Category Archives: Parenting

OK Parenting, OK?

I don’t try and manipulate my kids. No, not at all.

I really need to explain the piano metaphor of that last post, don’t I?

Contrary to how it appears, I’m not actually advocating hitting your kids over the head with a piano (although if you can lift a piano, kudos).

So here is a post I was convinced I’d posted yonks ago which would explain it nicely. Only I apparently left it in draft.

Belatedly, here it is. So do not blame piano-hitting-kids phenomenon on moi.

For all my blathering about parenting, I don’t write much about how I parent my kids, y’know, what kind of parent I am.

I’m not a very good one.

Which is to say, I’m OK, but far from fantastic.

And I’m OK with that.  Because I’m with Matt Ridley on this one.  And, ye gods, I hope Matt Ridley will forgive me for this mangling of his words, but in his book Nature via Nurture, he talks of studies done which suggest that whilst neglectful or abusive parenting may well alter gene expression (and personality) in your children, OK-ish parenting won’t.  There is no difference in terms of gene expression (and therefore personality) between OK parenting and super-dooper parenting.

Which is to say, whilst your child may not find out she’s a musical genius until adulthood because you didn’t give her private piano lessons from the age of three, unless you actively beat the kid over the head with a piano, she will still be a musical genius eventually.  That, naturally, is my own little example; can’t blame Ridley for that one.  Ridley actually says:

…truly terrible parenting can still warp somebody’s personality.  But it seems likely that…parenting is like vitamin C; as long as it is adequate, a little bit more or less has no discernible long-term effect.

Ridley’s book was published in 2003, so things may well have moved on.  But I am capable of nothing if not clinging to an idea when it suits me.

And it does suit me.  By letting myself off the hook of having to be ‘a perfect mother’, I can just get on with being the best mother I can be given all the circumstances.  Which is not to let abusive parents off the hook because underlying all those circumstances is an obligation not to be horrendous, of course.  But it does become a self-fulfilling prophesy; by allowing myself to relax and get on with it, mistakes and all, I am a much better mother than I would be if I spent my days chasing motherly perfection.

And the older my children grow, the more it suits me.  Because I realise more and more the limits – and the amazing power – of my influence on my children.  I am but one cog in the machinery of their lives, an important one for sure, but as long as I connect with all other cogs and don’t fuck up the whole machine by breaking down (or mis-cogging, or whatever the hell cogs do in a metaphor like this), I’m playing my part entirely satisfactorily.

Which is to say, OK parenting is actually OK.

So, seriously, you can stop beating yourself up about whatever you beat yourself up about doing wrong, OK? It’s not just me telling you this revolutionary stuff; it’s science. Not the kind of science that gets popular play in the Daily Male, of course. Not the ‘girls really do like to pick up dirty laundry more than boys – it’s genetic!’ type science.

But science nonetheless, and that’s good enough for me.

But then that’s the kind of person I am.


If you Hit my Daughter to Show her you like her…

I will beat you to a bloody pulp to show you how much I love you for it. Deal?

Thought inspired by this:

I am sure every girl can recall, at least once as a child, coming home and telling their parents, uncle, aunt or grandparent about a boy who had pulled her hair, hit her, teased her, pushed her or committed some other playground crime.

‘I will bet money that most of those, if not all, will tell you that they were told “Oh, that just means he likes you”. I never really thought much about it before having a daughter of my own. I find it appalling that this line of bullshit is still being fed to young children.

‘Look, if you want to tell your child that being verbally and/or physically abused is an acceptable sign of affection, i urge you to rethink your parenting strategy.

‘If you try and feed MY daughter that crap, you better bring protective gear because I am going to shower you with the brand of “affection” you are endorsing.’

Read the rest by Queen of the Couch here.

Just to be clear, if you hit my son for the same reason, I’ll extend the deal to you, too.


However You Do It, It’s Wrong*

Motherhood, that is.

There are still some countries where you’re considered a success as a mother if you manage to keep a majority of your babies alive till their fifth birthday. Success in less dangerous countries is considered to be a slightly more complex affair. So complex in fact, that’s it’s virtually impossible to succeed at it.

As far as I can figure it, you have to be really, really rich – but only by virtue of having a really, really rich husband (and yes, he has to be a ‘husband’) because otherwise you’re obviously a ‘career’ woman (points deducted for that). You then have to devote yourself to your children’s lives sufficiently that you’re not considered remote, but not so much so that you can’t organise fund raising ‘galas’ for worthwhile charities. So, yes, you can have a nanny, but must still gush to OK magazine that you ‘do everything’ for your children.

That seems to be about the only way to ‘succeed’. The really important fact, of course, is the really, really rich part. You have to be rich enough to not give a fuck what anyone says.

