In defence of Mumsnet…

So Mumsnet has come under attack of late, in more ways than one. I’m going to ignore the DDoS attack, and focus on the criticism it has attracted from other bloggers, some of whom are justifying the attacks by describing Mumsnet as a pit of vipers.

Let’s face it, they’re not alone. The media haven’t been shy in criticising Mumsnet, with some describing the website as “smug, patronising and vicious”. There are entire blogs set up, purely to froth at the mouth about how awful and man-hating and unsupportive and vile Mumsnet is, because they allow women to swear (it’s not ladylike, don’t you know?) and aren’t filled with glittery gubbins and tickers like the other parenting website.

Still, with all the hatred Mumsnet is getting, I think it’s important to remind people that the site isn’t pure evil.

When I found out I was pregnant unexpectedly at 19, I was terrified. I signed up to another parenting website – I won’t name names, but let’s just say it’s renowned for its love of glitter and tickers – and asked for advice and help. Despite having a dedicated young parents section, as soon as I posted, I was under attack. People criticised me for wanting to continue with my education; they told me I was awful for considering abortion; that I’d be gallivanting with their taxes if I continued with my degree.

I reported some of the nastier posts to the admins, who promptly banned me for not using my real name as my screen name. Considering I had just found out I was pregnant and didn’t want anyone finding out, I don’t think it’s hard to understand why I used a nickname. And without so much as a warning, I was banned.

So I Googled again, looking for parenting websites, and found Mumsnet. I’d heard of Mumsnet previously – only in articles like the one above, describing it as unsupportive, rude and cliquey. I felt apprehensive, especially when I realised they didn’t even have a young parent’s section – I was certain I wouldn’t fit in – but I went ahead and posted a thread in their general Parenting section.

I was overwhelmed by the messages of support, encouragement and positive stories. Not one person called me irresponsible or stupid; people told me I absolutely could continue my education, they gave me advice on how best to tell my parents, they inspired me with their own stories of how falling pregnant at a young age had never held them back, and they had no regrets. At the same time, they reassured me – if I decided to have an abortion, that was okay too. It was my choice, and no-one else had any right to tell me what to do.

That will be two years ago on September 4th. Since then, I’ve been an active member of Mumsnet, and not only have I received such amazing advice, I’ve been able to advise other members too. I can frequently be found on threads started by young parents-to-be, reassuring them like other posters reassured me. I’ve had fantastic tips on dealing with development anxiety, when I was worried that SB was falling behind. I’ve had endless encouragement from Mumsnetters when my dissertation was tough going.

It’s also on Mumsnet where I met two amazing groups of ladies; the April and May due-date clubs. We have shared not just our pregnancies, but the last eighteen months of our babies lives, and they have constantly supported, never passing judgement on me or my situation. Without Mumsnet, I would never have had this support network. With uni and work, I’ve never had time to make proper ‘mummy friends’ – the Mumsnet groups have filled that void.

At Christmas, someone nominated us for the Secret Santa Appeal. Total strangers from Mumsnet took time out of their lives, and sent beautiful, thoughtful gifts for us and for SB – something so generous, so kind and so wonderful that I cried. I don’t know what we did to deserve that, but it is one of the most heartwarming things I have ever encountered.

Mumsnetters are campaigning for better miscarriage care. For higher awareness of the needs and the identities of children with special needs. Their ‘We Believe You’ campaign aimed to increase support of rape victims. They have raised incredible amounts of money for charities. Woolly Hugs, the Mumsnet knitting campaign, doesn’t just knit blankets for other Mumsnetters who have lost loved ones, or for the families of Mumsnetters who have sadly passed away – they also make Angel Teddies for the families of babies who pass away in the SCBU of Yorkhill Children’s Hospital, they send beautiful Billie’s Blankets to children with cancer in low- and middle-income countries, all organised and knitted by volunteer Mumsnetters.

We’re not man-haters. Most of us have partners or husbands. Many Mumsnetters have sons. Even those who don’t are not man-haters. The feminism board is home to a lot of radical feminists, but even they do not claim to ‘hate all men’. They are more outspoken in their hatred of the patriarchy and of inequality, but I have yet to see any poster declare that she hates men.

