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Read on for the articles published in the monthly newsletters, or click here to see some of our MamAmigas’ blogs.

 

 

Different mothers, different methods.

By Zoe Koumbouzi

 

Have you ever been in a situation where you and a close friend ‘do’ some aspect of parenting differently?

 

How did you deal with it? Did you keep your mouth shut and silently chastise yourself for not being able to calmly, maturely put your side of the argument over without it becoming just that?

 

Or did you calmly and maturely put your side across without it becoming an argument but afterwards a) agonize about whether you offended your friend (was I too opinionated? Did I make her feel bad?!) or b) Feel like you yourself have been doing the wrong thing and are therefore a bad mother.

 

Have you ever talked in depth about a parenting issue with one friend, knowing that another mutual friend does the opposite to the two of you, and then felt terrible, just terrible, when seeing your beloved first friend?

 

My answers (and I’im guessing, yours) are yes, yes, yes and yes!

 

Parenting is such a personal thing it verges on ideology. Sometimes we are making different choices to our own parents, or to society at large and this means that our choices are backed up by reading, solid research and a fist-full ‘o’ facts’. Our choice becomes our position, our ‘thing’, part of our identity.

The facts are our ammunition, our defencce against all those people (or companies) who would convert us to bottle feed/to breastfeed, to vaccinate/to not vaccinate, to make fresh baby food/to buy jars, to use washable nappies/to save time and an already overloaded laundry basket and harm the planet and use disposables (delete as appropriate).

 

We justify our choice many times by putting the other choice as ‘wrong’. But what if the other choice is being made by someone you love and respect?  What if while lining up all those other ‘haters’ your best friend slips in? Hands up you cruel ferberising maniacs! Oh, sorry mate, not you, obviously…

 

I once heard someone say “each family is its own culture” and I couldn’t agree more. There may be overlap with others, and if we are lucky even overlap with friends and family, but one thing is for sure- there will be differences.

 

So what ever happened to respecting difference? Or not just respecting, but enjoying, even reveling in difference?

This means listening non-judgmentally (hard), discussing while not preaching (harder) and actually beginning to enjoy that we do things differently, enjoy that there is conversation, information, being flexible and open to change if it seems right, while not feeling either self righteous or guilty if we carry on just as we are.

 

I think an important part of being parents is working on accepting that probably every method of childrearing is at once both right and wrong, and that not one of us will do things perfectly, no matter how many facts we own. In the long run, our mistakes as well as our triumphs become part of who we are as people, as parents.

 

Let’s admit that, at times, we are all scared witless by this insane task and have no idea what we are doing. And, as the old saying goes- wouldn’t it be boring if we were all the same?

 

 

Motherhood: A lost cause?

 

 

A common question to new mothers often includes the infuriating: “So what are you up to nowadays?” To which new-mum offers up only stumped silence, then a couple of stammered words along the lines of “Well, I’m taking care of the baby, cleaning…ehm…well you know, the usual…” when what she really wants to say is “What the hell do you MEAN??? Don’t you realise it’s a 150% job??? It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my LIFE and I don’t need you questioning my current status, you IDIOT!!”

 

Ideals of motherhood and femininity have undergone huge social change in the last fifty years, and many modern mothers will agree, that it often feels that being (merely) a mother is no longer enough to justify one’s right to existence.

 

In the 50s, having a family (at least from the perspective of society) fulfilled the female role. While women in the 50s suffered from a variety of oppressions (including the desire to either educate themselves or use any education they did have outside of the domestic setting) at least society didn’t criticise them for ‘staying at home’.

 

Women’s lib though having liberated women almost entirely (thank God), may also have dislocated them somewhat, causing a generation of unsatisfied women. If I stay at home to raise my child I feel I am not doing justice to my education, I miss my friends, my job, my clean clothes, my brain… if I go back to work I feel helplessly guilty, I miss my child, I am lost, or shut myself down emotionally to survive.

 

Damned if I do, and damned if I don’t.

 

Women are expected to be much more than just mothers. With all the career opportunities, possibilities of travel, excitement of adventures sometimes we can identify ourselves with people who think “Who really wants to be tied down with a child?” People without children will never understand why your life is on complete hold for a while and will always question the validity of an ‘excuse’ not to go out, travel or stay late at the office.

 

Then kids really do seem to become a burden, weighing down the possibilities that could have been… instead of the joys that they bring, they bring about impossible emotional, financial and status choices for our generation.

