When white women have brown babies: (un)learning and what can I teach them?

Becoming a mother unleashes an uncertainty onslaught unmatched by any other stage of life. Under such attack the most useful thing anyone can ever say to a new mother is, “You are the mother your children need. You are enough”.

But what if this isn’t always true?

What if the space of unknowing is so great that it creates a vacuum into which your child can be sucked, chewed up and spat out unrecognisable to herself and those around her?

Because white mothers of brown babies don’t know. We haven’t been there. And as we grapple with the certainty of knowing we should lead by example, we are also struck with the certainty that in some ways we are clueless. We realise we are not enough.

I am a white middle-class(ish) woman. Coming to terms with the privilege that affords me has been a sudden awakening in the last few months and for that I am sorry. I’ve expressed this regret to people who reassure me that I have not done anything “wrong” – people can only operate from their place of awareness – but still I would quite like to sit with that discomfort, own it, and notice how my “instincts” have been muddied with the realisation that they too have been the unsuspecting victims of unconcious bias.

White people in Britain are taught to ignore race – we feel uncomfortable talking about it; even typing the words “white”, “black”, and “people of colour” makes me wince. But of course, we have that privilege – we have the option to ignore race, to pretend it doesn’t make a difference, but when a white woman has brown babies she has to finally sit up and take notice.

So I am reading as much as I can; talking and listening to people who know. I know I have 36 years of unlearning to do and so far I’m somewhere around the third sentence.

I’m not expecting, nor do I want, congratulations for this. I just want to talk about how and what I am learning because in a deepening of the wound of the uncertainty-onslaught motherhood inflicts on us all, I have realised that I’m not qualified to guide my children through the challenges they will face, and it’s sometimes a lonely place.

I’m working through those thoughts by writing because this is what I do. I strive to make sense of my thinking by tip-tapping it out and posting it out there for anyone to see. I invite agreement, challenge, even derision, because it helps to clarify my thinking.

So this is where I begin.

I’ve already got it wrong.

Drowning in Disney images of pale-skinned Princesses, many with blonde hair and blue eyes, I worried in her third year when my daughter repeatedly asked when she would grow “lellow hair”. But I downplayed it.

In a perfect example of Are you sure it was meant like that mentality I told myself that the omnipresence of a Eurocentric standard of beauty didn’t matter that much. When I later watched my daughter swell in prideful recognition that she could be Moana (making allowances for a four years old’s awareness of the different origins of brown people), I jolted awake.

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Moana

My skin crawled in appalled recognition when I was taught that allowing strangers to touch my daughter’s hair out of curiosity was as inappropriate as allowing them to stroke her skin. I had failed to protect and promote the sanctity of my daughter’s body and have had to ask myself some uncomfortable questions about why.

The creeping truth is I have allowed strangers to pet my child like an exotic animal because I didn’t want to embarrass them by saying no. Crucially, I placed their potential embarrassment above my child’s agency over her own body because I didn’t understand the significance of what was being asked.

The assurances of friends who tell me the whiteout of their commuter-town communities would not pose a problem, were we to take the plunge and move out of London, have been met with the same silence. Why? Because I don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable either.

The pretence sees me asserting that my only concerns are that I don’t want my children to stand out by default – if they want to claim their individuality they can dye their hair pink or wear outrageous clothes, I say.

I occasionally go further to explain how I don’t want to live somewhere they are so different that the colour of their skin can be used as their identifiying feature – you know A, the mixed race one. I imagine the words “mixed race” being said in a nasal half-whisper that suggests some sort of discomfort with the words, and I assume we live somewhere everyone understands the term “half-caste” is not ok (but then, we all know what assume did…).

But I usually avoid venturing into the territory of explaining how the colour of my childrens’ skin impacts the way the rest of the world sees them. I rarely explain the ways teachers, peers, other parents, the Police, future employers and employees will treat them differently – unconciously perhaps, but still differently (and I’m including in this the creepy fetishising of mixed race children that happens throughout our society). I avoid talking about it because many white people get defensive, challenge it, and I feel uncomfortable insisting.

Finally, I avoid the white-supremicist-elephant in the room that, in a world where images of Saffiyah Khan, Ieshia Evans and Tess Asplund necessarily go viral; in a society where Katy Hopkins’ vile brand of attention-seeking “straight-talking” has an audience, my children will be safer growing up in London. At least here there will be other people who look like them, with whom they can share their experiences.

