Parenting – by Beth

6 Jun

Why am I finding this post so difficult?! I turn every second topic into something about parenting, so what’s the big deal? It must be that the perfectionist in me is wanting to make this as comprehensive as possible. The added procrastination is that the parental activist in me is wanting to blow the lid off this parenting gig. I’ve come up with some headings in order to stop myself from writing too lengthy a manifesto ūüôā

Firstly: Dads are parents too!¬†Jeff shares half the parenting joys, responsibilities and associated chores in our house. He hates it that most stuff written about parenting is framed as “mothering”. It’s very true. Hope this doesn’t fall into that trap too badly.

Do I love every moment of parenting? Hell no!

Do I have anywhere else I’d rather be?¬†Nope.

Least favourite things about being a parent.¬†Disturbed sleep. Mess. Lack of control (this is also a really good thing, but doesn’t feel like that some days). Interruptability. Not getting time for my own projects. Never ending washing. Sickness.

Favourite things about being a parent. Babywearing. Playing throw the balloon and catch. Snuggles and cuddles. Watching him paint. Chasing each other around the house. Dancing. The insights your child has. Going out for breakfast together. Watching him grow and learn. Baking together. Better stop before I make you all vomit. Reading. Feeling that connection, that mutual understanding. Getting into good grooves with little family routines. Forces you to accept that any veneer of control you had in your life was just that an illusion! Drinking more tea. Having more time at home and learning to be OK with that. Learning to work around contraints. Learning about myself and the world and my child all everyday.

Breastfeeding

It is totally amazing that the body can produce¬†sustenance¬†for a growing person, and breastfeeding is cleverly designed to keep mothers close to their young when they are especially tiny and vulnerable and aiding the bonding process. When I first had Leo I thought – Jeff can change nappies and walk with him for hours when he won’t sleep, but I’m going to breastfeed him – that’s the most important thing I can do. When I was diagnosed with Insufficient Glandular Tissue and told that the best I’d ever be able to do was 50/50 breastmilk and formula (by a bitch from hell of a lactation consultant – that’s another story), I was shattered. Guilty. Grief-stricken. I ended up supplementing his feeds with formula – going the most labour-intensive route possible, with all the disadvantages of formula feeding (sterilising bottles, expense, guilt, potential health drawbacks), without any of the potential ‘advantages’ (e.g. hubby can feed in the night). We did that dance of both bottles and boob until he was 12 months old. Despite it being a tortured beginning, I’m so glad I¬†persevered.

I’m impressed by what you say about women not feeling like failures if they don’t breastfeed in Poland, Justyna. That is ideal. Give women the tools and support they need, and if things don’t work out, don’t make them pariahs. In Australia I think a lot of mainstream breastfeeding education has elements of scare campaigning (Formula is Poison! Breastfeeding will help you lose baby weight etc.), and it’s not backed up by all the cultural stuff and practical support that facilitates breastfeeding in practice, like longer base maternity leave, ¬†and a cultural norm of actually seeing women breastfeed in public like it’s a natural, normal thing. I can’t believe we’re still having that argument! Places like the Australian Breastfeeding Association have good advice, but they’re not properly funded, and most women are speaking to hospital staff, GPs, lactation consultants and early childhood nurses, who are not necessarily well informed. So what you get is women armed with poor information, confusing cultural norms (feeding for 6-12 months is OK, but any longer is “gross” etc.), and not enough practical support. I know several women who were felled like I was by a¬†perceived failure to breastfeed. And trust me, no-one wins when a new mother is felled.

Parental guilt 

It’s so prevalent! and so debilitating. I think it’s¬†exacerbated¬†of the information-overload parents are surrounded by, and all the people trying to make money off creating issues/insecurity and then providing goods and services that supposedly solve the issue, which makes my blood boil. It’s easy to forget you’re human and you make mistakes. I totally still have parental guilt despite my best efforts. My mental laundry list of ¬†parental guilt includes: bottle feeding, lack of swimming lessons, getting a sleep-in every single day courtesy of my darling husband. I used to feel really guilty about “succumbing” to postnatal depression, but I don’t feel guilty about that anymore.

My Mum and Dad

My parents are incredibly selfless people, and they gave and continue to give me their total love and attention. For better or worse, I was the centre of their universe. Leo is probably the centre of their universe now – but I get special¬†privileges for being related to Leo ūüėȬ†they are doting grandparents.

My Mum read the Continuum Concept when it first came out and adopted a lot of practices from that: e.g. breastfeeding on demand until I self-weaned (let’s just say I was walking, talking, but not quite going to school when I decided I’d had enough), babywearing, and having a family bed.

My Dad was the best playmate a kid could ask for. Leo once said totally unsolicited that Grandad was a man who was really a boy, and this is a perfect summation of him. He taught me how to have fun by having A LOT of fun himself. I remember trying to drag him away from a lego exhibit when I was 8. “Dad, can we go home now???!” “Hold on, I’m just finishing my house!”

