I probably should read Christos Tsiolkas’ hit literary novel “The Slap”. I did catch the last three episodes of the BBC4 serialisation, and, yeah, it’s Mumsnet territory all right. Now I’m wary of over-interpreting about a book on the basis of the TV series, but I was surprised at how parenting-focussed it is, in particular this latest episode about Rosie.
My guess is (takes one to know one) that the author was probably not long out of the parent of toddler-phase himself; you know, when you, or your co-parent, or both, drive yourselves batty over this method and that method and end up with a mega-aversion to all the parenting gurus. Or else you fixate on one, follow him/her to the letter and decide all the others are irresponsible quacks. Either way, this phase is traumatic, and screams out to be written about. “The Slap” may be Tsiolkas’ response.
Rosie, the mother of the slapped child, is an attachment-parent. She breastfeeds the four-year-old, not just now and again, but all the time. Though she parrots the gentle-weaning mantra “Don’t offer, don’t refuse”, it’s clear that breastfeeding her son is her own consolation. In her desperation, her ill-behaved child is her closest friend.
At the court hearing she brings against the child’s “slapper”, the cross-examining lawyer takes apart every aspect of her parenting style: irregular bedtimes, lack of discipline, drinking on duty. Given the child’s manners – obnoxious – and the case’s predictable outcome, it’s fairly clear what the reader/viewer is supposed to think. Of course, in a very different way, the defendant is also a deluded and dangerous tosser – there’s no pro-corporal punishment agenda here either. But there’s no mistaking the contempt for Rosie’s version of “attachment”.
Now, me, I’m not really an attachment parent. I believe in discipline, and orderliness, and regular routines, and I only wish I could live up to my own standards. I have great respect for mothers who do, especially those with large families. But I did carry on breastfeeding my kid until rather recently. He still tends to end the night in our bed. He gets a lot of freedom – or he did, before he started school –; far more than his strictly-brought up cousins, and I let him make decisions about a lot of things: what to eat, what to do, when to leave (within reason), what to watch (though not how much). But that’s partly to do with him being an only child. And it also made my life easier if on the whole we spent our pre-school days doing and cooking stuff he had already expressed a preference for.
The extended breastfeeding, and the getting into our bed thing, however, were definitely not my choice, and it does annoy me now when commentators assume they happen only because sad and self-centred mothers encourage them for their own slightly pervy ends. As if, not hassled by a psychotic mummy but left to itself, a toddler would turn its back on the breast aged two, or even earlier, in disgust. There’s a nasty suggestion here – I’ve had it from my own extended family – that in not letting them go we are bordering on child-abuse.
But guess what? It’s actually not like that, and I recommend reading that other subtly-parenting novel Emma Donaghue’s “The Room” for an alternative view. Those of us who carry on letting our kids breastfeed, or letting our kid get into our beds, do it not out of some kind of repressed paedophilia but because the battle it would take to stop them is not worth fighting just yet, and we are still tired parents who avoid inessential battles if we can. We hope it will stop by itself fairly soon, and yes, it probably will. But when a compelling reason requires us to end both, right now, we do.
Last week, I couldn’t work out what was happening. I was modestly proud of my latest blog, but all of a sudden in the days following its publication my stats – that’s the number of clicks it gets – rocketed into the stratosphere. From getting maybe ten on a good day, suddenly I was getting 600. And I only have about 30 Facebook friends!
Then I saw it. Mumsnet had made me Blogger of the Week. Oh wow! Thank you, Mumsnet! I haven’t been doing this long enough to have earned it, really, but thank you nonetheless. You wouldn’t believe the difference it has made. On the stats, I mean. As for me, fame won’t change me one little bit, I promise.
But I must take issue with the assessment of me as “opinionated”, and, implicitly, rather scary. If you met me, you’d see what a pushover I am; shy, sensitive, lacking in assertiveness – that’s always been me. Ask anyone who knew me at school.
And yet – one of the great things about getting old is having nothing much left to lose. I’m convinced there would be far more self-declared feminists out there if younger women didn’t always feel they have so many exits to cover. Whether at work or in a relationship, would you risk your marriage or promotion prospects by getting a reputation, even online, as, you know, one of those? Though I’ve always had strong opinions – I confess – the fear of unpopularity all round certainly kept me quiet in the past more often than not. When we’re young (all those years ago now) most of us care far more about being popular than being frank. That frankness might be a route to popularity seems a pretty long shot, and one you’d have to feel very well-hedged (by money, status, celebrity, whatever) to risk.
But now I am in the fortunate position of having little left to defend; no established or prospective career, no more easily-scared prospective boyfriends! Nothing left for me to lose but half a lifetime’s frustration – Yay!