Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Association for Research on Mothering Conference - coming soon!

The Association for Research on Mothering - Australia, is holding its conference at the University of Queensland on July 2 - 4. I'll be presenting a paper in the same session as the founder, Andrea O'Reilly from York Univeristy in Toronto, Cananda. I'm excited!

The conference is called "The Mother" and History: Past/Present/Future.

There will presenters from Turkey, New Zealand, India, Finland, and universities all around Australia. Last time we met the academics said this was the only conference they attended where they could admit they had children.

It should be really interesting.

The topics cover literature, medicine, law, breastmilk, visual arts, media, mentoring, activism, carework and poetry.

Anyone can attend. When I went to the last one two years ago, I really felt I'd found a home. If you can make it, I recommend that you come to the conference. It is inspirational!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A poem I wrote about the early days of motherhood

From Selfishness to Servitude

From kitten heels to kitten breath
From hanging out with friends to hanging over the cot
From reading alone to reading aloud
From dancing til the small hours of the morning to driving to the hospital in the small hours of the morning
From taking a break from work to seeing no break in sight
From sitting in a pub, with cleavage, to sitting in a rocking chair, tits out
From 'please' and 'thankyou' to 'just co-operate and no-one will get hurt'
From enjoying a bit of romance to believing romance to be a ploy to entice women into a life of domestic service
From wearing jewellery to wearing those badges of parenthood, puke and snot
From aerobics classes to pelvic floor exercises
From feminist to fifties housewife
From aching for a baby to aching all over
From 'bloody hell' to 'good heavens'
From margaritas to metamucil
From researching vacations to researching vaccinations
From The Arts to toddler craft
From sleeping in as a luxury to sleeping whenever you can as a necessity
From some responsibility, some authority, to all responsibility, no authority
From wanting to do it by the book to whatever gets you through the day and night and day and night and day and night
From Triple J to Hi 5
From thinking panty liners are for women who don't like their bodies to thinking panty liners are for mums with a cold
From hooking up with people when you get there to 'we bring our own people'
From boutique shopping to family department stores
From interior decorating to childproofing
From climbing the career ladder to being climbed, with pubes and boobs as rungs
From George Clooney to Captain Feathersword
From infinite prospects to infinite patience
From making a new life to making a new life for yourself
From not wanting to change motherhood for the world to wanting to change the world for motherhood
From wanting to give our children every opportunity in the world to wanting to give our children a world worth living in

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Dance schools - here we go again

Again I'm looking for a dance school for my kids. Here is my letter to the Sydney Morning Herald explaining what happened when we were at our previous dance school.

All the wrong moves threaten childhood innocence and modesty

July 1, 2008

The report of the Senate committee inquiry into sexualisation of children stressed that successful regulation of the media should embody "broad conformity with community standards". Recently, in an area outside the inquiry's remit, I have had cause to question what those standards are.

I complained that the concert at our local dance school was inappropriately sexual for children. The older girls, who teach the younger students, performed a dance to the Prince song Cream that was more suitable for a men's club than as family entertainment. I felt uncomfortable watching it in an auditorium filled with grown men and small children.

My children performed to the song Hot Hot Hot, which was fine in rehearsal because it was about the weather. However, they were introduced with, "And now here is [this class] as they prove to you why they are feeling hot, hot, hot." Not fine. Surely framing them in a sexualised way that they are unaware of is exploitation.

The incident that shocked me most, however, was during a dance to Barbie Girl. The girls were dressed as Barbie dolls, and for the male vocals a boy of about 10 came on stage; the only time a male appeared in the concert. To the lyrics "Kiss me here, kiss me there", he kissed his fingers, then put his fingers to his groin and thrusted. The message was unambiguous. The audience cheered and clapped.

In my complaint I argued that all adults are responsible for the protection of children; that there is value in maintaining innocence and modesty (I mentioned the brief costumes); that the performance would not be acceptable in a preschool or school; and that art forms should express a range of emotions and ideas, certainly more than just sex. I included the Herald article by Cathy Sherry ("Wrong moves - and words - for young girls", December 11, 2007) and letters to the editor to show that the issue is of public concern.

I thought I was voicing the community standard. But I was told my beliefs were different from the dance school's and that I should find another. I contacted Australian Teachers of Dancing, to which the school belongs, which assured me none of its schools used inappropriate songs. I gave details of the concert but have had no reply.

I know other parents who have left dance schools because of the sexualisation of children, but never tell the school the reason. So the schools think what they are doing is fine.

