We’ve all heard that one, right? Mostly in relation to sport or exams, but it applies to so many things in our lives – including many aspects of parenting. Equally though, there are parts of parenting – and specifically of mothering – that sometimes we think we have to prepare for, and literally beat ourselves up about, that are just a waste of our energy and usually our tears. Continue reading Sometimes we need to prepare not to prepare
I’m not going to beat around the bush with this one, I’m just going to tell it as I see it. Other mammies reading this, please don’t take offense. I’m talking about me and only me here…
When I went back to work after maternity leave – 16 long months ago now – I thought I was going to fuck up my kid.
I was going back full time and he was going to creche. He was 11 months old and very, very attached to me.
Everything worthwhile that I had read about parenting said that children under two were better off in the full time care of their mothers or a primary care giver. They also said that a shared childcare option with children of the same age was the least desirable. That made me feel pretty crappy. But theory is all well and good when reality is beating your door down with a ball wrecker. Anecdotally, I noticed that daughters of friends seemed to adjust better to childcare than their sons. The little boys found it much harder to settle. As did we.
I wondered if my working full time was going to affect his development and our relationship. I wondered if I was interfering with the person he was meant to be by not meeting his needs on a full time basis. We had bouts of separation anxiety where I couldn’t be out of his sight for a minute or he’d want to be up in my arms all the time. And the little voice said “this wouldn’t be happening if you were at home full time…”
Then during the summer the three of us had three weeks off together and I remember wondering – stupidly – “is it a good idea to take such a long holiday? Will it make it harder for him to settle back into creche?”. A fleeting thought and a stupid, stupid, stupid one. This is what the constant gnawing of mammy guilt does to you. Essentially, my eejit brain was suggesting that I spend less time with my son so that when I’m not around anyway he won’t feel so bad. WTF? That sounds like some kind of Gina Ford shit to me.
Instead, two whole new revelations were uncovered. The three weeks off together as a family was just brilliant but even though Pip had access to me literally 24/7, he still wanted me all of the time. Only I could carry him around. I had a companion for every trip to the loo. Many suggestions from Daddy were answered with “no, mammy do it”. So in many ways, this was a relief because it was obvious to me that even if I was at home full time, he would be just as demanding of my time, my attention and my touch as he is anyway.
That helped to alleviate the mammy guilt. I have no issue at all with my son wanting to be with me all the time, in fact I cherish it. It gives me comfort to know now that it’s not specifically because I work and he goes to creche. It is just the type of person that he is.
The second revelation was that my concerns about our “too long holiday” were completely unfounded. He toddled into creche the following Monday we were back with a cheerful wave and a spring in his step. Nobody saw that coming, let me tell you!
To come full circle, a couple of weeks ago Mr Mind the Baby was away for work over a weekend and it was just myself and Pip together. We had a really great weekend. There was nothing particularly special about it but it just felt like a lovely old time. Monday rolled around, and he was like a sticking plaster come creche drop off. Ah hello mammy guilt, I wondered where you’d been hiding.
I think there is no win to this feeling of guilt for me. There is no “right” solution, just different decisions. I can’t guarantee that if I was at home full time with the full concentration of a toddler down on top of me that I wouldn’t be resentful, no matter how much I think some days I’d love to be a stay at home mother. I do know without a doubt that I’d need a “something” just for myself, for a couple of hours at least everyday.
I think I’ll probably struggle with the greener grass of motherhood on some level for the rest of my life.
Am I alone?
When the Irish Parenting Bloggers Group organised a blog march last October to object to Government cuts to children’s allowance, I brought a controversial proposal to the table. Instead of cutting a universal payment to all children which would affect every family, I suggested that a tax on maternity benefit would generate some of the savings that needed to made and would create an equity amongst working mothers on maternity leave, where some women had previously been benefiting from a tax anomly. Everyone would keep their children’s allowance and no one would earn more on maternity leave than when they were at work. You can read the original post here.
Children’s allowance got cut anyway.
I like to think that maybe one of the powers-that-be must have been reading this blog because at the same time they announced the children’s allowance cut, they also announced the tax on maternity benefit. From July of this year, maternity benefit will be treated as taxable income and will be deducted at whatever tax rate a recipient is currently on.
There has been a lot of criticism in the media in recent days about the introduction of this tax. I must admit, a small part of me is sorry that the tax has been introduced because if I had another baby it would affect me directly and I would have less money than I had on my last maternity leave and I would have to look at my options in terms of the amount of time I could take off.
But I have to say, I stick resolutely by my proposal to tax maternity benefit. No matter how you twist it, the old system benefited some women but not all. In reality, it was the most vulnerable women who needed it most who didn’t benefit from the tax loophole – the low wage earning mothers and the stay at home mothers, who don’t even have maternity benefit in the first place. It’s the same principle that applies to Ireland’s children: they are all equal and deserve the same children’s allowance. All mothers should be equal.
Climbing down off my high horse, the consequences of taxing maternity benefit do have a dark side with very real, negative societal impacts. The truth is women who benefited from the tax break used to use it to finance their unpaid leave so that they could stay at home with their babies for as long as possible.
Of course they did.
Many of us do everything in our power to stay at home with our children at this precious time in their lives.
From July, a whole swathe of new mothers will be cutting short their time at home due to financial commitments and it’s very, very sad. Heartbreaking for mothers, for their babies and for society who thinks children are better off in paid childcare than being nurtured by their parents.
