Can you be a full time mum and a feminist?

I used to think that feminism was about women being like men.  The image I had in my head of ‘a feminist’ was a woman in a business suit, smashing through the glass ceiling and taking no prisoners.  To me, feminism was all about women in the workplace, proving that they are at least as good as men.  I felt it was my duty as an intelligent woman to have a ‘career’ and progress through it as fast as possible.

Then I had children.

Childcare is a role that has been traditionally undertaken by women, and like all ‘women’s work’, it is completely undervalued in our society.  Women are allowed 6-12 months to look after their babies but are then expected to get back on the work treadmill and stick the kids into nursery.  The domestic work that mothers (and fathers) at home do may not have economic value, but that does not mean that it is worthless.  In fact I now feel that it is the most valuable work that I could be doing at this point in my life.

Having said that, at first I did sometimes have the nagging feeling that I was somehow ‘letting the side down’ because I was not doing paid work, I mean I went to university and now I’m just staying at home changing nappies and doing finger painting?  Is that right? Is that *allowed*?  But then I realised that actually, life is not all about making an economic contribution to society, and that other types of contribution are equally valid.

My idea of feminism has evolved now.  The key idea is CHOICE and EQUALITY for all.  Men and women are different, but still equal.  Now that women are ‘allowed’ to do everything that men do (thank you feminists of history), does that mean we have to do those things all of the time?  Or can we also recognise that the things that women do, or are expected to do (traditionally speaking) are just as worthwhile.  Things like looking after young children, caring for elderly relatives, volunteering and domestic housework.

In my (inexpert and very personal) opinion, children do best in a family environment, with one or two familiar, loving caregivers, ideally a parent or close family member.  I’m not saying that nurseries are bad or that they will harm children, but I think they are not ideal. Since I didn’t love my old job, and I do love my children, and we could afford for me to stay at home, it was an easy choice.

I’m not saying that every mother should stay at home with their children.  I am definitely not advocating a return to the days of women being chained to the kitchen sink.  Feminism and equality is about respecting one another’s choices, even if they are different to your own.

Britain Needs Family Friendly Taxation

Britain’s taxation system is currently unfair for families. Under the current system a single earning family with children where one parent stays at home can pay more tax than a couple with no children where both partners work, on the same household income.  We need an overhaul to level the playing field.

Other countries have a taxation system that reduces the tax burden on families.  This can be achieved by allowing couples to transfer their tax-free allowance between partners, or by income splitting.  This is not a tax break but simply recognises that families with dependent children have more responsibilities and are less able to pay than people with no children.

Many parents would like to be able to look after their children themselves, but cannot afford to stay at home.  Current government ‘family-friendly’ policies tend towards providing more, cheaper childcare and tax breaks for working families.  This is great for families where both parents want or need to work.  It is time we also supported families who wish to raise their own children at home.  Changing Britain’s taxation system to make it fairer to families would help to give parents more choice about whether and how much they would like to work.

A petition is being put to the government to allow couples to transfer any unused tax allowance from one partner to the other.  Sign here if you agree

Where to start decluttering

Deciding to simplify your home when you have been living a typical consumer lifestyle can be overwhelming, particularly when you don’t have a huge chunk of time to dedicate to having a clear out. Where do you start?

The answer is, it doesn’t matter where you start. Just start. Pick one drawer, cupboard, or box. Take everything out and only put back thing that are useful or that you love. If you’re keeping things ‘just in case’, get rid of it, most things are easily replaced if you do find you need it in future. If you have time, repeat the process with another drawer (or whatever).

Start in the messiest room of the house as that will yield the most items to get rid of. Or start in the tidiest room of the house as that will be less overwhelming and can be ‘finished’ sooner. Or just start in the room you are standing in and find 5 things to get rid of. Decluttering is an ongoing process that will never be truly finished, as our life circumstances change. Simplicity is a journey and not a destination.