There are areas of the site that are cliquey, or argumentative. Am I Being Unreasonable is not for the faint-hearted, and Chat has its moments. Breast vs bottle debates can be dicey, but the majority of posters on both sides of the argument are reasoned, measured and never resort to personal attacks. Put it this way – if you go looking for the bitchy side of Mumsnet, as many of these bloggers and article-writers appear to have done, you will find it, and you won’t like it. If you go in with an open mind, see the bitchy posts for what they are – posters letting off steam behind the keyboard, and the odd idiot on a power trip, just like every forum has – you’ll find the most supportive, loving, gin-obsessed, absolutely-bonkers-but-totally-amazing group of genuine, awesome people you will ever encounter online.

But if you still want to denounce Mumsnet as a pit of vipers, and decry all of its members as middle-class, bitchy harridans, that’s fine. For me, however, this pit of vipers was the only place that accepted me, and these middle-class, bitchy harridans were the only people to support a young, terrified girl when she needed it most.

10 ways being a parent is no different to being a student…

When you get down to it, we’re not all that different. 

  1. Sleepless nights are a regular occurrence. Even if, once you’re a parent, tehy’re spent rocking a crying baby rather than throwing up in a gutter while listening to Calvin Harris and trying not to drop your kebab.
  2. The government hates you. Damn young parents, sponging off the government to feed their kids. Damn students, sponging off the government to turn up to class hungover.
  3. Everyone else hates you too. Don’t you realise that’s our hard-earned tax money you’re using to feed your baby/turn up to class hungover?
  4. People dread having you as neighbours. What’s worse – student parties or screaming babies?
  5. Your social calendar is always full. Even if your student social calendar is full of clubs, societies and nights out, and your parenting calendar is full of health visitor appointments and Baby Ballet sessions.
  6. You have to learn to budget. For students, it doesn’t matter if you’re eating value noodles, as long as you’ve got vodka. For parents, it doesn’t matter if you’re eating value noodles, as long as you’ve got nappies.
  7. You’re going to spend a lot of time vomiting. Think of morning sickness as being like a six-week-long hangover when your friend convinced you that fourth round of sambuca shots was a good idea.
  8. At some point, you’ll end up wearing something stupid on your head. As a student, it was a traffic cone. As a parent, I have lost count of the cups, teddies and books I have worn on my head to amuse SB.
  9. You live with someone who makes horrendous noise all through the night. Except that when you’re a parent, that person is your child, and you have chosen to live with them. No-one chooses to live with That Flatmate who plays weird Euro Club Dance Blender Whatever music at 2am (oddly, this tends to also be the flatmate whose pots and pans are growing fur in the washing up bowl).
  10. You’re having the time of your life. Here’s the mushy bit – uni is an amazing time. In my time at university I made amazing friends, had some fantastic nights out, created some brilliant memories and got a great qualification. Parenting is also, despite all the knockbacks and difficulties, an amazing time, watching and helping a little human grow. I consider myself very lucky that I got to experience both at the same time.

Ten things young parents are SO sick of hearing…

Yeah, that witty thought that’s popped into your head? Just… just don’t…. 

