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Mother’s Day

Some of the LaptopMums contributors share their thoughts on Mother’s Day. We would love to hear yours in the comments section.

Puddlepie:I’m apparently the best mummy in the whole wide world universe. I’m even better than all the Alien mummies. But I don’t feel like it much of the time. So much of my life is compromise. Compromise between family and work, between mum and wife, and forget just being ‘me’! When the kids are ill, the first thought is so often about who can manage to wangle half a days leave, rather than about their welfare. Thankfully though, at the age they are, it doesn’t seem to matter. I tuck them into bed with lots of kisses and cuddles most days, and thats what counts. So this mothers day, I’m going to celebrate the things I do well, and try and do more of them.

LadyBlahBlahs: SiL2 was visiting on my very first mother’s day. I mentioned this to my darling husband who looked horrified, then said ‘Oh, never mind, SiL1 can take her out’. It took a while for me to realise that he meant his own mother, rather than his wife who had spent the last 5 months in a state of shock looking after his daughter with no sleep. I don’t think he’ll make that mistake again.

The other day when I did nursery pick up, children were coming out with bunches of paper flowers they’d made for their mums out of their handprints. I was instantly taken back to doing exactly the same thing for my own mother, sitting at the kitchen table with my sister. I like these long standing traditions, and my paper flowers will be far more precious than a card bought in tesco at the last minute.

I always find mother’s day is fraught with dilemma. Is it a time for me to make a fuss of my own mum and her mum or is it OK to be self indulgent? Should I spend the day doing something fun with my daughter or should I bugger off to the spa for the day? This year, we will be taking the little lady out to do something fun, and I’ve booked to go to a spa with some friends in a couple of weeks. Perfect!

BeeBeeF: When I was a kid we didnt ‘do’ Mother’s Day. Mum said she didnt want flowers or presents, just for us to ‘help around the house’. As a teen, I would have much prefered to bung her a bunch of daffs and continue to ignore her rather than actually have to lift a finger to help. Poor Mum. I did manage to send her a card this year though. Now I am a mum myself, I am happy to accept any and all gifts and treats from my daughters, even though at this stage we are talking stuff they have been forced to make at school. I think last year I treated myself to a daytime nap as well. But at their age it pretty much is all down to their Dad to organise something. I remember when my eldest daughter was a baby I got the serious hump with my husband as he had made no effort for Mother’s Day at all. When I challenged him about it, he was genuinely perplexed: ‘you’re not my mum!’. I asked him who our children going to learn about proper Mother’s Day etiquette from, if not him. He has been much better since.

Cassisdijon: This year is the first year that I’m going to get a proper Mother’s Day surprise. My eleven year old daughter and her friends have made a shopping date and they’re going to the shops tomorrow (on their own, eek!) to choose gifts for their mums. My girl has been unsubtly probing me all week about what I’d like, so I hope Mother’s Day will be heavy on the book tokens and light on the cheap chocolate.

Meanwhile, my pragmatic six year old boy has made me a delightful card that reads “to MY best mummy”. He’s under no illusion that I’m the best mummy anyone could get; just that I’m the best he has. Quite right too. And my tiny girl has made me oomething chocolatey at nursery, that I’m not sure about eating due to her hygiene habits.

At the end of the day, though, Mother’s Day for me is still about my mum, my tiny, fallible, loving little mum who does so much for me every day even though I’m nearly 30. My sisters and I like to present her with a table full of food she likes and give her a gift we know she wants, so she knows how much we love her despite the mistakes she may have made along the way. If my children still feel like that about me when they’re my age, I think I’ll have done an OK job.

Agnodice: My eldest child produced a hand made Mothers Day card from his book bag the other day and whispered conspiratorially that it was a surprise before dashing upstairs. His intention of hiding it under his bed faltered when he got distracted in the process and left it lying in the middle of his bedroom floor for me to find when I was tidying later! My middle child confidentially told me that he was making heart shaped biscuits for me at school on Friday but to keep it a secret! He has been well primed by his teacher, he has told me he will sing me a special song and tidy his toys away on Sunday. The household tyrant aka my youngest child is too young to know the significance of the day and it is unlikely she will gift me a few hours extra unbroken sleep from her. Nevertheless she will smile and gurgle and bestow upon me that look of adoration that infants reserve for their mothers.