Our local dance school is run by nice people. They would not mean to damage or disrespect children. But their response shows they are not prepared to accept their responsibilities. I hope my views are not as out of step with community standards as I have been told. But what if those standards are represented by people who accept the inappropriate sexualisation of children because they don't ask questions or don't speak out? Or worse, by the parents who clapped and cheered?

I might need a new community.

Catherine Walsh

Oh, and the music was too loud. And the teenage teachers had no control of the class...

If there was a local dance school that offered fairly casual classes, with basic uniforms (we don't want to feel we're joining a cult), age appropriate songs and moves like the kids learn at school (the dances are ABOUT something), a concert that was held locally where we don't buy tickets through ticketek, and isn't four hours long and isn't about the costumes and make-up, I reckon they'd be very successful!

Wish me luck!

My article in the Sydney Morning Herald, April 4, 2005

Sacrifice of power doesn't help mum or child

April 4, 2005

Demanding a little respect from the offspring would give parents back their life, writes Catherine Walsh.

My children went to a museum on the weekend where they saw a mother crying. Her son wasn't interested in being there, and she was saying, "I brought you all this way. I thought you would like it."

Women have fought for the right to vote, to work, to run companies and countries. It seems to me that the modern mother is in trouble because after having a baby she gives her power away. To her children.

I understand society does not support mothers or value their work, but that is no reason for mothers to internalise those messages and devalue themselves. So many mothers I see need Supernanny to help them get respect from their children and take control of their lives. Modern, educated, affluent mothers are making themselves subservient to their children.

A mother told me her child lost the $50 note she gave him to hold. At playgroup a child plays with a noisy toy during storytime, annoying everyone, and the mother says meekly, "Darling", sighs and shrugs as if she is helpless. Another mother told me her toddler won't eat leftovers. She has to cook fresh food for his every meal. Has to.

Many mums give away their power in the way they talk to their children, as if the child is in charge. Saying, "Let me finish this" or "Give me a minute" instead of "You will wait until I have finished". Asking "Will you pack away the toys?" instead of instructing or commanding. Saying "Do you mind?" Why are you asking permission of a toddler? Why are you allowing yourself to be nagged by a five-year-old? There is no dignity in arguing with a pre-schooler. And please, just take the offending item away from the child.

You are the parent.

There are times when a firm "Because I said so" is best. It means the parent is in charge and expects to be obeyed. How many times have you heard mothers saying to their children "That's the last lolly for you". Then the child takes more and the mother says, "OK, just one more". Then "OK, but that's the last" and on and on. It is time mothers say what they mean and enforce what they say.

Some parents may think that you will break your child's spirit by teaching them to sleep on their own, or giving them clear commands. Modern mothers are expected to hang on their children's every utterance, analyse their every move and attend their every whim. I say children deserve a mother who doesn't feel crap all the time.

We need to stop trying to bolster our children's self-worth at the expense of our own. The idea of giving your children high self-esteem is now being debunked in the US as children are leaving school with their bubbles bursting. They can't cope with criticism or independence.

A generation of children raised on false praise has given them an inflated sense of themselves, say teachers. There has not been as much benefit as hoped, say psychologists.

Why are mothers so afraid of stepping up to the parenting mark and taking their places as responsible adults? Is it because they want their children to like them? Your children don't have to like you. They have to trust you. Trust that you will provide their basic needs and comfort them.

Your children need you to be present, reliable, stable and consistent. They need you to be a person they respect. If they don't respect you when they are small, what hope will you have when your son is 15 and taller than you?

And they need you to teach them to behave in a way which is considered socially acceptable, and that means good manners and respect for women.

Motherhood has probably never been more difficult. We do it in isolation, without preparation, without support. We do it in a world that values the economy over care. The expert advice keeps changing and we're constantly being told that we're wrong. No wonder mothers are crying.

But the present phase of parenting is taking a lot from mothers, without any benefit. We need a new parenting phase which empowers mothers. We give up enough to become mothers; to some extent our bodies, our sleep, earnings, friendships, hobbies. We don't need to sacrifice our self-respect.

Those who fought for women's rights would be horrified that we have given our power to small children. Instead we could raise our children with less effort, give ourselves more respect and have a life that includes whatever else we want: adult relationships, a career, sport, a social life, hobbies, community projects, political activism, working for women's rights, refugees' rights, environmental issues. Without guilt.

I've had my turn of being a child, and I did as I was told. I had an extended adolescence. And now I've had three children, I'm turning 40 and I want my turn at being a parent. And that means being treated with respect. By children, by men, by government, workplaces and the whole of society.

Catherine Walsh is writing a musical about motherhood. She also contributes to The Mothers of Intervention, http://www.moi.org.au