Parenting

This tag is associated with 14 posts

Play Dough a Go Go!

Play dough is brilliant.  Practically free and endless possibilities.  Plus it lets kids do the whole messy play thing without actually making that much mess, which is always a good thing.Plus if you use the cheap home made version you don’t need to worry about mixing the colours.  I start off with a variety of basic colours (usually based on whatever colourings I have to hand) and then let the kids make further colours by mixing.


Child playing with multicoloured playdough made by an easy homemade recipe

There are a few recipes knocking about the internet, with various no cook options or ingredients, but this is the best one that I have used.  Where I say cup, use any cup, as long as you use the same one each time.  I use a little plastic beaker.Use your common sense and don’t play with playdough on your best tablecloth or tread it into your expensive persian rug, but then if you have that kind of thing in a house with small children then you are a braver (and possibly quite a bit richer) person than me…


Home Made Play Dough

  • 2 cups flour (any will do)
  • Half a cup of salt
  • 1 cup cold water
  • A big spoon (or small glug) of oil – any will do
  • Two big spoons of cream of tartar (you can leave this out if you like, but it makes the dough more springy and stretchy and only costs a few pence)
  • Food colouring, smelly oil (use food safe versions in case it gets nibbled…), glitter or whatever else you want to use to make it pretty and/or smelly

Chuck everything in a pan and put over a low heat.  Keep stirring until it looks like…dough.  Allow to cool before giving to children (obviously…)

You can also just add boiling water to the ingredients in a bowl and stir, to avoid having to put it on the hob.

I tend to leave out the colourings and flavourings, cook plain dough and then knead in the colours/flavours/glitter.  That way I only have to cook once but can make loads of colours.  Beware though that colourings can stain, and are much more likely to stain your worktop (and hands, and clothes, and children) before they are mixed in.

This recipe isn’t toxic, but isn’t exactly edible either, given that it will taste horrible and has loads of salt.  Hopefully inquisitive toddlers will just have one taste and then be put off.  Hopefully.

Keep your playdough in an air tight container and it should last at least six weeks.  Enjoy, and let me know if you come up with any cool ideas!

A Broadly Christian Debate

My daughter attends an excellent school.  It was the only one in the area with a place, but after a few nail biting weeks on the waiting lists, we were over the moon when it was the school offered.  It is also Catholic.  We are not.

I have had a few people ask me how I reconcile my belief in separation of church and state with sending my daughter to a school where prayers and church services are part of the school day.  I have no problem at all with there being Catholic schools, and with them including aspects of their religion in the school day (as long as the children are not restricted from finding out fair information about other belief systems and are not encouraged to make harmful choices).  We could have home educated her, or held out for a school that is less overtly religious.  What I have a problem with is the lack of choice for parents who wish to avoid religious instruction altogether.Nun with 1960's Catholic Schoolchildren.  Photo: Vin Crosbie

I start from the general principle that everyone should be free to practice their own religion or none at all.  As long as you are not harming anyone, you are respectful of others and you allow members of your religion access to other beliefs, then I don’t see why anyone could object.  I also feel that, if you use the facilities provided by a group, you should abide by the rules of that group, and as such you should also be able to get basic services with no special conditions.  This is why I do not think that the “collective worship of a broadly Christian nature” in mainstream schools is at all fair.

If we had not been ok with our child going to a school that does not fit with our beliefs as an atheist/agnostic family, we would have had to home educate.  There is no option in the state system for a school where no religion or religious practices are imposed on the children.  To me, the default should be no religion, as that leaves it to the parents and child to add on whatever they believe at home, or to find a school that does provide religious instruction.  As it is, in a country where an active belief in Christianity is very much in the minority, nearly every child is expected to take part in worship at school.

My primary school was a mainstream community state school, yet we had ministers from the local evangelical church in assemblies, holiday clubs and classrooms telling us that evolution was impossible and that non-Christians would burn in hell, which leaves a strong impression on an eight year-old.  We also had the standard vicar-with-guitar-and-beard singing hymns at us, and a teacher who told us that global warming is just a test from God.  I left primary school in 1996, but websites like Mumsnet are full of the same kinds of stories.  Of course, these people are more than welcome to hold whatever beliefs they like and to worship how they feel, but they shouldn’t be able to essentially force children to join in.

Yes, there is the option to withdraw your child from assemblies and religious practises, but why isn’t the default position that of the beliefs of the vast majority of the population?  A child is not given the option to refuse to participate, and so is dependant on their parents being aware of the school’s level of religious instruction.

I have no problem with teaching about religion.  In fact, call me Gove, but I do think that children should be familiar with the Bible, and the King James version is particularly useful.  I also feel that children should be familiar with classical mythology and the stories of other religions too – without religion, much of history and the arts would make very little sense.  I would encourage children to respectfully visit churches and other religious monuments, and to meet believers and leaders of all different faiths.  I just think that the beliefs of one particular religion should not be taught as fact in the vast majority of schools, unless the parents have specifically opted in by sending their child to a school affiliated to (and partially funded by) that religion.

Anecdotally, it would seem that most schools have very little religious instruction in the curriculum.  However, it is something that schools are assessed on by Ofsted, and a parent has no way of knowing if a school will suddenly start singing hymns or having religious talks. If a school is about to start sex and relationships education – in which a child will be told facts about their own body and how to keep themselves healthy – the parents are called in to discuss it and are given the chance to ask questions and raise objections.  Why can’t parents be given the same option when it comes to matters of a far less scientific nature?

The Blame Game

It’s very hard to be grown up when we’re getting divorced. As parents, we’re expected to share nicely, act responsibly, be the bigger person, put the needs of our children at the centre of every decision. As angry, hurt, vulnerable human beings, that’s hard to achieve. We’ve gone from sharing resources to competing for assets.

