) was that she did this after becoming enraged due to the baby crying while she was trying to play ‘Farmville’, a popular Facebook game.

Mums around the world have made their disgust about this very clear. Other mums repeatedly ask how this women can be allowed to be a mum. Expressing their disgust at the idea of a mum killing her own child, often asking how she could do it.

Easily!

Modern mothering is hard work. The levels of self-control required are beyond reasonable expectations. Modern mothering is an isolated task. For the bulk of the day Mums look after their own children in their own houses on their own.

This story, albeit very sad, is not surprising, nor are the thousands of negative and disgusted comments that follow. What is sad is how few people acknowledge the role that modern society, and its idea of modern parenting, plays in this story.

Modern society expects and accepts a level of isolation that is beyond reason. When a mother becomes tired, stressed, angry, busy, lonely or any number of emotions that benefit from having another person around, they find that there is no other person. Modern Mums do not have immediate access to people who support them.

Rather than focusing energy on condemning this Mum, we need to spend it creating social change. As for how…. Well that is the focus of this entire blog.

NB. I have had this post on my mind for some time. It has been difficult to write. Not emotional difficult, but physically difficult. My daughter clambers all over me, hops down, grizzles, crawls off to play, comes back, tries to play with the power point, tries to play with my keyboard. This sounds cute, and today I am finding it adorable, however some days it is just incredible difficult to achieve anything. It is easy allow a negative emotion to fill my thoughts and some days I do. I am normal, you are normal, maybe even that Mum was normal….

References:
http://www.myfoxorlando.com/dpp/news/local/102810-mom-kills-newborn-over-facebook-game

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Solo Parenting Tips

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Solo parenting is hard. Whether a single mum or a pseudo-solo parent this is not any easy life. Here are my tops tips for getting through those tough days. The days when you do not think you could possibly take any more..

:-When you want to scream take a look at your baby.

There will be times when you are ready to break. When bubby is needing so much of you and you feel yourself losing it. Fight these negative emotions by holding and looking at your baby. Holding, looking, touching, kissing and breastfeeding your baby trigger the release of Oxytocin, this hormone helps to calm you and produce a strong love reaction toward your baby.

:-When bubby is asleep down all tools

When bubby drops of for a nap this is time for you to recharge. Don't be tempted to hang out washing, pay bills or tidy the house. This is 100% your time. Use it wisely. Read a book. Watch some tv. Work on a relaxing hobby. Have a sleep yourself.

:- Wear your baby.

There is a whole community of mums out there who wear their baby as a way of life. They wear their baby when they are out shopping, when they are doing the housework and when they feel that baby needs that sort of closeness.
For a long time I considered baby carriers to be the anti-thesis of prams. They are not. Prams are for transport, and the occasional rocking of the baby to sleep. Carriers are for closeness and comfort.
Note: If you are a first time babywearer I whole-heartedly recommend joining a baby-wearing group (whether online or in person) in order to learn how to babywear correctly. A type of carrier known as a bag sling is incredibly unsafe and the cause of multiple deaths. Sadly due to the pretty design bag slings are one of the most common baby carrier found in stores. Ring slings, Wraps, Mei Tais and Soft-Structured carriers present much safer alternatives.

:- Keep yourself busy.

This might sound ridiculous, you probably will feel looking after bubby keeps you busy enough. It is really easy as a mum to spend an entire day on the lounge room floor entertaining your baby. Every time you try to leave your baby becomes unsettled or fussy and you sit back down again feeling trapped in the lounge room. You will find that both you and your baby are happier when you busy yourself, bake a cake, go do the grocery shopping, weed

:-Phone a friend

Ask for help whenever you need it. Find a friend or family member that has been through it. Call them and have a chat, invite them around for coffee. This is a time when you will notice that some family members will not understand what the fuss is about. Other mums who have never experienced any form of solo parenting might not be the most sympathetic. Find a mum or two that has been through it and do not be afraid to ask them around for a coffee.

:-Permission to take a shortcut

Give yourself permission to not be a perfect parent all of the time. It really does take a village to raise a child. If you are doing it solo then you are going to be physically unable to achieve all of the wonderful parenting ideals that you have set. This might mean you do give your child a dummy, let them watch TV while you fold the washing, or put them in a rocking bouncinette. These parenting shortcuts are there to help you, make use of them when you need.

:-Build your community

This blog is all about building a community of mums. This is possibly the most important, and hardest, of all the tips. Make use of online communities as well as real life friends. Find other mums who are committed to creating a community.

References:
http://www.babiesonline.com/articles/baby/scienceofmotherslove.asp
http://www.baby-carriers-downunder.com/
http://singlefamilyvoices.com

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Forget the flowers, take a casserole instead.

Eleanor 020b 

My cousin had a beautiful baby a few weeks ago. I have not yet been to visit yet. I am waiting. I am giving my cousin a chance to settle in to her new life as a mum. She has plenty of visitors, her own parents and sisters, our grandfather, some of her close friends. I am not in her inner circle so I am waiting.

Next time someone that you know has a baby do not visit her at the hospital, don't send her flowers and don't turn up camera in hand expecting photos of you holding her baby. Wait.

Give the mum some time. The baby will look just as cute in a months time as he or she does now. Mum is adjusting to a brand new life. She most likely laboured all through the night and is now beginning a breastfeeding relationship with her child. She wants to sleep when she is tired, she wants to let bubby sleep whenever he or she needs, and she wants to be able to sit in her favourite chair with her top down while her and baby learn how to attach.

She wants visitors, but not a lot. Unfortunately the visitors she most wants and needs are the very people she is close enough to to be able to say "hang off today, I have been overwhelmed with other visitors”. Traditionally well-wishers flock to the hospital bearing flowers and gifts. It is an exciting time and everybody wants to hold the new baby and congratulate the new mum. Allow me to suggest an alternative.

Send a card, a welcoming gift, a care package to her via one of her inner circle (her mum, her sister, her husband) and then just wait.

Wait at least one month phone. Then phone the new mum (or her mum, or sister or husband) and ask if you can come for a visit. When you do visit, make sure you arrive at the time you organised. She has probably organised her sleep around this time. Arriving late (or even too early) is bad form.

Take a cooked meal rather than flowers. Something that she can pop into the freezer and eat later with her husband. Do not expect to eat it with her.


Before you hold the baby offer to do some housework. You could hang out some washing for her, run a vacuum over the floor, change the sheets on her bed, wipe out her bathroom. Look around for an odd job or two that she has not been able to do. Do not offer, just do it. This is one of those times that it is better to apologise rather than ask permission.


Do not expect her to play the hostess. Instead offer to get her a glass of water, make her a cup of tea, and offer her a piece of the cake that you brought with you. When you are finished make sure you do the cleaning up.

Lastly, do not overstay your welcome. Watch her for signs of tiredness or indications that she is wanting to put bubby to sleep. Hopefully you were able to have a hold, but do not feel disappointed if you did not. After all, you have blessed your friend and welcomed her into the journey of motherhood. You have shown that you are available to support her if, and when, she needs. That should be the purpose of your visit!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Playgroups are not for socialising



Playgroups are not the best way to socialize either yourself or your child. Playgroups come in a wide variety of forms from structured craft mornings and musical sessions to meetings at the local park. They generally all have two things in common, a dozen or so mums who struggle to remember each others names and at least that many little ones attempting to play nicely together.


