Wednesday, 22 August 2012

...It’s I’m a girl and I HATE PINK!

The boy will be three in December and during his short life I have tried very hard to make sure I steer away from gender stereotypes.  It seems I should have tried harder! Firstly, whilst watching the men’s Olympic diving, he told me that him and Daddy can do that (diving) but I can’t. When I asked him why, he said “because you’re a girl.” I put this down to the fact that he could only see men diving. Later that same week, he informed me he wanted some new slippers, crocodile ones. He then said that Daddy can have the monster ones and I can have the fairy slippers. I told him I wanted the monster slippers, to which he replied “no, you have to have the fairy slippers because you’re a girl.” I obviously on both occasions told him that girls can dive, girls like monsters and boys like fairies whilst wondering where these sudden sexist opinions were coming from!

Then came the big one. The boy has always liked pink, sometimes even saying it’s his favourite colour.  I never said ‘no pink is for girls’ or tried to get him to like another colour; I just treated it like I would any other colour.  However, a couple of weeks ago, he told me that he didn’t like pink and when I asked him why he replied with “because it’s for girls.”  I told him it wasn’t and that it’s ok for him to like it.  It made me sad that at such a young age, he was already being forced into choosing something, or not, because of his gender.

I thought long and hard about where he might have heard this, and remembered, I saying myself on a couple of occasions, ‘no those are for girls, they’ve got pink on look...” not because I wouldn’t want him to wear them particularly, but because he doesn’t need a pair of jeans and that was a way of telling him they weren’t for him. But knowing how hard I try I began to look elsewhere and realised perhaps I’m not trying hard enough.

I try not to let him watch TV that is aimed particularly at boys, I like stuff like Peppa Pig which I think is aimed at everyone (including adults!) He watches Dora the Explorer and Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom, but his favourite of all time is Cars.  I still don’t think this is particularly aimed at boys, and some of the racing cars in the second film are girls, Holly Shiftwell, a spy in Cars 2 may be dark purple, but she is by no means a typical female character. But it’s not the programmes that are the biggest problem; it’s the adverts in between. 

These adverts turn my stomach.  Remove the actual product they are selling (action figures for boys, and dolls for girls) it’s everything else that goes with it. An advert aimed at selling a ‘boy’s’ toy normally comes with an aggressive, fast and deep voice. The colours are normally pretty dull, but they’re not all different shades of blue, which is a bonus.  Adverts for ‘girls’ toys though, are pink...there is no other colour, pink and all the different shades of pink you can imagine. Not only this, but the advert usually comes with a ‘pink’ voiceover too.  The voice you can only imagine belongs to a porn-star trying not to be sexy, all high-pitched, trying to sound cute, yet dumb. I hate it! I know what you’re going to say...turn the TV off.

But here is the problem...everything aimed at girls DOES have pink on.  I looked through a catalogue for some bedding for the boy recently and while the boys pages do tend to be darker, there is a fairly (very small) variety of colours and themes, many are ‘boys’ like cars, dinosaurs and footballs, but there is some plain and checked etc.  However, you cannot miss the girl’s pages, they are like a young child has thrown up candy floss and smeared it all over them, whilst adding fairy wings and tiaras. It wouldn’t be so bad if some of these themes weren’t pink but they ALL are. If a girl likes princesses, fair enough, but why does the princess have to be 50 shades of pink? Why can’t she be orange, or red, or god forbid, a nice deep shade of blue?!

It would seem that girls cannot play with anything, unless it comes in pink.  The boy has a toy kitchen, which he likes to play with, why there are two versions of this kitchen, one in lovely primary colours and the other in various shades of pink baffles me. The same with the garage he had when he was younger, one in lovely bright colours and another in garish, sicky pink shades.  Why does a girl have to play with a pink garage, or a pink kitchen? And now to top it all off...PINK LEGO! I loved Lego as a child, why now do we have to have Lego for boys and Lego for girls?!

I feel like I am fighting a losing battle, but I will keep fighting. There is only so much you can do to shield your child from some of the things you may not like in the big wide world, and ultimately they will decide for themselves, all you can do is prepare them and give them the right tools. I know that some girls will legitimately love the colour pink, and I don’t have a problem with that at all, but what about all the girls that don’t like pink? Where is their choice?

Monday, 18 June 2012's Non-believer

I do not believe in God.  Some days I may 'pray' to something, somewhere, to help me out or give me a break, but I don't believe there is somebody out there who is listening and can change things.  But, since having a child, my categorical belief that there is no God has been brought into question.  It has surprised me and confused me.

