1/5 It’s always better on holiday.

What is it about the way in which our capacity for guilt increases exponentially the minute we set eyes on our first child?

It strikes me that this is not something that women in the past (and when I say past I’m obviously referring to some vague, romanticised bygone era, as opposed to a concrete period of time), would have felt as acutely. Back then, before women’s liberation is I suppose what I’m talking about, being a mother and a home maker was a given for the half of the population with the ability to give birth. The division of labour was simple: Men go out and make the money, women stay home and deal with the domestics. I’m not naive enough to think that these were equally valued roles, because read any advertising copy from pre1960s and it is immediately obvious that they weren’t (‘The Kenwood Chef does everything apart from cook – that’s what wives are for!), BUT, there was no stigma attached to staying at home. There was no judgement from other women, because communities were full of them, in the home, in and out of each other’s kitchens, providing support and gossip and cups of tea.

Now, post liberation, we have choices. There are still enormous issues around managing a career and a family (maternity leave, the cost of childcare and the attitudes of some employers towards women of child bearing age to name a few), but there is no longer a culture of women being resigned to life as a housewife. And thank God right? But what about those of us to choose to stay at home? How do we manage the dual expectations of being career woman on the one hand, and domestic goddess on the other? What if we choose to opt out of one of them?

My eldest child is three and a half and it is only recently that I am becoming comfortable with my choice to be a stay at home parent. I no longer feel compelled to follow up a question about what I do now, with a statement about what I plan to do in the future. I no longer feel that I have to remind others (and myself), that I did have a career and that I am an educated young woman, who just happens not to work. I no longer feel obligated to validate my existence to strangers at parties. Mainly because I don’t go to any parties.

Enough is enough! I am at home, because I choose to be! My husband values my contribution to our family as highly as he does his own. We both work, but only one of us gets paid.

There are days, Lord knows, when it feels like bedtime will never come. As soon as one stops whinging the other starts crying, I gave someone water in the wrong cup, they both need to play with the exact same dinosaur toy NOW, the baby’s nappy explodes and blah, blah, blah, I can bore myself with the minutiae of my day, let alone anyone else. Mostly though? I have a pretty nice life. We wake up and often have nowhere in particular to get to, so we stay in our pyjamas until we have reason not to. The boys are increasingly self sufficient and play together happily, while I potter about (who am I kidding, dash about frantically), doing the things I need to do, before getting roped into some game or another. If the weather is nice we get to go to all the good places when everyone else is at work or school and I catch myself, on a Wednesday afternoon, throwing pebbles into the sea, and I cannot believe that this is my life. That things can be this good.

But then the guilt.

Where did this puritanical idea that we are supposed to grind ourselves to the bone come from? That it is normal to be constantly tired and stressed and over worked? Maybe it’s because I was, all of those things, for as a long as I was a teacher, that I found it so hard to get used to being free of all of that. And felt so guilty for not being on my knees at the end of every day. Surely I was doing something wrong, I should work harder! Life should be harder!

I’m writing this in the evening. The last of the sun is shining through the trees and into my bedroom. The kids have had a good day, mostly free of cup related drama, and are now sleeping, more than likely until a (reasonably) civilised hour tomorrow morning. It is easy to think about life in soft focus, maybe with a nice vintage Instagram filter over the top of it, and to gloss over how incredibly difficult I found the first year after my second baby was born. About the feeling of utter exhaustion when attempting the heady combo of parenting a nearly two year old while heavily pregnant. The dark, dark days of waking six times in the night and then getting up and attempting to get a tiny baby and toddler out of the house, so that I didn’t go completely insane. I have done my fair share of hard work these past years and I do the work of being a parent relentlessly, day in and day out, and damn it, I put a lot of effort in. I have been a shark with a bad New York accent for the past WEEK to get my child to get dressed y’all. And yet, there is still a voice in my head that says I don’t do enough, because I don’t go out to work. Even though I don’t want to go to work! What special brand of crazy is this that we mothers inflict upon ourselves? IT MAKES NO SENSE!