First, there’s the finances. Divorce requires us to establish separate households.  The more one parent gets, the less there is for the other. Running two households on the same resources as one costs more. So we both end up with less money than before.

Since we’re now living in separate households, we need to agree how much time our children will spend with each of us. Because children need us to support them, one of us usually needs to make a payment to the other, who has primary caring responsibilities. Now we both also have less time with our children than before.

All these things are decided via the same process. Intellectually we know that our children are not a marital asset. But it’s very easy for us both to start thinking of them as one more resource to be shared out in the zero-sum game of the ending of a marriage.

Time spent either with, or without, the children both become points of contention. Is time with the children a benefit or a cost? Are four fun-filled days a month more, or less, valuable than nagging them to get dressed and eat their breakfast every morning? If your ex-partner asks you to take the children for longer, are they ducking their responsibilities or giving you a gift? If you refuse, are you resisting your ex-partner’s manipulations or selfishly prioritising your own needs over your child?Divorce cake, with separate bride and groom.  Photo: DrJohnBullas

It’s hard for us to separate access and money – especially when we both have less of both than we had before. The parent making the payments might think, “Why is the other person getting my money and my children? Why am I being pushed out of the family like this?” The parent caring for the children might think, “Why do I have less freedom and more responsibility and less money? Why am I doing all the hard work and they get to do the fun stuff at weekends?” The parent making the payments may reduce payments, or stop paying altogether. The parent caring for the children may restrict or withhold access to the children. These events may be in retaliation to each other and can come in either order.

Sometimes, one parent’s behaviour is so dangerous or violent that allowing them access to the children would be unsafe. Sometimes, one parent has abused the other. Should a person who has beaten, raped or mentally tortured another adult be allowed to spend unsupervised time with children? And what happens when the person accused of the abuse denies that it took place? Because all human systems are fallible, sometimes mistakes will be made. Parents who are not abusive will be denied access to their children. Parents who are abusive will be granted access.

I’ve been very careful in writing this not to assign gender, at any point. In practice, we all know how and where the dividing lines are drawn. When it comes to issues of residency, maintenance and access, we can draw the stereotypes (feckless wastrel Disney-parent versus bitter, money-grabbing control-freak) for ourselves. I still haven’t assigned a gender. But I bet you have.

That’s the stereotype. But that’s not how it has to be. There are thousands and thousands of couples who have made divorce work for them and their children. Some of us are divorced couples who co-parent in harmony. Some of us are re-married couples whose blended families are happy and successful. Some of us are single parents who are raising our children ably and well. These are the stories we should be telling. These are the examples we should be learning from. As a society, we need parents to get better at managing divorce.

That’s why the current high-profile battle between Mumsnet and Fathers 4 Justice is such a huge disappointment, and a wasted opportunity. In case you’ve missed it, Fathers 4 Justice are accusing Mumsnet of giving a platform to gender-based hate-speech, committed by women, against men. There are a number of theories about the motivation and timings for these accusations, which – since I have no evidence to either support or disprove them – I don’t intend to review here.

The point is, there was an opportunity here. There was a chance for two groups defined by their parenthood to talk to each other. We could have talked about our grievances, about how to manage divorce and separation better, about how to better draw the distinction between parents who have simply stopped loving each other, and parents who are actively dangerous to their ex-partners and their children. Instead, Fathers 4 Justice took out an advertisement accusing the Mumsnet community of promoting gender hatred against all men and boys as a group, and encouraging the boycotting of advertisers who promote on Mumsnet.

I am one two-millionth of the Mumsnet community, and I don’t speak on its behalf. I am even less qualified to speak for Fathers 4 Justice. But of one thing I am certain: mothers and fathers love their children, fiercely and without reservation, and even when they don’t love each other. This divisive and hateful campaign does nothing to help us work better together at protecting our children in the event of marital breakdown. Children are not a marital asset.  They are the people we love the most. We all – men and women, mothers and fathers – need to get better at putting them first.

We could have done all of this. Instead, we’re trading insults. Shame on you, Fathers 4 Justice. Shame on you.

In Defence of Mumsnet

Mumsnet, one of the major British parenting network sites, has always come in for a lot of flak, most of which comes from two points of view:

  • Those who think it is the same as the other fluffy pink mummy sites, full of bad spelling and tickers
  • Those who think it is a sinister conspiracy against the country: a Boden and biscuits mafia

Now we have a new one – those who think it is a distributor of “man hate”.  Sigh. *

So, what is Mumsnet?  Why does it cause such a problem?

When people say “Mumsnet” what they usually mean is the Talk section of Mumsnet, which is a huge message board or forum, aimed at parents (although the majority of users are mothers, there are a sizable minority of fathers, grandparents, childcare workers and childless people who also use the site).  There are hundreds of sections, covering all aspects of life, not just parenting.  Each section tends to have its own “feel” – so Pregnancy tends to be fairly gentle, Am I Being Unreasonable? is a hotbed of disagreements and strong debate and Feminist Activism can be pretty militant.  There is a site wide policy of very light moderation, so swearing, heated disMumsnet logocussions and pretty obscene conversations do occur (never, ever google anything users of Mumsnet tell you to google…).  Members can name-change whenever they like, meaning that posters can reveal secret details on one thread then go back to joking with long term friends on another, under their usual nickname, which does not tend to be related to ‘real life’ identities.  There are also no avatars, twinkly tickers, signatures or pictures, and only a very small range of emoticons.

