It’s 6.30pm. The kids are in their high chairs and you’re trying to coax them to eat while keeping an eye on the stove. Your partner comes home, dumps his bag on the floor, pats the baby on the head, and tells you about his day. “That’s great,” you reply, “can you feed the cats?” Two minutes later, “that’s great, can you put this stuff back into the fridge?” “That’s great, can you give the baby something to eat?” “Awesome, can you set the table?”
Two weeks ago I was at a ‘cake smashing party’ – for one-year-olds. Ten babies were lined up in front of ten cakes as ten excited sets of parents hovered with their iPhones.
Unfortunately, one-year-olds are not terribly advanced. Most prefer grabbing at other babies or singing and clapping with people they know over orchestrated photo-opportunities. Instead of cutely gobbling cake as he was meant to, the birthday baby immediately started howling and begging to be picked up. As did the baby next to him. Within seconds all ten babies were crying and crawling away from the cakes while their parents pleaded with them to ‘just smile and smash the cake once, please darling, then I’ll pick you up, ok?”
Do all new parents have that ‘better do this perfectly so they don’t complain about me to their shrink’ paranoia? Though I’m gradually learning to accept that I’ll mess this stuff up, here’s my interview with a few people with more wisdom than I on what all parents can do to raise emotionally stable and happy kids. (and if you have any other tips, let’s hear ’em!)
I wrote this column at the start of my pregnancy when I felt freaked out, like I was playing host to Sigourney’s ALIEN, and guilty about not having any maternal feelings. If this is you, THIS IS NORMAL. Maternal feelings DO come in their own time (sometimes six months after the birth), and I’m happy to report that I’m now quite bonded with my little alien. Which is fortunate, as his foot is lodged somewhere round my liver, and is due to come out literally any minute. I’ll be taking a little break from the blog while I figure out food/cuddles/poo/keeping-cats-off-baby’s-airway, but I look forward to coming back when normal brain function returns.
Before getting pregnant, I viewed pregnancy the same way I viewed the gluten-free: something other people did and were smug-annoying about.
Things I wish I’d known:
THE Safe Schools program is a talking point among politicians, but what should parents do in the real world if their child is being bullied?
I wrote this in a fury after a report in Melbourne’s Age newspaper claimed that parents who didn’t send their children to local disadvantaged schools were racist. It was published in the the Opinion section and was the site’s most read (and commented on) of the day. I was heartened that amidst the predictable – and somewhat illogical – personal attacks (‘ur white! & denying racism! So u must b racist!’) the piece did trigger a wider discussion on education and resources.
What are they playing at, these smug, middle-class families deserting their local state school just because it’s next to commission housing? (White flight: race segregation in Melbourne state schools) How dare those “Greens-voting, socially liberal” white families drain these “sink schools” of their affluence and high-achieving Charlottes, Matildas, Ollies and Finns?
I found out I was pregnant the same day a literary agent agreed to represent the manuscript I’d sent her.
Friends and family were ecstatic – about the baby. I interpreted this as ‘having a baby is more important than that writing-hobby-thing you do’. Having a baby is undoubtedly more life-changing, yet I felt a much greater sense of achievement about the book. Finishing it required huge sacrifices and – regardless of the outcome – altered me as a person. Getting pregnant required functional ovaries and a calendar.
“One abortionist was a former policeman who’d trained as a butcher. This is how it happens…”
You’re idly scanning your Facebook feed, past photos of organic seedlings and Andalusian beer, when suddenly a black-and-white splotch claims top spot. Your first thought: Christ on a stick! My friend is pregnant with an out of focus baby! Your second: How did they keep that secret for twelve weeks?
When a friend tells you she’s pregnant, ‘overwhelmed with joy’ is the correct response, bar mitigating factors like being 16. Bursting into tears is bad, and yet that’s been my response – twice! – when close friends told me they were pregnant. My first thought? ‘I’ve lost them!’ My first words? ‘So happy for you!’
They saw through my ‘happy tears’ and assured me nothing would change. But of course things change (they should!) so in my mind I’d already granted them ‘friend-leave’ for the next 2-4 years.