Playing nicely together is the first hurdle. Much poking, pushing, taking, snatching and crying ensues. The problem stems from the uncertainty about parental duty. Every parent has as slightly different view about what constitutes socially acceptable behaviour. Just how much clumsy pushing and touching is okay. If these concerns seem silly they are only proven as you watch other mums apologise to each other as one clumsy baby pushes too close to another.


The next hurdle is that generally anyone is welcome to turn up. Now I am not saying mums should avoid new people, just that when a dozen relatively random mums turn up it is pretty likely that the baby will be the most they have in common. Making small talk with a mum who has completely different parenting ideologies is tedious at best, at worst it leaves you feel like a crap mum.


Instead of trying to super-socialise our children in a playgroup environment, mums should just be looking for a small group of similar and likeminded mums. A handful of mums that know each other well, that have enough things in common that it is easy to accept the differences.


Playgroups are one of many ways to meet other mums, like a dating pool for new mums. However once the friends are made, and the group is formed they really do not need revisiting (until the next time you are stalking for a mum to join your circle!).

Friday, August 20, 2010

How do I ask for help?

I actually wrote this post a few months ago in the middle of the night. I like it as it shows the very raw emotion that mums can feel at times.

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Sometimes I feel like one of those actors who has a heart attack up on stage and everyone applauds thinking it was part of the performance. Cover your eyes if you are easily offended …. “fuck them” … there I said it.

I have said that word twice in my life out loud, that is until last night when I said it about fifty times under my breath while trying  to get my daughter to sleep. I was not swearing at my gorgeous little girl, I was just swearing because it released the anger inside of me in a non-damaging way (okay so that would  be damaging if she were old enough to understand that word).  Smashing cups in the back yard, screaming into a pillow, punching a boxing bag, swearing are all relatively harmless ways to release some tension.

My little girl is screaming right now. Actually screaming at me because I sat her down on the floor at my feet for sixty seconds. I picked her up and she is kicking me and grizzling. This is unusual behaviour for my little girl, it started so suddenly about three days ago. I can’t cope.

One of my family members, a few months ago, suggested that I wasn’t asking for help in the right way. Does there have to be a right way?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Hunter Valley Mums

I have been quiet for a while as I have been working on a special project. You remember the saying "If Mohammad can't go to the mountain, let the mountain come to Mohammad."

Introducing http://huntervalleymums.com

It was actually quite a lot of work. Setting up the domain name was the easy part. There was also email addresses, forum software, logo design and forum design. Business cards, postcards, flyers and email advertising. I even outsourced the styling of the forum to India.

I was actually part of an excellent city based forum in Toowoomba and was disappointed not to have a similar forum when I moved. So I set about creating one. Hunter Valley Mums is a regional based online forum. I am quite pleased with the results, though I have a lot of work ahead of me.

If you live in the Hunter Valley please come and register on the forum.

If you live elsewhere and would like a regional forum ... Just ask. Now that I have made one more will be easy.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Personal Calling cards

Just finished being inspired by a recent blog entry over at Hobo Mama. Her idea was to basically create a personal card, like a business card, to hand out to people that you would like to get to know further.

So here is mine:

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and the back is just lines so I can write something a bit specific (if I want):

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Now to buy some ink for my printer…

Saturday, June 26, 2010

It is okay to talk to strangers


Today I walked up to and absolute stranger and gave her my phone number and email address. I saw her pushing a shopping trolley around Aldi. One child in the trolley and a newborn in a carrier. We exchanged a smile and a couple of sentences as our shopping trolleys crossed paths a couple of times then we went our separate ways. She looked like the type of person that I could be friends with, but she was a stranger so I would never know.

As I put my groceries in the car I could not stop thinking about this absolute stranger. She seemed a lot like me, she looked my age, she wore clothes like mine She had children, including one in a baby carrier, just like me. I wished that I could have a chance to meet her. Who knows, maybe she was friendship material. As I put my own baby in the car seat I had a look around the car park wondering if I could spot her. Not really sure what I would do if I did as chasing a mum down in the car park seemed really odd.

If I am sounding a little weird at the moment it is because I was considering doing something that we have been taught not to do. I was wanting to go talk to a stranger and strike up a conversation.  I felt exactly like I was a guy trying to work up the nerve to introduce myself to some chick. I may seem like a girl who likes to challenge society’s norms, but generally if you saw me down the street I would look like a normal mum. I do not tend to do outrageous things. 

This is not the first time I have wanted to get to know an absolute stranger better. A similar thing happened yesterday in Lowes. A pregnant shop assistant approached me to ask about my Ring Sling. We had a good conversation about carrier types. I would have loved to give her my phone number and offer to give her a carrier demo. But it felt like an odd thing to do, so instead I left the shop.

Making friends can be hard. I see people that I think could be good friends, but am too embarrassed to do anything about it. I am unsure of the exact social taboos but I am pretty sure cornering a stranger and saying "let's be friends" is weird. I recall another time that I had stopped for a quick lunch while shopping. A trio of women sat chatting at the table right beside me. I overheard snippets of conversation and picked up on how well they interacted. I wanted  to introduce myself but, again, it felt odd. This is not how we do things in our society.

Still sitting in the car I was determined to be prepared should this happen again. I wanted to be able to confidently introduce myself to a person should I choose.  I found a pen and a stash of 'Karri Tree Lane' business cards (I give these to people who stop to ask about my carriers) and wrote my name, email and mobile on the back.

To end my story I drove to the bakery and then I drove to the butcher. As I left the butcher I saw the Aldi mum parked right in front. She was breastfeeding her newborn in the car. I hesitated at first but then I worked up the courage to give her one of my new cards.  "I feel really silly doing this" I began. I told her I was new in town, and it turned out she was too. She was nice and said she appreciated me saying something.

Will she call me? I hope so but I won't feel rejected if she does not. I spent the afternoon feeling so impressed with myself for putting myself out there. I am going to build a little social network not hide at home alone, even if I have to challenge a few social norms to do it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Stick with judging


Sitting in between a mum reading a book called 'Jane learns about colds and other viral infections' to her one year old and a nice community midwife I waited at the regional vaccination drop in centre for my daughter to have her six month shots. I enjoyed seeing the other parents, I also found the lack of interaction a little sad.

A young mum sat on a chair juggling her two sons, both of whom seemed intent on causing a ruckus. Climbing on things, throwing things, pulling pamphlets off the stand, running around madly. The mum tried, unsuccessfully, to settle them, while everyone else avoided eye contact. She needed help but she may not ask and we may not offer. Those are the rules.

A few minutes later a new mum arrived with her eight week old daughter. We chatted. She was clearly an educated woman, and she was clearly frazzled. Eight weeks without sleep had left her strung out. I did not want to be the one to tell her that it might get harder before it gets easier. I did want to give her my phone number and offer to come around and help, but I knew that being that presumptuous would seem odd.

I saw an older couple with a four month old boy. He was crying a little for a feed while she firmly told him to stop it. I do not know if she believed a four month old can be trained or if she was just embarrassed. She laid him across her lap and vigorously patted his back. The husband became unsure of what all the other people would think and chastised her for 'bashing' him too hard. I cannot vouch for the others in the room but all I was thinking was how much I would enjoy a massage like that and wondering if I had been way too gentle when trying that technique with our bubby.

