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Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

Reading Gaby Hinscliff’s blog ‘I am not a feminist but…’ certainly struck a chord. If truth be told I don’t regard myself as a Feminist, my mental perception is I suppose of bra-burning, men-hating, hardnose career driven women who would hold their hands up in horror at the life I have chosen; sacrificing a promising career in favour of wiping snotty noses, playing with plastic tat and singing The Wheels on the Bus ad infinitum. I most definitely need a bra to keep my ever southwardly disappearing bosoms vaguely hoisted and Emily Davison must have been turning in her grave the election I chose not to vote in.

So am I letting the side down? Despite these transgressions am I a feminist? Maybe I am. I strongly believe in equality and choice. The decisions I have made, be it through career breaks or working part time to breastfeeding my children or being chief cook and bottom wiper have been made precisely because I chose them. The opportunity to work fulltime and devolve child and household tasks to another were there, I simply chose not to avail myself of them. I discovered bringing up my children to be more fulfilling than my career, and my job has become my hobby. For other women the converse is true.  The point is that feminism should be more about women being able to make the choices they want than what those choices actually are. I am eternally thankful I wasn’t a mother thirty odd years ago where maternity leave was routinely began at 29 weeks and the dictates of society would have meant a woman’s career was consigned to oblivion once the umbilical cord was cut. I consider myself fortunate that things have moved on enough to give many women choices that simply didn’t exist a generation ago.

My husband considers himself sympathetic to feminist viewpoints. He sees my role at home to be to bring up the children rather than hoover, cook and clean which is a good thing really as household tasks do not figure largely on my radar. He is a hands-on dad and does his share of chores.  Nevertheless when I challenged him as to whether he would have sacrificed his career in place of mine should I have chosen to return to work fulltime after birth he spluttered and said he was glad that situation never arose. The reality is though that for him to have taken time off or work more flexibily would be near on impossible and viewed as career suicide. For women there is the option of extended maternity leave (that may come with decent renumeration) and the protection of these rights enshrined in law.  My employers might have had the odd grumble when I have been on maternity leave . Should I choose to work more when the children are older I will be supported as it is deemed a ‘worthy’ thing that I have let my career tick over to raise my family. Not so for men. The statutory two weeks paternity leave with derisory pay meaning the majority of men will not avail themselves of this. There is talk of more flexibility with parents sharing ‘maternity’ leave between them but this is yet to come to fruition. Even if these proposals should reach the statute books there is still a whole societal attitude to deal with where childrearing remains the domain of the woman and men who venture into it remain somewhat of an oddity. The pressures, both covert and explicit, from employers, spouses and acquaintances mean it simply is not an option. I think my husband would quite like the opportunity to drop a day a week in favour of family life but unless there is a momental shift in attitudes and economics it will never be a credible alternative. Jim Pollard writes about why feminism favours men but in respect to the work-family balance at least I think I am the more liberated partner, I certainly have more choices.

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Yesterday on International Women’s Day, I thought back to a conversation I had with a friend about feminism and motherhood after reading this article.  It gave me a lot to think about because I’ve spent the last three years feeling pulled between being a feminist and taking the traditional ‘woman’s role’ in our household.

I’ve been the one who has looked after our daughter and most of the housework since she was born.  I cook the dinner, it tends to be more or less ready when my husband walks in from work, I do the washing and I plan our holidays. I never thought I’d be the kind of woman who thought there was any pride to be had in looking after a family, and yet here I am, loud and proud. (I should add here in case Lordblahblahs thinks I am doing him a dis-service, that he more than pulls his weight in the home in the evenings and at weekends).

Badinter’s viewpoint is, in my opinion, naive, and well, bollocks, frankly.  I simply can’t see how taking a few months or years out of work to care for your own children can really undermine a lifetime of education and employment.  As my friend said, if she’s that bothered by women pureeing a bit of butternut squash or changing nappies, why isn’t she instead championing family friendly policies at work, equal pay and better childcare etc.?  I’d go further and say why aren’t we championing the right for men to take equal time off (if they choose)?  Where’s the cultural shift towards fathers working flexibly and, ahem, don’t men have any say in their children’s upbringing?  We can’t just have children and leave them to bring up themselves after all, surely both parents are equally responsible?

