Parenting in the Age of Facebook

Yesterday my tiny lady had a meltdown. By meltdown I mean a major, off the scale, shrieking at the top of her voice tsunami of toddler emotion. It was epic. It started with my husband and I coaxing her into her buggy. We managed to get her strapped in but then, as if possessed by a demonic spirit, she began to strain against the straps; yelling as if we were trying to torture her. With tense voices we encouraged each other to stay calm; terse, short sentences were the order of the day. We attempted to carry on as if we couldn’t hear anything while all the world (or so it seemed ) stared at us. Finally I decided to carry her. This didn’t help and the screaming continued. We were on our way to buy some much needed warm weather clothes (neither my husband nor I had quite believed the optimistic Irish heatwave forecast). In the end we decided to divide and conquer. My husband went shopping while I took the toddler into Tesco to buy juice; yes I committed the ultimate parenting sin of bribery. Five minutes later – and trust me it was a very long and brutal five minutes- we were sitting down outside Tesco with a four pack of juice and peace had returned to my world. Yes, yes perhaps I could have solved it without the bribe but sue me I just wanted the shouting to stop.

As we sat there I started thinking how very quick we are to judge each other as parents in this age of Facebook and instant status updates. The looks of some of the customers in Tesco were heavy with disapproval. I caught the odd sympathetic glance but these were few and far between. The majority of people seemed to wonder why on earth my child was so upset. Welcome to the world of parenting a toddler, I thought grimly. I could only imagine the status updates the incident might have sparked off. I am guessing none would have been very supportive.

I have been following the case of the parents whose child recently fell into the gorilla enclosure in Ohio zoo. There has now been an investigation launched to assess whether or not the parents are to blame. While I wholeheartedly wish this majestic creature could have been saved I wonder have we been too quick to point the finger at the parents? How many of us have lost children when in a brief second of inattention we do not have our eyes on them? We are all just human and none of us are perfect.

I remember, as a child, going on a shopping expedition with my parents. My brother, who was only about two at the time, was carefully kept close by means of the controversial toddler harness. My Dad had a tight grip on him while my mum browsed the clothes section of M&S (note – how terribly restrictive for my poor mother to have her whole family follow her around clothes shopping). Suddenly, my brother had somehow gotten free and was racing through the aisles; joyous to be finally let fly. However, his flight of freedom soon ended with a bump to the head and a visit to the hospital.

It got me thinking if this happened today would my family have ended up on Facebook, my father widely criticised for allowing his child to break free? Would my mother have been judged for trying to take five minutes to herself to do some shopping? Would there have been cries of ‘This would never have happened to my child’ or ‘Parents should have watched child more carefully?’ A simple incident like this could have gained my family a level of unwanted internet fame. I wonder are we far less understanding these days or do we just simply have a greater outlet for our disapproval? Access to more ears to pour our judgment into?

I don’t know about you but I do think we are too quick to judge, too quick to update our statuses without thinking and too quick to throw our opinions out there without considering who we might be wounding. Remember, be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting their own hard battle.

Why can’t well just get along?

Breastfeeding and Bottle feeding: the eternal war with no winners only hurt feelings on both sides. As a society we have become obsessed with the way mothers feed their babies when all that should really concern us is that those babies are actually fed. We all know most mothers are doing their best; the best for their babies, the best for themselves and the best thing for their families. If you ignore any part of that equation baby won’t be happy either.

But I’m not here today to rehash all the old arguments or judge anybody except those who place unnecessary burdens on new mothers by sticking to a dogma that doesn’t always work for everybody. Yes breast is best. No-one, I imagine, would argue with that. However, and here’s the kicker, it’s only right when it works for all involved. Mother and baby must feel happy and comfortable in this relationship. This is not always the case. Some babies can’t breastfeed but thrive on bottles. Some mothers just don’t feel comfortable doing it. These are the mothers I am speaking to today.

Before I got pregnant I wouldn’t even wear a bikini when going to the local swimming pool, I abhorred shared changing rooms and don’t even get me started on cleavage revealing outfits… oh no I would have been much too embarrassed. I think this mortification started during my teenage years; I wasn’t too happy with my budding chest and would have done anything to hide it! This feeling still lingers so when baby was due I felt so stressed at the thought of breastfeeding. Having my boob on show around the clock? Oh dear God no! But I told myself it’s the best thing for your baby so suck it up. I tortured myself for a full four months (stress, anxiety, fake smiles hiding a growing discontent) before confiding in my own mother. She shrugged and said just bottle feed then. A weight was lifted. Hurrah I could look forward to my baby coming again! The only judgement I met with was a rotund nurse in my consultant’s office who tried to bully me into attending a breastfeeding class. She was met with a stern no. She later tried to convince me to just give the colostrum (liquid gold in her words) but this was met with a frosty silence. No my downstairs area might be about to become public property but my chest was staying under wraps thank you very much!!

