Category Archives: mothering

10 ways in which motherhood changed me

  • The total change of priorities that the overwhelming feelings of love for this little person brought out. And how this gave a new meaning to my relationship with my partner
  • Understanding the importance of female bonding
  • Realising that I could live with broken sleep for more than two years
  • My level of patience rose dramatically, as well as my level of (sometimes forced) flexibility
  • How naive and black and white I was about raising children and how many of the things I thought I knew or wanted to do before having children where wrong for me or did not work
  • I pay attention and trust my gut much more, and stand up for it.
  • I began to hate appointments, getting somewhere on time is not so easy now
  • I dramatically slowed down. My sense of what is productive time changed.
  • It made me question and work on different issues that I have been dragging around
  • I have a new ample avenue for research, worries and indignation

I am sure I left plenty of things out, but this are what come to mind now…how about you?

Lucila

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Entrevista con Laura Gutman

Laura Gutman es psicoterapeuta familiar argentina, y escritora, que publica entre otras cosas, sobre la maternidad, la paternidad, y vinculos primarios. En la primera parte de esta entrevista habla sobre el (no) valor social de la maternidad, el aislamiento materno, la necesidad de una ‘tribu’ para criar a los hijos, y los diferentes tironeos y desgarros que sufren las mujeren cuando se vuelven madres.

Espero que les guste.

Lucila

Psychic

Today it happened again, and it has happened so often that it is a bit freaky. Many times, I am thinking of something, somewhere, someone, and r. just says it out loud, out of the blue. Either we are so in tune that she knows, or she has a future in psychic readings….

Does it ever happen to you?

Lucila

Rhythm

Why is it that on the days when I am with r. all day, everything seems to flow much more smoothly than on the days where I work, especially those days like today, when I work for longer?  It feels that on days when I work, I get into another mode, another flow, another rhythm. But I think my worst mistake is, guess what? trying to overcompensate.

Hear this and laugh. Today I worked longer hours because I have to do the corrections for my PhD, and as usual, until I don’t have the pressure of the deadline looming, I cannot seem to gain momentum. In this case, the fear and dread of going back to my thesis meant I avoided it like the plague. Well, I decided that when r. came back, we would cook dinner together, and not just any old bit of pasta, but something new, exciting and fun! Sushi!! Yeah! Did I say overcompensating?

But this is what happens. The days I work I seem to have much less patience, much less tolerance for interruptions, disorder and mess, so, well, it is not a day to make sushi for the first time. The inevitable happens – r. does not really want to cook, pulls me away from the kitchen, and wants me to go to the garden. I decided I would not be fazed, and take her little table and chairs outside, and as much of the ingredients I can remember and grab with one hand while being pulled with the other. I try to read the recipe but cannot concentrate with the tugging at my clothes, and well, r. enthusiasm, as usual, is for the ingredients, which she eats happily while I try to make sense of how to roll the sushi.

And then she does help me. She is overenthusiastic with the amount of rice that needs to be put in the nori thingy, and with patting it and spreading it everywhere, which in my impatient state means that after a while I cannot help but shout, ‘that’s enough now!’, as my exasperation grows. Finally, she, of course, is not keen to try the result, she already ate the ingredients in any case. And it is late, and she is tired, but I am hungry, so she sits on my lap, and delights in splashing the soy sauce with the sushi and wanting to put ALL the sushi bits in my mouth, one after the other, which means I get all the drips of the soy sauce and almost choke trying to tell her to stop. Exasperation and shouting ensues. R., who is now much more articulate, tells me she is upset, and how mummy got angry, and she cried, and then of course is the only thing that she wants to tell her dad when he calls from the airport.

Tomorrow, long working hours again, but my plan is simple: pasta with pesto – prepared in advance- and as soon as she arrives I will sit and read books forever and ever…

Lucila

I don’t want to mother this child: Ambivalence and mothering

Featherstone, Brid, “Taking mothers seriously: The implications for child protection”, Child and Family Social Work, Vol. 4, 1999, p. 43-53.

This is an interesting article by Brid Featherstone on how a feminist approach to social work can help in understanding the implications of working with mothers and children. The article starts with a note about the case of Ruth Neave, who was accused of killing her six-year-old son in 1996. The case resembles other, more recent ones in the UK such as that of Baby P., in which the media exploited and recreated the emotional and dramatic aspects of the story. By bringing this case to our attention Featherstone challenges the ideal picture of mothering based on endless love for their children.

