Learning together

I didn’t get far into Alison Gopnik’s The Gardener and the Carpenter. I might revisit it later. There’s probably good stuff in it, but the central metaphor started to bug me. Is your role as a parent to shape your child into something predetermined, or give them the tools to flourish in their own way? OBVIOUSLY THE SECOND ONE. But this big picture philosophy doesn’t help a whole lot day to day, where my dilemmas are more like “how many maltesers is too many maltesers?” and “how do I get the Sarah and Duck theme tune out of my head?” and “what happened to the banana I put in the nappy bag?”

Even my own philosophical questions about parenting annoy me sometimes:

  • How do I set limits while being respectful of his autonomy?
  • How do I encourage him to be considerate and kind to others, in a world where well-off white guys are often given a free pass?
  • How do I meet his needs and find time for my own?

I ponder these things briefly, but too much time dwelling and I become convinced that overthinking it is part of the problem and I should just hang out with him and not stress. He’s trying his best to learn how to live in this world, and I’m trying my best to learn how to be his guide. It’s an iterative process, figuring that out together.

He’s closer to three than two now. Two and three quarters. My little big kid. Big wants, big needs, big impulses, big ideas; contained in this kid who still can’t pull up his own trousers.

He’s his own person. While there are a lot of unique aspects to the mother/preschooler dynamic, there’s no one-size-fits-all parenting insight that can override this. As with any relationship, there’s the core of two people spending time in each other’s company, sometimes joyfully, sometimes with frustrations. The mutuality of parenting is often understated, parenting is seen as something you do to your child, the child a passive recipient of parenting philosophies. But with the little dude, even as a baby, it never felt like that. It doesn’t feel like that with bub either – small as he is. Once you recognise that their behaviours are a form of communication, the back and forth is clearly there from the start. Any parenting advice that ignores this is pointless, whether it’s putting the parent’s needs foremost and ignoring the child, or vice versa.

The other day I was trying to get him to wash his hands and he said “NO MUMMY DON’T DO DAT MUMMY DON’T HARPT ME”, and I thought he was telling me not to hurt him, “harpt” isn’t a word, right? The surgery and post-op recovery was hard on the little dude, giving him medicine was a major ordeal, and in the past few weeks I’ve felt a huge need to focus on reassuring him that he is safe. I said I wasn’t hurting him, Mummy doesn’t hurt him, kinda worried, and he laughed “Silly Mummy, not say ‘hurt me’, I djust saying ‘not help me’, dat what word I mean!” Oh good, phew, you were having a tantrum because I was assisting you to roll up your sleeves. Because you want to do it yourself.

One night recently my husband was home late and I don’t really have a good system for sole charge bedtime. The little dude kept getting up and interrupting my attempt to settle bub to sleep. I put him in bed for the umpteenth time, go to change bub into a night nappy, and then I see his little face at the door “um, um, um, Mummy, I djust gonna HELP YOU get Ben weady for his sleep!” Flash memory of my childhood, lying in bed, trying to think of a plausible excuse to get up with the grownups. Then fast-forward vision to when bub is big and they’re a little pair of rascals in bunk beds, and I’m bargaining with them that they can have one more song, and they’re saying two more, and I’m relenting – which is all part of my cunning plan to start with.

He tells me he’s a big boy but not a very big boy, just a little big boy. His emotional needs are huge at the moment. Being two is hard. He runs up to me and says “Mummy I djust want a tuddle Mummy!”, or, even more tender “Mummy I weally need you dto tuddle me wight now”; or “I djust exhausted Mummy you djust tuddle me”. He calls me over when he’s watching videos “you maybe sit on da couch widt me Mama and I sit on you knee for my wideo?” I’ll be sitting on the floor with bub in my lap, and he’ll come over and hug my back. He’s like a puppy a lot of the time, all boisterous energy and exuberant love and bright eyes.