So my tiny lady was born and thrived on her bottles. But still I felt guilty. I knew I’d put my own mental block about breastfeeding before (potentially) her health. I was wracked with guilt. Still to this day I regret not feeding her myself but I also don’t regret it all if you see my meaning. I know it was something I just couldn’t do. I am proud that I knew myself well enough to realise that and didn’t put my family though days or weeks of misery to confirm what I knew all along. My daughter is still healthy with only the odd cough or cold and as smart as she is healthy. I can take my head off the metaphorical chopping board. Now all that worries me is her ‘passionate’ (read stubborn, headstrong etc.) nature. But I still feel saddened by all the negative rhethoric that surrounds mothers who choose to bottle feed for whatever reason. I have no problem with people who do breastfeed – in fact I’m slightly envious of their confidence and determination – I applaud their ability to do this. I just wish myself and the Bottle Brigade could be left to quietly get on with our own way of feeding.

Of course not all women who breast-feed are out to judge. This is very far from true. They are more worried about a society that can be strangely out-dated when it comes to breastfeeding. More needs to be done to make it a normal part of our day-to-day lives. However, I don’t think that bullying women to do something they are not comfortable with is the way to do this. It will just make both mother and baby miserable. I’ve read numerous posts on the Fearless Formula Feeder’s website and the things those women put themselves through would shock you. They were told ‘breast is best’ so they went through agonies to feed their child that way. This is not acceptable. Women should never feel pressure like this. Encouragement yes, support yes, bullying no. Allow women, who have all the facts and figures, to make their own choice.

So I refer to my original question; why can’t we all just get along? Perhaps the way we can change is just by accepting each other. I think it’s lovely when I see a mother and baby sharing that special bonding moment during those early newborn feeds whether the feed is given by bottle or breast. It’s all beautiful. If we can just accept that it’s a mother’s right to feed her child as she sees fit than perhaps the world will be a better place for our children to grow up in.

For anyone struggling with guilt surrounding bottle feeding don’t feel you are alone. The Fearless Formula Feeder’s website is a resource I would highly recommend. Let the guilt go. You are a wonderful mother.

 

 

 

 

 

The old TV debate

I was listening to Brendan O’Connor on the radio this morning. The discussion was the lack of fresh air that children of today get. Apparently their access to fresh air is more limited than those who live in our state prisons. Of course the inevitable happened. On came a caller who announced to O’Connor (and the rest of the country) that her three children (all girls; six and four-year old twins) literally never watch television. They come in, take their coats off and go upstairs to colour and play. Note she never said they went outside, I was quick to catch this but her point seemed to be that it’s easy to go down this route. Her children never ask for the tv because guess what lazy parents it never even occurred to her to make television a part of their day. I mean she just never considered it an option! You could tell from his tone O’Connor was not impressed but he let her hang herself. She was careful to point out to us mere mortals that she wasn’t judging anyone, no she didn’t mind if others let their children watch five hours or more a day. Let me tell you the judgement undercut every word; you could hear it in her voice. She was dying for a pat on the back from O’Connor but he wasn’t biting. Instead he asked her if she had ever gone on a long journey (five hours for example) with her children. When she replied no, he insinuated that she didn’t know hell until she had done this and said there were times he wanted to kiss Steve Jobs’ feet! She played along but you knew she was really thinking; feck off Brendan I’d be playing spot the red car and singing jolly songs with my kids on a long journey.

Of course every so often she would reassure us that she wasn’t preaching, oh no we could do whatever worked for us. It’s the children she is concerned with. Parents introduce their children to TV then give out when that’s all they want to do. Oh parents would you not just think of the children? You are to blame. So in case you were listening to the show during the five minutes of the day when you felt like a good parent; fear not Lisa from South Dublin is here to remind you that you are not. Did you not know that children aren’t born knowing what a TV is? It’s all your fault, you bad little parent you!

Excuse my sarcasm but Lisa made me want to punch something. Most parents feel they are failing their children probably 95% of the time do we really want to start a war over whose child watches more TV? Why people like Lisa enjoy speaking down to the rest of us is anyone’s guess. Insecurity? Superiority complex? The high one gets from being absolutely smug while pretending not to be? Who knows? But I’m sure, once her interview ended, she sat expecting texts of praise and thanks for showing us crappy parents The Way! I didn’t get to hear anymore but I’ve a feeling Lisa will be waiting a while.

Fear not your child will not become an addict if you allow access to TV during the day. In fact they will probably grow up just like my generation whose own parents didn’t realise that watching The Den after school would have such deletrious effects. How could they have been so careless? I mean really! The point is we grew up watching TV and we turned out okay (mostly). Yes screens are more prevalent today and yes we do need to acknowledge this and try to set some sort of limits. But don’t feel bad if your child extends the time limits now and again (or you are feeling too tired to impose them). It happens. Repeat after me – you are not a bad parent, you are not a bad parent, you are not a bad parent! Ignore Lisa and anybody who else who tries to tell you how to parent. Do your own thing. You’ll be grand.