Monday, May 25, 2009

Local services that support mums

Going to local family programs when the kids were little was my lifesaver. It gave structure to our day and some much needed social interaction for me.

In this section I want to list local services that support mums. Perhaps you can find ideas for services that support families in your area?

My local council offers free child care at the local pool two mornings a week. The service is for one hour each family. The child care is in the hall next to the pool, and you have to go into the pool area to use the service, but you don't have to swim. Mums who use the service have coffee, read, eat, chat, open their mail, sit in the sun and have a rest, have a shower and wash their hair, take their other child to a swimming lesson, or swim laps.

Each of the local councils run play services in the local parks. They provide craft, outdoor activities, baby mats with baby toys, and storytime. One of these is operated in conjunction with a local child care centre.

Our local library provides weekly storytime for toddlers and preschoolers, which includes a craft activity. It also offers activities for children of various ages during school holidays.

Our local library also runs a parents' bookgroup, where the children's librarian is with the children, and I'm with the adults talking about books we've read. We sit at a table next to the children's area, so the kids come and go as the conversation continues. We meet one hour a month. The bookgroup is based on themes, topics, authors, countries or time periods, which I prepare. It means there is no pressure to obtain and read a particular book, and even if you don't have time to read for the topic, it is likely there is a book in your reading history you can draw on for the discussion. We really like it!

What local services in your area are you grateful for?

Babysitting Club

In my local area I started a babysitting club. I'm posting the rules here so that others can do the same. To start the club I printed copies of the rules, booked a space at the local community centre and called a meeting to discuss the formation of the club. We went from there, and have been successfully running for the last several years. We have given our rules to other local mums who have formed their own clubs. So, give it ago.


The maximum number of members is 24, with a minimum ideally of 12 in order to operate effectively.

Available 24 hours a day 7 days a week with the exception of Christmas Day and Good Friday, subject to sitter availability.

A Secretary is appointed from among the member families for a month at a time and this role is rotated each month. With 12 members, each mum is Secretary one month every year. Unless no-one else is available any one member must not be Secretary again before all other members have taken a turn.

Informal meetings are held at least every 6 months. At the meetings we decide on a roster of Secretaries for the next 6 months, meet with any prospective members and resolve any problems.

The club runs on a points system and all records are kept in a folder which is transferred from Secretary to Secretary at the end of each month. Tables in word have been prepared and printed with names and phone numbers of members listed.

The folder includes a printed copy of the rules.

Points are gained for babysitting and used by the family requiring a babysitter. All points gained and lost, and a running tally of points, are calculated by the Secretary with a balance at the end of the month before the book is passed on to the next Secretary.

The incoming Secretary checks the tally of the previous month. The outgoing Secretary will email the tally to the email group at the end of the month. The Secretary receives a bonus of 12 points.

After receiving a phone call or email from someone requiring a sitter, the Secretary then phones or emails all families until a sitter is found. If more than one sitter is available, the family with the most debit points is appointed the sitter for that request.

The sitter then contacts the sittee to make arrangements. It is important for the sitter and the sittee to agree at the end of the contracted time, that is, when the sitter is due to arrive home, as to the number of points involved.

As soon as possible after the sit, the sitter phones or emails the Secretary to advise how many points have been gained. The Secretary then enters the points lost and gained as appropriate and calculates new tallies.

If there is an overlap of arranging sitting at the end and beginning of the month the outgoing Secretary will make sure all requests are dealt with before handing over the book.

The sittee is required to leave a light supper (biscuits, tea/coffee), pillow, blanket, contact numbers and details of where they are going and estimated time of return and any specific information necessary eg baby has a bottle at 10 pm, children to be in bed by 8 pm. Etc

The sittee will leave emergency information. This includes, exits from the home, contact details of someone to be contacted if parents cannot be contacted, family doctor, allergies.

All sitting is to be done in the home of the sittee, unless otherwise agreed to mutually.

Points are awarded for sitting according to the convenience/ inconvenience of the time.