Whether you are clearing out your house in a massive purge or just doing one small thing each week, it doesn’t matter where you start. Just start.

Preparing older siblings for home birth

Home birth used to be the norm, before giving birth moved into hospitals. Older siblings would all have been present at a new baby’s birth, and that was normal. Nowadays birth is hidden away from children and even considering having them around is quite unusual. But birth is not scary for children, they don’t have our adult ideas that birth means pain, blood, screaming, drugs etc. And it’s a great way for them to learn about birth by actually witnessing one!

With the news that low-risk mums who have given birth before should be offered home birth, this therefore means deciding what to do with the older child(ren) when the time comes. This is a very personal choice that will come down to your family’s situation and you and your child’s personality and preferences.

For my planned home birth earlier this year, we didn’t have any family nearby who could look after our daughter who was 3, so keeping her at home seemed like the least stressful option for all of us. We also felt that to include her would help her to bond with her little sister.

To prepare her for the birth, my midwife lent me a fantastic children’s book about home birth called Hello, Baby which is a story about a home birth from a child’s point of view. We also watched some videos online of calm home water births, especially ones with other children there, like this one from Mommypotamus and these from Code Name Mama. We also talked about how mummy might make funny noises because I would be doing such hard work and pushing a bit like doing a really big poo!

Ideally you need an extra adult around so that one person can look after the child and one person can look after you. This could either be a family member to look after the child, or an additional birth partner or doula to support you. Sadly this wasn’t an option for us, so instead I put together a big bag of goodies for my daughter including stickers, colouring books, sweets, new puzzles and a new DVD to keep her entertained. We also had a list of phone numbers of friends who were willing to take her to the park for us if she was getting bored (or disturbing me).

You also need a backup plan just in case you need to transfer to hospital. Have someone – a friend or neighbour – who is willing to look after your child overnight if necessary. Pack an overnight bag for them with pjs, favourite teddy and toothbrush. It’s a good idea to have someone on standby who can come and stay at your house if you need to go into hospital while your child is asleep.

In the end I found the labour much harder , and longer, than anticipated as the baby was back-to-back. We had hoped it would happen overnight as it often does but it started in the early hours of the morning and carried on through the day. And my daughter is not great at playing independently so my husband ended up spending all his time keeping her occupied. I was getting quite noisy and she started to get upset and after a few hours of very slow progress I needed more support. So in the end we decided to send my daughter to a friend’s house across the road to play. We had hoped it would be a couple of hours but I had to transfer to hospital in the end so she ended up having a sleepover there. She actually had a great time though and has been asking for another sleepover!

Have you had a home birth with older siblings? Did you decide to keep them at home or make other arrangements? How did it work out?

Ditch The To Do List

All my life I have been a to-do-list-aholic. I’ve always had at least one on the go for most of my adult life, filled with a mixture of must-dos, should-dos, want-to-dos, and basically any task I thought might be a good idea, regardless of whether I had time to actually do them or not.  I thought it was a sure-fire route to becoming a highly effective person. I loved crossing off items on my list as I completed them, but it was rare that I ever ticked off all the items before starting a new list.

Just before I had baby number 2 in February, I ticked off the final item in my last ever to-do list. Let’s be honest, when you have a small baby you can’t get much done (unless you are very lucky and have one of those magical sleeping babies), and having a long list of tasks you don’t have the time or energy for in the back of your mind is not really helpful for making the most of the time with your baby.

My new approach is this: basically, I either deal with stuff straight away, or it doesn’t get done. I’ve found if I let things pile up I just never have a large enough chunk of time to deal with it. So I try and do things as soon as they come up. That way I never get too far behind with anything. For example I try to put dirty dishes in the dishwasher straight after a meal, rather than letting them pile up on the side.  If I’m checking my emails, I archive every email after I’ve read it (and dealt with it if necessary).  If things are important enough, they get done, and if they’re not, they can be done another day.

