School days part 1

For smallest, who has started school.

Ride the wave

Here we stand at the divide,
Lining up to receive
other influences.
Like swarms of insects
in the distance,
coming closer.

A black cloud of Mums
Wringing hands on the edge
Of a playground
Waves of memories
Flicked back through sands
Then pulled under.

Its at times like these
Our substance shows itself,
Troubles ripple against
The threat of a north east offshore,
Then caught in a riptide,
What I am is suddenly all there

My love for you laid bare,
And as the moon
Pulls against the water within,
I turn and letting go
I pray every aid I have given you
let’s you float.

Here goes!

Below is an extract from a novel I am writing. It is only a tiny extract but any feedback would be greatly appeciated.

The guy came out the back, he was all breathy and enlarged, with pale eyes and blonde spikey hair. His torso looked uncomfortable and overstated on top of tiny legs. He introduced himself to the room and she thought it was a bit like youth club when the leader comes in and introduces them self to the group and tells them the rules. Vi sat looking at him and around the room at all the phone accessories. The guy sat down and put his feet up on the desk. The owner of the shop was on his phone and when he came off, her friend, who she had come with, well he started to chat to him and they got onto pills and billy. Vi was interested now but played the opposite game, looking down as she played with the belt on her satin ravers skirt. She listened to them earnestly, running her fingers over the hole made by the hot rock which had landed on her, on the way back from united dance. She drank the conversation which was leading to when they were going to get the billy. The blonde man intercepted then just as quickly the shop was lit up with the sound of children who had been brought in by an older woman. The children were his and she soon learned that there was another one but he was waiting to get custody. He needed to show he could care for the kid though and so he was looking for a childminder. You any good with kids he said looking at Vi, I go to college she said- and she does billy. There was laughter. You are the Billy freak then are you? The blonde guy asked. They all laughed and Vi smiled at her new title. It made her feel like she was known.

They were shutting up shop and so Vi stood up and waited for whatever it was she was waiting for that would lead her to the Billy. The blonde guy said he would give her a lift. The lift it turned out was going to his flat which was right at the other end of town. Vi had never been to the other end of town before, in her mind or person. It was as if she was gradually irking herself away from her end, where things were private and tidy, to this end which was public and messy. It stretched up a hill and across roads like trails in a warren which seemed to stretch in every direction. Roads she had never heard of except in conversations between people that she listened to, who had once lived there. Till the council had moved them to another road 5 minutes walk from that one. Though it felt endless, the drive took no more than 5 minutes from the shop in his mark two BMW, his kids sitting like undersized kings in the back. She sat in the front, in a chair sunk so low she swore she felt like the third child, her size giving credentials to her growing sense of being under the age for any of this type of activity. She looked out the passenger window as he moved swiftly through the warren of roads, turning abruptly at each junction, as she focused on the flats and the houses all looking the same, the same red brick, the same tile roofs, the same squares of grass area spotted here and there, the pockets of kids hanging out on the pavements and in between housing blocks. The cars deposited on driveways, the bikes leaning up against them, the plastic toy ride along cars left upside down in the grass before tea. It felt as if they drove right to the edge of the town, the very last road, where flats lined the streets sandwiched between 1960s two up two down council houses. A water tower stood at the centre of it all cordoned off by a wire fence. Beyond this you cold glimpse fields of wheat, rows of rows of dancing corn, it looked pretty. Life beyond the road looked pretty. He pulled up to the second block on the road. A four storey high block with 8 flats. The front door was in the middle and as they walked up to it, a woman came out dragging a buggy and a bag of washing.
You alright kids, alright Dal, she said,
Alright Trace Darren replied. Yeh im alright mate. Trace grinned at Vi. Alright, her voice went up an octave and Vi smiled not finding her own alright forthcoming.
Ya all right trace said the eldest kid.
Yeh, Sweetie, you alright., Trace’s voice trailed off as she carried on walking

Apparently, everyone was alright in this road where things felt less than alright. This was it though, where it had all brought her, right here to this place.

Sarah Harding

“Here I am, a walking primrose.…” Sarah Harding in Girls Aloud’ , The Promise.

Yesterday Sarah Harding, who I will always remember as the core member of Girls Aloud, died at the age of 39 of advanced stage breast cancer.

I spent my evening trawling the internet news, watching micro-videos of her life as a celebrity and listening to Girls Aloud on Spotify. It is very sad to hear she lost her battle.

Sarah did not have children and I am not going to claim to be a huge follower of GA but I bought Greatest Hits on CD and I still rate Biology as one of the greatest pop tunes ever. However, they were one of a few bands in the noughties which formed the backdrop to middlest and eldests early years. When I hear Love Machine or No Good Advice, it reminds me of crazy dancing in the living room with the kids. Biology, of tea in the morning after drop off and Stand By Me triggers a memory of the community in which we lived.