But, oh, for the rest of us!

Well, the rest of you anyways. I’m not that rich but I still don’t give a fuck what anybody says about how I raise my kids. Honestly. I’ve tried and tried and I just don’t.

I think it has something to do with being completely outside any ‘mainstream’ philosophy of mothering. Being a feminist mother can do that to you, you see. Nobody bothers writing polemics attacking us specifically because, statistically-speaking, we’re a blip of no significance. Sheesh, most people have never even heard of us, never mind figured out ways to make us feel bad. Sure, I get attacked as a feminist and I get attacked as a mother, but as a marriage of the two? Nope.

I can talk mothering with anybody from a corporate-cruching career mother to a bonded-on-with-superglue attachment mother and find enough uncommon ground around raising kids that if I wasn’t already perfectly happy being the-weirdo-in-the-corner, I’d take it personally. But I am, so I don’t.

And as ‘feminist mothering’ is my over-riding thing about mothering, all the rest – breast or bottle, disposable or cloth, sling or pram, SAHM or working – is just so much background noise to me. I just don’t care that much because I don’t think it matters that much, at least not in terms of whether they make me a ‘bad mother’. Kids will grow regardless and will be, more or less, OK. It’s a cliche, but as long as you make your kids feel loved – and there are many different ways to achieve that – the rest is just gravy.

And I know that some will argue that all those ‘versus’ debates are as much a part of a feminist mothering philosophy as any other mothering philosophy, and I’d say that’s true. In a way. What, for example, could be more feminist than the debate around SAHM v. working mother? But I’m less concerned about the fact of whether I – or others – stay at home or work, and more concerned that my kids grow up with an understanding of why we have that debate – and why we don’t have a similar one about ‘working dads’ – and why it shouldn’t even be a debate.

My feminist mothering is more centred on a state of mind than anything else. You may say I’m wrong but – as you may guess – I don’t really care.

In short, I’m way more concerned about what goes on in their heads than what goes in their mouths or on their bottoms. And about how they understand why I do what I do, rather than what I actually do.

And I know that attachment mothers will tell me that their parenting is about their kids’ minds, too, fostering, they argue, emotional security. To which I say, yes, you might be right. And I know that critics of attachment parenting will tell me that such parenting is about creating over-dependent kids who can’t grow up. To which I say, yes, you might be right.

See how that works? Because I don’t really care, I can be that bloody blasé, but more importantly, I don’t know who’s right. Do you? Is it even possible to measure ‘right’ in such a way? For every person telling us they were kept in a sling till they were 12 and they’re perfectly fine, I’ll find you another telling us they never had a conversation with their career-mad mother till they were 17 and they’re perfectly fine, too. And vice versa, of course because people love to blame their parents for stuff, don’t they? That’s how Oprah made her millions, after all.

Seems to me it’s all a crapshoot, so you may as well just pay yer money and take yer choice. Because one thing’s for sure: we’re all making choices we think are right. And to me, that’s the best we can do. And, on a personal level, choices are ‘right’ if they for work for you and your family, even though politically such choices may have undesired ramifications.

Now before you think I’m getting all up myself without a stick, I don’t know if my feminist mothering will turn out to be right, either. Who knows, maybe Boogie will grow up to be a Page 3 ‘girl’ and L’il Boo will grow up to be Jeremy Clarkson. And then, oh, how we’ll all laugh!

But I do it because I think it’s right and I don’t give a flying fuck what anybody else thinks because they’re not going to be sitting beside me on the Jeremy Kyle show in 15 years time while my daughter tearfully recounts her Barbie-free childhood and the audience throws rotten tomatoes at me. Nope, that be just me in the single seat of shame watching L’il Boo hold his sister’s hand as he nods sagely before telling the story of the day he wanted to wear a dress and I let him.

*My apologies for this post which seems to swerve off in multiple directions in a distinctly direction-less fashion. It started out as a piece on attachment parenting and the current debate about it following the publication of Badinter’s ‘The Conflict’ and Pollitt’s piece about it on Alternet. But sometimes I just can’t stop myself from rambling streams of consciousness. You know how it is. I’ll focus eventually. Probably. Oh, and you should know that I’m not particularly happy with this post because it kinda says what I mean, but it kinda doesn’t. Live with it.

Interesting random fact about attachment parenting: the first time I ever heard of it was years ago when I caught a documentary on TV about it. The longest segment of the programme featured a group of attachment parents sitting around while their offspring gathered around tables in the middle of them undertaking an activity which seemed fairly untypical for toddlers. Had you asked me afterwards what attachment parenting seemed to be about, I would have replied, ‘Apparently, it’s about teaching small children to play with sharp knives.’ Because that’s what they were doing; cutting fruit and veg with kitchen knives. Actually, I understood even then that this was a fairly small part of the philosophy, but from the length of the segment – and the astonished-but-concerned tone of the commentary – you’d have thought it was the mainstay of the movement. Clearly, we were supposed to laugh at these weirdo parents with their zany and child-harming ways. I did laugh, but only at the producers for being such a bunch of morons.


