Monday, 5 February 2018

Precious moments and FOMO

I’ve turned down lots of invitations. I’ve made lots of apologies. I’m lucky I’m still getting invited.

While most parents get to spend every weekend with their offspring, I only get half. So every minute of my weekends with my child is precious.

This year is a big year for many of my friends – the year many of us turn 40. But I’m repeatedly turning down invitations because they involve daytime activities without children, and I feel that I should be there for my daughter at weekends.

It’s not about getting childcare. She and I have a supportive family with lots of people who help us out and love spending time with her. It’s simply that if I don’t see her at the weekends, and I’m working four days a week, then when will I see her? Whenever she’s away from me at weekends, the next day she looks up at me and asks, heart-meltingingly: “Why don’t we get to see each other much?” 

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had the conversation “Sorry you've got childcare problems.” Sometimes I bother to explain that it’s no about finding childcare, it’s about being there for my daughter. Other times I just shrug and say “maybe next time.”

Fear of missing out

I’ve been conscious of the preciousness of these days throughout my daughter’s four years of life. As a single parent, there have been lots of occasions I missed out on. But while a few years ago the FOMO would have got the better of me, I’ve tried to look at what I have. It’s a kind of growing up – learning to appreciate the good things in my life and accept that I have to make sacrifices to have them. Mostly I’m OK with that. 

Photo by George via Flickr Creative Commons

For every missed party has been a bevy of beautiful moments – cuddles, tickles, milestones, the funny, profound and downright crazy things she says to me. Family life simply means you can’t do everything anymore. That’s not just something for single mums, that’s all of us. To be apart from her, by choice, on some of the few days we have together feels wrong.

I struggle to work out if I’m doing the right thing. Is this what a good mother does, or am I being a sap? Am I letting down my friends (who will only turn 40 once) and being overprotective? Am I allowing myself to be manipulated by a four-year-old?

Please just keep on inviting me. I'll come when I can. 

Thursday, 25 January 2018

A tide is turning

Every other day it seems some new scandal of sexual harassment comes out. It’s interesting. Or tiring. Or dull. Or scary. It depends on your perspective.

Most people agree that the serious sexual offenders who have used women’s sexuality against them, manipulated them, blackmailed them with jobs for favours, should be discredited. They shouldn’t get away with it (although it disconcerts me that people are being sentenced without a trial).

Then there’s #MeToo – with women across the world using social media to demonstrate the prevalence of sexual harassment. Some call it standing up for ourselves, others call it whingeing.

A lot of men, and maybe some women are confused by this. I can see why. Do men feel that women are looking for any excuse to take them down? Is this a chance to get at men? Are we blowing things out of proportion? 

Maybe there will be the odd false accusation – isn’t there with everything? But I think the truth of it is that there is and always has been a horrible culture of treating women and their bodies as objects. It’s something that every woman experiences to a greater or lesser extent. And now we are at one of those rare moments in history where we rise up and shout that it’s not fair, that it shouldn’t be like this.

I once knew someone who admitted to occasionally copping a feel in the odd nightclub crowd. And then someone else did it to his girlfriend. That put a different perspective on it, and he stopped. The problem? He hadn’t thought it through. It simply hadn’t occurred to him how his actions affected the person, and how he would feel if someone did the same to the women he was close to.

Legs by dsasso, via Flickr Creative Commons

Having your bum pinched isn’t as significant as other forms of sexual assault. It’s a long way from rape. I mean, it’s really not that bad. You feel a sense of indignation for about ten minutes and then you move on, because you don’t know who it was and your bum has basically recovered from the affront. Where it’s scary is not in the action itself, but when it’s used as manipulation, to imply that you’re getting a job because you’re pretty, or worse, that more is expected of you. Or a dress code that says you have to wear black underwear and stilettos to do this job. It’s a sign of a culture where men see women as objects for their delight and delectation, not as people like them.

If people feel confused and threatened by the turning tide, is it that they don’t understand how widespread and unpleasant sexual harassment is? Do they understand that their wives and daughters have experienced it? Do they think it doesn’t matter?

I'm delighted that there is now a chance my daughter could grow up in a culture in which no one thinks it’s their right to touch her body without her consent, to see her as an object. I want what she does with her body to be her decision, not somebody else’s right.

But this is a dramatic culture change in the way that women are perceived, both by ourselves and each other. It was never going to be an easy transition. Maybe the current vogue for harassment stories will be just a tiny chip in the iceberg of inequality. But, just maybe, it is helping us get to a place of greater freedom and respect for ourselves and our bodies. 

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Shutting Children's Centres

When you've just had a baby the world can be a scary, lonely place. You have the most responsibility you've ever had in your life, with the least experience. 

For new mums with the most supportive husbands in the world, they are often still faced with nine hours a day, five days a week of being alone with a baby. Having somewhere you can go, for just half an hour a week is a godsend. So I am sad to hear that one of those lifelines where I live is to close: Warwickshire is closing its Children's Centres.

Children's Centres are small organisations that run a whole range of services to help parents with young children in their local areas. They were set up to 'improve outcomes for young children'. From breastfeeding support to first aid courses, to play sessions for babies and toddlers, and helping parents get back into work, they offer a huge range of services to their communities.

My Children's Centre and me

My new infant and I went to courses on infant first aid, introducing solid food and some play sessions. We also went to baby massage, which sounds like the most bourgeois of pastimes. But actually, when you've never had a baby before sometimes a bit of help on how to touch your baby is helpful. Personally, my baby wasn't really into it - she liked watching the other babies getting massages but didn't really want to be messed with. But for less opinionated infants, massage can help sleep, help their digestion, improve circulation and ease teething pain. It's a great tool to equip their parents to look after them.

Photo by Katherine via Flickr Creative Commons

The best thing my children's centre did for me was counselling. I was struggling to come to terms with the end of my marriage, being single and being a lone parent. It was a tough time and post-natal depression was pretty inevitable. On maternity pay with no second income, I didn't have the money to pay for counselling. But the Children's Centre ran a scheme of offering a set number of counselling sessions to people who they assessed as needing it. My counsellor was really wonderful. And it made a huge difference to me to have window of time every week when I stopped being weighed down by my situation and preoccupied by my baby and could talk through my feelings about the situation head-on with someone who was detached from me and my life. She made me better able to cope with everything that was happening, and as a result I was a better mum, which is what children's centres were set up to do.

Having a baby is wonderful, amazing and exciting, but it can also be an isolating and lonely experience, particularly if you don't know other people in your position. Other things are available, outside children's centres, but a lot of those are paid activities which are less available to single parents or families on lower incomes. Sessions run at children's centres were generally free.

Losing children's centres

It's not just about taking away massage classes for yummy mummies. It's about providing a community hub for parents and young children, giving them services they will benefit from, providing information they need about the kinds of issues that affect young families, and bringing them into contact with each other.

Without Children's Centres, routine queries about babies' wellbeing will be pushed back to the NHS, which will not be without cost. Parents have lost a major avenue to help them become better parents, by assisting with the all-important feeding issues, and monitoring infant weight gain. I don't know, but suspect that the staff working at Children's Centres are adept at spotting children who might have issues and therefore needed a bit of support. Are these children more like to fall through the cracks now?

It doesn't affect me. I had my baby. She did well and I haven't been near a Children's Centre since I went back to work. But my local centres made a big difference to me and I'm shocked that new parents will no longer have this.