When I was pregnant I was determined that we would share parenting equally. I really had no idea what parenting meant, what equality meant. Breastfeeding was a shock, initially, the time, the non-sharability. He did lots of other stuff of course. He’s a great father. It was fine. The real shock was that I was happy to be the primary parent. I’ve had a wonderful two years.

But not anymore. Now I want something else.

But now, as I start to try to find that balance again, refocus on that goal of equal parenting, I find we are stuck. Stuck in unequal patterns, internalised parenting responsibilities, weighted heavily towards me.

Notice that I said “I start…”, “I find…” – it is up to me to get equality.

So far this is taking the form of pestering, nagging, frustrated explaining: parenting is more than just taking him along to the shop, the football. Parenting is a lot of thinking, planning: When/what will he eat? When will he sleep? What does he need? How will this affect him?

And then I feel quilty because he has a full time job and is tired and he’s trying his best and my hassling is not really getting us anywhere.

And I feel guilty because I know Wren is picking up on my absence of mind, my longing for something else.

So we are stuck. The way we began is the way we go on. I think lots of people are stuck. It’s a struggle to change when we’re just trying to get through the day to day. Too busy just doing to think about what we’re doing, how we’re doing, who’s doing.

But I don’t want this anymore. I need time for me, other things for me. Me.

So the struggle for equal parenting goes on.

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In my last post on climate change, I may have declared in a moment of enthusiasm that absolutely everybody must see The Age of Stupid. Allow me to clarify that. I don’t believe it is appropriate viewing for children. It’s really scary! because it’s real! It left me with real fears for my future and especially Wren’s future. If I didn’t already have a deeply held belief and experience in the power of activism, I believe it would have left me feeling like there was no hope. This is why the action campaign linked to the film is essential. There may be some debate about whether scaring adults in to action is the best approach – I think there is definitely some need for it, combined with other approaches, given the urgency climate change – but what I want to explore here is:

how do we create environmental awareness in children without creating fear, despair or hopelessness?

Given the severity of the environmental issues we all must face now and in the coming years, how we share it with out children is something that needs more thought.

I came across an article at Kindred, A Brighter Shade of Green, on rethinking environmental education. I like its starting point: that children need to be given the opportunity to fall in love in their environment first, before any kind of ‘formal’ education or visions of impending doom. Time spent in nature, directly experiencing the connections between ourselves and our environment is really valuable and irreplaceable. Of course even if we live in the middle of a big city, we are still dependent on the environment for our survival, but many people live as if this was not the case.

This is where I’m at with Wren. For now, he is not old enough to understand or cope with any explanation of climate change. But he is old enough to enjoy the natural world. He loves animals and water and rocks and bushwalking. He loves the moon and stars. He likes to talk about the weather. He loves food we’ve collected ourselves – fruit directly from trees, herbs from the garden, eggs from our chooks. We seek out books with stories about the natural environment. I hope this love for nature will lead to a desire to protect it.

He is old enough, also, to participate in small, positive solutions. He loves to help me in our organic vegie garden. He likes to help sort the recycling. The example of us, as his parents, is crucial. I hope that behaving in an environmentally conscious way will become second nature to him, not difficult or ‘a sacrifice’, just the way things are done.

When I think of my own childhood, this all rings true. I lived in the city, but adjacent to a National Park. My brother and I spent our days playing in the bush. I fell in love with it. Weekends we often went to the beach. I have a particular love for the marine world. My parent were not the most environmentally conscious people, but certain things like composting and recycling were given. I remember being at a friend’s house and being shocked to see vegie scraps and glass jars thrown into the garbage. At 8 years of age, I don’t think I had any sophisticated understanding of issues of limited landfill space and embodied energy, but it just seemed so wasteful to me.

But at what point do we introduce discussions about the precarious future of life on earth? These discussions are everywhere today, so it is unlikely that we will be able to shield our children from them for long. I think we need to speak honestly, but always keep in mind our child’s level of understanding and their need to feel safe and secure.

I remember being around 11 years old and reading Ruth Park’s My Sister Sif, an ‘ecological fantasy’ for young adults. It left me in tears; wild, terrified, angry tears. Although the book is a fantasy about mermaid-like people, it was real enough to stir up strong emotions in me, and I don’t think that was a bad thing. I look back on it as a turning point for me, it brought my consciousness and sense of responsibility to a new level, it inspired my future activism. At quite a young age, I joined several environmental organisations and encouraged my parents to make more changes in the way our family lived.

So I guess what saved me from fear, despair or hopelessness (though I have certainly been through periods of it), was the feeling that change was possible, I took action, found activities into which I could channel my intense emotions.