The music just made it past the point where I would associate it with the chaos and aftermath of their father and had become established enough to avoid being linked with losing my sister.They held their own, never attaching to bad thought or feeling so I can listen to them freely though of course now, listening will be bittersweet.

I am sad. Her death is another reminder that death comes to us all it’s not selective or considerate- it just is.

May your soul rest in peace, Sarah.

Harry and Meg Part 2

The other day I bumped into an old work collegaue at the beach. We chatted, our conversation turned to work and they were surprised when I said I had taken the year off.  Intially, I explained my decision as it was – based on my desire to be with my children. Following the silence I began to pad out the reason making which fed my decision; filling in what I thought were gaps, with justifications based on the pandemic, my dissatisfaction with the education system and a need to reestablish my place within it.
This seemed to generate more response and so eased what I thought was tension but I came away annoyed with myself. Why did I do that? Was it not enough just to say it as it was – I want to be with my children.
Why did I feel the need to provide an explanation?

I considered this in light of a previous article, Motherhood and Society, discussing the importance we attach in our culture to being stay at home Mum’s. My thoughts then wandered to Meghan and Harry and the initial decision that they made to step back from Royal Life. I remember when they made the announcement and I had nodded to myself. A strong woman empowered, willing and wanting to raise her child herself, away from wider world’s expectations. A woman who is prepared to stand up for her child and how she perceived Motherhood. Admiring her choice I wrote about it and then of course I made my own choices regarding what I felt appropriate for my family’s life. I half kept an eye out for how they were getting on, interested in how it might pan out for them. 

Then came the aftermath of their decision in all it’s manifestations, the press articles, the  interview with Oprah, the book, potential show, podcast and I felt cross, as apart from anything else, in doing all of this, they  seemed to have removed themselves from their original intention.

It’s difficult to avoid emotion laid commentary on this. Social media is spilling with often vile opinion. The couple in return have offered more fuel. Reading through some of it, I do not think it is for us to discuss whether or not Meghan had a miscarriage and certainly not to  question how she grieves. Neither is it possible to know , through endless Twitter threads who is arguing with who and for what reason. The conversation, in so far as you can call it that is a collection of venemous statements regarding aspects of their life. The only hard facts seem to be are that they gave up their role, moved to the US, did an interview, released a book, are about to release another book and have discussed a tv deal. Everything else is speculative.

What stands out though is the lack of reference to the loss of the original intention. Which is a shame because,  the intention was admirable. To raise their child how they wished, away from the public eye and by themselves rather than as is traditional in the royal family, in a shared way and very much in the public domain.   It must have been tricky, especially for Harry. Harry is the person whose life has unequivocally been turned upside down.

Unfortunately, though they have not achieved   a life outside the public domain as they suggested. Instead, they have very much placed themselves in the media spotlight seeking, it seems to follow it where ever they can , no channel left untouched. What is more unfortunate,  rather than celebrating their lives with their young family they appear to want to share personal information about their past which can only be interpreted as an attack.  It could and has also been interpreted as the real reason for their decision, rather than as they suggested, to raise their children in the way that they wished to. Which is perhaps what people have reacted to, the realisation that they have been deceived.

Or have they?

Reflecting on my sudden anxiety at the beach – that I was not understood, that I was being flimsy and perhaps had gone slightly mad at giving up what was actually shaping up to be a promising career-  perhaps Meghan and Harry  reacted in the same way. They paniced at silence and then the rush of opinion and rather than sit with their decision, they padded it out.

While I believe that Harry has struggled with his family and there are some unhealthy relations and perhaps some difficult situations emerged for Harry and Meghan I just wonder about the origins of their tell all resolve. Perhaps they felt the need like I did at the beach to justify themselves and  their decision to the listening world. Perhaps they felt their original reason for giving it all up,   wasn’t enough. Perhaps we felt it wasn’t enough and in probing we prompted further defense. So they expanded their reasoning.
They didn’t need to. Their original explaination was sufficient.

Or perhaps they don’t care. Perhaps it does make them feel better. I don’t know and neither do you. The only thing I do know is that I did admire their decision but I am not so keen on the follow ups.

Smallest starts school in two days and I have waited for the follow up feeling to my decision to hit me; for the what did you do, what were you thinking voice to emerge regarding my own decision.  However I remain still and feel quietly confident that my decision was exactly what we needed as a family. Perhaps it’s time for a bit of verbal stillness and reflection for the Sussexes.

Of course I can say that now with hindsight – hindsight is a wonderful thing. Particularly when it allows you to say that you were able to judge the needs of your children correctly. It is tricky though to always think carefully  about the impact of decisions on children. In Meg and Harry’s case  theirs will live in the shadow of their attempts at self branding and the reputation that they muster. 

I do genuinely hope that when hindsight  catches up with Meghan and Harry , separately or together, that their hindsight it isn’t too hard for them to face.

