Getting Carried Away

When I get an idea in my head I do tend to get a bit carried away with it. There’s a thing called confirmation bias, if you’ve heard of it, where you get a first idea in your head, and while researching to see if it is correct, you let everything reaffirm your original assumption. “I knew it, I knew it, I knew it!” I’m a wee bit prone.

If I was to allow myself to get a bit carried away, I could start to think that the gender inequality in parenting is at the route of all of the trouble with gender inequality that we have. I wouldn’t let myself get that carried away. But if I did, I can see how I might start connecting dots all over the place.

If I was to get a bit carried away, I could easily connect the gender pay gap, and the shortage of women in senior positions, to gender inequality in parenting. Well that one’s probably not that much of a stretch, to be honest. Clearly historically it is exactly the fact that women had their place, to raise the family and be at home, that has resulted in men ruling the world of work, the arts and politics.

Yet we don’t hear about it all that very much when we talk about gender inequality in work these days. Yes, often there is mention of how work needs to be more accommodating to the needs of those who are carers, therefore affording women who are (most often) carers the same chances as men who are (most often) not. But shouldn’t we talk about the fact that women are most often carers, more then men, in that very same discussion?

If I was to get a bit carried away, I might connect the objectification of women to gender inequality in parenting. When women have a role thrust upon them, I might think, which pins them to their home, they are effectively extracted from society more broadly. I really would never be carried away enough to believe that this was a deliberate consequence of the patriarchy as I don’t think “the patriarchy” could be all that intelligent.

Nevertheless, I could, if I was to get a wee bit carried away, see how the extraction of women from society, and even just a portion of women, could add to a general sense of their otherness. The otherness of women, which miraculously converts them to a minority, and some sort of outside thing. Not being present, the idea of what “they are” is allowed to become abstracted and warped to the point of vulgarity. “They are boobs.” “They are curves.” “They are sex.”

If I was to get a bit carried away, I could carry that thought through to the unsafety of women on the streets at night. Objectified, and made a rarity, they become something that can be preyed upon. By the few, of course, but the idea would still remain, that those few have a legitimate place in the night, while those women cannot.

If I was to get a bit carried away, I would connect the horrifying reality of domestic violence that so many women experience to gender inequality in parenting. Looking after a child or children, with no support from a partner also living in the home, could be depleting. If that partner also expected something for himself, and that something was to become no longer available, you can see how trouble could arise.

I’m getting carried away. I’m oversimplifying to the extreme. The reality is much, much more complex than this. But the thing is, I don’t know what to do about the fact that there is a community called incel. And I don’t know what to do about the fact of the atrocities happening to women’s rights in Afghanistan right now. I don’t know what to do about any of the awful impacts that gender inequality in our society have.

I’m privileged. I haven’t experienced a lot of discrimination or hardship in my life. But I recognise inequality when I do see it. And I think that by trying to impact this inequality, that I, in my privileged world, even though it might seem like it doesn’t really matter, like it’s only little small things, has an impact to the wider world. It’s together that we set the standard, so if only to shake that up a bit, it’s worth it for every family to give it a bit of a go.

That’s what I think. But I do tend to get a bit carried away.


The one about Breastfeeding

But wait, sure how can you even talk about gender equality in parenting when… breastfeeding? Breastfeeding Liz! Ok, ok. It’s a spikey one, but let’s do it. Let’s talk about breastfeeding. (Deep breath).

First of all, isn’t it absolutely ludicrous how little women are informed and educated about their own bodies? Andrew and I went to a group class about breastfeeding. There, the lot of us, all well educated, professional, well off adults in our 30s (or there about), were amazed by what we learned. There were diagrams and scientific explanations and it was incredible. Incredible to really think about the fact that a woman’s body can do this thing, can create food for her infant. Absolutely amazing.

But hang about because I studied biology at school, I learned about the human body and the basic things that it does. The production of food for an infant feels like a pretty basic and foundational bodily function, when you think about it, so why has that been left off any school curriculum?

While it was great to learn about the science, having been able to afford to go on the course, it was a bit startling to think about how little we knew otherwise. It’s the same of course with pregnancy, birth, and even just our hormonal cycles. Women are very poorly informed.

For all that we learned on the course, and through the subsequent reading and research that I did, nothing could have prepared me for how difficult learning to breastfeed was going to be. In my naivety, before having my babies, I still imagined that on some level breastfeeding would come naturally. It’s a natural bodily process, I imagined that something would click and I’d get it. Like taking a wee. It would just happen.

Breastfeeding is natural, but I have become so far removed from the nature of my physical body that it did not come naturally to me. The babies had a slightly better idea of what was going on, but trying to understand what I needed to do, what the babies meant with their movements and noises, what they needed me to do was totally maddening. I felt like a complete oaf, now responsible for the most precious things I’d ever seen in my life, and fumbling.

We were in the hospital with the girls for 5 days, the longest 5 days of my life. Over that time, the team of midwifes, nurses and doctors would be continually doing their rounds. I couldn’t keep track of who was who during this highly charged and crazed time. So for me it was different people popping in in a constant stream, doing their poking and their prodding, and asking their questions.

They would give me advice, of course, on breastfeeding. One after another of these busy professionals would pass on a piece of their wisdom. Hold her this way, or that way. Her mouth should look like this, my boob should look like that. I just couldn’t make sense of all these piecemeal bits of advice. I was trying to do this crucial, life providing task, in order, I felt, to keep my babies alive, and I was so confused and frustrated.

If it was learning to drive a car, it felt like being put behind the wheel on day one and out onto a busy motorway, with only the hollered advice of drivers in passing cars for support. “Hold the wheel like this!”. “Tap the breaks gently – that’s it!!”. I needed an instructor by my side.