Firstly I wonder if by through my non-believing I could be jeapordising my son's future or 'god-forbid' anything should happen to him, my son's opportunity to go to heaven...just in case there is one!

I was christened as a baby, as were most people my age and recently a few friends have had their children christened.  I have wondered if I should do the same with the boy.  Not just for the afore mentioned reasons, or the fact that you get loads of lovely presents, but because it is a part of his heritage and culture.

I live in a town which is highly diverse in terms of culture and while I love it and am excited for the boy to live in such a place where I will hope he will learn about other religions, cultures etc first hand and hopefully be open-minded, accepting of differences and willing to learn and try new things.  I come from a small, middle class, very white town. Perhaps in this mixed city I should be encouraging the boy to learn and celebrate his culture and traditions even more? 

The boy has a name with religious connotations and while this was not a reason for me choosing it, the fact that Gabriel is an important figure in the Bible, the Koran and other religions made me like it even more.

I am already having to look at schools, some people say I should have done this when the boy was even younger but here I am.  A nursery we looked at is linked to a church.  Part of me is concerned that he has to thank god for his food and there is 'bible time'.  The nursery do also talk about other religions.  But then the other half of me feels comforted by this and I confess I quite like it.  I went to a Church of England school and it didn't do me any harm (I don't think!) Looking back I like the idea of the boy going to assemblies, learning about the stories in the Bible (from a child's prespective) and thanking someone (if it has to be God, ok) for his food, like I used to.

But I don't understand why.  I know I don't believe in God.  If the boy chooses to then I will fully support him and never question his faith (until he is old enough to have debates about politics and religion) but do I want to 'risk' this just because I like that it's his culture and tradition.  Is it reason enough to want him to have this because it's part of his heritage?  Or am I being a complete hypocrite and unfair to the people who really do believe?

I don't believe in God, I dislike the culture of the Church, it's money, it's 'cult' like sermons, and more recently it's statement against gay marriage.  But, there are elements of it that I find comforting; the feeling of belonging, some of the routines and rules and maybe just the familiarity.

There is a constant battle going on in my head - am I doing the right thing? I should stick to my principles. Does it really matter that much?  I don't suppose anybody has the answers to these questions except me....or do they? As someone once said "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction."

Monday, 30 January 2012

...It's Child of a single parent.

I grew up in a single parent household.  I had one dad and my two sisters had another.  Both men had left my Mum to bring up a young family on her own.  My mum was lucky that she had a good support network around her and extended family she could call on in times of difficulty.  But life as a child from a lone parent family wasn’t easy.

It wasn’t just that money was tight (really tight), it was the stigma that was attached to being from this type of family and from what I can see nearly 20 years on, sadly nothing has changed.

I never blamed my mother for being a single parent.  Relationships break down, some perhaps could be worked at, but people make mistakes and while we should learn from them and face up to the consequences, what kind of country are we to turn our backs on people when they need it the most?  What is wrong with giving people a helping hand, a second chance, free of judgement and scorn?  Nobody is perfect; are all the mistakes you've ever made free of consequences for other people?

After my stepfather left when I was 13, mine and my family’s life changed.  We were middle class, had a nice house, went to a good school and I had never had to worry about money.  Suddenly I was in a queue for free school dinners with people I had always looked down my nose at, I was wearing trainers from the market and a second hand school uniform and was told we could no longer afford for me to go on school trips. 

By the time I was in my final year at school, I was in a well established single parent family and it was no secret.  I had many discussions with people in my sociology and psychology classes about being on benefits.  People weren’t shy about how disgusted they were at having to pay their taxes to make sure me and my family got to eat.  The general belief was that ‘your mum chose to have children, she should pay for them.’  And she was.  She worked, but on a minimum wage and with a baby to look after it still wasn’t enough to support a family of four.  It was my Mum’s choice to have three children by two different men, but she was married, was comfortable, and sadly perhaps a bad judge of character and no crystal ball (that I know of).  She didn’t choose to be left by her husbands, looking after young children.  Of course this isn’t the only way to become thrust into the world of single parenthood.

And this is what makes me angry the most.  The assumption by many people that their taxes are going to single mums just so they can have babies, stay at home and watch Jeremy Kyle.  These young women have seen the pound signs (those benefits are like winning the lottery don’t you know!) and thought, ‘I know I’m going to choose to have a baby, by myself (one of the hardest things anyone can do) and make everyone else pay’.  This just isn’t reality.  The huge majority of single parents (I am talking about Dads too) are a victim of circumstance, a mistake, a consequence of someone else’s decision.  And who is to say they are bad decisions!  I am so thankful that my mum and stepdad split up, they made a terrible couple, they would have made each other and us miserable, but hey, at least we wouldn’t have been sponging off the taxpayer!