Everybody hates a tourist



On this beach of sand packed
tight, smooth as marble floor,
a spa touched now by masses of
uncertain feet carrying
bags, windbreaks, trolleys, mats, inflatables.
We stare at their arrival with a title
Dressed as an edgy absolution
for what will do for now, they say.

Here they still are- closer now
running in circles on the sand of
our forever green light;
our only first choice,
looking for our space taken by
the occupants of a staycation
as weeks,leak into months
where they make the best of it.

While with a stiff upper lip
we sit back and scowl.

Soap opera

“Learning how to live takes a while life.” Seneca.

Sometimes it takes every fibre within me to get it right and then i am not so sure that I have managed it. They are so different, so many ages, so many needs under one roof.

Everyone wanting, no needing something different . A different tone of voice, a different glance a different level of enthusiasm. It’s the little things which make a difference; the nuances in behaviour which will have the biggest impact on them. The things which when they are on their own are easy. When you have to swap between them though, sometimes with only seconds in between; as you pass from one conversation to another, giving attention, affection, direction , whatever they require in that moment- these little things are exhausting.

After a day of worrying about eldest, taking middlest camping (and driving back to the campsite in the later afternoon with all the items she had forgotten) , and keeping smallest on a level, I reach for a book and manage a paragraph. EastEnders seemed the best way to zip the day up.

As I made my way to serenity the phone rang. “You will never guess what Splods!”

“What’s that Dad?”, I say , pumping the last of my enthusiasm into my response.

“You know those bloody bars of soap I ordered from Amazon?”. He is tripping over his words now.

“Yup”, I reply.

“They have arrived- six weeks late! The bloke down the road had them.”

His excitement is palpable as he then tells me how, with the replacement order , he now has or will have 32 bars of soap.

“Enough to last me till the end of July 2023!”, he states triumphantly.

I laugh out loud. Both at the fact that he has calculated this and at our enthusiasm for soap, of different varieties. The laughter seals what was, quite honestly a day where I know I existed for everyone else but I’m not quite sure where I was in it all.

New Beginnings: The Other Side

Back in July 2020 I resigned from my welfare role at a secondary school to focus on my own children. My decision was documented in my blog post New Beginnings. It initiated a lot of positive conversations, some with people I knew and some with people who I got to know. Over the year we have found ourselves in a space which was alien to us all however we have nurtured it. We have all learned new things, smallest has learned to ride his bike, has decided he no longer needs songs and nappies at night and can now write his name independently. Middlest has started college and Eldest has a new job. We have all learned to relate to each other differently so we can live together easily.

A year on we have reached the other side and smallest still keeps an eye out for the snails. He has progressed though to picking up one of the many snails that gather daily on the white painted brick steps wich lead up to our door. Rather than placing them together, he places them on the side of the house or on the tips of the ferns that shelter, an otherwise visible basement bedroom window. “They are on an adventure”, he says.

I remember working with a child once whom I would often observe in the playground at break. Just before they were due to make an important transition to a different school, I watched them make a series of journeys using play equipment to get from one side of the playground to the other. Each day I watched as they did this until finally they got across. I marvelled at the the power of the unconscious and how it allows us to work things out; in this case for the child to make sense of a time of upheaval. I also felt privileged to be observing what was happening for them. Seeing this happen with your own child is even better. Smallests snails no longer have to be together, they can go off to different places on their own. When we look for them later though, they have gone.

” I wonder where they could have gone on their adventure” I say.

”America” he says triumphantly,” they are having a fantastic time”.

My blog has been absent of posts relating to smallest recently because well, to write something new when nothing new is happening. It’s like Scrabbling around at the back of a cupboard for the scraps of what you didn’t want to write about before. Or stuff you couldn’t give a shape to.

Thinking about this post though I realize stuff has been happening, from the structure we have created this year and from this weird mix of ingredients we have been given, we have created something. And now we reach the final stretch before school. Smallest sits with Lego. He bashes down the building which has stood on the mat for a while. “I am knocking down nursery mummy and there is anew buildings over here” . “What is in that?” I say.

“Oh I don’t know yet mummy”. He stops and leans over to put a block down.

Smallest is showing me what is happening for him right now – he is preparing himself. And he’s done that through having the right space and the right person next to him, to allow him to do so.

So what did I learn this year? That I can make choices that are right for me and my family without even the slightest compromise to the well being of any of us. That I feel that what I set out to do, prepare him emotionally is a job well done. That I am glad – glad I took the time off to look after my own children. That that, is probably the understatement if the century.

To be a Mum or not to be- that’s the question…

“Flowers may bloom again but children never have the chance to be young again”. Bluey, Cbeebies.