There are supports available. You can hire a lactation consultant who will be that guide and coach and help you to learn this new mechanical skill, and help you with what to eat and drink to prepare your body better. It hadn’t occurred to me to hire one. Women are having babies all the time, I reasoned. In my naivety I imagined that the system, surely by now, would be in place to help us to succeed.

Our babies were tiny and we started using formula very early on. It’s difficult to refuse, when you’re advised that it is needed in order to sustain them. Especially difficult when you’re so brand new to everything, and the medics so much experienced. And anyway, why not?

While pregnant I had decided to give breastfeeding a go. I was sold on the benefits. They say that a woman’s breastmilk has nutrients that are not matched by anything else. Once you’re up and running, it can be easier in a practical way. Environmentally thinking it is definitely better than processed milk, packaged and shipped across the world. But I was prepared for it to fail, and to use formula should I need to, as I knew so many do.

But in the moment? Man oh man. It was a different thing. We quickly established a routine of combination feeding. I would directly breastfeed one baby, express for the other, and we would top up their feeds with formula. It all sounds perfectly fine. But in the moment, I felt like such a failure. I was embarrassed to be seen with bottles by other new parents. One time I overslept and woke up to find the girls had been brought downstairs by their daddy who was feeding them with formula. So great of him to take charge and to let me have the rest that I probably was in need of. I bawled in, crying, screaming and raging at him that I needed to keep up my milk supply.

I tried to increase my milk, to solely breastfeed for an entire weekend, to see if we could shift the balance. I gave the good latcher full access to my boobs, for feeding, for comfort, for whatever, in order to try to build it up. I learned in doing so that this was not the way for me.

Having twins your time is a bit more compromised. You can’t really give one baby full anything, as you need constantly to look after the other, too. So you have to, by rote, quickly learn when she is feeding and when she is comforting. It’s something I was very glad to have learned. A lot of the time people don’t know the difference, and it can mean that the boob becomes a pacifier to the child. Fine, of course, for anyone who that works for. Not so great for someone like me, someone who’s generally a bit less tactile and a bit more introverted, who might take umbrage to feeling like a human chew toy.

Breastfeeding is wonderful. Rates in the UK and Ireland are some of the lowest in the world and it would be great to see that improve, and with better knowledge and better support that could certainly happen. Formula is also great. It’s been developed by scientists to be the next best thing, and I feel very glad to be alive in a time when it is readily available.

Deciding to exclusively breastfeed is a big deal. When making the decision to do so, or finding themselves somehow on that path, there is so much to be considered. It means that the job of feeding, and sometimes comforting too, falls entirely to one person (unless both parents are in the lucky position to be able to do it). What would that mean for their mental health? How important is a full night’s sleep to that person, and their ability to function positively? And what might it mean for the dynamics of that family?

I didn’t exactly choose the method that we landed on of feeding. For one thing I had never even heard of combination feeding, no health professionals or breastfeeding advocates ever mentioned it to me. It’s one of those things that women just get to know about, and somehow I never had before. One thing that I was really glad of in the end was that Andrew was able to partake in feeding his babies. We had the option of him taking charge, while I got some sleep. And we benefitted from the bonding time that he managed to have.

If I had managed to exclusively breastfeed we would have needed to think about ways to mitigate for that family dynamic. We would have wanted to think about how we could get good balance, ensure that Andrew had good bonding time, when I would look after every feed. In our naivety we had never thought to do that either.

Someone who knows how to manage a blog would have likely shared this post during #worldbreastfeedingweek. As that’s clearly not me, it’s good that it’s still #nationalbreastfeedingmonth in the US, so that’s something, right? If you enjoyed this little read, please remember to like, share and follow!

How to be Successful (but not as a mum)

I was lucky, growing up. School and that came pretty easy to me. Across the different subjects I could understand what was expected and how to achieve good results. Outside school I took on loads of extra curricular activities too, there was no stopping me. There too (barring some pronounced limitations of physical ability) I was able to do well. Music and art, maths and science, I got them.

I didn’t realise at the time, of course, that I was benefiting from a system that was essentially built for me. While I wasn’t quite a middle class white male living in a first world country, well, I was most of those things. I wasn’t simply good at things, as I might have felt at the time. I wasn’t especially talented or competent. I was good at the things that I was preconditioned and prepositioned to be good at. And I grew up within a system and structure that rewarded those things. I was very lucky indeed.

At school there were some choices to make. Like most Irish teenagers, I went to a single sex secondary school; all girls. There, there was the option of taking home-ec, or domestic science, through which I might have learned something about cooking and maintaining a home. I had absolutely no interest in that. I couldn’t see how those skills related to a successful life in the world that I could see around me. A world, in hindsight, populated primarily by men. But not to worry – “girls could do anything”, we were already being told in the 90’s. In Ireland we had a female president! As a woman, I could be successful in that world too.

Socially, I wasn’t quite so successful. I was never much of a talker, for starters. The best thing that could have happened to me was starting to work in jobs where talking to people was a requirement for success. Now, through talking, there was a clear objective to obtain – a sale to make or service to provide, a customer to make happy. It turned out that it wasn’t talking itself that was the problem, so much as knowing what I wanted to say. Outside of work though, I was still brutal at a party.

Moving from school to work the same sort of good luck gave me the ability to succeed. When you start out in a new job or a new company, you just have to figure out the system and the rules. There are usually some guidelines to follow. If you’re able to take it all in you can do well. Learning to drive, the same principals applied. If you got the right teacher, for example the outqualified Swedish teacher that got all your male mates through passing first time, you could do it too. And what do you know, you’re making your way in the world!

It’s probably this relative ease that I’d had the luck of experiencing through my life that made me arrogant at the idea of becoming a parent. Some of the jobs that I’ve had have been really hard! And I know that for certain because they’ve paid quite well. (I mean, surely in this fair old world we live in, pay is directly correlated to the difficulty of the job, right?)