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Saffiyah Khan

It’s telling that the friends who tell me my fears are unfounded are unfailingly white. My mostly left-leaning friends nod to the existence of racism – you can’t be a good lefty if you’re in denial of bigotry – but some also perpetuate a myth that it doesn’t happen where they live. And it’s telling that I don’t set them straight.

I fail to challenge their blindness to the institutional, structural and societal racism that surrounds them, and I fail to point out that the reason they don’t see it is because where they live there are no people of colour to fall victim to it, or they don’t see it because they’re not its target.

Like most white people living in majority white spaces I’ve excused people expressing views that too kindly get called “borderline”. It has been safer and more comfortable for me to pretend they “didn’t mean it like that” but I’ve realised that I have to take responsibility.

I have to risk alienating and offending people. I have to risk being told I’m being over-sensitive. And when my gut tells me what we’re all too afraid to say I have to say it anyway.

I have to do what people of colour have been doing all along while I made excuses.

I’m going to be afraid and uncertain. I’m bound to get it wrong at times (I’m aware even this very blog post might be getting it wrong) but I can’t do nothing. I can’t pretend that there are no difficulties in preparing my children to navigate a relationship with the world that will be completely different to the one I understand. There are going to be times in the future when the teenage refrain, “You don’t understand” is going to carry extra weight and I have to accept that.

So this is my way of starting that journey – openly, honestly, imperfectly.

Because my mixed-race children aged just two and four have already taught me that my dearly held life-long left-wing views are worthless when not deepened by action. It’s uncomfortable to admit that only being genetically invested in their future has prompted this reflection, but I have finally learned it’s not enough to just say “I’m not racist”.

 

How Fathers Day is key in the battle for gender equality (yes, really)

We can stop pretending now, right?

It’s been a month so, confession time… who handed over a present for their dad/ father of their children a few weeks ago, that was a bit crap? Who, at the last minute, cajoled the kids into sitting down to scrawl daddy a card? Or perhaps you didn’t bother at all?

Trust me when I say that those scenarios are suggested without judgement as I too have spent the last four years cultivating a tendancy to casually chuck Father’s Day in the bargain bin, alongside the cut price roses and past their best pumpkins left over from those other fictional celebrations, Valentines Day and Halloween.

In the meantime I annually revel in the outpouring of adoration that accompanies Mother’s Day. I point to the fact that Mother’s Day is in the Bible as evidence of its superiority in a world where card and gift manufacturers compete to invent reasons to get us consuming (Black Friday, anyone??!)

But what if Dads, as parents, deserve to be celebrated too? And what if our reluctance to do a proper job of celebrating Father’s Day is a symptom of our failure to take dads seriously on every other day of the year?

It was after reading a piece by Steph Douglas about Father’s Day gifts that I started to question my own habit of thinking dads should be happy with whatever they get. She ventures to suggest that perhaps what dads want is actually pretty similar to what mums want – something to read, something to drink, something to eat, some alone time to do all three, and some socks to keep our feet warm while we do it.

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Steph Douglas – she talks sense does that one…

So what’s with the resistance; the resentment of them spending a few hours uninterrupted; what’s with the voice in our heads that says fathers don’t deserve this?

Could it be possible that, against our better intentions, against the feeling behind frustrated outbursts that They are HIS children! He is not BABY-SITTING!, and against our wishes for greater equality in the home as well as in the workplace, we are actually complicit in the continuation of the gendered norms we claim to want to dismiss?

Every time a BBC reporter asks a female tennis player how she juggles a tournament such as Wimbledon with motherhood, as happened to Victoria Azarenka, the assumption seems to be that her husband/ partner, the child’s father, must have something more important to do than look after his own child. The attitude is there is no way that he might be there in a supporting role – that her career might have taken priority – and oh how we bristle.

azarenka-boyfriend-with-son
Oh yes BBC, I see what you mean. The father of Victoria Azarenka’s child look completely inept. I mean look how he’s cuddling that baby and smiling

The spikiness is indicative of a wave of newly impassioned feminism that is sweeping popular thinking. We wonder incessantly why it seems such a stretch for a 36 year old woman to have what a 36 year old man doesn’t think twice about – a house, kids, and a kick-ass career – but maybe we are forgetting something.