So I have stopped. I have always loved the line from Jacqueline by Franz Ferdinand that goes, “It’s always better on holiday, so much better on holiday, that’s why we only work when we need the money”. I listened to it a lot after I finished my degree and was dossing around New Zealand for a year, but I am beginning to apply it to this phase of my life too. Being a stay at home parent is not what I would call a holiday (hahahaNO), but I love it. I choose it. I am in a position of immense privilege to be able to choose it, and I refuse to waste a second more of it by feeling guilty for doing so.

These photos were taken on an actual holiday. Where we swam every day, and walked in the countryside and let the kids watch too much TV and drank more beer than I have in the last year. It was brilliant and at the end of it I just felt so incredibly thankful not to be going back to work, and that my days at home, don’t look that dissimilar to my days on holiday.

This post was not actually supposed to be some braggy brag fest about how wonderful my life is, so sorry about that tangent, I will now return the original subject of my inner turmoil about letting down my feminist foresisters. Because I do feel like I’m maybe letting down my feminist foresisters, with the not working and the distinct lack of smashing through glass ceilings. But guys, it’s okay, I’m not here, repressed in my home, crying over the mangle and mourning my inability to vote. I’m HERE, liberated, making choices and raising my family and contributing to society and all that good stuff. I just don’t have a job, but it’s cool.

Bottom line: I know that in ten, twenty years, when retirement still seems a million years away and I am back at the daily grind, that I will look back at this time as so golden. I will have forgotten how many times a day I had to say, ‘please use your normal voice’, about the times I lost my patience and had to shut myself in the bathroom, and how I once sobbed at a toddler group with a baby crying in my arms and a toddler crying on the floor because ohmygod this shit is real and hard and exhausting, (no wait, I will NEVER forget that one). But I will forget the relentlessness of it, and the guilt and the worrying, and I will remember the cuddles, the stories, the trips out in the afternoon, the buzz of my children’s first words, first steps, first I love yous. It will be so, so golden. And I will not waste it feeling guilty.

Don’t waste it feeling guilty.

The problem with Princesses.

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^^What the Disney Princesses would look like with realistic hair. Via Buzzfeed.

Oh those bloody Disney Princesses, I knew they’d catch up with me one day.

Before having children I viewed them as the axiom of everything that was wrong with childhood in a supposedly post feminist world. In the name of shifting films, books and an awful lot of merchandise, little girls are bombarded with images of these supposedly perfect examples of womanhood, with their nipped in waists and doe eyes, swirling dresses and no notable qualities other than the ability to sing, dance and make their man happy. I swore up and down that if I ever had a daughter, the Princesses, along with Barbie, would be categorically unwelcome in our house.

And then I found myself in a situation where today I sent my eldest son to preschool dressed as Cinderella, asking me, ‘Does my hair look pretty?’, not having read him a bedtime story other than a rotation of fairy tales for weeks.

My main problem with fairy tales, and in turn the highly branded line up of Disney Princesses that they have spawned, is that they tend to depict women as one of two tropes: the kind, sweet, animal loving protagonist, who enjoys singing with blue birds and baking pies, but who has no discernible problem solving skills nor desire for anything beyond being rescued by a handsome prince (see: Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, Jasmine etc etc); and the evil antagonist, who is driven mad by her jealousy of anyone younger and more beautiful than her, to the point where murder is inevitable (Malificent, Ursula et al). The message is clear: these are your choices girls, a simpering beauty or a total bitch. It is limiting to say the least.

In their defence Disney have made advances of late, most notably with Brave, which features Merida, a much more robust, independent, smart as a whip kind of a Princess, who provides an antidote to the irksome saps who rely on their Princes to get them out of trouble. Frozen also focuses on the love between two sisters, as opposed to winning the approval of a man, yet falls short for me, because it’s still inexplicably done whilst dancing around in sexy dresses, when clearly an anorak and boots would have been much more appropriate attire for a snow covered mountain.

However, the classic ‘Princess’ range remains predictably dull. I was convinced, in desperate times (ahead of a three hour flight and vaccinations), into buying two issues of the Dinsey Princess magazine (BEST SELLING MAGAZINE FOR GIRLS!). Honestly, this stuff is just mind numbing. In the latest issue readers are invited to play a game whereby the winner gets to be Princess Aurora’s bridesmaid (OMG! Squee!), while the stories focus on the characters’ ability to pick flowers, bake cupcakes and, I kid you not, prepare a romantic picnic for their prince. Is anyone else sensing a rather tiresome theme emerging here?