Shattered

I have been offline for almost three weeks and I wish I could say it was because I took a conscious decision to free myself from the chains of the constant stream of Internet information, but I didn’t. My period offline was forced on me by the total and utter ineptitude of a certain other (who shall not be named) and I still haven’t got over the shock.

But I’m back (I know! wow, how much you’ve missed my rancid pearls of ranty wisdom). And having been suffering severe information-deprivation, I’m now suffering from information-overload as my news feed flashes manically before melting under the weight of 3 trillion unread items.

Ah, I love the Internet.

One of the nice things about being cut off from the Internet is you remember that some pieces of information come in things called books. These pieces tend to be quite long, but often, the effort of reading to the end is well rewarded. Not something that can often be said for the Internet.

I’ve just finished reading Shattered: Modern Motherhood and the Illusion of Equality, by Rebecca Asher.

Before I go any further, I’ll just say this: Rebecca, when you step into someone’s head and steal their exact thoughts then write them down and sell them, at least give a credit, eh?

This woman has clearly been living in my head for long enough to acquire matching towel sets and a bowl of pot pourri.

Then I’ll say this: if you’re a mother, read it. If you’re nearly a mother, read it. If you’re ever thinking of becoming a mother, read it. If you’re a fully-paid up bride of christ, read it. Oh, and if you’re a man, read it.

Got that? Yes, that does mean you. Well, actually, that means you if you’re heterosexual and (generally) partnered. Though I’d suggest gay parents peruse it as well, just to make sure they don’t fall for the same shit we do. As for single mothers, if you’ve managed to actually carve out enough time to read a book for pleasure, you’re more incredible than I thought, so you can do what you please. If you share the care of your children in any way with the father, I’d still suggest you read it, but hey, if you’d prefer to spend a couple of hours reclining with a cat licking your toes instead, feel free.

I’m not suggesting it’s a ground-breaking book. Actually, it seems to me it was a doddle to write. The bulk of the book is made up of quotes from mothers, all saying, essentially, ‘I love my kids, but “motherhood” sure sucks like a big sucky lollipop.’ And how hard could they have been to find? And then Asher finishes off by saying motherhood shouldn’t suck and here’s how we make that happen.

It’s genius in its simplicity and yes, I certainly do wish I’d thought of writing it first.

The real genius of the book, of course, is that it takes what you’re thinking and makes it universal. These mothers’ words – all of them – could quite happily have come straight from my own lips.

And it all just reminded me of a conversation I had a while ago with a friend of mine – a designer who has always worked independently from home – who was talking about how fortunate it was that she’d chosen a career which was compatible with having children. She then added something to the effect of: and girls need to be told that they also need to choose a career which is compatible with having children. Somewhat shocked, I replied that what we needed to do was change the fact that so many careers were incompatible in the first place, not lock out girls from such jobs.

Fortunately, I have nice, intelligent friends.

‘Of course we do,’ she said, but the situation isn’t going to change anytime soon. Meanwhile, we tell girls to aim high, enter into all these high-flying, intensive careers without bothering to tell them that they’ll be totally fucked over if they have kids. We’re lying to them and it should stop.’

After reading Shattered, I can only agree more than I did at the time. Asher talks at length about the cost to society as a whole (and yes, child-less people, that includes you) of highly educated women dropping out of the workforce only to re-enter it, if they do so at all, in jobs for which they are entirely over-qualified but which have become attractive to them simply because they’re compatible with their child care responsibilities. Society apart, the loss to these women of what they thought was equality with their male partners, is profound and tragic.

This is the problem when we pay lip service to female equality without backing it up with anything meaningful. It would be a brave person indeed who suggested that all careers advice to girls at school include a segment on which careers to avoid if they intend on having children (which could be a bullet point list or, more simply, consist of the statement ‘Any job which carries both prestige and a hefty wage packet’). That, we’d all agree would be regressive in the extreme, wouldn’t it?

But by not giving this advice to our daughters, we are lying to them. We are ignoring the great big trumpeting elephant in the room of their lives. They won’t realise it until they do actually have children; until that point, they will believe themselves to be – give or take the odd 13% or so – equal to the menfolk in their lives.

