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Posts Tagged ‘mama guilt’

Because I’m the primary caregiver in this parenting partnership, half of what I do goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Usually it’s the mother who stays home with the kids, or only returns to work part-time or on flexi-time, and the mother who becomes the expert on her children and home.

Sometimes, I hate it. I really, really hate it. Because it’s so easy for me to shoulder the load that there’s a perpetual slide, so on days like to today something small happens, like Sebastian not going down for his nap on time while I am out, and I totally lose the plot.

I lost the plot today because if Sebastian doesn’t go down for his nap on time then I have to decide whether to wake him up before he’s had enough sleep and deal with a nightmarish toddler for the rest of the day, all so he can go back to bed at an appropriate hour… or I have to let him nap late, which means he’ll be up later, which means I get more tired and stressed as the evening wears on because he’s still not in bed.

This might seem like small change but I am tired, and pregnant, and reaching the horribly uncomfortable stage of pregnancy, and feeling resentful as I mentally tally all the tasks and responsibilities I have been shouldering lately without any recognition that I do these things, and our home runs smoothly because of it.

It’s invisible work. The things that I do without question, the lists and information I carry around in my head, the schedules I make and the information I obtain. Things that SOMEBODY has to deal with, and because I’ve got it sorted then nobody else bothers.

I know all the relevant parenting information, because I have made myself an expert on the topic. I know my son’s vaccination schedule, I know how to keep our Family Assistance income coming in smoothly from the government, and even though Sebastian’s not in daycare right now, I know which three daycare centres in my area have current vacancies.

I buy all the Christmas and birthday gifts for both my family and Alex’s family, and I’ll be doing all the wrapping. I have a fairly precise idea of what’s in our pantry and fridge on any given day, so I do almost all of the grocery shopping. I know what foods Sebastian will and will not eat, and I’m the one looking up new recipes to get vegetables into him.

Right now, because Alex is on graveyard shift, I do pretty much all of the naptimes and bedtimes – I know the favourite books and the precise routine. I get up with Sebastian in the morning, and plan activities and outings for us – I know where his fresh clothes go when they are dried and folded, and I know when we’re running out of nappies and wipes, and where his clean sheets are for his bed. I buy his clothes, and sort the ones he’s grown out of, and put away his toys and wipe his nose.

I’ve read up on potty training and toddler discipline and early childhood development. I know what behaviours are normal and what to anticipate next, because I’ve spent the time and energy doing that research. When he gets sick I give him medicine and take him to the doctor and hold him and stroke his hair just the way he likes, and I’m the one that knows to call the Maternal and Child Health Care hotline, or that we can call a GP to come to our house with bulk billing. All of this information about him lives in my head, just my head, and nobody else except stay-at-home mums and dads knows this stuff.

But there’s other things too, that aren’t child related – because I’m home, I’m the one calling our landlord about the broken dishwasher or calling a repairman when the washing machine broke. I set up our utilities when we moved in, and arranged for an emergency call out when our gas connection had a leak, and as the bills have come in I’ve paid them. I set up our internet and phone account, and badgered the service provider when it didn’t work, and let the technician in to repair the phone line in our house.

I write lists about household budgets and ways to save money – I think about money constantly – and plan ahead for the baby to make sure we have everything we need. I arrange all of my pregnancy appointments and keep all the medical information in my head too. I plan meals and keep an eye out for sales on meat so we can stock up the freezer, and invest in appliances that will save us time and money. I’m making curtains for the house, and decorating the bedrooms, and organise family outings and babysitting and amongst all that, try to remember to see friends and eat and shower and get enough rest and time to myself.

Single parents, of course, handle all of this and more, with no partner to step in and give them a break. But being a partnered parent, I sometimes wish I could get a pat on the back for the knowledge and care I use to keep things running smoothly. Because when I don’t keep up with one of these millions of little tasks, THEN it’s noticeable. But when I’m doing it right, it’s invisible.

There are people out there without children, or who have children but are not the primary caregiver, who have no understanding or sensitivity for how much work goes into being a stay-at-home parent. I’m sure some of them think it’s all play centres and lattes. But here is the reality: getting a screaming child clean, fed, dressed and out the door but 9:30 in the morning is damn hard work, never mind all the planning behind the scenes that went into it – the breakfast being interesting enough for the child to eat it, the clothes being clean and the right size, and knowing the magic words to make a two-year-old let you close enough to scrub last night’s encrusted snot from his face.

I deserve a damn latte.

 

 

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Today Catherine Deveny’s Lunchbox/Soapbox address Pernickety Parents: Catherine Deveny embraces 70s parenting popped up in my newsfeed, via The Wheeler Centre. And yeah, I get it. It’s a humour piece, in which Deveny describes herself as practicing ‘detachment’ parenting and nostalgically recalls the often comically laid-back parenting style of yesteryear, specifically the 1970s.