Is this really all little girls, and more pertinently the parents of little girls, want (I say girls because I assume that’s who Disney look to for feedback)? Or is this just what they are being spoon fed? Why couldn’t Disney take those original characters, and put them into new situations that highlight more aspirational qualities: Cinderella’s picnic gets hijacked by the Stepsisters, so she single handedly forages for a new one, before building an escape route for her and the Prince in the process, (as opposed to the actual solution which was… She got rescued by some swans. I mean, really?). It just feels like there is no appetite to update these characters into strong, smart women with attributes to aspire to. Disney, and I can only assume vast swathes of parents, are happy to stick with this bizarre 1950s idea of women as something to look good and be rescued. Nothing more. It’s depressing.

As the parent of a boy who is currently Princess mad, I obviously have a slightly different take on it. It is not so much what he aspires to be that I worry about (I can only assume that his desire to be a Princess will be relatively short lived), but with how he is seeing women being portrayed.

I remember hearing an interview with Caitlin Moran, talking about whether or not she lets her young daughters watch pop videos. Another woman on the show revealed that she doesn’t let her daughter watch Rhianna’s music videos, because she considers them too sexualised, while Caitlin countered that she lets her daughters watch them, but also has a frank conversation about their content: ‘Poor Rhianna, how do you think she feels dressed like that? What if she has a cold? Or is on her period? I bet she’d rather be wearing a nice cardie.’ Instead of censoring, she uses those portrayals of women as a means to discussing how they are problematic and offering up alternatives.

I’ve taken my lead from this I suppose. I haven’t banned fairytales (although the versions we read are the classic stories, rather than the Disney adaptations), and he has been allowed to watch some of the Disney Princess films and listen to the soundtracks. But we talk about the endings, at an age appropriate level, and within our play I try and subvert the roles, at least a little, to make sure he knows that Princesses can be strong, capable, brave and intelligent, as well as pretty and kind.

I also ensure that the Princesses aren’t by any means the only depiction of women and girls he is exposed to. Zog by Julia Donaldson and The Paper Bag Princesses by Robert Munsch both offer direct alternatives to the traditional fairy tale ending (one princess shuns royalty in order to be a Doctor, the other declines her Prince’s offer of marriage when he criticises her appearance), and there are plenty of examples of other strong, feisty girls on our bookshelves from Lola of Charlie and Lola to Pippi Longstocking and Matlida. Films, I admit, are harder to come by, and I would love recommendations of U rated films that feature a strong female lead that aren’t even necessarily subverting the traditional female stereotype but are just… girls, doing their thing (Despicable Me, Brave and Annie are my favourite examples, but it’s hard to find others).

Ultimately, I know that it is the women and girls around him, who serve as his most important role models. I am grateful that both of his Grandmothers are as happy digging for minibeasts in the garden as they are baking cakes in the kitchen, and that his best friend is a girl who can outrun him as much as he can outprincess her. He also has a whole range of other interests and I am currently indebted to the Octonauts who feature both a female engineer and pilot, for some much needed balance in our house.

The Disney Princesses might be getting the better of me at the moment (especially with renewed requests for a Cinderealla doll), but I’m in this for the long haul, and I know I’ll win out in the end.

Hair.

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I like long hair on men. Some of my favourite men (my husband included), wear their hair past their shoulders, so I was never going to be in a rush to cut my son’s hair into a classic ‘boy crop’. It has never struck me as particularly feminine either. I know in reality women are far more likely to have long hair, but I dunno, Axl Rose? That’s some serious testosterone going on there, no?

As a result, I just kind of let the Mancub’s hair do it’s own thing, growing frustratingly slowly for my liking actually, but finally making it past the nape of his neck in soft little baby wisps. I think it looks cute, and he loves it long (I have in fact asked him several times if he would like his hair cut shorter, always to be met with a very decisive ‘no’), and he even lets me drag a brush through it occasionally these days.