He is often overwhelmed when things don’t go the way he expects. I can see it building, see the triggers, and I usually manage to get in at the early stages, but sometimes the explosions burst out and he flails his little arms and says “NO NO NO NO NO NO I DON’T WANT DAT TO HAPPEN”

It occurred to me that whenever I try and teach him how to manage his emotions, I’m also teaching him – through example – how to help other people manage theirs. Sometimes when bub cries, he goes over to him and says “it otay, it otay, Mummy is djust over dere!”, and gives him a toy, or sings a song, or plays “Peter Boo” (he misheard peek-a-boo and he’s sticking with it). This morning, bub was grizzling just as Mr Daddy was leaving, and the little dude said “he’s sad betause Daddy dgoing to work!”, and he jumped down off the couch and gave bub a cuddle, and then said “it otay, I dstill here for you!”. TEARS IN MY EYES, GUYS!

Being aware of how sensitive he seems to be to his world, I try to remind myself to focus on the subtle messages I’m sending him. It’s kinda complicated though. The big picture is fine, treat him with respect, meet his needs, but the detail can be hard. I’ll think that things are going great, then out of nowhere, he’ll bite me or hit the baby, and I’ll be flustered and I’ll react and then I’ll think is there some way I could have reacted differently that would have been better? 

It’s a strange parallel. Raising a toddler and a baby is a bit like being a toddler, it can be overwhelming, you’re still learning, the terms of engagement keep shifting. If I don’t get enough of a break, sometimes I snap. I don’t know what will trigger me snapping until it happens. I hasten to add that it’s usually my husband, not the little dude, who is subject to the snapping. It’s weird, I can hold it together all week and then as soon as Mr Daddy walks in the door on a Friday night, those unmet needs burst forth. Everybody has limits, and when we’re pushed past them it’s not good, it’s like a balloon blown up too big, it’s going to burst, and telling the balloon to just stretch further isn’t a solution. At first, you think it might be a solution – it’s stretched this far, just a little more, just a little more, but eventually BANG. Lucy at lulastic has written a few times about how unmet needs cause explosive behaviours: whenever I lose my patience with my husband after a long day, I think of that. And try and find empathy for the little dude, who must feel overstretched a lot, by things I don’t always notice.

I’m constantly trying to find a more comfortable equilibrium to my days with him. Experimenting and misjudging and re-calibration. I’ve been wanting to write down some of the things I’m trying to do and trying to remember. They always seem important when I first think of them, and trite only a few weeks later. But this morning we had a rocky start to the first day home alone with both of them after a week’s holiday, and it reminded me that my tips for making the day go more smoothly are hard won.

(Our rocky start went like this: I let the little dude watch a video while I had a shower, then he wanted to keep watching, and eventually when I said it was definitely the last one and we were putting the laptop away he had a major tantrum, then he decided he wanted an iceblock and I said no to the iceblock, and he rejected my compromise suggestion of a piece of frozen fruit, and then we had a stand-off in front of the freezer, and then I said “if you don’t stop asking for iceblocks I’m going to throw them all away!”, which was a stupid thing to say and I knew it as soon as I said it and he went absolutely hysterical. Siiiiiiiiggggghhhh. This is when I remembered why I usually have the rule of no videos in the morning.)

So, despite the threat of the inane, I will write these half-baked thoughts. It clarifies my thinking, and other parents at the same stage may find it useful (in much the same was as I return over and over to Thalia’s pieces on this sort of stuff). It’s not advice in any sense. One person’s easy compromise might be another person’s ridiculous pandering.

General points

  • The phrase “it’s attention seeking” is always discussed as pejorative, like, oh you don’t need to respond to it, they’re just winding you up on purpose. I’ve been considering how completely screwy that attitude is. Attention is a very powerful need, and the behaviour we label “attention seeking” is them trying to get their needs met. If they make overtures for attention, if they request nicely that you come play with them, and you brush them off, it’s not surprising if they have a meltdown later. I’m trying to make sure I respond when he positively seeks my attention.
  • The better I’m feeling, the better I can cope with his needs. It is really hard to carve out that space though and this is the one that most often slips.