Her point is that mothers change in the course of bring up their children. Motherhood changes women, and this change also affects their parenting. In her article Featherstone seems very concerned about the growing body of literature that holds that children are sacred creatures in need of all types of attention (something similar to the concept of “intensive mothering” developed by Douglas ). For this reason she tries to disentangle some feminist social workers’ ideas that children’s and women’s needs are always on the same side and that the main problem that social workers come up against is abusive behaviour by men.

The consequence of this literature’s approach is that the relationship between mothers and children is never explored. As Featherstone reminds us, feminism has been ambivalent about motherhood, characterising it in some cases as a place of oppression. Although she clearly disagrees with this approach, she sees something positive in it: “The importance of seeing mothers as people in their own right rather than just as wives, mothers and carers” (p. 45).

During the ’60s feminist literature opened up to a different approach which distinguishes motherhood was from mothering. Adrienne Rich was a pioneer in this field with her seminal work “Of Woman Born – Motherhood as Experience & Institution” . She associates motherhood with the institutional and patriarchal ways of organizing the mother experience, and mothering with the personal and experimental field of being a mother. For Featherstone, Rich exemplifies the above-mentioned tendency of perceiving mothers and children as on the same side, as merged identities, enhancing the fantasy of the perfect and loving mother. This tendency was followed by others such as Ruddick , who examines the maternal role “in the context of what children need to grow and develop” (p. 46).

To Featherstone, Ruddick’s work contributes to romanticizing motherhood, setting aside feelings and emotions such as rage, frustration and hatred that are not considered appropriate in the realm of mothering. In the ’80s, with postmodernism, mothers’ stories come to the fore. Disabled mothers, non-white mothers and working class mothers, among others, appeared to show their distinctness, but according to Featherstone these approaches were too personal to provide a complete picture of mothering. In her view, two important authors were able to capture the complexity of mothering: Jessica Benjamin and Rozsika Parker.

Benjamin highlights how a mother’s recognition of her own needs is very important for the child. She does not try to reconcile the mother’s and the child’s needs because they can be different. Instead, she points out the hidden tension between autonomy and dependence that characterises the mother-child relationship. Parker, for her part, works with the concept of ambivalence. She recognises the need to give space to all the feelings that mothering involves, from love to hate, as part of a journey that both the child and the mother experience. By allowing all these feelings to come into play it is more likely that different solutions and perspectives might arise in social work.

Turning to the case of Ruth Neaves again, Featherstone refers to the fact that Neaves explicitly asked that her child be removed from her, and wonders why this didn’t happen. She concludes that there was a combination of factors: Ruth was perceived as a difficult woman, but also the social workers were overburdened by their work. More to the point, many social workers are mothers themselves, and they might have found it difficult to believe that a woman wouldn’t want to mother her child.

To conclude her analysis, Featherstone depicts three concepts that support social work with mothers and children: diversity, autonomy and ambivalence. Diversity helps us to understand that mothers are different: what is good for one mother or child might not good for another. Secondly, she stresses the importance of autonomy. It’s good for a mother to be able to recognise her own needs. taken into consideration Mothers who struggle to love their children, or mothers who think that mothering implies an “unacceptable loss of the self” need to be heard (p. 51).

Featherstone’s analysis is important and interesting, not only for social workers but also for those interested in issues related to mothering. It reminds us that mothers relate to their children in different ways. There are no rules about it. Suppressing bad experiences and feelings about mothering does not help those struggling in difficult situations. More than anything, there is no perfect mothering; but most of all, the feelings of not being able to mother a child, or of not wanting to, need to be addressed and properly recognised in order to find the best solutions for the child and for the mother.

Natalia

Not all forms of praise are created equal

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, 2009, Nurtureshock, Chatham: Ebury Press

Today, I am going to review a different type of material, a book that it is a kind parenting book, but one that looks at research on a number of parenting issues, and in doing so, questions much conventional practice and wisdom around these issues. I will discuss here just the first chapter, on praise.

There is a good discussion of this book (and many other issues) in the Ask Moxie blog.