I have read and reread parts of Sheila Heitis Motherhood. Heitis memoir details the journey of her process of deciding whether or not to become a mother. It charts her yearnings and her misgivings and leads towards the ultimate conclusion that she will not have children. I pre-conceived i would find the book tricky to navigate so was surprised when I didnt find it an uncomfortable read. Perhaps that was because i have already found my place, made my decision. I have children, three of them and i have lived both sides of the motherhood divide ; the childhood line with all its glory and despair, all the way through to the borderland where they become adults, despite always being in your minds eye your child. Reading it therefore was not a search to somehow provide myself with support for a difficult personal decision rather just curiosity about how other women perceive Mumhood.
What emerges from Heitis text is the consideration she submerges herself in. A complete commitment to making the right decision for her and her potential child. The argument grows against the background of her own self reflection rather than suggesting that the pitfalls or the difficulties she is having are solely due to how society has made her feel about being a mother. She recognises that her battles are from within- should she be free to do what she wishes or should she bequeath this to allow her child to be happy. I feel that she recognises that there is no case for working and mothering being equal, as the mother role will always out do so the work role in importance and so she bases her decision on this realisation and decides this is not a battle she wishes to have. She manages to separate herself from societal expectation.

I wondered about my own decision making process in this respect and found it to be quite weak in comparison. As a Mum , I have stayed at home to raise the children and I have worked; I have had more than ample income and more recently have raised them on the meagre offerings of unversal credit.It was never a question that i should do one or the other. With the elder two I did one and with smallest I did the other but not until the pandemic struck was it a conscous choice, grounded by personal experience, to consider if the two merge. A year after making the decision that they do not (see New Beginnings post) I have been reading articles about Women’s battles for equality in the working Mum world. What I have read has fed an internal discussion about the divide between parenting and sustaining a career. I have wondered about how current opinion manifests itself due the chosen relative needs and wants in society, as opposed to what is a consequence of absolute need.

Recent commentary has unearthed again the bitter subject of society’s appraisal of motherhood and the problems this creates for the woman. It settles in part on the impact of choosing to have a child on finances and careers. What is drawn out is the poor state of equality in this respect , exposed by Mother friendly organisations such as Pregnnat then Screwed and written about by many authors, Eva Wiseman and Eliane Glaser of The Observer and The Guardian, standing out in particular.
The explicit content of the discussion centres on the issue of womens equality and as a women, I am all for that of course. The trickiness comes from what we are being encouraged to be equal about. Having a career and a raising a young child, in particular the notion that we should have equal access at all times even when our children are still very young. Activists have termed this a woman centred approach to child rearing , putting the needs of the woman above the child; arguing that if the women is happy i.e able to work and earn with the ease of a single person or the father, then the child will be happy. This is a risky supposition, one that cant easily be measured and which has such great consequences. Does the Mum going out to work make the child happy? What if, what makes the child happy is the Mother being at home? Is having a career perceived as more of an achievement than raising a child well?

The opposite approach, natural motherhood was discussed by Eliane Glaser in The Guardian (18th May 2021) .Eliane argues against natural motherhood stating that this is not compatible with 21st century life. It is no longer possible for us to be present all the time or to provide the kind of care that is deemed as essential for the childs healthy development cited by professionals. It is certainly true that things can be very tricky, though whether it is possible to argue against natural motherhood completely ,without sounding blindsided is doubtful. The main difficulty with the argument is if we opt out of natural motherhood in favour of the women centred approach case then our children, small creatures with developing brains, are going to somehow have to sidestep their biological mechansims and fit in wit whatever it is that 21st century can give to them. Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle at a point where it feels comfortable for both the child and mother.

It is very difficult to argue against biology, to see motherhood as a contemporary issue that can be aapted for life in the fast lane.

The dual thinking around natural vs women centred parenting was a topic I discussed with a friend years ago after a Saturday morning gymnsastics class for my daughter. That morning I sat next to a woman who had her four month baby sitting in a car seat in front of her. The Mum chatted to me and it turmed out that she worked full time while her child was in nursery. At the time I was still at home with smallest and spoke about my plans to go back to work which i was concerned about. “Oh”, she said,”I know – the expense of childcare……..I literally work to pay for it”. “Its not the cost I worry”, about i replied, “I am just worried that leaving him is the wrong thing for him”. She then sighed and laughed, “oh well i know would NOT wnt to be at home looking after a baby all day. They are easier when they are older”. The conversation ended but fired up a chat I had with a friend later. He smarted, “well obviously a lot of women just work because its a means to an end. They want to work and have a kid- have their cake and eat it”. Although I had been shocked by how she had removed herself from the role of being a Mum, my reaction to this was defensive, I tried to shield her status. At the time i was juggling three jobs and raising the elder two alone; I felt guilty at the time I spent away from them – so i argued for her, that often people work to maintain a career and to balance the finaceces. The contradiction in my felt response and verbal defense of this women though sat with me and I have often wondered why despite my natural inclination towards wanting to be wih the children, why did i always do the very thing which caused me and them the most discomfort? And the response I had learned to say , “Well its because you need to dont you….”.

