Raising Useless Children – A disaster of Helicopter Parenting.

My eldest daughter’s first year of secondary school included a residential outdoor education trip. She had already been on one in primary school at a similar centre so I wasn’t going to bother attending the parent’s information meeting. Until she came home with not only a list of things required to take but skills needed to be allowed on the trip, including:

  • Being able to butter her own toast
  • Cut up dinner
  • Pour herself a drink without spilling
  • Getting dressed by herself
  • Brushing her own teeth.

As with all comprehensive schools in Scotland, integration for students with additional support needs was policy (although these children never get the actual level of support required due to systemic underfunding). The school also had a unit attached for students with autism who may find a full day too difficult. I assumed that my daughter had collected the wrong form and that the list was to double check children’s support needs in order to ensure the appropriate level of staffing to ensure that all children could attend. I went along to the information meeting assuming it would be a waste of my time (since I’d sat through a similar one the year before).

I was wrong.

My daughter had indeed brought home the right letter. And, the list above: for children without any additional support needs.

 

Continue reading Raising Useless Children – A disaster of Helicopter Parenting.

Zadie Smith: why the focus on make-up ignores the massive elephant in the room

I was fortunate enough to get tickets to see Zadie Smith at the Edinburgh Book Festival this year, which is why I know the “Zadie Smith banned her daughter from wearing make-up” is utter bollocks. Quite how the person who spread this rumour managed to understand Smith’s comment as a ban is mind-boggling. I’m veering between two options: a) they are on the wrong side of dim; b) deliberately propagated this for click bait.

It is incredibly disappointing to see media who claim to be feminist calling out Smith without investigating the context in which Smith referred to make-up. She did not “ban’ her daughter from wearing make-up.  The statement below was in response to a question from the about raising children within the harmful culture of patriarchal standards that hold girls to unrealistic expectations of beauty. Smith used the issue of time as a way to explain to her daughter, in age appropriate language, how patriarchal standards negatively impact girls’ lives.

 

Continue reading Zadie Smith: why the focus on make-up ignores the massive elephant in the room

The Conservative Gendered Stereotyping of Children, Radical Feminism and transgenderism.

This is Part One of a series responding to the issues around transgenderism and the media representations therein.

 When my daughter was 3 she decided she wanted to be a mermaid for the ability to swim underwater. This lasted until she realised that mermaids do two things: swim and brush their hair. Understandably, this was deemed too boring. So, she became a mermaid superhero, which combined awesome swimming skills (and potentially a visit to Atlantis) with the ability to fly and read minds (and ignore her mother). Eventually this became a superhero mermaid rock star since I, in a moment of extreme unreasonableness, refused to let her dye her hair bright blue. (She decided her way around this was to become the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as the band could veto my no blue hair rule, but that’s a whole different story).

 

Continue reading The Conservative Gendered Stereotyping of Children, Radical Feminism and transgenderism.

The final battle in the Wars of Best Parenting:

Slides.

Genuinely.

Slides.

Like this one:

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http://kinchinplaysystems.weebly.com/slides.html

I know this sounds utterly ridiculous. They are slides for children, but somehow they make the list of ‘The Great Parenting Battles’ (breastfeeding vs bottle feeding, working, disposable vs reusable nappies, Tom Hardy vs Chris Evans on CBeebies Bedtime Story*) on Mumsnet. There is the side who think any child who dares to try to climb up a slide is on a short road to juvenile delinquency, an ASBO, and a lifetime of petty crime. And, those who think that slides are meant for imaginative play. Not queuing in a line.

I genuinely had no idea that climbing slides was ‘bad’ behaviour in the UK until I joined Mumsnet. There are always threads by mothers complaining about other people’s children using slides in ways which are deemed ‘rude’. Obviously, there are differences between preschoolers on a slide and school age children. I’m just not convinced that 7 year olds need to queue to climb steps to use a slide. Or, that 10 year olds are incapable of being aware of their surroundings and sharing.

 

Continue reading The final battle in the Wars of Best Parenting:

Lice Are a Feminist Issue

Lice – that loathsome insect that mentioning turns everyone into hysterical head scratchers. Just typing the word makes me want to shave my head. Whilst scratching and googling illegal pesticides. Just in case.