I don’t remember ever wishing for a sibling. I found out when I was older that Mum and Dad had tried, unsuccessfully, to have another child. I never had any sense that I wasn’t enough, although they do seem to have a succession of cat-children and wounded humans to nurture. They’ve got a lot of love to give.

They weren’t big on boundaries, and the negative impacts of that was that I developed an extreme TV addiction, didn’t exercise enough, was a total night owl and ate too much (most of it was ‘good’ food, but too much of it). Bless their hearts, they did try to help with that, but not with much success.¬†I was the fat kid from the age of five or so.

My Mum was, and still is, a pretty harsh critic. She never criticised me¬†personally, but let’s just say he was never afraid to tell me if she had any reservations about my writing/photography/art/films, which continues to frustrate me no end. I came first in the state in one of my HSC subjects and the phone call where I told her ended in something along the lines of “Just tell me you’re proud of me, Mum!”

It’s always felt like we were on the same team.¬†I always knew I could trust them with anything. We have amazing conversations, and they never made me feel I was lesser to them because of my age. If I was ever in trouble (psychedelic¬†pot freak out, boy trouble, friendship woes etc.) I knew I could go to them for help and understanding.

Mum and Dad have never put any pressure on me to achieve anything particular with my life. I’ve always really appreciated that.¬†Both of them instilled in me a curiosity about the world, and a well of enthusiasm for life. They are both enthusiasts of the highest order; also obsessional, intelligent, caring, patient, wise and generous (to a fault). They are also responsible for my hoarding tendencies.

My Dad always used to quote the first verse of this poem by Phillip Larkin ‘This Be the Verse‘.

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.
It was his universal parenting disclaimer. I’ve never read the rest of it, but here it is…
But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

And the Mum that I’ve become/am becoming?

Like my parents I am a flawed human being. As time goes on I’m sure we will have ample opportunities to give Leo fodder for later therapy/analysis. Writing this makes me realise that even though I think of myself as having “experience” under my belt as a Mum, it’s only been two and a half years – looooong way to go! So far: Boy child watches TV (probably too much). I don’t give him my full attention in a way that mobile devices have undoubtedly added to. I’m also not as patient as I’d like to be.

As a probable reaction against how I was raised, I think I am fairly boundary-orientated with Leo (“No fruit juice!” “Turn off that computer!” “Time for bed.”), but hilariously, some people would probably say I’m too permissive. We have a family bed like I had as a child, and we lie with him until he goes to sleep. My Mum talks fondly of being sandwiched by her two favourite people, and I love that feeling too.

Mum and Dad weren’t big on saying “I love you” i.e. they never said it. I always knew they loved me, but it’s important to both Jeff and I to say it to Leo and to one another. I also tell Leo how proud I am of him, when I’m feeling it.

Other differences: we have a car! (will post about this some other time), I went back to work part-time when Leo was 1 (my mum stayed home until I was at school).

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14 Responses to “Parenting – by Beth”

  1. Justyna June 6, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

    Beautifully and brilliantly written Beth. I can feel your whole heart in it. Wonderful. If fff was to end, this would be its closing post.

    I loved your words about your parents.

    • Beth June 7, 2012 at 1:59 am #

      Thanks Justyna! It did come from the heart. Hope that fff has a lot longer to live though! I’m enjoying it more and more.

  2. Tabitha June 7, 2012 at 2:46 am #

    Really enjoyed reading this Beth, your magnum opus! I have a few comments.

    1. “Babywearing” – the use of this word (and I use that term lightly!) made me snort. Since reading about parenting for the first time recently, I have been amused by how every parenting action becomes a parenting PHILOSOPHY. I have started making up my own philosophies, like pantswearing, which I’m doing right now. I think these words (which often have a consumerist angle in some way) must corner parents into pigeonholing themselves. Maybe that’s a good thing – helping to identify with other likeminded people etc – but it also seems like it could result in a lot of pressure on oneself to conform to these philosophies, such as the pressure about breastfeeding. ANYWAY, I would like to talk to you about this more.

    2. I feel very strongly that you and Jeff are a united parenting team, with very similar ideas about how to raise Leo and how to look after each other. It’s inspiring and lovely. Since you (we all) get so many of our ideas about parenting from our own parents and upbringing, and you and Jeff were raised so differently, how have you reached such a harmonious position? This is probably a whole other post in itself, but it’s something I’ve often wondered.

    3. I recently received an email from Jane, congratulating me on being pregnant, which said “You guys will screw up your kids in far more entertaining ways than most of us could”. I thought that was an excellent thing to aspire to, given the seeming inevitability of children resenting their upbringing, like in Larkin’s poem. I can’t even conceive of what complaints Leo will one day have about his parents, but he’ll have to get creative with them. “I was loved so much! It was awful” etc. PARENTING WIN.

    x Tabitha

    • Karen June 9, 2012 at 3:59 am #

      Pantswearing! Yes yes, your point number one Tabitha is a very very valid one that people need to hear! When I was a first-time parent I became very uptight about my ideological allegiances, and I look back on that period with embarrassment.