But here’s the thing; Deveny doesn’t just highlight the inherent humour in politically correct language changes that have occurred in the last 40 years, or reminisce over the potentially dangerous activities that were supposedly common practice back then. She actively attacks contemporary parents as helicopter parents. You know, the kind that hover. It’s a common phrase that drives me fucking mental.

Here’s a quote, showing where Deveny crosses the line from satirising herself into attacking other parenting styles:

There has never been more time, energy and thought spent on the raising of babies, toddlers and children, and it’s detrimental, counterproductive and narcissistic. It’s suffocating our children and oppressing parents, particularly women. […] Attachment parenting is the epitome of this competitive parenting as an extreme sport. The parenting cult where you wear your baby everywhere, never let them cry and all sleep in a big bed together. It leads to dysfunctional co-dependence and is simply set up by needy parents to enable their own abandonment issues.

You know what? Fuck off. Fuck off Catherine Deveny, for writing a funny piece about the difference in generational parenting styles, and turning it into a sneak attack on those that don’t agree with you. And honestly, it’s not so much an attack on parents who do things differently than you do – as mothers are most often the primary caregivers, this is an attack on women who do things differently than you do. Because women don’t have enough shitty judgement calls heaped on them every day of their damn lives.

I’m sure your piece is supposed to be all ha-ha-ha-can’t-you-take-a-joke, but no, not this time. Because belittling women who try to balance their kids and relationships, and potentially study and working lives as well, is a cheap, easy shot. Attacking women who are doing the best they can, often under intense societal pressures to live up to certain standards of parenting behaviour, is fucking low. Your writing is funny. Your message is vicious – if I don’t like what you’re doing, I’m going to make judgement calls on you using psychological terminology like ‘co-dependence’ and ‘abandonment issues’ in a public forum. What a cool joke.

I hope you feel real good about yourself. Because this kind of article doesn’t let anybody who varies from your narrow worldview feel good about anything.

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Remember that time when I went out with my kid and managed to run all my errands quickly and with minimum fuss? Me neither.

I often tell childless friends that everything takes about half an hour longer when you have a toddler. Sometimes I think I underestimate that number. Yesterday I had one of those days that is just the ultimate shit bomb of all days: I was sick, and home with a toddler, and needed to go to the doctor. It looked like this:

9:30: I ring the doctor and make an appointment for 1:30. Sebastian and I have both slept in, which I needed, so I get him up. I try carrying him to the lounge room but he sees something in the kitchen as I go past and starts hollering and leaning for it. I try to put him down and he goes monkey and clings to me. We go into the kitchen and hunt around for a bit, while he says ‘Mah-Mah’over and over, like Mama but different. Eventually I figure out he means banana. I give him the banana from the fruit bowl and plonk him on the couch and tear the skin so he can peel the rest himself. I go to make toast for us.

10:00 The banana, sans skin, is on the windowsill and Sebastian is trying to climb up the back of the couch to make kissing noises at the cat, who is outside. I explain that we do not stand on the couch, or chairs, and I will explain this about 45 more times. We eat raisin toast with margarine on it. Sebastian takes my plate and wants my toast, but we talk about how I have mine and he has his and they are the same. He picks up his plate to hide his face, and spills crumbs all over the couch in the process.

10:30 I have found clean clothes for him. He says ‘Dressed! Dressed!’ and leads me into my bedroom so we can both get dressed. I try starting with him, but for the first time ever he wants to pick and choose from the clothes I’ve provided. I still haven’t changed his nappy either, and he ends up wearing one clean sock, PJ pants, and a light hoodie over his bare tummy. He climbs all over my bed and pretends to sleep and demands to be tucked in and wants my hairbrush, while I get dressed.

11:00 Yogurt. Everywhere.

11:30 I change his nappy and get him dressed while he screams and tries to pull my hair and claw my face. He’s fine when it’s time to put shoes on because he loves shoes. We get in the car.

12:00 I meant to visit the toy store near my doctor but it is out of business, and I have forgotten the stroller, so I carry Sebastian all around as we go to the post office and the bank and back across the road to a cafe. He walks some of the way, and even manages to keep holding my hand when we cross the road, and says ‘Hi’ to people who go by and smiles coyly because he is an incredible flirt. Then he wants to go into a parking lot and keeps pulling on my hand and then crouches down and goes a bit limp as passive resistance. I have no idea what is in the parking lot that he wants to see. So I carry him and he is heavy.

