Stop complaining about ‘slacking’ working parents

There’s an article doing the rounds of social media at the moment about parents skiving off work and leaving their childfree colleagues to pick up the slack. I paraphrase, but you get the gist.

A few of my friends have shared this piece of what feels like parent-bashing propaganda. But the assertions seem to me to be flimsy at best.

Parents are at a disadvantage when it comes to workplace slacking. Generally, we are slacking for a specific, child-related purpose. We have to leave to pick someone up, watch someone do something or tend to someone who is ill.

All of these are very hard to conceal. You notice when a parent is out of the office looking after their child, or has a set time to leave. They might even have had to have these conversations with their employer when they were first hired.

Compare that to the slacking of non-parents. I have worked with countless people who have arrived at work half-asleep, sometimes not even in their work clothes. They have a coffee at their desk, maybe get through a bowl of cereal, and quietly surf Facebook in that mid-afternoon time when motivation wanes.  I’ve worked with younger guys who have openly complained about being sub-par because of a hangover, and one who even tried to tempt young women in the office down to a couch on an abandoned floor of the building for regular “breaks”.

But then, because they are still at their desks at 5pm when the parent workers are having to get ready to leave, they feel virtuous about the long hours they are putting in – even if they are catching up on work they could have been doing during the day.

I know of one woman whose (predominantly male) colleagues rolled their eyes at her having to leave at 4pm each day – after starting at 8am. They all made it known that they stuck around until at least 5pm. But one day when she had to work late she discovered that between 4pm and 5pm they were not all diligently working but instead had their jackets on the back of their chairs, talking about sport.

I don’t know if you have tried it, but there is no incentive to get work done that is quite as effective as knowing you only have a limited number of hours until you’re back into child-wrangling. I would suggest there are few people more productive than a working mother who knows that anything she does not get done in the office is going to have to be done with small people around – or she’ll have to work until late, after they have gone to bed.

If I am going to listen to you talk about your big nights out, or cover you when you go on holiday or sit through meetings where we talk about literally nothing while I watch my to-do list get bigger by the minute, you can keep your complaints to yourself if sometimes I am not in the office at the time you would expect.

Quite apart from all this, there’s the social good of flexible working and understanding colleagues and employers. If we want to close the gender pay gap and get more women into management positions, we need to be more understanding of people’s lives outside work. Too often caring is written off as something to be embarrassed about having to do, whether that’s care of someone who’s sick, a child or an elderly relative.

Making parents feel bad about balancing the juggle serves no purpose except to add to the burden of someone’s (already significant) mum guilt. Parents already worry constantly about who they are letting down when they are trying to be everything to everyone.  You can bet the people who haven’t been productive today because of one too many Coronas last night aren’t sitting around fretting about it.

Seven rules for dressing my baby daughter

Before my daughter was born I was adamant that she could just wear her brother’s clothes.

I knew she wouldn’t care if she was wearing a blue onesie or a pink one, or whether her shirt said “Mr Cool”. It was all basically brand new and I wasn’t going to be swayed by gender-obsessed marketers who wanted me to think that I had to buy a whole new wardrobe just because I have spawned a baby female.

But since she’s come into the world, I’ve noticed her wardrobe has become more and more pinkified. First it was the massive pile of hand-me-downs donated from friends. Who knew little girls amassed so many clothes? Then it was the call of Kmart and Cotton On.

I’d got used to buying fairly functional clothes for my son. Shorts, t-shirts, track pants, long-sleeved t-shirts. Maybe a button-up shirt for the occasional “dress up” event. But as soon as I wandered over to the “girls’” side of the shop, I was amazed.

She’s not even six months yet and she can choose from leggings, capris, shorts, jeans, skirts, dresses, tshirts, peplum tops, boleros, skirts…. And in a whole range of colours. None of this just blue or black or brown.

It’s proved fairly hard to resist. So, in the interests of firmly holding on to my feminist card, I have come up with some rules.

It has to be functional
She’s got so many years ahead of her when she might choose to wear something uncomfortable because it looks pretty. I don’t want to make that choice for her now. Yes,  frills are fun and masses and masses of tulle petticoats make skirts stick out in a visually appealing way. But tulle is only really put to full effect when you can float about in it – ie walk. For now, I’m choosing clothes that she can roll in, cuddle in and nap in without them bunching up, falling down or digging in. She can suffer for fashion when she’s old enough to decide it’s worth it. For now, she mostly just wants to stick her legs in the air and hold on to her toes. That doesn’t sound like something you do in a frilly dress.