Mothering Sunday is one of those occasions, like Christmas, where if you are a signed up member of the club it is a delightful day. However for those women who are struggling with infertility or anyone who has lost their own mother it is a day coloured with loss and sadness. I am thankful for my little brood and their heartfelt efforts and will try to be mindful of those who will for whatever reason find it a sad or poignant day.

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Happy International Women’s Day!

To celebrate, Laptopmums brings you a selection of today’s interesting, thought provoking or just plain entertaining articles.

A subject close to our own collective heart: what do the politicians actually mean by ‘the women’s vote’? Lisa Ansell writes on the subject in an all women issue of Labour List:

If you really are a politician wondering how to make your policies relevant to half the electorate, and you truly see ‘women’s concerns’ as so different from your own – then you are in the wrong line of work.

What’s wrong with being a feminist? Gaby Hinsliff blogs about the reluctance of women to embrace the word.

feminism is also about the right to make your own intelligent choices: it’s about saying that nurturing other people shouldn’t be regarded as ‘lesser’ than paid work, just because it’s women who more often do it.

News of a manifesto for 21st century feminism in the Guardian.

But more and more people are beginning to connect campaigning over climate change, war and inequality with fighting for women’s liberation.’

Interesting, if somewhat predictable, differences in what men and women blog about using cool word analysis.

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Here we go again: Children of working mums are less healthy than those who work part time. To the BBCs credit, they do at least briefly ask ‘what about Fathers’ – but this is yet another judgemental article, castigating full time work, and making assumptions about the type of parenting that goes on. I found the abstract for the paper (and why doesn’t the BBC link to this??), and it is clear that the associations found are very small – and short lasting! By the time the children in the study are school age, no association exists! However, surely what these studies highlight is the need for good quality childcare – rather than yet again putting working mums on the naughty step.

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A third of families use grandparents for childcare, according to the charity Grandparents Plus, often causing hardship for grandparents who retire early or cut their working hours in order to help out. The charity calls for these effort to be ‘recognised financially’ by the government, since free childcare often allows parents to go to work and pay tax where they wouldn’t otherwise be able. It seems only fair doesn’t it? The government encourages mums back to work, but often its not worth it if they have to pay childcare out of their wages.

The Benefits Minister Helen Goodman is reported to have said “However, we’ve made it very clear that we only expect parents to do this during school hours or during the hours they are entitled to free childcare. We absolutely do not expect grandparents to subsidise this work.” What a joke! Many mums of school age kids I know are looking for that elusive ‘school hours’ job and believe me, Ms Goodman, they are not easy to find. It is only having grandparents able and willing to do the school run, or a few hours of after school care that makes it possible to work.

Putting all that aside though, relying on grandparents for child care can be fraught with problems. My own mother doesn’t live close enough to provide childcare on a regular basis, but she does either come here or take our girls at various times to allow me to do work related things. Trouble is, I have a pretty complicated relationship with my mother (who doesn’t?!) and spent my 20s putting some distance, both physical and psychological, between us. All that has gone to hell since I had kids though and I have come to rely on her in ways I would rather not. As is so often true as a parent, I feel I have compromised what I want by choosing what works for my family.

I think many mums are similarly stuck between a rock and a hard place: use their mother (or often worse, the mother-in-law!) for childcare with all those strings attached or not work at all. Even if you have a good relationship with your mum, things can get strained. Its not long ago the news was full of witterings about grandparents contributing to childhood obesity through overindulgence. A friend of mine recently picked her child up from grandma with bruises all up his arm as he had been ‘difficult’. What can she do? She relies on grandma in order to do her job, but she can’t tolerate her beating her child. It’s a minefield.

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I read the harrowing case of Khyra Ishaq just before I cuddled my own daughter (3) to sleep last night.  As I wrestled my arms out from under her, I held my face next to her podgy cheek.  My thoughts turned to Khyra and, inevitably, food.  My daughter loves breakfast.  In the morning she takes herself off to the sofa and snuggles under a blanket while I make it for her.  She usually has two slices of buttered toast or porridge and a bowl of fruit.  Today she had mango and strawberries (sorry environmentalists) as a treat because it’s Saturday.  If she’s still hungry she’ll ask for a yogurt or maybe an extra slice of toast.