I have already written extensively about how I have no problem whatsoever with my boys choosing to do or wear things that are typically deemed ‘girly’. They can play with whatever toys they like and pick out their shoes from whichever side of the shop they are drawn to, wear that dress if they so choose. In other words, I am fully prepared to support them in their girliness. Which is why I guess this has caught me off guard a little, because I don’t really associate long hair with being girly (my husband is 6’6 and typically pairs his long hair with a beard and a biker jacket, so effeminate is not a word I would ever use to describe him), and so it honestly hadn’t occurred to me that long hair on a boy would cause such utter confusion.

To be clear, he is, since his hair grew past his neckline, mistaken for a girl almost 100% of the time by strangers. Admittedly it’s an easy mistake to make when he’s in his princess dress, or his pink leggings. But he can also be wearing his most boyish clothes (black trousers, oatmeal jumper, blue and silver jacket, carrying a toy dinosaur), and people will still tell me, ‘Oh, isn’t she cute!’.

I get it. I once, mortifyingly, mistook a boy for a girl when I was a supply teacher, and referred to him as such in front of the whole class (cue many giggles and very red cheeks on both of us). When meeting new children, especially those in school uniform, hair and names can be the quickest signifiers of gender, and when the child has a unisex name (as he did, as mine does), it can be easy to jump to the wrong conclusion. Most people are profusely embarrassed, and so I rarely correct them and instead leave them to work it out for themselves if they’re around long enough to do so.

I have discussed this with the Mancub. Occasionally I will say, ‘Oh, he thought you were a girl, that’s nice isn’t it?’, to which he always seems very blasé. When we have talked about hair cuts I have explained that sometimes people will think he’s a girl if he keeps his long hair (without attaching any negative connotations), and he’s still excited to grow it long like his (female) cousin. In short: it doesn’t bother him. Hurrah! I win feminism! My boy is happy to be mistaken for a girl!

But does it bother me?

Sometimes, yes. Dammit.

The frequency, the relentlessness of it bothers me a little. That people don’t take the time to check, or to ask his name before telling me something cute they overheard my ‘daughter’ saying. That he is dismissed so quickly as something he’s not, even if it’s not necessarily offensive, but because it’s incorrect.

But these are strangers, not people with a vested interested in my children. Just strangers making an off hand comment, and a fair assumption, based on appearance and their best guess at the time.

So I don’t let it bother me often, because life is too short. Unlike his hair.

Like a girl.

‘I’m Sleeping Beauty’, he says. ‘I’m a pirate, I’m a fisherman, I’m a Princess, I’m The Queen’.

He doesn’t know yet. That there is intrinsic status (or lack thereof), attached to these roles. That some of them are strong, masculine, affirming. That some of them are weak, subordinate, female. And who would want to be female? He must be strange. Or gay. I have no idea if he’s either. I don’t really care, I just play along.

A while ago I wrote about how important it is to raise my boys to be okay with being ‘like a girl‘. The above video might be hawking santirary products, but it makes a good point. When did ‘like a girl‘ become an insult? It is, it was, it has been since forever ago. Our entire society is founded on that construct, it’s called the patriachy, now go buy some tampons, disgusting.

Much of modern feminism focuses on creating equality by elevating women to the same status as men: getting more (primarily white, middle class, but that’s a different post), women into senior roles, accepting and celebrating masculine traits in women (‘I’m not bossy, I’m the boss’), breaking down the glass ceiling. Obviously all of this is important, and really, really crucial for those women who aspire to be doctors or CEOs or presidents or Beyonce. But it is only half the picture.

The ascension of women only truly creates equality if society also gives status to what are traditionally considered to be feminine traits: being nurturing, gentle, emotionally literate. When men can, without shame, aspire to be a care giver, or a stay at home parent. (There is an excellent article about this in relation to how motherhood is so undervalued on Ask Moxie, which is well worth reading).

The bottom line is, should be, that we must accept that while some girls aspire to grow up to be an engineer or scientist, that they may choose to get there wearing a pink sparkly dress and high heels. Some women might choose to stay home with their children/get their nails done/bake a pie/go for cocktails with the girls, and that doesn’t mean that they are letting down the sisterhood. Wearing makeup doesn’t in itself make me oppressed, just like earning the same as my husband doesn’t mean I #dontneedfeminism.

So you see I’d got it all figured out.

Then my three year old son asked me for a princess dress.