Herein lies one of our problems. Mumsnet is very different to the rest of the parenting forums, and I would say that the main difference is that Mumsnet treats posters as adults.  We aren’t mollycoddled, and the only things that get deleted (apart from spam) are personal attacks and hate speech.  Mumsnet as a body of posters tends to be self regulating – so a poster coming on who doesn’t follow the rules will get very short shrift.  This has given us a bit of a reputation for being bitchy, although, to me, it just means that we say how we feel, like grown ups.  Other sites will tend to ban you if you express any forthright opinions, and so there are a good few Mumsnetters who are banned from other sites.

Mumsnet also tends to be a bit more educated than other sites.  That’s not to say that Mumsnetters all have doctorates, or even GCSEs, but there is a higher expectation of basic education.  Text speak and bad grammar are frowned upon, and there are often jokes about things like classic literature and politics.  This is often given as evidence that Mumsnet is somehow elitist, and that “ordinary” people would be pushed out and ridiculed.

To me, there are endless websites where you can post cute little tickers, use vomit inducing euphemisms and tipe lyk u cant speel 🙂 ❤ ❤ 😮 and I think it is only fair to let one site have its own way of working.  Just because the users of the site are mostly women, and mostly mothers at that, doesn’t mean that we have to act like children ourselves.

justine off of mumsnet.  Because of the general culture of the site, there is a higher than usual concentration of professionals and, in particular, journalists.  Mumsnet is often used as a cheap research technique, with posts (usually without the knowledge and assent of responding posters) being used in news articles as the “opinion of parents” (I have had this happen to me, when I posted about an internet joke, and there was one reply – I was quoted twice, as different users, as proof that mothers in general found the joke hilarious).  Justine Roberts, one of the founders of the site, can often be found on talk shows giving her opinion – she can’t give the opinion of Mumsnet as a whole, because the 2 million users that use the site every month can’t possibly have one opinion.

However, that, and the fact that the site regularly hosts web-chats with politicians and other movers and shakers, gives Mumsnet a reputation as attention seekers who try to control the media.

Why is it that people hate the idea of a site where women can get together to chat about sex, politics, parenting and culture?  Men have most of the rest of the internet, and any woman daring to post anywhere else is often attacked if she dares mention anything feminine in any way.  Parents of young children are likely to become isolated, and there isn’t the support network that used to exist to support young mothers.

So, if my baby is acting weirdly, or the cuts are pissing me off, or I just thought up a really good joke about mooncups…I’ll see you on Mumsnet.

*I have deliberately ignored the ridiculous behaviour of a certain pressure group lately.  Don’t feed the troll and all that.

Of Boobs and Bottles – Is Breast Always Best?

As a new mother I have been bombarded by others’ opinions on how I should raise my child, but never so much as when the subject of feeding rears its peach-fuzzed little head.

Like all mums-to-be in the UK I had been inundated with the ‘breast is best’ propaganda issued by the NHS, but a search for for a balanced discussion on the pros and cons of each method drew a frustratingly blank, blank.

I was coming to this debate with no particular leaning, but trying to find unbiased advice out there is really hard. Other than the occasional breakfast news story I had never really been aware of the depth of the breast v bottle debate, but the parenting forums and baby blogs were full of dictatorial ranting, polarised opinions and outright declarations of war.

If I were to believe the pro-breastfeeding extremists all bottle feeders are bad mothers; selfish, uncaring harridans who just weren’t willing to try.  However, when I spoke to many bottling feeding mothers they told of the heartbreak over their decision, of the guilt, of the pressure placed on them to breastfeed whilst in hospital and the feeling of failure and inadequacy that accompanied the choice to switch to bottle when they left.

Breastfeeding mother reading a bookOne mother even commented that a mutual friend was “very brave” for saying that she never wanted to breastfeed and sticking to her decision despite the pressure she felt from others.This seemed like a ridiculous thing to say but the further along in my pregnancy I got, the more I understood what she meant. The NHS in particular piled on the pressure to breastfeed, sending me through enough pro-breast leaflets to paper a palace, but not once did they discuss the pros and cons of bottle feeding.

So what did the other side have to offer to the debate? Well according to the bottle feeding advocates all breastfeeding mothers are middle class hippies who are pampered and have nothing else to do but see to their babies. Indeed, even the National Childbirth Trust has been in the news recently for abandoning it’s evangelical breastfeeding stance as part of their push to become more inclusive and attractive to the working classes.   (I would argue they’d be better dropping their prices to be honest, but that’s a rant for another day).

There are clearly some out there who feel that breastfeeding is a middle class endeavour and certainly I can see why – the cost of electric pumps, breast milk storage bags and pots, slings, concealed feeding tops and the time taken to feed or express for your child makes it seem that a great investment may be needed.

Reading all this had made me more and more confused. I didn’t really want to be seen as uncaring or as a tree hugger. I’m not middle class and I certainly don’t have the luxury of a lot of time to sit around doing nothing but feed, but by the same token I don’t really fancy a great pile of bottle-fed guilt. Even the statistics didn’t help me; although most women breastfeed immediately after birth, by 6 weeks 53% are bottle feeding. So, still baffled by all the conflicting advice, I did what I do with any decision I’m struggling with, I scribbled away at a pros and cons list. And here it is:Baby breastfeeding in close up - Photo: thekmancom

Breastfeeding Pros

  • Health benefits for baby – a breastfed baby is less likely to have stomach upsets, ear infections, eczema and can protect against infections and diseases.
  • Health benefits for mum – speeds up weight loss (huzzah!), lowers risk of female cancers, reduces feelings of stress by releasing oxytocin.
  • Bonding – all that extra skin to skin time enhances the bonding experience, especially useful if you have been separated for some time
  • No equipment needed – seriously ignore that shelf in Mothercare, you really don’t need all that stuff, ask your Granny.
  • No preparation required – no mixing formula, measuring water, or washing and sterilising bottles
  • Convenient and transportable – where don’t you take your boobs?!!
  • Free – free food for baby can never be a bad thing.
  • Poop – Nappies smell better (allegedly, I’ve found no scientific evidence for this one)
  • Wind – breastfed babies suffer less trapped wind which means you save time in winding them.