I’m not the perfect mother.  I shout, I tell her ‘in a minute’ too much, sometimes she has beans on toast more than once a week – I am positive that one day I’ll forget to pick her up from nursery.  But my daughter’s life could not be further removed from the life of Khyra who had to share a bowl of food with six siblings and would be caned if she ate too much.  I find the idea of not feeding a child in the western world totally unfathomable.  In fact it’s so unusual that experts had to look back to records of concentration camp victims to get a proper idea of what had happened to her.

Poor Khyra was taken out of school when staff there got concerned about her welfare.  Her parents said that they were home schooling her and both Social Services and the Local Education Authority were happy with the arrangements for her education at the time they visited.  In fact, Khyra was dead within 12 weeks.

While I think anything, anything, should be done to prevent this happening to even one more child, I am so sick of knee jerk reactions (and subsequent legislation) coming out of extreme cases.  Baby P – calls to sack ALL social workers in Haringey (because there are SO many waiting to take their place), Soham murders – calls to CRB check everyone who has to look at a child ever, MPs taking the mickey with their expenses – put them on bread and gruel.  Khyra’s legacy seems to be to make all parents who chose to educate their own children at home come under the spotlight.  What’s wrong with a considered approach, eh?

Just as most people who send their children to school are not abusing them, most people who are educating their children at home are not abusing them. From what I can gather, the existing legislation for parents of home educated children was not followed through.  Should two education welfare officers have accepted that they couldn’t see Khyra when they visited – especially bearing in mind that the Deputy Head of her previous school had expressed grave concerns for her welfare?  Similarly, should a social worker carry out an assessment of a child’s welfare on the doorstep of their home?

In the judge’s words: “On the evidence before the court I can only conclude that in all probability, had there been an adequate initial assessment and proper adherence by the educational welfare services to its guidance, Khyra would not have died.”  That doesn’t sound to me like we need new legislation, it sounds like we need the existing legislation to be implemented properly.  Instead of spending time and money on new legislation, attract good social workers and education welfare officers to the professions, make their case loads manageable so that children and vulnerable adults don’t slip through the net like this and then see what tweaks or overhauls need to be made.

Perhaps the saddest thing of all about the Khyra Ishaq case is the fact that the police investigation identified at least 30 witnesses who could have intervened on Khyra’s behalf.  Many people living in her community had concerns for her, but didn’t share them with agencies who were there to protect her.  None of us want to live in a nanny state, so why don’t we look out for each other, and especially for the children living in our communities?  We all know, really, don’t we, when we see children who are happy and well looked after and when we see ones that aren’t being cared for?

I’m as guilty of this as anyone.  I lived in a downstairs flat years ago and above us lived a couple with a baby.  Did I hear the baby screaming for hours at the same time as his mother begged her partner not to hit her?  Yes.  Did I notice that after these episodes there were always piles of empty cans of extra strong cider next to the communal bin?  Yes. Did I worry about it?  Yes.  Did I do anything about it?  No.  Why?  I didn’t want to put extra stress on the poor mother.  Do I worry about how that baby is now?  Yes.

Part of the problem of the individualistic culture that we find ourselves living in now, is that we end up with more state interference and become over-reliant on statutory agencies to do the things we should be doing ourselves.  If we’re not keeping an eye on our own communities, then the state will have to do it for us and they tend to do this by rushing out legislation to cover all eventualities.

Please, let’s try and learn from this case, because how many more can there be before someone spots the bleeding obvious and sorts out morale and workloads for those paid to protect our children?  We need existing legislation to be implemented properly by people who have the time to do their jobs properly and we need (yes, that’s you and me) to keep our eyes open and take some responsibility for the well being of the children around us before it’s too late.

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Parent Power

Have you ever been involved with your children’s school PTA? Have you experienced cliques of parents in the school playground? Have you felt marginalised or even…dare I say it?…bullied by other parents?? I bet the answer in many cases is ‘yes’.

