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Thursday, 27 October 2016

Judging other mothers

While flicking through the Huffington Post parents section today, I came across a post entitled "Why Was I Shamed For Having A Girlie Mini-Break Without My Kids?". Why indeed? I thought, that sounds very unreasonable. I read on. The author - a mother of two - had spent three days away with her friends in the sun, leaving her 10 week old baby and 6 year old behind with their Dad. She then documented her holiday on Facebook, and received considerable scorn in response.  At the start of the article, I had been ready to be huffy on her behalf, but when I read "10 weeks old" I tutted. I actually tutted. Then I tutted more loudly at myself. Evidently I was no better than the trolls who had criticised her for being "selfish" enough to have a break from her children. I read on, admonishing myself. But the conflict remained.

On the one hand, I totally applauded her decision. She left her children with their fathers, where she knew they'd be safe and happy (her 6 year old daughter often spent weekends with her Dad, so she wouldn't have known any different anyway), and put her own wellbeing centre stage. Far too few Mums ever do that (myself included) and then we bitch and moan about how knackered we are, and how we never have time for ourselves. Well more fool us. She doesn't breastfeed (she freely declares herself NOT an earth mother) and her children self settle so there were no concerns about milk supply or sleep issues while away. Her kids, I'm sure, were totally fine with the arrangement, so why on earth judge her? Just because society (and the Daily Mail, who got hold of the story) tells us mothers must slavishly and selflessly devote themselves to their children, doesn't mean society is right. As she points out, her husband doesn't "let her" go away or "babysit" her younger child. He takes on responsibility for caring for THEIR kid because that's right and fair. GREAT.

And yet. My knee jerk reaction was still to negatively judge and furrow my brow. Why?

I think there were several reasons. First, I am undoubtedly subconsciously influenced by social norms around a mother's inescapable responsibility, however consciously I try to reject them. Second, I projected my own experience onto hers - I breastfed my son, and he was a colossal pain in the arse proper high needs baby (he still is a bit). At 10 weeks, there was no way in hell I could have left him for 3 hours in his father's sole care, let alone 3 days. Unlike this mother's daughter, he WOULD most certainly have noticed, and would have made his displeasure known, exceedingly vocally and repeatedly. Third, because I know that separation from a parent can have long term psychological consequences. There is substantial scientific evidence to demonstrate this, and a member of my own family still bears the scars of being separated from his mother when he was very young, an experience that left him resentful and unable to properly trust her for the rest of his life. Being with trusted, caring fathers, it is very unlikely this woman's children would have suffered the same fate. But when you know what separation can do, the merest suggestion of it can make you feel uncomfortable. Fourth because the article was accompanied by a selection of pouty, bikini-clad selfies of the author and her friend. Fine, but I personally find selfies a bit narcissistic. Probably because I'm old and flabby. Fifth, because there was some judgement coming from the author too. One of her trolls "did look like a troll" (touché, but still...). If you haven't married a man willing to pull his weight in the childcare stakes, it's kind of your own fault (well, yes, unless you didn't actually discover that until you had the baby...). NCT Mums are the worst breed of female she's ever come across... (I am a despicable person, it's true.) Six, I am maybe a little jealous of her, and her ability to say "Fuck it all, I'm off to lie on a beach for 72 hours!"

I didn't want to judge her, and yet I did. Because we ALL judge. It's how we make sense of the world, work out what we like and dislike, what's right and wrong, and distinguish our own preferences, styles and philosophies from those of others. It's not necessarily inherently wrong to judge. It is wrong to voice those judgements publically and unbidden (even via the tempting anonymity of social media) as though your opinion and experience is the definitive truth, all considerations of nuance or sensitivity be damned. So while I recognise I have just publically aired my own thoughts on this particular matter, I would underline they are just thoughts - and are in no way meant to shame the mother concerned. Her life is her business, and as long as her kids are happy and safe (and they almost certain are), then she should be left to live it without uninvited criticism. Preferably on a lounger with a cocktail in her hand, because who wouldn't want to be there?

Friday, 14 October 2016

Oh so lazy

There are many feelings I associate with motherhood. Some are obvious (exhaustion), others more subtle (ambivalence) and some need a whole new word to describe them (guilentment anyone?). I think it would be fair to say that the whole experience is something of an emotional roller-coaster.

