Monday, February 4, 2008

Contented Mother... (1)

I said I would do it and I am. It terrifies me but I am publishing the first excerpt of my book. Seeing as it's the first we may as well start at the beginning. After this I shall probably post a few paras from each chapter for the duration of the time I am away. Read on for the intro to Contented Mother. Please be gentle with your criticism! If you like what you read but do not usually comment please take the time to send a quick email or feel free to comment anonymously.

Ask anyone expecting their first baby how they feel about the life-change to come and most will reply: “I’m afraid our lives will become unrecognizable” or “I’m dreading the sleepless nights” I was no different. I was terrified about losing the freedom and intimacy I had with my husband, I enjoyed a fulfilling career, and as for sleep? Put it this way: for me the perfect day would involve not getting out of bed before noon. Even if you don’t fear the worst, there will always be someone else who’ll do it for you. How many times have you been told: “Enjoy your freedom. Life will never be the same again” or “Live out your dreams now, this may be your last chance”? Sometimes it’s hard to look forward to being a parent, even if you want to. Many parents hastily plan their return to work, imagining that staying at home with a baby can only be mind-numbingly boring, and very hard work.

Well now I’ve been there and done that (only once so far, and with only one child) I too have something to say: don’t panic. It doesn’t have to be that way. Believe it or not, having your first baby really doesn’t have to be such a big deal. You do not have to give up all things you treasure most; ‘me time’; adult space, your brain! Nor must you turn your lives upside-down, or your home into a madly-coloured, padded play house. The birth of your first child needn’t signify the death of romance and spontaneity. Squishy tubes of processed cheese and spaghetti letters need never grace your dinner table.

Becoming a mother has given me two new lives – my daughter’s and my own. I am responsible for both. Hers has been pretty extraordinary so far. In the two years described in this book, she has discovered how it feels to touch, taste, smell, see and hear, she has learnt how to eat, walk, talk, dance and play. She has understood what it is to have feelings and, boy, can she express them. She has learnt to live. Mine? I have made some sacrifices, compromised a little, but mostly the last two years have been pretty amazing for me, too. Three quarters of it was spent at home in England, baking cakes, planting vegetables, cycling in Scotland and writing this book. For those of you horrified at the idea of such domesticity – though I promise you it was bliss - you might be more seduced by the last few months which were spent living and backpacking in Asia. And writing this book.

How is this possible? “What kind of nightmare mother are you?” you must be thinking. Have I slotted my poor daughter into a neat compartment of my civilized adult life while I soldier on in a state of deep denial? Do I have a strict routine that ensures Jemima is seen and not heard in the right place at the right time? On the contrary I am every parenting manual’s nightmare.

I have disregarded the advice about sleep routines, black-out blinds and bath before bedtime. I have let my child govern her own routine, while getting her to fit in around me when necessary, and got on with the business of living. To the casual onlooker this looks remarkably like doing nothing. In fact it makes me sound downright lazy. I didn’t really notice until in the company of other parents. Really, it was embarrassing. While friends were making sure their spouses had play time with the baby before leaving for work, I took Jemima into bed with me and persuaded her to go back to sleep, so that I could lie in. I took naps with her during the day when I was tired or when she needed me to be with her. I rocked her to sleep each night, and gave her the breast if she woke, instead of training her to fall asleep alone. I sat back and watched her pull out all our CDs from the rack instead of getting up and telling her not to. I let her climb the stairs instead of bothering with stair gates. I didn’t puree her food and spoon feed it to her. I rarely sat and stimulated her with toys. I have hardly spent any money on her.

I have said enough. While I admit to having a somewhat lazy instinct, what might appear to some as simple apathy was really a conscious effort on my part to let go and allow Jemima to take hold of the reins. I tried to just sit back and be there when needed; to hold, feed and cuddle. The rest of the time I simply watched my daughter get on with it, making sure she didn’t get hurt in the process (bumps and bruises not included).