We often experience political machinations amongst parents concerning many issues ranging from whether the school should run a Halloween disco to whether the new drop off arrangements are rubbish. Playground gossip, email campaigns, petitions, the works. Imagine now, if you will, this kind of behaviour extended to also cover the fundamentals of how your child’s school is funded and run. What happens if a group of particularly persuasive parents decide that the new Headteacher is too progressive? Or not progressive enough? Or that their child’s education is being damaged by the inclusion of too many SEN children in the school. You don’t agree with them, but by putting pressure in the playground and other underhand means, they manage to cajole a ‘significant majority’ of parents to back their stance.

In proposals announced by Labour today, such groups of parents would be able to force a vote to decide for a ‘change of school leadership’ with a list of approved organisations that could take over the school. They are all about ‘parent power’, apparently. The theory is that control of ‘failing schools’ (as determined by parents) could be wrested away from Local Authority control and put into the hands of ‘kitemarked’ organisations such as successful state schools, universities and academy sponsors. Or  ‘The tycoon owner of a carpet company’. Right.

While I understand that all political parties are desperately searching for ‘radical’ ideas on how to raise academic standards (this latest seems to be in response to the Tory idea of having new schools opt out of LEA funding altogether), I find this proposal shockingly ill conceived. Yes, if you sent your child to a dreadful school it would be nice to think there was something you could do about it, but are parents really qualified to determine if their child’s school is ‘failing’? And by what criteria? Already unpopular SATS and league tables? Inclusion of too many SEN children?!  As another union representative said: ‘What is the point of having education professionals and volunteer governors trained to manage schools if their expertise and work is to be disregarded? It is right that parents should have a view on the education of their children, but they have neither the knowledge, expertise nor responsibility to organise and deliver it’

It’s all too easy to imagine a scenario where over involved parents who take a dislike to something that is happening to their special snowflake could mount a campaign against a school. I agree with the Teacher’s Union NASWAT who warned of ‘”unintended consequences of parental ballots” – saying they would “create unnecessary turbulence” and that teachers would be “working with the ‘gun’ of a parental ballot at their heads”‘. As both a parent and a teacher, I can’t think of anything worse.

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Finding the Balance

I don’t like the term ‘pushy parent’, yet I do intend to push my children.

How do I find the balance, though, between encouraging and supporting my children, and being the kind of parent who focuses so much on the children’s potential that I forget to nurture them as I go? There’s also the danger that I could  become so wary of doing that that I hide my hopes for the child to save them from feeling pressured to perform.

I’ve been musing on this lately, because a crisis of confidence has led me to look at my own upbringing.

I had a happy childhood, but I can’t help but feel let down by my parents because I was never pushed. Not even encouraged. Nor were my passions acknowledged, let alone built upon.

At age 10 I loved to write and draw (I had written and illustrated a book of short stories!), I loved numbers and number crunching, I had a keen analytical brain, I was a passionate ornithologist, and I had taught myself to play ragtime jazz on our knackered old upright piano.

At 12, I was sent to the local comp, when I could have had a place at a grammar school. But my parents didn’t want to see me struggle at the good school! How could they think that of their child?

It was never really drilled into me how important my education was and I didn’t apply myself at all. My parents never asked me about school or made me do my homework, and I can’t believe they weren’t interested. They just didn’t show it.

They loved me and they raised me to be respectful, responsible and thoughtful, but they never pushed me at all.

I hope I manage to raise respectful, responsible and thoughtful children, too, but I also intend to watch my children closely and spot when they have a passion or an aptitude for something and to help them build on it.

I hope to see at least as much enthusiasm for academia and arts in my own children as I had aged 10. And if I do, I will read their stories and encourage them to write more, and set them challenges, and sign them up with a club. And they’ll definitely be getting music lessons, whether they like it or not!

I never questioned my parents’ love for me but I didn’t feel worthy of it as a child. I couldn’t understand why they loved someone who was so dull that they never warranted a reward for doing something enthusiastically or a pat on the back for being clever at something.

The balance then, to me, is to show enthusiasm and to be interested and to guide with a firm hand, but to steer away from the polar extremes of a) living vicariously through my children, and b) failing to see the world through their eyes at all.

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