Positive attention: things that are working well

  • Giving him as much one-on-one attention as I can when bub is sleeping.
  • Being strict with myself about how much videos he watches by himself. If he wants just one more and I decide he can, it’s good for the final video to be a cuddled together video.
  • Low-stakes opportunities for him to decide whether to co-operate.
    • Often parents see things with small children as basically like this: why is it so hard to get them to comply with very reasonable things? But from their perspective, it’s like this: why are they always interrupting me to ask me to do stuff?  My first response was to minimise the asking. Which didn’t change anything, I was asking him to do stuff only when I really needed him to do it, and a lot of the time it’d be a mission to get him to go along with it. I wondered what’d happen if I mixed it up a bit. I had been saying “do you want to?” when the stakes were low, and adults perceive that as a polite request but I don’t think he did, I think he saw it as a suggested activity. I tried asking “could you please?” in situations where I didn’t particularly care either way. Just to see what he’d do. For example, asking him to pass me the pegs when I’m putting washing on the line, asking him to sing bub a song when bub grizzles in the car, to carry his backpack in from the car, etc. I’ve noticed that he’s actually very willing to please, so it’s shifted my attitude a bit, and he gets the chance to say no and have that be heard. And if he says yes, it gives me a chance to thank him for co-operating, which helps teach that concept, so in other situations I can say “I really need you to co-operate with me now”.
  • Making the most of boring time, like car trips. I can ignore him in the car, but it’s also a great opportunity to talk with him!
  • Thanking him for being a good big brother, saying that bub is lucky to have such a nice big brother, engaging him in activities with bub.
  • Games for burning off energy inside. Our favourite is “bed attack”, he sits on the bed and I thrown his soft toys at him. He loves it. He thinks it’s the funniest thing ever. He catches them and throws them out, and I throw them in again, etc. It’s good because it’s a rough and tumble game where he’s on the receiving end, so it’s useful for teaching him not to go all-out in rough and tumble games.
  • Games for connection:
    • Mimicking facial expressions (and “guess the feeling”)
    • Looking at each other and trying not to laugh.
    • Being turtles (this is a great calm down game, get them to pretend to be a turtle all curled up on the floor).
    • Tickling – tickling is also great for teaching boundaries and consent, because as soon as they say no, you stop.
    • Silly dancing together.