I can’t adequately express how much I loathe lice – the hours of my life I have wasted combing through my children’s hair in a desperate attempt to find that one last louse who is on a mission to repopulate the universe (or just my kid’s head).

I have done all the treatments: vinegar (made the kids scream and me hungry), gin (made the neighbours look askance), olive oil (went every where), and the full range of “essential” oils from tea tree to peppermint. Mostly, they made the kids smell like they’d been lost in a bubble gum factory. I’ve wandered around muttering: lice don’t care if your kid’s hair is clean or dirty. I’ve tried every lotion and spray. I have memorised the NHS advice on how to treat lice and bought every type of comb going including one that supposedly killed lice with an electric shock. I’ve done it all and the only thing that works is spending hours combing through wet hair.

I celebrated the Christmas holidays by chopping off all of my children’s hair. I became that mother – the one who lost the plot. The thought of spending hours combing my children’s hair in a desperate attempt to find that one super-fertile, camouflaged louse was too much. I actually hacked off my daughter’s ponytail rendering her once waist-length hair into a bob around her shoulders.

It was Christmas and everyone was scratching. I couldn’t bear the thought of getting out the nitty-gritty comb. Again. Now, we’re all sporting short hair (some of us with less grace than others and some of us with straighter edges than others).

Most children get lice at some point in their lives, but it doesn’t matter how many times I read those official NHS guidelines about how, I still feel embarrassed when my kids catch them. There is a shame involved in being the mother whose children have lice. And, this is why lice are a feminist issue. It doesn’t matter how often you hear about equal parenting, it’s always mothers who end up responsible for lice.

It is mothers who are responsible for spending hours every week combing their children’s hair. It is mothers who are responsible for taking their kids to the hairdressers with the inevitable embarrassment of being sent packing when one louse pops out from behind the kid’s ear to wave hello. (And, why is it normally impossible to see them on your kids head but they turn a shade of glow-in-the-dark lime green with a penchant for the Macarena when in proximity of a hairdresser?)

Lice are a mother’s shame: if only they were a better mother; a more observant mother; one with hours of free time to comb through their child’s hair (assuming the child would sit still through this process happy as a lark).

Lice are just another form of wifework – one which women are shamed for performing and are then shamed for missing. Combing hair for lice is time-consuming and excruciating for both mother and child. It is also used as a way of shaming poor mothers. You see, white middle class children only get lice from one of “those kids”. These children are always the victims of lice infestation and never responsible for sharing the blighters with other children. Instead, we sit in judgment of bad mothers who don’t own a microscope they can jam their kid’s head.

I have yet to meet a father who spends his evenings combing through his kid’s hair. Or, a father sent home from the hairdresser in disgrace. It is not father’s desperately trying to pretend they didn’t see the louse which just plunked an “I am here” flag in the middle of their kid’s head.

Lice are a feminist issue because it is mother’s who are blamed for an infestation that is a pretty normal part of a kid’s life: like chicken pox, skinned knees and nose-picking.

The next time you see a child with lice-infested hair spare a thought for the mother spending her precious time and money desperately trying to eradicate the lice. Don’t judge. Just give a quick thanks that this time it’s not you. Because lice are definitely one of the worst bits of mothering and mothering is always a feminist issue.

 

Originally published in the Huffington Post on 15.1.15

Amber E. Kinser’s Motherhood and Feminism

History of motherhood starting at industrial revolution. In many ways, it is a ‘basic’ history of motherhood in the US. Or, at least, it should be a basic history but Kinser traces more than the usual history of white middle class women with its focus on Victorian values, Betty Friedan and the myth of suburbia. Instead, Kinser traces the real history of motherhood looking at how issues of class, race and homophobia/lesbophobia challenge the dominant discourses of motherhood.

Her inclusion of the history of reproductive rights and mothering of Chicana and African-American women is a much needed addition to the feminist movements understanding of history and the complexities of real reproductive justice in a culture where racism and classism create categories of good and bad mothers; which punishes women of colour for becoming mothers.

