The Childcare Conversation: As Labour Realises Mistake over EU Vanguard Stance, an Imagined Doorstep Chat

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So the Labour Party has realised it made a mistake on Europe – people were telling them that they wanted a say on membership of the EU. Labour ignored them. They lost their traditional voters in droves.

During the election season, I saw responses from politicians of all colours when they were challenged about family friendly policies; when asked for help by families with single incomes; or when asked for ways to help a mother or father stay home instead of being forced into long hours away from their children. Yvette Cooper recently said that perhaps they could have listened more to people they had spoken to at, say, the school gates.

With this in mind, I can only guess at some of the chats they had in the pink bus – and the women they ignored in the process.

Harriet: So what are your concerns, young lady?

Mother: My family is really struggling by on one income and our family is being penalised for my staying home with the children. It’s like nobody respects what I do. You keep talking about hardworking families as though that only includes both parents in employment. We are really struggling. Times are very hard.

Harriet: I see. We value families. We support parents. That is why we are promising X hours childcare.

Mother: Erm, I think you misunderstand.

Harriet: No I don’t. You THINK you want to be with your family but you don’t know what you want. You don’t know what is best for you or the economy. You are letting women down by staying at home baking cupcakes all day. And you are right – we don’t believe that you are hardworking. In fact, we believe that children do better being cared for by qualified professionals than in a mother’s one-to-one care. We know better than you. NEXT!

Mother 2: I cannot bear being away from my one year old – I have to work full-time or else my family will not survive financially. If only there was a way to be with my child at home.

Harriet: I see. We value families. We support parents. That is why we are promising X hours childcare.

Mother 2: Erm, I think you misunderstand.

Harriet: No I don’t. You THINK you want to be with your baby but you don’t know what you want. You don’t know what is best for you or the economy. You are a shining proud example of how women have been liberated from the drudgery of being at home. You are hardworking – just how we like it. We don’t care that you are miserable, exhausted and would dearly love to stay with your kids and have some breathing space between the first and second shifts. We know better than you. NEXT!

Mother 3: I have a copy of the MAHMifesto for you to look at.

Harriet: [Puts fingers in ears] La la la la la la. NEXT!

Assistant: This next person wants out of Europe but has always voted Labour.

Harriet: Idiot. Don’t they realise the job of politicians is to tell people what to do and how to think? She’s an isolated example – like that guy in the white van. Tell her I am busy explaining our excellent childcare packages to these little women who don’t seem to understand why it is a good thing.  If only the electorate knew their place.

The Conservatives and the LibDems (remember them?) performed the very same trick of arrogantly ignoring, misrepresenting, diminishing, dismissing and belittling the concerns of parents and voters generally.

And now we have five years of a Conservative Government to enjoy in all its glory.

Happy days, everyone.

Happy days.

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photo credit: I wonder how they do this??? via photopin (license)

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The delicate politics of when your child gets walloped

Much needed giggles in The Politics of … kids walloping other kids.

Up The Spout

I’ll never forget the first time my son was walloped. We were at a ‘mum meet up’ at the local church hall. He was not yet two and running around happily, not a care in the world, safe in the knowledge that he had a blissful, blessed life. Another, larger boy looked him up and down, thought for a moment, before opening his palm wide and pushing it with full force, very slowly, into my son’s face – forcing my son’s head back a good ten inches.

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I saw the expression on my only child’s sweet, innocent face- utter devastation; shock, confusion. In his eyes was a flash of a new realisation – that life is actually pretty shite – and it’s full of bastards!

I watched the child with my seething eyes and scanned the room for the ‘bad mother’… where was the bitch? (slowly takes off earrings and…

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UN Women Share an Article About the Unpaid and Unrecognised Work of Mothers

“Beyond this one day, when mothers receive cards and flowers as tokens of appreciation from their families, this is also a moment to look at how societies and economies recognize and reward the work of mothers, and women more broadly”.

See more at: http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2015/5/oped-mother-s-day#sthash.e6zNAERD.dpuf

The Legalities of Mothering: The High Court Orders the Removal of a Toddler from a Breastfeeding, Bed-sharing Birth and Biological Mother in a Judgment Which Raises Questions About Mothering Practices

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Don’t believe me?

