Category Archives: Feminist Parenting

No More

I don’t want to have another child.

It just isn’t a possibility I can even consider.

I can’t face the thought of another pregnancy; nine long months. And then what at the end?

Oh I’m sure everyone will tell me – a beautiful baby!

But there is another hurdle to face first. Another birth. And what should I do then. Push the baby out and try not to panic that I’m going to deliver my womb as well? A cesarean? Find myself tied down under those lights again? I know a planned surgical procedure would be different. But heck, I’m nervous about how I would cope at a dentists now. So.

So I don’t want another child.

So my heart is heavy for the young mother in Queensland who is asking to be sterilised and is being refused.

My heart is heavy because since when can women who have carried three children not be trusted to make this decision for themselves. Since forever.

And my heart is heavy because the Royal Aust and NZ College of Obstetricians & Gynocologists think it is too risky, because she might change her mind, when she is older. Because ‘less permanent options should be explored’.

Contraception has already failed these parents three times. What happens if it fails again? What sort of decisions are we forcing them into then?

This woman has reportedly had pregnancies complicated by Gestational Diabetes, and difficult deliveries. Getting through a first pregnancy can be tough for some women. Getting through a second pregnancy while caring for a small child can be really tough. I imagine getting through a third difficult pregnancy with two young children would be really, really tough. I can understand she can’t face the thought of a fourth pregnancy with three children to care for. So what exactly is supposed to happen to make this woman change her mind?

It is sometimes suggested to women that if one child dies, you might want another. Contrary to what some fogeys think, the current generation of young parents don’t view their children as replaceable accessories. I know for generations this is one reason why families were large, the heir and a spare. But the world has changed and now we invest in the children we do have.

Perhaps as their children grow older they will miss the baby stage so much they’ll wish they could go back and have another. I’m not going to pretend I expect never to gush over newborns again, to have a moment of imagining. But I know the second the implications of what that would entail occurred to me the wishing would stop. And sometimes we just have to make our peace with the facts. And the facts are four children is very expensive these days. A car big enough for all those car seats. A house big enough. The food bill. Most people can’t afford four children. And let’s not forget the slating large families get in the media if they need tax-payer help to make ends meet. Easier to slate them, than to help them control their fertility. So I can understand wondering and wishing, but I think many women are rational enough to let the facts win.

Or perhaps she should just be grateful for her fertility, when so many women struggle? But other women’s fertility should have no bearing on her individual case.

The real reason my heart is heavy is this. I think this family love their children. The children they already have, the one that is on the way. I think like all parents they want the best for the children they have, and they should not be denied this for the sake of the children they could possibly have. Sterilisation would remove stress from their lives.

Life with young children can be stressful. It is hard for parents to find time for themselves. This can in turn put stress on relationships. And yes, these parents are young, so let’s support them in having a strong relationship by recognising their joint decision that their childbearing days are done.  A sex life, intimacy is an important part of a relationship. If they are constantly worrying about conceiving a child how is that supposed to happen?

There is another option, if they do conceive a child through failed contraception again. But I thought we were supposed to be against abortion as contraception? Remember too that in Queensland abortion is only legal if performed for the mother’s physical or mental health.

So because this woman cannot be trusted to be rational enough to decide at 22 she doesn’t want her fourth child she may instead find herself asking her doctors to sign paperwork saying she is not physically or mentally capable of continuing with another pregnancy, after a fetus has been conceived.

And they say feminism is dead.

Holly Maitland’s online petition to Malcom Turnball to allow women control of their own fertility is here

A Room of One’s Own

When I was pregnant people always told me I would have no time for reading once my child was born.

‘Haha!’ They would gloat ‘You’ll be too exhausted. You’ll be too busy. You’ll be too emotional. You’ll be too engrossed watching them sleep. You’ll start watching Grey’s Anatomy so you can obsess over romantic crises and medical mishaps because your poor widdle Mummy brain won’t be able to do anything else.’

I hated it. And in my expectant new parent state I didn’t know what to expect so I kind of believed it.

One of my earliest memories is my mother reading James and The Giant Peach to my older sister and me. I remember the day my sister stormed into my bedroom at bedtime demanding I learn to read in my head; a revolutionary idea that changed my life. I remember the library visits multiple times a week. I remember the librarians, and I remember that they got to know us. I remember how they helped us to choose new books as we grew into the older reading sections of the library. I remember getting to go to a bookstore and choosing a book for myself, My Friend Flicka, to take on holiday. I remember reading crappy books like the Babysitter’s Club, and great books like Charlotte’s Web and A Wizard of Earthsea. I remember my mother handing me Pride and Prejudice from her bookshelf, telling me how wonderfully Jane Austen crafted sentences. I remember the hours I have spent in second hand bookstores building a collection that has travelled around the world with me.

