There are a bunch of beliefs I have encountered in my first few years as a mother, which I think should be called into question more often. In no particular order of importance:
1. Having children makes you more grown up than people who don’t.
This is something which tends to come up from time to time in conversations with single/ childless friends. They talk about stuff they get up to like travel, late nights, booze, then add a ‘well, I’m still a big kid really’ self- effacing statement. Most parents probably do less of this stuff. There are good reasons for this: they can’t afford to; they do not have a babysitter; they cannot face a plane ride or hang over with a group of assorted mini- people who all want a wee/ to breastfeed/ to ride you like a donkey then hit you in the head with your own shoes. There is nothing whatsoever to do with maturity going on, just opportunity and risk versus benefit trade-offs. If I didn’t have kids, I would be taking my independent, grown up ass off round the world and downing as many dirty martinis as I felt like of a Friday night.
2. Stay at home mums who do not study/work from home on top of their domestic and pastoral duties are slackers who do not care about their careers.
Ok people don’t say this, but it is insinuated an awful lot on websites dedicated to making people feel bad about ‘career gaps’. You know what stay at home mums and dads who work are? Working mums and dads. Part- time working or studying can be a great arrangement, because who said you had to choose an all or nothing approach to working or staying at home. Nevertheless, you have to be able to do something with your kids while you undertake work. Speaking as a stay at home mum who just completed an MSc in Educational Research, it is possible to get a lot done during nap times and when your kids are in bed if you are willing to sacrifice rare hours of rest and recuperation or more likely, time for cleaning, cooking, and washing things. However, if your children don’t sleep well, need your full attention all day long, and/ or you are the only one around to look after them all the time, then this is often not a sane or even possible option. Despite my kids being biddable in their sleeping, I could not have completed my masters without being able to put them in childcare or leave them with grandparents some of the time. I’m sure many stay at home parents would like to be able to pursue their careers, but under their personal circumstances they have had to trade this off. It certainly doesn’t make them lazier or less dynamic than their freer counterparts.
3. Whether working or staying at home, parents “just know” what feels right and will be best for their family.
No matter what you do, you may never be 100 per cent certain you are doing the right thing for yourself or your kids. You may not be totally happy with your lot. You may not be free to choose what you would prefer. You may have days where you feel content and days where you curse yourself for foolishness. It is a gift of serendipity to be certain that you have chosen the best possible path in your particular set of circumstances and to later be proved correct beyond doubt.
4. If you do not buy your baby/ infant/ child a large range of age appropriate toys you will be failing to stimulate their physical/psychological development.
Again, something which is insinuated rather than stated, funnily enough by enterprises like the Early Learning Centre. Babies do not really need specially designed stacking cups. They need stuff to stack. No matter how cool it is, your three year old doesn’t need a purpose built canal system with little boats to float up and down. They need a bowl of water and a margarine tub (with a cocktail stick flag blue-tacked onto it if you are feeling creative). Your child may want a pink and white dreamhouse confection for their assorted barbies/ diggers to inhabit. Using a box instead may not be their first choice, but they will most likely accept that this is better than nothing and exercise their imaginations. Kids need to play. They need stuff to play with. They do not need designing, marketing, branding all of the time. I like buying toys for my kids as I’m sure most parents do, but if resources are scarce then a bit of improvisation will do no one any harm. Damn it, I do really want the canal thing.
5. Children do not benefit from TV.
I really absolutely had a big enormous surprise when I realised how much Charlie and Lola was helping my daughter express herself in English. Shaun the Sheep has become a source of discussion about everything from family roles to mechanics of windmills. Plus there is the indirect benefit that I can distract the kids long enough to whizz round and get a few vital things done or to sit down and have a cuppa. I then have more time and energy to take them out to the park or library, or embark on worthy craft projects. On top of this, i think good quality TV is one of life’s pleasures and am happy to let my children enjoy it too.
6. Kids should be made to eat vegetables or they will grow up malnourished.
Between the vitamins which have been added to cereals, biscuits, pasta and so on, and those that are naturally present in fruit, seeds, eggs, and grains children can get all the nutrients they need without eating cabbage. Not that they shouldn’t be encouraged to eat vegetables and taught about their taste and health benefits, but there is no need to hang your head if your kid is a salad dodger. They’re much more likely to decide to eat up their broccoli if they see you eat it and are offered it without pressure.
7. Babies and young children sleep better as they get older.
Some do, some don’t. If your child is sleeping through the night, every night, you are lucky indeed. Babies can easily swing from one extreme to another. As their brains and bodies take developmental leaps forward, their sleeping can become erratic even when they’ve spent months slumbering angel- like for long periods. Ditto, older kids who begin to imagine creatures who sneak up and eat your toes while you lie in bed or just decide they want to seize control of the twilight hours by issuing endless requests for water, tissues, cuddles. I have heard a rumour though from friends with older children, that this will improve in time. I live in hope.
Phew! That feels better.