Monday, 4 November 2013

A mother of a conflict...

I once (in what now feels like a pervious life from long, long ago) worked with Graduates.  I remember my boss telling me (after a particularly long hard day fighting the battles that come with such a job within a big Bank) that working with Graduates was made particularly tough because so many people had an opinion.  They had been grads, or their kids were grads or they had read about grads…  So this ‘knowledge’ provided a never-ending stream of guidance, advice and general ‘I could do that better myself’ attitude.  She was right and once I worked that out, I found the job a bit easier.  I found it easier to judge in my own head who was worth my time to really listen to and who, well – wasn’t.

Motherhood is much the same - although much harder to ignore the voices.  Notice I say motherhood and not parenthood.  I thought about that and I’m not sure that men get the same kind of unsolicited advice and perhaps that’s because it’s not their bodies that are ‘in the line of fire’ from the start.  Maybe I’m wrong, but from what I see around me – I think this is something that tends to sit very much with the mums, who it is often assumed are provided with the book of answers along with the provision of all their eggs when conceived themselves.

What I’ve been wondering lately is whether it’s this scrutiny and advice and general pressure to be doing everything faultlessly (because being a mother is clearly such a simple thing - on paper) that has lead us to the infighting and antagonism that goes on between mums.

OK – so obviously that’s a general statement.  Do I think it happens with my closest pals?  Well, not obviously.  But do I now think twice before posting comments on mothering sites and columns? Hell yes!  And the biggest bone of contention is between Stay at home mums and Working mums.  Yes – I’m opening that can of worms.

My theory is that we (the mums) are all working so hard to defend our own stance and approach with our kids that we’re kind of forced into this defensive ‘my way is the only way’ position.  And I say that with no attack on mums because frankly, we’re punishing ourselves well enough! 

When my daughter was 6 months old I went back to work.  I had originally taken 12 months off but found that I was suffocating at home and needed the stimulation of work to settle myself.  In hindsight I was suffering with mild PND and getting out of the house was a big step in my recovery.  My husband took some time out and took on the role of primary carer (see – he became a primary carer whereas I was a housewife – that’s a whole other blog though) until she was 18 months old and started nursery.  When she started nursery we were in Singapore – where working hours are long (certainly by UK or Australian standards – in my experience) and she was generally at nursery 5 days a week between 7.30am and 6.30/.45pm.  She had her breakfast there, her lunch, her naps and they even showered her.  She came home for a bath and bed. I write that now and it makes me feel a bit uneasy because I know what judgment is likely to come… At the time, I had no real issue with it.  She was happy.  It was an amazing nursery with a small class of 8 and 2 teachers.  We lavished all of our energy and attention on her on the weekends with trips to the zoo, feeding turtles at the botanic gardens, walks, play gyms, swimming etc.  And it worked.  If we were to stay in Singapore and I was to keep my job, it had to work. 

I am now a stay at home mum and have not ‘worked’ since the birth of my 2nd daughter in January 2012.  My eldest daughter goes to nursery two days a week between about 9.30 and 4.30 purely to give her some extra stimulation (which she desperately needs after being so used to her Singapore life)  and she is home with me the rest of the time.  My second daughter will be 2 in January and has never been to nursery but will start two days a week next year, along with her baby brother who will be 10 months old - so that I can go to University.

I must confess when we left Singapore and I decided not to go back to work, I assumed my second daughter would be at a disadvantage for not having such a focused, stimulating life around this age.  To be perfectly honest, she is developing in much the same way her big sister did.  She is perhaps a month or two behind in when she could count to ten and is currently learning the ABC song, whereas her sister knew it by now.  But, is this going to hold her back in the future?  No.  The only real difference is for me.  I know her a bit better than I did her sister at this age – simply because I spend more time with her.   