Mostly, I want to cry:  why, why, why are the soft skills of looking after each other – whoever is providing the care, and surely the foundation of family life – not given the same value as the more easily measurable skills of who got the best bonus, who has the biggest house, who drives the biggest 4 x 4?

The way I see it, being a mum to pre-schoolers (because that’s all I have experience of so far) is a bit like any other job really.   You can make as much of it as you want.  Some will leave their kids with a bag of crisps for breakfast while they watch Jeremy Kyle.  Others will read all the latest research papers, plan their days with military precision to make sure they are fun-packed, educational and that their kids have nutritionally balanced meals every three hours, with lots of interaction and play in big groups as well as lots of one on one time with mummy.  Most of us are somewhere in the middle.  The vast majority of parents, whether we work full time, part time or not at all, are engaged with our children, we want to give them the best start in life and most of us want our children to be well rounded, compassionate individuals with good self esteem who will go on to contribute to wider society.

Being at home with a child doesn’t mean my brain will rot.  I can still read the paper, I can still do evening courses, I can still *shock* talk to friends about their lives.  Just as I never focused only on my (paid) job, I can still be interested in the world around me and not obsessed with how many phonetic sounds my daughter understands,as long as there’s a smile on her face when she’s happy and she has someone to talk to when she’s sad.

So, I read the papers over the weekend, like I do every weekend, and my word, the world seems to be in a depressing state for women.

First off, only 10% of directors in Britain’s top 100 companies are women and some of them have no women at all on their boards.  None of them have a female majority.

In television,   it’s not just whether you’re a woman or not, it’s how old you are.  If you’re a young woman you might be able to have a soft role in a soap or as a bit of fluff, if you get to 40 and still employed, you’ll be lucky.

It seems even Samantha Cameron and Sarah Brown – both intelligent women in their own right – are seen as extensions of their husbands.  Ed Vaisey has suggested that Samantha Cameron voted Labour in the last election – which she denies, but if true, surely she’s entitled to vote for who she wants at each and every election (I know, I couldn’t do it either, but I’ve heard of stranger differences in a marriage)?  Just look at Sally and John Bercow!

Melissa Kite of the Telegraph thinks that Sarah Brown should be ‘riding her husband to rescue again’, because she is more personable than he is and doesn’t have her own agenda, unlike Cherie Booth who had the audacity to have her own career as well as being married to the then Prime Minister.

Even the good news that Kathryn Bigelow has won an Oscar for directing The Hurt Locker leaves a bitter taste in my mouth – she’s the first woman ever to win a Director’s Oscar.  What???  So we’ve only got another 80 years to catch up!

Elsewhere in the tabs, we read about the Doormat Wives.  John Terry’s wife Toni Poole has forgiven his transgression – from what I can gather, sleeping with his team mate’s girlfriend and paying for her to have an abortion is just the tip of the iceburg for this man’s hideous behaviour .  Cheryl Cole apparently blames herself  for the fact Ashley couldn’t learn his lesson the last time he sent sleazy texts to a kiss and tell merchant.

I read this stuff and I wonder who we are trying to kid, women should have equal rights, but they don’t, and that’s to say nothing about domestic violence, rape, women dying in childbirth, genital mutilation or the many other issues affecting women in this country and around the world.  Nothing has really changed since I was studying A Level Sociology all those years ago (19 to be precise).  What am I going to tell my daughter when she asks me about equality issues?  What is the best way to bring her up to know that she doesn’t have to accept it?  Am I a good enough female role model (she obviously can’t look to television, celebrities, politics or the workplace for examples)?  How would I parent a son? These are the real things that trouble me, as a feminist, Elisabeth Badinter, not whether I remembered to put on a hot wash.

(and I know I sound like a bit of a miserable old bag, so I’ll post a blog later in the week about all the things that are great about being a woman in 2010!)

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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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