Not All Mothers Are Created Equal

Not long after I had my baby boy last year, a friend added me to a Mum’s group on Facebook – the kind of closed group where people ask questions and share advice about parenting.

Tonight, I left the group. I can no longer deal with the completely ignorant, trivial, outrageously stupid comments. It’s infuriating. And I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the intention of the group.

I’m honestly surprised I remained a part of it for so long. Sure, there have been a few helpful posts from time to time, but not often enough to justify seeing absolute dribble pop up in my timeline more often than desired.

Perhaps something went wrong when I had my baby. I didn’t change as a person. I didn’t grind my life to a halt and spend every moment obsessing about my child. I didn’t become paranoid about germs and noise pollution.

I am still the same person.

In fact, I might even be a bit better. A tad wiser. And even less interested in being diplomatic.

Because, after having a child, here’s one thing I know more than anything else: having a child does not make you intelligent or productive or logical or accomplished or attractive. If you didn’t have it before you were a parent, you aren’t going to have it after becoming one.

And contrary to what the world will have you believe, we are not all born equal. I am not the same as you or him or her and certainly not them. We are the product of our environment, our genes, our choices, our experiences, our opinions, our attitude and so much more. Some people are better than others. That’s not even up for debate. It’s the bloody truth. And if you disagree, if you’re offended, you should probably stop reading now.

This is only going to get worse.

Tonight’s post, the one that raised my blood pressure and quickly prompted me to hit ‘leave group’, was from a mum expressing concern that the childcare centre she was considering enrolling her son in had a male carer and that was a major turn off to her. Because, you know, male carers in childcare centres must automatically be child molesters.

I was actually a little disgusted by her view. I read through the comments on the post and some people thought she was being overly paranoid and others agreed with her. And then I thought; I wonder what people would have said if she expressed concern about an Asian carer at the childcare centre? Or an Indian one? Or a homosexual carer?

And then I thought; what kind of men does this woman have in her life? Because all of the men in mine are wonderful and decent and exceptional, and dare I say it, sometimes much better people than their female counterparts.

And then I thought; how did we get to a point where it’s ok to validly and publicly assume that the actions of a few horrible men can define an entire gender and generation?

And then I thought; I bet she watches A Current Affair every night. That or Today Tonight. Because if you’re not the sharpest knife in the drawer or you’re more ignorant than informed, it’s the exact type of deluded paranoia that these pathetic programs rely on to keep their ratings afloat.

And now, typing away furiously, I think; why just men? Women can be violent and abusive. What about that?

So that was it for me.

That and the fact I’m not actually interested in half the shit these mothers talk about. Parenting isn’t actually that complicated. Your child is not a robot designed to mimic your life and embody your hopes and dreams. Your job as a parent is to equip your child for the world, to the best of your abilities – to encourage them, to help them grow – physically, emotionally, mentally – to guide them, to give them the tools to be the best person they can possibly be, and hopefully use that in a way that helps others.

No one talks about that in this group. The focus is on more important things, like, you know, how to get your child to sleep in later, so you can sleep in later, and how to buy a house in the right zone so you can get the best education for your child without having to pay for it, and where to stay in Bali, and ‘oh, where was that café again, the one where I can sip my decaf-skim-latte-and-let-my-kids-run-wild?’, and how to give solids to your child, and why weet-bix are evil, and ‘where can I buy a realistic looking doll that doesn’t look too doll-like but is still a doll?’

There’s a lot of that going on.

It’s all funny memes and quotes about motherhood that are supposed to make an ordinary woman who has never done anything significant with her life feel better about her decision to bear children and cries of ‘I’m boooooooored, what can I do today?’

Bored? Bored? I haven’t been bored a day in my life.

And now, thankfully, I won’t get infuriated half as often either.

The mums I know – the ones I’ve made friends with and met along the way – are all amazing women. So I console myself with the hope that the ones that grate me so much are far and few between. Because I don’t want my son growing up in a world where he thinks that being a male child care worker, or a male anything, is weird or uncomfortable or unmanly.

I don’t want him to believe that what he sees on television and in advertising is a true depiction of what it means to be a man. Newsflash; not every man loves his shed and only knows how to navigate a remote control and enjoys beer and is stupid/embarrassing to his family.

For all our efforts in telling girls they can be anything they want (and they can), and for all the trail-blazing in helping them get there, we have somehow left behind a few huge gaping holes for our boys.

The holes are everywhere. On our TV screens and in our iPhones and in our schools and coming out of the mouths of women.

Enough.

To the woman concerned about her son being in a centre with a male childcare worker, I only want to know your answer to this:

If you think so poorly of men, how can you ever hope to raise a good man?

When You’re Pregnant, Everyone Has An Opinion

First published in Onya Magazine, February 6th, 2013.