Maybe the key to true gender equality lies in not only dismantling the entrenched gendered-norms that hold back women, but in challenging the toxic masculinity norms that suffocate men?

In some ways I understand our reluctance to give Father’s Day anything more than a sideways glance. In the jokes about dads being a bit crap, and our expressions of surprise or faux concern that the children are with dad while mum works, perhaps there is an element of us jealously guarding the only territory we have ever been bestowed.

While women occupy just 32% of the seats in Parliament; while it remains that female CEOs of FTSE 100 businesses are outnumbered by white men called John (not ignoring that the issue of gender diversity is even more problematic when taking race into account – 10000 words for another time…) perhaps the truth is that we don’t want to concede that men are just as good at being parents until we scrape together some ground that says we are just as good as them everywhere else.

The irony is that we are protecting society’s habit of elevating the mother to be the “better” parent when in fact this is exactly the “status” that holds us back. Because all gendered norms are toxic.

The damage done by the societal message given to boys – that to be a man you have to go out to work, provide for your family, never admit to vulnerability, and bury every emotion except anger – is as great as the harm done to women by the narrative around the sanctity of motherhood (amongst others).

And the only way we change this is if we all move towards the middle.

Even families where men and women want to fulfil traditional gendered norms. They are not precluded from this because it is in our minds that the greatest shift needs to happen. Mothers and fathers have to explain their choices with a simple This is what works for us, rather than buying into a narrative about what women, and men, mothers and fathers should do.

But of course this movement towards “someone has to look after the children” has to also happen in practical places – workplaces, businesses and homes.

So far in this country men have been reluctant to ask for flexible working while the newer Shared Parental Leave has also failed to gain much traction. Really this should not surprise us. Men have witnessed (and been complicit in) the treatment of the women who have paved that way before them. The eye-rolls, the questions about commitment, and the assumptions about productivity: men have seen this happen to their female contemporaries countless times, so why wouldn’t they be afraid?

And perhaps women also need to concede a little of their “territory” – the territory that almost automatically places them as primary care-givers when a family breaks down (I acknowledge this is an epic over-simplification – it’s just something we should consider if we’re serious about gender equality); the territory that assumes women will want twelve months maternity leave but does not ring-fence extended paternity leave for men (in Scandinavian countries with almost total uptake of extended paternity leave, this time is not transferable – if the father does not use it, the time is lost); the territory that finds many of my friends not wanting their menfolk to take on their share of the household duties because they don’t do it properly.

And while I don’t for a second imagine that thinking ahead to next year’s Father’s Day and planning a thoughtful gift is going to have much impact in the face of a ten thousand years of gender inequality, perhaps giving up that particular piece of turf would be a good place to start.

Why I choose love and hope even when they’re useless

I’ve always cared, but when hatred landed on my doorstep on Saturday night it dawned on me for the first time (naively indeed) that this is our new normal. We have been living a privileged life and now we are faced with one that felt so far away. And while we grieve for what is lost, this pain exists in tandem with the knowledge that as a society we are experiencing a fraction of the terror that is daily reality for so many around the world.

We are only learning what it feels like to not be able to keep our children safe.

We thank those who serve to protect and save us when the unimaginable happens. Yes, the emergency services did us proud. Yes, a response time of eight minutes is impressive. And yes, we come together in grief and determined defiance, as we’ve always done.

But truthfully, when there is evil amongst us, shouldn’t we be more angry?

Pledging to continue living our lives the way those who would murder us – have murdered us – despise, when not one person on Saturday night thought, “Today is the day”, is a hollow pledge. We continue because we have to but how many of us will change our plans when we’re freed of those obligations?

I won’t be the only mother who has decided against taking her children into the city because while I am able to Run, Hide, Tell, how do I do that with a two and four-year old in tow?

How do we stay strong when evil makes it clear that we are all but random targets?

How do we stand together when hate-filled voices and actions seek to divide us – when it’s not the division between the terrorists and us that threatens our society, it’s the division the terrorists seek to sow in our midst?

And how does talk of hope not hate, love, peace and unity feel anything but trite and futile when people are dying in our streets?

