Archive | April, 2011

What is Feminist Mothering?

19 Apr

I am working on Blue Milk’s 10 Questions about Feminist Mothering at the moment, but my responses keep getting longer and longer, so that I’m considering posting each response as a separate post here and sending her short summaries in order not to clutter up her (brilliant) blog.

Here is my take on some of the more fundamental questions:

What makes your mothering feminist?  

My parenting is informed by feminism, which means that I try to be aware of ways in which little girls and boys are treated differently and how educators might try to shape my daughter’s life in ways which differ from how they would guide a boy. Toys are sometimes just toys, but if a girl is encouraged to dress up as a princess, play with dolls and even make-up and receives a toy iron for Christmas while her brother gets to dress up as a fireman, play with meccano and receives a doctors kit, surely they are both sent a very specific message.

I don’t tend to ‘girliefy’ my daughter, in fact most of the time I don’t even think of her in a particularly gendered way, which has really surprised me. She is just a child who has interests and likes to explore new things. She can pretend to be a princess if she wants to when she is older, but I will make sure to read her Mary Hoffman‘s Princess Grace about a princess who doesn’t just sit around wearing pink dresses while waiting for a prince to do lots of exciting things and rescue her.

In addition, I think that the types of relationships you model to your children can also play a part in how they see gender role divisions. If daddy makes all the decisions and mummy has more of a care-taker role, this is probably likely to influence the children’s behaviour in their own relationships later on.

How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s?

A non-feminist mother might not start from a position of thinking that the world is inherently biased against women and that the balance needs to be redressed constantly through everyday choices. I see feminist mothers as people who generally question most things, and when I think of the people I know who are definitely not feminists (by their own admission), they don’t tend to evaluate what goes on around them quite so much. But I don’t know if it’s possible to generalise in this way.

How does feminism impact upon your parenting?

I’m not sure about how feminist my parenting is at the moment, I tend to think that it might matter more when my daughter gets older and differences in expected behaviour become more pronounced. What I do pay attention to, as I have a background in literature and linguistics, is the representation of characters in books. So for example, in my daughter’s Ladybird touchy feely book of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it is Daddy Bear who is mentioned first, and he decides that the porridge is too hot and that the bears will go for a walk. In our version, Mummy Bear is always mentioned first, and she makes the porridge and walk-related choices. I don’t know if this will make any kind of difference, but – why not do it anyway? My daughter’s current favourite book is Peepo. But it’s about a little boy, and she’s a girl, so in order to fight against the generic masculine and to prevent my daughter from feeling excluded from the male-dominated literary canon, I read Peepo as if it were about a little girl:

Here’s a little baby,

one, two, three,

stands in her cot,

what does she see?

Of course, this becomes difficult towards the end of the book because of the rhyme scheme:

He sees the landing mirror

with its rainbow rim

and a mother with a baby

just like him.

Her doesn’t rhyme with ‘rim’, so what to do? I haven’t been able to come up with a mirror-related word which rhymes with ‘her’. Then it crossed my mind that I could simply read ‘rim’ and ‘her’ anyway because the slight jarring of the break in the rhyme scheme would make it obvious that something is going on and prompt people to think. It probably won’t be noticeable for children, but it’s entertaining for the person reading the book, and when you have to read it several times a day every day, that counts for something.

In addition to this, I also plan to cut my daughter’s hair soon so that she does not have to wear hairclips all the time to keep her hair out of her eyes because it is just so much more practical that way. She’s only two years old, she doesn’t need accessories that take her attention away from exploring the world.

In conclusion, I suppose I would say that feminist mothering, in my case, means giving my daughter freedom to be herself and showing her that she is a fully valid member of society.

A Post about Cake

19 Apr

Entirely nothing to do with feminism: I made the most amazing cake this week! (Yes, I do say so myself.)


I had been itching to try out using sugarpaste (or fondant, and what’s the difference anyway?) since I had to cancel my daughter’s birthday party due to illness, and with a grandma visit looming, I finally got the chance. It went pretty well. The inside is a huge madeira cake flavoured with lemon zest and juice in four layers with a filling of pink lemon buttercream and raspberry jam. The outside of the madeira cake is covered in the same buttercream, on top of which I put yellow fondant icing. The stars are also made of fondant and stuck on with piping gel. It was almost painful to cut into the cake, but it was worth it:

One of my friends described it as the happiest diabetic coma ever.

My Parenting Approach in a Nutbowl (if not a bucket)

18 Apr

Jean Liedloff, author of The Continuum Concept, died last month, on my daughter’s birthday actually. She is seen by many as the person who brought ‘Attachment Parenting’ to the West. Interestingly, just like her polar opposite Gina Ford, she never had children.