What this chapter does is show how praising children’s intelligence can actually have the opposite effect of what you want to achieve, that is, it actually makes them less confident, and less likely to try challenging or new things. That is, it had the inverse effect of what praise is suppose to achieve, to give the child a high self-esteem, which so many studies agree is one of the most important facets of a person. This chapter is based mainly on research done by Carol Dweck, and her team at Stanford University, which focused on studying the effects of praise on students in twenty New York schools, through a series of experiments. The results of her studies show how children who were praised for their intelligence were more likely to give up when challenged, and to avoid new challenges. This is explained because children are made to feel self-conscious, and afraid of proving they are not smart. On the other hand, children who were praised on their efforts were more likely to persist in the face of difficulties and to try new challenges, as they are giving some measure of control – their effort- in terms of the results obtained. Their studies show that this worked for children from different socio-economic class, for both boys and girls, and not only for school aged children, but for pre-schoolers too.

The conclusion is that praising effort is helpful, whilst praising intelligence is not. Not all effort praise was created equal either though. Specific praise worked much better to focus their efforts. The praise also has to be sincere, if children are to take it on board. Sparing praise (i.e. not praise every little thing and step) also works better to make children more persistent and thus, more patient, and for them to experience more self-satisfaction, as compared to always looking for external praise. As the authors describe, brushing aside failure is also shown to be detrimental. Discussing mistakes instead and ways to improve could make the child better handle failure in the future.

The authors pepper the chapter with more personal stories, and other cases, and end up describing their anxiety at stopping the ‘you are so clever’ type of praise, and concluding that this type of praise is used by parents, and other carers, to show and infuse children with their unconditional love and support, and that this is why it felt hard to change.

I really liked this book in that it made me think about the ways I parent, but also I liked this chapter in particular because it helped me articulate, and understand why, I find some of the ways that people praise in the UK, such as the ‘good girl/boy’ or ‘clever girl/boy’, a bit uncomfortable. This is interesting because in Argentina, we mostly say ‘well done!!’ (‘muy bien’) rather than clever girl/boy, or good boy/girl. And it always struck me that this was quite unspecific and that its logical conclusion would be to think that if you don’t do it right (you don’t reach the potty in time for instance), then you are not clever or good, which is not such a good feeling. Not sure how much this conclusion is reached by children, but, what can I say, I think this way! I think this is tied, for me, with the whole ‘good girl’ thing that I want to get away from, but that is for another post. In any case, I feel the ‘well done’ seemed to be more geared towards their effort. Granted, after reading this chapter, it made me rethink the ways I praise, how much, when, which were happily converged with re-reading another parenting book that I love ‘How to talk so kids would listen and listen so kids will talk’,  which has a chapter on praise too that works very well with this chapter’s conclusions. It also helped me be more understanding with people that use this expression so much, and to, you know, let go too, knowing that I can provide something different.
Lucila

Disclaimer: I wasn’t given or asked to do this reviews (I wish!), and the link to amazon is just because of convenience rather than because you should buy them there, probably better to support your local bookshop…but I am not one to say…

Expectations

One of the things that I think has played a major role in how I felt as a mother is the kind of expectations I harboured. These expectations were sometimes based on observations, many created while reading (I am also a member of the ‘you read too much’ club), other were naive ideas or assumptions that I had not questioned or even realised I had until closer examination, and also, my lack of ideas on what to expect. But all of these were important in constructing my experience as a mother, and of many of the mothers I know.

For instance. (I think I have read Mr Bump too many times, I am even copying its style!)

 Sleep.

 Baby sleeping patterns, or the art of not sleeping. I am a person that needs loads of sleep. Before having r., unless I had 10-12 hours sleep, I was not in the best of moods. However, for some reason, which now I don’t remember (might be because of my lack of sleep), I psyched myself thinking that we would probably not sleep much the first year. This was very important, and it helped immensely, even though I erred in my predictions and we are still not sleeping through the night (she is almost two and a half). Many of my friends expected that their babies would sleep better after a few weeks, and many of those suffered, while some lucky ones did actually get the sleep they expected.

Co-sleeping. Before having r., I used to think that I did to want to co-sleep. At all. When she was born, the only way she would sleep was on me. My midwife, different people and books I’ve read made me feel guilty and afraid of doing this, but reading a bit more, or shall I say, different books, and the everyday the practise made me more confident about doing it, and enjoying it. If there is a next one, this is going to be the plan for the start, no question.

Routine.