Breastfeeding Cons

  • New Skills – like all new skills it will take time to learn. You may never have even seen mothers feeding and certainly wont have been able to take a good look at their nipple position during latching.
  • Mums health & medication – there are only a few conditions which would completely prevent breastfeeding but many medications cannot be taken if feeding this way as they can find their way into the milk. It also limits the non-prescription medications you can take for minor ailments.
  • Anxiety about feeding – many women feel nervous about public feeding despite new legislation which protects your right to do so. Ultimately this means some mums begin to feel very isolated as they hide themselves away to feed.
  • Milk supply – although almost all women will produce milk, getting a milk supply established takes work, especially if you are separated from your baby for any reason.
  • Physically hard going – breastfeeding can be physically exhausting, especially in the first few days while supply and technique get established.
  • Risk of mastitis – all new mothers have a risk of getting the infected milk ducts that cause mastitis but it is more prevalent in breastfeeding mothers purely because the milk is being produced for longer.
  • Total responsibility – you have to do all feeds, or at least express for those feeds you wish others to handle.
  • Personal guilt– when it’s great, it’s great but many women report it feeling very personal if baby refuses to feed or isn’t feeding as well as one would like.
  • Risk of leaky nipples – again all new mums are at risk of leakage but this is obviously increases the longer you feed for.

Formula feed being made up - Photo: Darren WBottle feeding pros

  • Easier – you have probably either done this before or seen it done. It’s not really a skill you have to learn.
  • Anyone can do it – all the family can get involved and this can be a good way to encourage sibling bonding with older children.
  • Measurable – it is very easy to tell what nutrition baby is getting and how much baby is taking.
  • Public feeding – this is very easy and many cafes and restaurants provide bottle warming facilities

Bottle feeding cons

  • Cost – This is a major con. For a newborn you will be spending around £7 per week on formula, plus the cost of bottles, steriliser, replacement teats, bottle brushes, storage, milk/powder storage/bottle warmers etc add in the occasional emergency pre-mixed feed when you are out and the cost rockets. When I ran the figures it came in at just under £700 for the first year.
  • Space – all those bottles and accessories take up a lot of cupboard space.
  • cleaning – again cleaning and sterilising that kit will take you up to an hour each day.
  • preparation – all your feeds have to be prepared in advance. If you are on-demand feeding that means listening to the screaming that little bit longer. While those who are feeding every two, three or four hours will be able to prepare on time, your baby may not stick to their schedule and that still means having up to 12 bottles washed, sterilised and filled with pre-boiled and then cooled water.
  • NHS sanctioned guilt – while Baby feeding from a bottle - Photo: katerhafriends and family are seen as more supportive of the bottle feeding mother, many mothers report disapproval from medical professionals and parenting support groups when they choose to bottle feed.

So what did I do? Well I spoke to my Granny, as the only person I knew who’d fed both ways more than once and she gave me the best advice of all – do what is right for you and baby. As it was my daughter was in neonatal care for the first 15 days of her life and was severely underweight, so what was best for her was breast milk. But as I wasn’t in hospital with her, she had as much breast milk as I could manage and formula when there wasn’t quite enough to fill her up. Having tried both methods, I found I actually enjoy breastfeeding (despite a few problems we encountered) and I hate all the faffing with bottles and sterilisers and powder that formula feeding brings. So although my little girl will still take either method happily, I’m trying to get her off the bottles for the most part.

I think Granny had it right. It doesn’t matter so much what you feed, what matters is that whichever method you choose, it meets the needs of both of you. If you don’t want to breastfeed or you try and don’t like it or struggle and run out of steam, you shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for that. As for my little one, she’s lying in my lap feeding as I type, and looking at her chubby chomping cheeks I can’t help but think it is the fact that I am happy with what I chose to do that makes her so happy and healthy today.

good places for support/further reading.

http://www.nhs.uk/Planners/breastfeeding/Pages/why-breastfeed.aspx

http://www.nhs.uk/Planners/birthtofive/Pages/bottle-feeding.aspx

http://www.mythnomore.blogspot.com/

http://www.mumsnet.com/

http://theleakyboob.com/blog/

http://www.babycentre.co.uk/baby/formula/basics/

The Singing Kettle Fancy Dress Party – A Review

For the uninitiated, the Singing Kettle is a singing group that performs musical theatre shows for children with a focus on traditional Scottish music. The Fancy Dress Party was my sons first concert and my first ‘children’s’ concert.  The group was formed in the 70s and quite a few of the audience members were 30-somethings bringing their kids as an excuse to enjoy the nostalgia of the show.The Singing Kettle promotional shot

The concert was all the more of an experience because it was in the Music Hall in Aberdeen. It’s a beautiful old concert hall and it was a pleasure to see the inside. The outside has distinguished granite columns (because in Aberdeen, what isn’t granite?), and the concert space has a beautifully painted ceiling and massive chandeliers.

The Music Hall was built in 1822 and was designed by architect Archibald Simpson, one of the main architects responsible for Aberdeen’s reputation as a city of granite. Originally built as a series of assembly rooms for the upper class people of both genders, the building was opened as a concert hall in 1859. Despite the grandeur of the building itself, the seating at the Fancy Dress Party consisted of metal folding chairs lined up on floor markers.