The issue of the cost and provision of childcare has been raised again and again inthe pandemic. Eva Wiseman (The Observer 16th May 2021), comments on how undervalued and underinvested in our childcare system is in comparison to other Europen countries. She reflects there is a need to value the system more as we as women are raising the next geenration of this country and this should not be overlooked. And how right she is although for me there is a fundamental issue with this. The stand of her and many others is based on the facilities being there for our children to be looked after by someone else. Its based upon the notion of woman centred child rearing. Perhaps what is needed is a system for allowing Mums to fulfill this role of raising the next generation in these early years. Providing us with the chance to take secure career breaks for longer periods, so we have jobs to go back to. A system anyway that would to allow us to be with our children without worrying about work all the time or being so exhausted from our dual lives that when we are with our children we see all their behaviours as emotional and inconvenient. Or perhaps what could change is how we are educating young women about Motherhood, so that they don’t grow with the expectation that a women needs to do both at the same time. There is an option to do things seprately.

Wiseman recounts a moment with her childminder where the childminder candidly tells her that the reason her child is crying so much is because she knows that her Mum is going off to work is becase she wants to and not becuase she needs to. This moment has stuck vehemently with Eva who recalls it years later; enough to include it in her column. One wonders about the audacity of the comment and I murmered my support intially, until I considered need and want and i must admit, my allegiances fell to the child. For in this situation, where we take our child and place them in the care of another, particularly when the child is under three ,I feel it is our want that is being satisfied and their need denied. Years later when I made the decision to resign , leading the way was the justification – you can make money again but builing a childs resilience and well being is a lot harder when they are older.

The issue of need and want is raised again by Eliane Glaser. Initially we are presented with a waft of statistics mainly pointing towards the pitfalls of motherhood which again frame the incompatibility of being a mother and working. The statistics I would say are unsurprising, we all know the downfalls.
The article though traverses to framing motherhood in terms of the wants of the mother and appears loosly to suggest that shifting devlopmental theory somehow legitimises the morality of rebranding the role of mother into something a bt more compatible with the 21st century woman. Donald Winnicotts theory appears to be utilised to justify a level of care given, good enough translated as a minimum requirement for the role. Winncotts ideal of the good enough Mother though is as important as his other observations. The me and not me distinction is integral to the Winnicotian tradition, detailing the importance of child learning to be on their own through learning to be with one other namely Mum/Guardian; achieved through a slow introduction to their environment at a pace that they can manage. I think this is key. Winnicott was a innovative thinker and his theories reflected his views that the mother and baby cannot be seen as separate at first, we have very primitive nature, primary maternal preoccupation being his equal to a instinctive state where the baby is the mothers absolute concern and everything should be done to ensure that that her focus is not impeded upon. Work as an intrusion is disruptive to this state.

Eliane ends her piece describing how natural motherhood is pushed upon us my midwives, health visiors or professionals where we , “are guilt tripped into parenting that is not compatible with work outside the home.” She contrasts this with woman centred motherhood which is described as and sold to us on the basis that it is in both the child and the others intersts that they ar both happy. But does this equate to an all out rejection of natural motherhood, does it mean reducing the experince to gymnsatics lady? If the central isue is about equality, then have we gained eqality for ourselves at the expense of equality for the child- through a complete rejection of the very basic emotional needs of the childs developing brain.

Regardless tied in to what can be quite a circular argument are the wants and the needs of the child itself and no mother woud argue that the child yearning for its parent is a need rather than a want. All children learn to be without their parents but how they do it is important. I remember seprating from the eldest two – it was easy because they were ready- what I experienced with smallest was not easy because he was not ready. Which is why Ie made the decision to go back. Did I feel guilt? Absolutely. Maybe but this came from knowing I had not ultimatley given him the time to become ready. I was aware of the difficulties this would cause him problems later on down the line.

Much content appears to suggest that society creates problems, not enough childcare, telling us we should do this do that and the other, but maybe just maybe the problem comes from arguing against something which is innate. Perhaps we are making our own experinces of Motherhood bad not because of what society says or doesnt say or does or doesnt provide but because of how we receive the experience. I did it for years, argued that i should be out at work, worked all hours never saw my children who were always with someone else. The only time we ever felt better was when i stopped, held my hands up and said , i am going to stay at home because he needs me and my older children told me that was all they ever wanted. For me to be at home with them.

I had to make that choice at the expense of my children- expense in terms of childcare and more imprtantly their well being which I find out ten years on was at risk- they hated it but could not put into words what they were feeling at the time as they did not have the anguage for it. They were tired, dealing with all sorts from the day in an environment they were not overly keen on despite the outstanding status. Worse still by the time i picked them up i was too tired to be genuine and so i packed them off to bed with their worries which would have to wait until the weekend.

