Plant-Powered Parents

It was a trip to a farm that made us turn to veganism.

It’s a nice enough place, where the animals look happy and there’s lots for young kids to do. My two enjoyed exploring the play areas and eating chocolate in the café afterwards, and we even saw newborn piglets pressed against their mother in a warm, pink bundle. It was a perfect day out, or at least it should have been. I wanted it to be. It was Mother’s Day, after all.

But just before we left I came face to face with the absurdity of it all.

There I was in the farm shop of this lovely local attraction, having just cooed over tiny piglets and frolicking lambs. The farm shop, with its artisan breads and craft ales, handpainted teapots and homemade fudge. Chutneys and jams. Bird tables, windmills, cherry bakewells, toy animals, chocolate eggs, pork chops, smoked bacon, ribs, chicken breast, steaks, ox tongue, liver, sausages, cheeks, tails, necks – the purple flesh of the animals I’d just spent the last few hours showing to my sons.

It didn’t repulse me and I didn’t rush home to cleanse myself of the blood of the innocent. I just felt sort of… uncomfortable. The whole thing seemed off.

On the journey home we talked about the weird feeling we had. We’d had plenty of conversations about giving up meat before and how it was something we knew we should embrace, but our resolve had always guiltily fizzled out, and truthfully I thought it would then too. Except something pushed me further that day. For the first time ever I didn’t fight the tide and instead allowed it all in. I watched documentaries, I read article after article and let the guilt swamp me. It was all part of the process of opening myself up and witnessing the hypocrisy, deception and cruelty inherent in the nameless system I’d grown up accepting as normal.

And so it grew. We started off committing to giving up meat, but within two days of vegetarianism we realised we couldn’t justify the consumption of eggs or dairy either. And since then we haven’t eaten a single animal-derived ingredient.

I could go into details about the treatment of farmed animals and the brutality of the dairy industry, but this isn’t a post intended to convert anyone to veganism. It’s not about what happened or how we came to change how we eat or live; it’s about the change that followed, the one that came from within us and spilled out into our everyday lives.

Because it turns out eschewing all animal products and living as gently as we can in a modern world designed to commodify everything in it can bring contentment, joy and happiness in a way I didn’t expect. I thought I was signing up to a life of sacrifice and compromise, but I ended up gaining an inner tranquility I didn’t know I was lacking.

It’s not some transcendental BS. I don’t start my mornings singing to the wildlife with a perfect plump bluebird on my shoulder like a Disney princess, but it’s unfair to the change I’ve made to deny that I am happier and more fulfilled for making compassion part of the food I eat, the clothes I wear and the cosmetics I use. My heart is lighter and I’m more freely able to enjoy the natural world and the animals with whom we share the planet. I’ve rediscovered my passion for cooking and creating, which has helped my fragile-at-best self-esteem. I’m healthier! And most unexpectedly, I feel closer to my husband than ever before; we’ve held each other up when it’s felt easier to throw in the towel, reminded each other why we’re doing this, shared passion, pain and anger at what we see as the injustice around us, and we understand the other’s guilt at having been a part of it for so long.

I’m not vegan for my health. I care about animals and the environment, but that’s not my true motivator either. I’m vegan because I want to teach my children that compassion doesn’t end where convenience begins. I want to show them a world where fairness is extended to all living beings. I want them to understand that all life matters and that kindness feeds the soul more than any meal in our privileged bubble ever could. I want to teach them humility and the preciousness of our time on this earth. I want them to learn that the smallest changes can make the greatest difference, to their lives and their fellow earthlings’.

And I want them to know – in the future, when plant-based lifestyles are necessary for the survival of the planet – that their parents were on the right side of history. Their side. Because it’s their world that we’re trying to save.

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The Hardest Thing

I was lost for a while.

I didn’t realise it at first, through every nappy change, every bowl of pasta tipped on the floor, every reading of Tabby McTat. Every chunk of hair yanked out by chubby fingers. And the scarier stuff, like all the early mornings soothing my tired and anxious husband as he wrestled with fears bigger than himself, all the late nights talking about our relationship, picking us up and hoping he didn’t drop us again. Toddler tantrums, baby grumbles, mummy meltdowns. Daddy on the other side of the universe (or so it felt).