Being a parent, on the other hand, couldn’t be all that hard. People have been doing it forever. I had to think that it was all pretty well worked out by now. And for someone who’d been getting on so well as I had, surely it would be a piece of cake. Oh what a surprise it has been to learn that I’ve been making the wrong choices all my life, for when it comes to being a successful mum.

In the first place, there has been a notable lack of guidelines in this induction process. I’m good at taking in rules and getting up to speed on expectations, but where are they? People have been doing this forever, surely there are some things that one simply should or shouldn’t do. I’m not an avid rule follower, but I like to know the rules, to understand the best way round them. So where are they? Where’s the bloody manual?

No such luck. No indeed, in fact it turns out that the best way to get any sort of decent information in all this is through, wouldn’t you know it, socialising. Through talking, through making friends, through finding the one’s that you can trust and building allieships. This is not what I’ve been training for.

Communities are strongest when they are not provided for by their governments. That’s when people need to come together, to unite, and provide support for one another. As a middle classed white person, it’s not something that I’d experienced before. How had I suddenly fallen into a category of the unsupported, of a minority? I was still the same person I’d been before. So what had changed? All of a sudden, I was categorically a woman.

In the first few months of parenting this came as quite the shock. Luckily for me, I found some resources to fall back on. In the face of the utter onslaught of impossible and contradictory advice that the internet provided, and that circulated through the mouths of friends and peers, I found that critical thinking skills, (probably accrued through years of successful education) became incredibly helpful.

Lucky as I am, I’ve been able to get through that initial period of shock. I didn’t realise that another big blow was still to come. But it did. Right around the time that my girls turned six months, I was served another shocker. I was going to have to cook.

When I was a young kid my dad shared with me his trusted method for cooking an egg, his one and only cooking ability. Now, in this very blog post, I am going to share this treasured family recipe with you, dear reader, so do, please, pay attention to this gift:

  • Crack an egg into a mug
  • Cover the mug with a small plate or saucer (this is an important technical detail)
  • Place in the microwave and heat for 50 seconds
  • Tip onto a piece of bread, Season to taste (cooking term), and Enjoy

It’s a great technique. And for the last 30 years, when I find myself on my own and peckish, I will turn to it. Simple and effective. However, the task of introducing my girls to a well rounded and nutritious diet was quite another thing. That egg recipe was not going to get me through this.

Ok, in truth, there are a lot of products easily available to help with weaning. But, I’d chosen a method of feeding that I wanted to go with, and it meant providing the babies with food of different shapes and textures. And this made it hard. All of the advice for this method of feeding recommends home cooking. From scratch. And there aren’t any products on the shelves that are suitable for feeding babies in this way. Or are there?

As far as I can tell, it all comes down to salt. Babies can try pretty much anything, but you have to be careful about salt. So why the hell is there so much salt in everything, I wanted to know. I never asked for my food to be so heavily salted, what is this all about?

I imagine there is an element of preservative in there, that salt keeps food for longer, making it possible to run a profitable line of perishable goods. But hang about. There is a health food revolution happening, and when you have a big population as there is in London, it is possible to have those fresh and healthy foods available. I looked, I studied the meaning of the nutrition information, the ingredients. These healthy food ranges seemed fine, perfect, in fact, for a baby. And better, indeed, than the cooking of a complete novice who was likely to put her children off their food through bad cooking.

So why was no one referencing these types of food for healthy family feeding? Everywhere I looked, “ready meals” were deemed a no no. I asked some professional nutritionists about it, bravely, I thought, venturing the idea that these meals might be ok. With a degree of wariness, I was given advice about salt and sugar content, but advised for the most part to stick with cooking myself.

I do realise at this point that this post has now descended into a rant about cooking. It’s just that, it really doesn’t need to be this hard. With some clearer information about ingredients, some clearer guidelines on what’s suitable, you might not need to be both a mathematician and a scientist, on the go in the grocery shop, all while caring for needy infants. Things could be a lot more straight forward.

It’s just an example. An example of how parenting is somehow, despite being how the human race exists, treated as a minority situation. Pushed to the margins along with the women who are pushed there to manage it all. While the world continues to provide for the middle classed white man, who apparently shouldn’t be concerned with matters of the home.


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Being a Female

When I was seven, eight years old, I spent my Saturday afternoons in the pub with my dad and his friends. My dad was well known, with a business that supported lots of others, and quite a distinctive personality and appearance. While these pubs were strictly child free, we were the exception. I was the single, only child allowed to be there.

I suppose it was an arrangement that worked for everyone. I can’t imagine the men would have wanted to deal with a high energy, talkative sort of child. That might have been a bit much of a disruption to their relaxing Saturday’s off. But I wasn’t that kind of child. I was most myself and happy when watchful and quiet. So it probably suited all of us just fine. I’ve always thought really fondly on those many afternoons, spent in the company of middle aged men.

As I remember them, we would sit around a table in the bar for hours and hours on end. The men would have pint after pint of Guinness, and I would be given coke after coke after sickly sweet coke, amused that they imagined that I needed to match them drink for drink. I suppose it goes to show that no amount of sugar was going to turn me in to a hyper kind of child.

The atmosphere was always quick and full of fun. The point of any conversation was to entertain. And I wasn’t left out from all of that. Maybe I presented an additional challenge of trying to keep the language clean, who knows. I recall scenes from children’s tv being enacted on my behalf, which must have been hilarious for everyone. I soon realised that their expectations of me, as a young girl, were so low that a little witticism well timed would gain a hearty and outsized reaction.

Hanging out in Dublin’s pubs is a joy that’s never left me. When I became an adult myself, or close enough, I could start to go with my own girl friends, and there the craic and the banter was still to be had. And now that I am approaching middle age myself, I again often find myself enjoying hanging out in the pub with a bunch of middle aged men. Long after the other women have had the better sense to head home, I’m often still hanging on, enjoying the pointless stories and jokes.