As a women, or as a supporteer of woman as a male friend once said, yoou nod along and shake your head appropiely to much of this information however there is something else that you are left with. Women succomb to it all because that is what is done. Its like a collective unconscious and then we spend time venting the difficulties and sourcing the root of the problem externally our view of our role as a mother bruised by a collision with our occupational role.A residue of something that emerges, not from the central argument of writing but from the something which leaks into the sentences. This something can be descibed as a shameful unintended conseuence of our response to the probems of working mothers. Its the lack of value which some women place on our primary role.

When I read motherhood by Heiti , in the first few pages i wondered how she was oing to fill a whole book with her comtemplations. By the end it is clear that this is probably exactly what we should all do; be able to consider our role and what it means for the unborn child on this level. Heitis of course looked at the ultimate question if she ever wanted children, i am of course wondering about contemplation for those of us who are making the decision when to have children. It is clear that Heitis conclusion was right for her however anyone who can give that amount of consideration and care over such an important question would undoubetdly make a very caring parent.

The suggestion that we hould rebrand motherhood- so that it can catch up with the 21st century womenn, as if biology is mallaeable, appears odd- almost mechanical. The biological element of mothering doesnt stop the moment the baby is born, neither does it disappaear at 9 months, 18 months or three years. Its kind of there always. Yes there are lots of other people who could and do make good contributons but essentially as the Mum you are the centre of everything for the child. And that is pretty special.

Conceiveably, now could be a time when we start to consider a reorgansation of our perception of the mother role. We have battled long and hard for a change to the system but little has shifted and maybe that is telling us something.If the first 1000 days are so important,then lets help our Mums be part of it physically and to embrace it mentally. Sell Motherhood; its not a glitch or a blip or a gap, its for life and it is the soil of someone elses life.Ultimately, children do not grow in a vacuum , they grow with a primary significant other. Perhaps if we are not willing or able to give the child a few years of our life then maybe we should be questioning if this is the point in our life where we raise one.

We have the potential to generate a more favourable view of being a Mum to highlight just what an importnat job this is rather than societal expectation cultivating an attitude towards Motherhood that appears to have a ” blithe disregard for the indispensible role of mothers in securing any future whatsoever.” (Jacquline Rose, Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty).

To be a Mum or not to be- that’s the question…

“Flowers may bloom again but children never have the chance to be young again”. Bluey, Cbeebies.

I have read and reread parts of Sheila Heitis Motherhood. Heitis memoir details the journey of her process of deciding whether or not to become a mother. It charts her yearnings and her misgivings and leads towards the ultimate conclusion that she will not have children. I pre-conceived i would find the book tricky to navigate so was suprised when I didnt find it an uncomfortable read. Perhaps that was because i have alreay found my place, made my decision. I have children, three of them and i have lived both sides of the motherhood divide ; the childhood line with all its glory and despair, all the way through to the borderland where they become adults, despite always being in your minds eye your child. Reading it therefore was not a search to somehow provide myself with support for a diffciult personal decision rather just curiosity about how other women perceive Mumhood.
What emerges from Heitis text is the consideration she submerges hersef in. A complete committment to making the right decision for her and her potential child. The argument grows against the background of her own self refelction rather than suggesting that the pitfalls or the difficulties she is having are solely due to how society has made her feel about being a mother. She recognises that her battles are from within- should she be free to do what she wishes or should she bequeath this to allow her child to be happy. I feel that she recognises that there is no case for working and mothering being equal, as the mother role will always out do so the work role in importance and so she bases her decision on this realsiation and decides this is not a battle she wishes to have. She manages to separate herself from societal expectation.

I wondered about my own decision making process in this respect and found it to be quite weak in comparison. As a Mum , I have stayed at home to raise the children and I have worked; I have had more than ample income and more recently have raised them on the meagre offerings of unversal credit.It was never a question that i should do one or the other. With the elder two I did one and with smallest I did the other but not until the pandemic struck was it a conscous choice, grounded by personal experience, to consider if the two merge. A year after making the decision that they do not (see New Beginnings post) I have been reading articles about Women’s battles for equality in the working Mum world. What I have read has fed an internal discussion about the divide between parenting and sustaining a career. I have wondered about how current opinion manifests itself due the chosen relative needs and wants in society, as opposed to what is a consequence of absolute need.