      • Karen June 9, 2012 at 4:30 am #

        When I said first time parent, I meant “new parent”. Not meaning to suggest that people with only one child are all ideological nutters! See what a minefield this is!

    • Beth June 9, 2012 at 4:47 am #

      Magnum opus post = magnum opus comments! I will address each point separately for maximum effect.

      1) SO TRUE. Your point totally takes me back to the hatred I felt for all the cutesy wootsey namey-waymies for different types of cloth nappies. Every brand had their own naming conventions to describe their wares and it made it overly confusing and seemed like they were trying to create an in-club.

      I have only recently been able to bandy about terms like “babywearing” without vomming It is a handy shorthand for “carrying baby in a carrier”. But, let’s face it, I have become one of those mothers I hated who uses words like babywearing without vomming… Sigh.

      As for subscribing to a parenting philosophy, I’m pretty sure that one of the gazillion reasons I had such a breakdown in the early days was that because by not exclusively breastfeeding, I was somehow excluded from the parenting philosophy that I aspired to/felt comfortable with. IT IS A FUCKING MINEFIELD. But one that I now can look back on and smile awkwardly about, rather than sobbing uncontrollably and thinking I may as well give up the whole parenting gig immediately. WIN.

      You’re much more savvy about all that Tabs.

      I really could write a whole post about subscribing to a particular parenting philosophy and all the consumerist stuff you allude to. It is fertile territory! As hard as the breastfeeding thing was, I think it did me a great service in that I was immediately suspicious of anyone or anything telling me I ‘had’ to do anything in a particular way.

      That’s actually the one thing that left out of the opus that I thought of afterwards – parenting is ALL about doing what’s best for you and your child. Bugger what anyone else says/thinks/does!

      • Beth June 9, 2012 at 4:59 am #

        2) Yes, Jeff and my ideological alignment on pretty much everything (religion, politics, muesli eating) is especially peculiar given that we had such different upbringings. We do have different tastes, but ideologically it’s pretty chilling how aligned we are without ever having talked about something. I take it a bit for granted now, but I reason that we’re both smart people and seeing as we’ve arrived at similar destinations ideologically it is proof that we are right! (Somewhat) kidding!

        As for the parenting part of it, there is also a lot of compromise that goes on in the background from both sides. Those first few months of parenting are especially hard because you’re figuring out your styles, and everything seems to have much more weight of importance on it. We definitely do things differently from one another because we are so different in our personal styles, but it’s turned out to be pretty complimentary for the most part. So far!

    • Beth June 9, 2012 at 5:02 am #

      Jane has the best calls! That is great.

      I can’t really imagine what adult Leo is going to talk to his therapist/parole officer/partner/children about with relation to our failings. I will have to read his blog/log into his mind-feed…

  3. Karen June 9, 2012 at 4:03 am #

    So interesting to read Beth, thanks for getting it all out. I liked so much about your post, but I did think the first one about dads was a particularly good one. I often describe myself as a parent rather than a mother – partly to get around all of the political loading of mothering – but partly to keep slipping in that little reminder to the world that dads exist too. Mothers often make it difficult for dads to participate by using exclusionary language. But that is of course no excuse for dads to not take the bull by the horns and get on with the job!

    • Beth June 9, 2012 at 4:50 am #

      Agreed! This is a post in itself also, but one that a guy should write! Mommy bloggers have written enough about EVERYTHING! The internet is going to explode with all their words anytime soon.

  4. Justyna June 9, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    I had never heard of babywearing until your post Beth.
    I had never heard of the term co-sleeping until Kazek was about one. Shit I’m under a lingo rock. Like a silly turd, I still use full sentences to describe certain actions. Maybe there are some pluses about living in Poland…

  5. mischa June 12, 2012 at 8:07 am #

    congratulations tabitha! that’s excellent news.
    more later. i’m off to counselling to try to shrug off 32 years of having parents.

  6. Claudia June 12, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

    Thanks for this post, Beth – and for sending me a link to it. I did indeed read it while feeding Josephine ūüôā
    When did parenting become such a minefield? It seems like every time I open my favourite news sites there is yet another article about the “mommy wars” . This gig is hard enough without the external pressures… I think I was most vulnerable after my first baby – everything was so new and I was so clueless. It does get easier as you grow your confidence and see that your style didn’t completely and permanently screw up your child. ūüôā
    One note from the neuroscientist in me: your brain actually changes when you become a parent. It gets completely re-wired, similar to what happens in puberty.We go from being pretty selfish little creatures to being there to protect and nurture our child(ren). That alone is pretty amazing to me. I guess we are wired to do what we think is the best for our child and whether it’s breast or bottle, carrier or stroller, cloth diaper or pampers really doesn’t matter.

    • Beth June 12, 2012 at 9:54 pm #

      Thanks for your comment Claudia. I remember you telling me that about the brain ages ago. It did always stick in my mind.

      The Mommy Wars are such a media beat-up – it’s just like everything in this 24 hr news cycle world where they’re grabbing for something to fill the pages/in-between ads. And they know it gets people watching, commenting and outraged.

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