It’s interesting being a pregnant woman.

Suddenly, everyone* has an opinion on your body, what you should and shouldn’t be doing, eating and drinking.

Don’t eat poached eggs. Don’t eat ham. Steer clear of coffee. Watch those steps. Don’t lift that. Don’t do this. Don’t try that.

This morning, I heard Chrissie Swan’s tearful and heartfelt admission about struggling to quit smoking while being pregnant.

“Over the last year I have taken up a habit I thought I kicked for good years ago, smoking the occasional cigarette, in total secret and never more than five a week. I never told the chippy (her partner) or my friends I’d taken it up again and I’m not sure I ever would have come out of hiding and acknowledged I was addicted, but this week a pap photographer snapped me smoking a cigarette whilst alone in my car and I knew it was only a matter of time before it became public.”

I’m not here to debate the rights and wrongs of Chrissie’s admission and I won’t get into a debate about it. One tweet this morning was enough for me to realise that some people are all black and white, unable to see the grey. The very same people are full of their own contradictions, but somehow fail to see them. And I refuse to argue with people like that because their blinkers and attitude bother me. Immensely.

I wish Chrissie all the best in quitting her smoking habit – for good. As someone who has never smoked, I have no idea how hard it is to quit, but I have a huge amount of respect for her addressing the issue in the way she did, without making excuses. I’ve got no doubt she’s an amazing mother. And instead of beating her down, I hope we can find ways to support her, and others in similar situations.

When you’re pregnant, people don’t just have opinions on what you should do and eat, they’ve also got opinions on how you should look. I’ve been told everything from, ‘wow, you are huge’ through to, ‘you don’t look pregnant at all!’ At over six months pregnant, I do look it. But I think I look exactly what I’m supposed to look like at this stage of my pregnancy. No two bodies are the same, so it makes sense that no two pregnant bodies are going to be the same. There’s no right way to look. And often, when we’re presented with an image of pregnancy, it’s not an accurate one: a model parading maternity clothes with a belly bump clasped around her waist is not an accurate depiction of a pregnant woman. Kudos to the magazines and online stores that use real, pregnant women to showcase their fashions and wares.

I don’t buy ‘women’s magazines’ (I’d rather stab myself in the eye with a fork) but I was flicking through the latest issue of Woman’s Day this morning, and I saw this:

Post-Baby Bodies

And I instantly thought, ‘fuck you, Woman’s Day.’ Perhaps the caption ‘they’re in no rush’ was meant in a positive way: ‘Hooray, they’re in no rush to be super slim, how refreshing!’ but I’m not so sure it was.

The focus on women’s bodies post-pregnancy (or any time at all) is not healthy. It’s not constructive. It’s not even important. Where is the focus on health? On happiness? On a happy heart and mind? Why don’t you publish that, Woman’s Day?

I’ve met pregnant women obsessed with their size. Obsessed with exercising and following a strict eating regime. I’ve read countless pieces of information in websites and books explaining what to eat, when to eat and how much to eat. That it’s not necessary to eat for two. And it isn’t – rather, as your pregnancy progresses, so too does the need for you to up your calorie intake.

I don’t eat much junk food. I cook a lot of meals at home. I eat a well-balanced, varied diet. I love fresh food. Fruits and vegetables and grains. Some days, I eat pretty much the same as would I would pre-pregnancy. On others, I’m ravenous every two hours. I listen to my body and feed it regularly – as and when it needs it.

Seeing your body change when pregnant is quite incredible – it’s amazing, but it’s also frightening, at times. The last thing pregnant women need to be told is how pregnant they look. I can’t bend down in the shower to shave my legs properly; do you think I need anyone telling me my belly is growing?

It’s not the right or the responsibility of anyone to pass judgment, comment or advice onto pregnant women. Perhaps an obstetrician, or a GP, when approached and questioned, but it’s not up to you or me.

Eating a sandwich with fetta the other week, my lunch companion questioned whether I should be eating that particular type of cheese. Drinking an iced coffee the other day, the waitress wondered aloud whether it was ok for me to be doing so.

Um, what?

I know being pregnant means being slightly more cautious with certain foods and environments, but it doesn’t mean you can’t live. Or eat. In fact, I’d go so far as to surmise that our obsession with eliminating so many food types is half the reason we have a generation of children walking around allergic to every second food group.

I spent half the summer scoffing prawns and fresh seafood. I’ve eaten camembert. And prosciutto. And I don’t need the pregnancy police telling me how or what to eat. I buy good quality, fresh food and I won’t take policing from someone who defrosts their dinner in a microwave every night.

I’m much more concerned with being healthy, strong and happy. And my focus – and that of the pregnancy police – should be directed towards parenting and raising well-adjusted, empathetic, educated children, rather than worrying about the contents of my sandwich.

*Usually strangers.