I loved the very young couple that came in pushing a big pram,carrying a sports bag and a massive back pack. There was a moment when she asked him, with an amused shake of the head, why they needed so much stuff. They both looked a bit embarrassed. I wanted to laugh with them, not at them, and tell them I did the same thing only a few months ago.

I saw a Muslim woman whom I remembered seeing at our two month appointment. We never spoke though we did smile. I wanted to ask her about breastfeeding in her culture.

I had been chatting to the mum of an eighteen month old boy. We had commented on the cuteness of our respective children and chatted about the types of things that mums chat about. When she sat her son on a chair between us so he could read a book without thinking I moved closer so that my own daughter could watch the boy and his book. When I did you could feel the uncertainty of the mother, so much so that I felt the need to apologise. I broke the rules by entering her personal space.

I really enjoyed watching the people come and go today. I did find it surprising how little interaction there was between us all. We were all mums yet there was some unspoken social rules that prevented us from interacting. A mum needed help managing her boys, but the rest of us could only sit back and judge her. Why are we not interacting with each other? Are we that different?

Friday, May 21, 2010

A sense of community

My next door neighbour knocked on my door yesterday to tell me it was starting to rain. My neighbour is eighty-three, he sat undercover keeping bubby amused while I took my washing off the line. This is my new home, it is actually my grandfather’s home, and his community is very well established. I am taking lessons from him.

His morning begins with phone calls while he is lying in bed. Around 7am I hear him telling somebody on the of the line that “She hasn’t come in yet”. He is waiting for me to bring my daughter in to him. I have a shower while she lays beside him. He always puts the phone on speaker and makes everybody talk to her.

When he does get out of bed he checks whether the neighbour has puts his blinds up. He worries when it is almost lunch time before they are raised. The neighbour came over the other day. He had locked his keys in his ute and needed help calling NRMA (road-side assistance). My grandfather called them first but after declaring “we are both in our eighty-fives” to the operator he passed the phone to me.

The next door neighbour on the other side is younger. My grandfather has organised him to come and paint his roof, and that of the other neighbour. He brings his daughter over and we chat about school (what else do you talk to a seven year old about?) for a little while.

Sometime after lunch the postman arrives. He rides his postie bike up to the back door and yells out. My grandfather comes out to collect his mail and they both have a good talk. The postie does this for the two old neighbours and an old lady down the street. My grandfather explains all of this to me. He tells me that they grow a choko vine along the fence line so the postie can help himself from either side. He tells me they give him a six-pack at Christmas time and also that my Nanna used to give him a glass of wine on cold winter days. He tells me about the time my Nanna was smoothing out the concrete when he road up, he parked the postie bike and helped her finish the job.

The other night my husband, working out of town, called and asked me to urgently email his resume to him. Our Internet service was not yet connected, my Aunt and cousins had just left for a holiday in Thailand. I was stumped about what to do. My grandfather pulled out the phone book and called the neighbour across the road. Three minutes later I was standing in my ugg boots knocking at the door of someone I had never met. Five minutes later I had emailed the resume, met another neighbour and discussed the mouse problem being caused by the construction happening two doors up.

There is such a sense of community surrounding this place. The neighbours care about each other. They stand around talking as they watch the ground being broken where a new house is to be built. They keep an eye of the things going on around the place, They still have gates going between there houses. I look forward to becoming a part of this community, this is something special that should continue.


On a personal note: I am settled enough to begin blogging again. I have a few half-written (iPhone) entries which I may backdate at a later time.

Friday, April 23, 2010

It is spreading...

I am really excited to report that this idea is spreading. Instead of a blog post today I will simply point you in the direction of 'fun and frugality' where a mum tells her story about getting this to work. I hope to hear even more about it in the future.


On a personal note: A stone went through my radiator while travelling from Toowoomba to Maitland. I have spent a relaxing day on a little town called goondiwindi. This is where my husband and I met so I have enjoyed my time here. I apologise for the brevity of this post, it is from my iPhone. Blog updates will be a little infrequent until I am settled into a new home.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I am moving interstate


Today I just started packing. I went out and bought a whole heap of boxes and just started packing. Twenty-four hours ago I had no idea I would be packing, and now I am.

I am moving to live near my family. I have been attempting, with little success, to make parenting more social and it is just not happening. There is a huge part of me wants to see this project through, to stick it out and make my tribe work. However last night I had an epiphany, everything became clear, I am struggling and I have a big loving family that live interstate. I need to go live near them.

I have been talking about moving closer to my family for years. At least twice in the past three years I have said “We will definitely be living near you by Christmas” and twice Christmas has come and gone. I love the idea of family, I love everything from spending a big Christmas day together, to a quick coffee during a lunch break. After being married moving just never seemed an option, my husband has always been fairly attached to this area.

Now I realise, as I struggle with the daily life pseudo-solo parenting our four month old daughter, that I really need help. I have been saying this for a while, but it finally occurred to me that I do have help available, I just have to relocate interstate to get it. I am the type of person that tries to fix every problem that I see, I saw this as a chance to find a solution to what I saw as a problem that new mother constantly face. I now realise that I need to stop trying to fix the world and just allow myself to be fixed.

With that in mind I decided to start packing boxes and to move close to my family. I have no intentions of giving up this particular fight though. Actually it is quite the opposite, the fact that I have been driven to move my family interstate, giving up friends, the job that I know and the organisations I am involved with, only increases the passion and conviction that I feel toward a need for change.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Without the loneliness

This is the first poem I have ever really understood. Despite a number of books of classic poetry around our house, the honest truth is that I do not read them. I have never understood them, except this one by Emily Dickinson.

It might be lonelier
Without the loneliness.
I’m so accustomed to my fate,
Perhaps the other peace

Would interrupt the dark
And crowd the little room
Too scant by cubits to contain
The sacrament of him.

I am not use to hope.
It might intrude upon
Its sweet parade, blaspheme the place
Ordained to suffering.

It might be easier
To fail with land in sight
Thus gain my blue peninsula
To perish of delight.

I understand what it is to become accustomed to the loneliness, and to become unsure whether there is room in my little routine for another person. This translates into frustration when my brother interrupts my day, I like having him in my house, and yet I do not want to compromise and share my space with him.

This also translates into tears when my husband is home for a weekend, I hate seeing him because it reminds me that he is going to leave again. It would be easier not to see him at all, so much does it hurt knowing that he has to leave again. I want him to stay.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Do you have a Tribe?

I would like to hear some other stories.

Do you have a tribe? What do you do to stay socialised? Have you struggled with the social aspect of parenting?

If any of the ten people that read this blog would like to tell their story, then I would love to post it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Forming my Tribe

I want to write about how wonderful my new tribe-like existence, about how I exchanged my professional career tribe for a new family focused tribe. I want to tell you how every day is filled with conversation, joy and laughter. I want to tell you all that, after giving up a full-time job as a teacher, I am loving my new life as a stay-at-home mum. I cannot tell you any of this.

Several months ago, with a conviction that mothers need to adopt a more tribe-like existence, I began my own quest to bring myself out of isolation. I also began this blog.

Realising how isolated my days had become I set about making the mothering experience a much more social one. While I have definitely seem a couple of improvements, overall the process is languishing. I am still sitting home alone far more often than I would like. More and more I am noticing that I have not spoken a word for hours at a time. I force myself to describe my daily activities to my daughter, in order for her to have a healthy language development, however that becomes tiring and I fall into a quiet habit.

Despite my best efforts to create a core group of mums that work together it is just not happening. Despite multiple invites and even promises of visits only one other mum has become involved. I want to send out an invite for another cooking day, but I fear rejection (Note: I did send out another invite, with only one response). I also set about socializing myself on an individual basis, by visiting friends more. While that started very well I again became put off at the thought of inviting myself over to another mum's house too often. I began by inviting just four other  mums, I am realizing that I need to be a lot less selective in my invites. I also need to be a lot thicker skinned about the lack of turnout.

I should not be too hard on myself, these things do take time and it has only been a couple of months. I just do not get why this is so hard. Am I the only person who is struggling?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Not so together


I recently watched the ‘Ministry of Food’ television series starring Jamie Oliver he inspired me greatly, but it had nothing to do with the food.

For those who have not seen the show, British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver attempts to teach a borough how to cook. He begins with this incredible idea to recruit a dozen students who will pass his recipes on to two of their mates. He even has a nifty little animation to help us visualise how this will work. The problem is that it does not work. Not one to give up he tries a different tactic, he heads down to the local football stadium and does his best to recruit more men to become involved. This has some success, but no where near what he had hoped for. The show continues with him approaching big companies and holding grassroots street festivals. The entire town never really becomes converted, but he did get a whole lot of people cooking.

I understand it. I understand that feeling that you can see a way to fix a problem and a desire to show people how to fix it. I also understand the difficulties of breaking through, of helping people to see that there is a better way.

Maybe I am just completely wrong. Maybe the idea of parents becoming almost communal in their parenting is not really that important. Maybe I am the only mother becoming increasingly frustrated with the isolation. Maybe all the rest of the mothers are happy going about their business.

So far we have organised four days together, only three of which eventuated. So far it has only been myself and one other mum who actually make it. Problems arise, obstacles hinder us. I am trying to figure out why it seems more probable that an event will not go ahead. What is going wrong?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

How does fiction become non-fiction?


Four women meet at the house of a new mother. They chat together over a morning pot of tea, two of the children play noisily on the floor, one is sleeping, one is being attended to by his mother. The women are relaxed, discussing things that have occurred since they were last together. They ask the newest mother how she is coping. She is becoming relaxed enough to give an honest answer.

When morning tea is finished the woman begin working together to do household chores. One woman attacks the kitchen with a vengeance, doing dishes, clearing benches, emptying bins. Another dusts, sweeps, vacuums, mops. The third is washing clothes and changing bed sheets. One mother potters around tidying things, while keeping an eye on all of the children. They work in this way for an hour or two before stopping for lunch.

Lunch takes time, there are nine mouths to feed. The mother of a four month old watches with interest as her friend’s nine month old learns to eat solids. The newborn baby wakes up for a feed just as lunch is served, the women laugh at the timing and chat together as he is fed. When the newborn finishes feeding he is passed to the open arms of another mum. His mum eats a slow lunch as another mum begins the dishes.

It is a nice day outside so two of the women head out to do some gardening while the older children play outside. One woman mixes a cake while the another chats with her, minding the children. None of this takes long and the women find themselves sitting chatting together while the cake bakes.

At the end of the day the women head back to their own houses, one remaining a bit longer to give the new mum a chance to have a shower before her partner comes home.

This is a story of friendship and bonding. This story is important because of what comes next.

It is six o’clock at night one of the mums is home alone. Her partner has been working night shifts all week. He is exhausted from the hours, she is exhausted as well. Their newborn baby has been crying every evening. She feeds him, she changes him, she bathes him. Nothing works except pacing the floor, and even that it broken up with crying. It has been like this for three nights and she is exhausted. She calls up one of the other mothers from the group, she is asking for help. She has only known them a few months however they have bonded together well. The mother comes over and helps out. They boil the kettle and takes turns nursing the baby, things feel a bit better. The group organises to come visit her for a few nights in a row. One of the mums is not able, but she sends over a meal instead. They support each other, things are isolating for this new mum.

Be inspired.

The women in my story meet together regularly, several times a week. They meet at each house in turn. They open up their lives to each other and, by doing so, bring themselves out of isolation. They have broken down the barriers that stop women from asking for help. The women become good friends, they share a wealth of knowledge and they support each other.

How does fiction become non-fiction? This story seems so right, why is it so wrong? Why does it not work? How do I make it happen?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Online Socialising


I chat online all day long. I log on at the first opportunity in the morning and it is literally the last thing I do before I go to sleep. This is not my inner geek, many other mums do the same in an effort to keep themselves socialised.

Some women focus on a single forum, these women become very well known in their virtual community. They have post counts in the thousands and seem to be always online. Others, like me, rely on a variety of forums to meet our conversational needs.

Today I have laughed at the antics of my friends children, recommended some books and congratulated a stranger. I have discussed the best place to buy cleaning products, made a bunch of people laugh and learnt how to braid a wrap. I reassured a breastfeeding mum, told an anecdote about little sisters flooding the bathroom and gathered support for my nappy-free attempts. I offered to help sell raffle tickets, asked if anyone knew where to buy Asian-style pants for bubby and chatted with my sister. I explained how my husband made a sidecar cot, proudly showed off a photo of my bubby and discussed baby needs.

This was all done without actually holding a face-to-face conversation. I did not visit anyone today and, aside from the plumber, no one visited me. All of these conversations were virtual, and most with people I have never ever met.

Laying in bed, as I consider whether to check the forums one more time, it occurred to me just how much I am trying to mimic the type of socialisation that I would have if there were surrounded by other adults. Rather than sitting for chunks of time, this socialisation is dispersed throughout the day, a few minutes here and a few minutes there. A single conversation might take all day. It may take several hours to receive a response to a comment. These online conversations provide stimulation to stay-at-home mums as they go about their day, essentially allowing them to chat while they work.

While I am increasingly grateful for the socialisation that modern technology provides me, I am bothered by my acceptance that this is enough. It is clear just how much a mother at home needs to socialise with other people, yet the current norm seems to be online forums with weekly playgroups.

I am increasingly angry just how much we accept that a morning tea in the park is enough for a stay-at-home mum. Extended periods of socialisation are essential, and woman must be able to socialise without completely interrupting there day. Online socialising might seem like a great answer, allowing women to go about their own day while remaining in contact with others. However it is inefficient, actual direct responses are few and can be delayed over days.

It is hard work to hold a conversation online. A mother needs to stop what she is doing and access the computer. This might mean spending time while baby is asleep catching up with people, bouncing a fussy baby while typing with one-hand or using more mobile devices to type responses while on the move. This provides barely enough socialisation to keep ones head above water.

I am reminded of the game called “The Sims” where Sims must talk on the phone, chat online and talk with people in order to fulfil social needs. If a Sims social bar falls too low then they need to spend a vast amount of time to fill it again. This is how I feel every night when my bubby goes to bed. Instead of using my time to relax I find myself sitting at the computer for hours trying to increase my socialisation bar in a way that only a good face-to-face conversation really can.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Gutted


I feel like I a woman who has forgotten her place. My departmental head called this morning to talk about last Friday. I had annoyed a teacher by coming in to work. I feel like this is all a big mistake, that I should just stay at home and finish my housework.

