Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Little boxes

Oooh I've had a post brewing for some time now. Gather round, I feel a rant a-comin!

Something's been bothering me for a while and I need to talk about it, to share it, to see how others feel about it.

The issue of labelling ourselves and each other, of putting ourselves in boxes has been irking me more and more. To the point now where it's bugging me so much I have to go arrrggggghhh!!!!!

I wrote about this phenomena in issue 25 of Juno magazine. I wanted to give permission back to mamas to trust in themselves instead of religiously following parenting gurus, to put the power back in their hands, to say "Hey, it's ok to do things your way - YOU are wise". 

I find myself in a weird paradox - writing for parents is of itself an act of instruction in some ways, an act of hoping to enlighten or entertain, to provoke thought, to plant seeds in the mind and heart of the reader and yet my message really is to ignore the prophets and take their wisdom with a handful of salt. 

So how can I write without preaching? Who the hell am I to preach anyway? I am no better than you. 

I'm really tiring of smug bloggers telling others how to live, what to think, what is right and wrong, how to be a better parent, bla bla bla. Black and white, wrong and right, smug, smug, smug. Blogs that attack anything less than perfect mothering. Who decides what that looks like anyway? Isn't it kinda arrogant to assume your way is the only one true way? 

I'm more in favour of real. Of happy and sad. Of glorious moments  and big ol' fuck ups. Of the landscape of parenting that accounts for the myriad of different emotions, trials and situations that a mother finds herself in before she has even begun to have babies.

Cos mothers are not exactly blank slates y'know? We come with all kinds of head and heart baggage. getting through the day is sometimes a nobler thing than following some method 100%.

Homeschooling is no less immune to smug boxes than any other area of parenting. Folks proudly assign themselves to being a particular kind of homeschooler, as if that was the only and most important thing about them in the universe. There are more labels than WHSmith, categories, sub categories.... it's like the People's Front of Judea/  Judean People's front thing - kinda hilarious really but people take it SO seriously!  

It's the same with breastfeeding labels.... I say this as someone who breastfed all my babies - but do we really need all the categories and sub-categories? Is it some kind of competition? Isn't it simply enough to be a breastfeeder? Who the hell's business is it anyway???

Or being a sling-wearer. Wearing a baby needs a label? Really? Is someone who wears their baby in a piece of cloth better than one who carries them in arms? If there is a perception that this is better - why? By whom?

Or being a home-birther. Having had three home births doesn't make me a better mother than someone else. Maybe I had a more enjoyable and satisfying experience than some women but that's not the same as being better than them. Surely?!

Of course I am not attacking anyone who has a home birth, carries their baby in a sling, is a breastfeeder, or home-schools in a particular way. Some of my dearest friends do all of the above! I'm picking on the labels nearest to me but in truth I am anti ALL labels. All divisions. All plinths and platforms and pedestals that people put themselves on in their holier-than-thou quest to justify their way and convert the rest of the world.

I'm done with preaching of any kind. I've done it myself. I've felt the anger about the injustice of bla bla bla, felt the smugness of feeling oh-so-right about my choices and my stance. I'm realising more and more that what may be perfect for me and mine would not suit my neighbour - and that is ok. Instead of trying to convert the rest of the world to my way it's actually ok that we are different. I enjoy and take responsibility for my parenting choices and reserve the right to change my mind about them as often as I damn well like! But I'm no better or worse as a human being for them? I'm just doing what feels natural to me. Natural parenting is essentially just that. Doing what feels natural to you. No more, no less. It's not a tick-list of attributes about what nappies you use or whether you vaccinate or not. It's whether you are behaving in a way that is natural as opposed to forcing yourself into an un-natural, "natural"  box.

I'm fed up of smug, smug, smug! I'm fed up of competitiveness in mothering! It only divides. It is a hard enough job without us all bitching each other and ourselves into boxes!!!

Don't put me in a box till I'm six feet under. It's the only one you'll ever get me in.

Even unconventional boxes are still just that - a straitjacket!

Break free mamas!


