1 year ago…

… I was cuddling my new born son, my second child. My labour and his birth were a little on the dramatic side, so I was feeling relieved, and grateful that a journey that started with a lot of heartache and too many miscarraiges had ended so well.

Oh, and my hubby and I are clinking our glasses together in relief that the most sleep deprived year of our life is over.

The Juggle

Ten days since my first blog…

And I have learnt a lot. First, how impressively organised, connected and supportive is the blogging community. Through my browsings of, for example, Tots 100 and Britmums, I find passion, shared vision, a real sense of community. The willingness to offer ideas, advice and wisdom is a reminder of the best of what humanity can be. It also makes me feel hopeful that I might just be able to turn my small but significant belief in my own ability into something that brings me regular creative satisfaction and a few of the readies… Hats off to all of you who do this week in week out.

The Juggle.

The juggle of parenting, the struggle to achieve a balance between kids and self, between what must be done and what we’d like to be doing, seems to be a major focus of many blogs I’ve started following this week. And I guess that is to be expected. Every generation of mums has hurdles, highs and lows, headaches to ease. I’m not saying that this generation has it any tougher than those who’ve gone before; I would not much fancy my existence minus the washing machine or the dishwasher. But for those of currently in the thick of the jungle that is raising small children, our biggest challenge appears to be fighting our way out of the long grass known as ‘getting it all done and still feeling like you’re in there, somewhere’.

Just a few days ago I had cause to ask my hubby to have the kids for a big chunk of the day. I was gone from nine in the morning till around three in the afternoon. It was a rainy kind of day, and after a busy week, it wasn’t a day for rushing off to the indoor play centre or the zoo. So they stayed at home, played, read stories, kept an eye on the sport on the TV, and waited for me to get back. And just as we ladies would do, in the midst of all this, he got a couple of loads of laundry on and cleared up the debris from our mini fireworks party with friends the night before. No doubt he also had his laptop on as well, checking in with work stuff. Taking a moment, he posted on facebook, (with tongue firmly in cheek), that he was a Domestic God for multi-tasking so successfully. Friends bounced back that indeed he was, and a giggle was had by all. When I got round to reading his post that evening, I commented that this one day of his was just like all of mine, or words to that effect, -adding my appreciation so that he knew it wasn’t a dig. But my point was this;  like most mums I know, I am every day, every moment, switching levels between the nurture of my kids (which has multiple levels in itself), domestic tasks, freelance work (that isn’t writing and isn’t fun), my voluntary position as Committee Chair for my daughter’s pre-school, family administrator, and so on, and so on. And while there is a buzz that goes with getting it all done, and my Buddhist friend would remind me of the attachment one can have to the busy-ness itself; but I am left wondering , almost daily, how a mother’s  life got like this, got so, well, crazed and hectic. After all, I hadn’t been off for six hours having a back massage and a manicure, I’d been holding a meeting with staff from the pre-school, and food shopping. Hardly what you’d call ‘time out’.

So I think it isn’t surprising that bloggers blog about the juggle, not least because it is soothing to know that others are juggling while at the same time wondering why the juggle is such a juggle. If we all keep tapping away about it, the solution might just untangle itself from our blur of words. I look forward to it.

Not Different But Interesting

Blogging: everyone is doing it
The most notable thing to come out of my research into blogging about parenting? Answer; how many people are at it. Fascinating. I read stuff in the newspapers about how I am living in the age of self-disclosure, how the whole world and its dog (or in this case, kid) wants to share their life experience via the web. But, despite my sitting each evening with laptop at least nearby (glued to my thighs may be a more honest appraisal), reading blogs has not been my thing. Yet it would appear I am about the only person I know who isn’t following someone, somewhere. Tots 100 (a community for parenting bloggers) estimates that about 6 million folk in the UK are following the 4000 or so bloggers who focus on parenting issues. That’s 4000 individuals who all have something to contribute to the subject of how we raise our children in this country (and a lot of advertising revenue, by-the-by). So, however witty, erudite or thought-provoking I think I am being, the very existence of so many others, busy creating content on my chosen subject, means I that am unlikely to ever be Different. But I might just manage Interesting.

Cognitive dissonance and the meaning of feminism
Have you heard of ‘cognitive dissonance’? A psychology graduate told me about the concept a long time ago now. In rough terms, it describes the sensation one has when trying to reconcile two or more views held on one subject and finding that they just won’t blend into a single coherent perspective. An article on the front page of today’s Observer has reminded me of the notion. In very concise terms, the article examines the impact of the high cost of childcare in this country, and laments the impact this is having on families as they endeavour to get by in these tough times. In particular it focuses on how un-worthwhile it has become for many mums, as the ‘second earner’ in the household, to commit to working anything more than a few hours, as the cost of childcare cancels out any benefit to the family purse. Quotes abound
about how living standards will never rise if we don’t get mothers back into the workplace.

Now, I was playing with my Tiny Tears when Germaine was publishing her polemics and the Equal Pay Act came into force, and I was a teenager when a woman lived at Number 10. My mum was a single parent and I let myself in after school. I should be a Feminist with a capital F, and be out there campaigning for all I am worth for my right to have a career at the same time as being a mum. But as I read this article today, with paragraph after paragraph of criticism for the current situation, I wondered ‘and what about the kids?’. The demand for more affordable childcare rang loud and clear but at no point did the author wonder whether spending all this time away from mummy (or daddy) would do little Jonny any good. I don’t want to knock The Observer unduly as it has done a good job of covering the impact of childcare on children on other occasions. And when I checked the online comments, I was relieved that my fellow countrymen (and women) had spotted the omission. Plenty of others had questioned whether increasing the availability of childcare was the way forward, arguing that maybe some of us actually just want to be fiscally-free to stay at home and raise our kids the old fashioned way, and that perhaps our kids would be happier if we did just that. I know, as a modern, educated mum I am supposed to want it all, even be able to have it all and do it all, but should it really be about what I want? What about what my kids need?

So, getting back to my graduate friend and his cognitive dissonance, here’s where I am at. As far as I can tell, there is no one answer to the question of how we support families to be financially stable, because there is no one kind of ‘second-earner’ mother. I might be a mum who would rather not have to go out of the home to work, and laments the fact that my finances don’t match up to my Radio-4-listening fantasy. I don’t need there to be more childcare, but I do need government to organise its tax and benefits system differently so that I can be home now while our kids are really little (she’s 4, he’s 11 months, if you’re wondering). But my ‘sister’ down the road, busting a proverbial gut to get her business off the ground would probably be appalled with me, because she really does want to be back out there, and isn’t being enabled in her goal either. The undoubtedly un-feminist thought enters my head, that all Feminism has meant for me is that I have to work harder to keep the roof over, the food in the fridge and the kids within the parameters of content. And it still hasn’t resulted in giving me or my sisters the kind of choice our mums and their sisters were hoping it would.