Oh! How I fell for this one. I was given a book before r. was born, which charted how babies would ‘work’ in terms of routine, which went something like this: feed, awake for a few hours, sleep, and so on, every three hours, and then after three or four months, every four. If this did not happen naturally, I was to stretch it myself. R. was born early, three weeks early, and she was tiny. Her pattern was more like feed-sleep, every two hours. Almost no awake time. It made me worry that she was not awake but for her feeding time, which was, say an hour. Writing this makes me laugh now at my innocence in a way, but it wasn’t so funny then. When she was a three months, she did not do the switch at all to longer time between feedings, and I could not do dreamfeeds, and I could go on on all the ways that neither r. nor I fitted the pattern set in the book. And stupidly, it made my question myself, feel guilty, get frustrated and flustered if I attempted to do what the book suggested. It was very unhelpful. I eventually found other books that confirmed what I was doing, and made me chuck the other ones, as well as release the guilt. Confidence in myself slowly grew too, but this was not instant, and not without that permanent questioning.

Breastfeeding.

Pain. I knew breastfeeding could hurt, because my mum had a rough time, and my sister-in-law, and many other close friends. Although books say it is not supposed to hurt if the latch is right, I think that is actually quite a crap thing to say. I think this is done to not put women off breastfeeding, but really, it is unhelpful for those of us who do get blood, sweat and tears over breastfeeding. One of the things that kept me going was actually reading that it took different women weeks, even six weeks, for it to pass. Even though breastfeeding was torture at the beginning– I dreaded the moment and the ever present comment whenever she cried, ‘I think she is hungry’. Thrush did not make matters easier, or having breastfeeding-ignorant GPs. But knowing that it would hurt, and that it might take time, pull me through (and well, my stubborn streak helped here too probably).

Frequency. I kind of expected that after six months, breastfeeding would tail off, while her food intake grew, as the standard advice seems to go. This never happened, at least not at six months, maybe more like 18 months. R. did follow my expectations of feeding every couple of hours for the first months, but at six months and onwards, she seemed to start breastfeeding more frequently, rather than less, though much less time each time. And this carried on, and even increased after her first year. It was almost every time I sat down. To give you an idea, booby is her second name at home. Everyone around me seemed to follow the other pattern, the books one. But me. And the weaning questions started to come. My expectations, as well as what if felt, the rest of the world, differed from what was happening, and it made me feel that I was doing something wrong – was the food I cooked bad? Was I doing things wrong with my approach to food (coming next)?Should I put limits on breastfeeding? Fortunately, the internet exists, and forums, and books. And I found a book on extended breastfeeding which put me at ease. It seems that her feeding frequently was quite normal, and that there were many benefits to ‘extended’ breastfeeding. Ahhh. I relaxed. And it stopped being uncomfortable, and frustrating. And it started to feel good, and, what it was, joyful (well, not always, but most of the times). It feels strange that I needed this external corroboration, but it helped. It helps to find your pack, it helps to find you are not so weird, or that you are, but in good company!

Food.

Baby-led weaning. When the time came to start thinking about feeding her food, rather than breast milk, at six months, I rather liked the idea of what is called baby-led weaning (BLW). I am glad I did, because no spoon would cross her lips. I had a very skilled spoon-avoiding baby. But I did not care so much, because I had another option. BLW implies feeding babies what you eat, and giving them finger foods, instead of purees, and letting them feed themselves, from the very beginning. At the same time, breastfeeding (in my case, bottle feeding instead), is kept up on demand. What I had not realised is that sometimes BLW comes with small print. Some babies do not eat and just prefer to toss all the food away after playing with it, and just go for the good old boobs when talking business. And not for the expected first months, but for much longer. And this happened until, well, she was more than a year old. Not that she did not eat at all, but very little. She still does eat little. But she has always been fine somehow. And I had to adjust my expectations once again. Once I did, I again, relaxed.

And after. This one is harder, because I cannot benefit from hindsight. For me, the natural step after BLW is intuitive eating. But I am still working at it, and get confused on the how to, and tinker with it. What I am trying to avoid is the struggle over eating, and the bribery and negotiations, the categories of good and bad foods that are so common, but not sure how this will pan out yet, as I still need adjustment myself. I find it hard though, as she eats little, and sometimes does not eat her meal, but does eat heartily her ice-cream, and I feel the questions coming – from within and from outside. Though many times, she eats both at the same time. And it is not so normal….

This rambling post had at some point a purpose. Hmmm….maybe that expectations matter, and adjusting them is painful, but powerful. And that there is no other way, at least for me, but to be attentive, to change, to be flexible, to read, to find my pack. This, in hindsight, is called to trust your instincts, but somehow, it feels more complicated than that, and more of a process of knowing what your instincts are in the first place.

Lucila