  1. just what I needed Paula, you do make me smile as my gran would say different stokes for different folks and different ways for different days, and my favorite saying of all each to their own said the old woman as she kissed the cow!!!

    thanks sometimes it is enough just to be me
    love you Kirsten

  2. It is always enough just to be you! xxxxxxxx

  3. Wow! That came out flipping fast! No single box for me my friend I definitely prefer to jump in and out when it suits keeping only the things I need. Yet another great post x

  4. Paula, you are bang on! And thank-you for saying this - it needs to be said over and over again, as we all feel the temptation to define ourselves from time to time and need to keep reminding ourselves it's OK not to!

  5. I've done it myself and hadn't realised quite how nauseating and obnoxious and unhelpful it can be to put others down by feeling smug about my own choices. This sling wearing, part-time cloth nappy using, breast feeding, home-birthing, homeschooling, unvaccinating mama is bored of all that crap! Hurray for simply surviving each day with a smile! Being a good mother absolutely, categorically, is not simply an adherence to some right-on ticklist :-)

  6. As someone who had to hide in the toilets to bottle feed one of my babies, because of my 'shame' amongst the righteous parents at that particular baby and toddler group, I say yay to all of your post!

    I think sometimes we like our boxes. They make us feel as if we belong, somewhere. But when they're used as a tool to make someone else feel bad, then they're a definite no-no.

  7. Our boxes are comforting indeed. Cosy too! But they can inhibit us if they fog over our eyes from seeing the beauty in those who do things differently from us - I wonder how many potential friendships never come to be because of our preferences and prejudices.....

  8. Hurrah for you and well said! I definitely am with you on this, and in fact have started to turn off from some of my natural mamma bloggers for just this reason... they are just too damn perfect and want the world to know! And too self righteous. I hate that. We can't judge everyone by the same book and where is the help in standing on your soap box anyway? Where is the compassion?

    Haha, so pleased to hear my post inspired you :) But it does need said MORE and even LOUDER. Shout it from the rooftops: thou shalt have compassion for each other!!!


  9. hear hear.

    That is why I like to just write about myself, show rather than tell, and let people draw their own conclusions.... What I also really like about living between two cultures, and having friends in many more, is that you see so clearly that the 'rules' are different everywhere. Being 'the foreigner' makes it somehow easier to do your own thing. I am by nature an outsider and like it that way. And perfect is boring anyway!

  10. Totally with you. I do not read anything any more by parenting moralisers and labellers. I just doesn't work for me. My biggest fear is that someone might have me down as one of those, but I don't think they can.

  11. Label - a brief descriptive phrase or term given to a person, group, school of thought, etc:

    I am in no particular order a mother, crafter, worker, sister, daughter, friend, artist, amongst many many more things, these are nothing more than terms to describe my circumstances, likes, dislikes, passions, hobbies, family situation, beliefs and so on. I do not find them irritating. Labelling helps us organise and understand...

    Also, I can't say that I find people talking about who they are, what they do and what they believe is right offensive. I can think of very few bloggers (only one now I think about it) who really "preach" their rightness, or come across as smug. I find this community warm, friendly and very supportive. I am deeply inspired by seeing the different ways in which we all live, grow, create and raise families, amongst many things. I have never felt judged for being different. I do believe we celebrate our differences but that we can also acknowledge similarities and shared joys, passions and ideas, which means sometimes we share "labels".

    Sometimes I think our own insecurities get the better of us, and we look outside of ourselves for answers or to cast blame, instead of looking inside and being comfortable in our own skin. Mostly, we judge ourselves more harshly than any other.

  12. Lucy - I agree, and I don't think you come across as preachy. You ask questions out loud and share your experiences with humility and grace. You're not self righteously telling others how to parent in a critical way but rather sharing wisdom and insights by being honest and open about the whole gig.....

  13. Labels are useful...up to a point.... I see what you're saying and I think we're both right. I accept that not everyone will agree with me and if we are friends in real life I really hope that our commonality will win the day and not our differences. Opinions are ever- changing things.... who knows if I will still feel the same way in a week? A month? A year? Ten years? These things can change and change and change again!