Pick up, dust off, get on.

I got lost under the waves that were rocking my family. I tried to hold us together, and I’m proud to say that I did. But it came at a cost. And that cost was me.

Not even my self worth, or my free time; just me, the grasp I had on who I was without the other people around me. Like looking in the mirror and seeing their faces but never mine.

I don’t regret a thing. I carried us all and we made it through.

But I stopped being a person in my own right. I was only mother, wife, counsellor, mediator, therapist, personal shopper, accountant, chef, life coach, cleaner, nurse, teacher. It’s sometimes hard when you’re buried underneath so much responsibility to even notice that you’re struggling to breathe.

So I started to break a little. Bit by bit the burdens grew heavier and I was less able to hold them. My self esteem plummeted with every new ‘failure’. I apologised when I was ill, when dinner was late, when I slept in. Guilt was my shadow. I criticised myself for wanting time alone or checking my phone when I should’ve been playing with my kids. I tortured myself for causing my son’s speech delay. I went from solving our problems to blaming myself for them.

I realised it had gone too far when I spent the days before Christmas focusing on everything I’d done “wrong” and apologising to my family for not being good enough for them. I was too busy hating myself for not being the wife and mother I should be to actually enjoy my beautiful boys. Christmas, a time I look forward to all year and always fills me with magic and warmth, was lost to me. I was lost to me.

So I began the new year with a resolve to find myself again. So far that looks like apologising less, keeping a happiness journal, watching movies alone, listening to music that made me feel alive when I was a moody teenager in bad eyeliner and baggy jeans, crocheting more, sometimes saying no and often saying yes. And it’s working, albeit slowly. I can feel the change in how much enjoyment I’m taking from my sons and how much clarity I feel with my husband. I’m getting there.

When I was pregnant with Tristan someone warned me that the hardest thing I’d have to do as a parent is put myself last, but they were wrong; far harder is having the strength to stand tall and put myself first.

It Never Stops

The spilled drinks.
Cheese puffs scattered on the floor like toddler confetti.
The bumped heads, stubbed toes and unidentifiable rashes.
The calls to NHS Direct and the inevitable, “You’d best go to A&E just to be sure…”
Then  – “Did they think I was wasting their time?”
The nappy changes, clothes changes, channel changes.
The sticky fingers, sweaty hair, and toenails that desperately need trimming before he learns to catch small rodents with his feet.
(What will people think?)

It’s constant.

The crying, the whining, the wailing as though some great injustice is being dealt even though I’m doing exactly what I thought he wanted.
The repetition, the tedium, the repetition.
The wooden cars driven up my legs, the tiny giraffe in my hair, the hands everywhere.
On me ALL THE TIME.
Bathe, rinse, repeat.
(Except don’t rinse because he hates water in his face.
And never repeat.
Unless you’re a toddler, in which case repeat everything forever.)

The mess. Everywhere. Walls, floors, faces.
The incomparable pain of standing on a lego brick.

(No, wait – standing on a metal biplane is worse.)

Coffee, cake, chocolate.
Must eat better. Could join the gym.

Maybe next month.
I need the comfort and calories after another aborted day out.
I’m sure he liked farm animals last week?

The noise! Shouting, screaming, banging, burping, scraping, throwing.
All when the other is trying to sleep.
Do they do it deliberately?
Why are they doing this to me?

The snapping, the yelling.

The apologising.

This isn’t the mother I want to be.
I’m not equal to this.

The fear.
The guilt.
The worry.

It never ends.

I can’t do this.

Each day the same.
Alarm. Breakfast.
Coffee, cake, chocolate.
The same TV shows (we sing the theme tunes together).
The jigsaws, the play-doh, the painting.
The reading, pretending, bouncing.
Splashing!

Did I mention the singing?

The kisses, the stickers, the Gruffalos and Zogs.
The towers, the tickles, the dancing!
The beaming grins that make hearts skip and wrinkles deepen.
All of us together, the only people in the world.
Feelings so big there isn’t enough space in the universe to hold them.

The glances to the only other person who understands what these moments mean.
And the quiet smiles that say, “I know, I feel the same.”