Attachment Parenting includes birth bonding, breastfeeding on cue, co-sleeping, babywearing and not leaving babies to cry.

My parenting approach ticks all these boxes: I prepared for the birth of my daughter and we had some skin-to-skin time, although not as much as I would have liked because things with me kind of went wrong once she was out. But she had about two hours of skin-to-skin snuggles with her dad while they were waiting for me to get out of emergency surgery. I’m still breastfeeding my two-year-old whenever she feels like it (I know you don’t get a medal, but I kind of feel you ought to!).

We’ve been co-sleeping, bed-sharing in fact, since a lovely midwife visited us on our first day at home and made me realise how silly it was to expect a tiny baby to sleep in their own bed and how much more rest I would be able to get by snuggling up with my daughter in the big bed. I’ll be forever grateful to that midwife because although I had read a lot about parenting before the birth, I only knew how dangerous it was to fall asleep while feeding your baby. The midwife showed us how to co-sleep safely so that I was firmly wedged into position and my daughter couldn’t be covered by pillows or the duvet. I can’t imagine how much more stressful life would have been without her brilliant life-changing advice. Researchers have now found out that breastfeeding co-sleeping mothers get more sleep, and more deep sleep, than mothers who get up to feed their babies.

We had quite a slow start with the babywearing as I couldn’t get on with our pouch sling and didn’t discover the benefits of a wrap sling until my daughter was already a couple of months old, but we really enjoyed it until she got too heavy, and now we have a Patapum so I can carry her on my back. We have never done any kind of sleep training because we think it is harmful for babies. I am aware I say this as the non-working mother of only one child! As with everything else, I know there are circumstances when it’s the best option to save the parents’ sanity, but my daughter is my only child so far and I know I have been very privileged to be able to spend this much time with her, so we haven’t needed to fall back on controlled crying and similar methods.

In addition, we have been big fans of baby-led weaning – Annabel Karmel’s assorted baby-feeding paraphernalia and pureed food have never entered this household. I’d say that’s probably 50% idealism and 50% laziness. I really want my daughter to understand that she can control how much she eats, so since the week after she turned six months old we have just let her get on with things. It’s worked pretty well I’d say because even when she eats cake, she stops eating fairly soon, I assume because she’s full.

So the fundamental aspects of my daughter’s life have been led by her and I’ve followed at her pace. I wonder down which paths she will lead us now she is a proper toddler. My time with her so far has been a great learning experience: I’ve learned a lot about what society expects from people, and how I can evaluate those demands. Above all, knowing about Attachment Parenting has given me the confidence to put my daughter’s needs first. So thank you Jean Liedloff.

Feminism is…

13 Apr

…finding it odd when the single dad is invited to a party, but the single mum is not because “we thought you’d have to look after your daughter”.

New Look

9 Apr

I decided to play around with the appearance of my blog a little bit. While I quite like the black-and-white minimalist look, I thought I’d try to make it more ‘me’. What do you think?

Settling in at Nursery: Reprise

7 Apr

Today I received an email from my daughter’s nursery asking parents for their views on the settling in process. I wonder if other parents have raised any issues. Needless to say, I will compose a comprehensive response. I will update the blog when I hear anything new.

Transitional Objects and Parenting

5 Apr

A couple of months ago I was beginning to get worried that something was wrong with my daughter because she has never sucked her thumb, has never had a snuggle blanket and doesn’t really care that much about her cuddly toys. She would still much rather play with a calculator than carry a teddybear around with her. But then I came across a very reassuring insight (unfortunately I can’t remember where!) which completely put my mind at rest.

Children whose parents practice Attachment Parenting are less likely to use transitional objects. Attachment Parenting includes practices such as breastfeeding, co-sleeping and babywearing. This means that the baby has a lot of physical contact with the mother and as a result simply doesn’t need an object which symbolically represents her.

This study found that “the use of a traditional TO [pacifier, thumb, blanket, toy] may occur as an infant adaptation to parenting practices”. The authors are quick to point out that their conclusion “in no way suggests that an attachment to a traditional TO is dysfunctional or unhealthy, rather that through individual differences and varying cultural child care practices, infants adopt a behavior that enables them to deal with stress”. The stress mentioned here is the transition from being awake to sleeping as well as nighttime waking, which can be difficult for an infant to cope with. To me this says that the long uncomfortable nights getting used to sleeping always in the same position were worth it.

So now I know that it’s fine that my daughter isn’t attached to any soft objects, because it means that she is securely attached to me.