I wondered when a case might force me back into my law reporting shoes, albeit with a mother’s eyes as well as legal ones. So here it is, a judgment (read HERE) of the High Court, Family Division, which has ordered the removal of a child from her biological mother not on the grounds of abuse, neglect, violence, drug use or inadequate parenting of some kind, but effectively on the application of misogyny and distrust of mothering. Not in care proceedings by social services, brought because of a deemed failure. It arises out of a private dispute between two adults as though the prize was piece of land, or a valuable item of property.

The mother’s crime? Daring to want to raise the child she grew and gave birth to; engaging in traditional mothering practices such as natural-term breastfeeding; carrying the child in a sling; and bed-sharing; and not wishing to hand her child to a man who provided sperm in order for he and his partner to have a child. The judgment is a one against traditional maternal practice and, in one part, an indication that, in our culture, a mother must ‘go out to work’. It is the formal and legal indictment of many things I, and many other mothers, hold dear.

It implies: The male seed is what matters. Calm paternal detachment is what matters. Mothers do not matter. Mothering is smothering. And if you dare protest, if you dare love your child too much, you’re out.

EDIT: This is a complex case and there are competing views to be taken. There are criticisms made of the mother’s behaviour towards the father, her ‘homophobia’ and her attempts to frustrate contact with the father by GP visits and attachment parenting tools. In effect, the judge concluded that the mother was fostering a close attachment in order to interfere with the father establishing a close bond with the baby. The judge’s decision – said by the judge to be centrally about the welfare of the child and who was best to see to the child’s needs now and in the future – is based on her hearing of the facts and seeing the witneses and making her own assessment. However, this piece seeks to examine the treatment of, and comments by the judge about, maternal practices such as those found in attachment parenting techniques. It is not a summary of the judgment but an examination of its attitudes towards mothering, based on direct quotations from the judge herself. It is my take.

For some background: a judge was asked to consider a 15-month-old child’s best interests having received an application by a man that a child be removed from her mother and, in effect, given to him to raise, instead. The red herring in this case is the fact that the father is in a same-sex relationship, and there is a dispute as to whether the pregnancy arose from a surrogacy-type arrangement. Whatever the case, the baby is the biological child of the mother but also has a biological heritage from the man who provided the sperm. There is no hint of payment changing hands. It appears that the child resided with her mother but had had contact with the father.

After hearing the parties’ evidence, including a dispute about the nature of the ‘surrogacy’ arrangement, the judge in effect decided that the father was best placed to meet the child’s needs now and in the future.

This is despite the child being happy. This is despite the judge acknowledging that the child would be stressed by her removal from her mother: ‘it is bound to affect her, likely to upset and distress her in the short term at least and necessarily amounts to a change in her circumstances … she will miss her mother’.

Actually, judge, it’s a little more than ‘a change in circumstances’. You are bereaving a 15-month-old child. She will grieve. She will wail. She will scream for her mother. And her mother will grieve. She will wail. She will scream for her child. And you will see that, call her hysterical, and punish her for it. I do not rehearse all of the judge’s conclusions – please refer to the judgment – but there are a number of comments which are troubling.

The judge states that ‘at present [the mother] is able to care for [the child] well physically but there are already grounds for concerns about her mother’s over emotional and highly involved role in this infant’s life’ (my emphasis).

EXCUSE ME? A mother daring to be over emotional? A mother daring to be highly involved in her biological, loved, child’s life? Crime of the century. Let’s ignore the World Health Organisation’s guidance that children be breastfed for at least two years, while we’re at it.

Against the missing her mother, the judge finds that the child will be at risk of suffering harm if she remains with her mother. No. Not those types of harm: not sexual or physical harm. Not neglect. Not exposure to drugs or alcohol. No. She will be harmed because her mother dislikes her father and disagrees with same-sex relationships. She will be harmed by the mother frustrating contact with the father. And let’s not forget the harm from a deep attachment to one’s mother.

