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You are the expert in the topic of your children

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We have just come through a week of pretty angsty bed times. Some nights Ramona took a whole 1.5 hours to get to sleep. Even though we are just reading, nursing, singing and I should be able to think wonderful pleasant thoughts about spending all that extra time with my tiny delight, I don’t. I just get a bit annoyed inside, dreaming of being able to go downstairs and read without having a full-of-life  toddler flickering about around me.

And then, as quickly as the Bedtimes of Terror period began, it stopped. It stopped because I began trusting myself again.

You see, a week ago I read on a blog that I had been lurking on a bit (a blog that really resonated with me about lots of mothering practice) about children’s sleep. Sleep is always the thing that makes me a jittery mother – when Ramona was a baby I spent hours a week, it seemed, googling topics to make sure she was getting enough (or not too much!) After many months we settled into a pattern I was comfortable with and I stopped my obsession. Then I read a bit on that there blog about how crucial toddler sleep is, and how tots MUST go to bed before 7pm.  I was a bit stunned. 7pm? So certain? Just like that?  But she mentioned “circadian rhythm” with real conviction- I don’t know what this is but it seemed to be about syncing with the earth, which, y’know,  I am all for.

Now, Ramona tends to go to sleep between 8 and 9, unless she is sleepy earlier. What a TERRIBLE MOTHER! That night I vowed to give her the opportunity to sleep at 7pm. It didn’t go down too well with her but still, for the following 6 nights I tried every trick in The Book to convince her that 7pm was the right, circadian time for her to go to bed.

Every evening after she finally nodded off I’d come down, Battle Weary (a loving, cuddly one but a wrestle of wills all the same) and annoyed at having frittered so much time away upstairs.

It took six days for me to regain trust in my parenting. Six days for me to realise that the sleep pattern we had woven for ourselves was the right one, despite what other mothers do and the experts say.  Six days to sod the Circadian shizzle.

See, when it comes to Ramona, no-one is more expert than me.

And when it comes to your child, you are the know-it-all; the person most in tune with his rhythms, the detector of her subtle signs, his soul-whisperer.

Childhood charts and sleep guidelines and “Musts” and “Ten Signs of” may be helpful for some – I am sure. But for others of us they undermine what we have come to understand of ourselves, our children, and our ways. When I read that Ramona is just under the “normal amount of sleep for an 18 m old” I am wracked with guilt, especially when it is followed up with facts about how vital sleep is for development. But then I take a moment to look at my daughter and see her joy, her exuberance, her calm, her growth and  I feel okay about it all again.
When I trust that she will sleep when she needs it and eat when she is hungry, our lives have a certain flow and a tangible ease.  (My role is to provide the right conditions for these things to happen, of course,  but I need to trust her to take the bite or rest her head.)   I also need to trust myself as a mother, trust my intuition and my instincts and trust my ability to interpret my daughter and muddle through our own path.

Sometimes when I read the stories and tips and facts about others I find all of this trust just eroding a little bit. If you are like me in this, I just want to say it again:

You and your child are the best experts in all of this. You are the same flesh and blood, and your hearts beat to the same rhythm. Embrace the fluidity of your lives – don’t hide it or be ashamed- too soon they will have boring meetings to arrive promptly at and all the Schedules of Adulthood.  Feel the freedom of knowing trust in each other, to be guided by each other. Not a soul on earth knows  or loves your child more than you. And that is just how you roll.

Right, this is me using all of my blogger’s monthly entitlement for cheeseball posts.  Please forgive me, I was just really feeling this today.

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My tiny tyrant? Feminism and attachment parenting

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Er. Ramona has a new thing. It involves calling my breasts baps. “BAPS! BAPS!” she yells as she pats my mammary glands.

It isn’t particularly pleasing – clearly she is spending too much time in the company of those objectifying truck drivers and sweaty sexist builders. (Must get new baby sitters.)

I am currently wrapping my aching brain around the concept of feminist motherhood. (Yeah. One who loves a dash of fashion, who staggers towards bra-off-o-clock every evening, because, shiver my timbers, I do have to wear that thing most of the day.) I am wrapping; embracing it, wrestling with it, assuming it.

For these first 17 months of Ramona’s life I sat a little uneasily- kind of comfortable on the sofa of my new mummydom, but with a pesky toy car under my thigh- this small sticky sense that being a mother was gobbling me up;  my other identity, my desires, ambitions, hobbies.

Credit: The Radical Housewife

It is AMAZING that becoming a parent does that to you- you suddenly realise that you think NOTHING of yourself in comparison to your baby, without one single doubt you would put aside everything just to love them. Knowing that you have an intrinsic goodness, an inherent ability to sacrifice all of you– that is a pretty incredible human experience.

But, in practice it is the mother that actually tends to do that. Especially so when practicing attachment parenting, I genuinely do reckon that the first year of a baby’s life is like a second gestation. They need us, they want us, to be there every moment, our nipples in mouths. For most, daddies just don’t cut it. (Although, there is one society where moobs/ daddy breasts will dosome even lactating?!)

And in practice is really does have an impact on our empowered selves. This nurse all night, lugging on backs, mothering option we choose can seem to subsume who we are, our newborn tyrants rejecting the space we have carved out as Women with Rights .

Yet at the same time, there is a freedom in it -it allows us to get on with life. To go where we need to go, heedless of nap time and nursing  schedule. Attachment parenting turns its back on normal parenting structures, built by “experts” and imposed onto already guilty and harassed parents.

Blue Milk (brilliant blog, must read!) suggests another place that attachment parenting and feminism meet. Attachment parenting is about treating your child as if they too have rights, respecting their personhood, regardless of anything (in a child’s case, them being so small) – an idea central to feminism.

There isn’t quite enough nuance involved in mothering conversations, don’t you think? I am an attachment parent, I buy whole heartedly into the principles and have practiced nothing but. However, a lot of non-nuanced attachment parenting  philosophy would despair at me going back to work. When in fact, despite it being one of the hardest decisions to make, turns out to be one of the best I have made.

I work 2.5 days a week, my husband the same, and we share work and parenting equally, an ideal situation. And something I never thought would ever, ever happen has happened I am enjoying it as much as I used to pre-Ramona. For real, I didn’t think it could happen. Maternity leave was AWESOME, I felt fulfilled mothering but had the opportunity to get involved with Occupy London and spent days hanging out with other activist mamas. Being a full time mother has huge, under rated, potential for world changeyness.

And yet here I am now, loving my days at work as much as I love my days at home. I love my colleagues, the activists I work with, the campaigns I work on.

And it allows me to be who I am- which is exactly the person Ramona needs me to be.

A recent F Word article by Jane Chelliah heralded a new groups called Outlaw Mothers – “An outlaw mother is an empowered mother who believes that her personal self-fulfilment is a key enabler of her child’s happiness”. I love that – I am so in.

I am going to be thinking about this a bit more… with some posts in the pipe line imaginatively called “Routine Schmoutine” and “Rules Schmules”. Hehe.

Meanwhile I am off to see if I can teach Ramona how to say “Mamm-a- ry gl -an ds