Monthly Archives: October 2011

Your kids aren’t perfect.

If you haven’t come across Brené Brown or heard her talk about vulnerability, can I give you a piece of advice?

Make a cup of coffee. Sit somewhere comfy where you won’t be interrupted, and invest twenty minutes of your life soaking up the brilliance of this. (And if you’re already familiar with it just listen again. It’s even better the second time round.)

The part of the talk that resonates with me is that we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly. Put simply, we can’t give our kids what we haven’t got.

Brené’s work as a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work has convinced her that  what stops us from treating ourselves kindly is our tendency to ‘numb’ our sense of vulnerability. When we bump up against feelings like fear, grief, shame or disappointment we feel vulnerable – sometimes excruciatingly so – so we reach for a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin instead. (With me it’s an enormous glass of wine and a fresh cream cake but I digress.)

We also ‘perfect’ in a bid to paper over the cracks of those difficult feelings, she says. “We take fat from our butts and put it in our cheeks,” laughs Brené, but she also cautions that we try to ‘perfect’ our children for similar reasons. (I doubt I’m alone in shedding a tear or two whilst listening to that part. Talk about feeling vulnerable…)

I’m paraphrasing but Brené says something like this:

‘Kids are hard-wired for struggle when they get here. Our job is not to hold a newborn baby and say ‘Look at her, she’s perfect!’ Our job is to look and say ‘You’re imperfect and you are wired for struggle but you are worthy of love and belonging.’ Show me a generation of kids raised like that and I think we’ll end the problems that we see today.’

Could that kind of parenting be the antidote to all kinds of problems in the world? I can’t say. But it’s compelling counsel, and it inspires me to parent differently – to focus less on the Lego pieces strewn messily around the floor and more on the loveable hot-headed creative genius who threw them around as he built his masterpiece, for starters.

But that requires me to treat myself with the same kind of grace.

Which means not self-medicating with cream cakes, and admitting that I’m not perfect. And neither are my kids. Nor should we be. Which is just perfect.

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Working mothers and hard hearts do not mix

“Maternity leave used to show how much you love your child; now it shows how much you don’t love your job.”

So says Jo Craven, a mother of two and the former features editor of Vogue. Writing thoughtfully in the Daily Mail’s You magazine this weekend, Jo touched on the eternal conundrum that is balancing motherhood with earning a living, and proposed her solution: Something has to give, and right now I think working mothers are going to have to be hard-hearted, realistic and try to stay in their jobs, no matter how generous maternity leave or tempting part-time work may be… There is only one answer: someone else is going to have to push the pram, because women need to be at their desks… .”

Jo, who gave up her staff job to go freelance and spend more time with her children, adds that if she had her time again she wouldn’t sacrifice her career for her kids: “The choices and the security a regular income offers in uncertain times will pay for university education if it’s required, or even provide for old age and maybe a holiday or two in between.”

I see the logic in the argument but I’m not convinced. Had I done as Jo proposes and clung to my glittering career instead of giving it up seven years ago to bring up my babies, I’m pretty sure I still wouldn’t be amassing sufficient fortunes that, at this rate, will be required to put my sons through University. And as for storing up a fat pension or splashing out on holidays, I didn’t manage that during the years when I was childless and working full-time in a highly-paid PR job, so how would I manage it with two more mouths to feed and four more feet to shod? What’s more, many of the women I know who’ve held on to their careers since becoming mothers seem to earn little more than enough to cover their childcare costs.

Can the solution to wanting a family and needing to earn a crust really be that we ‘harden our hearts’ and simply set our shoulders to the wheel whilst trying not to care that someone else is caring for our kids? I don’t think so. There are endless creative possibilities for women who want to work and be mothers – and the idea that we must hand our kids to someone else and unquestioningly accept our place in the office is as uninspiring to me as the old adage that a woman’s place is in the home.

Thankfully history is full of women who, when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, rejected the status quo and fought for radical alternatives. I’d rather follow that example than harden my heart – the one thing which, to my mind, a mother should never do. If we must harden our hearts let’s do so in response to antiquated outlooks that only serve to keep women repressed. After all, it matters little whether our repressors chain us to the workplace or the kitchen sink – the outcome is the same.

I don’t know about you, but this Feisty Mama doesn’t like the sound of a world in which working mums are largely typified by shackles and hearts of stone.

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