It has to not have any daft slogans on it
“Future supermodel”, “little princess”, “sugar drop”, “cupcake”,  “mummy’s little flower”, “bows before bros” (seriously). No! I reserve her right to be as loud, rambunctious and smelly as her brother, if that’s what she chooses to be. I don’t want my son being told he can grow up to be a superhero but my daughter hearing she can only aspire to be a slice of something from the bakery. Of course, if she grows up and tells me all she wants is to be a delicate piece of tiramisu, that’s fine. But neither of us knows yet, so we’ll stick with animals, stars, and general slogans about being happy, smiley and adventurous. And FYI, boys are much more interesting than bows.

Nothing that’s just a little version of an adult’s dress
Those little tuxedos you see babies in are cute, I admit. And my husband and son do have matching Hawaiian shirts. (I know.)  But somehow mini versions of adult women’s dresses just look a bit creepy, especially when they come with weird thigh splits and cutaways. You aren’t going to catch us wearing matching “mummy and me” outfits any time soon. Also – baby bikinis. Nope!

No baby high heels
She doesn’t even wear shoes. Patently ridiculous. I couldn’t believe these were actually a thing.

Nothing that’s completely white
I do not need to explain this.

No outfits that are dependent on each piece remaining in place
Similar to the above… It’s so cute when you get an outfit with a matching headband, dribble bib, top and pants but there’s nothing guaranteed to create a poo explosion like a perfectly matching set. Everything she wears has to be able to be swapped out for something else without changing the rest of the outfit. Also, who has time to find all the bits of a matching outfit? I’d like to live in your house for a morning.

Nothing too difficult
A million poppers that have to be done up in one strict but mysterious combination, you say? Or a lace-up back that requires one hand to hold the sides together, one to thread the strip through the holes and another to pull it tight? No thanks. For my own sake, these clothes need to be as simple as possible – preferably so easy that I can remove and put them back on in the dark.

I know my time in control of her wardrobe is limited – I’m going to make the most of it while I can.

The image on this page is of clothes from US clothing line Handsome in Pink.

What the #$^@ can I do about my kids swearing?

Picture this. An angelic, almost-three-year-old, playing with his duplo fire engine in the garden on a sunny autumn morning.

He’s muttering something like “better put out the fire!”, something else about a hose and Fireman Sam. And then louder than anything else… “I’m not fucking around!”

We stop what we are doing. Quickly check no one is shooting us a horrified or judgemental glare from the public walkway that runs along the other side of our garden wall. Pardon?

He smiles angelically. “Put out the fire, Mum.”

 

There have been four or five times when the fact my son has dropped a swear word has been unavoidable.

A dozen or so other times, I’ve been able to tell myself that he said ship! Or far! But there are limits to deliberate ignorance.

For not even quite three, he has a surprisingly colourful vocabulary.

 

I’ve been trying to determine how much of the blame should fall on me.

I don’t really swear a lot … except when I’m really frustrated (a decent amount of the time at the moment), stressed (a lot of the time) or tired (almost all the time). But I never swear at him and I never really thought he was paying that much attention, anywqay. He doesn’t listen to anything else I say, why would he soak up the obscenities?

But I think where I really went wrong is that I have found it kind of funny.

The first time he dropped something and said “shit!”, I laughed. I quickly realised my mistake and tried to hide it but he noticed and did it again. And again.

Then, a few months later, he walked into the kitchen and said “this is a fucking mess”. He was right of course but it was such a surprise to hear it coming from his mouth that I dropped what I was doing and demanded: “What?”

That was obviously the reaction he was after because he did the same thing about an hour later.

 

I must admit that I am probably not as bothered about any of this as I should be.

It’s not ideal that my son is starting to have a vocabulary to match some of the saltier people I’ve ever worked with in expletive-ridden newsrooms. But he’s still at the stage where there is no real intent behind the words. He doesn’t know what they mean – or that people might be offended. Or even probably what being offended is.

 

Of all the weird social concepts that I’ve had (or will have) to explain to the kids, the idea that some words are “bad” is one of the more difficult ones for me. How do you explain that when you put those letters in that sequence, someone might take offence – but say them backwards, for example, and it’s fine?