I had emailed him last Thursday explaining that I wanted to informally return to work one day per week. I wrote in the email that if I were to do this I would prefer he gave me something to work on. It is an unusual thing to have a baby in the workplace, so I am keen to make it work. That was how I ended up taking his class, and having a productive day at work.

This is where the problem was when I stopped by my old class. In doing so I annoyed the new teacher. The story is simple. It was my class, it is now hers. I checked with my departmental head about visiting and he indicated it was no problem. I waited until near the end of class and found the teacher working at her computer. I asked if I could pop on to which she responded in, what I thought was, a positive manner. I went for a quick tour of the class saying hello, showing off Eleanor and letting them show off their work. I was out in about five minutes. I thanked the teacher on the way out.

My departmental head believes the fault is with him as he did not warn her. I am left feeling like I stepped back into a silly round of office politics. Actually she was not the only one who seemed to think I did not belong. A couple of teachers stopped short of asking me to display proof that I was allowed to be there. It was as if all sense of reason had been thrown out the window. My gripe is not against this teacher, or these teachers. I am annoyed that I had to give up my classes in the first place.

Firstly I must give credit to my departmental head for what, rather than being a lapse, was a display of confidence. He behaved as if it was not a big deal at all to have me come back to help out. That he did not run around paving the way for me made things feel normal. The young tech guy who I shared a staffroom with likewise was completely unconcerned. The one time that my daughter became grizzly he dropped a reassuring comment basically letting me know the students were much more noisier and distracting then she was.

In our society there is no allowance for a woman to both raise a child and work. It had been forgotten that I was a valued member of staff, instead people behaved as if they had never met me. I could see them wondering who was this woman with a baby and what right did she have to be here. I could see them wondering whether it was safe to leave me alone with students. I am thankful for a boss who has common sense… this is not a big deal people, at least it should not be. I am still the awesome teacher I was six months ago, I just have a baby attached to me now.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Beautiful Girl


For every moment of frustration, for every moment that my body is wracked with the need to scream, there are many more where I am overwhelmed by how much I love her.

I know her personality. I know the sounds she makes when she is happy and the face she shows when she is excited. I know the noise she makes when I am about to feed her. I know the face she pulls when, fast asleep after a long feed, she pulls off my boob and rests her head back down to sleep. I know that she likes to sleep on her back with her hands behind her head.

My heart somersaults when I see her, my breathing pauses for a moment as I stare at her in adoration. I pop my head in to check on her at night, and so often find myself laying down beside her just watching. My mum tells me that this feeling will never end, I am glad to hear it.

Parenting alone is hard work. This blog is largely about the hidden emotions of motherhood, emotions such as anger, frustration, sadness and loneliness. This blog focuses on the need for a much more social approach to parenting. I have a private diary devoted to my daughter and the love I feel for her. I want to express those feelings in this blog just this once. Even in the most difficult times of my quasi-single motherhood my love never diminishes. Not one dot, not one iota.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Dancing Phalanges

There are mornings when you do absolutely anything to get just half an hour more sleep.

The trouble is you end up doing what my brother calls 'dancing phalanges', that is when he waves his hand in front of her and says "dancing phalanges". It never stops her grizzling but he never stops trying. We all have our own version of dancing phalanges, something that we do instead of meeting the actual need of the child. A dancing phalange always seems easier but if it is not meeting her need, than it is not going to work.

I am lying semi-reclined in bed as I type this. My four month old daughter is on my lap. I am wiggling butt in an effort to get her to settle. It is not working. The problem is that laying in bed juggling her on my lap trying to get fifteen more minutes sleep is a waste of effort. She is not going to settle until I meet her need, but I am too tired to do more this dancing phalange.

She has been whinging, which I believe is how a four month old baby politely asks for something, for about twenty minutes. I know she needs my full attention, but I am still half-asleep. I foolishly stayed awake until eleven o'clock last night. I say foolishly because my little girl conked out at half past four in the afternoon. Yes, you read that correctly. This was a good clue that she would probably be wide awake by five in the morning. I should have prepared myself by also going to bed early.

When you are pregnant with your first baby people give you lots of advice. One piece of advice that I was given that actually made complete sense was to sleep when baby sleeps. This is very wise advice. The trouble is that it is very difficult to follow. If I had followed this advice I would have averaged seven hours per night of unbroken sleep for the past month. What I actually do is attempt to do a days worth of pre-baby activities in three hours. Leaving just four hours for me to sleep before she wakes. Every morning I wake up still tired and I tell myself that I will go to bed early tonight, and every night I stay up for hours trying to bring balance to my day.

This is how it comes about that I am laying in bed trying to make her sleep longer. I know it is not going to work but I cannot help but try. This is also why at four o'clock in the afternoon, yes it took me all day to write this blog entry, as I lay her down in bed I think about how wise it would be to sleep early, but I know that I will not.



Friday, March 19, 2010

Babies at Work


I taught a class today, created a learning object, talked with colleagues and conquered my fear of breastfeeding in front of students.

Two weeks ago my head of department gave me the okay to return to work with Eleanor on an informal basis. I was excited initially, but then found myself unsure about how to return. What would I do when I got there? Would my bubby and myself just be a distraction? Would parents make phone calls if they found out I had fed my baby while in the same room as their teenager?

By complete accident I purchased a book, via my kindle, all about returning to work. "Babies at Work" by Carla Moquin1 talks in depth about setting boundaries, being realistic about productivity, understanding the need for a transition period, and knowing when your baby has outgrown the program.

Inspired by the book I sent an email to my departmental head explaining that I needed to be given something to do, rather than just turning up and visiting. I want to assist in classes as well as help with resource development. My email coincided with him being away and feeling like his senior students were being neglected. That was how I ended up taking his class the next day.

I rehearsed speeches in my head about how natural it is to breastfeed, I prepared anecdotes about my brother seeing more of me than ever before and I prepared to lecture students about maturity. Instead, when I finally stood in front of the class, I simply said "um boys, if she needs a feed I will. But I will let you know...". Not my most eloquent speech, but you cannot say I wasn't straight to the point. It turned out she did need one feed. I was in the middle of helping a female student with a programming issue. I had thought I would sit in the corner of the classroom away from students if she did need a feed. However the male students were all facing away from me, I asked the female student that I was working with if she minded if I fed while I helped her, I told the whole class that I was about to feed her, and then I did.

Once she was on, which was accomplished as discretely as possible, I was able to finish solving the programming problem. The rest of the lesson went just as smoothly. One of the boys laughed when I gave her head a few kisses as I sat down to help him with a problem. I told him that his mother would have kissed him the same way when he was a baby. This prompted some gentle jibing by his classmates that she still does.

One of the girls asked if she could hold my baby. I had already thought about this and declined. I believe it is important to have some boundaries and policies in place regarding having a child at work. One of these is that students will not be allowed to hold my baby. I am going to take my time working on the rest, including having my head of department review them.