 

There is of course a positive aspect to this discourse: we live in a society of infinite privilege, and it is important to keep that thought no matter how difficult urban family life can get in this capitalist era. At least we are educated, at least we can work, and have children and travel, and to boot do it all safely with access to food and water and healthcare…

 

We can have it all. Maybe it’s just a case of accepting that we can’t have it all at the same time.

 

The yayas on the bus go “shhh, shhhh, shhhh”

* in defense of yayas everywhere.

 

 

And the mummies on the bus go ….. what do they go? How do you deal with the pervasive perceived right to “help” you bring up your child?

 

I was amazed at the park one day to see my friend make an ally out of the scowling woman who’d rescued her son from certain death, oh sorry, venturing outside the enclosure into the greater park.

 

Whether it’s just a pitying look, a murmured “pobrecito” or attempts to stop your child crying, there are plenty of willing “yayas” out there.  When you’re on the receiving end it’s all about you, what a bad mother you are. I had thought it was just here because we still live in a place where people talk to strangers, and I thought I was an easy target because I’m foreign but having asked around a bit more it seems it’s not the case. A child’s upbringing is the responsibility of the community.

 

Before motherhood I used to cite an article about how British society is a poorer place for the lack of intervention of adults in children’s lives. In the past a grown up could be relied on both to pull you into line if you were being naughty and to go to for help in a moment of need. Over time adults have learnt not to intervene for fear of reprisals from both children and their parents. Of course, back then thought it referred to the kind of feckless parents who would push chip butties through the school fence in response to Jamie’s school dinners. Now I realise it referred to me.

 

My innocence was shattered the first day I left the house with my infant son without my husband. Dazed and hypersensitive, nothing prepared me for the friendly looking old lady to growl “Se va a constipar” as we passed on a crossing. I burst into tears. Since then I’ve learnt to growl back. The mama bear inside has come out of hibernation and woe betide you, yaya, if you catch me after a bad night. The height of my retribution came one day when I mowed down three helpful biddies.  This started with Aleix flailing and screaming in his sling as we waited for the metro lift. The yaya gave us a smiling “Shhhhhh!”, and in return got a “Tú Shhhhh!”, and culminated in me watching our bus pull away, paralysed by my temerity of having bawled out two women who’d tried to shelter us from the cold and the rain. I haven’t done it since so maybe I needed it to prove to myself I wasn’t always going to stand meek and mute as strangers criticised me in front of my son.

 

My moment of insight was when I found myself in the skin of a yaya. Walking down the street I saw a little toddler being smacked. My righteous mother self was burning to say something but I couldn’t do it –  was it the fact I’d been on the receiving end so many times, or the lack of a calm supportive line that might actually make a difference?

 

Suddenly it struck me: where I find hitting a child indefensible, it’s possible that the yayas feel equally outraged by little ankles being exposed to a temperature below 20º, or drops of rain falling on naked skin. Was it possible that, all this time, all these yayas were just trying to protect the children?

 

While these interventions are irritating, the fact that people care enough to bother is heartening.

I’m glad to live in a society where children are valued and people chat in the street, where there is a sense of community and looking out for each other.

 

Even the day when the police came because to check my baby hadn’t been left alone in the flat, part of me was pleased. So he was only having one mother of a tantrum, but I felt relieved that if one day I slipped in the shower, someone would come and rescue him.

 

All the things I want to teach my little rascal about love and respect will look pretty false if I’m being defensive or rude when someone, with the best of intentions, offers their grain of sand?

 

Another friend came up with the simple line “Más apoyo, menos criticas,por favor”. Great for moments when you’re blank with indignation or exhaustion,  it defends your territory and is not offensive. Without justifications  – how can you defend your whole parenting philosophy to a native in ten seconds? – it might even make the other person think.

 

But on a day when I’ve got the energy, the confidence and the clarity of mind to pull it off, I’d like to emulate my friend from the park.  She admitted that she’d initially felt embarrassed that the other mother had done her job for her, but she quickly stopped beating herself up and kindly, graciously defended her stance. What won the other mother over were words along these lines…

“Thank you so much for looking out for my son! That’s what’s so great about coming to these parks, there are always a thousand eyes looking out for your child, everyone looks after everyone. I know that we won’t go much further – you see, when he’s in the park, he wants to go out, but once he’s out all he wants is to come back in.”

The other woman felt appreciated, my friend felt like a good mum, and if her son is listening, he’s learning what to do when the yayas go Shh! Shh! Shh!

The long road to the solids

So we have almost gotten through emmelines first week of solids and it has been . . . well I don’t really know what word to use as I didn’t really know what to expect to be honest with you! The week has been emotional and stressful and exciting and scary!