I figure it’s the intent of the words that matters – I’d much rather he was being silly and experimenting with words, not knowing what he is saying, than using words he does understand to convey something deliberately hurtful.  That’s quite apart from the studies recently that have shown swearing helps pain tolerance and that those with a colourful vocabulary tend to be more intelligent and honest. In a few years’ time, when he’s got to grips with the concept, he might need the odd profanity to release pressure.

But equally, I don’t really want to set him up for trouble. I’m not sure “but my mum doesn’t mind” is going to be an excuse that flies when he’s at school.

I’m settling on a strategy of treating swear words like any other words – not laughing, not telling him off when he uses them but gently reminding that some people don’t like those words – and with so many others available to us, why don’t we try to find another one?  Or at the very least, save those words for when there’s no one else around. Sometimes Dad and I will probably need to join in.

 

 

How do you know whether to have kids?

One of my closest friends said something to me recentlythat amounted to: How can you know if you want to have kids?
I’ve been thinking about it ever since. On one hand, it’s the most simple question in the world. But on the other, it’s life-changing, and the stakes are so, so high.
Every time someone writes about this, the old arguments come out: Better to regret a kid you don’t have than one you do. Blah blah blah.
Glib little statements like this don’t get anywhere near addressing the real underlying question. Am I going to go through life feeling as though there’s something missing if I don’t have a child? Am I going to miss out on the type of life I’d rather have, if I do?
If you don’t have much interaction with kids, it can be hard to get a sense of what being a mother might be like. All you can go on is what you hear from your friends, the media and online. And you have to admit most of that isn’t good.
Most mummy blogs are focused on the lack of sleep, the lack of personal space, the lack of time to yourself, the damage to your career – and so on. Sometimes you have to wonder why anyone does it at all.
It’s rare to see anyone try to get into the really good stuff. The reasons why we put ourselves through nine months of discomfort, a few hours (if you’re lucky) of serious pain and then years of hard work.
I think this is partly because it’s so much easier to talk about the bad. Everyone knows what an interrupted night’s sleep is like. Everyone knows what it’s like to be covered in baby vomit for the fourth time in one day – or can imagine it. And it’s therapeutic to get that stuff out.
But the good stuff – the stuff that far outweighs all the hard grinding work – that’s much harder to convey, especially to someone who hasn’t been there.
How do you describe why it makes you happy to turn over at 6am and see a little smiling face next to the bed, wanting nothing more than to climb in beside you?
How can you describe the first real unprompted hug or “I love you, Mummy” – or the pride you get seeing them work really hard to master something? The way their little faces light up when they see you? The unadulterated pleasure you get from watching them become their own little, maddening, infuriating people – while at the same time showing flashes of the traits of the other people you love most in the world.
When I told my mum I was pregnant with my first baby she said it would bring me such joy. She was so right. I thought I was just in for crying and tears and a step back in my career, but that I might feel better in my old age knowing I’d done it.
I was wonderfully wrong.
Someone else once told me that having a child is like watching your favourite film with your best friend, and only the two of you get it. I think of this often.
I know I still have so many years to go and that they will come with their own challenges – some much harder than dealing with baby vomit and toddler tears. But I know there are so many more rewards ahead, too.
How can I ever describe that to someone else wondering whether it’s worth taking that step into the abyss, into that point where there’s really no going back?
I’m standing on the other side trying to say it’s okay whether you jump or whether you don’t.
Staying where you are is great and can give just as wonderful a life. Don’t ever feel any less because you haven’t had children. Your child-laden friends might disappear for a bit but we’ll be back. And we’ll want to hear some great stories.
But if even part of you wants to jump, know that it will be worth it, worth it hundreds of times over. I can’t tell you why or how. You sort of just have to trust and jump.

What do I want? To be a dad

It’s almost Mothers’ Day. You know, that one day when toast in bed or a bunch of flowers is meant to make up for years of being vomited on, pooed on and woken at weird hours of the night.

I’ve decided this year what I’d really like for Mothers’ Day is to be a dad.

There are some obvious benefits.

The bar seems lower when it comes to, well, most things.
I’d love to hear people say to [husband]: “Gosh, Susan really does help out with the kids doesn’t she? You’re so lucky.”

Or when he’s out on the odd occasion without them: “Oh is Mum on babysitting duty? Better make the most of it!”