So when people told me I wouldn’t have time to read, I wonder if they realise they were telling me I would lose something so important to me, something that is part of my sense of self.

It was bullshit.

My family knew me well, and for my birthday, just two weeks after my son was born I was given a kindle. I could hold it and feed at the same time! And say what you like about Amazon being an evil monopoly that treat authors badly (I’m sorry Margaret Atwood!), and a massive money pit (pro tip # read free classics. Luckily I like a good Victorian novel) to me, at that point in my life it was a sanity saver.

I know a lot of people don’t read a lot when they have small children. That’s fine. I’d never judge that. I understand being tired and exhausted and the words swimming on the page in front of you. Sometimes I am too tired to read for long. I find however, ten minutes reading in bed, maybe with a piece of chocolate (ok, pieces) ends the day on a good note. It gives my brain a chance to relax. To step back from all the cares and worries of the day. I find a place that is bigger than the world of a story, space that is bigger than the gaps between the text. It is somewhere that belongs to just me.

I hate to say it. It’s Me-time.

Parents (let’s be honest here – mothers) are constantly told the importance of me-time. The world veers between telling us we should be completely fulfilled with the joys of raising children. Oh, how I love endless piles of washing! Oh how I enjoy picking duplo off the floor! Oh the cooking as I balance a toddler on my hip! Or telling us we need to squeeze in some time for ourselves. And that last bit – it’s actually true.

As much as the phrase ‘me-time’ makes me cringe it is important to not get completely subsumed by family life. Whether it is going to the gym or running, a sewing project, a *cough* blog, or a monthly night out, whatever, it is important. It’s unfair to go around expecting people to give every moment of their life to their families. It is unfair to new mothers to joke about how their life is over, they can never have anything for themselves ever again. No seriously. It is really unkind. It is also healthy for our children to learn that we have interests of our own.

The metaphorical Room of my Own might feel quite far away, spending all day with a 13month old in 74m² apartment. My night time reading is somewhat liable to be interrupted by crying or a pre-schooler who wants the potty and is not able to wait while I just finish my paragraph. But, sometimes when my son is at daycare, and my daughter has a nap, I ignore the washing, the dishes, the duplo, and I sit and write or read. For a long time people told me I should try and sleep, but I would just lie in bed awake, thinking about how sleep deprived I was. But, a book, words on a page. They too refresh me, nourish me. I can lose myself and find my thoughts.

Bliss.

Stop. In the name of love.

I told myself not to write this yesterday.

I knew anything I wrote would be too angry.

I think we can agree that the death of an endangered animal in a zoo was a tragedy.

What I don’t understand, what makes me angry, is how the mother of a four year old boy is now public enemy number one.

I don’t want to argue specifics. Other people have done that. There are plenty of places and articles dissecting the events at Cincinnati Zoo. Some are even managing to do so without hysteria.

And maybe this mother is a shit mum. Maybe she is completely selfish, thinking the world revolves around her and her children. Maybe she is lazy. Maybe she is incompetent. Maybe. But I don’t think we can know this from one moment of inattention. Maybe she is guilty of nothing more than assuming there was no way her child would be able to climb into a gorilla enclosure at a large, well-known zoo.

Since when did one mistake make you criminally negligent?

The fact that seems to have been forgotten is that parents are not in control of their children 100% of the time. Fact. We can’t be. We won’t be. Parents never have been. It’s just that ten, twenty years ago, nobody had camera phones to capture the moment. Children are autonomous beings, with their own desires and impulses, with an ability to move independently.

Yes, it is a parent’s job to teach their children to control some of their impulses, to guide them to act in a way harmonious with their society. But this takes, years. More than four.

When our children are little the potential for disaster is always only a moment away. Just last weekend my son scooted ahead on a crossing, towards the oncoming cars, one of which hadn’t yet stopped. Just last week my daughter shoved a perfectly round stone in her mouth. Just a month ago my daughter crawled off to join her brother in the bedroom while I cooked, I could hear them laughing and thought they were fine, until I looked only a minute, maybe two, to find my son had tied a collar round her neck. One like a choke collar. He was pretending she was his dog.

A few months ago we visited Copenhagen. Standing at a tram station, trying to calculate our ticket purchase, we suddenly looked down to see our son wasn’t there. Just as a tram pulled out of the station. There was a moment of sheer panic, imagining him alone on a tram, watching it drive away from us while we yelled his name, only for him to poke his head perplexedly around a barrier. I hope that all the people saying she should having been holding on, he should have been on a leash, never learn what it feels like to look for your child and not see them. I hope that when they do, it all ends as uneventfully as it did for us.