And my instinctive reaction was: this is too much. Pink snowflake leggings are one thing, purple snow boots, long hair, Star Wars t shirts, pink eye shadow occasionally (but usually while wielding a sword and an eyepatch), a silver ‘space suit’ coat, a dinosaur jumper, penguin leggings. These are all things, which when combined, say, at most: androgyny. They leave a question mark hanging over his head, a gender mystery, which is no closer to being solved on hearing his unisex name. They do not, in my humble opinion, scream GIRL.

A dress screams girl. I don’t think I want him to get a dress.

But he is Princess Aurora, Briar Rose, Sleeping Beauty, he needs a sparkly blue dress and a yellow crown like in the book Mama. To be honest, he never really asks for much, so I agree to give it some consideration. I tell him we’ll go to the shops and just have a look.

In the changing room of TK Maxx I reflect that I have possibly never seen my son so happy. Are those tears of joy pricking his eyes? ‘I must go and show Daddy!’, he declares, and off he goes in a rustle of tulle and sequins, out onto the department store floor, to proudly show his father, who mercifully, is about as right on as they come and who nods approvingly, ‘You look lovely’.

‘Hopefully the sales assistant will assume he’s a girl’, I hear myself think and I’m horrified with myself. It’s not that I’m ashamed of him, certainly not, but it’s protection I suppose. I don’t want people to look at him and write him off as flawed, as one of ‘those‘ kids: the ones who get beaten up at school. I have no desire for him to be one of those kids either, but this is bigger than him, and I also don’t want him to be just another boy (100% BOY!), for who being ‘like a girl’ is basically a byword for being a right twat. Pun intended.

But he’s not just another boy. This is who he is, this is who we have raised him to be, twirling around with a paintbrush as a magic wand. I buy the dress. I determine to see through what I have started, to be proud of him, so he can be proud of himself. Like a girl, or not.

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When I was half way through writing this post, they had a short but very interesting discussion on this exact topic on Woman’s Hour, which you can listen to by clicking the link.

Raising boys.

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These photos are so horribly out of focus, I’m sorry. But they were the only ones I took and are too freaking cute not to post just because of a bit of blur.

***

Before I became a parent I thought a lot about how I would handle raising a girl. I had a lot of opinions on pink and princesses and positive body image and Rhianna videos and how I would raise a kick ass feminist. Then I had two boys.

Sure, being a young boy is not exactly a walk in the park. There is a veritable truck load of pressure to conform to a masculine stereotype, and while girls can get away with being tom boys, it is much harder for boys to subvert gender roles. A boy in a dress is very different from a girl in dungarees. A boy who likes ballet is not the same as a girl playing football.

Why? Why is the whole notion of masculinity so important to young men? Because the alternative is to be ‘girly’, and girly is inevitably equated with being weak. Inferior. Subordinate. Not exactly something to aspire to, even for a girl. How’s that for irony?

With this in mind I set out to raise two boys who would be content to live outside of traditional gender expectations. No pressure to be ‘such a boy’, no shame in having long hair, or in wearing eye shadow, or in dressing as a mermaid on your third birthday if that’s what you randomly want to do. Being ‘like a girl’ is not an insult, at least not yet. Not from me.

Don’t get me wrong, The Mancub likes plenty of things that are generally considered to be at the ‘boy’ end of the toy spectrum: dinosaurs and Star Wars to name two of his all time favourites. But he is also happy to pretend to be Pocahontas on a boat, or Handa carrying a basket of fruit on her head. He builds dens in the park, he gets a dab of lipstick when I put on mine. He thinks nothing of any of these things.

Last week he found this baby doll that we bought for him when I first got pregnant with #2. He was excited to find it again and immediately cuddled up to it and announced, ‘I’m giving him some milk’. Oh, I said, are you his Mama or his Daddy? ‘His Mama’, and then he kissed the doll and tucked him up in bed and promptly climbed in too. That day the doll (name: Bragzilla for reasons unknown), came with us to the park, where he was pushed on the swing and given a second breastfeed in a bush (because sometimes needs must).

Usually children play at roles they find exciting: astronauts, adventurers, pirates. That day he played at being a Mama. With no shame or embarrassment at being a little boy, carrying a baby doll around the park, breastfeeding him in a bush, because that’s what Mamas do sometimes, right? Well I guess some do.