Not being the keeper of the social calendar
It seems that everything from booking swimming lessons to remembering whose birthday party we have to get to falls to me. This is not to say it’s his fault – Plunket, the doctor, anyone else you can think of… they all just want my contact details. Even Facebook’s algorithm thinks I’m the one who cares about the “family” events on around us.

But wouldn’t it be good to be the one asking: Is there anything on this weekend? Rather than the one having to remember.

Ditto being the carrier-of-the-bag. Whether we have enough supplies when we head out usually comes down to me because I am the owner of the bags, the stasher of the nappies and the carrier of the wipes. I wouldn’t mind giving that one up.

They might listen to me
With me the whining sometimes feels constant. “Muuuum can I have blah blah blah.” “Muuum I don’t want to blah blah.” If I say no, the whining just gets more intense until I expend all my energy trying to come up with some amazing form of distraction, or I give in. With dad, the little one hears no and somehow accepts it.

Toilet
When [husband] wants to go to the toilet I distract the children so he gets 10 minutes (sometimes much, much longer) in peace. It’s only when I’m feeling particularly sadistic and little one asks where dad is and I say “why don’t you go and find him” that he gets interrupted. But with me I have to choose whether to lock the door and put up with it being hammered on, with so much shouting that I worry the neighbours might come and see if I need help, or let them in for a full audience. Once, the small one came into the bathroom to ask me if he could have grapes, while his father was in the kitchen, eating said grapes.

We put frosting on the bathroom windows one day shortly after both father and son came in to talk to me while I was on the toilet. This kind of missed the point.

Sleeping through
I used to be the heavier sleeper. Then we had kids. Now I can be up a couple of times without the other side of the bed registering it. In his defence, this because sometimes the small one will creep around to my side  – tiptoeing right past his father – and whisper in my ear to wake me up.

No mum guilt
This is kind of what it’s like to be in my brain: Work work work, wish I could sleep a bit more, aren’t they cute… oh wait, shouldn’t they be outside in the fresh air, how much TV have we watched today, when was the last time they had vegetables, do I read to them enough? Is my work getting in the way of our bonding time? Should I be doing less of my own thing (whatever that is) so that I can devote more time to my beloved children?

Dads don’t seem to carry this guilt. If we make it to the end of the day and we are all in one piece and pretty happy, that gets chalked up as a win. Maybe, even if I don’t get my wish, I’ll try to absorb a bit of this approach this weekend, anyway.

 

20 things to know about having two kids

1. At some point, you will look at each other and say: “I think maybe we should put one back.”
2. It will probably be the older one.
3. No age gap is quite right.
4. Your older one will try to resume breastfeeding. Even if they are 8.
5. They will not sleep at the same time. Ever.
6. At some point, you’ll find yourself at 2am googling “how to get more energy”, “how not to be so grumpy” or “how to stay awake long enough to have sex”.
7. You will only see your husband as you pass each other in the middle of the night as one of you sneaks back to bed after comforting one child and the other sets off to calm the other.
8. Even if you promised yourself you’d savour each moment that much more this time round, it will go even faster with two kids.
9. You’ll probably forget where you put the baby at least once.
10. Your older one will develop a need to give the new one lots of cuddles. Very hard cuddles.
11. You’ll have to bite your lip to stop intervening and sound increasingly desperate as you say: “gentle with the baby, honey. Darling! HONEY!”
12. That one little sliver of time you get to yourself during the day at the moment? Totally gone.
13. You’ll discover one of your kids has weirdly shaped limbs. That or all the clothes you lovingly stored the first time around have magically shrunk.
14. Every time you try to get the small one off to sleep the older one will burst in with a torch, musical instrument or telescope.
15. Even if you’re staunchly anti-screens now, Peppa Pig, Maisie Mouse and Fireman Sam will be your new best friends.
16. You’ll wonder whether people who have big families are actually part machine.
17. Baby sensory, osteo, mainly music for the first one… but you have to remind yourself to dig out some rattles before the second one starts walking.
18. If you’ve got to that smug post-baby stage where you’re offering “what worked for me” advice to new mums, none of that will work this time around.
19. You might have been able to say down to the week how old your first child was but this time you’ll find your husband telling people that the baby is 10 weeks old for close to three months.
20. At some point they two of them will start giggling together and you’ll say: “are we sure we don’t want one more?”