All the words have been said too many times, but none are ever enough and they are tired. We’re all tired of being defiant, resilient and pretending we’re not scared. And there is an alternative rhetoric that at times like this, with our resolve chipped away at, our conciliatory words threadbare through overuse, becomes increasingly seductive.

Take action! the angry voices implore, the implication being that those who could stop this are choosing not to. We look to the Muslim community to take responsibility and we ignore that those who commit these crimes are to Islam what the Ku Klux Klan are to Christianity – when was the last time we heard the Christian community having to answer for those who pervert their faith?

The same voices choose to ignore that Salman Abedi was reported five times to the Police by his community.

And the same voices look for cheap answers and easy blame without pausing to consider what the root causes of radicalisation might be.

Extremists, the mentally ill and psychopaths have always existed but now they have the ability to reach inside the homes, minds and hearts of vulnerable, marginalised people to twist their thoughts and darken their hearts.

Many of their targets are people who already feel the society they live in does not welcome them, does not offer them opportunity or belonging, so when someone comes along and tells them this is where you belong, we value you, then surely the seduction is easy to not condone, but understand.

We only have to look at the rise of UKIP, with its single issue platform of immigration, to understand that when people feel ignored they will change their views and move away from their fundamental values in order to feel represented. People will cut off their nose to spite their face in order to “stick it to the man” and when they do this the rest of us have a duty to ask But why?

Of course UKIP members and representatives are not murdering in the name of their cause (although we must never forget that Thomas Mair murdered Jo Cox motivated by extreme right-wing views  – he was a terrorist too), but if we can understand what has driven people into the right-wings of their rhetoric, then surely its no great leap to understand how people can be radicalised and turned into terrorists?

But instead of trying to understand, those who Brendan Cox said “lick their lips when people die and use it as a chance to spread hatred” tell us the extremists are laughing at us. Theresa May tells us that we are too tolerant – we are to blame because we’re not angry enough.

Claiming to have the answers, “arrest, incarcerate, deport, repeat”, says that trumpeting abomination of British values, Katie Hopkins – and when we’ve been hit with bombs and vans and knives, it seems fair to question the validity of vacuous platitudes of love, harmony and togetherness. We wonder how can we justify only arming ourselves with words?

But discomfort with this narrative should never be far away. Of course more needs to be done – no one is suggesting we should condone the actions of the few that terrify the many – but when there are calls to arrest and imprison people we have to ask, “At what point?”

Laws in the UK already ban incitement to hatred and violence, including on the grounds of religion or belief, so how much further do we go? Are we really prepared to take steps towards the chilling precedent of Thought Crime set so far only in fiction? Are we ready to indefinitely incarcerate people without trial?

Defending British values by echoing the policies and behaviours of nations we criticise and claim to be morally superior to – Saudi Arabia for example – is stark in its hypocrisy. Are they the example we really want to follow?

I’m no expert. The questions are huge and many, the solutions so far are few, and as those with the knowledge and power wrangle for the best course of action I am left uncertain and scared about our future, often breathless with incomprehension at the horror that just keeps coming.

But while I accept love and hope are useless in physical combat with bombs and knives, it seems to me that the biggest falsehood exists in the narrative that insists aggression is strong where compassion is weak; love is naive but hate holds the answers.

Deep down we know the truth – history tells us hate has never resulted in anything except more hate; peace is born from peace – and its a truth to which we must keep returning.

To look after each other; to refuse to turn to hatred and be eaten up by anger; to stand together, are actions of power and significance.

Alone they are not enough – the solution, should it ever be found, will be varied and complex. But nothing will work if decency does not exist as its foundation, and it’s a foundation we can all help build.

 

Image credit Cleo Wade

Dear Anna


Dear Anna,

How are you? I hope this finds you well and you’ve not been caught too unawares by the social media storm your article in today’s Daily Mail has caused. I somehow suspect you haven’t.

I took a moment to google you after reading your piece and spent some times reading some blog posts on your website, and skimming your Twitter feed. All in the name of research, you see (and for the avoidance of doubt that is spelled R E S E A R C H and is defined as the systematic investigation into a study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions, NOT take a couple of sentences completely out of context and use them to support lies and misinformation to further your own agenda).

It appears you enjoy Strictly Come Dancing, dislike Katy Hopkins and think Jeremy Hunt is a bellend – so far so good. But then you had to go and spoil it all.