Then the baby will come along and they will drop out of their careers to care for it and they will understand from the moment they even think about going back to work – even if they go back to exactly the same job – that equality is a joke. They, not the baby’s father, will be asking for flexible working, will be going part-time, will be pushed off the promotion track, will suffer ‘working mother’ guilt, will be discriminated at work by disgruntled colleagues, will be taking days off to care for sick children, will be leaving early to do the school run, will be spending work time organising child care, dental appointments and other ‘home and child’ activities, will, in short, be taking on the whole burden of having children.

The father, meanwhile, as far as his working life goes, will barely notice he has kids.

I generalise somewhat of course. Fathers do sometimes share the care of their children. Families throughout the country cobble arrangements together which include fathers providing primary childcare. But as Asher’s interviewees make clear, even then, the division is never equal: overall responsibility for the fact of children remains with the mother. Hands up who’s ever heard of a (heterosexual, partnered) father noticing, without prompting, that his son needs new underpants and then, without prompting, actually taking time out of his day to buy some? And if such a creature exists, has he done all of that without expecting brownie points for doing so?

Currently, when she grows up, in addition to her desire to have babies, Boogie’s dream is to play football for a living. For Barcelona (what can I say? the girl aims high). And, yes, I have gently pointed out that the team she loves so much (‘it is absolutely the best team in the whole world’) is made up entirely of men. Whilst I have no wish to destroy a small child’s dreams, I felt that basic fact needed saying.

Where I haven’t gone, however, is what that really means for her. Barcelona probably has a women’s team; let’s assume for the minute it has. So she could play for Barcelona, in theory. But gone are the stadiums full of people, gone is the worldwide adulation of athletes at the top of their game; gone, more importantly, is the money. The career. As things stand, she will have to get a ‘proper’ job and one which allows her sufficient time to fit in enough training to be good enough in the first place to make the team. So no high-paying, long-hour job then. A ‘good enough’ job, so she can play football for love.

And the non-paying football will, my dear Boogie, be the first casualty of you having children, which you profess to want to do. Free time, especially for you, the mother, will become short to non-existent. The hours of dedicated training required to keep you at the top will disappear.

I’m not going to lie to her. But how do you tell a six year old that her future, on some very fundamental level, is going to suck?

I have this fucking problem all the time.


Food, Glorious Food?

I’ve been thinking a lot about food lately.  Or rather, I’ve been thinking about our relationship to food, a sentence which in and of itself is completely weird when you think about it.  A relationship with Food?  This can never end well.  Food will never write, never call and will make you fat just by looking at you.  Bastard.

But it seems that increasingly we just cannot accept that Food is just not that into us.  We insist, despite Food’s complete inability to watch movies without hogging the popcorn or give good head, on pursuing this relationship and weeping when it makes us sick.

And we are getting sick.  Over a million people in the UK suffer from some kind of eating disorder.  Those most at risk are young people between the ages of 14-25, although this may well be changing.  Statistics from the NHS show that that 14 figure may well have to start being revised downwards to say, oh, 10.

Oh, hang on, Ms Optimism!  Statistics from last year were open-mouthed shocking: Almost 600 children below the age of 13 were treated in hospital for eating disorders in the three years previous.  That figure included 197 children between the ages of five and nine.

Five and nine?  Are you frickin’ kidding me?  You’re kidding me, right?  No, you’re not kidding me.

Do not even get me started on childhood obesity.

Boogie is six.  To say that I find this piece of information troubling doesn’t really hit it.  This piece of information makes me want to weep.  And then kill somebody, or at the very least kick a three-legged kitten.  In other words it makes me sad and mad and mean all at the same time.

Course, the old, ‘it’s the celebrities’ thing was trotted out, with Susan Ringwood of eating disorders charity B-eat telling the Telegraph that ‘the figures reflected alarming trends in society, with young children “internalising” messages from celebrity magazines, which idealised the thinnest figures.’

And yes, I’ve no doubt that’s a factor, but the thinness of celebrities is only an effect in itself.  Why are the celebrities so thin in the first place?  Is there simply a genetic connection between a hunger for fame and a preference for lettuce and brittle bone disease?  I haven’t read the literature, but I’m suspecting not.

We’re just emerging from National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, but I’ve been thinking about food for longer than that.  In honesty, I started thinking about food when I had a girl-child but it’s only recently that I started thinking beyond the obvious about it: beyond not wanting her to be fat; not because I’m fattist (which the more enlightened among you will recognise as a comfort-blanket of a fib), but because I wanted her to be healthy.  You know, like, thin.

Not really thin, of course, because that would be as wrong as wanting her to be fat.  So I wanted her to be not too fat, not too thin…what exactly did I want?  Where was the fucking line?  How wide or narrow was this weight spectrum that would be found acceptable by me?  Was it only a few pounds wide or did a stone more or less make no difference?  Would a heavier weight be acceptable if she were taller and could ‘carry’ it better?  Was it OK if she was generally thin but had a bulging belly?  Was a bulging belly deemed OK at 4 but unacceptable by 8?  Could she have a large bottom?  Was whether a large bottom was acceptable at least partially dependent on whether they were ‘in fashion’?