Throughout my life, I haven’t been completely oblivious to the expectations of what a girl or a woman is supposed to be like. I went along with my friends and took ballet and played with stickers, I enjoyed those things. At other times, the expectations haven’t felt like they related to me. It hasn’t concerned me. I generally just haven’t gotten involved, and found that that’s mostly been ok.

I suppose I grew up, influenced of course by my parents and older siblings, to believe that rules were there to be questioned. Never ones to instantly jump at what society suggested, but to hold the notion critically for a while, and consider what the choices really were. What will happen if I follow this rule, and what will happen if I don’t. I felt little pressure from them to conform majorly to any female stereotypes either. So this is the attitude that I’ve had about doing certain “girl” things. If I wasn’t interested, and it looked like nothing bad would happen if I didn’t get involved, I simply wouldn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, my choices have not always been sensible or at all protective of my well being. There was the time, for example, when my working in one of the seediest nightclubs around overlapped with the decision to go without a bra. I went weeks, becoming more and more uncomfortable, aware of people’s looks and reactions, while a sort of dumb defiance built up in me, before I eventually gave in.

Years later, in my late twenties I was happily working in a busy and fulfilling job. I would hit the road and meet with hotel managers and owners to consult and negotiate. Here I was, wouldn’t you know it, in the company of middle aged men once again. I soon realised that their expectations of me, as a young woman, were so low that a bit of well timed level talking and good business sense would gain an outsized response. I did well.

And now it’s time for me to make a sad admission. Instead of being annoyed that they would be so ready to dismiss young women, I think I prided myself on being a bit different. Not from other specific young women, because I knew lots of really great ones. But, from the generality of young women, as I too perceived them to be. I have fallen foul of that greatest of errors. I’ve been pleased with the responses I’ve gotten, I’ve been bolstered by the sense, that I’m not like other women.

So I guess this means, feminist that I’ve always considered myself to be, that I might be a bit sexist. The thing is, women are treated as a minority. And as such, any woman is somehow meant to represent all other women. Which puts us all in an impossible situation. How can I establish myself, in a way that will be best for my success, and support another woman while needing to be clear that she does not represent who I am?

I’ve always believed that women can do anything that men can do. I just may have failed sometimes, to be sensitive and respectful of the expectations that many women carry with them and all that they have to do in order to get to where they are, as they are. So you’re damn sure I’m celebrating all the good ones from now on (even those, yes, even those that are younger and more successful and better looking than me).

I lived my life up to my mid thirties certainly aware of the pressures of what it means to be a girl and a woman. There are times that I look back on with disbelief at what I thought was normal, like the conflict of wanting to be one of the boys while also wanting to be a sexual object to the boys, in my teens. But a lot of the time, and certainly as an adult, I’ve been able to step back and disassociate myself from them when I’ve wanted. Nothing bad has happened.

And then I became a mum. As a new parent, you look for advice on how to keep your little one healthy and happy. And you are greeted by a torrent of pressure, as a woman, to do so many things, and overall to behave in certain ways. Not all women are the same, so surely there are infinite individual ways for this parenting thing to be done. To read the advice out there, you wouldn’t think so. It’s a tough one to shrug off.

Now I find myself in lots of female only groups and communities. And I’m not different to these women after all. None of us are magic, we don’t have any mysterious parenting knowledge that shows us how to do things. We’re just here, somehow because of our gender, somehow the ones that are taking things on, and trying to figure it out.


The gender inequality in parenting is blatantly obvious. To be honest, how shocked I’ve been to discover it, only on becoming a parent myself, has caused me to have a good hard look at myself. How have I been so blind? Where has my head been at!

It’s also taken me down another avenue of questioning. Why aren’t more women speaking out and fighting about this? Why are more men and women not pushing for equality? It’s 2021. The push for gender equality is active and visible in every other arena. So why are we letting the inequality pervading parenting continue as it is?

The answer is definitely very complex. One aspect may be that while being really hard, parenting is also really great. Seeing a new little human coming into the world, arriving with their entire personhood, whole and intact, and housed in this little infant body, is incredible. Seeing them grow and learn and feel out the world around them is amazing. It teaches us in a whole new way about what it is to be human. And it brings to life the importance, for each of us, to look after each other.

Parenting is really hard. Parenting in isolation can be horrendously hard. But when the conditions are right, for some people, it can be a wonderful motivator. What more of a reminder that life is short can you ask for, then seeing your little ones change and grow before your very eyes. What more reason to become the person you want to be, then to do it for them, to be their role model. Then there’s the value of your time, which becomes so much more meaningful when you have so little of it to yourself. So, what are you going to do with it?

I’ve started to notice examples everywhere of amazing women, who shortly after having their child or children, do something epic. Like single handedly set up a new business, build it from the ground, and make it a success. Like dedicating their time to campaign for justice for a cause, and making a difference. Or solving a problem, creating a community or providing a service, to help others around them. The common theme? They’re generally fuelled by goodness, by the want to help people, to protect our earth’s resources, to make things better. That’s the power of what parenting can do. The work of caring for another teaches and constantly reminds you of the importance to care.

That is not to say that you have to be a parent to know how to care. There are lots and lots of people who are not parents and who do care. Amazing individuals who are motivated and driven to do incredible work in the world, and to make their slice of it better. Of course it is not at all necessary to be a parent to care and to act in the world with care. However, it is the gender division in parenting that is really harmful.

Parenting is largely seen as being part of the world of women. That world, despite being populated by half of all people, is pushed to the margins of society. While so many people are parents, incredibly, parenting is pushed to the margins right along with it.

We are now seeing more and more women taking positions of influence – in politics, in business, in the arts – hurray! Often with their ascension comes the expectation that they will do some good for women. With parenting generally considered a part of that world of women, they are often expected to do some good for parents and children. When a female politician moves up the ranks, we expect her to represent the concerns of parenting, childcare, maybe even education. To be fair that is often the thing that has motivated her to get to her position.

