Parity, Penises and Parenting: A Post for International Women’s Day

I spent most of my late teens and early twenties insisting I wasn’t a feminist. I didn’t see the need. From my safe, privileged bubble it looked as though that war was over. And I’d bought into the myth that feminists are man-haters who think women are better than men, rather than just equal to. Essentially, past-me was an idiot.

As I got older, entered the workplace and learnt a bit more about the world, I realised that the fight for equality between the genders was very much not over. Even in the UK, where we have made huge strides, women take home less money than men and make up a greater percentage of those earning only the national minimum wage. Almost 80% of senior management posts worldwide are held by men. Meanwhile, 1 in 4 women are subjected to domestic violence in their lifetime (source for all of these stats). Clearly, there is still a huge problem. And that’s even before we look at areas of the world where ‘women’s rights’ is a phrase that simply does not apply.

One of the simultaneously most empowering and most scary parts of being a parent is when you realise how much power you have to shape the views and opinions of another human being. And if we all raise our kids to know in their bones that men and women are equal, that skin colour has nothing to do with a person’s worth, and that who you choose to take to bed is only the business of you and that person (assuming everyone is legal and consenting of course)…we won’t have to have these conversations anymore. Equality will be a given.

Sometimes I think that this must be more straightforward for parents of girls. Not easy. I see nothing easy about having to challenge the endemic and often unconscious sexism that women encounter all the time. But the need to challenge that view, to provide strong female role models, to do your best to bring up an empowered woman who knows her worth…that need must feel pretty urgent.

I don’t have a daughter though. I have a son. My boy is white, male and middle-class, growing up in a world where being white, male and middle-class makes you one of the privileged ones. This makes the need to provide examples of female empowerment feel a little less urgent. A little less relevant. Which is, of course, a dangerous attitude. Because equality between the genders (and I include every possible permutation in that, not just the classic male/female) will only come when everyone believes in it. It’s not a battle that can, or should, be won by women alone.

As always in parenting, this is a matter of balance. Tom was born with a penis. This is a biological fact. And, regardless of whether he grows up to be a straight man, or a gay man, or a trans woman or any other of the wonderful variety of things that humans can be, being born with a penis is going to form a big part of his identity. So the last thing I want to do is make him feel guilty about that. I’ve spent most of my life feeling obscurely guilty for the fact I was lucky enough to be born into a well-off family…as though it was something I chose. I don’t want that for him.

So how do we do this? How do we raise a son who knows that women and men are equal, without making him feel guilty for being born a member of the sex who has historically been dominant? (this is a genuine question by the way – we have some ideas but are not exactly experts…)

He’s only 18 months, so the more in depth conversations are going to have to wait until his vocabulary expands a bit (somehow I don’t think ‘car’ and ‘doggy’ are going to cut it). At the moment, our approach to this issue mainly revolves around not labeling behaviours as typically male or typically female (Tom loves cars for example. And also tea parties and dancing and housework. Sometimes all together).

We are providing him with toys from both the blue and pink sections of the toy aisle – and boy does that bit of marketing make me angry! We are on the look out for stories with strong female characters as well as strong male ones (any suggestions very welcome). And we are trying to model equality in our marriage. Both Mr Techno and I go out to work. Both of us have days where we are home alone with Tom. Both of us cook. Both of us do housework. Both of us do DIY. I’m more likely to do the clothes wash and he’s more likely to handle power tools…but we are getting there.

I guess we just keep talking to Tom. At an age appropriate level. Challenge sexism wherever we see it. Provide examples of both women and men who step outside of accepted gender roles. And make sure he continues to grow up around men who are comfortable in who they are without needing to put down women (or anyone else) in order to feel powerful.

So here is my #PledgeForParity for International Women’s Day: I will not only call myself a feminist, I will raise my son to call himself one too.

Suck on that, past-me.

PS. If you’d like to see some amazing women who are proving that the construction industry isn’t just for men…head over to the SPAB’s Vimeo Channel where my colleague Ali has been putting together videos showcasing women working in building conservation – from architects to building surveyors to stonemasons. And check out the SPAB’s careers advice page whilst you are at it to see how your daughters, or sons, could develop a career working with historic buildings (I wrote it, so you know it will be brilliant).

PPS. This post is linked up with Lulastic’s International Women’s Day link up. So head over there to read more: http://lulastic.co.uk/activism/feminism/international-womens-day-2016-blog-link-up/

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Why I Want to Be a Weird Parent

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that I’ve been really inspired by a style of parenting known as ‘RIE’ (Resources for Infant Educarers), which I discovered via the writings of early years expert Janet Lansbury. It is a way of relating to babies and toddlers that really focuses on respect, connection and trust. Among the guiding principles of RIE are natural motor development, self-directed play, and accepting and acknowledging feelings.

The trouble is, I think parenting this way might be making me a little…weird. I can see other mums in the playground giving me sideways looks as I let my fifteen month old happily toddle along by himself, without me following a few steps behind or directing him towards the play equipment. A few weeks ago, a mum actually sent her six year-old over to ask me to come and get my baby (he was happily poking a tree and was absolutely fine).

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The trouble with Tom being my first is that I don’t currently have much experience to back up my convictions. Tom seems to be a happy, confident and well-adjusted child, but who knows if that is my parenting approach or just how he would have been regardless?

But despite the questioning looks of other parents and the occasional wobble in my belief that we are taking the right approach, I fully intend to carry on embracing the principles of RIE. Trusting Tom to play and develop in his own way, at his own pace and pursuing his own interests, has been a revelation. I get so much from watching him conquer new challenges and meet new milestones, knowing that he completely owns all of his achievements – I haven’t pushed him along, but have just stood back and given him the space to succeed.