Now, I ain’t stupid.  I could see that something was off with my thinking; it was so…prescriptive.  And so open to failure.  Keeping Boogie within ‘acceptable’ weight limits – no matter how narrow or wide – was going to take micromanagement to a new zenith.  I could see where it would end and I am fucked if I’m going to start weighing out my daughter’s food and have her doing one-armed press-ups in between episodes of Scooby Doo.  But where else could it go?

What was off?  I knew the facts.  Too fat or too thin was unhealthy.  Either led to all kinds of increased medical risk.  It’s true, all the doctors say so, right?  Right?

It was only when I understood why too fat or too thin was unhealthy that everything fell into place.  And I could only make sense of that when I understood that ‘too fat’ is, to paraphrase Caitlin Moran, when you no longer resemble a human being and ‘too thin’ is when the weight of your very skin is too heavy to bear.

When I understood that what was ‘unhealthy’ was not a body shape but a state of mind.

Not many doctors tell you that.  Oh, they tell you that when you’re 14 and you’re hospitalised with anorexia, or 46 and unable to heave your bulk out of a specially-made bed.  Sure, they tell you then, when it’s too fucking late.  Before then, when you really needed to know it, your obsession with your body size, your desire to get it ‘right’ whether ‘right’ was thinner or fatter, was lauded, you were praised for ‘taking control’ of yourself.  Right?

Yep.  It’s that relationship with Food thing again.

Reading Bodies by Susie Orbach really helped clarify my thinking.  As I’ve said before:

In a nutshell, Bodies basically explores how, in the last thirty or some years, our whole concept of what a ‘body’ is has changed from being merely the physical structure housing a person, to being the sum of what a person is, and as such, something that we must now ‘perfect’ in order to ‘perfect’ ourselves as people.

‘Or bodies must be tamed, made to conform to ever decreasing notions of of what is physically acceptable, or we will be found wanting as people.’

When the cage that houses you becomes who you are, interior decorating takes on a whole new importance.  And when that cage is something as fucking unreliable as a body, prone to leakage, stinky emissions, unsightly diseases and other unfortunate social habits, you can see that changing the wallpaper every 10 years just ain’t gonna cut it.

How could we not have a relationship with Food?  Food is the most immediate, most obvious way we can change and mould our bodies.  Food is the thing that can now define us: as fat slobs, as over-achieving control freaks; as people who have control or who have no control at all.  No wonder the whole ‘relationship’ is so fucked up.  But just because having one is becoming seemingly inevitable, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

What are we missing?  We’re missing that food has no fucking bearing on who we are.  Just being genetically programmed to retain fat or just being really, really over-fond of cheesecake or being able to exist on an apple a day, doesn’t actually define who we are as people.  It just means we have genes, or we just really, really like cheesecake, or we have (quite unfathomable to me) self-control.

We are missing the fact that’s it’s impossible to have a ‘relationship’ with food, however healthy we may like to boast that relationship is.  Food is fuel, nothing more, nothing less.  If we choose more good fuel, our bodies will perform sufficiently well so that we don’t have to think about them and we’ll probably lower our chances of becoming unwell.  If we choose more bad fuel, fuel that works against our bodies, our bodies will probably start to falter sooner or later, to a greater or lesser extent.

That’s it.  There is no ‘relationship’.  This is not a two-way street.  You can treat your cheesecake to dinner and a movie then serenade it with love songs before giving it oral sex for three days straight and it still won’t change into having the nutritional value of a floret of broccoli.

But still, something is missing.  We may understand the idiocy of having a relationship with Food, but we still need to eat, right?  Jesus, if we have no relationship with Food, how do we know when to eat, what to eat?

The thing that’s missing is called hunger.  The relationship you need to have is with your stomach.  And it’s the same relationship whether your stomach is convex or concave.

Your stomach will tell you when you’re hungry.  So eat when it tells you to and stop when it tells you it’s full.  And the more I think about it, the more I realise that what you feed it with is largely irrelevant.  Whether you chow down on cheesecake or broccoli, as long as you listen when it waves at you shouting ‘Full!’, most of the rest of all the shit is gravy.

So yes, I tell Boogie about ‘good fuel’ and ‘bad fuel’ and I try to give her some idea of the difference between the two (salmon helps your brain work, pasta gives you energy, brownies give you sugar lift), but that information has become, over time, background noise.

My nightmare micromanagement scenario has segued into an idea of breathtaking simplicity.

Eat, I tell her.  If you’re hungry, eat.  When you stop being hungry, stop eating.