Kinser also examines radical feminist texts on motherhood and labels them as radical feminist. Usually these texts on women’s history and feminist theory try to erase the term radical feminist and situate women like Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde out with their theoretical heritage. Shulamith Firestone is simply dismissed. Kinser writes about the history of motherhood as a patriarchal institutional and the challenges to it through an intersectional lens actually addressing issues of race, class, gender, and identities.

A caesarean performed without consent

Originally published on a previous blog 2.12.13

As with everyone, I am horrified by today’s article by Christopher Booker in the Telegraph about an Italian woman, in the UK on business, who was forcibly given a caesarian section and her child taken into care.

A woman being given surgery without her consent is assault. It is that simple. Women are not incubators and any society which sees women as human would not be forcing surgery on a woman without her consent; never mind a surgery which results in a child being delivered. Taking the child into care, without the woman being able to instruct her own lawyers, is disgraceful and inhumane.

But, and this is a huge but, reading Booker’s article, I have more questions that answers. I understand that Booker is limited in what he can publish due to the fact that family courts are closed for the protection of the children. Taking this into consideration, Booker’s article is still low on details.

Don’t get me wrong, there are serious problems within child protection due to chronic underfunding, massive caseloads and staff not being given appropriate training in dealing with sexual violence, male violence, and victim blaming. This is clear from the Rochdale and Oxford grooming cases for a start – and the sheer number of children who are forced to continue relationships with abusive fathers. Yet, child protection is more than just social workers [who inevitably get a bashing in these cases], there are medical doctors, psychiatrists, police, teachers, community support workers and any number of court officials involved in the decision to remove children from the home. Our culture treats children as possessions and we pay a very high price for the damage we cause them. In this case, it is clear that the police and medical establishment were involved before Essex social services were.

These are the questions that first popped into my mind when I read the article last night:

  1. Why hasn’t the Italian government been fighting this? They are certainly not bound by UK laws on child protection which keep family courts closed. Why hasn’t the Italian government gone to the EU Human Rights court on behalf of their citizen?
  2. I do not understand why the family suggested that the baby be adopted, in America, by the aunt of the baby’s stepsister (and does Booker not mean half sister rather than stepsister? If we’re talking about kinship carers, you need to get the relationship right). This isn’t the closest of kinship ties and I do think sending the child overseas is a drastic response. Was there no family in Italy who could care for the child in order to allow the mother to continue her relationship with the child? I support kinship adoptions because I do think they are the best outcome in such circumstances but not if the kinship adopter lives on the other side of the planet. The whole point of kinship carers is to try to continue the relationship with the birth parents, if possible. How would this continue if the child was living in the US?
  3. What on earth does Booker mean by panic attack and “bipolar” condition? These are medical terms which have medical definitions. A bit more detail to make it clear wouldn’t go amiss here.
  4. I want to know why the caesarian was preformed. This is an incredibly drastic move which only takes place, within normal circumstances when the mother can’t legally consent, if the mother’s health was at risk. Having bipolar disorder does not put the mother’s health at risk whilst pregnant. If the hospital performed the caesarian for any other reason than the baby or mother being in immediate risk of death, then they have committed assault. I would expect the Italian government, on behalf of their citizen, to being taking the hospital trust to court over this.
  5. I don’t trust John Hemmings at all. The moment he gets involved in any case involving social services, my brain starts screaming ‘ulterior motive’. Hemmings is never involved for the best interests of the child; he’s all about the publicity.
There are obvious constraints on the publishing of this case but Booker’s article is too full of holes to make sense of. If this is a clear case of the assault of a woman, then the there are a whole lot of people who need to be prosecuted and both the British and Italian governments are complicit in this abuse.
Forcible caesarians are violence against women.
Removing a child from their mother because the mother is bipolar is violence against women.
A society which treats women as more than incubators and believes children are not possessions would invest more money and training in the police, education, health, social services and judiciary to ensure that all have more than adequate training to support women who need a little extra help. A society which cared would offer more support to a pregnant women with a mental illness [and here the Italian government is just as complicit]. This is why we are supposed to have a welfare state: to help those in need and not punish them for needing help.

UPDATE:

Essex County Council have released the following statement in response to Booker’s Telegraph article. The obvious holes in Booker’s piece are clearly answered below. I still think the child should have been returned to Italy, even if the mother could not care for her herself but the case isn’t quite as cut and dried as Booker suggests but then these things never are.