The recent win in the House of Lords is a cause for celebration for women, but just a small one.  This government appears hell-bent on punishing poor, vulnerable women trying their hardest to raise a family at incredibly difficult times (not forgetting of course the Dads doing this to). Research by Women Against the Cuts, show that two thirds of the cuts made in the June budget came from women.

Speaking on behalf of the government, minister Lord De Mauley said “We don’t want to return to the days when the state is encouraging parents to blame each other.”  No, with the tone of their policies and who they are aimed at, the coalition government is encouraging people to blame single parents and women instead.

Sunday, 18 September 2011's Juggler

Life hit me full pelt this morning when I walked into the boy’s room to the smell of vomit.  After a lovely weekend away for my Mum’s wedding, the Monday I had planned was giving the boy to a friend while I worked and unpacked.  He had other plans, as did my cats.  The morning was instead spent cleaning up the boy, his room, then the living room and kitchen where the cats, not wanting to be left out, had thrown up all over the rug.  I managed to squeeze in the unpacking and a bit of work too of course!
I am a mother and I work part-time.  It’s a very personal choice and what suits some doesn’t suit others so this blog isn’t about judging anyone’s decision.  I am racked with guilt, but my guilt doesn’t lie with the lack of time I spend with the boy, it’s the guilt I feel about neglecting my own career.  I am lucky I can work most of my hours when the boy is sleeping, which some would say means I get the best of both worlds.  (Sometimes it is, but sometimes I feel like I’m working two full time jobs.)  But I don’t have a ‘career’ anymore.  I’m just working.  I get to be a ‘stay at home mum’ to the boy which is what I want, and I love it.  But sometimes I want my career back.
At the moment I have paused, who knows when I will start climbing that ladder again and will it be too late?  I’m regularly reminded of my impending middle-age and how behind my career is by other women my age with amazing, well-paid jobs.  How do these women do it and where did I go wrong?!
Unfortunately the decision itself – to work or stay at home isn’t as easy as it first appears.  Childcare, maternity leave, money, guilt all hold more weight than my desire to do well.  The three options as I see them are; be a full-time stay at home mum and be poor (obviously I don’t mean everyone who has this option is poor, but it would mean we were), work part-time which means juggling money and childcare, the career doesn’t work part-time but at least you’ve got a toe in the door.  The final option is to work full time, still be poor (maybe slightly better off but not much after I’ve paid for childcare), keep the career alive but never see the boy.  Some days I want one and other days I want the other.  Why can’t I just make a decision and stick to it?!  Whichever one I choose, the money doesn’t really change. 
Is it because I don’t feel important as a mother?  Society places such value on the role you do.  When you say “I’m a mother or I work part-time”, you see people’s eyes glaze over and stifle a yawn, assuming that what you do is boring and un-interesting. 
It doesn’t help that childcare in the UK is some of the most expensive in the world and the maternity benefits are pretty poor too in comparison.  It seems to me other countries value their mothers and women more.  The argument of ‘why should I pay taxes so you can stay home to look after your brats’ just reinforces that mothers who stay at home to bring up their children aren’t seen as playing an important role or even working.  The words ‘stay at home’ do the same – I don’t stay at home.  I go to toddler groups or toddler yoga or I do the shopping, or cleaning or play-dates.  I see part of my role as a mother as a job.  I don’t particularly want to go and sit in a room with other Mum’s I don’t know, but it’s part of my job and like most people’s jobs there are things we like doing and things we don’t.  Just because there are more elements to my ‘job’ that are enjoyable doesn’t mean it’s not hard or not valuable.  Perhaps if I felt the role I was performing was important I wouldn’t feel so conflicted.
I am impatient and I like being in control.  In my head I say to myself “get your kids out of the way and then once you’re at school you can re-start your career”  “Your kids are only young once, you’re going to be working for years and years.”  And I know this makes sense.  BUT....I’m scared.  I see women who are so young and have achieved so much.  What have I achieved?  See, there I go again selling my role as a mother short, I have achieved raising (so far) a beautiful, well-behaved, happy little boy.  I do have a career – even if it is momentarily paused, a home, friends and family.  So why do I feel that something is missing or wrong.  I’m scared that if I leave it too long I will be left on the shelf.  I’ll be too old and I’ll have missed all the opportunities my young counter-parts will have already had.  I want everything now! 
My name this blog is ‘Juggler’, but not the normal way you’d assume a mother is a juggler, it’s juggling my own thoughts, needs and fears and perhaps I really could do with dropping some of them.