Recent commentary has unearthed again the bitter subject of society’s appraisal of motherhood and the problems this creates for the woman. It settles in part on the impact of choosing to have a child on finances and careers. What is drawn out is the poor state of equality in this respect , exposed by Mother friendly organisations such as Pregnnat then Screwed and written about by many authors, Eva Wiseman and Eliane Glaser of The Observer and The Guardian, standing out in particular.
The explicit content of the discussion centres on the issue of womens equality and as a women, I am all for that of course. The trickiness comes from what we are being encouraged to be equal about. Having a career and a raising a young child, in particular the notion that we should have equal access at all times even when our children are still very young. Activists have termed this a woman centred approach to child rearing , putting the needs of the woman above the child; arguing that if the women is happy i.e able to work and earn with the ease of a single person or the father, then the child will be happy. This is a risky supposition, one that cant easily be measured and which has such great consequences. Does the Mum going out to work make the child happy? What if, what makes the child happy is the Mother being at home? Is having a career perceived as more of an achievement than raising a child well?

The opposite approach, natural motherhood was discussed by Eliane Glaser in The Guardian (18th May 2021) .Eliane argues against natural motherhood stating that this is not compatible with 21st century life. It is no longer possible for us to be present all the time or to provide the kind of care that is deemed as essential for the childs healthy development cited by professionals. It is certainly true that things can be very tricky, though whether it is possible to argue against natural motherhood completely ,without sounding blindsided is doubtful. The main difficulty with the argument is if we opt out of natural motherhood in favour of the women centred approach case then our children, small creatures with developing brains, are going to somehow have to sidestep their biological mechansims and fit in wit whatever it is that 21st century can give to them. Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle at a point where it feels comfortable for both the child and mother.

It is very difficult to argue against biology, to see motherhood as a contemporary issue that can be aapted for life in the fast lane.

The dual thinking around natural vs women centred parenting was a topic I discussed with a friend years ago after a Saturday morning gymnsastics class for my daughter. That morning I sat next to a woman who had her four month baby sitting in a car seat in front of her. The Mum chatted to me and it turmed out that she worked full time while her child was in nursery. At the time I was still at home with smallest and spoke about my plans to go back to work which i was concerned about. “Oh”, she said,”I know – the expense of childcare……..I literally work to pay for it”. “Its not the cost I worry”, about i replied, “I am just worried that leaving him is the wrong thing for him”. She then sighed and laughed, “oh well i know would NOT wnt to be at home looking after a baby all day. They are easier when they are older”. The conversation ended but fired up a chat I had with a friend later. He smarted, “well obviously a lot of women just work because its a means to an end. They want to work and have a kid- have their cake and eat it”. Although I had been shocked by how she had removed herself from the role of being a Mum, my reaction to this was defensive, I tried to shield her status. At the time i was juggling three jobs and raising the elder two alone; I felt guilty at the time I spent away from them – so i argued for her, that often people work to maintain a career and to balance the finaceces. The contradiction in my felt response and verbal defense of this women though sat with me and I have often wondered why despite my natural inclination towards wanting to be wih the children, why did i always do the very thing which caused me and them the most discomfort? And the response I had learned to say , “Well its because you need to dont you….”.

The issue of the cost and provision of childcare has been raised again and again inthe pandemic. Eva Wiseman (The Observer 16th May 2021), comments on how undervalued and underinvested in our childcare system is in comparison to other Europen countries. She reflects there is a need to value the system more as we as women are raising the next geenration of this country and this should not be overlooked. And how right she is although for me there is a fundamental issue with this. The stand of her and many others is based on the facilities being there for our children to be looked after by someone else. Its based upon the notion of woman centred child rearing. Perhaps what is needed is a system for allowing Mums to fulfill this role of raising the next generation in these early years. Providing us with the chance to take secure career breaks for longer periods, so we have jobs to go back to. A system anyway that would to allow us to be with our children without worrying about work all the time or being so exhausted from our dual lives that when we are with our children we see all their behaviours as emotional and inconvenient. Or perhaps what could change is how we are educating young women about Motherhood, so that they don’t grow with the expectation that a women needs to do both at the same time. There is an option to do things seprately.

Wiseman recounts a moment with her childminder where the childminder candidly tells her that the reason her child is crying so much is because she knows that her Mum is going off to work is becase she wants to and not becuase she needs to. This moment has stuck vehemently with Eva who recalls it years later; enough to include it in her column. One wonders about the audacity of the comment and I murmered my support intially, until I considered need and want and i must admit, my allegiances fell to the child. For in this situation, where we take our child and place them in the care of another, particularly when the child is under three ,I feel it is our want that is being satisfied and their need denied. Years later when I made the decision to resign , leading the way was the justification – you can make money again but builing a childs resilience and well being is a lot harder when they are older.