Essex County Council responds to interest in story headlined “Essex removes baby from mother”

2 December 2013

Key Dates

There have been lengthy legal proceedings in this case over the past 15 months.
  • Mother detained under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act on 13 June 2012
  • Application by the Health Trust to the High Court 23 August 2012
  • Application for Interim Care Order 24 August 2012
  • Mother took part in the care proceedings ending on 1 February 2013.
  • Mother applied to Italian Courts for order to return the child to Italy in May 2013. Those courts ruled that child should remain in England
  • In October 2013 Essex County Council obtains permission from County Court to place child for adoption

Context

The Health Trust had been looking after the mother since 13 June 2012 under section 3 of the Mental Health Act. Because of their concerns the Health Trust contacted Essex County Council’s Social Services.
Five weeks later it was the Health Trust’s clinical decision to apply to the High Court for permissions to deliver her unborn baby by caesarean section because of concerns about risks to mother and child.
The mother was able to see her baby on the day of birth and the following day. Essex County Council’s Social Services obtained an Interim Care Order from the County Court because the mother was too unwell to care for her child.
Historically, the mother has two other children which she is unable to care for due to orders made by the Italian authorities.
In accordance with Essex County Council’s Social Services practice social workers liaised extensively with the extended family before and after the birth of the baby, to establish if anyone  could care for the child:

UPDATE 2:

The judge’s statement has now been released and is available here.

This is the first part:

NOTE BY MR JUSTICE MOSTYN (4 December 2013)

Although no-one has sought to appeal the judgment dated 23 August 2012 during the last 15 months, or to have it transcribed for any other purpose, I have decided to authorise its release together with the verbatim transcript of the proceedings and the order made so as to inform and clarify recent public comments about this case.

It will be seen that the application to me was not made by the local authority or social workers. Rather, it was an urgent application first made at 16:16 on 23 August 2012 by the NHS Trust, supported by the clear evidence of a consultant obstetrician and the patient’s own treating consultant psychiatrist, seeking a declaration and order that it would be in the medical best interests of this seriously mentally ill and incapacitated patient, who had undergone two previous elective caesarean sections, to have this birth, the due date of which was imminent (she was 39 weeks pregnant), in the same manner.

The patient was represented by the Official Solicitor who instructed a Queen’s Counsel on her behalf. He did not seek an adjournment and did not oppose the application, agreeing that the proposed delivery by caesarean section was in the best interests of the patient herself who risked uterine rupture with a natural vaginal birth. I agreed that the medical evidence was clear and, applying binding authority from the Court of Appeal concerning cases of this nature, as well as the express terms of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, made the orders and declarations that were sought.

Although I emphasised that the Court of Protection had no jurisdiction over the unborn baby, I offered advice to the local authority (which were not a party to or represented in the proceedings, or present at the hearing) that it would be heavy-handed to invite the police to take the baby following the birth using powers under section 46 of the Children Act 1989. Instead, following the birth there should be an application for an interim care order at the hearing of which the incapacitated mother could be represented by her litigation friend, the Official Solicitor.

Bad Feminist Alert: I bought lego friends

LEGO-Friends-on-Fire

(image from here)

Granted, I’m being somewhat facetious here since buying your kid the toy they asked Santa for doesn’t make the Top 500 List of Things Bad Feminists Do. When Lego Friends first appeared, I swore up and down I would never buy them. And, here I am wrapping several sets from Santa.  With my teeth clenched. Muttering rude words about the capitalist-patriarchy. Feeling like a sell-out. But, Small wanted them so I bought some.

I had this horse riding stable as a child:

Unknown 1

This is the lego friends version:

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Lego is a brilliant toy, but I want them to have non-gendered Lego. We do have the Harry Potter castle which is fabulous – as long as you don’t touch it. The moment you try to connect the sets together, they all collapse on each other. This might be why I found most of the original sets in Tescos for 75% off.