We started on Saturday night with some cereal mixed into a bottle of my milk and ‘leche de continuacion 2’ – continuation milk for babies. I filled up a bottle, not overly hopeful that Emmeline would drink much, but willing to give it a go and hope for the best. I was hopeful that she would drink it all up partly because it was the first step on that wonderful road of food, but mostly because I REALLY, REALLY want her to start to sleep through the night! However, Emmeline has only ever drunk from the bottle a handful of times in 6 months, and she finds it more enjoyable to chew the teat and not actually drink from it! This coupled with the fact that it was something totally new left me feeling very doubtful!

As I guessed, she only drank 20ml before hunting for booby! Oh well . . . Breakfast the next day was interesting. I had honestly not thought about the logistics in feeding a baby or the hurdles that I would be faced with. I propped Emmeline up in her little pink bumbo chair and put on a pretty pink bib. I mixed her cereal in her pretty little princess bowl and got out her matching princess spoon. I put her bumbo chair on top of the table in the lounge and started to feed her, a huge content grin on my face waiting for the joy of my little princess gulping up her cereal.

Or not.

I headed for her mouth with the spoon filled with (actually quite delicious smelling) cereal, but Emmeline decided that looking at daddy was more interesting. Or she decided to fling herself backwards rather dramatically to look at the TV upside down. Or she decided to try to grab the remote control/my mobile/ tissues/ wet wipes/ anything she could see. Down went the bowl, off went the TV, out went daddy, and away went everything she could see except me and her bowl of cereal. I tried again, but we had a problem. I seemed to have a baby that did not know how to open her mouth. Eventually as she let out a yelp of irritation at me jabbing her mouth with the spoon I got the spoon in her mouth lighting quick. She looked a little confused as to how that happened. Once food was in though she pulled the most incredible faces of disgust like a real little drama queen. I told her to stop being so dramatical about everything, but she continued. I managed to get quite a few spoons in before she started to do her Stevie Wonder impression and shake her head from side to side. She was covered in cereal, her chin, her cheeks, her nose, in her nose, her forehead, her eyes, her hair, her hands, her clothing . . . oh, and my hands, my arms, my hair and my clothing.

This was not how I imagined it!

Then came the vegetables.
Oh dear.

Carrots and potato, sounds alright doesn’t it? Not to my little noodle it doesn’t. We got the first spoon in there fairly easily as I think she thought that it was cereal. Oh but the minute that she swallowed we got the gagging, the shivering and the mock vomiting movements. Seriously child, IT’S NOT THAT BAD! We got more in much to Emmeline’s total disgust and then she started to protest. Problem for her was that every time that she opened her mouth so widely to protest, we would stick another mouthful of veggies into her mouth. We finished up with carrots everywhere!

 

The next day’s cereals resulted in Emmeline abruptly finishing the meal by blowing bubbles every time I put a mouthful of cereal in her mouth! More clothing in the washing. I see that I am going to have to start to do washing more often.

 

That afternoon was green beans and potato. I HATE green beans and so I totally understood her screams!

Emmeline seems to have very quickly learnt a new trick. She doesn’t close her mouth when I put food in there. That way, she doesn’t swallow. And that way the cereal, veggies and banana simply fall out her mouth and onto her bib, arms, legs, hands, chair, tray, table, floor etc. I can only pile so much in her mouth before it is too full and I have to wait hoping that she accidently swallows before remembering that she has food in her mouth. Or xavi dangles the mobile phone in front of her up high so that she tilts her head up trying to grab the phone and hopefully the food will just fall down her throat. We have had about 50% luck with this one.

Gonna have to buy many, many more bibs.

I wonder when and if my child will ever learn how to eat properly? I am now like a prisoner in my own home, as we cannot really do very much these days due to meal times. Before we could go anywhere and as soon as she got hungry, out came a booby and lunch was served. No mess, no fuss and only some embarrassment when Emmeline would pull away and just leave my boob hanging out there for the whole world to see. But I had learnt to cope with that.

Now I have to be home in the middle of the day to feed her. There is no way that I can feed her in public just yet. Not just for the carrots being flung in every direction without a care as to whom they land on, it is also for the screaming that Emmeline omits when green beans hit her tongue. I just know that people will look at me as though I am feeding my child shards of glass mixed with a good dose of poison! No, we are not ready for that yet.

Whilst I am happy that we have started with solids I do also miss the days of the booby. They were much easier! Let’s just hope that Emmeline learns the whole open mouth and swallow system sooner rather than later! Silly noodle!