  1. Was it planned? Seriously, this is the most common question we’ve had since we announced the pregnancy – and we still get it to this day, now SB is almost eighteen months old. I don’t think people realise how rude this question is – would you ask a married couple in their thirties if they planned to conceive or just forgot to put something on the end of it? source - existential-crisis-grl
  2. What did your mum say? I was a nineteen year old woman and people’s primary concern was the reaction of my parents. Weirdly, this one was always accompanied by a dramatic gasp, as if tantamount to telling my parents I’ve murdered someone. 
  3. “Think of everything you could have done with your life!” Yes, like graduate with a first class honours degree. Or have a great social life. Or go on fantastic holidays. Oh, wait….bitch, I get to use the heated kiddie pool when we go swimming. What are you doing with your life?                                                source - allreactions, Tumblr
  4. “It’s harder to travel with a baby!”. Fair enough, assuming that travelling is the be-all and end-all, and everyone wants to spend six hot sticky weeks backpacking around the middle of a rainforest getting eaten alive by mosquitos. A) I hate heat and B) flying makes my eardrums burst. Call me crazy, but travelling was never on my to-do list anyway. Source - santin0 on Tumblr
  5. “What would you do if she came home pregnant at 19?” Ooh, that’s a toughie. I don’t know, support her? Be there for her? Be in a better place to understand and help her because I’ve been there too? What a stupid question. What are you expecting me to say; “I’ll kick her out and call her a bloody disgrace”? Source - supernaturalgifscollection on Tumblr
  6. “You’re young, you should have plenty of energy to run around after her!”. If you think this is what a young parent wants to hear when they’re mainlining energy drinks and Lucozade tablets after chasing a toddler all day… let’s just put it this way. You’re wrong.  Source - prettylittle-li4rs on Tumblr
  7. “So when’s the wedding?” Seriously? The 18th century called; they want their opinions back. I thought the days of shotgun weddings were long gone. We don’t want to get married until after we’ve had another baby. Wedlock shmedlock. Source - neveerforget on Tumblr
  8. “I never thought you’d be the one to get pregnant!” Well, you know, they don’t call it ‘unplanned’ pregnancy for nothing. I’m never sure if I’m meant to take this one as a compliment or an insult, but I tend to hedge my bets and go for the latter. Source - wingedearthling on Tumblr
  9. “Do you regret having her?” And the award for ‘Stupidest Question’ goes to… seriously, do you really think I regret the last sixteen months of adventures and squidgy baby cuddles? Here’s the short answer; nope. Source - reactionswithgifs on Tumblr
  10. “I could never be a parent at your age. I wouldn’t want to ruin my life”. Wow. Just wow. I don’t have enough words for this, so I’ll leave you with a gif. Source - allreactiongifs on Tumblr

Return To Gender: The Update

If you’ve been reading since the start, you may remember that I spoke quite a bit during the pregnancy about wanting SB to be ‘gender neutral’ – I was determined that whether she was a boy or a girl, no blue or pink would grace her wardrobe or her toy cupboard. Well, we’re now sixteen months in, and I think it’s time to do an update on the gender neutral situation.

I think we (eventually) found a happy medium. We decided to be sensible, and never planned to raise SB not knowing whether she was male or female. We just didn’t want her to feel like she has to dress in a certain way, and play with a certain toy, purely because of the fact that she was born a girl.

If you’ve paid attention to the occasional picture spams I’ve posted on this blog over the last year and a half, you’ll hopefully agree that we’ve succeeded at this – mostly.

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In the early days, I thought that going ‘gender-neutral’ meant eschewing all things pink; dressing SB in only shades of beige, yellows and whites. Suddenly, the minefield of buying baby clothes was even tougher to cross.

I’d feel guilty every time I saw a frilly dress or a pink skirt and wanted to buy it. I’d chastise myself internally for hankering after a ‘Daddy’s Little Princess’ t-shirt for her. Every time I felt myself wanting to squeal over a pink dress, I’d have to stop and remind myself that I wasn’t making feminist choices. I wasn’t raising my daughter to be strong; I was raising her to accept society’s norms and conform to them. I’d managed to turn the simple process of buying baby clothes into some kind of massive debate over gender politics; something no exhausted new mum wants to concern herself with. SB lived in gender-neutral colours; whites and yellows and pale pastel greens.

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I don’t remember the exact point I realised it, but one day I had some kind of epiphany, as daft as that sounds. Why was I restricting myself to a tiny range of clothing, when it would be so much easier – and make so much more sense – to buy clothes from the “Girls” section and clothes from the “Boys” section?

So that was what we decided to do. Now, SB’s wardrobe is filled with blues, pinks, greens, purples, blacks, whites and any other colour imaginable. We went to Clarks recently and bought her first ‘proper’ shoes – pink Mary Janes covered in stars. These may be a “girly” choice, but they look fantastic with her Superman socks and dungarees. Equally, she has a dashing trilby hat, which looks fabulous with her lovely white daisy dress.

It really is a sight to behold – Batman pyjamas hanging next to a Rapunzel dress, and t-shirts reading “Beautiful just like my mummy” and “Awesome just like my daddy” together in the drawers. By now, we are well-accustomed to strangers in shops complimenting us on our handsome chap, or asking how old “he” is. It used to really bother us, but I’m not sure why. Let’s face it, all newborn babies look like adorable, yet slightly androgynous, potatoes. Would it make her any less beautiful if she was a boy? Of course not!

These days, we either slip a subtle “she” into the conversation, or just let them get on with it. SB doesn’t mind, she just loves the attention (hmm… I wonder who she gets that from?).