Small actually wanted the shopping mall, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy it:

Unknown

I’m not entirely sure why she wanted the shopping mall since she breaks out in hives within 2 blocks of a real one and has been fairly consistent in her belief that Marks & Spencers are the main entrance to the Underworld – although, to be fair, anyone who has been shopping with my mother thinks this way too. Even Playmobil, usually the sensible toy maker, has made a shopping mall:

Unknown 5

I tried to balance feminism with Lego’s pink palace shite and bought the following sets:

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and I got the Research Institute (which is 1/3 via Lego Direct than it is on Amazon)

Unknown 6

I’m going to build a research centre in the jungle so the lego friends characters can help run the nature reserve where the centre is located. I may even toss in some information about Dian Fossey.

Because I am absolutely not over-thinking this at all.

 

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day

I will be lighting my candle at 7 pm.

On this day, we would like to invite you to take part in the global ‘Wave of Light’ to remember all the babies that died during pregnancy, at, during or after birth.  Simply light a candle at 7pm and leave it burning for at least 1 hour.  This can be done individually or in a group, at home or in a communal space. Wherever you do this, you will be joining a wave of light uniting the world in honour of those babies who lit up our lives for such a short time.

Motherhood Is Not For Every Woman

Every single time I read this statement, I twitch. Because I do know what the author, in this case Melanie Holmes, means  but it’s inevitably from a place of privilege. I certainly agree with this statement:

Motherhood is not for every woman. And we shouldn’t assume that it is. It is unjust to view females’ lives through the lens of motherhood. Instead, we should view females through a wide‑angle lens.

Not all women want to be mothers, many become mothers by accident and some want to become mothers but are denied that through infertility or life. Not all mothers are “great” (however you want to define that) but most mothers are “good enough” – a statement which is as patronising as it can be true. Most mothers are doing their best whilst living in a culture which devalues and, frequently, hates women.

The problem I have with the “motherhood is not for every woman” rhetoric is encapsulated in Holmes’s concluding sentences:

When we speak about motherhood, let’s be realistic. No one can have it all. Some don’t want it all. And it doesn’t make them selfish, dysfunctional, or “less than.”

The problem is the phrase “have it all” is absolutely limited to  white, well-educated middle class women who are not disabled and nor do their children have disabilities who live in house free from domestic violence in an area where street violence is minimal and the schools and childcare are excellent. Many women living on this planet are working extreme hours living in absolute poverty with no access to education, healthcare or, in many cases, clean water. There is a vast chasm between white, ‘western’ women who have ‘it all’ (however you define that) and the reality of the lives of most women who become or want to become mothers.

It’s much easier to be a mother when you have money, healthcare, and sanitation. It is much easier to mother your children when they do not have profound disabilities in a culture with very little support for your child and basic access to education for your children, whilst guaranteed by law in the UK, rarely exists. It assumes that you have access to every single specialist that your child needs to support them. It ignores women who have disabilities themselves, who are most likely to be living in poverty. It ignores women living in poverty working 3 jobs to pay the rent whilst their child’s father refuses to pay child maintenance. It ignores the women who are experiencing domestic violence and are desperately trying to protect their children from a violent father and a social structure which blames the mother rather than holding the father responsible for his violence. It ignores women living in conflict zones: from gang-ridden areas of major cities to war zones across the world. Being a mother in an area where violence is the norm is incredibly difficult.

We’ve got to ensure that the “motherhood isn’t for everyone” and “motherhood isn’t the most difficult job in the world” rhetoric don’t end up silencing or erasing women for whom motherhood is indeed like being a soldier – esp when you live in a conflict zone from Iraq to any area where gang violence is endemic.

Motherhood would be easy if we didn’t live in a capitalist-patriarchy. It would be easy if male violence weren’t a real threat that all women live with. It would be easy if access to clean water were actually considered a basic human right and not a commodity to be sold. It would be easy if our government actually invested in our children with well-funded schools, libraries, parks, and healthcare instead of spending £3 billion year on nuclear submarines. It would be easy if mothering our children were valued.

The capitalist-patriarchy harms us all but it disproportionately affects Women of Colour, women with disabilities, and women living in poverty. Not all women want to be mothers, not all women can be mothers and not all women should be mothers. But, we need to recognise that mothering is made harder than it should be because of the culture in which we live.

We need to be realistic about the context in which we live.