‘Ultimately the role of a parent is to help the child to become independent. This is a child who at 15 months old is still carried by her mother in a sling on her body.’

AND? A child of 15 months has to be carried or pushed in a pushchair when not walking. She has clocked up using a sling as something detrimental to a child’s development; it is non-evidenced based, ignorant and biased against traditional parenting methods. She does not address in her judgment any literature, studies or authoritative work by attachment theorists, child development psychologists or countless mothers who attest to the benefits of carrying children and keeping them close. Children of 15 months are not designed to be independent.

One has to question whether the mother would have been damned either way. Not holding baby close? Detached, cold mother.

Carrying baby close? Clingy, enmeshed hysteric.

Next, the child ‘spends most of her time with her mother who does not set out any timetable for returning to work, as [the mother] would have to, to provide for [the child] and for herself’.

I can hardly find the words for this. A mother is being criticised for spending time with her child. She is presumed to have to return to work: by economic compulsion in a society which does not value the work of a mother, or the needs of a child in receiving a mother’s care. I have written on this at length in the Politics of Mothering and this blog. But to see it in a judgment’s conclusion for finding against a mother and removing a child from her care is staggering.

Remember what I said about enmeshment? ‘There is a potential for enmeshment and stifling attachment rather than a healthy outward looking approach to the child’s life. The question is who benefits most from this chosen regime which points towards an inability to put the child’s needs before her mother’s need or desire for closeness’.

Says who? Gina Ford? Again, the broad absence of child developmental psychology, attachment theory (Bowlby, look it up) and a broader acceptance of the value of maternal closeness and secure attachment in infants by seeing to their needs is absolutely astounding. The judge, who does not have children, refused to hear evidence on attachment, deeming the psychologist propsed by the mother’s lawyers to be insufficiently expert, preferring the observations of the child’s guardian and to make her own, ill-informed and ignorant assessment of attachment parenting.

Not content with this the judge states, in a sweeping way, ‘the attachment which will develop in an infant who sleeps with her mother, spends all day being carried by her mother and is breastfed on demand throughout the day and night raises questions about the long term effect on [the child]’.

WAIT. Call the cops. I’m guilty as charged, My Lady. I bed-share, I carry my children and nurse on demand day and night. I am truly a mother who needs to be relieved of her children. It might ‘raise questions’, but had she allowed the mother to call her witness, an educational psychologist who has experience in attachment issues, bed-sharing and natural term breastfeeding, or indeed asked countless mothers throughout time, child development psychologists, Dr Sears, to name a few, she might have received answers which did not leap to hang the mother for her crime of mothering her child and assume, as many non-parents might, that it is all a bit odd, this strong bond between mother and child.

And, as a swipe against the mother’s highly understandable anxiety and visceral need to keep her daughter – one which I can relate to: I would not be responsible for my actions if someone threatened to take my children – the judge penalises her for making a ‘a plethora of allegations’ against the father and his partner. She lauds the calm shown by the father and his partner; and is impressed by their support of the mother spending time with the child. But this is where it all becomes nonsensical: doesn’t their view that the mother is not likely to be harmful or violent or otherwise damaging to the child tell you something? Doesn’t it rather tell you that there are no grounds of violence, harm or objectively manifest psychological damage to justify the removal of this child from her mother’s care? The child is currently happy and will continue to be so in her mother’s presence?

I have found this judgment incredibly upsetting, despite my years reporting on criminal and family cases. The judge makes unfounded assumptions about maternal practices. When the court removes a child from a family into, say, local authority care, a more stringent assessment is made: there needs to be a greater satisfaction that the child will come to harm. This case seems to me no different in its result: a child is being removed from her loving mother and put into the hands of someone who has not the same bond, albeit a biological father who has had contact with the child and who is seeking to enforce some kind of informal agreement that he would have rights over the resulting child. Yet a much lesser test has been applied – in effect, the judge’s preference of parental practices, the judge’s preference for calm detachment, and the judge’s prioritising of the male seed over the genetic link and maternal bond from pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding; and her criticism of the mother’s behaviour generally, including homophobia and frustration of contact with the father.

This is a complex case. It is unfortunate. The judge’s assessment about the well-being of the child in the future is finely balanced.

In all of this, the judge refers to the mother’s desire to bear her child and keep her child. This, reader, seems to be the mother’s first crime. Her second, to care for her daughter. Her third, to care enough to be assertive about the case. It is Kafka-esque and fundamentally misogynist.

Ultimately, the High Court has bartered this child as though a family heirloom; ordered the transfer of the child as though adjudicating a refund for a service rendered. The judge has attacked the practice of mothering as damaging and raised the status of the male seed back to its historical place: supreme.

And it is nothing short of shocking.

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photo credit: Yochai Hands via photopin (license)

The Care Deficit: How Can We Rebalance the Books?

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It hasn’t been in the news. But it’s big.

There is a deficit in an extremely important commodity in the UK. If things continue as they are, this deficit will harm our country and our society. That’s you. That’s me. Its people you love.

In her book, The Time Bind, Arlie Russell Hochschild talks about how work has become home and home has become work. She talks about a care deficit: a contemporary society where care is produced less and less and consumed more and more.

This commodity of care (for it has become a commodity) is crucial for the young, the elderly, the infirm, mentally disabled, physically disabled, mentally ill, and those people whose bodies just, you know, aren’t working well enough to be totally independent, whether temporarily or permanently.

Independence: that highly prized virtue in a neoliberal modern day where the individual reigns supreme and screw everyone else. I’ve written before on economic dependency in adults; however, this is a deeper issue. It is a simple as people being there for each other – and having the ability and capacity to do so, rather than being under incessant pressure in an economic system which sees £ signs before human needs.

Care. pretty useful for the elderly and infirm. Politically, the care of the elderly has the potential to lead a politician to go weak at the knees. Care homes, care workers, selling houses to ‘pay for care’, standards of care, failings in care. Elderly people dying from thirst. In hospital.

As for babies, infants and children. It is vitally important for them because not only are they totally dependent and vulnerable, but the first three years of life are broadly accepted as being extremely important for the healthy development of human beings. Quite important, that, the nurturing and growing of human beings. Yet the only ‘care’ which seems to count so far as children are concerned is ‘childcare’ by anyone but mother.

So you got me. I own up. I am more concerned about the care deficit than the deficit-deficit. You know, that bogeyman (as Michael Rosen recently described it) up there with the old balance of payments or inflation. Because, when we are 80, senile, incontinent and frail, we will be more interested in the financial deficit than we will be in there being someone kind and decent wiping our bottoms. Because our 18-month-old babies are more interested in the balancing of the economic books than they are in having loving arms surrounding us, singing twinkle twinkle, and loving us. Just loving us. And when we undergo significant bone surgery, we will be more concerned with the economic deficit than the nurse who callously refuses to give us pain relief until the consultant goes berserk.

Because, come on. Money matters. Money is where it is at. Money makes the world go round. Said nobody with a heart.

Care, being such an undervalued and derided concept in our modern society, can be outsourced to others; or ranked; or traded; or measured; or bought. But at a cost. Efficiency has replaced humanity and nurture.

In the immediate aftermath of the General Election, I cannot help but think about this most threatening deficit.

After all, who cares?

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photo credit: Sweet Baby Possum in a Sock via photopin (license)

A shameless picture of a newborn possum.

To My Precious Children, from Your ‘Stay at Home’ Mum

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So far, I have avoided the personal in my writing – preferring to focus on the political. But the personal is political. The maternal is political. And so it is fitting to write this today. The day before the nation goes to the polls to cast votes for parties who have no respect for family life, or the desire of children to have greater time with their parents, or the desire of many a parent to spend more time with their children; and on the day a person who denigrates mothering publishes a letter full of maternal sentiment – with no hint of irony.

Yes, the ‘businesswoman’ Katie Hopkins used HuffPost to write an open letter to her children in which, to the surprise of many on social media, she betrayed herself as human rather than some inflammatory wicked witch of the Tweets she has made herself out to be through criticising all from stay at home mothers to ginger children. A true troll.