The mess, the noise, the laughter!
The sticky hands everywhere, on me – don’t care!
We’re tigers today, growling and chasing.
My cubs are loud and I am too.

They’re growing so fast.
I’m running to keep up.

Stamping through leaves, feeding ducks, counting raindrops.
Holding hands. Hugging.
Loving, learning.
Exploring.

Changing.

It never stops.

Family of Four

So I’m back after my unplanned and largely baby-led hiatus. My firstborn consumed my sleep which I’d thought was bad enough, but now his brother has dramatically swooped in and eaten time itself. Not that it isn’t wonderful and fulfilling – it really is – but I do spend my evenings staring into space, scraping bodily fluids out of my hair and gazing upon the day with the awe, pride and incredulity of someone who’s woken up next to an empty wine bottle, an alpaca and a return ticket to Peru.

Our smallest family member is now the grand age of 5 months, from my experience a time in a baby’s life when wakefulness and screaming for increasingly elusive reasons become firm priorities. Also hair pulling. Between Leo and my postpartum loss there’s enough hair embedded in the carpet to weave actual-size replicas of the cats, which will be handy when they inevitably pack their bags and move out because they’re done reaping the consequences of our decision to procreate. (“We stuck it out after the first but then they did it again and I’m too old to be run over with a Cozy Coupe.”)

So to compensate for my absence here I thought I’d take the chance to share a snapshot of our new(ish) life as a family of four via the things I’ve learned over the last 171 days –

1. It turns out my children being within a metre of each other is the BEST THING. Not for them, you understand; Tristan has virtually no interest in his brother, and I get it – objectively Leo is not exciting. He doesn’t have wheels, he can’t play and he wasn’t created by Pixar. Bor-ing. But for me seeing them together makes me positively giddy with joy. The two creatures I love more than anything in the world INTERACTING. My heart explodes every time. It reminds me of the feeling I had when my best friend and boyfriend (now husband) became friends and I’d watch them chatting in the pub and beam across at them like an over-earnest kids’ TV presenter, except with my sons that feeling is even bigger and the smile even more creepy because I love them more than life itself. My attempts to create these moments have led to photos like this –

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And this –

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2. All babies are different, I knew that. But I naively thought fate would be generously selective about those differences when it came to my own children. NOT SO. First time round we had a sleep thief, who at 32 months still hasn’t learned the mythical skill of ‘self-settling’, is rocked to sleep, has milk during the night and doesn’t sleep alone. Fine, I thought, the next one will be easier. We’ve earned it, I thought, and the first time I placed Leo gently on the bathroom floor so I could pee and he instantly drifted off I believed I was right, and that perhaps there was a god who’d seen how tired I was and figured I deserved a break. WRONG. At five months old Leo has never napped lying down (apart from that one time on the bathmat). Never. He only sleeps on Big T’s shoulder or with a boob in his mouth. Suddenly my pram loving, sling loving, dummy loving toddlebeast seems like something off a Mothercare poster. Leo will not go in a pram for more than ten minutes at a time. He quite likes being in a sling, but not for too long and he WILL NOT SLEEP IN ONE, which seems like a matter of principle to him, especially when his eyes are half closed and he’s chain-yawning. And as for a dummy, not a chance. Why settle for silicone when the real thing is available? Suddenly my well stocked parenting arsenal is looking a little sparse. I have boobs and that’s basically it, and those boobs aren’t even his primary food source. I feel like a total novice. I thought I had this! I should be a pro by now!

3. Gender disappointment is real, but in my experience doesn’t last very long.
A year ago, early on in my pregnancy, if someone had told me I could choose what sex my secondborn would be I would have said, “GIRL,” without any hesitation, due in the main to a natural preference for variety. I’m usually a ‘little bit of everything’ kind of gal so it stands to reason that at the buffet where all the chromosomes hang out I’d go for the XX since I already had some XY on my plate (babies-as-hors d’oeuvres metaphor ftw!). Another, much smaller reason is that clothes designed for children with vaginas tend to have more rainbows on them, but that really is a minor issue since Tristan definitely doesn’t have a vagina and still wears clothes not ‘made’ for him because, y’know, his genitalia doesn’t predispose him to liking tractors, football or the colour blue. But I digress…
So we had a preference, albeit not a particularly strong one. And yes, when I saw Leo being born and he was presented to me balls first (seriously) there was a shock of disappointment that lasted all of one second, a sort of lightning strike to illuminate a path I’d never follow. I was the mother of boys. We had boys. And with no other children planned I’d never be a mother to a girl. And what surprised me was how completely okay that felt. Better than okay, it felt good, like it was exactly how things were meant to be. I held my newborn son in my arms in my hospital bed and a new piece of my heart bloomed that I hadn’t known existed before. Where his brother had brought me alive, Leo had made me complete.
And it’s nothing to do with which box is checked on his birth certificate.