To be honest I’m struggling to decide what motivated you to write the article – I suppose only you will really ever know but these are my best guesses:

  1. You really believe what you say and want to extend a comforting arm of support to those who are miserable because they absolutely love motherhood. They can’t figure out how to press unfollow on the social media feeds and blogs of the women you feature so you’ve written your piece as an act of solidarity.
  2. You made different choices to the women you featured, and feel threatened that they are doing things differently.
  3. You are jealous because they are more successful writers than you.
  4. The Daily Mail contacted you and paid you an incomprehensible sum of money to write the article and compromise your own believes – SO much money that you’d have been a mug to turn it down.
  5. You really need the £50 – £150 The Daily Mail usually pay for articles like this one.
  6. This is a cynical publicity stunt to market your book – by throwing these women under the wheels of the bus (go round and round) you can (this little) piggy-back (goes to market) on the outrage of their combined hundreds of thousands of social media followers and perhaps pick up a few sales.

As I’ve already said, only you will ever know the truth about why, but one thing I can say for certain is YOU’RE WRONG.

You’re wrong to call them “bordering on neglectful” and accuse them of “dimwit narcissism” . You’re wrong to call them deceitful, arrogant, and suggest that none of them have ever experienced or expressed “a sense of wonder about their baby”. You’re wrong simply when you say their target audience is “mostly new mothers”.

Either you really haven’t done your research, or you don’t care that these accusations are untrue. Neither of these scenarios suggest to me you have the right to any moral high ground.

But beyond the startling hypocrisy of telling women to “pause in their feverish mockery of motherhood” while you single out some brilliant mothers for verbal abuse that borders on slander, there is a more insidious narrative behind your words.

The narrative you suggest where “having a new baby is a gift” that some women never get to have, that is “precious” and “should be cherished” isn’t untrue but to suggest it should be the only narrative is dangerous.

It is irresponsible to suggest that a woman, who is not enjoying the early days, is suffering the psychological and physical impact of a traumatic birth; perhaps her relationship is under strain and she lives many miles away from her family; or maybe her baby has reflux and rarely sleeps longer than an hour at a time and is always crying when he/ she is awake, should put up and shut up, and be grateful for what she has.

Just a few days ago the tiny corner of the world wide web that I inhabit was awash with messages of solidarity and support about Maternal Mental Health. As a woman who suffered enormously with post-natal anxiety, flashbacks, dark thoughts and a general desire to escape my life following the birth of my daughter, your venomous dismissal of women who have done so much to open the closed doors behind which many a mother has sat and cried, is offensive.

And in response to your token defence of mothers who didn’t struggle like I did, the mothers you describe as feeling patronised by the alleged suggestion “that a home cooked meal, laundered baby clothes and clean nappies are beyond the wit of most mums”, consider this – they are not the ones trawling the internet at 3am desperately seeking reassurance that they are normal for wanting to scream FUUUUUCK OOOOOFF everytime their 2 week old baby’s gums clamp solidly round their bleeding, blistered, thrush-infected nipples.

They are happy with their lot. They have everything they “ever dreamed of”, as did you. So why the determination to pit those women against these?

Rule 1 of the sisterhood, Anna, is that you can’t defend one group of women by attacking another – it just doesn’t work like that.

So put your faux-concern aside, let’s lever those judgey pants right out of your crack and kick them off from around your ankles, I’m sure they must be keeping you up at night (and we all know how sleepless nights can make one a little nutty). Just give yourself and other women a break and even you Anna, are welcome to sit with us.

But should just one mother read your article and feel guilty and alone with any negative thoughts and feelings she is having then I sincerely hope your sleep is disrupted and your fanny feels on fire for eternity.

But that’s ok because you’re #grateful, right?

Yours faithfully flipping the middle fish finger,

Nicola Washington.

PS.

 

Over-caring is wearing: the day I told #selfcare to do one

Thirty-five of the things I’ve cared about in the last 48 hours:

  1. Trump
  2. Russia
  3. Syria
  4. The refugee crisis
  5. Brexit
  6. General Election 2017
  7. Cuts to education and the NHS
  8. Benefit cuts which have hit women hardest, and which have been blamed for a 60% increase in prostitution in Doncaster since 2015 as vulnerable women struggle to support their families
  9. Tory fuckers
  10. Ethical fashion
  11. The fur trade
  12. Recycling
  13. Palm oil
  14. Mental health
  15. Maternal mental health
  16. Destigmatising mental illness
  17. Wasting food
  18. Eating non-organic food
  19. Feeding my children non-organic food
  20. Not cooking food from scratch
  21. Giving into requests for “just one more tiny one” when attempting to not feed my children food that is barely food
  22. (Not) exercising
  23. (Not) living in the moment
  24. (Not) knowing what to wear
  25. (Not) wearing make-up
  26. Rampant facial and body hair
  27. Farmer’s hands
  28. Flaky winter feet
  29. What example am I setting my daughter by being a stay-at-home-mum?
  30. Should I focus only on raising my children well and care less about the world?
  31. Why aren’t I doing more to help the world?
  32. Why aren’t I doing more to stimulate and support my children?
  33. Do we need to take vitamin supplements?
  34. Am I drinking too much tea?
  35. Do my teeth look yellow in pictures?

Obviously some things stand at the “oh chuff off” end of the spectrum (looking at you online article on How to be bikini ready this summer), while others exist in an “out of my control” realm that apparently means we shouldn’t worry about them.

But worry we do in a mindless Why did we bring these perfect little beings into such a funked up world type way. Although we necessarily move on there is a little weight added, a slight staining of the day.

The other day though, when my heartfelt response to the meme

You cant pour
#selfcare

was FFS something else to think/care about/ do, it was clear there was a problem.

The self-care message is one I find annoying mainly because I know it’s right and yet find myself unable (unwilling?) to find the room to do it. Whenever I get a few hours away from the demands of the house/ work I rush away desperate to start working on a new piece of writing. I tell myself that I love writing so it is practising self-care to just crack on with it.

But actually, much of the time writing is torture. Sometimes I wonder if I’m purely addicted to the endorphine rush I get when I find the right words, the right sentence construction to make sense of the tangled mess of thoughts in my head. The rest of the time I feel pretty shit about it – I don’t actually love writing it seems, I love having written (thanks Dorothy Parker for the inspo).

Dorothy Parker

But I digress. Because really my point is how did I get to the point where a message about taking on less, made me feel more pressured to do more, to care more, even if only about myself?

Compassion fatigue is something I’m vaguely familiar with. In a previous life my colleagues and I once completed a questionnaire to see how empathetic we were. Turns out we were all raging psychopaths incapable of even looking at someone else’s shoes, nevermind walking in them.

Even for teachers this seemed a little harsh, especially as we worked in an inner-London comprehensive school and felt assured of our moral superiority. After laughing for longer than was appropriate, we assured ourselves that we were “merely” suffering compassion fatigue, so used we were to dealing with good people existing in shitty situations.

But this felt different.

This was not about feeling resistant to helping people who were suffering (including myself in some small way), this was about not wanting to know in the first place.

I was all cared out.

These days we are constantly bombarded with messages telling us the gumpf they contain is THE MOST IMPORTANT INFORMATION IN THE WORLD and YOU MUST ACT NOW!

Many of us use social media to keep track of the main news stories of the day, and the work of charitable organisations, but alongside that undeniably important “stuff” are the brand and lifestyle messages, many from Real People. Traditional advertising is predictable and easy to avoid but the scroll becomes a heady concoction of people and subjects the user genuinely is interested in, alongside things we feel we should care about – other people care, it must be important, what am I missing?

The equal importance given to these messages, the amplification of doing yoga with perfect hair and immaculate makeup, while wearing only ethically-produced organic cotton and drinking something suspiciously green, means the boundary between perceived, and actual, importance is blurred. As demonstrated by my use of the word “important/ce” five times in two paragraphs, the overall effect is we become overwhelmed by ALL OF THE IMPORTANCE (six).

It’s not even as straightforward as being ruthless and unfollowing the things you are not interested in. For me that means coming to terms with the fact that I’m not that bothered about exercising or eating well. I mean, who wants to admit they essentially want to die young?

I know this is BAD, I really should care, and so I carry on following the feeds with an unrealistic idea that one day I will find the room in my life to do something about it.

And so we arrive back at the #selfcare induced rebellion.

I’d lost perspective, my filters had failed, and I’d jumbled together the important and the trivial until my synapses trembled with a dial-up warbling of no-connection. The only thing to do was to turn my back on it all and let my echo chamber ring silent.

