Dressing our Daughter in Pink & other modern parenting dilemmas

Back in a time before Baby, I had a lot of opinions about parenting.

One of the things I developed a fairly strong opinion on in the run up to starting a family was gender-neutral parenting. What modern ‘liberal’ free-thinking middle-class woman hasn’t thought about how to give children positive messages about the fluidity of gender and enable them to make informed choices in their life which are  unconstrained by social conceptions of gender even if they are eventually conforming? I am keen to make sure traits and preferences are not gender-coded; that all clothing  and job choices are seen as valid options. I want blue and pink to just be colours, fairies & dinosaurs to be fun. But what if we overdo it, I worry that our little family is not equipped to demonstrate and articulate expressions of traditional femininity  – girly isn’t really our thing…
Then I look at the reality that snuck up on us.
A lot of the clothes we have for baby are second-hand or are gifts from relatives. Financially, it is daft for us to even contemplate not taking the help we have been offered. So pink it is.
Plus it turns out not only do some people just love buying girly stuff, only those with female shaped (and coded) babies been happy to donate clothing and actually it is surprisingly hard to buy things other than in very gendered blue or pink (ie no blue flowers or pink robots or green well anything)
But as I watch relatives and complete strangers flail around desparately trying to gender our child if they cannot see blue or pink cues I realise that this is not a battle that can even be fought just with accessories – perhaps it is more important that Small realises that even when they have to dress to conform for safety or other reasons that doesn’t restrict the way they fee lor their intrinsic worth.

One of my most difficult dilemmas is parent naming.
Small has 2 mummies and a daddy. But should the mummies have different names to her? How should we introduce ourselves? How should I enforce making relatives give Mummy W appropriate recognition? What if neither of the mummies have ever been entirely comfortable with the idea of motherhood? What if Daddy is wrapped up in a very traditonal 2 parent model?
And this is the key area of difficulty what are the boundaries and responsibilities of 3 parents? And how can we make that work for a small human who has her own needs?

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Mother’s Day Fear

It is nearly mother’s day here in the UK and I am terrified and miserable.
It would be fair to say that Mother’s day wasn’t a big deal in my family when I was a child so the notion of celebrating it still seems a little odd.

But this will be my first as a mother and I feel unprepared, undeserving and lonely. I feel like a fraud and I don’t know what to do.
I haven’t felt this much dread since and emotional conflict since the first year after my own mother died. The conversations amongst my peers about their preparations that became hushed as I passed coupled with the way that visual cues seemed to compound my sense of uncertainty and loss left me with a knot in my stomach and a feeling of being set apart from the world. Now, althoug it has remained a ‘celebration’ I tend to avoid, the intensity of emotion is back in a way it hasn’t been for so so many years.

Partly I listen to the other girls in my NCT group (my only child-rearing peers) talk about the joys of sharing motherhood with their own mothers and their excitement of having a first mothers day of their own and I feel completely left out.
But more I can barely see myself as a mother.

Technically it seems so ludicrous – how can someone who has carried a child inside of them for months then squeezed it out one of the most sensitive parts of their body and then has nourished and comforted it at all hours of night and day not feel like that child’s mother?

I dont feel like I conform to the expectations of what being a mother is supposed to be and so I’m not a real mother. I don’t feel like my life and priorities suddenly shifted profoundly and I don’t feel like I got new insights or made new connections with others.
When I talked it through with my therapist – yes I’ve been doing weekly CBT (ish) sessions since my little one was about 2 weeks old – we decided that one of my key issues is that I feel that I am going to be judged by everyone else because it seems like there is a stack of rules which I didn’t get, especially for motherhood. And that is probably true. Seeing it that way is comforting but it doesn’t make the ache go away.

Springtime (for Hitler?)

There is something about this time of year that I struggle with.

I love that the world is erupting into blossom, our veg patch is taking shape and small creatures of all varieties are being born (including a brand new ‘monkey’ born to some very good friends who will be suffering the 3 of us as godparents).
I love that W & I have our legal anniversary at this time of year.
I love that this is a time of beginnings and hope.

But its hard.
Its hard in part because the anniversary of mum’s death is coming up (17 years this time around) and its hard in part because the annual beer festival in our area consumes so much of my time and energy.
Its hard because its a time of beginnings and hope for so many people – after the cold, dark, wet of winter I watch people who hadn’t noticed their moods dipping begin to lift and shine, I watch their projects become invigorated and their activity levels rise and I know that isn’t me. Don’t get me wrong the dank, drear days of winter grind heavy for me too but unlike 75% of the population the lift that springtime brings seems to somehow emphasise that my depression is here to stay. It is like the way that the 1st lift of anti-depressants gives some people the energy for suicide that they had been lacking only on a broader scale, and frankly it makes me miserable as hell.