A friend of mine had a little girl 6 weeks after I had my second.  She stayed in Singapore and worked in a full time job with the help of a live in carer for her daughter.  When she visited me a few months ago, I honestly expected her daughter to be very different to mine.  I figured that she hadn’t had her mum at home, that constant ‘eye’ on her etc.  But when you put the two little girls together they were so close in their development.  One had walked earlier - one had more teeth.  One had lovely long hair - one had little fine wisps.  Both were bright, happy little girls living lives where they were loved and given everything they needed.  It was a lesson to me that kids develop as they will – at their own pace, taking on what is available to them.  As long as they’re loved and get some good time with their mums and/or dads everyday – they’re pretty good.

So, why do we try so hard to discredit other people’s choices?  I notice time and time again when a thread on a discussion board somehow involves some sort of opinion or advice between being home or not – it turns nasty.  Not necessarily claws out nasty (although that is often the case), but ‘leaving them in care all day is fine, but I couldn’t do it’ nasty or ‘I would be so bored at home all day painting with the kids’ nasty. 

For me, I’m at home because that’s where the circumstances lead.  It works for us now and provides the best for our family (my husband, my kids and myself) for right now.  That being said, if I was offered a dream role tomorrow – would I turn it down?  Probably not…  Assuming it worked for us as a family and I could find suitable day care (a big ask in Australia at short notice) I would probably take it on.  My advantage right now is that I have a choice and am making it – whatever way that choice goes is no-one’s business but my family.

Whether we have that choice or not, as mothers I have to believe that we're all trying to do the best we can with what we have – for our kids and ourselves.  Because, well - mums rock!

Friday, 30 August 2013

My battle with Barbie

Before I had my first child there were many rules and ways of doing things that I believed I would adhere to – no TV being the biggest one.  Pretty much all of them have fallen by the wayside (I know most episodes of Peppa Pig word for word) in the reality of parenting and the hectic pace of life with three small children.  The one that I have held on to with dog like vengeance is ‘Barbie is not welcome here’…  When my nieces recently requested Barbie’s for their birthday I hoped against all hopes that they wouldn’t get them, hence spurring a green eyed ‘I want a Barbie’ from my now 4 year old, Princess obsessed daughter.

I should clarify that I loved Barbie as a little girl.  I clearly recall the debates and deals with my little brother trying to get him to play Barbie with me.  ‘I’ll play Lego with you 4 times if you play Barbie with me now’.   He was never very keen but in hindsight I guess Ken was a bit hard for a young boy to really relate to.

I can’t even remember now the point when Barbie got kicked under the bed and eventually into boxes in the back of the cupboard – late Primary school/early High School maybe.  But I do remember discovering feminism in High School, reading The Beauty Myth (Naomi Wolf) in great disgust at the cosmetic industry and outrage at society reinforcing this image of beauty.  Of course, I also got on the wagon of ‘Barbie is evil’.  And I’ve never gotten off.

As I have aged I can see all that is wrong with Barbie.  I once read that if her measurements were to scale on a real woman she would likely be anorexic, unable to walk due to consistent high heel wear, have chronic back ache due to her sizeable boobs and surely snap in half with her tiny waist (OK, so I completely made the last bit up).  I don’t want my girls aspiring to this image and I don’t want them judging themselves against Barbie as if a reality.

But there is more to the hatred and after reading an article by Karen Maezen Miller (thanks to recommendation by a friend) talking about this very topic, I was forced to question where my hatred of Barbie really comes from and whether she is in fact the vilan.

I have struggled with my own body image for most of my adult life and some of my late teenage years.  I have a love hate relationship with my body that up until the birth of my three children was more hate than love.  I was (and still am) always telling myself that if I lost X kg I would be happier, funnier, more successful, have more friends etc.  None of this is new.  We sadly read about it all the time – usually in insightful articles wedged between fashion spreads featuring air brushed size 0 models, but that’s not really my beef (for today).

My greatest hope for my two girls is that they grow up with a healthy respect for their own bodies, a love of what they have and an ability to use that to their full advantage.  I never want them to spend one day of their precious lives dreaming of being something different to their frankly perfect selves.  I never want them to compare themselves to anyone whether an image in a magazine or their best friend –and come up wanting.  I want them to appreciate differences and love what they have, unconditionally. 