The only exception I make is, sometimes I make a short list of tasks I need to do when my eldest is at preschool. Because otherwise I walk back in the front door and my mind goes blank, and I spend the morning pottering around the house, and then remember eleventy things I really needed to do as soon as it’s pick up time again.  But if I don’t get everything done I throw the list away.

I’ve definitely found this approach helps me be a bit more present with my two daughters. I have a daily routine of chores I try to get done but beyond that I just try to be available to them. This has helped me deal with the realities of having 2 small children as having a big task list would just be a stick to beat myself over the head with. My priorities at the moment are a) keeping everyone alive, b) making sure the baby gets enough sleep and c) making sure I have plenty of quality time with my preschooler.  I’ve found the best way to achieve this is to be as flexible as possible and ignore the jobs I want to do around the house.  The children won’t be small for long and in a few months I’ll have more time to work on those projects.

And at the end of the day when they are tucked up in bed, I’m not starting on a list of jobs, I’m allowing myself time to relax, read, watch TV or even just go to bed early. I need to make sure my own cup is filled before I can look after anyone else’s needs. And what task is more important than that?

Family Life is Important

So now the government is suggesting that schools should be open from 8am – 6pm, in order to provide childcare for working parents.  Liz Truss suggests that, if schools are not providing this already, they should ask them “why not?”.  And Gove wants pupils to have more hours in school and shorter school holidays.

Why not?

Well, for a start, the purpose of school is to provide an education, not childcare so that parents can work longer hours.  Second of all, a 10-hour day would be a long day for an adult, let alone a child.  Thirdly, this means that parents would only see their children to get them up, dressed and off to school, and then home, bath and bed.  And if both parents are working full time, that leaves the weekend for taking care of household chores, so they are still not spending time together.  Not exactly great for building a strong connection!  And where is the time for children to rest and play?  Both are essential for their health, development, learning and wellbeing.

The government seems hell bent on getting all parents to work as many hours as possible, and getting children into school as soon as possible and as long as possible.  I’m starting to wonder why they think people have children?

I’d also suggest that if parents need to work long hours, the children would be better off being cared for in a family environment, either by grandparents or other relatives, or by a registered childminder.

I’d go as far as to say this contravenes the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that “the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community… [and] the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding.”

Why are we subsidising childcare to such an extent?  Why not subsidise families instead, and let the parents decide how much childcare they want, if at all?  Because, and here’s a shocking idea, some people might actually want to bring up their own children themselves.


Breastfeeding in public: What’s the big deal?

My facebook newsfeed is full of blog posts about breastfeeding in public and pictures of nurse-ins.  As a breastfeeding mum myself, I do not find this helpful or reassuring. I hate the fact that the way we feed our babies is now a political statement. In fact all the media coverage about it makes me *more* nervous about feeding in public.

I do feed my baby in public, because my baby likes to feed quite often and if I didn’t I would never leave the house. I would really like this to just be something that is not worthy of comment. I am quite a shy person, I would never even wear a bikini (even pre-baby I didn’t) so getting my boobs out in public makes me feel extremely self-conscious as it is. Now I have to worry about whether someone is going to come and tell me it’s disgusting, or ask me to cover up or do it in the toilet, and I have to be prepared with what I am going to say if they do. I have breastfed 2 babies now and no one has ever said anything to me about it but because of the media circus I am hyper-aware that one day, someone might take exception to it and feel the need to say something about it.

Also, apparently if I breastfeed in public it means I hate formula feeding mums.  What???  Where did this idea come from?  I have no opinion on formula feeding mums. Seriously, I don’t care if you bottle feed your baby.  It’s none of my business.  (PS I combination fed my first baby breast and formula, not that it’s any of your business).  So if we are in a cafe and I am breastfeeding and you are bottle feeding, we are both just feeding our babies, right?  Nothing to get worked up about there.

Please could we all just CTFD?  Breastfeeding my baby in public is not a political statement or a judgement on other mums, it’s just a way of getting milk into her tummy when she needs it.