Disagreement without explosion

  • Pre-emption is good, knowing his triggers (too many big kids at Tiny Town always leads to bad behaviour, for example). But I also think it’s important not to get too preoccupied with managing things so that he never plays up. It can be 80% – 90% of the time but there’ll still be occasions when I don’t pick up on how close he is to his limit until it’s too late. Which means I’m also trying to teach him safe ways to communicate that his limits have been reached. Ways other than biting me or hitting his brother.
  • Naming feelings
    • A common tip is to help kids name their feelings, and usually this starts with the emotions that are easy to say and spell and draw – sad, happy, grumpy. But those aren’t necessarily the most relevant emotions. He would sometimes tell me he was tired when he meant “overwhelmed”, and so it seemed an obvious word to teach, he was trying to communicate that emotion anyway. I also taught him “hōhā”, and with “overwhelmed” and “hōhā”, we have 90% of the challenging toddler emotional states covered.
    • If he were to tell me he’s feeling hungry, I’d offer food – but he doesn’t usually say he’s hungry, he usually just asks for the food. At two, he’s too little to reliably know what he needs when he’s feeling a big emotion, that’s my job. But he can start to learn. Since I’ve been telling him “you’re a bit overwhelmed my darling, we need some cuddles and some quiet time”, I’ve noticed he will sometimes say “I owerwowmed, I need a tuddle”.
  • Translating him into “considerate adult” or “polite older child”
    • This is my attitude towards teaching social codes and “good manners”. A lot of their challenging behaviour is really reasonable once we translate it with a considerateness filter. They’ve only just learnt to be able to make themselves clear, of course they need a lot of help to subtly shape their message so it is more pleasing to others!
    • If he’s having a little hissy fit, I try and imagine what he’d say if he were older, and then I respond with that in mind (him: “NO NO NO NO NO DAT ONE IS NOT BEN ONE DAT ONE IS MY ONE, I WANT DAT ONE, DAT ONE IS FOR ME!!!!!!!!!”, me: “it’s ok, I know you want some stewed apple too, no need for a big fuss, you just ask nicely and tell me ‘oh that looks yummy, could I have some of that as well please?’ Sit up in your seat and I can get you some.”).
    • Letting him have his reaction is sometimes part of this. Toddlers are still learning “reluctant acquiescence”, and “mild protest”, and “half-hearted complaint”. If they’re going along with it but also whinging, let it go.
    • There’s a strong gender thing here too. All kids need to learn that it’s ok to communicate their feelings, and they need to do it in a way that respects others. But I’m especially focused on this because he’s a boy and might not pick it up from the rest of society if he doesn’t get it from me.
    • I’ve been trying to give him some phrases instead of “NO” and “NOT WANT IT” etc (see this post at sacraparental). It’s been working well. I get irritated when he says “DON’T YIKE IT” when I offer him food, and I realised one day that he didn’t know any ways to politely decline. Now he knows “I’m not a fan of that”, “I don’t feel like that right now”, and “I’m a bit unsure of this one”. Tension (mostly) gone.
  • Knowing when not to give him options.
    • Give your kid options! That’s what the advice usually says! Ok, but maybe I was giving him too many options, because he started saying “I djust don’t know Mummy, you djust tell me”. So. Um. Not all the options all the time? Options can be stressful.
  • Back down quickly and gracefully with a face-saving compromise.
    • This morning: “I’m sorry, I’m not really going to throw the iceblocks in the bin, that was not a nice thing to say and I didn’t mean it. We’re not having any now but you can have one after lunch, sound like a good deal?”
    • A more general example: “Let’s go to the supermarket!” / “NO NO NO NO NO NO NO WE GO TO DA PLAYDOUND DAT’S WHAT WE DGONNA DO!” / “The playground sounds like a great idea! We need to go to the supermarket too though, which should we do first?”

Shifting the attitude on the bad bits

  • Trust in the parent you are going to become. It’s hard now. It will get easier. Learning curve, etc.
  • Allow for mutuality. Learn from them. You’re still getting to know each other.
  • Have reasonable expectations. THIS ONE IS SO SO HARD. Extra hard because the reasonable expectations CHANGE as they grow. But when I think of the parenting areas where I feel like I’ve managed stuff fairly well, 99% seems to be down to a match between my expectations and the reality.
  • Use the things that go wrong as learning opportunities. Whenever I snap at the little dude I try not to be hung up on it, and see it as a chance to quickly model apologising. He also tells me off now for raising my voice, “Mummy, no loud gwumpy dtalking, use your nice dentle voice when you say tings to me!”, which is funny and cute.
  • Keep an eye on the secondary message. For example, the little dude is going through a phase of enthusiasm for vacuuming. And I’m a bit over it. But I don’t want to discourage the interest in doing chores. So we’re vacuuming the hall a couple of times a day at the moment.

This one doesn’t fit into any of my categories but it’s super important. Notwithstanding all the things in the list, when the kids are with other people you love and trust, let it all go. They’ll do stuff differently – and that’s good. They might be more lenient on some things and stricter on other things, and that’s ok, that helps kids learn the subtleties of behavioural expectations. They might figure out something that works really well for your child. Even if they screw up it’s a good learning experience. Like when my father-in-law gave the little dude a bowl of icecream before bed, forgetting that he’s lactose intolerant, and the little dude woke at 5am with diarrhea, well, that was not great at all, but now when I tell him he can’t have this or that thing because it’ll make his tummy sore he knows what I’m talking about.

Advertisements

Roasted cauliflower recipe

I’ve tried repeatedly to get an approximation of the AMAZING roasted cauliflower they do at the Salty Pigeon, and tonight I finally cracked it!

Here’s how you do it:

Preheat oven to 220 degrees Celsius.

Rinse a head of cauliflower and break it into small or medium florets. Shake them off so they’re not too wet.

Put the florets in a large bowl and drizzle a fair bit of oil over – they shouldn’t be greasy but they should be well covered. Mix it with your hands.

In a small bowl, blend 1 1/2 Tbsp cornflour, 1/2 tsp smoked paprika, 1/2 tsp Mrs Rogers Roast Vegetable Seasoning, and 1/4 tsp of salt. Sprinkle this over the cauliflower, mixing it all up. The oil and residual dampness will make it stick. All the cauliflower should be a little bit orange from the paprika.

Roast for 15 minutes on a large oven tray, then use a fish-slice to stir it a bit and scrape off any sticky bits, flipping over most of the pieces in the process. Roast again for another 10 minutes or so. It should be turning a bit brown when you take it out to eat.

The little dude loved it, though weirdly he only ate the floret tops not the stalks and his plate at the end looked ridiculous, all these half chewed pieces.

 

 

Baby hands 

I will start with the wrists, which are clean lines, like a slice in dough. The palms, so small, so warm, so soft. He reaches up to touch my face and the hands are just the right size to hold my chin. Or he rests them on me as he feeds, like he’s trying to hold on but is too lazy to grip. 

In the bath, splash splash splash, then surprised when the water hits his face.

Grabbing things, bringing them to his mouth to chomp on, dropping them, grizzling “I had it right here, what just happened?!”

He curls his fingers into my hair and laughs. 

Lying in bed with me at night, feeding in his sleep, I take his whole hand in mine to keep it still, bring it to my mouth and kiss it. 

In the morning I often wake to him pawing my face. The cutest.

ARGH I FORGOT TO TRIM HIS NAILS, HE’S SCRATCHING ME, THEY ARE LIKE TINY KNIVES, MAKE HIM STOP!!!

Link: You’re Doing Your Kid a Favor by Being an Imperfect Parent

http://nymag.com/thecut/2016/10/youre-doing-your-kid-a-favor-by-being-an-imperfect-parent.html

I really really love this piece.

A few thoughts about why it’s great:

  • It’s important to give parents space for moral imperfections, which the article acknowledges. A lot of parents are fine with mismatched socks and snacks in front of the TV, but get anxious over occasionally speaking sternly and losing patience. But it’s good for them to see us role-model acknowledging our mistakes, and repairing relationships where there’s conflict. They can’t see that if we tie ourselves in knots trying to eliminate all displays of human failure.
  • Kids learn useful things from the times when we’re not entirely on top of their needs, too. We don’t want to give them the impression that everyone in the world will understand them perfectly all the time! If the baseline is caring, responsive parenting, the inevitable gaps and cracks don’t detract – they teach our kids how to cope with the reality that everyone falls short sometimes.
  • I really like the bit where she says that aiming for perfection leads to bad choices. All of my worst parenting moments have been where I’ve been trying to do too much.
  • I also like the focus on enjoying the relationship. This is something that my dad did especially well in his one-on-one time with us. He’d announce an activity that he wanted to do, we would be given no option but to go along with the activity, and it meant we did some really fun stuff with him. Once he took us to Cornwall Park with a whole lot of oil paints and some nice thick painting paper and we sat on the steps to paint the trees, and it was a lovely day out – because we were all enjoying it. A parent who had no interest in painting or being outdoors might not have enjoyed it, and for them, it would be a pointless activity. But for us it was great. Part of this is seeing your child as simply a person who you hang out with a lot! When you hang out, sometimes you do what they want to do, sometimes you do what you want to do, sometimes you do things you both like, sometimes you do things neither of you want to do but they have to get done anyway. That’s how life works. This is fairly obvious, but contrary to some of the ideas about parenting as the all-encompassing identity, where we’re meant to put our kids first all the time but somehow simultaneously not raise them to be entitled brats.
  • Conversely, broadly consistent with the article but also a bit contrary to the final paragraph, it’s ok to not enjoy it sometimes! The expectation that we’ll be happy all the time is harmful. I’m a better parent when I allow myself to think, well, this particular patch is a bit tedious but that’s ok, there are lots of good bits in their too.

Offensive

Yesterday, Judith Collins said the problem is not child poverty, it is “a poverty of ideas, a poverty of parental responsibility, a poverty of love, a poverty of caring.”

Today, in a follow up statement to the media following yesterday’s comments, Judith Collins said “when the inference is made to me that crime is crime because of child poverty, that is totally unfair to kids and to families who don’t have a lot of money.”

A month ago, in Parliament, Anne Tolley said “I find it offensive that the Opposition is suggesting that just because you are poor you beat your children.”

There’s a certain similarity between these statements. Let’s break it down:

  1. It gives those opposed to further cash transfers a perverse moral high-ground as champions of the parenting powers of the poor.
  2. It puts those in favour of alleviating poverty in twist. We don’t want to be labelling income-deprived parents as child abusers or as raising future criminals. But, on the other hand, one rationale for alleviating poverty is because doing so can prevent associated bad outcomes! And the data is mixed. It is complicated to disentangle the effects of poverty.
  3. It appeals to people who have no idea how bad poverty levels are in this country. It rests on an image of poverty as a family that gets by OK, so long as they’re careful with money. The image of a family who eats budget brand bread and buys second-hand school uniforms but can still afford to heat the house properly and pay the power bill every month. That’s not a current image of poverty, and it hasn’t been for a long long time. The current image of poverty is kids with rheumatic fever because their houses are never ever warm or dry.
  4. In co-opting the moral high-ground, it prevents the left from picking up the rhetoric of the government’s preferred “investment approach” to solving social problems. Spend more money early on to address poverty, it will solve all these things! Fiscal responsibility! Yay us! What, how dare you suggest those problems are linked to poverty? Aren’t you meant to be on the side of the poor, not blaming them for their derelict children?! You’re just an elitist patronising latte drinking bourgeois tosspot aren’t you?
  5. It frames the conversation around blame and personal moral obligation (i.e. parents whose kids grow up to be criminals have only themselves to blame. There is no societal obligation to all children.)
  6. It removes the impetus for change by suggesting that good parenting can counteract the effects of poverty.
  7. It sets up the whole deserving poor / undeserving poor dichotomy, where we can disparage one group of society endlessly and wash our hands of doing anything about it because *shrug, they should spend money better*.
  8. It means that the conversation is no longer about what the government can do, but what the government should do. Classic distraction.
  9. Finally, because I happened to do a lot of research on this many years ago, there is an important way child poverty is linked to adult crime and it’s an area which is of major concern in New Zealand. Poverty, and specifically a lack of financial support for single parents, makes it much harder for primary caregivers to leave an abusive relationship. When studying the effects of childhood economic deprivation on adult outcomes, it is common to adjust for exposure to relationship violence. Which means that this particular interplay – while obvious as soon as its pointed out – isn’t always at the forefront of our minds when considering the effects of childhood poverty and the linkages between economic deprivation, abuse, and criminality. Or at least, it’s clearly not at the forefront of the minds of those two Ministers.