There is one feeling that seems to pop up regularly however, good days and bad, and that's the feeling of laziness. It's somewhat ironic that I feel so consistently lazy when I'm in a period of my life when I am at my flat-out busiest. I will spare you the itemised list of all the stuff I do in a week, but let's agree that like any working Mum it's quite a lot and office time, childcare and housework all feature prominently. I am also pregnant, just to add to the fun.

Yet I have a cleaner who vacuums and does the bathrooms, and a husband who tidies and does the washing. I even get to go for a run or out with friends and colleagues in the evenings sometimes. On the face of it, I would appear to have ample support and escape, so why is the house always in a permanent state, why is my To Do list always mile long, and why do I still fail to squeeze in enough 'me' time to feel human? My frequent conclusion? I must just be lazy.

I know, rationally, I am not lazy. I am just time poor and expect too much of myself. I can't keep the house as tidy as I once did because I have a small person constantly (CONSTANTLY) messing it up, and sucking up the time I'd usually devote to tidying and filing and organising. Plus I am tired. So lacking in energy sometimes, that I find Drake's preferred 'proactive parenting' approach (monitoring your child's activities and behaviour so you can step in to prevent issues before they start) a laughable impossibility. And when I do have an hour in the evening to NOT be overseeing a toddler, an hour I should rightly devote to snack cupboard alphabetisation, sewing on buttons or window cleaning, I physically and mentally can't bring myself to do anything but sit on the sofa watching TV and writing blog posts like this.

Drake just sighs when I have my 'I'm so lazy' moments, and tells me to stop beating myself up (because I'm not lazy and an ultra tidy house is really NOT important), go to bed earlier (ha!) or organise things better so I have the time if I'm really so stressed about them. He is right, but the fact his pet name for me is 'sloth' (due to my former love of lie ins) does not help. Nor do his "Right, we really need to sort out XYZ in the house" monologues, which he likes to deliver randomly when something in the household inconveniences him, usually with a sense of authority and despair that implies he would have this all sorted and under control if it weren't for his scatty wife and her poor mastery of her Tasmanian devil of a son. This could of course just be the way I interpret it, as I am ultra-sensitive to accusations of slovenly behaviour, being constantly convinced I am slovenly. But still.

I should no doubt ask Drake to help more, but I feel lazy mainly because I so rarely seem to get anything done. Actually completing something makes me feel better. If I don't do it myself, the issue may as well have not existed at all. I didn't solve it; I don't get to take credit and convince myself that I'm not REALLY so lazy after all. Or feel justified for being so goddamn tired.

I'm sure all of this makes me a self-flagellating control freaky perfectionist martyr. However, it also demonstrates just how hopelessly brainwashed I am by society's placement of mothers in the housewife role, despite my best efforts not to be. Do I consciously think my worth is only gauged on how well I clean the kitchen or how many times a week I manage to roast a whole chicken for dinner? I consider myself a feminist for Christ's sake so I should hope not! And yet the feeling is there; the little voice in my head saying "this isn't good enough, you could do more".

Contrast this to Drake. He is a pretty modern guy. He "helps out" (I have written about my dislike of that term before). But the fact he gets annoyed at the mess, not at his own failure to tidy it says a lot. If we lose a bill, I get frustrated at myself because I haven't magicked up the time or conviction to properly file it. I feel lazy and a failure. Drake gets frustrated because he can't do his job and pay the bill. It's the bill's fault, or mine for having "moved it", but never his for having failed to put it in the box labelled "bills". I am never quite sure if this is a sign of very robust self-esteem (aka blindness to his own faults), an assumption of male superiority (household organisation is not HIS job! Others must be blamed for this situation!) or whether he does actually feel annoyed at himself and just buries it deep to save face. Whatever the case, it is quite the opposite to my own, usually pretty open and deeply annoying self-admonishment. I am as much a female cliché as he is a walking example of a 'typical bloke'.

So things continue, some days more productive than others, with the lazy scale fluctuating accordingly. Maybe I need to rename the feeling to "disappointed at lack of energy" or "frustrated by lack of time". Perhaps this way I can start to accept that the problem is not simply an inherent character flaw, but a disconnect between my own admirable ambitions and the reality of the situation I am in. Maybe setting myself just one or two goals a day ("get to the shops" or " play Duplo with Duckling" or "file my nails") is the answer. Consistently ticking mental to do boxes has to be better than constantly ticking myself off, no?