It sounds like a revolution when I write it down like that.  How can that be possible?

It will be a long time before I know whether I gave her the ‘right’ message.  But one thing’s for sure however it turns out: it won’t be any worse than any of the other messages she’s getting.

And it at least has the advantage of simplicity.  How bad can it be, right?


This is not about Teh Menz

It’s about women.

But it really, really is about men, too.  Because, for me, this is about L’il Boo as much as it is about anybody else in the whole world.

I have a daughter and a son; if my feminism isn’t about the men as well, what am I saying to him?

I’m saying, you don’t count.  You, yes, you little boy with the Y chromosome, you, who is going through a phrase of such overloading cuteness I have the constant urge to squeeze you till you squeak, you don’t count.  I don’t fight for you.

Well, fuck that.

And no, this is not a please-go-gently-into-the-night with those poor, timorous menfolk, poor things can’t handle having to share their sweeties plea.  Fuck that, too.  Men will, I’m afraid, still make up the majority of those lining up by The Wall come the revolution (The Wall, of course, being the name of the buildings which will be established to teach feminism to the unsuspecting masses).  And if those men have to be brought kicking and screaming to The Wall (and they will), so be it.

But you know what?  My anger comes from a place of love, my friends.  Yes, indeedy.  I have always truly believed that feminism will free us all.  Not just women, everybody.  Advanced theorists may want to turn away now, because this shit is the 1 in ‘Feminism 101′: the gender binary hurts us all.

See?  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

L'il Boo

L’il Boo, who as you can see from the accompanying photo is cute as smush even from behind, is (to use a phrase from I Blame the Patriarchy somewhat inaccurately, but accurately in spirit), ‘my Nigel’.  He counts to me.

And I see him now, at 2-and-a-half, still largely innocent of what’s expected of him as a boy.  He is still, to himself, just a child.

A child who happens to like (in no particular order): his sister (copying? sometimes I think he’s the victim of a particularly successful cloning experiment); Kung Fu panda, making tea, cabbage (uh-huh, you heard that right), practising karate with his sister (see Kung Fu Panda), football, hair accessories, cooking, green trousers, pink (seriously, it’s the kid’s favourite colour, I don’t know where I went wrong) dresses, fire engines, glitter, his sister’s friends (due to second child neglect syndrome, he has few of his own), Tangled, trains (though Thomas bores him, so he has some taste), slam-dunking his parents when they’re least expecting it, chocolate buttons (but only those that come with a monkey on the packet), Octonauts.

He is, in short, very ‘boyish’ in many ways.  And very ‘girlish’ in many others.

My god, what does this mean for his future??!

Well, nothing much I suspect.

But what is his future?  In the short term, I can tell you that it will include a period of being INCREDIBLY LIKE A BOY.  He will be so like a boy that I will be able to present him at an MRA conference and they will appoint him their mascot and shower him with plastic trucks.

Whilst he’s so far been seemingly unaffected by the gender mores he will be absorbing at nursery and elsewhere, make no mistake, the seeds are being planted each and every day.  Some time soon, we will see them grow and they will sprout with such speed that it’ll take my breath away.

He will come to an understanding of what it means to be a ‘boy’.  He will figure out the sheer, over-whelming importance of gender and he will do his damnedest to fit himself into that straightjacket, because that’s what kids do.

And it will break my heart.

I know all of this because I’ve been through it all before.  Boogie went through a phrase of being INCREDIBLY LIKE A GIRL.  Some time around turning three, she morphed into a fully-formed stereotype before my very (observant) eyes.  Her favourite colour turned from blue to pink, girls didn’t play football and princesses were delightfully-dressed goddesses.

Christ, that was a tough stage of development.

But we’re through it and out the other side and Boogie is, once again, a wonderful mix of girlish and boyish.  Which is to say she is a wonderful example of herself.   She’ll try and kick the crap out of you as soon as look at you (oh, the martial arts!  Martial arts is her new god!) but she’ll do it in a princess dress.  Seriously?  She rocks on so many levels, I cannot imagine trying to change her, trying to damp down certain aspects of her personality.

I will do my utmost to ensure that L’il Boo comes through similarly unscathed (I mean, it’s all relative, amirite?)

And L’il Boo?  Well, he’ll probably try and kick the crap out of you, too.  Whilst rocking a pair of multi-coloured fairy wings.

This says nothing much about my children.  It just says we’re feisty down here in Boogieville.

Which we are.  They get it from their mother.


Motherhood and Going Feminist

I spent yesterday at the Go Feminist conference.  The conference was, obviously, about feminism, but it was more specifically about attempting to connect the dots between the different forms feminist activism can take; thus, the conference blurb:

Go Feminist recognises that we live in a world of interlocking hierarchies and oppressions. It is part of our feminist mission to dismantle this.’