Here is the thing: it’s not really about him and what he likes and dislikes. Pretty soon his peers will get their claws into him and I’m sure it will be all Moshi Monsters and Ben Ten and whatever the hell else kids are into these days, and that’s fine. At some point he’ll ask me to get his hair cut short, and that’s fine too. I don’t care what he’s into, what he likes, what games he plays. What I want to preserve is a sense that the ‘girly’ stuff is okay too. The girls at his school that like pink and play with princesses? They’re okay too. They can be his friends and are his equals and the stuff that they’re into shouldn’t be rejected just because it’s feminine or covered in sparkles.

There is nothing wrong with sparkles. For boys or girls.

There is nothing wrong with being girly. For boys or girls.

What Women Blog.

Apparently there are now in excess of 40 million active blogs on this place we call the Internet, and I’d hazard a guess a sizeable chunk of those are parenting blogs. I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now: putting my life (or small increments of it at least) into the public domain, and I’m still not sure… why?

Mainly it’s as a record. Of the things we do, the things they say, the things that rile me and that make me happy. I like to think that we will look back on it when we’re old and it will help us to remember. Plus I like the connections that I have made online. Other parents who think similarly and parent similarly, even though they might be the opposite side of the world, sharing information and details of our days. Liking and commenting and reblogging, so that we know we’re not alone. It’s weird, but it’s nice.

I read a bunch of blogs myself and for all different reasons. There are those that are cynical and self deprecating and make me laugh with tales of disarray and misadventure, those which are brutally honest, almost uncomfortably so, and those which paint a picture of life so perfect it can barely be believed. Those are the ones I really love.

Of course no one’s life is like that really. Behind all the dappled evening sunlight and trailers adorned with home crocheted bunting and cronuts in Central Park are just, people. People who go through the same shit we all do, but choose which bits to share. Which bits not to share. Because the Internet is not your friend who you meet for coffee and cry on. It’s the fucking Internet, so you hold some of that shit back. And post the photo of your kids running in the flowers instead.

I’m saying this because I heard, through a blogging friend no less, that there are whole message boards dedicated to the character assassinations of so called ‘Mommy Bloggers’. Which is just absurd right? To get kicks out out of hating on women who love their kids so much they make a hobby out of taking photos of them and writing goofy stories. Not women who abuse their kids, or neglect them, or do anything bad, just women who get a little too excited about cloth nappies and playdough recipes. A strange subject for anybody’s vitriol.

I can only imagine that there must be a whole lot of low self esteem going on if you actively seek out these blogs, these spaces that women have created to portray their lives, so that you can take pleasure in pulling them apart, call them out for being too smug, too fake, too perfect.

Of course they’re not perfect.

***

The end of last year was just about as shit as it could be for my family. We suffered a terrible, terrible bereavement and in the midst of it we had a baby and I can barely even remember that time because it was so riddled with grief and darkness. I felt acute guilt that instead of basking in the glow of my beautiful newborn, I was shackled by the loss of his Grandfather.

I didn’t blog about that.

I blogged about his first smile and the first time I took him to the park.

Because life isn’t perfect, but neither are our memories. When I look back, when my children look back, I want a record of the good shit, the funny stuff they said, how sometimes they sat giggling together in the bath, how sometimes I baked them bread. And how a lot of the time, most of the time, we were happy.

Does that make me dishonest? Does it make me smug?

I think it just makes me the same as most other people who chronicle their lives in diaries and scrap books and blogs. Selective I guess.

And if you don’t like it, or if it makes you feel bad? Well there’s always the option to stop reading. Fancy that.

Whatever.

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So Alicia Silverstone has written a parenting book. I haven’t read it, but I’m going to go ahead and slate it anyway. Obviously it’s fairly easy to lay into a woman whose parenting style includes prechewing her children’s food for them, but that’s not my beef. Nope, it’s this little gem:

“Though it’s less common among kind mamas, some women experience the blues after giving birth.”

Got that ladies? If you’re experiencing them baby blues, if you’re tired and weepy and crying at that advert for insurance, or you’re standing at the sink wiping away tears because the baby is still crying and the toddler won’t put on his shoes and motherhood is turning out to be less wonderful that you had imagined and actually you’d kind of like to run away to France and sleep for two weeks straight. If you find yourself nervously sitting in a Doctor’s waiting room desperate to tell someone that you’re not coping particularly well and could you please have some help. Well, it’s probably because you’re just not kind enough. Soz.

I wouldn’t mind, but this kind of woman hating bullshit is becoming so common place that it makes me want to scratch my face off a bit.

It is a given that there are things that most of us strive for when we have a baby. We want a safe and natural birth without medical intervention or trauma. We want to be able to breastfeed our child. We want to be happy parents that love and dote on our baby.

Of course, it’s important that there is literature available that supports these goals, but what I am increasingly noticing is a rhetoric that doesn’t just support women in their desire for natural birth and motherhood, but that shames those who aren’t able to achieve that.

I would imagine that it’s true to say that women who prepare well for birth, attend antenatal classes, practice relaxation and have a supportive partner and midwife are more likely to have a natural birth, although let’s face it, women have been giving birth for a millennia without any of those things. You can prepare, focus and do all the visulations you like, but we must also acknowledge that there’s a lot of luck involved too. Sometimes things just go wrong, things that if they had happened a hundred years ago, or happened today in parts of rural Africa, would kill you. Medical intervention is not failure, it is what has to happen sometimes to keep a mother and baby safe and there is no shame in that. It does not make you a lesser woman or mother because you chose to have an epidural, or because doctors made a decision to cut you open when that was deemed to be the safest option.

Ditto breastfeeding. I attended a breastfeeding class led by a woman that told a group of expectant mothers that there was no excuse for anyone not to breastfeed, that she had been to Papua New Guinea and everyone in the villages there breastfeeds because formula is not an option. The amount of guilt a friend from that group felt when her baby didn’t latch was acute, but let’s not forget that while in Papua New Guinea every baby may be breast fed, that’s not the whole picture. It’s fine to romanticise traditional cultures, but you have to be realistic that they also have major shortcomings in the shape of some really grim statistics (50 in every 1000 live babies dies before the age of one in Papua New Guinea, compared to just 4 in the UK). My friend’s baby who never did latch on, would more than likely been one of those 50 if she had lived in a different part of the world, but here she had the option to express milk and give formula, which is awesome.

And as for the baby blues? With my first baby I sailed into motherhood. I just revelled in how much I enjoyed it and soaked up every single minute. After my second baby I cried every day for a fortnight. Like, sobbed. Every day. If I was a more vulnerable person I would read comments like that one above, written by some actor, and it would feed into the notion that it was somehow my fault. That it’s because I wasn’t a good enough mother, that I wasn’t kind enough. Luckily for me I am happy to see it for the bullshit that it is, another example of the guilt that is laid at our doors if we don’t measure up. If we are not quite perfect.

What expectant mothers need is empowering. It’s great to feel positive about child birth and breastfeeding in public and how awesome it is to have a tiny new born, and I’m so glad that there’s such a wealth of that available online and in books and from the women that I have met since having children. But surely we can empower and inform and educate in a way that doesn’t also create a culture of guilt and shame and one upmanship. We are all just rookies trying to get along, trying to do the best that we can do and inevitably screwing up some of it and learning from mistakes along the way. It doesn’t matter how kind you are, there is shit that will go wrong and make you tear your hair out, and days when you feel like the worst mother in the world. What you need on those days is a strong cup of coffee and a non judgmental friend who knows exactly how you feel, not someone insinuating that you brought it on yourself because you didn’t have enough happy thoughts.

So I won’t be buying Alicia’s book. I’m sure she’s a wonderful person and an impeccably kind Mama, but turns out she’s still pretty clueless (see? yes!) when it comes to how other women might feel.

For the love of Barbie.

Okay, so it’s time to get a bit ranty. It’s been all fluffy bunnies, or more accurately babies, and smiley toddlers for a while over here, but I’m still an angry feminist so let’s dial this up a bit.

I was perusing Pinterest the other night when I came across this photo of Barbie modelling her (bang on trend?) Sharpie swimsuit, with the caption, ‘What a fab idea, why didn’t I think of this?’. Because that’s right, this isn’t the handy work of a small child with dreams of being a fashion designer, but her (in my opinion woefully misguided) mother.

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