We should definitely fund ECE better

List of people who are adversely affected by lack of funding for childcare:

  • Parents who work longer hours than they otherwise would, to be able to pay childcare costs and make working worth it financially.
  • Parents who are short on money because childcare is so expensive.
  • At-home parents who can’t afford childcare and don’t get a break.
  • At home parents who want to re-enter the workforce but can’t afford the upfront costs of paying for a few weeks’ care in advance, or can’t find good care in short notice when they find a job.
  • At home parents who want to retrain for a career that better fits in with being a parent, but can’t afford childcare while studying.
  • Anyone who has to cover childcare costs on one income – single parents, or two parent families where one parent is unwell and can’t do a paid job or look after kids full-time.
  • Parents paying off student debt while also paying for childcare, leading to a low net gain in income from being in paid employment.
  • Children whose parents are financially stressed as a result of childcare costs.
  • Children whose parents work long hours to be able to cover other expenses while paying for childcare.
  • Children in low quality childcare centres because their parents can’t afford good centres.
  • Children who aren’t in childcare and whose parents start to snap and become inattentive because they really need a break, but can’t get a break because there’s no-one to look after the kids.
  • Children who aren’t in childcare and whose parents don’t provide much in the way of interesting activities at home.
  • Early childhood teachers who would be paid more and respected more and receive better professional development if the sector was funded better.
  • Employers of parents who are trying to manage childcare in the most cost effective way, which might not be the best fit for their work responsibilities (for example, cramming 25 hours work into three days instead of four or five because that means only three days of paying for childcare).
  • Babies with older siblings who aren’t in childcare because it’s too expensive for under threes, and so who miss out on one-on-one time with parents.

 

… written while the little dude is at creche.

Link: Parenting boredom

http://meandorla.co.uk/parenting-boredom/ 

Oh isn’t this piece great!

[Also, for the longest time I was reading that title as some sort of pun on “meander/explorer”, but the kid is called Orla, so nope, that was wrong]

I’m a huge believer in the need for parents to have breaks, to revivify ourselves. That’s our big luxury expenditure this year – two days creche for the little dude. The time away from him makes me a much, much, much better parent. I have to look after bub on those days of course but he still naps, and babies seem easy once you also have a two year old. I especially feel that I’m better able to find meaningful connection in the difficult moments with the little dude when I’ve had a break from him.

But, for many at home parents, it’s not so simple to make space to look after ourselves. We’re home with the kids alllllll day. We can’t take a break because that’d be child abandonment. We’ve been socialised to ignore our needs. We’re constrained by what our kids require, so we can’t do the same self-care stuff we did before. It’s a bind. I tend to put myself last automatically, and need to give myself permission to do things for me, even small things. I’m always aware that it puts someone else out, even if it’s really minor like my husband looking after both kids for a couple of hours on the weekend, I always feel the weight of the request (husband “Oh. I mean, sure, yeah, of course. You deserve a break, absolutely. It’s just. Yeah of course. Um. How long will you be?”)

During the working week, asking doesn’t get me that far anyway – it’s rare to be able to leave them with a family member so I can go to lunchtime yoga in town, even though the emotional recalibration payoff I get is enormous. Everyone else is busy with their stuff too! Anyway, I need to put myself first a bit more often when I’m with the kids. I need to bear in mind that a) it’s better to let them wait and put myself first than to snap later, b) there are diminishing marginal returns from putting them first anyway – they don’t always care about that extra bit of attention beyond their needs being met.

So whenever I’m not sure what we should do, I’m trying to ask myself what do want to doIt’s so obvious!! I’m ratty, they’re grumpy, what do want? Maybe if I put on my own oxygen mask first everything else will seem easier. I’ll pack them into the double pushchair, which neither of them particularly like because it’s kinda cramped, and we’ll go for a walk to Burger Fuel and eat kumera chips, and suddenly it’s fine. I’ll announce we’re going to the playground and bustle them out the door and when we get there the fresh air perks me up. I’ll put the little dude in front of a bonus video and the baby in the jolly jumper and take ten minutes to make myself a snack. Often just shifting mode and telling myself to look after me is enough to regain patience, which is funny. Ultimately I think it’s an example of how the intense pressure mums not to have our own needs is bad for kids, because when we’re over it, they miss out.

In which I get all philosophical about having kiddos

Link that sparked this musing: “I Regret Having Kids”

The piece is fascinating and heartbreaking, discussing the growing numbers of women who admit to regretting having children.