I don’t think we’d argue with that, would we?  Over in Boogieville, we’re all about dismantling interlocking hierarchies and oppressions.  It’s what we idly dream of whilst dunking marshmallows in hot chocolate and watching Thelma & Louise.

And the programme for the conference reflected its aim.  Amongst others dealing with black feminism, and faith and feminism, and women and economics, there was the centrepiece of the conference, a session on how to connect movements (with a particularly interesting bit by Rahila Gupta) and an accompanying workshop, and a further workshop addressing intersectionality and how to deal with oppression when it comes from multiple directions all at once.

And, you know me, I hate to criticise.  Well, I don’t, but I do hate to criticise people like the people who organise stuff like this: big, conference-thingies, with loads of people, all talking about feminism.  Really, what sort of shit criticises women who do that?  Well, as Rahila Gupta would no doubt point out, the sort of shit who feels that her area of marginalisation hasn’t been addressed at all.  And who doesn’t feel that just because she has privilege in other areas, she should be silenced.

Now I’m privileged in many ways and I have no problem with feminism addressing racism, anti-capitalism, and the inequalities of the legal system, and what all of these things mean for women.

But.

Now, I should preface this by saying obviously I didn’t go to every workshop so I may have missed something, but nothing in the title of any of the workshops lead me to believe I did.

It really came to me during the Sexism in Popular Culture plenary session, when the question was repeatedly being asked ‘what can we do?  What can we do to change the way people think; about feminism, about equality, about the way the world works?  How does this shit change?’  And I just wanted to jump up and get all Whitney Houston on their arses.

Y’know, all ‘I believe that children are the future (warble, warble etc etc)!

In all that intersectionality, in all that ‘connecting movements’, there was not a whiff of the word ‘motherhood.’  And what connects women if not the concept of motherhood?

And I mean all women, not just those who become mothers.  Because whether you like it or not, whether you have children or not has very little to do with whether this issue will impact you as a woman.  Just ask any childless woman how often she has to fend off intrusive questions about why she’s childless.  Just ask any woman who can’t have children how often she has to lie to people just to keep her sanity.  Just ask any woman, on becoming a mother, how many assumptions she had to fend off to find her own way as a mother.  Just ask any woman of child-bearing age who’s career is, surreptitiously, stalled because of an assumption that she’ll ‘get up the duff’ any minute now (from my own experience in the legal world, women did routinely get pregnant the minute they made partner – because that was the only way to do it; it was universally acknowledged that getting pregnant before being made a partner meant you didn’t get made partner).

You don’t need to be a mother to be affected by motherhood because, childless, the patriarchal myth of motherhood will still come and get you.  You just need to be a woman.

Oh, I know, I know.  Feminist parenting is my ‘thing’, of course I’d notice its absence.  And of course before I became a mother and had no intention of ever being one, the absence wouldn’t have occurred to me either.  But isn’t it glaring?  When you think about it?  Even for a minute?

So much of what feminism is about intersects with motherhood at really, really fucking direct points.  And mothers are marginalised in all kinds of ways that intersect with feminism, and huge swathes of mothers worldwide are marginalised more than I could even shake a fucking stick at and a huge part of that marginalisation arises directly from the fact of their motherhood. And even white, middle class feminist mothers are marginalised because other mothers don’t get what the fuck you’re on about and feminism tends, it seems, to ignore the elephant in the room.  Whilst providing a creche and offering workshops for children…

Oh, I don’t want to whine.  A hearty congratulations to all the organisers for all the many things they got right (which was basically everything else – not least actually getting up and doing the whole thing in the first place).  I enjoyed the day, I really did.  It just spoiled it for me is all.


Feminist Parenting: A Definition

Well, my definition at any rate.

Contrary to popular, mainstream opinion, feminist parenting does not mean ‘raising children to be feminists’.  At its most basic level, feminist parenting means nothing more or less than allowing your children to be who they are.  Allowing them to be as ‘girly’ or ‘boyish’ or ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ as their nature dictates and giving them a bedrock of understanding that these terms are meaningless in so far as they are applied to them.

This of course gives us what ‘feminist parenting’ is not.  It is not about denigrating boys or their stereotyped traits, it is not about denigrating girls or their stereotyped traits.

It is about teaching your children both to be, and to relate to other people as, individuals.  It is about teaching your children to respect themselves and their individuality and, in turn, respecting others and their individuality.

At its core, feminist parenting is about celebration.  Celebrating our own uniqueness and that of others, celebrating both the things that we share as people and the ways in which we differ.

When I put it like that, I’m quite disappointed; it doesn’t sound very radical, does it?