7pm to midnight – 4 points per hour
Midnight to 2am – 8 pph
2am to 8am – 12 pph
8am to 4pm – 4 pph
4pm to 7pm – 8 pph

Points are calculated to the nearest 15 minutes

Maximum points for and against at any time are limited to 60 except in exceptional circumstances. (for example, new baby, illness, moving house or other major disruption) That is, if you are in debt by 60 points or so you need to sit for someone else before you can use the club again.

When a family expects to leave the club all debits are expected to be worked off.

New members are to be nominated and endorsed by existing members who have known them for 12 months so that everyone feels confident with prospective sitters. Unless otherwise agreed to, it is expected that the female parent will baby-sit. Picnics will be held from time to time to allow families to meet and mothers’ dinners will also be arranged

Between three days and three weeks notice should be given to the Secretary when booking a sit. If a club member needs a sitter at the last moment she is to obtain current contact information from the Secretary and arrange the sit herself.

If you need to cancel a sit you must ring the Secretary and the sitter. Points for two hours will be charged to any member who cancels a sit with less than 24 hours notice. A cancelled sit will not be considered use of the club. If a sitter needs to cancel she should phone around to find a replacement. If no replacement is found the proposed sittee gains the first two hours bonus points.

Young children must be ready for bed when the sitter arrives for an evening sit. Unless agreed to mutually in advance.

The sitter is expected to interact with the children if they are awake.

Sitters are to arrange their own transport to and from the sit. The sitter has to be escorted to her car after the sit. Members should ensure that the sitter has driven away before closing the front door.

A sitter may bring her children to the babysitting job according to the time of day, eg babies under 12 months allowed for night sits, older children allowed for day time sits.

A sitter is to breastfeed no children other than her own.

It is acceptable for a sitter to fall asleep if the children are asleep.

The group email for the Babysitting Club is not to be used for purposes other than the Babysitting Club.

Rather than form a committee to resolve disputes, we agree to discuss and resolve them at informal gatherings of members, eg dinners.

We agree not to sign waivers re liability or run checks on members but to trust each other with the care of our children. We agree that all decisions of safety or appropriateness of any situation rests with the mothers involved.

Names, addresses and other family details are to remain strictly within the babysitting club unless consent is given by individual members to release these details to another party.

New members will start with a balance of 12 points.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Talking Back to the Media - Critiquing messages to mums

Here is an example of what really gets my goat. Nearly every day there are stories in the newspapers starting with 'Reports from studies show...' that are addressed to parents. This piece goes for the sensational, and leaves a lot of questions unanswered. The terms 'abusive and harsh' are pretty subjective and many would say the Supernanny method isn't either of these. What type of discipline did the other mothers use? More stern or no discipline? And how do they define a 'warm and sensitive relationship' - where does that fit in the positive parenting programs? Are there other reasons why mothers are stressed and depressed? Are the children too young to test if the method works? Did their behaviour improve even though the mothers were still stressed? Is it normal for children to be aggressive and defiant at age two?
And, oh yes, it works for high-risk, struggling families but there is no further comment on that.

The program reduced unrealisic developmental expectations and harsh parenting (smacking and yelling). It was successful for the more high risk families (how are they defined?). So, by whose definition is the program a failure??

The headline could have been: Positive Parenting Programs Helps High Risk Families. Instead the message is: Small children behave badly and you'll be stressed - there is nothing you can do about it!

Oh, and the article was originaly run in The Sydney Morning Herald on 10.02.08, so it isn't even recent news! Although in that article there was mention of the consequences if mothers get it wrong. 'Left untreated, up to 50 per cent of behavioural problems in preschool children develop into mental health problems.'
Great. And it ended with a quote. 'But University of Queensland professor Matt Sanders , founder of the widely-used Positive Parenting Program, disagreed with the finding, saying there was plenty of evidence that universal parenting programs were effective.'

Over-nannying tots far from super

  • Louise Hall
  • April 27, 2009

"positive parenting" programs

Infants subjected to Supernanny-style parenting end up behaving just as badly at two years old as other children, Australian researchers say.

And mothers who use methods such as the "naughty chair" and "quiet time", advocated by Supernanny's child-raising expert Jo Frost, are just as stressed as other women, although less likely to use harsh or abusive parenting methods.

In TV's top-rating Supernanny, Frost helps families with uncontrollable or excessively naughty children to instil discipline and order.

A trial of 700 mothers at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne found there was little worth in introducing "positive parenting" programs - intensive two-hour sessions involving a nurse and childhood experts - on a wide scale. But researcher Harriet Hiscock said such sessions did work for high-risk families already struggling to cope with behavioural problems.

Dr Hiscock said the study was designed to examine if getting in early and targeting all socio-economic groups would prevent behavioural problems from developing in children.

The report, published in the British Medical Journal, found that toddlers whose mothers did the program were just as defiant and aggressive at two, and their mothers experienced the same levels of anxiety and depression, as those who did not take part.

The trial did not go beyond the age of two.

In the trial, the mothers of half the children were allowed to bring them up as they thought best. The other half attended group sessions at eight, 12 and 15 months and were taught how best to develop a "warm and sensitive relationship" with their toddler.

Advice included abandoning smacking and yelling in favour of ignoring or distracting a misbehaving child, and praising children when they did something right rather than punishing for wrongdoing.

While the program helped reduce unreasonable developmental expectations of children, and harsh parenting, children's behaviour and maternal mental health were no different from the control group.

Source: The Age

Sites and Orgs

Here is a list of Recommended Organisations and Websites:
(the ones marked with an * are Australian)

The Mothers Movement Online (US)
Moms Rising (US)
Mothers Acting Up (US)
Mothers Ought to Have Equal Rights (US)
The Motherhood Project (US)
Mothers and More (US)
Association For Research on Mothering (CAN)
The Museum of Motherhood (US)

Studies in the Maternal (UK journal)

Global Sister
Stop the Traffik
Mamapalooza (US)
Brain, Child (US)
Literary Mama (US)
The Imperfect Parent (US)
Mothers' Union (UK Christian group which is active for change)
The Parents Jury*

Australian Breastfeeding Association*

Maternal Coalition*

Young Media*

Kids Free 2B Kids*
Collective Shout*
Say No 4 Kids*
The Democracy Project*
Get Up*
The Women's Electoral Lobby*
Women's Forum Australia*
The Greens*
Australian Conservation Foundation*
Mothers Be Heard*
Dawn Chorus*
Blue Milk (Blog)*
Liz Conor (Blog)*

International Mothers Network

(links and descriptions to follow)

Non-Fiction Books

Recommended Non-Fiction, including 'Momoir':
(Austrlian titles marked with an *)

The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women - Susan Douglas J. and Meredith W. Michaels

The Mother of All Myths: How Society Moulds and Constrains Mothers - Aminatta Forna

The Mask of Motherhood: How Mothering Changes Everything and Why We Pretend It Doesn't - Susan Maushart*

Mother Reader: Essential Writings on Motherhood - Moyra Davey (ed)

Misconceptions: Truth, Lies and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood - Naomi Wolf

The Maternal is Political: Women Writers at the Intersection of Motherhood and Social Change - Shari MacDonald Strong (ed)

The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued - Ann Crittenden

Maternal Theory: Essential Readings - Andrea O'Reilly (ed)

Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety - Judith Warner

Toxic Childhood: How the Modern World is Damaging Our Children and What We Can Do About It - Sue Palmer

Taking Parenting Public: The Case for a New Social Movement - Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Nancy Ranking, Cornel West (eds)

A Potent Spell - Janna Malamud Smith

The Myths of Motherhood: How Culture Reinvents the Good Mother - Shari L. Thurer

The Politics of Motherhood: Activist Voices from Left to Right - Alexis Jetter, Annelise Orleck, Diana Taylor (eds)

The Great Feminist Denial - Monica Dux, Zora Simic*

The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood - Rachel Power*

Motherhood: How Should We Care For Our Children? - Anne Manne*

Mother Shock: Loving Every (Other) Minute of It - Andrea J. Buchanan

Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution - Adrienne Rich

A Better Woman - Susan Johnson*

Mommies Who Drink: Sex, Drugs and Other Distant Memories: True Tales of Modern Motherhood - Brett Paesel

Sue Goodwin - The Good Mother*

See also MOTHERS Book Bag for Recommendations

(short descriptions to follow)

Mothers in Fiction

Recommended Fiction:

Nursery Crimes: A Mommy Track Mystery - Ayelet Waldman

I Don't Know How She Does It - Alison Pearson

Dying for Cake - Louise Limerick*

The Love Child - Fran Cusworth*

Safety - Tegan Bennet Daylight*

And I want to see more. I want to see depictions of what I call Challenger Mums (ones who ask a lot of questions) who don't come to grief like Eva from 'We Need to Talk About Kevin'', April Wheeler from 'Revolutionary Road', pathologised as the unnamed mother in 'Still Waters' or is as misunderstood as Laura Brown in 'The Hours'. It seems to me these mums are asking some good questions, but not finding acceptable answers. A 'Momoir' from the US, 'Mommies Who Drink', by Brett Paesel, is in development to be made into a TV series by HBO. I want to see more mouthy mums on TV. There is enough material from stand-up comics, bloggers, memoirists, and forum posts to make many entertaining shows which depict mothers in a new light.

More about mouthy mums soon...

In the meantime, what mothers in fiction have you identified with or just plain enjoyed reading?
Please share.

Introduction and Welcome

My name is Catherine Walsh and this blog has been a long time coming.

I live in Sydney, Australia, and I have three daughters. My highest qualification is in literature, but I have also dabbled in (studied at various times) some creative art forms; acting, songwriting, jazz singing, dancing, visual arts, fashion.

I'm currently on three local committees and I run two community bookgroups.

I've had letters about mothering published in The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney's Child and The Australian Literary Review.

When I became a mum for the first time, I had a lot of questions. I'm interested in so many aspects of mothering: how mothers are portrayed in the media and in creative works, how mothers are addressed by the media, how the experience of mothering is shaped by social policy and political context, and how mothers can be active for change. I started researching, writing and looking for like-minded mums I could talk to. I found The Mothers of Intervention site, run by Liz Conor in Melbourne, which put me on the right track, but, unfortunately, no longer exists.

I'm now a member of The Association for Research on Mothering - Australia.

I've been gathering resources for mums, the resources I wish someone had been able to give me. So I'm sharing them here.

And I want to learn from others who think about aspects of mothering.

I'd like to eventually put it all together into a book, and maybe teach this stuff at Community Colleges. Also, I want to finish writing my musical and get it produced!

So here is the blog...

Mothering Songs

Here are some mothering songs that acknowledge the ambiguity, the tiredness, the choices and the responsibility of mothering, and how it can distance you from your former friends and your former life. Considering mothering is universal, and the fact that songs can be about anything, there seems to be a disproportionate number of songs about rappers' bling compared to songs about mothering. I'm interested in how mothering is compatible with producing creative work. When Tom Waits was asked how parenthood impacted on his art he replied 'It makes it harder to find the ashtrays.' A mother wouldn't say that. For a woman, being a parent makes it so much harder to be an artist. I feel better knowing these songs exist. Some of these I discovered through Mampalooza - they put out compilation Cds. You'll be able to hear most of them on youtube.

Eat For Two - 10,000 Maniacs

To Zion - Lauryn Hill

To a Child - Laura Nyro

Child of Mine - Carole King

If I Didn't Have You to Wake Up To - Carole King

Nayib's Song (I Am Here For You) - Gloria Estefan

All Babies - Sinead O'Connor

My Darling Child - Sinead O'Connor

Little Stars - Lisa Miller*

I Love You a Thousand Dollars - Lisa Miller*

Unglamorous - Lori McKenna

Mom is Not My Real Name - Tina De Varon

Stop the Mail - Tina De Varon

I'm Gonna be an Engineer - Peggy Seeger

Oh No! I Burnt the Dinner Again - The Mothers

Punkymums - The Mothers

Eat Your Damn Spaghetti - Housewives on Prozac

Mommy, Mommy, Mommy - Sue Fabisch

Multi Taskin' Mama - Krist 'Funky Mama' Eyler

Kray 2 the Z - Nancy Lombardo

(some lyrics and commentary to follow)

If you know of any others, I love for you to share with me. What songs about mothering speak about your experience?

Friday, May 08, 2009

The History of Mother's Day

According to the advertisements, for Mother's Day we buy mum slippers, or flowers, or lunch, or a new kitchen appliance. The way Mother's Day is celebrated now you would think it was created by Hallmark. It wasn't.

There is currently a movement to reclaim the original intention of Mother's Day.

The original Mothers' Day was a Mothers' Peace Day in 1873, a protest against the American Civil War, organised by Julia Ward Howe. She wrote a Mothers' Day Proclamation in 1870.

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all woman who have hearts!...
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience...
And up from the bosom of a devestated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says 'Disarm! Disarm!'

In 1858 Ann Jarvis, a young homemaker of West Virginia, organised the first Mothers' Work Days to improve sanitation and stop disease. She organised women on both sides during the Civil War. Her daughter, Anna Jarvis, continued her work by campaigning for a memorial day for mothers. In 1907 at her mother's memorial service she handed out 500 white carnations, her mother's favourite flower. The first Mothers' Day service was held at the St. Andrew's Episcopal Church on May 10, 1908. On May 8, 1914, the US Congress passed a law designating the second Sunday in May to be Mother's Day. Woodrow Wilson declared that American citizens show the flag to honour mothers whose sons had died in war.

Later, when Anna Jarvis saw how commercialised the day had become, she tried to have it cancelled. She said, "A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment!" The apostrophe was moved to make it a celebration for individual mothers rather than recognising the social good mothers can do collectively.

The history of maternal activism has largely been fogotten. Mother's Day seems to be good time to remember.

It was mothers who, along with other women, initially campaigned for women's right to vote, and to an education, and for equal pay.

In Australia Louisa Lawson, mother of Henry, wrote a monthly journal, The Dawn, from 1888 to 1895, advocating women's rights and actively fighting for suffrage, education, workers rights and social reform. Joan Kirner is another example. She became a politician after campaigning for smaller class sizes at her children's public school and went on to became first woman Premier of Victoria. There are many more examples of mothers who have worked for broader causes than their own families' wellbeing, but you have to look for them. Information about these women isn't handed out as a new mum leaves the hospital with her baby as an example of the kind of mother's club you are now qualified to join.

In the US mothers' organisations are claiming Mother's Day as a day of action. The group MOTHERS, standing for Mothers Ought to Have Equal Rights, has released a list of the 'Top 10 Mother's Day Gifts We REALLY Want', which includes paid sick leave; safe, affordable, accessible child care; part time jobs with proportionate pay and benefits; unpaid family caregiving valued as productive work by society; a maternal voice in public policies and practices and a Mothers' Centre in every community. Another action group, Mothers Acting Up, is organising a day in support of Stand for the World's Children!, a grassroots campaign to lobby government to protect vulnerable children around the world. In Canada there is a campaign run by Inter Pares (meaning among equals) to Take Back the Day, where they ask people to support women working for justice and peace all over the world.

It has become the fashion to mother intensively, focussing on doing all we can to give our own children every opportunity and material benefit. Perhaps the times are changing to a more extensive form of mothering, where we acknowledge our global interconnectedness and try to not only prepare our children for the world, but prepare the world for our children and all children.

All holidays are amalgamations of different festivals, (the ancient Greeks and Romans also had a day on which to celebrate mothers), and these keep evolving. Just as we work out how best to celebrate Easter or Christmas in accordance with our values and beliefs, it is worth considerng how we want to celebrate Mother's Day.

There might come a time when we move the apostrophe back. Mother's Day doesn't have to be about fluffy slippers.