Parenting just outside the lines…

I don’t class myself as a radical parent – not intentionally that is.

I didn’t set out to do some of the things I do as a mother, we have trundled along as a family and found what fits best for us. Sometimes led by the two year old, and sometimes dragging her kicking and screaming down our chosen path (see vegetables, bedtime stories, sensible shoes, raincoats in storms, and suncream). What I have discovered is that some of my choices leave us just slightly left of ‘normal’ which leaves me constantly having to justify and question myself as a parent. If we had exposure to varied approaches to parenting, – in the media, in advertising, in films – if the norm wasn’t portrayed as happy, smiley, heterosexual, healthy, sleepy baby, coiffed mother with time to give a flying fuck about washing detergent she uses – then maybe there wouldn’t be a ‘right’ way to parent. Maybe the right way would purely be keep ‘em fed, clean, loved and safe. Here are my radical ways in a totally conformist list format…

I use a sling…

For many months I used a wrap exclusively. I hated our rickety pram and I liked the cuddles. It was never a dig at those who chose to wheel around their precious cargo. It was never a statement. I just found it easier. If kidder had shown a dislike I wouldn’t have carried on but at over two stone she still gets carried – though for much shorter bursts (and not in this heat jeez) and we get looks all the time. Newcastle has a thriving sling community but the act of wrapping my child in material never fails to get a comment from a member of the public. I could argue that wraps probably came before prams but…

I breastfed past 6 months…a year…18 months…two…err

Yes I am still breastfeeding my toddler. I am very pro-breast and was adamant that I would breastfeed until 6 months when I first began. (I am not militant about it. I am not a woman who believes formula is the Devil’s nectar. In fact, my first thought at 4:45am when a full set of sharp pearly whites clamps down on me after a misjudged latch is quite often ‘why the bloody hell did I ever bother with this?’) I find myself feeding not out of a love for it, but out of worry that my non-eater will starve to death, or live a life fuelled only by Freddos if I dare to stop. I don’t tend to justify myself when it comes to feeding. It is what is it and if my little girl gets comfort and nutrition from it then it cannot be bad (except at 4:45 in the morning) but I clock the looks when my medication has to be changed due to breastfeeding, or when she demands it in public. I am not doing it for attention but attention it gets.

Child has no bedtime…

This isn’t all my fault, the child won’t sleep! There will come a time when she does need a stricter routine and I will have to choose sitting in her bedroom for hours on end trying to get her down at 7:30 but for now she runs amok downstairs until her little legs can cope no more so that her dad and I can enjoy each other’s company for an hour after work, and so that she can spend time with whichever parent has been at work that day.

I am not married…

Neither is my partner. We are together. This confuses some people. It shouldn’t as it is the 21st Century after all. Institutions just can’t handle it though. I can’t tell you the amount of times I have been asked how my husband is, or what he does for work, while sitting in a doctor’s room. My sister has never understood why this bothers me. I spend half of my life correcting people. ‘It’s not Mrs, it’s Ms’, ‘we’re not married’, ‘haha no it isn’t because he hasn’t asked, it’s because I don’t want to’. Whether people intend offence or not, by assuming marriage is the only option it devalues those relationships that have not been signed off by a vicar or registrar. Is a marriage of six months worth more than my relationship of 11 years? Are we lesser parents? Of course not. Our daughter will be able to function in society just like anyone else’s child.

She has two last names…

Yeah she does. One is mine. She is 50% me and 50% her dad so two names it is. There is no hyphen – this does the heads in of most NHS staff. I have seen her name written down correctly once in the two years she has been on this planet and that is the birth certificate. Not having a hyphen, or having the name of your mother should not cause this much agro but because it is just slightly peculiar the world seems to stop spinning.

I don’t put my daughter on Facebook…

Now, this is for four reasons. Advertising, childless friends, photo sharing, and my own self worth. I don’t like the idea of advertisers knowing her name and age before she does so I don’t write it anywhere. I don’t want my childless friends to be bored of what I have to say, having a kid is already alienating enough from the life you used to lead without pissing off those who still live it. The internet is already flooded with images of children and while I know not everyone is the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang childcatcher incarnate, some are. And finally, my daughter does not define who I am. It is my Facebook account where I voice my opinions, failings, achievements. When she is ready to face the world with her own acerbic wit and pith she can have an account, but until then the back of her head occasionally will pop up on my wall. As my best friend said to me, ‘it is like there is the vague notion of a child’. All of this means I am choosing to be different from the majority of parents…again.

I parent in pain…

Grief-stricken parenting is a joy. I don’t for a moment think I am special. Being a parent does not protect you from the more hideous aspects of live – death of a relative or friend, illness, abortions, miscarriages, divorce, unemployment. There are so many things that can upset the delicate balance of a home with a young child in. Parents in pain just have to get on with it, or choose not to at the expense of the child. Some days are manic in the effort it takes to hide your emotion from the outside world; others are manageable with just a quick cry on the toilet. I think time will help but I also think it would help if parenting wasn’t so divisive, if it could be done without the ‘helpful’ interjections from strangers in the street, if a sad Mam can look melancholy without being told her daughter will catch her bad mood, if a toddler tantrum could be ignored rather than tutted at. But when you are surrounded by the images of beautiful women pushing their tots in prams while the angelic darling drinks water from a cup without spilling any, and munches happily on carrot sticks and humous after a 10 hour sleep is it a wonder mums and dads in the real world think ‘shit, I might be doing this wrong’.

martha2

Martha

About Janine 592 Articles
I am an antenatal teacher, doula, baby massage instructor, postnatal educator, life coach, writer, mum, wife, friend and, sometimes, just me. As an experienced and qualified practitioner, I specialise in pregnancy, birth and early parenting - my aim is to listen, inform, support and reassure when needed. I have worked with parents since 2002 and I set up Birth, Baby & Family in 2011 to provide good information, a different perspective and links to the best products and services for families. I set up the Birth, Baby & Family Centre in 2014 to provide a welcoming, friendly and supportive space for parents across Tyneside.

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