I know a great deal of that comes from me.  I never discuss my weight around them.  I never talk about my own feelings about my body and I never ever talk about fat or dieting.  When my husband and I talk to our girls about food it’s about what makes you strong and healthy.  The ‘f’ word is banned in our house.  When my daughter tells me I have a big tummy (with that gorgeous wide eyed innocence of a 4 year old stating the facts – I do have a big tummy…) I say ‘yes I do and that’s OK.’ 

So where does Barbie fit into this?  I’m starting to ask myself the same thing.  On reflection of this recent article that I read I found myself wondering how much influence Barbie really had on my own body image.  If I’m to be honest it’s very little.  I clearly remember being very confident and happy in myself up until I was about 14 (way after Barbie got kicked to the curb).  I honestly remember looking in magazines and thinking I didn’t look that different to the models.  I smiled a lot, I had pretty eyes and nice hair.  I never really compared their bodies to mine because I honestly didn’t see my size 14 body as that much different to their size 8. 

No, the damage to my own self-image wasn’t caused by Barbie – it took place much closer to home.  It was planted and reinforced by friends and family – those closest around me wanting to protect me by ‘encouraging’ me to lose weight.  Boys at school starting to pick out the thinner girls as the more desirable, people asking ‘helpfully’ if I really needed to eat that.  The list goes on.  Sure, it’s been reinforced by the likes of Barbie and the images in magazines but in all honesty that’s not what put the ideas there in the first place.

So I am starting to wonder what will happen if Barbie is allowed in the house.  Will we all go nuts and start living on birdseed and cabbage and spend our savings on cosmetic surgery?  Will she really cause my daughters to become filled with self-doubt and loathing?  I’m starting to think the answer is no.

As long as I can provide them with a strong image of a woman who loves her body for its ability to provide her with three beautiful children, its strength to ensure she can care for them and as a desirable creature (thanks to a loving and openly affectionate husband) maybe that’s enough.

Maybe Barbie isn’t really the devil.  Maybe the devil lives closer to home and is more within our own control than we think.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Finding Kate

I have recently started a yoga course one night a week.  It runs for six weeks and frankly it’s like a little slice of (somewhat pain filled) heaven.  Motherhood is a funny thing.  It fills me with so much joy I sometimes feel as if I might burst and then simultaneously makes me wonder where ‘I’ went…  ‘Ladies and Gentlemen – Kate has left the building’.

I recall watching ‘The Biggest Loser’ once (I know, this is a whole other post) when a mum of three was participating and she sat there in floods of tears talking about how she had moved so far from who she was, she had forgotten.  She had forgotten what she’d liked, what had made her happy, what her dreams and goals were – for herself.  Not for her family (who she adored), but for herself.

I think one of the things that does mothers a great disservice is our ability (whether it is our own fault or that of the cultural expectations that have driven motherhood to where it is) to let go of ourselves in order to love our little ones.  At first it is a beautiful, almost divine quest.  This little person (and subsequent persons) is our light – our purpose.  After growing them and nurturing them for so long, it’s hard to shift our focus anywhere else.

But what about our own needs?  What about maintaining and sustaining our own identity?  Or does our identity need to be redefined once we’re mothers?

I do remember when I watched this episode (yes, back to the Biggest Loser again) I had one daughter who was perhaps 16 months old and I sat there and thought ‘well, that’s just stupid – you have to find time for yourself in order to be an effective mother’.

And yet here I am, a mother of three under 4 years, not entirely sure of who I am or what I want.  I should add here that typing that sentence makes me a bit uncomfortable – selfish and uncaring towards my children.  But in the cold light of day, looking at the ‘black and white’ of things I know that in order to be a good mum, I have to have dreams and goals for myself that extend beyond my children.