The issue of need and want is raised again by Eliane Glaser. Initially we are presented with a waft of statistics mainly pointing towards the pitfalls of motherhood which again frame the incompatibility of being a mother and working. The statistics I would say are unsurprising, we all know the downfalls.
The article though traverses to framing motherhood in terms of the wants of the mother and appears loosly to suggest that shifting devlopmental theory somehow legitimises the morality of rebranding the role of mother into something a bt more compatible with the 21st century woman. Donald Winnicotts theory appears to be utilised to justify a level of care given, good enough translated as a minimum requirement for the role. Winncotts ideal of the good enough Mother though is as important as his other observations. The me and not me distinction is integral to the Winnicotian tradition, detailing the importance of child learning to be on their own through learning to be with one other namely Mum/Guardian; achieved through a slow introduction to their environment at a pace that they can manage. I think this is key. Winnicott was a innovative thinker and his theories reflected his views that the mother and baby cannot be seen as separate at first, we have very primitive nature, primary maternal preoccupation being his equal to a instinctive state where the baby is the mothers absolute concern and everything should be done to ensure that that her focus is not impeded upon. Work as an intrusion is disruptive to this state.

Eliane ends her piece describing how natural motherhood is pushed upon us my midwives, health visiors or professionals where we , “are guilt tripped into parenting that is not compatible with work outside the home.” She contrasts this with woman centred motherhood which is described as and sold to us on the basis that it is in both the child and the others intersts that they ar both happy. But does this equate to an all out rejection of natural motherhood, does it mean reducing the experince to gymnsatics lady? If the central isue is about equality, then have we gained eqality for ourselves at the expense of equality for the child- through a complete rejection of the very basic emotional needs of the childs developing brain.

Regardless tied in to what can be quite a circular argument are the wants and the needs of the child itself and no mother woud argue that the child yearning for its parent is a need rather than a want. All children learn to be without their parents but how they do it is important. I remember seprating from the eldest two – it was easy because they were ready- what I experienced with smallest was not easy because he was not ready. Which is why Ie made the decision to go back. Did I feel guilt? Absolutely. Maybe but this came from knowing I had not ultimatley given him the time to become ready. I was aware of the difficulties this would cause him problems later on down the line.

Much content appears to suggest that society creates problems, not enough childcare, telling us we should do this do that and the other, but maybe just maybe the problem comes from arguing against something which is innate. Perhaps we are making our own experinces of Motherhood bad not because of what society says or doesnt say or does or doesnt provide but because of how we receive the experience. I did it for years, argued that i should be out at work, worked all hours never saw my children who were always with someone else. The only time we ever felt better was when i stopped, held my hands up and said , i am going to stay at home because he needs me and my older children told me that was all they ever wanted. For me to be at home with them.

I had to make that choice at the expense of my children- expense in terms of childcare and more imprtantly their well being which I find out ten years on was at risk- they hated it but could not put into words what they were feeling at the time as they did not have the anguage for it. They were tired, dealing with all sorts from the day in an environment they were not overly keen on despite the outstanding status. Worse still by the time i picked them up i was too tired to be genuine and so i packed them off to bed with their worries which would have to wait until the weekend.

As a women, or as a supporteer of woman as a male friend once said, yoou nod along and shake your head appropiely to much of this information however there is something else that you are left with. Women succomb to it all because that is what is done. Its like a collective unconscious and then we spend time venting the difficulties and sourcing the root of the problem externally our view of our role as a mother bruised by a collision with our occupational role.A residue of something that emerges, not from the central argument of writing but from the something which leaks into the sentences. This something can be descibed as a shameful unintended conseuence of our response to the probems of working mothers. Its the lack of value which some women place on our primary role.

When I read motherhood by Heiti , in the first few pages i wondered how she was oing to fill a whole book with her comtemplations. By the end it is clear that this is probably exactly what we should all do; be able to consider our role and what it means for the unborn child on this level. Heitis of course looked at the ultimate question if she ever wanted children, i am of course wondering about contemplation for those of us who are making the decision when to have children. It is clear that Heitis conclusion was right for her however anyone who can give that amount of consideration and care over such an important question would undoubetdly make a very caring parent.

The suggestion that we hould rebrand motherhood- so that it can catch up with the 21st century womenn, as if biology is mallaeable, appears odd- almost mechanical. The biological element of mothering doesnt stop the moment the baby is born, neither does it disappaear at 9 months, 18 months or three years. Its kind of there always. Yes there are lots of other people who could and do make good contributons but essentially as the Mum you are the centre of everything for the child. And that is pretty special.

Conceiveably, now could be a time when we start to consider a reorgansation of our perception of the mother role. We have battled long and hard for a change to the system but little has shifted and maybe that is telling us something.If the first 1000 days are so important,then lets help our Mums be part of it physically and to embrace it mentally. Sell Motherhood; its not a glitch or a blip or a gap, its for life and it is the soil of someone elses life.Ultimately, children do not grow in a vacuum , they grow with a primary significant other. Perhaps if we are not willing or able to give the child a few years of our life then maybe we should be questioning if this is the point in our life where we raise one.

We have the potential to generate a more favourable view of being a Mum to highlight just what an importnat job this is rather than societal expectation cultivating an attitude towards Motherhood that appears to have a ” blithe disregard for the indispensible role of mothers in securing any future whatsoever.” (Jacquline Rose, Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty).