27 February 2017

The myth of immutable parenting

We parent each of our children differently. And by 'we', I mean me. And you. And her. And him.

That doesn't mean we don't love each and every one of our children with the same fervour and/or the same gut twisting intensity. Love is a very different thing to parenting.
Source: Calvin and Hobbes
I love both my children so viscerally and totally, I sometimes want to shout out to the world how freaking awesome they are. Which I sometimes do. And I absolutely tell my girls I love them all the time.

My husband and I are in perfect agreement on this - making sure our children know how loved they are is essential. It is the priority in every situation.

We aim to make sure that they never think that our love is conditional on their behaviour, their achievements or their actions.

Our love is essentially guaranteed.

Source: Calvin and Hobbes

Our parenting - not so much. I mean we are doing our best to be really great parents for both of them.

But that doesn't mean we parent them both in exactly the same way. And anybody that says they have raised each of their children exactly the same is kidding themselves.

We're not the same person week to week, month to month, year to year. How can we be raising our children the same when we ourselves are constantly evolving?  If you're a two parent household that's two parents evolving as individuals and trying to keep their shit together as parents too. If you're a two household family you've upped the ante again.

And more importantly, the children themselves are constantly evolving.  They change their minds, their preferences, their behaviour, their clothes, their favourite colour, their sleeping patterns. Sometimes all within an hour.

It's hard yakka sometimes.

My parents have six children. They had their first when they were 24 years old and their last 14 years later. That's 14 years of life experience. That's living in different states. In different countries. Surrounded by different people. And that's before you factor in the distinctly different personalities of six different children. All awesome, but all very, very different.

You think of the person you were 14 years ago. I bet part of you is thinking you feel exactly the same but the sensible part of your brain is pointing out that the world is a very different place. You have more life experience. You're probably a lot more sure about some things, and a little less sure on others.  You will have different work colleagues. Different friends. Perhaps a different partner. More children. Maybe less children. More money. Less money.

There are so many variables to the people that we are on a daily basis, let along a yearly basis. And parenting is all about making the best of the resources at your disposal. And that's not just financial. That's emotional. Mental. Spiritual. That's about education. That's about exposure. That's about experience.

We only have two children. Born a mere 19 months apart. All the things we believed about how we would parent and all that we held to be both sacred and obvious were blown apart with the arrival of our first. Our approach to our second was vastly different. One wasn't right and the other was wrong. They were just different because we were. And we were more tired.

We have two gorgeous children who have lots in common, but are very different personalities. What works for one doesn't work for the other. How they process information is different. Their world views are different. They do emotion differently. They do friendship differently.

If they were identical twins we would still be parenting them differently because looking alike doesn't mean you've got identical personalities.

In fact, even if you only have one child you will parent them differently over the years. You will adapt your approach to reflect their preferences along with the changes the years bring to your own beliefs, values and knowledge.

Most of us get better at parenting as we go along. Just like we get better at anything we do regularly. Our own personal interests widen to include an encyclopedic knowledge of dinosaurs, or Shopkins characters.  We find ourselves laboriously explaining why telling the truth is offensive sometimes but at the same time the children are to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

We utter cliches. So many, many, many cliches.

Source: Calvin and Hobbes
But we're not just parents. We're people first and foremost. We spend time at work. Building our knowledge base. We join groups. We have friends. We watch movies. We read the news. Our politicians change. The economy changes. Our interests change. Our self knowledge deepens. Accidents happen. People die. We experience sorrow. We experience joy. We become stronger. More confident. More accepting of ourselves. Less accepting of some things. We set different boundaries for ourselves. We get both fiercer and softer.

We change.

The person I was at 17 would not have thought the person I am at 42 possible. The person I was at 28 did not know her own worth. If I had given birth to my daughters at either of those ages I would have been parenting from a much different place to what I am now.

We need to stop buying into this myth of parenting being an immutable beast - a fixed methodology that we apply consistently over the years to each of our children to ensure they all turn out okay.

It doesn't work like that.

Parenting is a highly idiosyncratic endeavour with ever changing opportunities and challenges.

That is why it is both terrifying and wondrous.

But mostly terrifying.

You're welcome.

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23 February 2017

The answer is Margie

Whenever you read articles about exercise they always bang on about habits and motivations and self belief and self discipline and all kinds of things which I recognise as words but not necessarily in a language which I speak.

I mean I can exercise for money. Give me a good cause and I can canoe 100 kilometres along the Murray, or run an ultra-half marathon, abseil down the middle of a mall and prussik back up again. Basically if could channel that kind of shameless money hustling into some kind of personal ambition I'd be the next Richard Branson.

And if it involves skates of some description - I'm always bound to enjoy it because skating is never exercise. It's just fun.

But having to exercise because it's good for my brain or good for my body or in any way good for, or just about, me is just not a motivator. I'm pretty much the only person I know who didn't change shape for their wedding. (The upshot of this is I get to be one of those people who 20 years after they get hitched say things like "I still fit in my wedding dress" and make trilling noises so you can compliment them as if their entire value as a human being is linked to their waist size.  But mine will be because I was splendidly rubenesque.)
Check that cleavage. Magnificent! 
I just don't care enough. Not in a "I think I'm shit" kind of way, more in a "I am funny, I don't need to be fit" kind of way.  Be honest - think of all the famous athletes you know - they aren't funny. They're focussed, committed, resolute, disciplined, and other non-funny words. And it's not that I don't have the same body hang-ups as most. Trust me I do. They are just not a motivator!

And if you are looking for some silver lining in the saga of me learning to live with depression - I never stopped being the most hilarious person you know*. Black humour, sarcasm and dry wit are the diamonds in the depression - trust me and every comedian alive on this one.

But nevertheless, despite this brilliant scientific fact (and by scientific fact - Robin Williams lived with depression too so that's all the information we need) - all the professionals have kept banging on about me doing more things to get the endorphins flowing. This means they want you to exercise deliberately, not accidentally.

And every month I faithfully reported that I'd done absolutely nothing about it.  Consistency is important I'm given to understand.

But then, I thought "F**k it". Let's do everything I'm supposed to do and see if it makes any difference at all.  And guess what dear readers?


Keep in mind my medication has fully kicked in now and I feel so okay** I don't know why I'm on medication because there is clearly nothing wrong with me. And that PROVES I don't need to exercise.

But somehow I am. I'm going to bed in time to arise before dawn some days, eating more than once a day, incidentally exercising, and miracle of all miracles. I'm exercising DELIBERATELY a few times a week. It's been walking mostly, and this week I started cross training one morning a week.  For the record, I can still plank for 45 seconds x 3. This adds nothing to my blog - I'm just boasting.  I'm going to do yoga too and start wearing my active wear for school drop off like people that exercise for fun. Never let it be said I'm not committed.
See! Fruit! Healthy, healthy fruit! 
Am I managing all of this just for me? Nope.

Is it because it's all local and all free? Nope. It's been there for over 12 months and I didn't go once.

It it because I want to be a good example to my kids? Um. HAVE YOU MET ME? Nope.

The only reason that I have got of my amply padded derriere to do as I am supposed to do is because I met this awesome female IN A PUB and we agreed to go for a walk.  All the resulting escalation in activity is because SHE DOES IT WITH ME.

My reason for 'actively self caring' is a woman called Margie. She's funny too. So we're basically a comedic duo quite literally hitting the road with our material.

So my mental health message for you all is go to the pub.  Find a Margie.

At the very least you'll have somebody to walk home from the pub with next time. But in the meantime, you're totally getting a gold star and a jelly bean next time you see a medical professional.

Thanks Margie.

*  citation needed
**subject to change without notice

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15 February 2017

Do something. Anything.

Last night I attended a fundraising dinner for Rafiki Mwema which is a NFP that supports therapeutic homes for Kenyan children that have suffered from horrific physical and sexual abuse.

I attended to support my friend Dan from Keeping Up with the Holsbys who just climbed Mt Kilimanjaro to raise funds for them. She's a sponsor of a child in one of the homes and is a passionate supporter of the work they do. And she just climbed Kili. I was able to eat a steak in support. I'm generous like that.

As always, I was incredibly moved by the commitment of the people that dedicate their lives to changing the lives of others. All their work makes our future world a little bit more awesome minute by minute, day by day, life by life. I came away full of ideas, and fanciful ideas of moving us all to a developing country to CHANGE THE WORLD!

Because that's what developing countries need - white women with no domestic skills, mechanical aptitude or any kind of clue. Though I am the founding member of Profanity for Humanity - a social justice organisation dedicated to changing the world one swear word at a time.

But I digress.

As you all know I'm a supporter of World Vision. I'm a blog ambassador and I've been sponsoring children for almost 25 years. I'm also a bloody good fundraiser when it's required and I'm more than happy to actually go and lug bricks or dig holes if it's needed.

I don't do this because I'm a good person. I do it because fundamentally, I want to give back. And sometimes I'm too tired, stressed and busy to do anything but give money. Sometimes I have no money so I have to give my time.

Basically I am you. But with a potty mouth.

Lots of us think about ways we can change the world, but very few people actually dedicate their lives to it.  Working for NFPs across the world supporting the vulnerable, the needy, the proud and the damaged isn't easy work.  And it's definitely not something you're doing for the money.  You're not doing it for easy hours and free trips overseas.

NFPs do it tough.  Governments are constantly cutting funding so they can give tax breaks to big companies, and your every day citizen is bitching that the NFPs need to take some of the money to actually run their activities rather than working for free.

A lot of people do. They give their time, their goods and then some more of their time because they can see they are making a difference and if they don't keep doing it, no one will.

When I visited India with World Vision last year, I thought I had a pretty good grasp of what they did. I mean I've been a sponsor forever, I have read the literature. I was briefed.  I've done field trips with other organisations. But when it came down to it.  I knew nothing.

I knew nothing of desperation. I knew nothing of poverty. I knew nothing about the transformational energy of hope. I knew nothing about how change was truly effected. I talked about empowerment but I hadn't ever seen it as a grass roots movement.  I knew about feminism but I didn't really how truly it mattered. I had seen prejudice but I had never seen it manifested in trauma.

I knew nothing of the commitment of the people on the ground. I knew nothing of the hours they worked. I knew nothing of the consultation that goes into establishing projects that meet the needs of the community. I knew nothing. I knew nothing of the heartbreak. I knew nothing of the joy. I didn't realise that real success was in the process, long before it was recognised by sponsors in the outcomes.

I don't know why this trip connected me in a more complex and understanding manner.  It could have been my state of mind, my age or the people I met. Whatever it was it has resulted in me being more vocal about social justice than I ever have been before. Words are my talent. So that's the bit of me I can use irrespective of time or money.

I sometimes feel I'm not doing enough. I should raise more money. I should march more. I should write more letters. I should sacrifice more to give more. I should do more. I should be more.

And there is always more to do. We live in a chaotic and flawed world where there is altogether too much inequality and conflict.  We live in a world where companies will make phones accessible to people who don't have access to toilets. We live in a world where most of the world has brown skin but people with white skins are calling the shots. We live in a world where Australia calls itself the lucky country as it funds concentration camps and refuses to recognise the First People in their constitution.

We can do small things which make a difference in the lives of our neighbours. We can do small things which make a difference in the lives of strangers. We can do small things which make a difference to the next generation. We can still go paleo and care about the world.

We don't need to be nice people to change the world. We don't need to be saints. We don't need to be rich. We don't need to be old. We don't need to be beautiful. We just need to do. We just need to give a little bit of ourselves. Whether its our time or money or our firstborn.

All of us have something to give. Something that won't hurt us to give away. Something that allows us to be altruistic and still smug AF because we've done something.

That's how we change the world. We do something.

Because our something lets somebody else do something.

And that something might be small. But the next something might be extraordinary.

That next something might feed a child. Educate a mother. Employ a father. Dress a dreamer. Pay the medical bills of a farmer. Inspire an inventor.

So do something. Anything. Please.

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6 February 2017

In defence of younger men

There is nothing you can say about dating younger men that I haven't heard.

The topic has come up again because (our) Kylie's relationship with her fiance has hit the skids and everybody but everybody is citing the age difference as the reason.  There have been more articles dedicated to this subject over the last week or so then mentions of Beyonce's pregnancy which is pretty impressive.

Now, personally, I suspect the allegation that said fiance was shagging other women had more to do with their break up then his age. And cheating is not something only young men do. Or only men for that matter.

I not only dated a younger man. I married him.

And dear readers, almost 13 years after we drunkenly snogged on a warm summer's evening in a backyard in South-East London, we are still together.

When I first kissed him, I didn't know how old he was. Just that he had the most incredible blue eyes, was hot with a capital H, had the most grab-able butt ever, loved music, played Scrabble and was good for hours and hours of conversation.

We weren't in love when we first snogged but very few are. I liked him though and clearly fancied him because I've never played tonsil hockey with anybody I didn't fancy. I'm classy like that.

A long long time ago... 
We started dating and pretty much every single person we knew had something to say on the matter. Women married to older men were particularly vehement on how it was not going to work. Our friends on the whole doomed the relationship it before it began. Our mothers made the kind of parental remarks they think are subtle and even the two of us spent quite some time talking about it. We endured endless examples of 'a friend of a friend who dated a younger man and.....' or a 'friend of a friend dated an older woman and.....'.

I am willing to bet money nobody had the same conversations with Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones when they hooked up. It would have been all "You lucky bastard" and "Well done Cath darling - older men know where it's at don't they?"

You know something? Our age has never mattered.

Sure we have different musical, movie and television references but we would have had those anyway because he's British and I'm Australian. Sure I was in school when he was born but I wasn't dating him then so it's irrelevant.  Sometimes we laugh at different things but that's because his side of the family have the most genetically flawed sense of humour known to mankind.

He's a good man. A kind one. A funny one. A supportive one. A loyal one. And yes,sometimes he is the most intensely irritating man on the planet.  That's not his age.... that's long term relationships. You can love somebody and they can still drive you bonkers on occasion.

Though he swears I never annoy him.  So yes, sometimes he lies. That's not his age though. That's because he can be a complete sweetheart when he wants to be. Or needs to be. You choose. We are interested in some of the same things but not all the same things. We have congruent values and ethics.  We parent similarly. We are different personality types but our arms fit perfectly around each other.

He's clearly comfortable with dinosaurs! 
Nobody ever fell in love with somebody because of their age.  Not once has anybody spotted a person and screeched "Ooh! Look! He was born the same year as me - HOW SEXY!"

You fall in love with people because you like them generally. You're attracted to them physically. You have common interests, shared dreams, whatever it might be.  You take a punt when you decide to live with them for ever after that you know them as well as you need to know them. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't - but age isn't the reason people work or don't work.

And if women were sensible, they'd all date men at least seven years younger. We all know men die younger than women so if you hook up with a younger chap, you will (statistically speaking) die about the same time. This will save your children a fortune in aged care fees so they can throw you both a decent wake and still have some money left over to fly to a tropical island for a holiday to scatter your ashes.

There are examples out there of solid lasting and loving relationships where 'she' is older than 'he'. Hugh Jackman and Deborah Lee Furness are one of my favourite examples. They're smart, sassy and funny. But these kind of successful relationships don't enable people to pull on their judgey-pants and carnivorously snuffle around the corpse of a relationship, shouting incoherently about patriarchal stereotypes and age in a manner that will generate clickbait headlines for the masses.

I don't deny that I sometimes look at Nick and wonder what he sees in me. But it's not my age I doubt. It's just that I am a flawed, temperamental, periodically hormonal, opinionated pain in the arse most days and the fact that he loves me just as I am is pretty mind-blowing.

But then I remember that his life would be as boring as batshit without me in it and I generously take the time to remind him how lucky he is that I moved into that same share house back in 2004.

Yep. He is younger than me. He's definitely better looking. But you know what?

He's perfect for me.

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3 February 2017

Drink the wine. Drink all of the wine.

Dear Everybody Doing FebFast, Dry July, Ocsober or any other booze free initiative in 2017,

If you're raising cash for somebody - good on you.

If you're not raising cash for somebody - don't do it.

I know, I know. I've read all the same articles as you.  After 28 or 31 days, you're going to have glowing skin, a healthy liver, more energy, feel more focussed and generally be a better person.

Except you're not.

I did the inaugural Dry July in 2008, I've gone months without drinking as I grew humans and then fed them from my boobs and I'm currently in the throes of a sober six months to see if it makes jack shit bit of difference to my mental health.

And while it is undoubtedly good for your physical health - in particular your liver and kidneys, nothing else changes. You're just not drinking booze.

Your skin doesn't change. You won't lose weight. You won't be more energised. You won't be more focussed. You're not a better person.

You're just drinking soda and lime like it's going out of fashion and working overtime as the designated driver.

And that's okay. Being the person who remembers all the drunken confessions the day after is a currency greater than gold.

But don't kid yourself that not drinking meets the hype of the reformed drinkers and writers of copious articles in Body and Soul.

You won't even really miss drinking.  Except for on those days where Trump is tweeting something stupid and you can solve that simply by avoiding reality for the next four years.

So go ahead with all that drinking in moderation that you believe everybody does. Though deep down, everybody is drinking with the same wild abandon as you, hoping that the fuzzy lens of inebriation will stop Trump and Hanson ruining the good name of redheads world wide.

If being a booze hound is the worst thing people can say about you, I'd give yourself a high five and crack open another bottle. If people aren't judging you for that, they'd be spitting their poison at someone else who might be sober enough to care.

In the meantime, for all those raising cash by sacrificing their happiness and embracing sobriety, good on you. Pour yourself another soda water and cross another day off the calendar. Reality is just the end of the month away.

With much love

A boozehound on hiatus

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