And if, by some minor miracle, you manage to raise your children to understand all of the above, all else will follow.  Trust me, it will.

I was prompted to write this post by this one over at Pigtail Pals about this very idea of celebrating our children for who they are.  It’s the lovely long post I would write if I wasn’t so lazy and Melissa hadn’t already handily written it for me to link to.


An Addendum

genderless partywear

I meant to add something else on the bottom of that last post which is that I also trust my children.  I trust them to come to their own conclusions and I trust them to have the humanity to make those conclusions good ones.

Mainly, I was thinking about this point because of this I read in the Guardian on Saturday in the ‘Gay Dad’ column:

On the way home [my son] chats animatedly about the afternoon while digging out the contents of his party bag. He mentions, en passant, that one of their friends turned up to the party wearing a tunic dress. Apparently he often turns up wearing one.

‘Why, I ask. “He just likes them,” Ed replies. Do the other boys tease him? I ask. “Nah, he’s a really good guy… Yay! I got a Transformer!” Ed can’t believe I’m asking so many questions about a subject he obviously considers relatively humdrum.

‘I ponder how much has changed between my generation and his. The other fathers and I don’t quite know what to say to each other because they work in finance and I work in fashion, while our eight-year-old sons will happily run around playing games together barely batting an eyelid that one of their number is wearing a dress.’

Because sometimes, children’s conclusions aren’t just good, they’re way better than what adults come up with.


The Trouble with Feminist Parenting

 

Mothering: about more than just baby poo

This is the trouble with feminist parenting.

I am torn between celebrating [my daughter's] innocence and apparent immunity to the more suffocating features of ‘girl culture’, and worrying about her being rejected soon by school friends for not being sufficiently aware of ‘girl culture’.

‘Mostly I’m all up in the celebration stuff but I won’t lie, there is a bit of me disturbed by all that ‘couldn’t give a fuck-ness’, too.’

I’ve written before about my own feelings on the subject:

…how do you raise a girl to be outside the girly-girl, appearance and consumerist-driven culture they’re being spoon-fed from every angle without making her an outsider to her own sex?…how can you teach a girl to not relate to the hyper ‘girly-girl’ model and yet still enable her to relate to, and fit in with, girls who do?

‘Because whilst I fervently want Boogie to step outside the increasingly limited model of femininity she’s presented with, I don’t want her to be, well, weird. Are you feeling me here? I’m trying to teach her to denigrate a model that the vast majority of her peers will believe in whole-heartedly, but I don’t want her to be the sad, lonely kid in the corner, amusing herself by putting her bogies on a passing ant.

‘And, sure, I can explain why her peers (and my peers) fall for all the gender shit that comes their way, but the fact remains that, on some level, the message must contain some implication that her peers are a bit stoopid. I mean, essentially, it boils down to: they may fall for it, Boogie, but we won’t because we know better.

‘And then she has to go to school and relate to these stupid people that mummy has told her about.

And I can’t lie, it does worry me.  But, you know, this essential problem isn’t limited to feminist parenting.  This is the problem with any style of parenting which falls outside the scope of ‘normal’, ‘normal’ of course being an ever-changing concept decided upon by the prevailing culture.  Any kind of parenting which falls outside these norms for whatever reason is derided and attacked.  Any kind of parenting which, in essence, teaches your children to be committed to something which isn’t the status quo carries this essential problem right along with it.

And with the status quo being what it is, what kind of parent wants that for their child?  Frankly, that’s just weird.

And there’s the salvation for my worries.  Because whilst I worry about my children being ‘different’, what’s the alternative?  Because I don’t want them to be ‘normal’, that’s for damn sure.  Feminism is my truth.  It’s a way of viewing the world which, having viewed the world in many different ways, is the view that makes the most sense to me, both to explain what has gone before and to change what will come.  I could no more not give this view to my children than I could go get a boob job and do the Cinderella gig at DisneyLand.

And my feminism is about more than a commitment to gender equality, it is about a commitment to equality of all kinds, and as such it goes against all kinds of ‘norms’, like racism and homophobia and able-bodied privilege and, oh, yes, capitalism.  And I will give all those views to my children because it is beyond my ability not to.  I am helpless in the face of what I know to be true.

Ha!  My kids have as much chance of being normal as I have of doing the Cinderella gig naked with ‘passive slave’ tattooed on my liposuctioned arse!

But you know what?  They’ll be fine.  Because there is one thing, one truth, which underpins everything, which is that everybody must find their own truth.  And if I am guilty of teaching my children anything it is of teaching them to look critically at the world around them and to make their own sense of what they see.  And if, at the end, they see it differently to me, then so be it.

Unless of course, they turn into Tories in which case I’m grounding them till they’re pensioners.


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