This year I get to be extra mopey about it though. This year real life is having a bit of a dig just to check I’m paying attention. W’s mum has been ill for a long time but its getting very bad and she needs to go and look after her for a bit. We need to sort proper full-time care and benefits and stabilise her condition as much as possible. I have known this was coming for a while and I think we are prepared for the financial implications (though it might put back my hopes to get pregnant in the next year) but I can’t say I’m not cross that ‘fate’ has let it fall over our anniversary, mum’s anniversary and my shoulder op date – quite frankly I expect to win the lottery as compensation.

So if I post over the next month expect whinges about the UK benefits system, my father-in-law and health-care professionals in NI and gushing compliments to my wife’s strength, commitment, care and honesty and to B’s patience and support.

 

Samhain

This pagan threshold of the living and the dead is my marker of a New Year begun.
It is also the date that marks the very first vows my wife and I exchanged.  The words of our handfasting were for a year and a day to give ourselves time to reconsider – but I knew as clearly then (11 years ago) as I do now that they are for the remainder of our lives.
I don’t earn as much money as I should, I don’t keep the house as clean and tidy as I could, I recklessly fell in love with someone else, I often cry for no good reason, regularly eat all the cheese and rarely cook but still she loves me.
She spends on fripperies for others and skimps on her own needs, is always losing something about the house, is hopelessly forgiving of her demanding family, has dreadful PMT and steals my chocolate but still I love her.

And so I say again:
I promise to take you as my best friend, and as my lover; to be yours and to keep you in my heart and soul through whatever we may yet live through; to support you, and to protect you – since we are one. I promise to learn to have faith in myself and to not falter in my trust of you and I promise to listen, and to give, so that together we can be strong. Lastly, I vow to live every day in consciousness of this gift and to remember and thank-you for our love.
And 
everyday I choose you, choose to spend the rest of my life with you. I take you as my wife, my friend and my lover, through the bad times and the good- through every twist of our lives. I promise you my respect and my trust, I promise to share my hopes and my dreams and to offer you my strength and my care.

Darling wife, you have ridden with me through the storms of our depressions and put aside your fear to live with my polyamory and I feel so privileged and so humbled by your love – tell me how to show you my joy and trust in you, how to demonstrate my love and trust in you. Together we are stronger than any storms, together we can face the unknown and build our dreams, even if we have to leap into the unknown. I will always be yours. Ta ghra agam duit my wolf

Outside the sanctuary I would pray for her, and to the last I shall continue to seek her.
From her blossoming to the ripening of her grape my heart has taken its delight in her. My foot has pursued a straight path, I have sought her ever since my youth.
By bowing my ear a little, I have received her, and have found much instruction.
Thanks to her I have advanced; glory be to Him who has given me wisdom!
For I was determined to put her into practice, have earnestly pursued the good, and shall not be put to shame.
My soul has fought to possess her, I have been scrupulous in keeping the Law; I have stretched out my hands to heaven and bewailed how little I knew of her;
I have directed my soul towards her, and in purity I have found her; having my heart fixed on her from the outset, I shall never be deserted;
my very core having yearned to discover her, I have now acquired a good possession.

What do you Want?

I read a very perceptive blog post recently in which the author commented:
“Wanting something, getting my hopes up, expressing a preference, letting desire creep in–that makes me vulnerable. To deprivation, to loss, to mockery, to pain. Not wanting feels safe. Ultimately, though, all it gets me is preemptive deprivation. There’s a lot of emptiness in not wanting.”

It would be fair to say that I am not very good about wanting stuff for precisely the reasons outlined above and because there is a little bit of my depressive brain that tells me that I do not deserve to want. I have not trained myself into the habit of creating a series of goals from the mundane to the fantastical and I am even more terrified of asking for things. In general I have got away with faking these things for most of my life – pick something that sounds a bit like what everyone else wants and amble towards it without commitment and/or work your life around aiming for the things that those nearest and dearest to you want.