Today’s show was called the “Fancy Dress Party” and the audience was encouraged to wear fancy dress, and most of them (adults and children) did – there were cute pirates and princesses everywhere!  I was not planning to dress my son in a costume, but I shoved his train engineer costume into my purse, so when all of the other kids were dressed up I looked like a brilliant mummy having thought of the costume ahead of time.

Before the show started, the staff threw giant balls into the crowd and the kids pushed them up to float through the air with their hands, which was a huge hit.

The stage decoration consisted of a giant box (big enough to hold a person) surrounded by cut out backdrops of giant articles of clothing including bow ties, a cowboy hat and a fez, as well as a clown face with a light-up nose and two white-gloved Mickey Mouse hands that could swish back and forth on mechanical arms.  When the show started, the singers taught the audience a party song with actions that repeated throughout the show, as the stage fact lit up and the mechanical arms swished.  My son loved it!

The premise of the show was that the Singing Kettle group and audience were having a fancy dress party and hoped that the Mad Hatter would attend.  Throughout the show different guest characters would poke up out of the giant box in the middle of the stage and some would leave behind coloured kettles.  When a kettle appeared, this rhyme was chanted: “Spout, handle, lid of metal, what’s inside the singing kettle?” and the kettle would open to reveal a clue about what song to sing next. I can’t tell you if the Mad Hatter appeared (no spoilers here) but I will say that the audience was not disappointed…

What distinguishes the Singing Kettle from other children’s performers is their cheek. The songs are sometimes politically incorrect and there are moments of very childish physical comedy in the stage show. The show is for children, so this makes sense. To me, they are easiest to compare to a sillier than usual combination of the Wiggles, Raffi and Fred Penner. The themes of their songs are sometimes naughty, for example the lyrics of “Ye Cannae Shove Yer Granny”, but it’s all in good fun.

During the show there was an hilarious rendition of “Drunken Sailor” where they showed the sailor’s hair belly (a costume) and his anchor-tattooed nether regions.  I’m not sure other children’s performers would be so daring…perhaps they would not even sing about how to sober up seamen. I think this is the best part about the Singing Kettle – the silly fun that is not tempered by pointless positive messages.  That being said, there was a long skit about a gassy goose that I thought was only moderately funny and far too long.

During the show Bonzo the Dog made an appearance.  I have to say that I am not a fan of Bonzo, but I was in the definite minority. Bonzo sang the male part in a spirited duet version of “Oh Soldier Won’t You Marry Me” where he dressed up in all of the clothing mentioned, including ladies knickers.  Jock and Jeremy, the two chefs also made an appearance.

Overall I really enjoyed the performance and my son thought it was amazing but I think that many of the children in the audience were not old enough for a show that was 2 hours in length (including the intermission).  Quite a few people in the seats around us left at the intermission because their kids where whiny, crying or sleeping, just from sheer exhaustion. The pre-show excitement high seemed to catch up with some of the younger kids about 45 minutes into the show.

Mums vs Business

I belong to an online group for photographers, and recently the conversation turned to starting to charge . The comments were supportive and fun until somebody decided to butt in and tell us what he really thinks of people who suddenly decide to become a photographer while on maternity leave. He claimed that stay-at-home mums steal the clients from him (and the other ‘professionals’).Child using a toy camera

So what is so annoying about a woman deciding to change her career path and give her talents a chance, to bring in some extra money and to spend some time in the world outside nappies and projectile vomiting?

One of the arguments is that it’s not really possible to change career and skills overnight. I changed from teaching to photography, and it took long evenings of reading tons of tutorials, lots of patience, even more practice, expensive gear, and even more expensive computer programmes.

I would never claim I’m a photographer without all the preparation and confidence that I can provide my clients with the quality photos that they paid for. And all my preparation, learning and shooting takes place next to cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, shopping,  and taking care of my 3.5 yr old daughter.

I’m not complaining about life and my responsibilities, I’m just stating the fact that being a Mum doesn’t mean women can’t achieve success on a new career path. When a mum goes back to her previous work after having a baby and continues to gain experience and climbs up the business ladder not many people will claim she is rubbish, purely because she is now a mother.

But when a stay-at-home mum starts a new career, making the effort to learn a new skill from scratch, devoting all her free time (there’s not much of it, trust me) on practice and spends some savings to get needed equipment, then this mum is considered a time-waster and unqualified person.

I’ve seen thousands of photos, thousands of photography related websites and designs, and it just so happens that the ones I liked the most were those of women who became photographers/digital designers alongside their maternity status.

One of the things I love the most about their work is the difference between their first photo they took of their baby and the one they took just 5 months later on someone’s wedding as a booked photographer. The transition and development is so outstanding in many cases that I don’t understand why there is any doubt about their skills.

Does it really matter how many years that person was in the business or how many degrees that person can flash in front of our eyes? When we pay for a service isn’t it the end product that we want? And if it happens to satisfy a group of clients, stands out from the crowd and is done by a mum, is that a problem?

We have to give mums more credit for trying to go out there and make a difference in their life. Most of us find our true talents, hobbies and business ideas during those long sleepless nights nursing our babies. Mums starting something new are not trying to take shortcuts and pretend they know stuff. They will put double amount of energy into everything they do. Because that’s what mothers do in life, whatever they do.

Holidays or Truancy?