At the moment I am kind of operating on an it is easier to apologise way of doing this. I am unsure of what procedure I should follow. There are two hundred staff at our school and I have never even met the executive principal, although I would like to make a time to present my case to him. My thoughts are that at the moment I am being invited into the school by a senior member of staff, who is well aware that I will have my baby with me, and that I will feed her when necessary. I would love to undertake some paid work when my maternity leave is over. However my baby will be seven months old at that stage, she will be beginning to be mobile which might not make for the best work scenario. At any rate, I would like to be prepared with my own personal guidelines, as well as evidence from other resources, for the time that I do talk to the executive principal.

I enjoyed being at work today. I created useful resources for my colleagues, I was able to notice classroom issues that I could relay to the regular teacher, I was able to see and help students with their work in the classroom. I loved that I was able to use the skills that I have, and I love that I did not have to be separated from my beautiful four month old daughter in order to do so.

1Moquin, C. (2008). Babies at Work: Bringing New Life to the Workplace. Lulu.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Doing it again

Getting together to cook was so much fun, so was our day getting clothes organised. I want to keep the momentum going. However two weeks have gone by and I still have not managed to get all three of us together. I do not feel like this is supposed to be something that happens once a month, I really feel like it should be happening several times a week.

The problem is that it can be hard to find a day when we are not busy. We are like tornado people – so busy doing our own things that other people cannot get close to us. I think once we do figure it out we will be a super tornado (how far can I take this analogy?), for now it is a lot of work trying to get us together.

I have finished reading Robin Grille’s book “Heart to Heart Parenting”1 the final chapter offered some practical ideas. Actually I was really surprised by the chapter, as it mirrors this blog, although written more eloquently, in many ways. The chapter talks about what it would mean to be a well-supported parent, and the practicalities of forming a parenting group.

I particularly appreciate the following thought of his:

How often should a parenting group meet? As often as you’d like. How about meeting with at least one other parent (if not the whole group) every day? For a short while at least? Or almost every day? Can you allow yourself to envisage never having to be alone? Can you imagine only being alone, or alone with you child, when you actually want to be? What if the time of early childhood parenting can be the best time you have had in your life?

The quote has made me start thinking about doing some visits of my own. Maybe it is time for me to get out of my house and make sure I visit someone, or am visited by someone, every day. In fact as I type this I realise that it is a very good goal. Starting tomorrow I will do just that for a month, I want to just say a week, but I need a great goal, every single day even weekends.

1Grille, R. (2008). Heart to Heart Parenting. Pymble: Harper Collins.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Help…

I am so tired. In so many ways this feels like a form of torture. My daughter is amazing I love everything about her. If I am complaining at all it is, again, about my isolation, not about my beautiful girl.

For the past fourteen weeks straight I have devoted my life to raising her. Just these few paragraphs have taken hours to write. Every word that I have written has been punctuated with the sound of my daughter crying. In fact I have only been able to write this by typing it out on my iPhone while pacing the floor. I do not know how long I will have to pace tonight but I am exhausted and just want to cry.

I think what I want is for her to be quiet for a few hours but she is a child her worries are honest. She needs something but I am too tired to figure out what it is.

I want to scream. I want a break and I need some help.

For nearly four months everything has revolved around being a good mother to her. I am exhausted. I wonder how much longer I can keep going, I am desperate for some time to myself, some space for me. Why is it that no body else seems to understand? Why do I feel that people reading this are going to think I am not coping. Why are we expected to cope with this alone? I am coping, I am doing well, I am just exhausted from it all. It takes more energy to raise a child than is produced by one exhausted mother.

I need to yell, or cry or something, just to let out the intense frustration that I feel. The thing that I imagine is confusing for people who are not mothers is that we do not spend our days feeling like this. Most of the time it is a joy and a wonder what I do. It is just some times, on some days, that the sense of exhaustion, lack of control and need for space feels over-whelming. Sometimes this is because bubby is wanting energy when I want rest, sometimes it is my emotions that unsettle her.

Am I any different from any other mother? I do not believe so. Am I depressed? Not at all. Any I exhausted? Absolutely. These are the times I need somebody to help.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Our second get together

My friend came over on Friday with her two daughters. We spent the day working together getting some items ready for an upcoming used clothing sale.

Her three-year old daughter had clearly enjoyed our first get together, as she had apparently asked if they were coming to visit every time she has hopped in the car since.

Both of us were impressed at how much easier it was to get thing done when we worked together. I also noticed how much more comfortable her two daughters were around me.

Much more I could write, but bubby wants boobies.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Just a quick follow up


I dropped in to work on Thursday. I had my speech all composed. My head of department is an excellent boss and we worked together very well.

In my first semester I had been shocked at how few girls were continuing on to do senior IT, for example, in a class of thirty-three students only three were female. He supported me in my endeavour to change that. I created girl only IT groups and web design clubs. Finally I told him I could go no further if the girls were not offered a more appealing senior subject. He said ‘no’ at first so I waited a semester and tried again. He began to object but by the time I had finished he agreed with me. At least that is how I remember it. He took the cause to his boss, the school principal, and fought for over twelve months to male it happen. Finally we got the subject and immediately saw the number of students doing senior IT nearly double, the retention rate of students going into year twelve increased dramatically and the number if girls shot up from 10% to nearly 50%.


With this is mind I was prepared to tell him I was going to apply the same tenacity toward convincing him that I should be allowed to return to work with my baby. However it all went very easily. I chatted with him at the lunch table while he ate. My daughter wanted a feed too so I unzipped unclipped and popped her on. I think he was a bit unsure as the conversation halted a little. This makes sense as their has to be room to adjust, I mean I just got my boob out in front of my boss. Last year that was a boob to be covered up, this year it is a food source that gets uncovered a lot.
The reality is that regardless of how discrete I try to be if you are around me long enough you will 'cop an eyeful', as my younger brother likes to say.

My boss recovered smoothly and told me he would love to have me back and involved in the classes. I made sure that he realised my baby was part of the bargain and that breastfeeding would be inevitable.

I am not bothered about feeding around my students. Mostly because I believe this is an incredibly natural thing that society should be comfortable with. Our laws in Australia make breastfeeding legal and acceptable in any place where my baby is allowed. It will only be considered natural again once us mums start behaving as if it is.

So I am going, informally, back to work while still on maternity leave. Just popping in regularly and keeping involved. The next step is to teach some classes whenever my boss or replacement are away. Once my leave is up I will see about doing paid work, contracts, supply days, or even take my senior class back.

One step at a time.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I will fight

So it turns out that I have been missed.

I never made it into work, it has been raining heavily all day. One if my colleagues stopped in for a cup of tea instead. She told me that I have been missed.

I miss them too.

So I have decided I will fight the battle to engage in my workplace without having to leave my baby behind.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I gave up my job


It has been five months since I started maternity leave but the reality of it really hit home today. I was a high school teacher (note the use of past tense), actually I was a great high school teacher. I gave teaching my all working long hours to create exciting curriculum. Constantly thinking about how to energize and inspire my students. I liked my colleagues and I liked my students, I looked forward to seeing them each day. I found great satisfaction in discussing curriculum ideas with my department head. I loved the high that came with teaching a good class. I like to think that I was not easily replaceable, I like to think that my students and my boss miss me.

I opted to give this up to become a fulltime mum. I did this because i believe whole heartedly in the benefits of breastfeeding and I believe that my daughter needs me fulltime. I was actually so aware that giving up work would be difficult that I gave it up early so I would have plenty of time to adjust before the baby was born. I talked about this a lot with my midwife. I thought it was all fine.