12:30 Lunch in a cafe – I have never been to this cafe before and it is not child friendly. It’s not just the obvious things, like the lack of high chairs or any toys or even children’s books, which seems pretty much like a staple around where I live, but when I ask for turkish bread toast and jam (off the kid’s menu) for Sebastian, the jam has no butter or margarine to soften it, so the toast is hard and too thick, and I imagine trying to eat that with such a little mouth and not enough molars is like trying to crunch on concrete. Plus they plop the plate in front of him with a little pot of jam (which his fingers immediately go in) and a quite-sharp knife. Which he almost gets an eye out with in about five seconds. Non-kid friendly cafes piss me off, because who the fuck do they think is going to come to their cafe in the sticks for morning tea or lunch on a week day? Stay-at-home mums, that’s fucking who. And even if you don’t want to stick out a booster seat or a couple of books, don’t give a two year old a sharp knife, dammit.

1:00 I pay for lunch. I feel like I have spent our entire lunch together telling Sebastian off: ‘DON’T PULL ON THAT IT WILL BREAK GET AWAY FROM THE DOOR DON’T CLIMB ON THE WOODEN KANGAROO THOSE PEOPLE DON’T WANT YOUR BREAD DON’T STAND ON THE CHAIR DON’T DON’T DON’T’. My guilt complex buys him a gingerbread man and we go to wait at the doctor’s.

1:30 The doctor calls my name. Sebastian, who has been playing happily with the toys in the corner of the surgery but is starting to get tired, throws a tantrum because I make him leave the toys. When I see the doctor he starts shouting ‘NONONONO!’ when she brings out a stethoscope, because he had tonsillitis and terrible fevers a few weeks ago and still hasn’t forgiven us for taking him to be examined two or three times a week for two weeks. But he is interested when she examines me and not him, and then starts playing with a tub of toys while I talk to the doctor. When it is time to go he cheerfully packs up the toys and pushes the tub back where it belongs and says bye-bye. We go to the chemist.

2:00 I just want to wait for my script. Sebastian tries to open everything, ever. He darts around trying to grab things off the shelves, but is very careful and only touches the glass bottles of vitamins, and doesn’t pick them up. When I get my script, I am trying to pay by card but keep an eye on him at the same time, as he tries to rip open perfume boxes and darts for the automatic doors to the street every time someone walks through them. Eventually I keep him next to me by holding on to the hood of his coat, and have a sudden strong understanding of why people put those backpacks with leashes on their kids. Because children actively TRY TO KILL THEMSELVES at any given moment.

2:15 Back in the car, Sebastian has a tantrum because I don’t let him do the safety harness buckle, and wails the entire way home.

2:45 I put him down for a nap. He tries to procrastinate by insisting that he needs cuddles, and his pant legs need to be rolled down, and his t-shirt has accidentally ridden up (he pulled it up to bare his belly), and his blanket is not tucked in properly, and his Scout Bear needs to be tucked in too – and god, it’s amazing, but he explained almost all of this to me non-verbally. Eventually I leave the room, and he sleeps.

I’m not going to detail the rest of my day, which pretty much sucked, because that was the part I really struggled with – being sick, and exhausted, and just needing to get out of the house and get some shit done. And even though Sebastian was pretty cheerful all day, he still just wanted his own way and needed constant talking to about what he was doing well and what is not okay to do and what I would like him to do. And I love him to bits, but sometimes I am so relieved when it’s his nap time, I just want him to go to sleep and be quiet for a bit.

The thing is, when you are the primary caregiver, you don’t have a choice about whether or not you take your child somewhere. Sometimes Alex will take Sebastian out and about on the weekend to give me some time off, but really if he needs to go somewhere he can pretty much do it on his way to/from work, with no kid in tow. I needed to go to the doctor, and had no choice about toting my son around when I was feeling sick and awful, because Tuesdays I have no childcare and it’s just me. I do most of the day-to-day grocery shopping, and clothes shopping for myself and Sebastian, and shopping for any household goods that we need, and any errands that need to be run, and Sebastian comes with me and sometimes he has a melt down and sometimes he doesn’t.

He’s not a baby anymore, and is not content to sit in the stroller with a toy for hours on end, and rarely falls asleep on long car trips and never while in the pram. He wants to run and play and investigate and do what grown ups do, and I sometimes feel like I can’t take my eyes off him for a second. That’s why everything is harder with a toddler in tow – because on days we’re together I am his whole world and he dislikes it when it doesn’t seem to revolve around him.

And yogurt. Yogurt is every parents’ nemesis.

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A psychiatrist once asked me if I had to make a choice between being able to write, and being free from depression, what my choice would be.