I tuned out, ignored the news, retreated from Twitter and immersed myself fully in the latest domestic drama about a popped balloon or a doll’s missing shoe. I shoved my head into the bottom of the washing basket, and spent time digging out errant socks. I lifted up and replaced multiple items of handwash-only clothes that I bought in a previous life before procreation rendered my main function as a tissue. I decided that this was where I was supposed to be. This is where I was needed.

It was nice. For a while.

But being an opinionated person with no opinions is disorientating. It wasn’t long before my mind pushed at the self-imposed boundaries and I started to wonder what was happening in the real world.

So is this the conundrum – live a disconnected life, calm and unfettered by worries about the state of the world/ your wardrobe but be a bit bored, OR take it all on, be interested in everything, look at what other people care about and why and, when you can, use their experiences to improve yours? Taking a middle ground of caring but not too much just feels a little lame – I’m sure it works for some but I’m an all or nothing girl.

So, for now I’m back in the game. I’m drinking it all in and for now I feel confident about my priorities. I’m also pretty certain my filters will get blocked from all the sludge-slinging at some point in the future but this time I’m paying more attention to the off button. Every now and again I’m not going to be afraid to hit it because it will definitely all be there waiting when I return.

Even that fucking meme.

Should motherhood define us?

The scale of the adjustment from no children to one has never since been matched despite the best efforts of the arrival of a second child and the departure of my career. There’s no doubt that motherhood has changed me.

I’m confident I’m not alone in that assertion but does motherhood, should motherhood, define us?

Elements of the media clearly feel motherhood does define women who squeeze out a sprog or few. The obsession with labelling women as mumboss, mumpreneur, Instamum, the grandmother of them all yummy-mummy, or its backlash slummy-mummy, make it clear that whether a woman is groomed or not; running a household, a business or a team; or perhaps is vlogging and flogging herself to the highest bidder on the internet, the most significant thing to remember about her in every context is that she’s someone’s mum.

For most mothers at least trying to do a good job, the centre of every decision is occupied by their children. Where they live, the hours they (don’t?) work, whether they pursue career advancement, how often they wee – children are generally speaking the Most Valued Players in every game.

But what is insulting is the obsession with reducing the rest of a mother’s life, personality, interests, abilities, qualifications, passions and experiences to bit-parts in a mother’s world. We see them relegated to the subs bench, only allowed onto the pitch once the real work is done and the most important player, Mum, has received the right amount of attention.

Not everyone feels these terms are negative – some people insist they are a compliment, shorthand for, “Wow she’s a mum AND a boss/ entrepeneur/ looks good – she’s smashing it!” but isn’t this a bit patronising?

It suggests that managing to spin all the plates without them smashing all over the floor is surprising – you clever girl!  But this exclamation mark is one that never gets applied to dads – no one ever questions how a father can have children and be successful elsewhere – and so you start to apply a question mark instead.

If it takes two to tango, why, like DNA, is the raising of a new life not split 50-50? The possession of a vagina does not determine the superiority of one’s ability as a parent. Once birth and breastfeeding are out of the way, what exactly can women do that men can’t?

Facing down a four year old’s determined resistance to dressing herself in the morning feels akin to watching the change in outdated gender norms. We all know it needs to happen, it’s for everyone’s benefit, but progress is painfully slow. Cheek-biting and concerns about the future are shared responses to both, but society’s obsession with defining women with children as mums first is a problem that is not going to be solved with stickers and a trip down the supermarket toy aisle.

Men have their status as entrepeneurs, bosses, or just plain old breadwinners taken for granted. They are committed to their graft, their attention is never divided so the words used to describe them have no need to be either.

In contrast, the mum-isms suggest a mother’s attention is always divided and whenever a woman grows a new one the assumption is triggered that to be a good mother she must always be available to her children.

Being called a mumboss or otherwise is only a compliment when we assume we are congratulating a women for managing to juggle it all. The absence of a fatherhood equivalent suggests dads are never even expected to do the juggle. Being a good father does not hinge on being available – being a mum comes first, we are told, but being a dad doesn’t.

This problem is huge, systemic, wrapped up in generations of gender norms and predetermination and simply changing the words we use is not even close to the whole answer.  But is a start.

