Tag Archives: vulnerability

That village for raising children in is getting further and further away…

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.

photo credit: Vít Hassan via photopin cc
photo credit: Vít Hassan via photopin cc

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

The sisterhood of motherhood

It begins before you even know it. You know you’re pregnant but no one else does. But then you think you catch a knowing look from a woman on the corridor at work or one of your female colleagues almost imperceptively glances at your belly mid-conversation and you wonder fleetingly, do they know? No, sure how could they?

The sisterhood of motherhood www.mindthebaby.ie Mind The Baby blog Then when the time is right, you break the news of your impending arrival and to a chorus of hand clapping and cries of “I knew it“, you find that you have suddenly become a member of the most ancient and secret society in the world: the sisterhood of motherhood. It’s a lovely, warm, supportive, open and welcoming place, the sisterhood, but its members only grant you access once you have crossed the threshold into pregnancy. There are women I have worked with for years who completely changed our relationship once they found out I was pregnant. Conversations took on a new tone; stories were exchanged, tips offered, sympathetic ears, eyes, faces came forth and new friendships were formed purely and solely on the basis of extending and sharing experiences of pregnancy, birth and motherhood. I was delighted actually. My working relationships improved nearly overnight, as if I had learned a secret handshake which opened up a network of membership privileges and insider knowledge.

As my pregnancy continued and my bump was obvious to everyone, I began to notice the sisterhood was not exclusive to my mothering work colleagues. In fact neighbours who I’d never exchanged a word with began to stop for a chat as they passed by the front garden and some even called to the door to ask after me and the approaching big day and to offer their help and their stories. Chance meetings with acquaintences would descend into excited, hushed whispers and the sharing of delightful, intimate tales. When Baby S arrived, this loveliness continued.

Mothers are so nice to other mothers.* It’s like an instant “knowingness” and recognition, a universal empathy that doesn’t need to be verbalised. Mothers know what it is to be a mother and regardless of different philosophies or opinions on the A-Z of childrearing, every mother knows what it feels like to be a mother, the very essence of it, at whatever stage of the journey you may be on. It’s almost cellular.

One of the beautiful things I have loved since my mothering journey began is the new friendships that I have developed. The friendships began because we became mothers at the same time but have endured and matured into strong, important relationships that have subsumed and transcended our shared mother-status. These friendships have enriched my life at a stage when I pretty much thought I had a full complement of friendships. They are unique in that we just jumped right in at the deep end, straight into the heavy stuff, no messing. I remember in some of our first meetings talking about perineal massage, incontinence, stitches, piles, cracked nipples, sex – and not a red face in the house. We talk about the profound emotional, psychological, physical and physiological changes and feelings we have experienced and are experiencing – our hopes, our fears, our worries and always the humour that follow us on this journey. It’s amazing. They have added such value to my life.

As a fully fledged member of the sisterhood of motherhood, I have found myself extending out the hand of “knowingness” and support to other women coming up behind me. I find I can’t control it actually. I see the pregnant woman and I want to reach out. I don’t mean overshare and burden with my own experience but I do feel a desire to let them know that I know. And that I’d be delighted to help with anything at all. Does that make any sense?

It’s such a wonderful secret society to be a part of. I think what would make it even better is if it wasn’t a secret society. I was blissfully unaware of it’s existence pre-pregnancy. I’m fairly sure I would have scoffed at the idea of it too and dismissed the perceived smugness of it all. Now, I can only imagine all the good it would do, if women grew up in a world where this sharing of motherhood was a wisdom we all had from birth. I think it would empower women and they could make better, more informed choices about motherhood and where it may or may not fit into their lives.

Then maybe things wouldn’t come as such a shock. And maybe women would be nicer to each other.

*You might have spotted my asterisk there. The caveat I’m including is “except online”. Sometimes some mothers can be very mean to other mothers online because they are emboldened by the anonymity of the Internet. That’s just not cool. I have no problem when people disagree with people to their face or disagree with them completely behind their backs because there’s no harm done there, but there’s no need for the cowardly anonymous attacking.

Post baby weight loss – sold a pup!

Ah pregnant with my first baby.  There I was glowing – shiny hair, great skin, the shape of regular me but with a lovely firm bump which I dressed in pretty bodycon fitted tops and dresses and skinny jeans. Delighted with myself so I was.

Before got pregnant I would have been a small size 12.  I’m a tall lass so I’d cut a slim figure in that size but I had to work at it.  Even though I ate rings around my pregnant self, I ate really healthily, conscious of my daily nutritional aims – 7 a day, heaps of calcium, plenty of iron.  My mind rarely turned to my post pregnancy body – sure why would it? – and when it did, it was with the comfort of two things: the naive and false belief that my body will just “bounce back” after my first because it’s the subsequent pregnancies that are harder (ha!); and I planned to breastfeed and breastfeeding mothers get their figures back super quick.

Sold. A. Pup.

In the early days of breastfeeding my son, along with a thirst like the Sahara, I had the appetite of a bear waking from a particularly cold long winter.  I couldn’t think sometimes I was so hungry.  Obviously the last thing on my mind at that stage was “getting my figure back”, I was only interested in keeping everyone alive!  But as the weeks turned to months, the hunger stayed.  I cut down on the ridiculous instant treats that had become a temporary staple in those initial days, like those M&S fruit trifle pots that my mother kept replenishing in our fridge, God bless her.  But I had a genuine physical need to eat more food.  Look, it had to be the breastfeeding, it couldn’t be anything else.  As I watched my fellow new mums shrink back into their own clothes, I started to feel, well a bit crap actually.  I was embarrassed by my clothes.  I felt I was too long in my maternity jeans.  I felt shabby in my tshirts and tops because everything felt flabby and loose.  I even missed my bump because it had been nice and firm compared to this pouch I felt left with.  The hardest day was when when I started a post natal Pilates class where a floor to ceiling mirror confirmed to me that the old tracky bottoms and tshirt I’d thrown on were only accentuating a body that I didn’t recognise and didn’t want.  I felt cheated.  Obviously, the miracle of breastfeeding induced weight loss was not to be for me.

Another factor that added to the crap feeling was something I’m a bit embarrassed to admit to.  As a self-confident,  card carrying feminist I’ve never been strongly influenced by the media frenzy over celebrities, fashion obsession, the body beautiful etc.  Even as a devoted reader of Sugar magazine as a little teen, I was more interested in picking up bright multicoloured nail varnish and the newest tshirt from cutting edge fashion house Miss Selfridge than aspiring be like the skinny, teeny models on the pages.  Now I am quite partial to the odd bit of celeb gossip and the flick of a fashion magazine but only as a distraction, although E! News did feature quite heavily on my television rotation when I was glued to the couch feeding the baby.  But I was tired and vulnerable and Victoria Beckham had a baby the same week as me and she was just everywhere.  I have to admit, Victoria Beckham made me feel like a failure.  It’s ridiculous!  I knew she had a make up artist, a hairdresser, a wardrobe of beautiful haute couture clothes, a chef, a personal trainer and I’m hoping a drawer full of high end shapewear.  But for the first time in my life I felt like a newspaper headline, in fact, exactly like this one.  It wasn’t nice.

I wanted to feel good about myself again.  I couldn’t cut down on my food intake because I did genuinely need it.  I upped by Pilates attendance to twice a week and I started walking the baby through his afternoon nap most days.  Things started to tighten up and the weight began to come off.  In fairness, I had a good motivation: I have one work wardrobe that I can’t afford to replace anytime soon so I’m getting into those clothes or I’m going to work naked.  I still have a bit of a winter coat that I’m aiming to lose but I’ll get there.  I just never thought it would be this hard.