At that point in my life depression was a fact of life and had been for ten years – I tried many medications, and yet all treatment only alleviated my symptoms to the point of basic functioning. I still had periods of anxiety and dark funks that lasted for weeks at a time. My mental health was linked intimately to my physical health, and I struggled to find ways to manage Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and severe insomnia. Nothing seemed to work. I would have brief bursts of physical ability, where I could have an almost-normal life, followed by relapses that left me housebound and useless for months at a time. I found it almost to hold down jobs, or study part-time, and this added to poverty and emotional, physical and financial dependency on my family made the depression worse. I felt like half a person for years on end, watching those around me finish their degrees and start jobs and have normal relationships, while I sometimes struggled just to leave the house or get dressed in the morning, crippled by anxiety and unable to even open my mail.

And yet, I wrote prolifically.

Not surprising really – when housebound, a computer is your best friend. I started writing when very ill as a teenager, when my only real contact with the rest of the world was through email-based writing groups. Over those long, isolated years I wrote short stories and novellas and bad poetry, branching eventually into plays through uni and seeing them produced when my health allowed, and using the inevitable months of illness after a project had finished and I had relapsed to research and write the next project. Through all that depression and illness, the highlight was that I knew my writing was constantly improving, each play better than the last, my craft improving and growing complexity.

The play I consider my best work was written during a period of intense despair and hopelessness. In Reverie went on to play as a rehearsed reading at 45Downstairs, and garnered extremely intelligent and useful feedback from the fantastic audience that attended (if you attended and are reading this, I still think it was the best audience I’ve ever had).

In Reverieneeds a rewrite, but it hasn’t been touched in several years. Because after I wrote it, something amazing happened. Several new drugs were released in Australia, and with the help of a consultant physician and the very psychiatrist that asked me that poignant question about writing and depression, I finally found a treatment that worked. My energy increased, my pain reduced, my sleep improved, and so did my depression. I started to live normally – I had a job, I studied, I took In Reverie through rehearsals and to stage, with no resultant relapse. I felt happy, rather than just not horribly depressed. I went out with friends. My anxiety went away – no more panic attacks about answering the phone. I felt whole, and real, and felt like I was living life rather than just observing it. Alex and I fell in love and my pregnancy happened and even through the pre-natal and post-natal depression that followed (which I attributed to my difficult pregnancy and baby sleep problems as reactive depression rather than chemical), I maintained. I had no deep dark despair, or disproportionate mood swings. And almost two years since Sebastian was born, I feel well-adjusted and happy. In over three years I’ve not had a period of severe illness or violent depression.

When the psychiatrist asked me that question – happiness or writing – my answer was immediate. I would give anything to be happy, I said. Anything. If that meant never writing again, so be it.

About 18 months ago I wrote a play, called Don’t Forget To Breathe, which went to stage with a brilliant cast. It was incredibly difficult to write. I was aware the result was good, but structurally flawed. I haven’t written anything since. Maybe a few doodling pages of ideas, a snatch of dialogue. Nothing of importance. Because it was easy to write when I was miserable – it was cathartic to write about my sense of hopelessness and frustration and anger and despair. I wrote a lot of tragedy. I don’t really know how to write something with a happy ending. I can still write, that hasn’t left me, but I don’t. Is it because I’m happy? Throughout history there seems to be a fairly obvious link between some artists’ genius and their poor mental or physical health. If I’ve accepted that medical treatment has gotten me to a place where I can find happiness and satisfaction in my life, do I accept that the cost is my interest in and commitment to writing?

There’s other factors of course – I have a toddler, I’m a mostly stay-at-home-mum, it is hard to find the time to get into the right head space to write, to find the time, there are always chores and financial worries and I’m too tired to sit in front of the computer in the evenings. I have other interests to engage in, like crochet and photography, that require less emotional investment. I once poured my heart into my writing but now I expend all my emotional energy on my son and partner. But I feel the lack in my life.

The choice that psychiatrist put to me isn’t really a choice – now that I am happy, I’m not going to stop taking the pills and return to emotional and physical instability and terrible mood swings and anxiety just so I can write again. It doesn’t work like that. I finally have a real, grown-up life, and that’s a human right rather than just an option I can disregard. I have responsibilities now. I can’t ever go back to living that way. A shadow of a person.

It’s new for me, being happy and calm, and part of this for me is knowing I have to find a way to write again. To let out the words that still crowd up in my mind. To force myself to find the time and the right head space to write. It’s another period of growth I suppose – I grew up with depression and illness and writing that out of myself. My transition from teenager to adult was stuck in that pattern, and now the pattern has changed again. I will write again. I just have to decide how to be healthy and happyanda writer.

Promotional art for In Reverie; Tilly Legge pictured.

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