And while we’re at it, perhaps we also need to reject the premise of the question that asks does motherhood define us – a question that pits women against one another and often tells us nothing other than what an individual believes “define” means.

Instead, until we adjust the compass to make it possible for fathers to be dadbosses, or mums just plain old bosses, the pointing, probing, relentless question we should all continue to demand the uncomfortable answers to is, should motherhood limit us?

Image credit: Lola Hoad Design

In her glory I find certainty that I might be a little more brave

I’ve been afraid recently. Afraid that I can’t keep my children safe. It’s something all parents know we have to deal with, but recently I’ve been feeling heavy with it.

The attacks on Westminster shoved my breath sideways a week or so later when I stood outside the exit to the tube. The tarmac seemed to have absorbed the shock, hurt and horror of that day. As I looked around at the streets, those buildings and the people, the thought, They never thought it would happen to them pulsated in my mind and I hurried away with heaving breaths.

With the help of friends I’ve reframed that fear since – stabbings happen and cars mount the pavement every day somewhere in this city, this country and the rest of the world. It does not diminish the tragedy of the lives lost or permanently affected by the events on that day, but it does diminish its power.

But even reframing it leaves a nag catching in the back of mind because regardless of the method, or whatever madness it’s attributed too, it’s the hate I can’t handle: the dismissal of another human being as being less than you.

Hatred breeds hatred, the worn words proclaim, and as the pixels and airwaves exploded following the attack on Westminster, their exhaustion was explained. The pace and vitriol of those looking for someone to blame, a reason that suited their rhetoric, spoke tellingly of people just waiting for an excuse.

But in this picture I find hope.

It’s a different place, a different issue but it’s a response to the same hate. Her insouciant smile in the face of his spitting aggression; her disdain and bemusement at his impotent, ignorant rage, so clear and cutting for everyone to see.

So, as she stares with no-nonsense contempt, I find my self challenging the despondancy I’ve been feeling – nothing is getting better, the world is full of nobheads and bigots and arseholes and Trump – I should just take shelter in a simple life well lived, raising my children, keeping my peace.

It’s a feeling borne of small things – a conversation, a comment by a stranger, a series of headlines that eat away at the validity of the burning feeling deep in my gut and the prickling behind my eyes. But this picture has solidified my resolve.

How can I feel beaten down by a mere conversation when, hands in pocket, she looks hate in the eye – and smiles?

It was a disorientating conversation to be fair – the woman was intelligent, articulate and passionate about what she was saying. She insisted that young women are being sent the wrong message about being able to “have it all” – that they need to be told the truth about how hard it is and adjust their expectations. I suggested perhaps we need to expect more from men, not less from women, to which she responded, “My husband can’t even put an empty packet in the bin. We are years away. Years.”

While she’s probably right on the timeframe, I was wrong to turn inwards, mask the eye-roll and feel that her certainty qualified her to convince me I was wrong.

And what about the mother outside the hospital who yelled at her daughter for swinging on the bike racks? “You’ve got to be a girly-girl,” she shouted as we walked past. My heart plummeted and “What’s the point…?” were the next words out of my mouth.

The wave of hope The Women’s March awakened in us all has been drowned out by a never-ending stream of attacks on our conviction. The backlash against “Legsit” did nothing to quell an emboldened, “anti-political correctness” right who continue their onslaught to undermine every hard-won increment of what we’re allowed to say.

The Co-op advert, be it an unfortunate error or intentional publicity stunt, was thought up by someone, apparently questioned by no one with the power to change it, and is just a small part of a limiting picture being drawn by people determined to use only the blue and pink crayons.

On the other side of an ocean but magnified by status and disbelief, Trump continues on his quest to, this time metaphorically, make a grab for women’s bodies. Meanwhile, the rule changes on Child Benefit here are the latest peculiar and insulting discriminatory attack against vulnerable women least able to stare down their aggressors.

But Saffiyah Khan has reminded me that fighting bigotry, and its insidious bedfellow injustice, on all fronts is worth it. The fight for women’s rights does not have the visceral urgency of a Pakistani-Bosnian-brummy woman standing up for her city against a misguided mob of white-English-men but still I find strength in this picture and I can’t stop looking at it.

I gaze at her grace and her glory and find certainty that I too might be a little more brave.

Because when you’re right you have to stand up, in your own way and however you can, because there is always a point.