A leak from Department for Education has suggested that Michael Gove, Education Secretary, will ban the discretionary up to 2 weeks leave of absence that Head Teachers are permitted to grant during term time, according to the Telegraph. Apparently, this will help cut down on truancy.Rows of empty desks in a classroom.  Photo: evemaiden

Ostensibly this leave of absence is supposed to be for cases of illness, bereavement and bad weather, but is regularly used by parents to take holidays during term time, when it is cheaper. According to a survey by the Travelsupermarket.com website,

Prices increase by up to 42 per cent for a family of four taking a two-week trip to the Algarve during the school holidays.’ 

The justification in this draconian measure is that it will stop parents putting pressure on Head Teachers to authorised holiday absences. As a parent myself, with a child about to start School in September, this is something of great interest to me.

So what are the arguments for and against this move?

Arguments for :

There are holiday periods built in to the school calendar so you should take your holidays then.

If you can’t afford a holiday abroad during the holidays you should set your sights lower and go camping in the lakes instead.

Nobody NEEDS a holiday. It is not a human right to have one.

It disrupts the education process.

Arguments against:

It will have no affect on persistent truants. They are the ones who bump up the figures, whose parents never even ask permission anyway.

The biggest cause absence was due to illness, not holidays! Perhaps we should be banning sick days instead as that will have a bigger effect on attendance?

Again it is an attack on impoverished families. I think it sends a very clear message that poor people shouldn’t have holidays. I would argue they need it more, just a week where a family who is struggling day to day can have some quality time together just having fun.

It will affect people who have family abroad. Families generally don’t schedule weddings, birthdays, bereavements and other family events around the school holidays. It may be only time parents can afford to take their children to see overseas families is during term time. Certainly, this is something that I have experience of, seeing that I am half Spanish and my Dad lives in Spain.

Some parents may struggle to get time off work during the holidays, especially if others in their workplace are all wanting time off then – this is something my husband struggles with.

The holiday companies share some of the blame with the ridiculous hikes they put on holidays during the school holidays. Even campsites charge premium rates for pitches during the holidays. The argument is that they are there to make money and it is all about supply and demand. Surely though, if they offered cheaper holidays then more people would go?

To illustrate a typical price rise, I picked a popular UK holiday company, it has caravan parks all over the county. I priced up a 4 night stay for 2 adults and 2 children, in a one up from basic caravan, in a park on the Yorkshire coast.

For week commencing Monday 27th August, the cost was £325.50. Go the following week, and it would cost you £197.50 – a saving of £128! For a family only able to save a couple of quid a week for the family holiday, this is a big difference.

There are times when parents are taking the piss and absolutely this should be clamped down on. No-one needs to take their child on an uber expensive holiday to Disney Land, and Disney is horribly overpriced anyway. I would argue that some holidays can have value to a child’s education, teaching them about geography, allowing them to experience new people and places.

Perhaps an overhaul of terms and holidays is needed, to spread them out, with different schools having their holidays at different times?

All I know is this; once again the government are attacking families. Nice one Tories!

The Golden Rule

I rarely, if ever, discuss religion, but the subject came up in a big way the other day and I decided once and for all, to tell my story. Everything in this story is true and it is only my experience and my opinions. I do not wish to offend anyone’s sensibilities and I am not looking for a debate, or a lesson. As the cliché goes, “It is what it is.”

I was told as a child that my father (full-blooded Italian) was Catholic and my mother (full-blooded hillbilly from Arkansas) was Lutheran. Back then when filling out school paperwork or any other identifying paperwork for that matter, one line was for “religion”. My mother always entered a “P” on that line for me. Questioning this, I was told that I was a Protestant. Okay, so then I knew I was adopted and a Protestant. After hearing something vague about Protestants fighting the British in Ireland, I deduced that because I was part Irish, I must indeed be Protestant… check.

We never went to church. My mother once explained it to me that since she and my father were different religions and that they adopted me sometime after my first year of life, they didn’t want to baptize me; preferring to take the rather progressive stance (or so I thought) of letting me choose what I wanted to be when I grew up. Telling this story to my BFF (who happens to be Born Again Christian and believes in the Rapture), she has gently explained to me that children will never choose on their own if they have no foundation or religious teaching on which to build. Oops.Hand holding cross - click for photo credit

Growing up in Los Angeles surrounded by everything Mexican, I learned to love the people and the food and also gleaned my first knowledge of the Catholic faith. Sara, our neighbor often took me along with her son Mark when they went to church or on outings to Disneyland or the beach or any of the other cool things to do as a native of Southern California. In the 60’s neighborhoods were like that…everyone’s mom was a part of the village that cared for and watched over us. (Being an only child, I got to go to Disney a lot). Usually Sunday would be church, then straight to the beach. This is what I learned:

The service was in Latin so I learned to watch everyone else and stand, sit, kneel, stand and sit again. I dutifully endured the ritual of communion, understanding this somehow cleaned up all the bad stuff one did (they called it SIN) each week. It sort of wiped the slate clean for another 7 days. After church we would drive to the beach where Mark and I were “watched” by Sara’s niece while she strolled up the beach to the nearby hotel and disappeared for a couple of hours. The “niece” was a girl maybe 14 years old who taught me my first lesson about make-up: you must re-apply your jet black mascara at least once every 30 minutes and add another layer of Johnson’s Baby Oil with the same frequency. The darker your arms and legs the better, and the thicker and clumpier your eyelashes, the more grown up and beautiful you looked. I think she also smoked cigarettes which was also very grown up and cool-looking. I learned years later that Sara had been cheating on her husband, who had suffered a traumatic brain injury that left him sort of lump-like whenever I saw him at their house. He had terrible sleep apnea which was kind of scary as a kid to be sitting in their den watching TV and all of a sudden the dad would be snoring. Those weekly visits to the beach were more for her benefit than ours and I then understood why it was necessary for her to have her weekly “sin-cleansing”. Catholicism…check.