Reading it compelled me to write an open letter to my own children to tell them in no uncertain terms how I feel blessed to be sharing time with them, and look forward to continue being there for them during their childhood, before and after school, during school holidays, and whenever they need me – if I can. And that I am proud, during this short time in my life, to be a mother at home, a rebel in a culture which expects business as usual. 

There will also be a few nuggets which help their mum get through the sad times, because we forget to share that stuff sometimes.

So, here it is.

To my Darling Children,

You are at home today with me, your mother, in the warm and dry, playing with a cardboard box and I am grateful for being able to spend these precious, short, few years with you – to truly get to know you and understand you, to hug you, comfort you and just ‘be’ with you. To love you in the way of the verb, not just the feeling, always mindful that you do not belong to me – you are merely on loan.

You let me in to how you see the world, at just 4 and 2: “Mummy if mashed potato is potato which is mashed, then would chips that are mashed be mashed chips?” and “Look at meeeeee, Mummy!” You grant me the privilege of seeing a glimpse of your mind as it spins, learning something new every day, seeing wonder in the smallest thing. At your pace.

But I won’t always be here. As human beings, we are all going to leave this world eventually. It breaks my heart that one day you will feel the pain of losing your mother and that I will not always be there to guide you, to love you, to hear you and to see you for what you are. You. Wonderful, imperfect, amazing, unique, you. But I hope I can be here long enough to see you live your life, to have children of your own if you decide to, and to be proud of the adults you will become – and, yes, I will be proud of you. I already am. Every day.

Whatever happens, I wanted to write down a few things for you to remember as you grow.

– Loving kindness costs nothing but is priceless; and compassion is underrated and neglected in Western Culture. Find both and keep them in your life.

– One day, society might want to convince you that I wasted my talent, my time and my ambition by giving up my job to look after you, my children. That my time would have been better spent in an office in London, away from you. That you would have been better off looked after by strangers. That I will have viewed being a mother at home as a burden. Don’t believe it.

– Some people behave in hateful ways and spout insults for no apparent reason, out of jealousy, or out of a belief that being spiteful is witty, fun and something to aspire to. It’s not. If you are ever on the receiving end of it, remember that it is not your fault; you are never to blame for the actions of another human being.

– Remember that you are a worthy human being, that your body is your own, and that nobody is entitled to treat you in a degrading, humiliating or violent way. Insist on respect and give respect. Nothing less than that will ever do.

– Everyone was born a baby – we are all here for a short time and no matter how wonderful someone might appear, or how much they seem to have, we all come into the world and leave it the same way. With nothing but our body and our character.

– Perhaps you will want to get married one day. If I am not there to watch you, know that you will carry me in your heart. Be sure to marry for the marriage and not the wedding.

– How you feel and how you behave, not how you look, are what matters.

– Both of you, try not to hurt people. Work on your empathy – it is a muscle.

– I hope to be there for the good times, but most importantly, I want to be there if you are hurting. Because, at some point, both of you will need support, a cuddle, some love, reassurance and kindness. And I want you to know that I will hear you and help wherever I can, no matter what.

– I am sorry for all the times I fall short. I am a human being and am imperfect. Please forgive me.

– I want you to know that although life can be very difficult, it is hard sometimes because it must be. Without the lows, the highs wouldn’t register. Without the lows, the sweet would be bitter. Everyone suffers at some point – but nothing lasts. Not even the lows.

– If you fall short sometimes, remember what I always say: “Everyone makes mistakes sometimes, even Mummies and Daddies”. It is your life to lead. Lead it well and be kind to yourself and others.

– But most of all, I want you to know that I love you. I will never regret that cuddle, that extra breastfeed, that night where both of you draped your sleeping little bodies over mine, that trip to the ducks or that day spent at home because it was raining outside. I will never regret being at home at this time in your lives. I feel truly blessed. It is hard sometimes, tiring and relentless, and I find new ways to mess up daily – hey, as you well know, I’m not perfect – but I wouldn’t change it for anything because being with you both is hands-down the best thing I have ever done in my life. Thank you.  

When I am gone – whenever that might be – if I am in your memories then I will be with you even though I cannot be holding your hand.

Love always,

Your Mummy