Sometimes you just have to go with your gut. And RIE feels like the best approach for our family. So I’m going to embrace being a weird parent all the way.

Anyone want to join me on the weird parent wagon? Let me know what ‘odd’ approaches you have taken to raising your kids.

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Life in the Slow Lane

If I could take one phrase that makes me a better parent and tattoo it on my brain, it would be this; slow down.

It’s no secret that we live in a fast paced world. And I am as guilty as anyone. Mr Techno hates walking anywhere with me because he says I go everywhere at ‘Lucy marching speed’ (which translates to ‘as fast as I can possibly walk and not actually be jogging’). At work, I am known for being speedy with my responses – because of a quirk with the computer clocks, I once confirmed a course booking before the time stamp on the email said it had actually been made. The Finance Department were rather bemused!

14 months ago, when Mr Techno and I found ourselves the unprepared parents of a beautiful newborn boy, I took the same approach to child care. Any cry had to be answered immediately. Nappy changes were done at racing speed. In the rare moments I was not actually holding Tom, I ate, showered, and went to the toilet as though I was being chased.

Fortunately, you spend a lot of time sitting when you have a newborn (because they will not nap anywhere but on you). So I had a lot of googling time. And what does an anxious new parent google except for…everything to do with babies ever written (did I mention I’m a fast reader too?)

Thankfully, amongst all that anxiety-causing advice, I stumbled across Janet Lansbury’s website and discovered RIE. And one of the key things I learnt was that to care for a young baby, you need to slow your pace to theirs. Instead of jumping up frantically every time Tom cried, I began waiting, watching, trying to determine what he was trying to tell me, and only then acting. Nappy changes became long, leisurely exchanges where I chatted happily to Tom, pausing before carrying out each step to check in with him, tell him what was happening and wait for his response before continuing.

These days, nappy changes are back to being a sprint rather than a marathon, as I try to get him clean and into a new nappy before he gets bored and wanders off, or climbs on the soft furnishings. But I’m glad to have discovered a slower pace of life. Because toddlers and fast really do not go well together (unless you have a bare bottom boy escaping from the change mat of course). Every walk turns into a voyage of discovery, as Tom investigates the different textures, smells, sounds and sights of his new world. We spent a good five minutes staring at a cat earlier today. Last week he refused to finish crossing a bridge until he had poked every bit of moss on the way across. And there was a lot of moss.

Obviously this can be quite annoying if we are trying to get home for a meal, or naptime, or so I can do some laundry. But in general I try to keep our days together relatively free of appointments, so that we can take the time to explore. If that means taking twenty minutes to walk to the park (which is two minutes away), because Tom likes the way the leaves crunch, then so be it.

We have to rush a bit more on work days of course – we have to be out of the door by 7.30 to reach Tom’s nursery by 8.00. And we are never out of the door by 7.30. But if I’m a tiny bit late for work some days, it isn’t the end of the world. I’ll make it up somewhere else. Time spent with Tom though? That I can never make up somewhere else. So I’m going to continue to enjoy the slow lane. The view is much better at this speed.

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How Do You Measure Success as a Parent?

Parenting’s a funny thing isn’t it? Most important job in the world, with all these incredibly important decisions to make, and we won’t know if we got it right until our kids are grown, if then.

The only real measure we can use to see if we are successful parents is if our children become successful adults. And the definition of success varies depending on the parent. Some may want their kids to earn a lot of money, or move up the career ladder. Others may measure success in terms of academic achievement. Others still might look for popularity, having a family, a sense of adventure, religious affiliation, a love for others, a sense of ethics. Often, what we want for our kids is a reflection of what we value (or feel is missing) in ourselves. While many parenting decisions are made on the fly, our long term hopes and wishes for our kids will often determine how we parent.

I could never fit everything I wish for Tom into one post. But here are a few of the things that I hope he will have in his adult life:

1. The Basics
I hope he always has what he needs to survive (plus a little extra). Access to food, healthcare, shelter, clothing adequate to the weather, companionship, access to the outdoors, freedom to make his own choices.

2. A Purpose
I hope he occupies the majority of his time in a way that brings him joy and gives him a sense of purpose. Whether this is through work, volunteering, being creative, travelling, campaigning, studying – whatever it is, I hope he has something in his life that is more than just making and spending money.

3. Emotional Intelligence
I hope he is able to experience the whole range of human emotion – from ecstasy to despair – without feeling overwhelmed, guilty, or in any way ‘wrong’. I hope he can accept any emotion he might feel, and also recognise and accept the feelings of others.

4. Love
I hope he has people around him who he loves and who love him. I do not care in what permutation this may be (assuming everyone is of legal age and consenting).

5. Independence
I hope he has a great relationship with Mr Techno and I. I hope we see him often. But I also hope he doesn’t need us. I hope he has his own identity, his own ideas, his own life. One of my key goals as a parent is to raise my child to leave me. Ideally without him realising how much it will kill me to let him go.

6. An Ethical Code
It doesn’t have to be my ethical code (though ideally it wouldn’t be too far different – I’d find an extremely right wing child a challenge to say the least). But I hope he has a strongly developed sense of what is right and what is wrong. I hope he lives his life by it. But I also hope he has room in his personal philosophy to listen respectfully to others, consider their viewpoints, and maybe even change his mind once in a while.

There you have it. Six things I hope that we will be able to lay the foundation for Tom to have in his adult life. These things (and other, less overarching goals) are what I have in mind when Mr Techno and I make major parenting decisions.

But ultimately, it is Tom’s life. And who he will become is down to him. So maybe the only person who will be able to tell me if I was a success as a parent is my son. Better get a move on with that language development then!

What about you? How would you measure success as a parent?

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