Historically these positions have all been held by men, many of whom are also parents. These men, though, have not been expected to bring the concerns of parenting to work with them. They’ve probably felt it unwelcome. The world of work and politics has been supposed to be separate from all that. Leave the wife at home to deal with the children, while we get together here to figure out the serious business of making money. Quite a separate thing altogether.

That’s the division that we are living with. Women are supposed to be primarily concerned with the home and the family, while men are supposed to be primarily concerned with providing for them. The more that dad is pushed to provide for the family, the less he may even know them. The less he may be connected to actually caring for them. The less he is thinking about caring as a fundamental necessity to the way we do business and run our countries.

Wouldn’t it be great to see all that goodness that I’m noticing around become part of the mainstream? Wouldn’t it be great to see women and men who care being the ones that drive us forwards.

But this all sounds like ancient history. Come on Liz, get real, it’s 2021, surely we’ve moved on from all that. Yes, it is 2021, and I live here in London, one of the biggest cities in the western world, in one of the most influential countries in the world. Can you even imagine a country like this being built on those sorts of foundations? Can you imagine what a leader of a country like this could look like, in a world where men are taught not to care in order to succeed – not to care about the people they lead, not even to care about whatever children they might happen to have fathered? What would that even look like?

A Lurker’s Paradise

You know yourself. Having two babies during a global pandemic, sure we’ve all been there.

Everybody is very kind to one another, considering each others’ experiences of this whole pandemic yoke. And rightly so. But when I am on the receiving end, “Oh it must have been tough for you – having the babies under those conditions” well, I can’t even pretend to have had it rough.

Don’t get me wrong. The circumstances have definitely been weird, and they’ve definitely made it really tough for others in similar situations. But for me, well, to be honest, those conditions have kind of suited me.

I’m an introvert (loud and proud) and having the pressures to socialise removed, during the intense and demanding period of caring for two young babies, has been a bit of a relief, to tell the truth. Gone was the pressure to go anywhere, the pressure to see anyone. No asks from anyone to visit the house were even made, which might have put me in a fluster. While I’ve missed seeing family, and more-so having family see my little girls as they’ve been changing every day, in truth it’s made things somewhat easier. For someone like me.

The other, fascinating, thing has been that all of the mixing that would normally have happened in person, over coffees, during baby and parent classes, has moved online. That means that for someone like me, introverted and also nosey, all of those conversations have become suddenly that much more accessible.

While I can imagine, had I been going along to different groups, that I might have hot tailed it back home rather than having to make after-class small talk, the chats have all been happening online. In a gargantuan effort to replace some of the much desired socialising and support that would normally be provided through these groups, (for someone less like me, that is), some amazing people have worked hard to replace these support networks on facebook and whatsapp and youtube and all sorts.

For a little bug-eyed lurker like me, it’s a bit of a dream come true. Without having to make the actual effort of joining in on conversations, I can have an auld read through them when I catch a moment. Oh – lovely! But wait now, how did such an antisocial cynic like me even get into these spaces, you ask. Well, to trace it back, it would have begun with the NCT group that we went to.

For anyone not in the UK, and more-so London, the NCT is the antenatal course that any middle classed couple sign up to attend. To learn about childcare and the birthing process, yessssss… but also, because since you’ve moved to London you’ve only made friends with work colleagues and unless you can convince them to both move to your borough and have a baby at the same time as you, it’s the best chance you have of making friends at the same stage living close by. (All this in the hope, of course – vain as it turns out – that they don’t all realise that their place is too small and decide to move to Walthomstow.) Duly, we signed up.

This is London. One of the biggest cities in the Western World. Metropolitan, cultured, progressive, international. The group did not let us down. The women and men that we met were from all around the world. They had fascinating careers, they were experienced, they had wonderful perspectives and ideologies. Most were entering this unknown parenting journey with an aim to parent equally.

When the instructor advised us to set up a mums only whatsapp group, in addition to the everybody one, we accepted her advice. She was our guide, we could only trust in her recommendation – after all, that was what we were there to do. (Partially). The women in the group were the ones that were pregnant. We were the ones that would give birth. It seemed to make some sense that we might need a separate platform to talk. “You’ll need it”, she said.

A few weeks later, birth announcements started to pop through in the main whatsapp group. Gorgeous, wonderful and so exciting. Everyone was involved. The announcements often came from the dads – over the moon, awestruck & completely smitten. Those who didn’t yet have theirs, shared in awe and wonder at the arrival of a new little person. Those who had, offered little snippets of wisdom. As a collective, we welcomed the little ones into the world.

And then….. nothing. Total silence.

But just in the everybody group, that is. Meanwhile the mums group struck into gear. Questions and requests for advice came flooding through. Some were about feeding, yes including breastfeeding, but when we’d had the class on breastfeeding the men were told to be really involved in all that too. And others were about sleeping, clothing, bedding, rashes, noises, gestures. All. Sorts.

Of course I was exactly the same as everyone else. The chat had moved over here, and here was where I went when I needed advice or reassurance. This was where the conversation was happening. I didn’t challenge it. I didn’t change it. Somehow, this was the way that it just happened. What I want to know is what was happening with all the dads during all this. No, genuinely, I want to know. Have you seen them? Because I haven’t heard a peep!

I can’t believe they weren’t involved in any of that stuff too; the sleeping, the clothing for the weather, the noises and gurgles and burbles. But somehow, for some reason, under the influence of some external force, the women picked up the mantel to be the ones to reach out and talk about it.

Let me confide in you that I have never been a “phone person”. I’ve never liked talking on the phone at all, and even texting doesn’t happen all that much. Luckily for me I have a group of friends from school who are somewhat similar. On occasion I have had moments of panic, thinking that I’m letting my friends down, that I’m not keeping in touch enough. Only to be reassured. They are just the same. We are simply not frequent communicators.