I wonder if I would feel the same if I had returned to work between numbers 2 and 3….  And most of all I wonder if all women go through this…

We had some family photos taken a few weeks back – to capture that moment when our family was made ‘complete’ with the arrival of my beautiful son.  The photographer spent the session chatting to us, putting us at ease to create beautiful natural photos (which by the way are just gorgeous).  She asked me what my husband’s passions are and I immediately answered ‘music and football’ (with the complete knowledge that his children were a given in that).  When she asked my husband the same question there was a blanket (and awkward silence).  I honestly had no passion or hobby or interest outside of my children.

And that can’t be healthy.  So, I’m taking up yoga…  And I might just look at getting a bit better at photography…

Monday, 31 December 2012

A New Year!

Happy New Year!

I have just realised it’s been more than 6 months since my last ‘blog’ entry and thought New Years Day was probably a good time to get things rolling again. 

2012 has been a big year.  My gorgeous daughter arrived a year ago tomorrow, my family moved from Singapore to Australia and in July I found out I am expecting my third baby in March. 

There is no coincidence that the blog entries stopped around the time of this discovery.  My ‘conflicting Kates’ kicked into overdrive and I felt (and still feel a bit) like I couldn’t talk so much about the balance of working and home life when I will now be at home for more than 2 years with my little ones. 

It’s been a bit over a year since I stopped working at the Bank.  That ‘rush’ and ‘whir’ in my head is fading fast and I can feel things slow in that area of my brain.  And I hate it.  I worry that with 2 years off I will lose my ‘place marker’ in the workforce and forget how to think in that corporate sense.  I also worry about how this will balance and what I will do when the time comes.  I now juggle playdates and swimming lessons with keeping the craft cupboard well stocked and ensuring the washing is done and the house is clean.  In my head I know how important my role is now.  I know my girls benefit from me being at home with them.  My eldest daughter certainly benefits from having a better balance of nursery and home.  My youngest has only ever known being at home with me.  And I know what a gift it is.  And yet, my self worth is harder to ‘judge’ – although perhaps that’s not the right word.  

When talking to a friend a few months ago she mentioned how hard it is to have the discussion about ‘what you do’ now that she’s at home with her little ones.  It hadn’t occurred to me, but being able to say ‘I work for an international bank’ was a big part of my own assessment of me.  It was as if by putting that out there I all at once established my smarts, my determination and my ‘worth’ in a sense.  Now I tell people I am at home with my girls and I watch them switch off.  And I find myself spinning through it and brushing it aside ‘oh me?  I don’t work, I’m just at home with my girls’…. And onto the next subject as quickly as possible.  And yet I know how important what I do is, and I also understand that this is for the most part my choice.

I read something a few months ago (and wish my slightly addled mind could remember where it was) where a woman was talking about women staying at home and describing them as putting feminism behind by making that choice.  That by being a woman and choosing to be at home I was somehow stomping on the advances of feminism.  The support systems are there (child care etc) and I should be taking advantage of such things and showing my kids that as a woman I have options and can do what I like.  It made me furious.

That said, I do see a lot of gender stereotyping creeping into my eldest daughters consciousness.  She thinks pink is for girls and blue is for boys (when everything in the shops seems to be branded this way – even lego now comes in either a pink box, complete with ponies etc – or a blue box, with tractors) and looks around her and sees that a lot of daddy’s work (her own dad and my brother – whereas myself and my sister in law are at home with the kids).  And I don’t really know how to balance this…  But tell myself that in time I will return to work and for most of her life what she will know is two working parents, but hopefully she will remember this time fondly.

In short, I love being a mum, so much so that I’m going back for more.  And 90% of the time (taking out the 10% where my daughters tantrums and tears and demands get a bit repetitive and wear thin) I love being at home.  What I miss is that opportunity for healthy debate and discussion.  I don’t want to spend my days discussing sleep patterns and discipline.   So here I am back on the blog – ready to talk about what I’m thinking and reading in 2013 so that at least I can keep myself thinking and maybe when someone asks me what I do I can say 'I’m mum and a blogger/thinker/dreamer!'?

Happy New Year!