I’m sure you’ve observed that we’re still paying the same rate of PRSI though, even though we’ll be receiving less. Given that the average age of mothers giving birth in Ireland is now 32, these women have been in the workforce a long time prior to their pregnancy and have made significant PRSI contributions, which they will continue to make if they return to paid employment.
Given Ireland’s recent renegotiated debt deal, there’s certainly a question mark over how important the saving on maternity benefit is. So here’s my new proposal:
Take the €40 million annual saving that the Government will make by taxing maternity benefit, divide it by the amount of women on maternity leave each year and calculate how many additional weeks of maternity benefit this would pay for. Then spread it evenly between all recipients.
Doing a rough calculation on CSO figures from last year, I estimate that this would give each woman on maternity leave an extra 8 paid weeks. That would be approximately 34 weeks of maternity benefit per pregnancy.
Imagine the positive impact that this would have on families and on society as a whole.
We’ve taken away the inequity in the maternity benefit system, painful as it may be. Now let’s turn the negatives of this correction into something that would be of exponential benefit to all working mothers and by default their families.
Powers-that-be, if you’re still listening, it’s time to do something good.
It’s a milestone week in our house this week. The creche have decided that the baby is a baby no longer so he has started the five day process of graduating to the tweenies room. When my husband told me last week about the big move I immediately panicked.
But he’s not ready.
They’ll eat him alive in there!
We’ll be back to square one with the morning tears and general freak outs.
But when I saw him through the baby room window running in circles around the little ones sitting but not moving and giving away kisses to his minders as they held sleeping babies in their arms, I knew it was time. And I was delighted that he was being cared for by lovely, experienced and empathetic women who correctly identified the sensitive little soul that is my first born and hung on to him for longer than they normally would until they knew he was emotionally ready for the big leagues.
I was doubly reassured when he arrived home yesterday with a little pack containing a letter of confirmation about the move, the new handbook for the tweenies room and a development observation sheet that his main minder in the baby room had prepared. As I flicked through it – it was five pages long – I felt a huge rush of warmth and love for this woman who wrote the most detailed and careful observations of my son’s development: how he loves to play hide and seek and peekaboo by hiding behind chairs; how he can climb up and down stairs the safe way (I did NOT know he could climb down, the monkey); how he loves jigsaws (we have no jigsaws! They’re on my to do list for the weekend); how he can scribble at the easel with a paintbrush (seriously, the boy’s a genius); how he loves playing musical instruments and chats to everyone in the room; that he refuses to wear shoes and loves to pull off his socks; that can use a spoon but isn’t quite there in making sure the food is still on it before it gets to his mouth. Bless!
It is such a relief to me that I know he’s in such good hands. When I was going back to work I really struggled with whether I was doing the right thing for him and I flip flop regularly between knowing that the creche is a great experience for him where he getting all kinds of good stimulation and social interaction and knowing that he would be better off if his mama was taking care of him at home. But then sometimes I think if it was just the two of us all day he would miss out on mixing with the other children and adults and he wouldn’t have the range of experience and activity that he gets in childcare. I also wonder if my natural inclination to get stuck in trying moments – like a nap that just won’t happen – and the self-torture and analysis I put myself through around something that doesn’t need that level of philosophical evaluation would have a negative effect on him (What am I doing wrong here that this isn’t working? Why won’t he take a nap when he’s clearly exhausted? How can I still be trying to figure this out…ad nauseum). Then I flip completely the other way: he wouldn’t have to go through this separation anxiety if I was at home with him. Clearly, he needs me and I’m doing him damage by putting him in childcare…
Of course all of this flipping and flopping is completely theoretical and moot because there really is no choice to be made here between one option or the other. My bank manager requires that I continue to contribute to the household finances, end of. In all honesty, the flip flopping thoughts are just fleeting but of course that doesn’t mean they don’t hurt like hell when I’m doubting myself!
I think coping with the separation anxiety has really been the hardest aspect of going back to work. Being in work? – no bother at all, at all. A breeze in fact. But the saying goodbye each day hasn’t been nice. It really did take a long time for him to settle into creche, to actually toddle in, humming to himself, to reach whatever toy had just caught his eye. There were several weeks at the beginning where I couldn’t be out of his sight without hysterics and I’ve already accepted that it’s unlikely I’ll be able to sit on a loo without a small boy on my knee for quite some time. The separation anxiety has made a return since the breastfeeding stopped but it’s different this time, thank God. Yes, I still have a toilet companion but instead of the tears and refusing to leave my arms, he is coming to me for many many cuddles. He’ll be playing away and then suddenly remember he’ll need a hug and come flying over to climb into my arms for a quick squeeze or a cheek press. He’s also really gotten into making sure there’s skin on skin touch between us. He’ll wrap his arms right around my waist and get in under my t-shirt to stroke my back or he’ll lightly pat my chest. He also likes to get a toy or a book and come over and sit on my knee and then play away. I feel he’s reaching out to make a physical connection to replace the intimacy of breastfeeding and I’m only too delighted to facilitate extra cuddling.
So I’m really proud of him that he’s ready to move up. Apparently they have a kitchen corner which has kitchen units full of plastic containers and cutlery for him to play with which is music to my ears because he might get it all out of his system before he comes home to wreck my gaff.
In honour of the graduation from baby to tweenie, I’ve decided to rechristen him because he’s not Baby S any more, he’s a little boy now. Arise Baby S! For the purposes of this blog, I rechristen you Pip! 🙂