In fact, I used to say that we were quite “like boys” this way. Growing up, it seemed to be a girl thing, to be talking on the phone a lot, constantly sharing, confiding, updating. It just wasn’t something I was ever drawn to. And luckily, like, really very lucky on this one, I found some friends who were similar. By the grand age of 36, becoming a parent for the first time, I had accepted my proclivities without too much remorse. So it is clear to me that this picking up of texting, asking for advice and reassurance, was not coming from any innate femininity of mine. Nope. This was the following of a social order.

We’d been advised to set up a women’s only group, believing and accepting that we might need it to talk about things (embarrassing bodily things I guess?) that we wouldn’t want to discuss in front of the men. When it came to needing some advice, it was an easier space to turn to. It was a smaller group. Because of maternity leave for most, it was the group of people that would be bearing the majority of the caring responsibilities. Probably repeating the pattern of things that we were seeing outside of this group, talking amongst women seemed like the right thing to do.

From this group, I was introduced to more. Women kindly and generously added me to more groups. I went on and followed some breadcrumb trails of my own and added myself to others. I am interested, after all, in learning about what people do within this whole, mad, parenting thing. I want to get some insights. I want to do a good job. But on reflection, it is mums, mums, mummmmmmms.

Andrew hasn’t experienced the same pull. He is in some dad groups, yes, he is. Some of his friends have set up sub-groups, just for the dads among them, to have some special dad related chats. From what I gather they talk about tips on major purchases. Sometimes, at crisis point, they bring up a major problem. Overall, it is by no means the same sort of daily support that I find in these mums groups.

Seeing the continual questions, outside of your own, has an effect on you. When you see new topics and thoughts being raised, things that you mightn’t have thought of yourself, you take them on board too. Your own scope of concern broadens as you see these concerns being raised by your counterparts. I’ll say it again – I want to do a good job at this! So when I see something raised up, I think about it too. Aha, yes, maybe I should be thinking about what way baby’s teeth are going to grow based on the cup that they’re drinking from – why, of course I should!

At home, I can try to get Andrew as interested in all of this as I am now becoming. But I am just one person. I can’t equal the weight, regardless of my importance to him, of what he sees in the culture around him. I can try to tell him that lots of people care about the way a child’s teeth will grow and how it can be influenced, but if he’s not seeing anybody that cares about that in his world, then I really am just one voice. One voice that’s going against the current of what he’s seeing with his own eyes and ears.

And this, I might add, is coming from an environment of a good and healthy relationship. Honestly, when it comes to Andrew and I, I would assuredly say that we have a great relationshipwe have a great relationship most of the time….. we have a great relationship a good bit of the time……. I feel confident that our relationship will stand up once we get through the madness of co-parenting our very young children. I can only imagine what things would be like within a relationship where things weren’t so amicable.

Surely we need to expect men to be as involved from the beginning as women are. We need to expect them to be a part of the conversation. Because funnily enough, when we cut them out, they get cut out. And when we cut them out, women get cut off, onto their own strange world of daily caring concerns, that men just don’t get a part of. Maybe we could worry less about exposing stories of cracked nipples, or better yet find some dedicated space to talk about just those things, while bringing men right back in to the parenting conversation.


Burn the Monster

Isn’t the internet great? It’s amazing, a wonder, we live in a revolution of communication that defines this time in history. We can share information and ideas with each other from anywhere across the world in an instant. As a race, we now have so much information at our fingertips. With all this combined wisdom and experience, just think how quickly we can progress.

Before I became a parent, I didn’t read much about parenting on the internet. Since becoming a parent, I’ve turned to the internet for information, desperate for quick answers and insights, like never before. We waited a long time to become parents, but that doesn’t mean that we spent that time doing our research. No, better for our mental health to focus on things that we already had in our lives. And after all, how hard could it be?

It’s really hard. I know, what a major break through statement. It’s really a wonder that no parent has ever mentioned it before come to think of it, but parenting is really hard! In those early weeks and months, we found ourselves, like all parents, in charge of these little humans that we loved more than anything we could imagine and at the same time that were more vulnerable than anything we’ve ever had responsibility for in our lives. On top of that, it turned out they were complicated and we had no idea what we were supposed to be doing. Immensely important, fragile, complex and clueless – it can be a bit of a stressful combination.

So I have turned, often, to the internet for advice. And golly, I found it. I found all of it. All of the advice, mostly earnest and well meaning, mostly eager to share valuable learnings, and each piece completely contradictory to the next.

We have access to wisdom and knowledge from around the world, but the trouble is that that can add up and create this pressure to do it all. To be everything. To be more than perfect, embodying every bit of good thing that is meant to be best for your child. It’s impossible. Yet it exists, this phantom monster of a perfect mum – because of course, all of this is on mum – that nobody is but everybody strives for. And it’s crippling.

As parents we care so much and want so badly to do the best for our children. So when somebody says that something is definitely the best and the right thing to do, it’s not so easy to dismiss it out of hand. Women, together in their all female cohorts because of their mutual maternity leaves, may meet and talk. When they do, and when one shares some brilliant thing that she has done, that she has achieved with her little one, it’s hard not to feel a pang of worry, when you haven’t been doing this thing yourself. You hadn’t seen that piece of advice. Dear lord, you’ve been neglecting your child for months! Damn it, how could you have allowed yourself that one relaxed cup of tea three weeks ago – that was probably when you should have been on it.

Or maybe you’re a bit more cynical. A bit more arrogant, critical, and well… a little bit more like me. You still don’t want to say to your friend that the thing that she’s been investing her time into is worthless. That she’s been fooling herself. She is caring for a tiny infant with all of the intensity that that involves – let her have her moment of pride. So you congratulate her, while simultaneously panicking over your own potential neglect, and sourcing a good news story to share of your own. You find one, let’s keep the chat positive, and you share your snippet. (So then it’s her turn to panic).