It begs an interesting question, though. If our next baby is a boy, will we dress him in SB’s hand me downs? Will we go to the girls section as well as the boys’ in clothes shops? I want to say yes, of course, why wouldn’t we… but I fear that peer pressure will play its part. For some reason, it’s far more acceptable to have a girl in dungarees or trousers, than it is to have a boy wearing dresses.

As far as we’re concerned, I think practicality will play a part in our decisions. We have no intention of finding out the sex when I do get pregnant, so the baby will be wearing SB’s hand-me-downs regardless. The question is, will we be brave enough to extend that to pink t-shirts and playsuits for when the weather is warm? Is it a question of being brave, really? I want to say no, but even still, I can’t see myself putting a boy in a dress unless he requested it, whereas I would have no qualms with dressing SB in anything, regardless of which section of the shop I bought it from.

Plus, there are some stereotypically ‘girl’ clothes that I can’t bear to part with. Tights, for instance. When you’ve got a child who loves nothing more than pulling their own socks off (and, if future Baby #2 is anything like his or her older sister, they will love it), tights are a godsend in the middle of winter. Whack them on under a pair of trousers and BAM, lovely warm baby feet and no discarded socks turning up in your half-finished mug of tea.

There’s certain degrees of it, though. As I say, I wouldn’t think twice about putting tights on a boy, because of the sheer practicality. But what about dresses? In the winter, there’s nothing quite like a dress for keeping SB cool. I can’t imagine that even shorts would allow that same kind of freedom and ability to cool down. So will I put any future sons in dresses? Is it a question of their comfort versus my feelings, or will they look back on baby pictures and berate me for putting them in ‘girly’ clothes?

As for toys… we do own a higher-than-average collection of pink items – to my shame, items that were available in other colours too. Her rocking horse came in green or pink, as did her walker and her trike, and I am responsible for choosing the pink varieties. Do I regret this? No, because in some cases, the pink version was cheaper. In the case of the trike, pink was the only colour in stock. Similar to the way I refuse to worry that the clothes we have for SB would be unusable for a future son, I don’t worry that her toys will be unusable. If we can say there is nothing wrong with a girl riding a blue trike, or a green rocking horse, then we can also say that there’s no problem with a boy riding a pink one.

I hope that more companies will choose to follow the example of Target in America, who have removed all gender-specific advertising, and just have ‘toys’, rather than ‘boys toys’ and ‘girls toys’. I never want SB to feel that she can’t play with cars, because they’re in the ‘boys’ section of a shop. Hopefully we are moving increasingly towards a less strictly-gendered society, and we’ll start to see more beautiful unisex clothing ranges, like the gorgeous ‘Little Bird’ range at Mothercare, which is full of rainbow colours and motifs.

For now, all I can do is continue to dress SB in her varied wardrobe, and pray that wearing a t-shirt with a rocket ship on it won’t scar her for life and leave her forever questioning her gender, or whatever the arguments against gender neutrality are these days. So if she wants to wear her Batman t-shirt with a tutu, or her pretty dress with a pair of blue trainers, we’re going to go ahead and let her – not only because she looks really freaking adorable, but because if we encourage the breaking down of gender roles at this early age, by doing away with “pink is for girls and blue is for boys”, think of the fixed gender roles we could have broken down by the time our children are adults.

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Am I Just Babysitting?

I’ve seen quite a few articles and blogs lately discussing this. Inevitably, when a father is out and about with his child, he will be greeted by a stranger who will ask – “Ahh, are you babysitting today?”.

We’re guilty of doing it too – I think even I put, in the early days, “Daddy is babysitting tonight!” on Facebook, when I was going out with some friends.

The thing is – how does it work when the tables are turned? We are so used to the idea of the mother being the main caregiver, that when a father takes his turn at looking after the child, we seem to see it as something special, something out of the ordinary – he is temporarily looking after the child, not just ‘being its father’ in the same way as the mother is just ‘being its mother’ every day.

In our family, the situation is different. I am the breadwinner; I go out to work every day. D stays at home with SB and watches her, plays with her, makes her food and changes her nappies and gets her dressed and entertains her and everything else involved in raising a toddler. I come home at the end of the day and I do my bit; I read with her, play games with her, we do bath time together – but it is very rare that I am left alone to look after her.

