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Parenting and beer – by Tabitha

14 Jun

I’m going to “do a Justyna” and combine two topics into one: beer and parenting. I am not suggesting Justyna combines beer and parenting specifically, but if she does, I wholeheartedly support that.

Over the past couple of months I have been interviewing Vietnamese people who studied in Australia, for a book project I have been contracted to work on. It’s been really interesting, and I’ve heard all kinds of amazing stories.

One interviewee I met, a woman, said something that has really stuck with me.

She said that when she was studying in Australia she was surprised to see that Australian men spend time with their families. She said that Vietnamese men don’t usually want to go home after work, they want to go drink beer with their friends.

I’m sure this isn’t true of all Vietnamese fathers (and I’m sure it’s equally true of many AUSTRALIAN fathers), but it’s true that every evening the beer halls are packed with red-faced men, and also true that I have heard several Vietnamese men refer to their family life as “boring”, including one of the interviewees for this project.

The woman who mentioned this to me went on to say that Vietnamese culture prides itself on its “family values”, but that this is all a myth. Fathers would rather drink beer than be with their wife and children.

She then told me that she is actually a single mother, divorced, which is pretty rare in Vietnam, and that she manages her business and raises her family by herself. She was perfectly happy with this situation, she said, if tired.

I later mentioned this story to a Vietnamese girlfriend, who I thought would be shocked to hear of this successful single mother. She shot right back at me, “All women in Vietnam are single mothers”.

This friend is in her late twenties and single, also a rarity in Vietnam, but increasingly less so. Young women are wising up. My friend tells me stories all the time about her peers who have married drunks and gamblers and layabouts who play Chinese chess with their friends while their wives work multiple jobs and look after the home. Every one of these stories ends with her saying, “I will never get married”. It is defiant: this will not happen to me.

What is this generation of young, hopeful, self-respecting women to do? They are right to steer clear of marriage entirely in a country where 70-80% of officials believe domestic violence is “sometimes necessary”.  But if they never marry, they won’t have the chance to raise the next generation of Vietnamese sons to be better husbands and fathers.

My heart sinks when I walk past those beer halls.

Parenting – by Justyna

11 Jun

I tried to get a conversation going with Michal tonight about parenting and about fatherhood. It lasted roughly 2 minutes. I was unable to provide him with questions that I did not know the answer he was going to give. Michal could not get into a momentum on the subject, probably because of two major reasons:

  1. Parenthood? How do I see it? It’s just normal isn’t it? It’s not like there’s an art to it. For me it’s just a natural extension to the next bit in your life. That’s all.

And

  1. He was/is streaming the Sweden v Ukraine football match. Live. And there was a goal by Sweden when I started talking to him (you may not know this but the UEFA Euro 2012 has begun and Poland and Ukraine are hosting it this time round. This is a very big deal).

But before I gave up I asked one more thing. How does Polish society view fathers? Michal’s answer was quick without his eyes leaving the laptop screen, “fathers are treated like disabled child rearers”. Yup. That sums it up. There is a prevailing archetype in Poland and it has a name, the Mother Pole (Matka Polka).* She dominates all that is domestic and she knows best. Including how children are raised. The term makes me shudder. Men who live with this Matka Polka type really do resemble dimwitted creatures when around their own offspring. They either run away to the pub or the tv to hide from the Matka Polka, or they stick around being mocked, listening to instructions on how to put on a pair of socks on a five year old, having to deal with constant eye rolling. I feel their pain. They bring it on themselves though, don’t they? Makes life a whole lot sweeter if you are kept at bay from a screaming toddler, a shitty nappy, a soup that needs to me mushed and a load of vomit washing that needs to be done. I’d sign up for it. And have my shirts ironed too, thanks.

When we first hooked up with Michal, I asked myself whether this dude could be the father of my children. The answer was yes. I didn’t have to over-think it. He was tall. He was a good sort. In my mind I knew he would be a tops dad because we were not dissimilar in our approach to life. Later when we were a couple I asked him whether he had similar thoughts when we first met. He said yes. Said he had checked out my hips and weightlifter thighs at the Romanian seaside and this was confirmation enough. See. It really was just that easy.

Michal is good at this parenting business. He’s into his kids and he is into his home. He doesn’t do stuff half arsedly. Unless it’s a Vegemite sandwich (never spreads it to the edges). Just goes with the flow. I think he thinks more about his business than about child rearing, because the latter is a natural process for him. He is more patient, tolerant and very rarely do I see frustration in his eyes. He is the one reminding me that it’s all not that much of a big deal. And most of all he’s just not into bullshit. This is very important for me.

Having said all this, he also has more freedom. This makes me jealous. He has an external life that he is maintaing and cultivating. Work, sport, his business interests. Things that will benefit him and strengthen him way into his middle age and beyond. Long when the kids have gone and left home. It is this that I, too, need to work on.

* I just heard a joke about the Polish mother. This joke is popular in Israel. What is the difference between a Polish mother and a rottweiler? The rottweiler will eventually leave the child alone.

Parented – by Karen

9 Jun

I’m kind of rolling my eyes in anticipation of my own entry here.

I definitely have mummy-blog fatigue. Want proof? I have a folder in my Google Reader called Parenting. Every few months, I will subscribe to a blog, then inevitably, I will delete it a week or so later.

It could be argued that this is because I had read every possible thing about parenting by the time I was 14 weeks pregnant.

It might also be because I don’t enjoy the current themes of intelligent middle-class motherhood. It’s tedious. It’s fractious and self-righteous. And I haven’t forgotten, it’s everything I was when I first became a parent (and still can be from time to time).

My favourite book for new parents is Baby Love by Robin Barker, because the subtext clearly says, “I don’t give a crap what you do and I’m honestly sick of hearing your opinions, but here’s how you change a nappy, FFS.” At the same time you know the sheer joy of cuddly little creatures runs fizzing through her veins.

Despite having parenting philosophy fatigue, I am impossibly, head over heels maternal. I walk past a baby farm style daycare on my way to boot camp, and every time there is a child inconsolably screaming, and every time I do emotional somersaults just to get past them to my kettlebells.

I did not know I was maternal, when I was younger, despite always liking babies and small kids. Here are some of my character traits that I thought were incompatible with motherhood: petulance, laziness, rebelliousness, adventurousness, spirit, sloppiness. It turns out they’re not.

I am sure there are fresh and interesting things to be said about parenting, and I’ve read many of them from you guys on this blog (and from our small but essential team of commenters). This is a short post, but I open the floor to questions. If there’s anything you’d like to know about me and how I’ve parented, or been parented, I’ll be delighted to answer. If you’re just over the whole thing already, that’s fine – we’ve got a new topic next week :-).

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 🙂

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 😉 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).