However today I realized that in taking extended maternity leave I really did give it all up. Those are no longer my students excited that I was their teacher. The curriculum was no longer my concern. The senior subject that I had spent my entire career designing was no longer any of my business.

This all occurred to me because I am planning to drop into the school tomorrow and i realised just how much i feel like it is not my school anymore. I was so good at it but there is no room for me to be a teacher if I want to be a mum. I guess I am a little be jealous of the people who took over my roles. It does not seem just. I designed that unit, I had the vision for what it should be, I was the expert, I still want to be involved. Those students are mine, I instilled in them a passion for the subject, I worked hard to make them better than all the rest, I want to see them through.
I cannot do any of this because I have a beautiful daughter who needs me. I want to be there for my daughter far and above my desire to continue with my job. I just wish it did not have to be so black and white.

Tomorrow I will be a stranger in a place where I was a star... I want to keep writing about how things need to change more, how things should be, but I am tired and can only fight so many battles. This one will have to be fought by someone else.

Monday, March 1, 2010

‘Heart to Heart Parenting’


I am an avid reader, and becoming a parent just gave me an entire new topic of books to consume. I have just begun reading the book ‘Heart to Heart Parenting’ by Robin Grille1.
I originally read an article by the author Robin Grille in a back issue of Essence magazine (the magazine of the Australian Breastfeeding Association). The paragraph that appears at the top of my blog was the opening paragraph of the article. It was that paragraph that inspired me to finally do something about the isolation of mothers.
So far I have only read the first chapter of the book, but it is really hitting home. It talks about the same things that I am trying to address in this blog. The author uses the term ‘cooperative parenting’ to describe what I have been calling together parenting. I am posting some excerpts of the book below. I hope it sends you all out to buy the book.
“Kids don’t come with an instruction manual,’ we joke to each other and, as we shake our heads, we invoke the wise old lament: ‘It takes a village to raise a child'.’ But we carry on regardless, without the help of the village or extended family, and with precious little helpful information.

How can we benefit from the help of the village if we have to keep our need for help a secret?

There are many mothers and fathers who … feel deeply inadequate because they are at home with one, two or more children all day and feel at their wit’s end; … they are isolated, cut off from their vital support networks. Looking after children is supposed to be a communal, cooperative endeavour. Our species is simply not designed to nurture its young in separate, nuclear family units. No wonder parenting is so stressful for so many people.

Parenting is such a formidable task. Parents need nourishing social contact and practical help on a daily basis. Isolation is an established, major risk factor for depression in parents

in our culture a parent’s need for support has been very badly underestimated.
1Grille, R. (2008). Heart to Heart Parenting. Pymble: Harper Collins.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Yesterday we cooked

The idea was simple, pick a recipe, bring the ingredients and then we will all work together to cook.

It was as simple and wonderful as it sounds. My friend Deirdre arrived around half past nine with her two beautiful girls and the ingredients for a spinach and ricotta quiche. We had an easy day together cooking quiches, spaghetti bolognaise and foccacia bread.

The cooking seemed so much less stressful than when done alone. Being interrupted from the task at hand to deal with an unsettled child did not seem like any inconvenience at all. Stress or difficulty that might generally be associated with attempting to do a big job while looking after children seemed negated by the fact that it was being done with someone else. When one of us stopped to tend a child there was someone to pick up what was left off.

Working together made the task at hand just more enjoyable. I was attempting to make bread but water was breaking through the well of flour and running all over the kitchen table. I was scooping up flour and dumping it on the rogue streams making even more of a mess. My friend and brother were laughing, as the gloop on the kitchen table looked increasingly like a failed mess that would require a lot of work to clean up. It was fun rather than disheartening, and the thought of cleaning up a big mess did not seem a concern. Nothing seemed like work.

The children experienced all this in a very unforced way (Jean Liedloff1 would have been proud). The children watched sometimes, and sometimes they joined in, they rarely stayed long, and we did not force them into helping. My friend’s youngest daughter watched with interest as the herbs were put into the mortar to be crushed. I handed her the pestle and let her have a go. Her other daughter later came to help smear the herb and oil mix all over the shaped loaf of bread.

I really loved looking after our children, it was so different from what we would have done had we been at home alone. We were just as attentive to their needs as we would usually be, however things just seemed a lot easier. I also believe that the children benefited from it. When I sat on the lounge to breastfeed my daughter, I sat next to my friend’s three year old who chatted with me, comparing my baby to her own twelve month old sister. Both myself and the three year old were socialising. My own daughter seemed much more content being passed from arm to arm all day. At times when she was put down she remain settled for periods longer than usual, watching what was going on and listening to the banter.

As the mother of a twelve week old girl I loved the opportunity to watch the other children. Having not been around children for nearly twenty years, the little I did know was long forgotten. It was interesting seeing our home from the perspective of another mother (cockroach baits around the kitchen and a distinct lack of plastic cups).

We did something that I have heard a number of other people refer to as a ‘cooking swap’. I like the term and will use it along with related terms such as ‘gardening swap’ and ‘housework swap’. I want to make it clear that I believe these activities are a core part of what together parenting should be. These are shared activities that serve the purpose of creating a strong bond amongst a small group of people. keep in mind that the smaller the group the faster a strong network will be formed. Together parenting is about more than the occasional cooking swap it is about bringing women out of systematic isolation. Getting parents together on a regular basis is a very important part of making parenting less isolating.

Having said all that, I am looking forward to doing this again next week, it has been such a wonderful social opportunity. I find myself wanting to invite far more people than will fit in kitchen.

1Liedloff, J. (1989). The Continuum Concept. Penguin books

Monday, February 22, 2010

My private exhaustion


I am 32 years old. I am well educated. I have a loving husband. I have a newborn child.

I will skip the part where I tell you how much I am in love with her. I will skip the bit where I describe how often I am just struck my the miracle of life. I will skip the part where I tell you that my husband and I continually look at each other with adoration and smile in disbelief. I have to write just this much though, I have to know that you know I love my child. I have to be sure you understand that my exhaustion does not mean I would change anything about her. I am a mother, we need to be certain you know these things before we dare say that we are even struggling a tiny bit.

I am exhausted, utterly exhausted, mentally and physically. Plus I am in desperate need of a shower. However I am sitting uncomfortably on a kitchen chair nursing my twelve week old with one arm as I am type with the other. My arm is aching from typing as I cannot get close enough to the desk to rest my elbow. My progress is slow, and my typing errors are many. I can no longer see the keyboard because the sun has just set and the lights are off, but I am not game to move because my daughter is asleep. She has been fussy* all afternoon so this, the scenario I just described, constitutes me taking a break.

My days are no longer my own, I knew it would be like this but I did not realise just how hard it would be. She wakes me in the early hours of the morning for a feed. Sometimes she returns to sleep, other times she stays awake. I will remain in bed with her until she has another feed and falls asleep. She will sleep for less than an hour with me out of the room so I have to have a shower quickly, eat breakfast, put a load of nappies in the washing machine and then do some housework.