When I do, am I just her babysitter? Despite the fact that I carried her for nine months, I gave birth to her, I am her mother – when I look after her, am I just babysitting? Or is it different, because I am female, I am the mother. The thought of D saying “Mummy’s babysitting today” – or anyone else saying it, for that matter – makes me feel really quite angry, so why do we continue to use the word to describe fathers playing their part in raising their children?

New plans for tax credits are an attack on young parents.

As a working parent on £16,000 a year before tax, I receive child tax credits and working tax credits. I pay over £200 a month in combined taxes out of the money I earn at work. I am 21 years old.

Under new plans proposed by the Conservative government, I would no longer receive tax credits. According to the article, approximately 50,000 people under the age of 22 receive tax credits in the UK, and the majority of these are parents.

The response to this news has been worrying. People are welcoming the announcement, as it also means that migrants will have to wait four years before they can claim any benefits in this country – in fact, the reason they are suggesting the age limit of 22 is so that they won’t be accused of discrimination by the EU – and, even more concerning, is that many are applauding it as they feel it will stop teenage girls ‘having babies for council houses’ and whatever bullshit they still believe.

In order to avoid discriminating against migrants, are the government not discriminating against young parents?

I have a newsflash for those of you who believe this is a good thing.

I have never known of any young woman have a baby for the money, or for the ‘free council house’ we supposedly get.

The people this will be hurting the most are the young parents who work to support their families; who receive working tax credits and child tax credits to help recover the amount of money we pay in tax (as in – we’re taxpayers too! So you can stop using words like ‘scrounging’ and ‘workshy’), who need the tax credits to help afford childcare so that we can continue working full-time.

Even if you think we should have waited to have our children, regardless of whether we work or not, in supporting these changes, you are advocating for punishing our children. The money doesn’t go on nights out and clothes – I joke about it with friends, but our child benefit and child tax credits goes towards childcare when SB is in nursery, as well as her food, any clothes she needs and going towards the rent to make sure she can stay living here.

Taking that away means that we could risk losing our flat, not being able to afford childcare for her, and I would have to stop work to look after her full-time. The best part of 50,000 other families would be in the same situation, and would have to claim even more benefits to stay afloat. How is that a better situation than what we are facing now?

The elephant in the room? The way the news agencies are reporting on this. If pensions were being cut for a certain age group, there would be cries of ageism. So what is the difference between cutting pensions for people between the ages of, say, 65-70, and stopping four years’ worth of working parents from receiving tax credits, purely on the basis of their age?

With the exception of a small mention halfway through the article, nothing has been made of the fact that this is cutting a vital piece of support to young parents who are working and studying to better themselves.

This is nothing more than a thinly-veiled attack on young parents – austerity disguised as equality, and discrimination that they will continue to get away with, for as long as the public think that young parents deserve to have their support taken away.

The pros & cons of being the first of your friends to procreate…

CONS

  1. The loneliness. Being a young parent is lonely enough, when you feel like you don’t quite belong with the NCT groups or the ladies who take their Boden-clad toddlers out for Babyccinos at Starbucks. When you’re the first of your friendship group to have a child, that loneliness is amplified. You can have the best friends in the world, but until they too have been elbow deep in a nappy full of poo, there are some experiences you’ll never be able to share.
  2. Becoming a ‘Baby Bore’. When you’re the first of the friendship group to have a baby, you really have to watch there’s not too much baby talk. My friends are always asking after SB, but I’ve had to stop myself from gong overboard on several occasions – there’s talking about a particularly cute thing she did, or boasting about her first steps, and then there’s wittering on about baby sick and incomprehensible babbling until everyone else is sick of your baby.
  3. ‘You’ll understand when you’re a parent’. When I was a non-parent, I hated hearing this. It’s condescending and patronising. As a parent, I find myself biting my tongue several times a day trying not to say it, because I don’t want to be that condescending, patronising tw*t.
  4. Meeting up with friends becomes a juggling act. When you’re the only one of your friends with a child, meeting up can become a bit of a balancing act between trying to enjoy time with your friends, and entertain your toddler. At least if your friends have kids, they tend to amuse each other for a little while.