If things hadn’t ended well, would it make me a bad parent? One awful moment. One catastrophe. A never ending stream of newspaper headlines announcing my failure to the world.

This sort of judgement doesn’t just effect people when something goes badly wrong. It is an extension of the same attitude that judges parents every time their child misbehaves in public. This idea that we should always be in control, able to stop a tantrum with what, firmness? By which people mean, our children should be so frightened of us that they stop a normal expression of frustration and anger with just a look, or a word.

Should parents brains always be on high alert for the potential to misbehave, or have accidents? Should we hover over our child, protecting them from the world, the world from them? Will you then judge us for being helicopter parents? This doesn’t sound healthy for anyone. Sometimes parenting involves giving your child space and hoping the mistakes they make don’t lead to catastrophe.

It isn’t enough to tell parents to avoid the internet, the source of all that is toxic. You should not make the mistake of thinking that this is confined to the internet. Avoiding it means not listening, not making eye contact. And I do not think that is any sort of solution.

The only solution is respect, support, kindness, compassion. No-one wants to live in isolated bubbles. So stop pretending you have the right to one where ever and when ever you choose. Stop pretending you are perfect and never make mistakes.

Stop judging, and grant children the same freedoms and guidance and love you were once granted.

Don’t read the comments…

Dear My Flatpack Life,

I’ve been reading your blog, and I do think you go on a bit. All these young women these days you do make such a fuss over nothing. My Great-Aunt Mabel raised 23 children in a hut, and she did it without complaining once. She just got on with it.

She didn’t have epidurals or a water birth. No, she knew it was her duty as the progeny of Eve to suffer. Obviously she didn’t suffer too much, I mean she didn’t experience pre-eclampsia or obstructed labour, or haemorrhaging, or infections despite the lack of sanitation. Otherwise she would have been too dead to complain. But still, you aren’t allowed to complain about surviving a terrible medical emergency. That’s what I tell people who’ve survived a cardiac arrest or are recovering from a stroke- ‘Well, you’re not dead, so just get on with it’. Only dead people are allowed to complain. Did I say 23 children? Well, they didn’t all survive childbirth, or even childhood, but Mabel never complained.

Her life is exactly comparable to yours in every way except all the ways your life is easier. She didn’t have a dishwasher, or electricity. Nope. Luckily, she did have daughters, not too many though, you wouldn’t want too many of those. Just enough to help out around the house and look after the younger children while the boys did their homework so they could learn to provide for their families in manly, important ways.

Despite all that housework Great Aunt Mabel used to watch her children every minute. Every minute. She never stopped watching them so they didn’t have any of those accidents that happen now-days because the parents should have been watching the kids. She never used a phone to check emails because she didn’t have a job outside the home, or electronic bills, or god-forbid, a social life. But she also knew the exact right moment to look away. Because she wasn’t one of these silly helicopter parents with their namby-pamby kids. You can’t watch them forever you know.

And if you didn’t want to become a taxi service you shouldn’t have let yourself become one. Great Aunt Mabel didn’t have to take the kids everywhere. She was too busy Not Complaining to do that. So they just walked everywhere because they had to. No car. No busy roads to Not Complain about. No social services checking in on parents who allow their children to walk anywhere unaccompanied. You shouldn’t do that, can’t be too careful these days.

Great Aunt Mabel never took the kids out to a café and let them misbehave. She never drank a latte in her life. You’re so spoiled. And your kids. They’re spoiled too. Why, the other day a mother was sitting a café with her children as though it was a public space and they had every right to be there. Totally ruined my cappuccino that did.

She didn’t need to have a job either. Nothing that would selfishly take her away from her children who needed their mother to look after them. It’s no wonder kids have so many problems these days with their mothers so distracted by working. It’s no wonder they are all fat without mothers cooking decent meals for them. It’s no wonder they are out roaming the street in those packs –packs I tell you- without mothers waiting to greet them after school. Great Aunt Mabel knew that was her job, and she dedicated herself to it.

Mind you, mothers these days seem to expect some sort of award for parenting. They seem to think the whole world revolves around it. They should definitely devote every single moment to their children but they shouldn’t think it’s important.

Oh No. We never asked Great Aunt Mabel how she felt. We didn’t discuss feelings. No, we never asked if she cried silently over the cooking. We never wondered about the dark circles under her eyes. We never listened on those occasions she chatted with other women. But they weren’t complaining. I’m sure they lived happy fulfilling lives in which they trampled every emotion that couldn’t be written down in a gratitude journal.

Actually, she didn’t write a journal. Great Aunt Mabel couldn’t read or write. So her voice and the voice of countless women have been lost to posterity. But still, no point complaining about that, eh?

Yours judgementally.