Guess what? Chaos did not reign. It turns out this approach to parenting does not breed the bedlam many people fear it might. Instead it has resulted in a harmonious (usually) relationship of give and take with a child who is flexible, relaxed and has a healthy attachment to her mother, while also being independent and happy to spend time away from me. She is not wild and unruly (well not always) as a result of my negligence, but is a sweet-natured, affectionate child who plays nicely with other kids (sometimes) and is progressing along with her peers just fine. Although she is grossly lacking in educational toys and the latest baby accessories compared to her friends, she is great at helping me cook dinner and clean the house, and will happily hang out in the sling while I go for a walk or have dinner with friends. I confess I once spent a whole morning reading a book I just could not put down, while a seven-month old Jemima happily played around me, climbed all over me, breast fed, slept on me and sat next to me ‘reading’ her own book.

Of course she has her darker moments, too - I prefer to call them ‘spirited’ – but that’s ok. This book is not about being a perfect mother or raising a perfect child. It’s about embracing parenthood and all the opportunities and changes it can offer. Every child is different and I believe that a relaxed, instinctive, hands-off approach to parenting is the best way to find out who they are and what works for them and us. I’m sure this has given both me and my daughter the freedom to be who we want to be and do what we want to do. I’ve survived the lows, loved the highs and got on with my own life at the same time. Of course every parent is different, also, and my approach may not be for everyone. But maybe I can inspire and encourage any prospective or new parents out there who may be feeling a little terrified at what’s in store, or disillusioned by the parenting manual’s prescription for getting through the day.

Life goes on… really. It may look a little different but change is good for us too. Parenthood is what you make it and I hope you enjoy it as much as I have so far.
Read on - a snippet from Chapter one


JaneyV said...

To me this sounds like bliss. It was very much how I parented with my children. My children did not allow me to impose routines on them and I do believe that this was the main reason that I became a full-time mother. As I always intended I returned to work after the birth of my first child but my childminder was a routine nazi and he was very soon deeply unhappy and unsettled. I was blamed for being "too soft" and if I was a little tougher and left him to cry he'd soon settle. I CAN'T listen to crying babies so instead I gave up work within a month and haven't regretted a minute of it. Yes we were poorer (it was tough going initially) but it was the best decision I ever made. I was, however, filled with doubt that I was doing my best for my children and because I didn't (actually I couldn't) follow the manuals' advice I was often tut-tutted at or looked on with slight bemusement by my more 'organised' friends. One friend described by parenting style as 'loving neglect'. I never felt I neglected my children - I just never felt the need to schedule their whole day for them.
I do, however, have a friend with a two-year-old who works full time. To her, this way of parenting would have been a nightmare. If she didn't have her little boy in a strict routine she couldn't function. The difference is his temperament is such that he thrives on it. He is his fantastic, list-writing, Uber-organised Mother's child. Whereas my kids are very much their mother's feet-up-let's-spend-the-day-under-a-duvet children.

There's room for ALL parenting styles. Not all children are the same and not all parents are the same and whatever works for you is just fine should be the message. I believe that your book will be a vital tool in showing the more baby-led parents of us that are about that our way is just as good!

Anna said...

When can I buy the book?

Reading your words always puts a sparkle in my eye and joy in my step. i know that sounds corny, but it is true. even when my back is sore and i have gotten "nothing" done all day, you make me feel worthwhile, refreshed, creative, inspired, and - not alone.

Georgie said...

To Janey

Thank you and yes I also believe that there is room for all parenting styles, as long as they are sensitive to the child's needs and temperament. The important thing to me is that they are instinctive, natural, genuine and congruous - rather than carried out anxiously with an instruction manual in one hand. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

Georgie said...


You have no idea how much this comment means to me. I have been busy in the UK with both girls so hardly checking my laptop but also not wanting to for fear of what I might find. Publishing this has given me permanent butterflies! Finding your comment this morning has touched me and given me the courage to publish another small excerpt - something half an hour ago in bed I was thinking I better not do!

Ah me, when can you buy the book? That's a hard one... ask the literary agents and publishers out there!!! I am not a celebrity, have written hardly any features lately for lack of time while writing the book and having my second child... it's hard to get published before you have made a name for yourself. But who knows, with more comments like yours I may just go ahead and self-publish! Thank you so much :-)