PROS

  1. You don’t just have baby. You have the baby. If you’re the first of your friends to have children, you’ve essentially made them into aunty/uncle figures. Trust me when I say, they will be fiercely protective of their little surrogate niece/nephew. Your child has the added benefit of fifteen or twenty additional family members who will never hear a bad word said against them.
  2. Not feeling a night out? You have a ready-made excuse. Okay, so you could get a babysitter, or one of you could stay at home with the baby while the other goes out, but let’s face it – if you’re going to have a night away from the baby, you’re going to book into a hotel room and enjoy the simple pleasures of your past life – an uninterrupted bath, a hot drink that is actually still hot, and being able to leave the room to go to the toilet without hearing a betrayed wail. So when you’re invited on a night out but you’re just not feeling like it, mumbling something non-committal about wanting to be there at bedtime does the trick.
  3. Your friends’ weird curiosity will give you the chance to actually talk about your birth. People with kids are pretty dismissive about birth. It’s all ‘been there, done that, got the stitches (or no stitches, if you’re lucky)”. When you’ve given birth for the first time, especially if you shunned birthing classes and refused to look at the diagrams and so were pretty unprepared for what would happen <bitter experience>, it’s a bit of a shock to the system, and there’s a need to talk about it. Most friends will be a bit ‘ew, yuck, birth is gross’, but if you have a couple who are genuinely curious about even the gory bits, it’s a godsend.
  4. Your child will be spoilt rotten. I can’t decide whether this is a pro or a con, as spoilt children aren’t great, but I think it has to be a pro. We have such generous, lovely friends, who are so wonderful and kind and give SB so much. I’m not just talking material items here – they give her time and attention and fuss, and she loves it.
  5. Ready made babysitters. If your friends are anything like mine, there will be a waiting list of people wanting to babysit your child. The difficult part is summoning up the courage to actually leave the child with anyone.

Am I looking forwards to my friends having kids? Absolutely! Do I regret being the first of my friends to have a child? Not one bit.

‘Baby Faced Mums’ – My Thoughts

So, after a pretty nerve-wracking Monday, we settled down in front of the TV to watch ‘Baby Faced Mums’. My Facebook was already going crazy, with people tagging me in posts as they sat down to watch it, and I was feeling more than a little bit nervous. Having seen the Twitter vitriol last week, I’d switched Twitter off and promised myself I wouldn’t chance reading any of the comments until afterwards.

So we watched… and I was really, pleasantly surprised. I felt like we came across quite well, SB was adorable as usual and hopefully we did a fair bit to challenge the stereotypes about young parents. It was so surreal to see us on TV, but from the comments I’ve seen, I’m glad people fekt we came across as a strong family – what you saw on that show is how we live on a daily basis, the banter and sickly sweet cuteness with D and singing SB’s bedtime song and everything else we were filmed doing.

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We filmed a lot more than was actually shown – we filmed a segment about my blog, the day I started work and also individual conversations with the cameras; D talking about his role and me talking about dispelling myths about young parents. They were interesting segments and it’s a shame time constraints meant they couldn’t be in the final show, but we’re so pleased with how it did turn out.

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I hope, more than anything, that we came across as a normal family just trying to get by. We’ve never thought we’re anything special, or any better than any other family, for the fact that we’re studying. We’re immensely proud of ourselves for continuing with our studies, but not to the extent that we think we’re any better than any other parent or any other family.

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We had such a great time filming this; I love that we’ve got this show as a memento of what a great time we had, and to have a video recording of such a massive time in our lives – the time when, more than ever, we felt the difficulty of juggling university and parenthood – and showing how we came through it.

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Hopefully it’s something lovely for SB to see too; not only some adorable shots of her, but it’s something for her to be proud of too, and what a claim to fame – she made her first TV appearance at just a year old! She was a born star – she loved the camera!

But my favourite part has to be after all the filming had finished, when the editor emailed me to ask how I’d gotten on in my uni results. I got Daf to snap a quick picture of me and SB with my results letter, and emailed it across. Words can’t even explain my pride at seeing the picture at the end of the show, with those words underneath it and my two proudest achievements right there – getting a 1st in my degree, and most importantly of all, our beautiful, funny, healthy, intelligent daughter.

If the show made our lives seem pretty damn good… that’s because right now, they are.

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If you missed the episode and would like to see it, it’s available on 5 On Demand, here.