I’ve often thought how lucky I’ve been not to have been a teenager during this hyper-perfectionist time. In the 90s and 00s the pressure that we experienced, to look and behave in certain ways, came from tv and magazines. As someone who never bought those magazines, (already too cynical), that pressure was plenty enough. Teenagers now seem to have so much more skill and self awareness, they manage their appearance and behaviour like we sloppy millennials never did.

There is a phenomenon of people getting plastic surgery to look more like the instagram filtered versions of themselves. This feels worlds away from my reality. The phenomenon of women cutting themselves up to be the instagram filtered version of the mum they think they have to be feels a lot closer to home.

It is common to come across rhetoric about how every baby is different. This is often offered as an antidote to the onslaught of advice that pervades. Things that worked for one baby don’t necessarily work for another. Having two very different babies at once has given me my own insights into this and while I am most certainly not here to give parenting advice, with absolutely no desire nor qualifications to do so, I like this train of thinking.

I just wonder, at what point does being an individual with your own nuances and differences stop mattering? Every baby is different, and different approaches will work for different babies. Is there a point at which that baby is supposed to stop having their nuances respected? Is there a point when they’re supposed to row in with the rest and adapt to a world where there is a singular way of being? Maybe it’s when they become a mum.

You don’t hear a lot about how every parent is different. Exceptions, like Philippa Perry’s “The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read: (And Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did)” stand out in glorious relief. She writes about, within parenting, recognising your own limitations. Aha! As a parent, you have limitations, and they need to be respected too. As parents we have to work, to do our best, with what we’ve got. A big part of what we’ve got is being the flawed and human people that we ourselves are. We should surely make the most of ourselves.

Trying to live up to the Monster Ideal Mum, that impossible phantom, can only be crippling. You might be capable of coming close, of taking on a hell of a lot, and trying to do it all. But how good can that be for a child if you’re making yourself uncomfortable? Surely the best thing for a child is seeing their wonderful, individual parent, being the best version of themselves that they can be. Or you might feel that the Monster Ideal Mum, that others seem to be capable of being, is so beyond you that you give up, decide that you can never even try to be a good parent at all. Sorry kid, what a shame.

There is no one type of woman. There is no one type of mum. There are no things that mum has to do instead of dad. It’s time for us to celebrate every type of parent for all their flawed, human individuality. If anyone wants to join me I’m off to start a joyful parade in which we’ll burn an effigy of Monster Ideal Mum down in flames for all to see. She’s impossible and the idea of her should no longer have a hold on parents in this world. See you there. #takeithome

We Can’t Leave it Up to the Lesbians

I was born on the 15th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. They happened 52 years ago today, on the 28th of June 1969, following the funeral of Judy Garland in New York City. The LGBTQIA community experienced a watershed movement towards activism.

We have had 52 years over which pride celebrations have been evolving into the rainbow festivals of colour that we know them as today. It is in this same time that feminist communities and activists have also been speaking out and taking a stand. Many of those feminists have also been gay and part of the LGBTQIA world to boot.

In writing about gender equality in parenting I generally refer to cis-gender, heterosexual parents. I write, mostly, about mums and dads. I am very much aware of all of the parents and families that this leaves out. But I do it on purpose.

Most families across the world include parents made up of one woman and one man. As the majority, it is us who are then responsible for setting the standards. As the majority, we can choose to continue doing things the way they have always been done, regardless of how absurd that may be. Or we can choose to call bullshit and to make things change.

Actually, being a member of the majority is a type of privilege. And I would say that it is the duty of those that count themselves a part of the majority, of those that are privileged, to speak out and challenge the status quo.

Nobody should have to explain their sexuality or their gender in the context of being a parent. When we carry forward the notions that women have to do mum things, and men have to do dad things, we are making things less inclusive.

The more we challenge things, the more we subvert the norms, the more we can normalise dads doing things that they may not have historically done. We can make dads be more present in the parenting scene. And by doing this, we are laying the ground for any parent, regardless of their sexuality or their gender to be as involved in parenting as they want, no explanation needed.

There’s another reason that I write about mums and dads. And that is this: when it comes to achieving this equality, we are talking about a delicate and a tender negotiation that has to happen between loved ones. These are discussions that need to happen between men and women in their homes. When it comes to getting over this part of the feminist struggle, we straight women can’t leave it up to the lesbians to fight for us anymore.

We have to #takeithome.

I Took Maternity Leave But At Least There Was Lockdown

Our daughters are now nearly 15 months old. They were born right as the UK was going into lockdown for the first time. Some time in mid March 2020, I left the office thinking I’d be going back in the next day. Then the message came through that women who were pregnant should stay at home. And when the girls were born, I started my year of maternity leave.

I was expecting to have this time away from the office and from work. Having two newborn babies, I was expecting that it would be challenging to get out of the house at all for the first three months. Then suddenly everybody in the world had to stay at home too. Concerts were cancelled, restaurants were closed. I wasn’t going anywhere, and neither was anybody else. In the whole world.

Taking the babies home in the uber and seeing how London had changed since lockdown had begun was a memorable experience

I should mention at some point here that I am not the easiest person. Some might say that I’m pedantic, persnickety, fastidious. I would probably quibble over the accuracy of those descriptions. I am a bit particular, and for that reason among others, when we’ve talked about having children, we’ve often imagined that Andrew, my other half, would take on more of the parenting responsibility.

Not so when it came to parental leave. I would take maternity leave, because that’s what women do. Andrew took the time that he could to be with us in the first few weeks, particularly as I was likely to be recovering from a c-section. After that he would return to work and I would take leave to care for the babies for the first year of their lives. It wasn’t up for discussion. I could get a maternity package, he could not. It was a done deal.