Monday, 8 August 2011

...It's SMOB

Last week I learnt a new word: 'SMOG'.  It stands for Smug Mum of Girls.  I am the mother of a boy.  Does this make me a SMOB?  Is there such thing as a SMOB?

Apparently all mothers really, deep down want a girl.  Those that do are SMOGs.  Not just because they have their darling little girl, but because they are the fairer sex; they are nicer, calmer, and get to wear pretty clothes. 

Now although I would have been happy with either sex, and would be happy if the next one, whenever that may be, is a girl, just a little bit of me wanted a boy more.  I wanted a boy for a number of reasons:

I wanted my younger children to have an older brother.  Perhaps this is because being the eldest and being a girl, sometimes I used to wish for an older brother for myself (this could also be because I didn't live with my Dad)

I grew up in an all female house.  Two sisters and my mum.  There were times when it resembled a battle field.  I have seen relationships between mothers and their sons and from afar they just don't seem as difficult emotionally.  (I am coming at this from a completely one-sided view and with very little experience so it's all tongue in cheek!)  I like that once a family of boys get older, the mother, although she may get picked on, is also very protected.

I've always got on well with boys.  I have always had male friends, even at primary school I remember playing TJ Hooker (police tv show for those too young to remember) with boys in my class.  Throughout school, at work and at university, I have been able to get on well with boys.  Perhaps my preference for a boy was because I felt I'd like him more than a girl!

Now that I've had a boy, people ask if I want the next one to be a girl.  I can honestly say I don't.  I would be happy if it was a girl, but I would be just as happy if it was a boy.  I know you're not supposed to say what you would 'prefer', but I think I like the idea of two boys.  I don't have this need that some women (or all if you believe the SMOGs) have for a little girl.

I've experienced having a boy (for only a short time I know!) but in comparison to girls, they seem easier.  I'm not the only person that thinks this.  I have spoken to mothers and carers that feel the same.  There is a misconception that boys are boisterous and loud, but it's the girls I see at groups or friend's girls that are much more feisty and independent.  Many mums tell me that boys are more loving.  They like to be affectionate and will sit and cuddle. 

One of the things that SMOGs are smug about apparently is clothes.  They say they feel sorry for mums of boys who have little choice and can only dress them in dark colours.  I feel sorry for mums of girls whose only choice is pink, pink and more pink!  That's all I see when I go shopping, they may have more clothes to choose from but you're still stuck between flowers, fairies and pink.  ALL children's clothing is poor, whether you are a boy or a girl!

My final reasons for wanting a boy have more to do with my experience as a woman.  When boys become men their lives are much simpler.  They don't get pregnant.  They don't wear make-up.  They don't fixate about their body.  They don't get raped.  They don't choose bad men.  BEFORE YOU START SHOUTING AT ME...this is generally speaking.  Of course I know these things happen to men.  I just mean that overall there is much more I would worry about with a girl.  As a woman I think life is a little harder than it is for a man.  I'm not saying that being a man is easy, just easier.

My boss once told me that she raises her two son's to be good husbands; good men, sensitive, the kind of men we would like our daughters to bring home.  So what do we raise our girls to be?  From what I've seen most are strong, independent, aggressive little things in pink.  Women that can stand up to the inequality they face and be strong in a world where men are dominant.  Perhaps the stereotypes are reversing and the next generation of Mums will all be SMOBs, proud of their nice, calm boys.  That must mean I'm ahead of the times because I already am a gloating SMOB.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

...It's jobseeker

The Fairy Jobmother on channel four has to be one of the most depressing TV shows I've watched.  The 'fairy jobmother' is incredibly patronising and I do not believe that she would do any of the jobs she forces the people she claims to help. It's even worse since I became a job seeker myself and have been signing on.

When I first walked through the doors of my local jobcentre, the woman asked me if I was a single mum (I had the boy with me), asked if I worked and how old my son was.  She then said "well you need to make an appointment, but I'm sure you'll get sommat."  Yeah, a job, I hope! 

I felt pretty positive about signing on initially, thinking that I would get career advice and help to find a job that I could fit around the boy and would make sense for me financially.  After my first visit...I cried.  What an awful, depressing environment the job centre is and I challenge anyone to go there and feel positive about job hunting on their way out.