Many thoughts. First, it is so recent that women have had any real autonomy. For most of history the idea of a woman regretting having children would be incoherent. Reliable contraception is such a modern invention! Doors have finally been unlocked to do more in the world, doors which are harder to open when children are born. When I think of my life compared to my great-grandmothers or beyond, it’s laughable that I’d ever complain about anything. They just had such ridiculously hard lives. Workhorse lives, lives bound to their husbands or their children. It’s difficult to comprehend really. Here I am, more years of education than all my great-grandmothers put together, options for my life that they could barely even dream of, it’s mind-blowing.

Yet, with all those options, I never thought too carefully about having children. The desire to be a mother was fundamental and I took it for granted that acting on that desire was the right course. Which I think it has been, I hasten to add! Even in the doldrums of the first winter when I was getting no sleep and felt like the days were long and lonely, I didn’t regret having the little dude. But. I did wistfully think of my friends who didn’t have kids and were travelling overseas, and wish that the hard bits of motherhood got more appreciation. Wished I wasn’t invisible. Wished that people would look at me and say “thanks for taking one for team humanity and making a person and then looking after him, that’s pretty awesome, go you, we all really really appreciate the work you’re doing!” No-one ever says that except some of the coolest other mums.

I can see how some people might regret it. Not just the day to day of looking after them, the whole shebang of a relationship that completely alters who you are. It turns you into someone’s mother! Suddenly there’s this kid who looks to you for, what, like, everything? Whose interests you always need to consider. And it’s not a generic kid, it’s your specific kid, whose personality will shape yours forever more. I didn’t think through what it would mean, not really. And anyway how could you fully get your head around it… how could anyone prepare you for it? I’m still often overwhelmed by the volume of work and the volume of love.

My biggest struggle is feeling torn between the two kids. I crave more one-on-one with the little dude; but when I’m alone with both of them I look forward to my big boy’s days at creche so I can attend to bubba and have the nice baby moments that are starting to feel like they’re running out. I’m getting glimpses now of them playing together, and I know that’ll be the next big thing that expands my heart, seeing them enjoy each other’s company more and more.

Ah, my little darlings, my little loves. It’s the best thing ever if that’s what you’re keen on – but you can regret anything right? People get divorced all the time, people leave their careers and retrain, people move country then change their minds and move back.

And there’s no real payoff beyond the intrinsic joy of spending time with your children. There’s no expectation that your children will give back to you when they are grown. There’s no additional social status or tangible benefits from being a parent. This hasn’t always been the case, it isn’t true in all times and all cultures, and I sort of didn’t fully twig to it until I had kids and realised – oh, this is it. The reward is hand in glove with the daily everything.

The linked piece talks about the flak heaped on regretful mothers and explains it in relation to the necessity of the work, the corresponding necessity of the lie that the role is all joy all the time to justify it being unrecognised and unpaid.

Society’s decisive discomfort with these mothers gets at a larger discomfort with women overall—that we won’t do our fundamental jobs. And that even if we do, we may change our minds.

I think this is true. For many many women, part of the stress of new motherhood is feeling like if you step down, no-one else is stepping up. But also, it doesn’t completely explain the level of recoil towards women who regret having kids. There’s more to it – there’s the deep fear of being unloved, uncared for by our mothers. I have a pretty great relationship with my mother, yet nothing quite flusters me like her disapproval. And I somehow, despite being an adult, expect her to see my emotional needs more clearly than anyone else does. Ridiculous? Yes. Understandable too though. We blanch at the idea that some women regret motherhood because we were all once that kid saying “duddle me”.

I wonder, going on a further limb, if in a world where making it by ourselves is the highest praise, there is a perverse resentment of mothers. Buried disgust at our dependent young selves. We don’t want to acknowledge them and we definitely don’t want to acknowledge their vulnerability, their enormous potential for hurt, their enormous need for people to love them and care for them. So instead – hatred towards mothers who express regret at taking on that role. Who find themselves unsuited for it. Who feel inadequate, unable to meet their children’s needs, and wretched as a result.