Introducing the babies to friends over zoom

I wasn’t complaining. A year away from work, being so privileged to be able to take a year away, seemed a great once in a life time opportunity. I expected it would be challenging. Work means a lot to me, a lot of my self esteem is wrapped up in my professional productivity, so I planned a bit around that and had a bit of charity work lined up. I tried to prepare myself a bit for the abrupt change that was about to turn my life inside out.

I understood that it was important to take some time to bond with the babies. And if I wanted to breastfeed, which I did, it would be important to be off work to do that too, at least at the beginning. I was aware of the professional impact that maternity leave can have. Stepping out for a year in your mid thirties is not the best way to climb the corporate ladder. What I hadn’t understood was what happens in that time at home.

Let me say that I loved my time away, falling deeply in love with my two little girls, and learning more things, both practical and profound, than I can ever remember learning in any single year before. I was keenly aware that while others struggled to stay in their homes, I lived in a perfect terraced house with it’s own small yard. While others were lonely and at a loss for things to do, I had my two new favourite people with me all of the time and I was busier than ever. I have counted myself very fortunate indeed.

Two sleeping babies was always cause for a smile

It helped, of course, that Andrew was never far away. Once he wrapped up his few weeks off, he was back to work but working from home. So he was with me and the babies right up until 9 and immediately from 5:30. And during the day between he could join us, give me a break when I needed one. Some people talk about this as a silver lining of the lockdown but I think it is much, much more than that. Him being more present than he otherwise would has helped to shape the foundations of our family dynamics.

While he was in the house, I was still the one caring for the babies throughout the day every day. Through this invested time I got to know my girls. What I hadn’t understood before, though, was how I would also get to know how to run the house around their care. I wore a watch at all times, and would refer to the time constantly, keeping mental note of their last feed, sleep and nappy change. I would know when it was crucial for clean bottles to be ready for an upcoming feed. I would constantly be thinking about where the various bits of kit were, to be ready for when needed next. And I got to know the girls’ sounds and signals, to be ready to respond. (This description omits mention of the daily mistakes that were made – you may assume that there were many of those too).

Even though he was in the house, it wasn’t possible for Andrew to learn everything at the same pace that I did. Not to mention that things would change so often, so that once he did learn something it would soon become outdated. Even I would struggle to listen to my droning voice as I gave him frequent updates on the changing nuances of their care. Blended with the constant chatter aimed at the girls, he would have been superhuman to keep track of the regular reports.

As I went back to work three months ago, Andrew dropped his hours to a three day working week, to spend two days caring for his daughters. In the run up to that we had what can only be considered a handover. I told him he had to wear a watch. And we spent a lot of time talking about laundry. After the first couple of training in days, he was absolutely exhausted.

When women are by default the ones taking leave to care for their babies, the work that they end up gaining the responsibility for is the work of domestic duty and the running of the home as well as for the care of the children. There is no reason for this work to belong to women rather than men. But once it does, and once that becomes the dynamic in the home, it is incredibly hard to change.

If men and women had equal parental leave, then this wouldn’t happen. And if it wasn’t possible for both parents to take leave together, wouldn’t it at least be wonderful to have some options? To have some discussion about who would be best suited to do what in the family and to plan the time accordingly?

Andrew and his two girls

Now I find I’m thinking a lot about two things. One is if I was returning to work without Andrew changing his work week and taking on more caring responsibilities, how would I ever be able to shift the balance? Now, finally, I understand how difficult it is for many mothers to return to work and balance all of that responsibility that they carry at home. Even though there is no good reason that it’s them that are the ones to carry it.

The second thing is how much worse would it have been if Andrew had not been working from home over that time. If he had been leaving the house at 7am and returning at 7 in the evening, like I know many front line workers have been even throughout the pandemic. In other words, if he had been absent through the girls’ entire waking day. I find it unimaginable and yet this is the norm that thousands of women have experienced for decades.

Now offices are starting to reopen and people are planning to start going back in for at least part of the working week. Meanwhile babies will continue to be born. I’m a bit frightened.


Becoming a female parent

Of course I’ve always been aware that expectations are different for mums and dads. Of course I’ve known that traditionally mums and dads have played different roles in the family. I really shouldn’t have been surprised, when our two girls were born, that expectations coming from all corners were that I would be the primary carer. But I really was.

I’ve grown up in a time when girls have increasingly been told that they can do anything. Bit by bit over the last couple of decades we’ve seen the gender inequalities in our society falling away. This is often, as I’ve thought about it, relating to work. More and more women are taking on positions that have always been held by men. With no kids, for the last 15 years work has been a pretty substantial part of my life. I’ve been in a bubble.

I’m not under any illusion that in the world of work – in business, politics and the arts – that we’re there yet. But I have believed that we are on the way. Girls need to be educated differently than in the past, to be taught to have confidence and self-belief and I’ve heard that teachers and children’s authors are working on that. Boys need to be educated differently than in the past; I’ve heard that they’re working on that too. Unconscious bias in the workplace needs to be identified and addressed, and all around me I’ve seen businesses and workplaces taking action. So I thought that the right things were happening. And yes, although I really shouldn’t have been, I really have been shocked at how all expectations have been stacked, as a female parent, onto me.

Why aren’t we talking about this? The fight for gender equality is alive and well and yet gender equality in parenting doesn’t seem to feature in the conversation. Is it because parenting is a topic that is so deeply entrenched in the world of women? Is it because biology is so little understood that it is blown out to cover things that really are no more than cultural? Is it because parenting is so personal, and so sensitive, that where the negotiation for equality lies is in the privacy of our individual homes?

In this blog I will share my own ideas, opinions and observations, and I’m looking forward to hearing others’ ideas in return. One thing I’m certain of is, that when it comes to achieving the gender equality that we need, when it comes to feminism, it is time to #takeithome.