My mother let me go with a friend and her family at age 6 to a sleep-away camp  that turned out to be a bible thumping holy roller circus where we had craft time and meals in between religious services. Nightly they would preach and holler until very late in the evening. I remember a lady spoke up one night as my friend and I were practically falling over on our bench asking if the younger children could be dismissed to go to bed, that 10:00 was much too late for such small children to be up. One night, the preacher screamed on and on beseeching those of us who wanted to be “saved” to raise our hands while he wailed. I thought this over and figured if I could be “washed clean” of all my “sins” for the past 6 years, that would be a good thing. I could start fresh and all the times I lied to my mom or sneaked goodies out of the kitchen would be wiped away and I could start my life anew. I gulped, raised my hand and was ushered into a line of people tall and small and eventually made my way to the front of the huge cabin in the religiously confusing mountain woods. I think the man touched my head, said something or other and it was done. I went to the bunks that night feeling happy, fresh and privileged about something or other. I don’t think I ever told my mom about the church-y part of this summer camp, but I never begged her to let me go to another one.  Baptists…check.

After giving birth to my first child, I recall another friend explain her take on baptism. She said that because babies were conceived from an act of “sin”, that they would not go to heaven if they died before they were baptised and thus “cleansed” of this “sin”. Speaking solely for myself (and my husband, upon whom I thrust all of my opinions), I could not conceive of a God that wouldn’t take innocent babies into heaven. When he was three months old, we were gifted a trip to the ritzy suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, where we shared our new son with his paternal grandparents for the very first time. Unbeknownst to me, Mother Dearest had arranged for my son to be baptized into their Presbyterian church. I was informed of this by my well-meaning husband on the eve of the upcoming event. Out of earshot of Mother Dearest I refused, citing my opinion that this would indeed be merely a ritual to appease his parents and would be virtually meaningless to us; and besides, if we really wanted to do this, wouldn’t it make more sense to have it in our city, surrounded  with our own friends, pick Godparents, etc?. We did go to church with his parents the next day and nothing was ever said directly to me. The service was similar to others I had attended over the years and at least they spoke English. Later that evening, Mother Dearest threw a lavish dinner party for swells of her friends who each arrived with lovely, expensive, and mostly useless gifts for our baby. (Really, does anyone ever use that sterling silver baby cup, suitable for engraving but wasn’t because it was bought on the fly and no one really knew the baby’s name anyway?) I don’t mean to sound ungrateful and back then I really wasn’t. It was very nice of all of these people to give us pretty things for our son; oh, and I loved the limited edition Beatrix Potter porcelain cup that was too expensive to use…crap, there I go again.

This attitude is something that developed in me a full six years after that swanky party. Six years!

We were sitting around the Thanksgiving table, Mother Dearest, her mom and her daughter. The men had since retired to the living room for man talk, football, and avoidance of dirty dishes. At least there was the Almaden white wine that was always a staple at these food related events. The woman talk had been bromidic as usual when, without warning, this bolt of lightning  produced a six year old elephant that had been lurking in the room:  “And Debbie, I’ll NEVER forgive you for the way you embarrassed and humiliated me when we were going to have [the baby] christened.” (WTF?) “What are you talking about?” She proceeded to tell me that she had meticulously arranged this glorious day that had begun with a christening and ended with a dinner party in the baby’s honour and all of her friends were there and they brought me gifts and the priest was brand new and she was so humiliated and I was awful and extremely thoughtless…no one else in the room spoke at all. I was aghast. Where the hell did that come from? My back against the elephant, I parried, “I cannot believe you would have gone through all of that without asking my permission or informing me at all. If we had wanted to baptize our baby, we would have done so at home, with our friends, Godparents, whatever. I cannot believe in a God that wouldn’t take a baby into heaven just because the mother didn’t believe in this ritual. Of all the religions I have studied in school, most of them seem kind of hypocritical to me. Do you really think this would happen?” I could not believe my ears when I heard her response… “I’m just saying it doesn’t hurt to cover all of your bases.”

Cover all of my bases?

Really?

Presbyterian, (Mother Dearest style)…check.

That night I did tell her that of all the religions we explored in that class, the one that made a lot of sense to me was Judaism. She was not amused.

I’ve lived my life believing in the Golden Rule and I’ve had a couple of very close calls that cannot be explained away in terms of coincidence. The only thing that saved me one night was what had to be a Guardian Angel.

What do I really believe? That’s a conversation I don’t have with many people, but I will tell you that I’ve arranged one thing with my BFF…if/when the Rapture comes, she’s letting me have her condo.

Born Again…check.                    

Breastfeeding in Public – people, get over it!

There has been a few stories in the press recently about negative reactions towards mothers breastfeeding in public. Kasey Kahne, a US NASCAR driver tweeted his disgust at seeing a mum feeding her baby in public, mums formed a flash mob in Brighton in response to an incident where a mother feeding her baby was berated by other diners  and Jeremy Clarkson stuck his oar in with some unsavoury comments about breastfeeding in public.

As a mum who breastfeeds, this serves as another reminder why breastfeeding rates are low in this country. Whilst searching for the above news articles I came across some comments where mums openly said that fear of these negative reactions not only prevent them from breastfeeding in public but also prevent them from breastfeeding at all. Breastfeeding welcome icon

I have to say that I have never encountered any negative reactions when I have breastfed my children, and I have fed them everywhere – cafes, churches, restaurants, zoos, theme parks, the beach. You name it, I’ve fed there. I honestly believe that these negative encounters are very few in number.

