I’ve always wondered about the formation of friendships – how they come about, why we make friends with certain people, and where gender comes in to it. Do we naturally gravitate towards same-sex friendships in childhood and adulthood? Or do we take people at face value for who they are as individuals and what we have in common, regardless of gender? Continue reading Litte boy friendships: an observation not an informed comment
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?
Dear Senator White
I’ve sat on writing this letter for a week since I first read about your “Parental Leave Bill 2013” because I needed to chew it over.
Well, that’s not necessarily true.
As soon as I read this article on Journal.ie, I immediately tweeted
But then I thought I’d let it sit with me and evaluate its merits, after all I am 100% supportive of paid paternity leave for the benefit of families and Irish society as a whole.
Here’s the thing though. Your press release managed to successfully talk me out of supporting your bill.
This is what did it for me:
“The greatest challenge facing the country is to create employment to offer hope and a potential living to the 300,000 unemployed and the young people in our schools and colleges. The only way we can create jobs is to encourage new enterprise”
followed swiftly by:
“The biggest untapped source of enterprise is 50% of the population which are Irish Women who face multiple barriers in becoming entrepreneurs and developing business”
and then this corker, which to be honest, really pushed me over the edge:
“This flexibility in the maternal leave scheme would allow women entrepreneurs to devote more time to their enterprises.”
Are we noticing a theme here, Senator White? Jobs, enterprise, business, entrepreneurship. I thought we were talking about maternity leave – the time a mother takes out of the workforce to give birth to and nurture her tiny newborn. But reading your comments, I actually realise we’re talking about “the economy“.
Can we get real about your bill here for a minute please? Becoming a mother – be it for the first or tenth time – is a physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually challenging time. It is exhausting and all-consuming. Most new mothers may find that it takes months – not weeks – to adapt to their new role and I’m fairly willing to bet that unless they’re a participant in The Apprentice, getting all entrepreneurial and starting a business is probably the last thing on their mind. There’s two exceptions to this – 1. the woman who already runs her own business and you can be well sure she’s not taking 26 weeks maternity leave in the first place and 2. the woman who realises that, for her, life isn’t all about working for someone else Monday to Friday, 9-5 (or 6 or 7) once her baby comes along and she looks for a new working solution that will keep her at home with her family. The latter lady most likely only swings into action with this when the end of her maternity leave is fast approaching and the idea of having to go back into the workforce is a frightening and unappealing prospect.
You say women face multiple barriers to coming entrepreneurs. You’re right, they absolutely do, but one of them is not because their pesky maternity leave is just too long and getting in their way. Could I ask you to point out to me the women who are celebrating your proposal and shouting from the rooftops
“well thank God for Senator White. Finally I’ll have a bit of flexibility with my maternity leave so I can devote more time to getting back to work.”
If we’re all so desperate to get started on setting up a business, why do so many women lie about their due date so that they can work as late as possible into their pregnancy to secure those precious extra weeks with their baby at the other end? Why do so many families scrimp and save so that new mothers can take as much of their unpaid leave as they can possibly afford once their maternity leave ends?
Although I admire your efforts, your bill will actually impact negatively on new mothers and babies. What mother in the country is going to deny her partner the opportunity to take some paid paternity leave when their little one arrives if it’s something he really wants to do? How could we? After spending decades calling for paid paternity leave for our partners, how could we turn around now and say
“oh no sorry, you can’t have any of mine!”?
Women will be forced to cut their maternity leave short to accommodate their partners equal right to spend time at home with their child.
What impact do you think this is going to have on our already paltry breastfeeding rates? Once your bill is in, the pressure to wean babies to formula will be even stronger than it is now and many mothers will feel obliged to give up breastfeeding before they return to work even if they’d prefer not to. Breastfeeding support in this country is so bad at the moment that most women don’t know how to access the expertise to help them keep breastfeeding and return to work.
You call your bill “innovative” but you know, really it’s just sneaky. You’ve dressed it up as a modern, progressive, egalitarian proposal when it’s really robbing Peter to pay Paul and the State won’t have to invest a penny.
Here’s something really innovative. Why not take the brave step of suggesting that paid parental leave is extended to 12 months – or if we’re paying heed to the extensive, international research – 18 months and insist that fathers must take a minimum of three months of that? Our Scandanavian cousins have had huge success with this model. Look at Iceland, paternity leave is now a normalised part of society.
“But we couldn’t possibly afford it!”,
they’ll cry. That’s what they said when the European Union insisted we lift the marriage ban in the 70s. That’s what they said when the concept of maternity leave was introduced in the first place. Yet look at us now. All thanks to the outside influence of our European counterparts.
12 – 18 months of paid parental leave will mean children under the age of one will be nurtured by their primary caregiver in their own home, something that research has proven time and again is best for babies. It will mean that babies are more likely to be breastfed for longer. Just read this report from UNICEF UK to get even the slightest inkling of how much the Government would save on a reduced health bill if our breastfeeding rates increased just marginally. It would mean that society would accept that fathers have a place in the home caring for their children. If they all have to take time off work, then of course it’s the most normal thing in the work. If mothers have happy, healthy babies and they’re not worrying, worrying, worrying, I’d say the chances of them turning their head to setting up that new business are suddenly all the more realistic.