You are interviewed first by your 'key worker' who finds out a bit about you and then shows you where you could be looking for work.  Except, my 'key worker' asked me what hours I could work, how old I was and how old my son was.  He didn't listen.  He asked what I would like to do.  He told me I wouldn't find jobs like that here.  He then showed me a list of categories and said choose two that you would be interested in doing.  He took no notice.  Turning the computer round he asked me "how about applying for this?"  'This' was a job that was minimum wage, every weekday between 11 - 2, in a category I'd not ticked.  Now perhaps I was being a job snob, but I had told him, I already worked part time (but less than 16 hours a week, I wasn't committing fraud!) and needed a job that paid at least the same, I have no childcare so need to work hours the man is home (which is not in the middle of the day!)

I felt very disheartened.  I was hoping someone was going to show me all the options I had available.  Talk me through perhaps retraining, going back to university, what childcare I would be entitled to if I did a certain job.  Instead I was given my documents, asked if I'd looked for a job that week and taken back to the lift. 

Each time I went, I became increasingly angry and defensive.  My personality changed as I walked through the doors; knowing that I was going to be looked at by the people that worked there like something they'd stood in, spoken to like I was an idiot, and treated like I was there just to get money (when in fact I wasn't entitled to anything) meant that I behaved differently. 

My last experience was the worst.  I had to take the boy with me, who was unhappy about having to sit there while the woman I was waiting for chatted merrily to her colleague for half an hour.  (Perhaps she was rubbing it in to all the surrounding job seekers that even though she was doing bugger all at least she had a job, unlike the dole scum she was looking down her snooty nose at - see what happens to me!)  As the boy became more restless a man came over and said he would try to get my name to the top of the list (get his colleague to stop chatting) and then said "you shouldn't bring him here, he'll get bored."  I nearly exploded with rage, but was afraid I'd be escorted out by one of the security they employ to control the riff raff.  Then the woman who I'd been waiting for repeated what the man had said.  I'm sure you can imagine what happened next.  "Don't you think I know that!  I don't have anyone to look after him, I'm not stupid!  And if you hadn't sat around on your arse chatting for the last half an hour we would have been out of here!"

And with that I signed off.

I am one of the lucky ones.  I pity anyone that has to sign on, not because you get a small amount of money to live on and not because it's hard trying to find a job but because going to sign on at the job centre even for a few weeks is depressing, sad and no help at all.  You leave with no confidence, no self worth, and no job.  For people that have been signing on for a long time, the job centre is the biggest barrier to them getting a job.

Monday, 27 June 2011

...It's Daughter-in-law

Dutiful daughter-in-law, I like to think! 

I know last weekend was Father's Day here in the UK, but I ended up treating my mother-in-law (MIL) to a trip to the theatre.  We had a lovely time, while the man and his Father stayed at home enjoying some quality time together. 

It made me wonder if when I have another child would I like another boy or a girl (obviously I'm not really fussed as long as it's healthy blah blah)  If you only have sons (and assuming they get married) do you just get the best bits of a daughter?

I lived with my two sisters and we fought, bitched, stole from each other (and my Mum).  The stories the man tells me of his childhood with his brothers sounds more like a famous five novel - getting into scrapes, playing together and sharing adventures.  I'm sure it's not actually how it was, but boys do have a reputation of being easier.

The relationship with my mum has had it's up and downs and can be strained at times.  With a daughter-in-law, I imagine just having the ups.  They are grown up, independent, and mature so do you get the mother-daughter relationship but without having to go through the nightmare of having a teenage girl?  I know that I make more of an effort with my MIL as she has no daughters.  I think it's even more important to make sure she feels involved and that I'm not taking her son away.  In fact I make sure the man rings her at least once a week which is more than I talk to my mum!

Perhaps, because I don't have the conventional mother-daughter relationship I feel differently to most.  Will I actually find that if my son gets married, she'll be so close to her mum that I won't get a look-in?  It must be hard to do all the hard work of raising a child and see someone else reaping the rewards if the MIL comes along and has the mother-daughter relationship.

Through all this I haven't considered the fact that I might be the MIL from hell (in the eyes of my daughter-in-law)  The more I consider this, the more likely I think it will be.  The boy is only 18 months old and already he has had unwanted attention from a two year old girl at the swings.  I say 'unwanted'; he had a massive smile on his face while I was scowling at the child's mother!  If nobody is good enough for him now, god help the spotty, teenage girl with too much make up and too much attitude, that walks through my door on the arm of my son!