But who wants to hear a news story about a little old lady approaching a woman feeding a baby in Asda, patting her on a shoulder and pressing a pound into her hand “for the bairn”? No, the public would much rather hear about the breastfeeding mother who was accosted in a cafe by 5 people, 4 women and one man, who told her that watching her feed was “unpleasant” and she should cover up. Far more salacious.

Unfortunately, it is these negative stories that will stick in people’s minds, which is why, even though they may be few in number they need to be nipped firmly in the bud.

Baby having some milkUnder the Equality act of 2010, it is unlawful to discriminate against a mother because she is breastfeeding. This means it is unlawful to harrass, discriminate or victimise a mother who is breastfeeding, and any establishment who provides a service to the public have a duty to uphold this.

The fact this law even exists is, in itself, a sad state of affairs – a woman’s right to feed her baby in the most natural way, designed by evolution itself, should be a given. However, we have to accept that due to the most successful marketing campaign ever by formula manufacturers, we do live in a bottle feeding culture.

This is not something I am going to discuss here, it has been discussed by far more knowledgeable heads than mine, such as Gabrielle Palmer in her eye-opening book “The Politics of Breastfeeding: How Breasts are Bad for Business”.

Although breastfeeding rates are rising, the majority of children aged 6 weeks and over are given infant formula, according to the Infant Health Survey of Infant Feeding 2005 (only the early results are available for 2010) 52% of 6 week old infants and 75% of 6 month olds were not breastfed.

One of the things that inevitably comes up in discussions around breastfeeding in public is the rather disgusting comparison to such delightful activities as defecating in public. I don’t even want to discuss how incredibly wrong this is for fear my brain will implode.

Click for photo creditInstead I have been wracking my brain for another analogy and I found one.  Locusts. There are several countries (Uganda, Swaziland, Cambodia to name a few) where locusts are eaten. Personally, the thought of eating locusts makes me want to vomit. I have to fast forward the dining scene in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” because I can’t bear watching the diners eat beetles and monkey brains.

So imagine I am in a eating establishment in Cambodia (or other country where Locusts are eaten). There is a local on the next table who orders locusts and happily starts chomping away. My reaction would be to look away and concentrate on my own food. I certainly wouldn’t go up to him and say “please stop that, I find it disgusting” or “please can you sit somewhere else where I can’t see you” or just sit glaring at him to make him feel uncomfortable.

Why wouldn’t I? Because it would be incredibly rude – the disgust I feel is MY problem, to him it is a perfectly normal thing to eat. He would be confused and probably rather angry had I acted on my feelings and confronted him.

Yet, here in the UK, some people would not hesitate to do this to a mother breastfeeding a child!

And let us just remind ourselves of the difference between locusts and breastmilk straight from the breast.

Locusts – tasty snack (for those into that sort of thing). Not really necessary for human health, and being eaten by an adult perfectly capable of making the decision for himself that it is acceptable to eat his snack where he is sitting.

Breastmilk, on the other hand, is a life sustaining fluid that provides nourishment and more to a baby who is unable to speak up for himself, provided by his probably sleep deprived, hormonally imbalanced mother.

A mother who, especially if she is a first timer, may still be healing from the birth, unsure of herself and her parenting choices, and tired from the 24 hour demands of looking after this tiny helpless baby.  Someone who may well be quite vulnerable.

Even the most together mother, who may be on her second, third or fourth baby and who is confident in her choices could be undone by someone making her feel that this simple act of feeding her hungry baby is something that should be confined to the home.

So what exactly is the problem with seeing a baby being breastfed? Photo credit: Spaceman (click for link)

It comes down to how breasts are portrayed in the media. I find it strange that no-one bats an eyelid at seeing a busty pair of breasts in a national newspaper, but the small amount of breast that might be seen when a mother is latching on her child is considered shocking.

Believe me the vast majority of mothers are like me and do try to keep under wraps because we don’t want to show our breasts to everyone. I do tend to roll my eyes at people who accuse mothers of ‘letting it all hang out’, because the only time I have ever seen that is in a group where everyone is a breastfeeding mother.

Even then women tend to use such groups as a practicing ground for breastfeeding in public without flashing everyone.  You could argue that, using my analogy, the locust eating is culturally acceptable in Cambodia and breastfeeding in public in the UK isn’t because we have a bottle feeding culture.

Well firstly I don’t believe that bottle and breastfeeding cultures are mutually exclusive. There is room in this country for both, especially as we have clean facilities to make up formula safely which developing countries may not have. Also, for centuries breastfeeding in public has been acceptable, it is only in the last 100 years, due to the mass introduction of formula, that suddenly it has become so taboo.

Except it is not that taboo – although most babies still do not receive breastmilk beyond 6 weeks, the majority of the public are not offended, and perhaps more accurately, do not even notice a mum breastfeeding in public. It is just that the minority who do object are loud and get the media attention.

Don’t even get me started on people like Jeremy Clarkson who say “just give the child a bottle”. No. Never. I will NOT ‘give my child a bottle’ just to satisfy some prude. I will not  try and find a time to pump a few precious ounces of my breastmilk, to then have to transport it safely, to then have to try and persuade my child to take it after finding some means to warm it up, or faff around making up formula just to avoid offending sensibilities.

Why should I when I have the perfect transport and delivery system that is instantly available, which means I can feed her as soon as she starts making hungry signs at me? Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti bottle feeding or anti formula, both have their place. However it should be for the mother’s convenience if she chooses to bottle feed, and no-one else’s.

She should bottle feed if it convenient for her to do so, not because someone else is scared they might accidently see some breast or – gasps – a momentary glance of a nipple.  After all it is the mother (and hopefully Dad too) who has the hard work of making up those bottles and formula and pumping milk (not Dad in this case!).

I Googled Locust eating. I am never doing that again.

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