4. There is nothing worse than seeing your child sick in hospital. Nothing. Nothing can prepare you for the powerlessness, the frustration, the guilt. But you get through it. You manage, somehow. You don’t sleep, you barely have a chance to eat – but you cope. And you come out the other side more fiercely protective of your tiny human than you thought possible, and with a quiet but steely belief in yourself as a parent.

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5. I found out who my true friends are, and they aren’t all the people I’d have guessed when I started my parenting journey more than three years ago. Some have been in my life for many years, others are new, but they are all very dear to me. They are the people who came round with supplies when we had a new baby and didn’t care that we weren’t dressed and our house was upside down. They held Leo so I could take 10 minutes to finish a cup of coffee. They brought gifts for me rather than him, at a time when I felt all I was was a baby feeding machine, and a failed one at that. They offered to donate breastmilk for my son when I was desperate and spent and had nothing more to give. They sent messages in the middle of the night telling me that I had this. They talked to me the same way they always had, as though I was still just Lindy, not Mummy, not a parent, not a breastfeeder or bottle feeder, babywearer or cloth nappy user. Just me. I don’t see these people every day, or even every week or month – some never – but they are my tribe, my village and they have my gratitude and friendship for life. They are part of why I didn’t suffer with post-natal illness after having Leo. They are why I’m still holding it together. They are fucking awesome. ❤

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6. I understand now why my own mother never had new clothes or shoes, why she mended her old things and why it was a Big Deal when she bought anything new for herself. I had a taste of that when we had just one child, but now we have two I understand more the need to nurture my babies at the expense of myself. Kids are expensive and while we aren’t poor by any means, with only one of us in employment we do have to make sacrifices to give our children the lifestyle we want them to have. If that means I have to sew up a hole in an old dress or Big T has to buy his jeans second hand, that’s more than fine. We’re proud to do it. Seeing Tristan pick out his own shoes for the first time is a gift far greater than having new shoes myself.

7. There are different kinds of love, we all know that. We don’t love our grandparents the same way we love our 6ft hunk of husband, for instance. But I wasn’t prepared for how different my love for my two sons would feel. It’s as individual as their personalities. My relationship with Tristan was more fraught, more tempestuous when he was a baby. Harder. And that shows now in the affinity I feel with him, the sense that we battled something together and came through it even stronger.  With Leo the beauty in my love for him is its simplicity. He is my precious baby, and I am his mother, and there’s a purity about us, a bubble we live in that remains untouched by the outside world, as though he’s still in my belly. Nothing prepared me for the difference. Everyone told me I’d love them equally, and I do, but it absolutely isn’t the same.

8. You can absolutely watch The Land Before Time too often. Trust me. You can try to appreciate the racial subtext, the beautiful artwork and James Horner’s deeply moving score, but ultimately you will want to take Littlefoot and his pals and feed them one by one to Sharptooth just to get the film over and done with sooner. Luckily Tristan isn’t aware of the numerous sequels yet, though at this point I’d be grateful for the variety even if that means singing dinosaurs.