My daughter will wake up around 8 o’clock. I greet her with a smile and play with her on the bed for a little while. I then spend the next hour giving her a bath and feeding her. Sometimes it takes less time, sometimes it takes more. This is followed up by the easiest part of my day, I put her in a baby carrier where she will fall asleep while I do the housework. She is generally asleep before I finish hanging out the washing. I now have a baby attached to my chest, but I can still get lots of things done, though taking her out of the carrier is sure to wake her, and she will probably, though not always, begin to stir if I remain stationary for too long. I check emails in between doing housework trying to get as much done as possible, as this is the most productive time part of my day.

Let me explain that again, the most productive part of my day involves something the size of a small dog being strapped to my chest that insists I not remain stationary for too long. This means if I am at the computer I have to rock continually, it also means in summer I have a sweaty head stuck to my chest.

After an hour or two she will be wanting her next feed. The day will continue like this until 9 o’clock at night. Some weeks she is glowing and will play happily for fifteen minutes but in other weeks, like this one, she will start to cry after only a few minutes. I spent a day on the couch with her last week. She fed and slept while I watched the Winter Olympics, other days she cries if I stop moving for any length of time.

If this blog entry is actually beginning to sound a bit perky it is because it is 9:06pm. My daughter is asleep, I can have as much time to myself as I want. That is as long as I remember that this is her big sleep for the night, every hour of time I am awake is an hour less unbroken sleep that I am getting. I want to admit to you that for the last few week she sleeps for eight hours straight at night, but I am afraid you will read that and wonder what I am complaining about. I am afraid you will think that it is not as hard as I say it is.

The exhausting part of all this is that it happens every day, and I do not have anyone that I feel comfortable enough with to actually ask for help. My family live far away, my wonderful work colleagues seem like they are in a different world and my new mother friends are just too new.

There is also a hidden fear that I am doing it all wrong. That if someone else observes the way I am doing things, they will call my child spoilt or clingy or some other label that subtly tells me that I am doing it wrong. The trouble with wrong is that I also get the feeling that there are lots of conflicting versions about what is wrong. Will they think I am feeding her too much, too little, are they bothered that I popped a boob out in front of them, do they think my sling is the problem, do they think she should sleep in a bed during the day. The grandmother that approves of me not using a dummy calls her a bit spoilt later on, was she disapproving of me sticking a boob in her mouth every twenty minutes to settle her. I hurriedly explain that she is usually asleep in the mornings, but then I wonder if she also disapproves of my letting her sleep in a sling attached to my body. The bigger question that looms is this, could they possibly be right could I be bringing this exhaustion on myself?

I need some help. I am not about to breakdown. I am not depressed. I am just exhausted and a little bit dumbfounded that us mothers are expected to do all this by ourselves.

10:16pm ~ my hour is up.

*Fussy is the term us mums use to describe the times when our babies are crying for long periods of time with no obvious reason. Fussy is too polite a word, but we do not want to use the word whiney with our new babies. Fussiness means that we have to try lots of different things, generally many times, in order to have our babies settle for even a few seconds. We check nappies, try feeding, try bathing, and generally do a lot of bouncing and walking and talking. The problem is that these fussy periods mostly happen at the end of the day, and by that time we can no longer muster the energy to settle our children. As an aside, I often wonder if fussiness is at all related to our own exhaustion.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

“Together Parenting”


The goal of “Together Parenting” is to develop personal relationships that cross social boundaries. Parents must have a network of of people who can and will come to help when needed. The key is too create a network in which the parent feels comfortable enough to ask for help when needed.

While each group is informal and there are no real rules for how this might work. It is important to remember that this is about more than a weekly barbeque, the meetings at each others houses are about more than just socialising. They are intended to assist in the breaking down of social boundaries. When you have helped clean your friend’s toilet it is not so hard to call them at six o’clock in the evening to ask for help.

An element of formality is required in order to meet this goal. This is very much like the formality of rounds at the pub. The drinkers don’t buy their own drinks, they take turns buying them for each other. There are rules to the system, but they rarely need repeating.

Suitability
Creating a group is not quite as simple as grabbing four other willing mothers (though it might be for you). The goal is a long term commitment to each other, so it is important that you all suit each other. Things to consider include age, parenting styles, social attitudes, educational backgrounds, gender, life history, other commitments. In short, it is important that you believe this is the type of parent you could form a long term friendship with.

The other consideration is time. A stay-at-home mother may have the time to commit four or five days a fortnight to togetherness, a mother working part-time, might find herself with less. Your group needs to discuss how to arrange this, considering also the time needs of the mothers. A stay-at-home mother may need togetherness for four to five days a week, while a mother working part-time may feel socialised from her job.

Raising the comfort levels
The term team building summons up memories of dressing as an American Indian and running around Toowoomba completing a scavenger hunt with a bunch of accountants, but it is a lot like what needs to happen. The type of help that mothers, especially new ones, often need is the type of help that we feel most uncomfortable asking for. In order to cross these social boundaries the group members need to feel comfortable with each other, the team needs to be built. Having morning tea together once a week is just not going to cut it as far as bonding this type of group together is concerned. The group really needs to feel comfortable in each other’s houses and each other’s lives. Remember we are looking for our isolated mothers to have a network of three or four friends who will have a good idea when help is needed and will not hesitate to give it.

There are many ways a group could build their team, this is my suggestion. Do your housework together. Set up a schedule, go to each house every fortnight and clean together. I am talking about doing the dishes, cleaning the floors, scrubbing the bathroom, changing bed sheets, doing laundry, dusting, ironing and definitely cleaning the toilet. In short, getting their hands very dirty. Once you have cleaned someone else’s toilet, asking them for help just doesn’t seem quite so hard.

But not just housework
The group needs to develop friendship with each other, over and above the feeling of being a team. Cleaning together represents a way to build the team and break down social boundaries. However the group needs to be friends as well. Socialising should be the easiest part of the group. Take the time to sit and chat, have barbeques in the park, go for a walk around the town, go shopping, or even watch a movie.

Your children are an incredibly important part of your lives, however they will benefit from seeing adults behave, as much as adults will benefit from not always engaging in child-focused activities.

Extend your activities and your friends
While my suggestion of cleaning together is what I consider to be the foundational activity of the group, there are lots of other more social activities that can be engaged in.

  • Set aside a day to cook bulk meals together.
  • Use cooking days (and the like) to invite a new person along. This will give you a chance to see how well they fit in with the group, without having to fully commit.
  • Get the entire families together for a game of cricket at the local park.
  • Get the husbands together to teach the kids how to create a vegetable garden (yes, I am being increasingly stereotypical).
  • Plan a day without any children (save some pennies and head to a day spa together!)

What about the children?
The children have not been mentioned so far in this blog. It is undeniable that for every group of parents at least as many children are present. It is important in these settings that, mostly, children are not the centre of attention. These are not play groups that see a bunch of mothers sitting in a circle watching their children play together. These groups are about the coming together of mothers. The children are there, and the mothers will work together to look after them, sometimes this might consume all of a mother’s time, other times it may require little more than checking up on them occasionally. It takes a village to raise a child, but this is something for another blog post.

But I am not a stay-at-home mother…
The beauty of this concept is that it is flexible. It can be adapted and applied to all types of parents, mothers, father, full-time workers, part-time workers and parents working at home. It is also independent of parent style. Whether you are an avid attachment parent-er, or believe the Wiggles DVDs are the best parenting tool since the pram, this concept will work, especially if you take the time to find parents who are well-suited to you. I have referred to the stay-at-home mother because I believe her to be the most common and the most isolated.