It all falls apart somewhat when the expectations of normal life fall away (in my case through lifestyle and relationship choices) and those nearest and dearest to you are even worse than you are at picking things that they want.
B is actually a little more open about what he desires unless his mood has dipped significantly but whilst he does talk about dreams he is a little more conservative and often unclear about his plans. On the other hand, my dearly beloved wife, W, couldn’t admit to herself wanting even so much as a steak dinner for fear of imploding (and believe me she nearly always wants a steak dinner). Wanting is anathema to her being; it involves a consideration of the self (where only others are acceptable), it suggests a striving against the status quo (which might be non-catholic), it potentially involves conflict with those she has been taught to defer to such as her parents and the social order. In short getting her to admit to wanting to be my wife was a miracle & wanting  a lifestyle or even a holiday is beyond impossible.
I believe there are secret fantasies lurking there in her sub-conscious surrounding grandchildren and cake and deer-stalking but I can’t begin to coax something out of her that I can use to create a life-plan and this means I have to try and work on my own desires.

And what do I want?
A family, a little small-holding and a steady source of income.
I want my family to be happy and I want to help make it that way

Turning 30

I pretty much like getting older.
Its kind of comforting, freeing, hopeful and exciting but milestones are pretty scary.

When I was about 15 I had a list of things to achieve before I was 21 (which gradually became 30) – at 15 the list had things like have sex with a man, have sex with a woman, get a degree, take certain drugs, own my own throwing knives, travel to every continent, skydive etc… I did a lot of those things but there were always more experiences and more targets to reach.
I want to tell you that I am proud of what I have done with my life and sometimes I am.. my relationships, my marriage, my doctorate. – all not inconsiderable and all pale gently beside actually living day-to-day
I really am consistently amazed by those strange people who get up every morning like its no big deal – getting out of bed like it doesn’t hurt, like you don’t want to curl up and cry. How do people do jobs and housework without collapsing? What is with leaving the house *every* day?
Nothing makes you feel like a failure like looking at the careers and families of your peers… Knowing the reasons that I don’t have a full-time permanent job and 3 kids (depression, anxiety, chronic pain, relationship choices & financial planning a.k.a. laziness,  cowardliness, deviance & lack of ambition) doesn’t make me feel less like I should be coping better.

Every time I hit a “life event” I start to miss my mother. Its a silly thing, on the basis I no longer have any idea about how she would react to my life now, how she’d feel about modern life like the internet and mobile phones, I can’t imagine what the arguments of my teenage life would have been like, or the discussions about my partners, what her opinions on my wedding might have been or her recommendations about my career. I can’t imagine what my relationship with her would be like and I have no understanding of other people’s relationships with their mothers at all. It seems almost ridiculous to guess and even more daft to still crave her approval and yet I still get blindsided by her loss at inopportune moments.

I guess the point is, if I ever thought I would get to 30 this isn’t what I expected. I am kinda disheartened by the whole process in that I am not all grown-up and barrelling along with my glorious life. In fact I kinda don’t know what next…

  • I did the doctorate (which I might add in no way makes up for secondary school & undergrad, sorry) but don’t want to be a lecturer – I think in terms of continuing research its got to be publications
  • I found my special someone… and someone… – the next obvious step must be kids which I think I (we?) want but what about the: money, organising, prejudice, fear.
  • I have *a* job – I don’t have a real income generator, or even a full time position and I really want to feel like I am contributing financially – next step is erm decide what I can actually do? Could I run a pub? Work in a museum? Even actually manage 9-5?

I don’t feel old, I feel young. But I am jaded, bitter and scared and I only see an economy and a political system that doesn’t want me.
So what now?

Another Year

Yesterday marked 5 years with B.
(Happy Anniversary my Love)

Soon it will be 12 years since I left home for university and a little later in the year 11 since I made my commitment to W.
It seems almost unimaginable how much my life has developed and changed in those 5 years and in the 7 before that.

A civil-partnership, a house, a doctorate. 2 strong, committed and positive relationships.
What did I do right?

Lucky Me.

 

Teaching

My mother was a teacher, my step-mother was a teacher, my aunt was a teacher.. my sister has wanted to be a teacher since she was 4 years old.