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9. I’ve said before that motherhood for me is a wicked combination of joy and guilt. Since becoming a mother-of-two I’ve had a healthy dose of the former and a less healthy onslaught of the latter. My eldest watches too much television (see #8). He uses his Kindle too much. He goes to bed too late. He doesn’t eat well enough. He never gets enough time with me. He doesn’t socialise enough. My youngest never gets to nap undisturbed. I’m not expressing my breastmilk enough. I put him in the jumperoo too often. I clock-watch. I sleep in on weekends. I scream into a cushion when things feel too much just so I don’t have to scream at my kids. I see photos on Facebook of my childless friends on far away holidays or nights out and I envy their freedom. I sometimes wish I could go back in time and tell myself to calm down with the procreation and live a little. I have ALL THE GUILTS.
But my children don’t need me to feel bad. My guilt doesn’t help them grow or feel loved. All they care about is that Mummy and Daddy love them beyond words and that we keep them safe, which we do. The rest is filler. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make things better where we can, but instead of letting my guilt cripple me I have to thank it for reminding me I have more to give and then let it go. I don’t want to raise my two beautiful boys in a world of not enough. That shit is toxic and it doesn’t belong here.

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10. Further to #9, and somewhat paradoxically, I’ve learned to try to let go of perfection. I don’t have to be the perfect vision of parenting. When Tristan was a baby I was very hung up on doing everything exactly as the attachment parenting guides told me. I felt guilty if I used the pram, tore my hair out over BLW, wished the earth would swallow me whole when I bottle fed in public. PND and a desire to feel like I’d done something right led to that originally, but Leo’s birth and all the healing it brought gave me the perspective to see how ridiculous it was. Parenting isn’t a sport; I can never be the ‘best’ at it. All I can be is true to myself and try to parent instinctively. When I stop checking boxes I find my values don’t change but my flexibility grows, and I enjoy my children more without the pressure of being the poster girl for all things AP. Looking after two kids doesn’t leave time to worry about how I come across on Facebook, or whether it’s been too long since I carried my kids in a wrap, or whether I can be arsed washing nappies this week. Those things are superficial and I don’t need them to prove to the world what kind of parent I am.

In lots of ways life has carried on as it always has. My boys change and grow all the time, and we grow with them, sometimes not quickly enough to adapt to their needs in the way we want to, but we keep trying. We juggle, we struggle, we love and learn and fill our home with laughter, and the occasional frustrated, cross word.
Our days are as changeable as our current sleeping arrangements, but we’re happy, and while we may not be the perfect parents to our imperfect children, we are all perfect for one another.

(Except for the cats, poor things… But four out of six ain’t bad.)

Little Mountains

You hear it a lot this time of year – “What day is it?” – as though the arrival of Christmas sends shockwaves through everyone’s calendars, a sort of annual festive Millennium Bug that apparently no one learns from. I get it myself of course and it frustrates me because the days of the week are basic Reception age stuff and I generally operate at at least a Year 3 level.

Parenthood does much the same thing to time as Christmas does. Today is my son’s 2nd birthday and AS IF HE IS TWO YEARS OLD WTF YOU HAVE GOT TO BE JOKING SURELY HE’S STILL A FLIPPING ZYGOTE.

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There is no way I birthed this little grub two years ago. Not a chance.

And yet for all the ways the last two years have felt like a tornado blasting through my house and my soul, I also can’t really remember a time when he didn’t exist. Children have that effect, they carve their impressions in the landscape, and like the tallest mountain or the longest river they become a part of your world, a part that’s eternal and timeless and a backdrop for all of history, whether they were truly there or not.

So today for me feels a little like being stood at the base of Mount Everest, having just been told it’s only existed for two years. Whatever the Nepali is for, “Shut the f**k up, you’re drunk,” is basically where I’m at.

Something I regularly marvel at about my baby Everest is his capacity to teach me things. Considering his intelligence more closely resembles that of the average dog than an adult human it constantly surprises me how much wisdom he has to share. For example, did you know that you can use board books as stepping stones across laminate floor? And that spacemen sometimes work part time in toy shops? And that pesto tastes great with fruit custard? Of course none of these things appear to be clever or profound, but on closer inspection what they are are lessons in creativity, flexibility and imagination. He shows me a world without boundaries, a place where anything is possible (and where clichés aren’t clichés at all because there’s no one there jaded enough to call them such). He shows me how it’s okay to be dirty, and it’s okay to leave half or all of a meal, and okay to say no to unwanted affection. He teaches me to laugh with abandon and fart like a child, giddy with the realisation that the best punchline to any joke is a sound gifted to us by biology. He shows me over and over how gender expectations are meaningless by not giving a shit whether his toys are pink, blue or multicoloured or whether the characters in his favourite books and films are male or female, and by excitedly embracing a new train set as well as a new doll that he tenderly and lovingly pretends to breastfeed despite having never seen Mummy do it herself.