I hope to convey to Wren through my actions that there is hope. Not only through the lifestyle we live at home, but through being actively involved in creating broader social change. I want him to be exposed to adults who are working for a better world. This is where there is hope. Although I want him to understand the situation the world is in, I don’t want him to take it on as his own responsibility too early. I hope that seeing adults working for change will make him feel safe and looked after. As a society, I’m not sure that we do have a right to ‘hope’ if we are not willing to work for change, because dammit, we really are in trouble if we don’t do something. I think that a positive example from me and other adults will convey a message a hope better than any discussion about climate change I could have with Wren.

This is where my feelings diverged from the article I mentioned. They categorise environmentalists as being either ‘light greens’ (believing in lifestyle changes and personal responsibility), ‘dark greens’ (believing in radical ideological change as industrial-capitalism is the problem) and ‘bright greens’ (believing in better designs, technologies and more widely distributed social innovations). They herald the bright greens as the way forward, as the ‘positive’ message to pass on to our children, one that does not involve personal sacrifice or structural change.

Personally, I think we need all three. There is no one solution. Techno-fixes can help, but they are not enough. And while it might be a simpler message to convey to children, ultimately I want my son (and everyone) to have a real, well-rounded understanding of the situation we are in.

I don’t have all the answers. If anyone has any other thoughts or experiences in sharing environmental messages (particularly scary ones) with kids, I’d love to hear them. Wren is still only two years old, so these challenges are still to come for us. These are my ideas so far.

I was going to write about some important stuff, like the fact that the homebirth service in my town has just been axed with no warning.  It’s outrageous, and I will try to find time to write about it soon, but there is something else going on that just has to take precedence.

I saw the The Age of Stupid last night. It is absolutely essential viewing. You’ve seen it already? Great! I really hope I am the last person to have seen it, living outside a major city and all. I hope you are already hassling your politicians, protesting against the coal industry, and transitioning your town to a zero-carbon community.

We all know about climate change these days, but we all do still need a good kick up the backside. There is no time to waste! The film is entirely based on mainstream scientific predictions and uses real news and documentary footage.

I had tears in my eyes as I watched the film. Imagining the future for my son, imagining he might be the man left in the film.

If you haven’t seen it yet, go here immediately and find out where you can see it, or even better, organise a screening in your community. I also highly recommend this website, which is the action campaign linked to the film.

The blog might be turning into a climate change campaigning blog…

I live in a very breastfeeding-friendly community. Most mothers I know breastfed their babies. Until recently, I have felt supported in breastfeeding and never felt uncomfortable breastfeeding in public.  But shortly after Wren’s second birthday, I looked around me and found I am now the only person I know who is still breastfeeding a two year old. I feel I have entered new territory.

What I am doing feels quite natural to me. When Wren was born, I didn’t have any definite ideas about how long I would breastfeed him. There were times when it was hard and I would never have imagined I’d still be going now. But the thing I didn’t realise was how much the breastfeeding relationship changes over time. Breastfeeding a baby who is dependent on you as their only source of food is quite different from breastfeeding a toddler. Some things are more complicated, but mostly I find it less demanding.  If I had woken up one day and been required to breastfeed a small child, it would have seemed entirely weird, but the change is gradual and natural. For him, he is doing what he has always done; getting nourishment and comfort from his mother. To start denying him now feels cruel and artificial.

So why has everyone else stopped? Even mothers who I would consider ‘lactivists’ have weaned, or cut down to one (private) feed a day. In many cases it is related to pregnancy or the birth of a second child. Fair enough – I’m in no position to judge that choice. I don’t mean to judge anybody’s approach. I would just like to explore some of the reasons. If an individual mother (or child) makes a choice to wean, that’s their business – but if masses of women are feeling social pressure to wean (or are feeling unsupported in continuing to breastfeed) then that’s everybody’s business.

How much is early weaning due to social pressure? There is a high level of squeemishness and outright disgust in the general population about breastfeeding toddlers, even sometimes babies. Boobs are so ridiculously sexualised in our society, that people think there is something wrong with a child who can talk and walk still having a intimate relationship with their mother. This is not supported by WHO guidelines which recommend breastfeeding for two years and beyond if both mother and child still want it. Anthropological evidence suggests the average natural age of weaning is between 2.5 years and 7 years. I prefer the term ‘full-term breastfeeding’, which implies the normality of breastfeeding for a number of years,  to ‘extended breastfeeding’, which implies that this phase is being dragged out longer than it should.

I want to keep breastfeeding my son. Why?