Senator White, please, please, can I ask you to take the summer months, give your bill some serious thought and change it before the Autumn session begins. Change it for the better. Do something good for Ireland’s babies, for its mammies and its daddies, for society and the economy as a whole. Take the long view. Look to the future and see the consequences of your suggestion and then mine.
Don’t rob us of our precious maternity leave to win brownie points in the name of equality.
You’re going in the wrong direction.
Mind the Baby
Mother of 1, Full time employee and budding entrepreneur.
I am sitting here on the couch cuddling a feverish little boy in a deep, healing sleep. He sleeps soundly in the knowledge that he’s wrapped in the arms of his mama, cocooned in her boundless endless love. There is nowhere else I want to be. There’s somewhere else I should be though.
An hour and twenty five minutes after arriving at my desk – already seventeen minutes late – I had to stand up and leave to tend to my little boy who couldn’t stay in crèche with a rocketing temperature. No one minded and as usual they were more than understanding and downright supportive.
These are the realities of working when you’ve a small child. The work will still be here when you get back. He needs you.”
Others aren’t so lucky to have such an understanding employer or a flexible working arrangement. But every time this happens, I feel a little sad. Not because I have to go home and look after my son – I will ALWAYS choose this first. And not because I’m missing work or fear that I might be creating a bad impression. It’s because there’s no other option. There’s no one else who can help us out.
I live in Dublin, my family come from Dublin, my husband’s family come from Dublin and with the exception of my sister, everyone in our families lives here. They all dote on Pip and lament how little they get to see him. We also have plenty of friends in the city. We are not without people to reach out to, unlike many people who live in another part of the country or the world from their family and friends. There’s one massive problem though.
Everyone works. Everyone.*
Most of them work a lot. So people can lament away about how little they get to see Pip but the reality is, that’s on their terms. I’m not complaining about this. I’m just stating the facts. This is the world that we live in and I don’t see it changing anytime soon. We might as well be living in another part of the country for all the difference it makes. Don’t get me wrong, our families are hugely supportive and jump at the chance to help us out when they can. Unfortunately work commitments mean that they can’t help at short notice, plans have to be made sometimes several weeks in advance or we’re looking at weekends. But there’s more people than weekends to go around and you know, sometimes I want to selfishly keep my little man all to myself.
Unless things change drastically, I will be working for the foreseeable future, where the foreseeable future extends to my likely retirement in my 70s, the retirement age by the time our generation gets there. My husband and all our peers will probably be the same. Even Pip’s grandparents are all working manically, late into their sixties, with no sign of slowing up and I believe the day they stop is the day that they can’t work any more and probably won’t be able to look after high energy and active children without support themselves.
I have absolutely no expectation or wish for them to abandon their career and life goals to mind my child. That would be selfish and arrogant – and I’m not looking for a babysitter. But echoing around my head I hear the phrase
it takes a village to raise a child”
and I realise society is getting further and further away from this wonderful, holistic ideology of bringing children up in a world rich with the influence and love of many adults in their extended family and beyond on a daily basis. We’re losing that sense of family that really used to be very strong in Ireland where sisters, grandmothers, aunts, cousins and neighbours would all row in to help with the care of the family’s children. Of course, that was a very different Ireland with many dark and unspeakable attributes also and things needed to change, but maybe we should have kept hold of some of the good stuff.
We’ve inadvertently set ourselves up in a situation where the individual is king, capitalism and meritocracy rule and community is slowly eroding. We’ve lost that wisdom of shared childrearing that was passed down through generations and I mourn it now. Which is a strange thing to say because I’m mourning something I’ve never experienced. The girl and idealistic young woman in me would scoff at this concept and call it medieval. If you suggested to her that maybe not everyone should be working or at least not working full time and that the concept of mothering and child rearing was a life pursuit and passion itself, she’d have walked away from you. She was a naive fool though. She also grew up without witnessing it or even knowing you were allowed to think like that. With a lot more life experience, I feel very differently now and I’m sorry I didn’t have this perspective before.
These days I dream of a world where I can pursue my own career goals (whatever they may be…) without the constraints of an office and someone else’s timetable, the demands of 40+ hours a week and the pressure to financially provide. Where my primary energy and time is spent raising my children and my secondary energy is humming with passion for my work. Where grandparents drop by or take the kids off in a casual, spur of the moment way or we all hang out together doing something spontaneous. Where the neighbours can pop in for a cuppa during the day and maybe leave their kids for an hour or two and vice versa.** Where my brothers and sisters pop over for an impromptu dinner and chats, without the panic of trying to find the time to buy groceries or realising there’s nothing in the fridge or it turning into an “event” to plan and overspend. Where my son has proper, strong, meaningful relationships with his aunts, his uncles, his grandparents and our friends that are completely independent of me and self-sustaining.
All of this takes time though and no one has time.
*I’m aware that my family and friends are extremely lucky to be in employment at the moment when times are so tough. What I’m talking about here is over a longer period of time and where people have made choices that see their work/life balance weighing heavily in favour of work.
**I know many families across Ireland have this experience but honestly I think as time passes, it’s happening less and less, particularly for people living in cities