He teaches me how to be a real person away from societal rules and the accumulated debris of a life clumsily lived. He’s helped me find a part of myself I didn’t know still existed until he invited me in to his world of play and freedom. He’s taught me the cliché of all clichés – how to be a child again.

And so to you, my darling boy, I wish you the happiest of birthdays. I hope you’ve enjoyed every second. Know there’s no party big enough, trip out long enough, or cake sweet enough to equal the joy you bring to me every day.

There’s nothing we could give you that could match the gift you are to us.

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30 Floors Up

Today is my 30th birthday, a day that should by all accounts feel like a notable step up the ladder of adulthood. I’m typing this from the bedroom while Tristan sleeps peacefully beside me, and the only awareness I have of my age is a strange feeling like I’m stood at the top of a 30 storey building looking down at the ground and pondering how high I am, and not really knowing how I got there.

Turning 30 years old isn’t important to me because of some societal expectation that all women should fear the loss of their youth. I don’t care about that. In fact, I feel more free from the pain and fear of my adolescence and early twenties the more distant they become. And that brings me to why this age feels significant.

My early adulthood was an endurance, something to be survived. I fell to my lowest, hit the ground at a violent pace, then fell even further, through the darkest places, and finally, at the age of 24, landed in a cushion of apathy, self-destruction and disassociation. It sometimes felt as though the fall would never end and the darkness would never stop growing, but in many ways the psychosis that followed was worse, like the world existed behind a thick pane of glass with those I loved banging frantically against it to try to bring me back. Most heartbreaking was that I simply didn’t care.

But today I am thirty years old and this morning I looked at my hands and gently traced the lines and imperfections with my finger. I have scars, accidental and deliberate, and I admired those too. My brown hair is spun through with whisps of silver. My body is fat and flawed and though I don’t love it, I value it fiercely and I’m grateful for every trial it’s endured and every second of joy it’s allowed me to live.

I am thirty years old and this morning I smelled my son’s hair, a mixture of sweat, milk and sleep. I drank him in, held him close, and marvelled at his energy and joie de vivre as he jumped on the sofa and carried on conversations with his toys.

I am thirty years old and I’m pregnant with my second child. I can sometimes feel his or her movements in my stomach, a reminder as if to say, “I’m here!” and I don’t begrudge the sickness or restless nights or pelvic pain because every moment with this little one is a gift to be treasured.

I am thirty years old and I am married to a sensitive, kind and beautiful man who loves me and keeps me safe, and accepts my failings. A man who truly sees my soul and doesn’t flinch or hide. A man who has never once put me down or thought me weak. A man whose eyes first met mine across a busy room more than 8 years ago, who looked at me as though he already recognised me from another life, or perhaps the one we had to come.

My life is vast and wonderful. Every second of it is a glorious blast of light that I never could have imagined from the darkest depths of my illness. I’m beyond blessed; I’m living the kind of life I didn’t think ordinary people could easily achieve, much less a scared and damaged girl with baggage spilling out of every corner of her mind. Mine is a story of patience, strength, fear by the bucketful, and a good deal of fight. I had help along the way, from friends, family and most of all the man I now call my husband, but the decision to keep going always, always came from me. I dusted myself down and carried on somehow, and I thank myself and my courage every day for what I gave myself, which is a life, a real, beautiful life to be grasped with both hands.

I am thirty years old and I didn’t always think I’d be here to see this birthday. I believed with every conviction that one way or another my illness would beat me. It’s not something I spoke about or something I feared; it simply was, and that’s why today isn’t a milestone for me, it’s a tribute to survival and a war fought and won. To glance at everything around me, everything I have and all I’ve become, is to look upon a private battlefield covered in daisies; pretty little miracles growing out of tired old earth, and the best view is right here, from thirty floors up.