  • Because breastmilk is the world’s most perfect food, the only true wholefood.
  • Because it supports his health while his own immune system is still developing. This is particularly important for us, because Wren has cystic fibrosis. Despite having a supposedly serious chronic illness, Wren is the healthiest toddler I know, and I can only put it down to the goodness of breastmilk.
  • Because it gives Wren a way to calm himself down when he get overexcited/frightened/angry, until he has developed the skills and emotional capacity to do that in other ways.
  • Because it’s  the easiest way to get him to lie down and have a nap during the day. I know several parents currently battling to get their wired two-year-olds to nap.
  • Because it means I always have a snack/drink on hand.
  • Because it is a convenient way to keep him quiet at crucial moments, such as when I am on the phone.
  • Because he LOVES it and it is a joy for me to see his happy face when a boob comes out. I know we won’t always be so close.
  • Because weaning would probably be hard work.

Having said all that, I don’t want to suggest that our breastfeeding relationship is always good and easy, or that I never say ‘no’.  There are times when he wants to stay attached for too long, or on and off all afternoon, and it is driving me nuts and I have to draw the line. There are times when I want my body back. If I can identify what he really wants, he will usually accept an alternative to breastfeeding – often he just wants my undivided attention or some quiet one-on-one time, and sitting down in my lap and reading a book is a pleasant alternative for both of us. I am teaching him that there are times and places which are not for breastfeeding, such as the supermarket and when I am eating a meal. He is accepting this easily in general, and so I know he is ready. I have also recently stopped breastfeeding during the night – separate post on this coming soon(ish)!

But back to the issue of social pressure. Despite all the very important reasons I have given for continuing to breastfeed, I am feeling social pressure to wean. By social pressure, I do not mean that people are actively telling me to wean, or ridiculing/punishing me for continuing to breastfeed. I know some people are unfortunate enough to have family or friends actively pressuring them to wean, but for me the effect is more subtle. Yet given the number of pro-breastfeeding women I know who are weaning, I believe these subtler pressures can be very powerful.

What do I mean, then, by social pressure?

  • When people keep asking ‘are you still breastfeeding?’ and ‘when do you plan to wean?’ Even without saying there is anything wrong with it, it makes me feel like my choice is under scrutiny.
  • The looks of surprise on strangers’ faces when I begin to breastfeed in public.
  • My partner is a big factor. He keeps asking questions about whether Wren really still needs it. I can convince him of it, but I still don’t feel as supported as I’d like.
  • When we are out – at playgroup, for example – and breastfeeding, the sight makes other toddlers ask their mother to breastfeed too. I feel apologetic, because my choice to continue breastfeeding is making their choice to cutback more difficult. I feel like I am breaking some sort of unspoken social contract to wean.
  • Having nobody to talk to about the challenges and joys of breastfeeding a toddler, at least nobody who is going through the same things.

In some ways, I find these subtle pressures more difficult to deal with than outright pressure. The rebel in me wishes those shocked strangers in cafes would be brave enough to express their ignorant views, so that I could defend myself. There is a part of me which definitely enjoys pushing boundaries, challenging conservative social norms, but I don’t want to do it all on my own. If I had someone to share my breastfeeding battles and triumphs, it would be much easier, much more fun.

I am finding myself becoming increasingly irritated with Wren’s requests to breastfeed, particularly in public. At times I think that perhaps this is a natural/biological response to trigger weaning, something coming from inside of me. But more likely, it is a response to the external pressures eroding my confidence. This is why I am spelling it out here. To confront it head on, and stop it eating away at me, invisible, un-named.

I will continue to breastfeed beyond two, beyond three, who knows? I would love to hear from others who are doing the same. What social pressures have you encountered to wean? How have you dealth with it?

My mother-in-law (Granma) arrived to stay with us yesterday. We haven’t seen her for over 6 months and I was unsure how she would respond to the fact that I am ‘still’ breastfeeding Wren. I thought I’d keep it a bit private, but was quite willing to defend it if necessary. Wren, however, had a different approach.

Within half an hour of Granma arriving, Wren:

– pulled down my shirt to reveal a breast, asking for ‘milky’;

– offered his own nipple for Granma to have a drink;

– asked me to give some ‘milky’ to his new toy characters (presents from Granma) and pushed them down my shirt;

– asked Grandma if she would also like some milky from me.

This is the first time he has ever offered my breast to anyone else, real people or toys. Fortunately, Granma thought it was all quite hilarious.

This blogging business is tough. Tough to find the time. Energy too seems to be lacking. Ideas are plentiful. Oh sure, I could hash something up for you, another quality post like this one (!), but something really good? Oh no. No time.

Everyone – and I mean everyone – simply must read this over at Shakesville.