I didn’t want to be a teacher as a kid and as I watched my sister battle through her teacher-training it became easier to articulate why the family trend was never going to work for me. – Despite the assumption that a classics degree destines one to teaching and that if your PhD is not a pathway to academia then you must also want to teach, I still don’t want to go down that route.
It wasn’t just that I never had the vocation (though I don’t) and it wasn’t just that it struck me as too much work for too little reward (it is) but there has always been something about teaching as a career that seemed very alien to me. There seems so little about ‘teaching’ that has anything to do with knowledge and the power of information, the skills of interpretation and exploration and the strength of education for changing the world, not because teachers are unskilled or uninterested but simply because of the system and I think that would sap all of my strength and passion for my subject(s).
I have expecially watched my sister’s disappointment that being a maths teacher didn’t fuel her love for mathematics.
In recent years having watched the ever increasing administrative hurdles friends and family have faced in their efforts to impart knowledge and the baffling attitudes of so many young people to that knowledge I have become more confident that I don’t have the patience. I had once thought that I would be ok with teaching adults who wanted to know more about my subject but now I know that I am not passionate enough to deal with all of the hurdles that one faces just to do that.

But even more than that the idea of being a teacher fills me with fear. Ever since I was a child I have been afraid of failing. And there is something about the vulnerability of children that makes it feel like my failure would be especially awful. But its not just that my failure might hurt a child or more likely disadvantage them for the rest of their lives its that it especially makes me a “bad” person. It is easier to refuse to interact with children than to let them down & it is easier to never try to impart knowledge than to acknowledge that you are bad at it, that you don’t know if you can do any good.
As a woman there is a lot of social pressure to ‘like’ children, to instantly attempt emotional attachment to them and to be good at it – and if you don’t manage that you are expected to disavow all contact/interest in kids and get a career instead. When certain careers in the family they are either all-consuming or out of the question – in my experience teaching can be one of those, if you grow up with it you either get involved or run away as soon as you can – you learn the lingo and the tricks and whether or not you can fake it. [This is not unique to teaching – it happens with the forces as well]. Like with being uncomfortable around other people’s children generally, once I had expressed doubts about teaching I realised that the expectation for a vocational career (and I think especially for women) is that you will be all-or-nothing. I wasn’t good enough, confident enough, for all so I knew it was nothing..

Its not a decision I regret; but its hard to admit that I made it not because I don’t like children, or because the admin is soul-crushing but because I was afraid that I wasn’t passionate enough and afraid of failing.

On Angelina Jolie & Breast Cancer

Like Ms Jolie my mother died of cancer (technically a secondary cancer that spread from the original breast cancer). She was a few days shy of her 46th birthday when she died after 4 or 5 years of fighting the illness.
I know that because of this statistically my chances of contracting cancer are approximately double that of the rest of the population but I have never been tested for the faulty gene that Ms Jolie carries. Partly, this is because I’m neither very old nor a mother and partly its because my mother is the only member of my family to have had such an early onset cancer.
Her elder sister has fairly recently been diagnosed with breast cancer much later in life [this probably means that despite the location it was an entirely different type of cancer] and my Father’s aunt also has cancer but of a different type.

Nonetheless, I have been thinking about what a genetic risk of cancer means for me and what I might do about it. After my step-mother was also recently diagnosed with breast cancer and with my 30th birthday fast approaching my father has recently asked me to talk to my Doctor about screening. It seems a big step to consider what options the NHS might have for me with regard to earlier and more frequent tests (not normally offered to lower risk younger women) and an even bigger step to consider both genetic testing and a mastectomy. Yet, I want to be responsible and to think about the impact of my health on the people I care about – if I could prevent my loved ones watching me go through debilitating treatments and potentially dying 20 odd years before my time should I do it..?
My immediate answer must be yes. I wouldn’t wish my childhood experiences of cancer on anyone. But..
(You knew there was a but right?)

I’m not quite 30 and I don’t have children. At this stage in my life the idea of having children and possibly breast-feeding them is still more important than a statistical chance. I don’t think my breasts are the arbiter of my femininity or that I am less me without them (though I imagine it would be a shock to the system) and I don’t think that breast-feeding is a sign of true motherhood but I do think that personally I’d rather try for kids before messing with the status quo. Furthermore, I’m not ready to deal with the potential hormonal and emotional repercussions of such testing and surgery whilst kids are still a possibility. If (like Jolie) I already had children perhaps I would be more concerned with their future and how much time I could offer them but right now I am well aware that the knowledge of genetic issues combined with the physical effects of mastectomy might be enough to stop me from ever having children and I don’t want that to be the reason for our choice.
If I have a mastectomy I want it to be after we have children – and if I test positive for the gene, removal of the ovaries is also a consideration – but after kids.
Maybe that is selfish. Maybe its naive.  But the fear of not being enough of a mother because I don’t have one to guide me can’t be enough of a reason to cut out a part of the mother I want to be. I would – will – actively protect my family through surgery if necessary but I can’t give up on making the family stronger because I am afraid of statistics.