Equality of Life

I haven’t been feeling well recently for one reason or another, and naturally haven’t felt up to getting my Nigella on every night, or trying to coax my sticky, sweaty toddler into or out of the bath. Even attempting the super-wordy-rhymey works of Julia Donaldson has been too much at times, and don’t  mention the cleaning of cloth nappies… Just nope.

But of course this is okay because I have a ready, willing and able husband to almost 100% take over and sort out dinner, bathtime, laundry and a bedtime routine that involves more running around and screaming than two out of three of us would like.

There’s a slight problem though.

This is a typical exchange after Big T has put Little T to bed while I relax with a book or endless lost lives on Farm Heroes Saga –

Husband: Finally asleep! Just couldn’t switch off as usual.

Me: I’m sorry…

Husband: Why are you apologising?!

Me: Because you had to do it.

Husband: I didn’t have to do anything, I love spending time with him at bedtime, especially if I’ve been at work all day.

Me: Are you sure?

Husband: Positive. Relax, you deserve some time off.

*five minutes later*

Me: …I’m sorry.

Now I don’t know precisely what it is that makes me apologise and set feminism back 50 years in the process. It could be that being a mother and looking after my son is my ‘job’ and Big T taking over feels tantamount to me going into his office and designing a thingumy on the whatsajig while he puts his feet up with a magazine and farts the Game of Thrones theme music (I’m not entirely what he does for a living which makes the analogy tricky, but you get my meaning). I couldn’t do that and nor should I, but when he gets home it’s expected that he should roll his sleeves up and dive head first into the dribbly ocean that is parenting. And he should, I know that, but in a modern society where mothers often work to provide for their families I feel that as a stay at home parent I should be working just as hard, giving 100% even when there’s only a trickle in my tank, to keep up with these amazing women who do it all, and the men like my husband who pick up where they left off that morning with rarely a second to themselves.

There’s also an element of my upbringing at play. When my parents were still married they each had their specific, often stereotypical, roles within the family. My dad went to work and earned money, my mum stayed home and cooked, cleaned and wiped the snot from our noses. It wasn’t inherently a bad thing; roles were clearly defined, no one seemed bent out of shape, and although I’m certain my mum wished for more help I doubt she was surprised that it wasn’t forthcoming. Things just were and that was mostly okay. Within the white, middle class, suburban community I grew up all the families I knew looked much the same.
Fast forward 30 years and, at least on paper, my relationship with my husband mirrors that of my parents. He earns money while I stay home and bake cakes and make stuff out of shoeboxes and dried lentils. It’s hard then to separate our situation from the one I grew up in, where all expectation fell on my mother to take care of absolutely everything, from shopping and nit removal to bedtime and diarrhoea. I’m in a 21st century marriage but I feel all the pressures of my mum’s 20th century role, and because I do less than she did, and rightly so, I sometimes feel as though I’m getting a free pass and my struggles aren’t valid.
It’s not specifically about my parents of course, they’re merely the nearest example; I see the same dynamic in many couples their age. Lots of wives and mothers I meet from older generations are often keen to point out to me how wonderful, caring and involved my husband is, how rare that is and how lucky I am to have him.  The problem with that kind of rhetoric is that all it serves to do is convince me that what T does is somehow above and beyond what is expected of him, yet again reinforcing my belief that I should be doing more.

I’m not blaming other people for my reactions to any of these influences, that’s all firmly on me, but it’s an internal battle I rarely feel like I’m winning. I find it hard to shake the sense that T is doing me a favour by parenting our son. How messed up is that?

In taking on all responsibility for Little T I’m not only denying myself the support and help I need, I’m also impeding the partnership that defines my marriage to my husband, and perpetuating the outdated idea that men aren’t capable of being exceptional parents. No one wins. T is an excellent father, objectively, without my input, and more importantly he should be, because the decision to bring another human into the world was 50% his. And what kind of example am I setting to my son by openly modelling draconian ideas of female roles? Hearing me apologising and gratuitously thanking his father will not help nurture him to be the man he deserves to become.

It’s time to let go of the apologies and the guilt. It’s time to respect my husband’s role as a parent as well as a provider, and it’s time to congratulate myself on the mostly-great-but-sometimes-just-okay job I do as a stay at home mum. And it’s probably time to sit back and eat cake, just because.

I owe it to my son to show him the meaning of equality.