Monday, 14 December 2015

Periods are revolting: getting the CSP revolution into women’s minds

Modesty v information

As a blogger, I find myself going to talks about blogging. During the most recent one, the Blog Lady pointed out that we don’t share news about anything “embarrassing.” She’s right, Facebook may be full of complaints about the weather and ill children, but no one ever seems to be excited that their piles have cleared up.

This is probably a Good Thing. There is such a thing as privacy, not to mention the fact that we’re often not that discriminating when it comes to Facebook friends (!).

But there is a downside to this modesty. When we keep things we consider “embarrassing” or “too personal” off our blogs and social media accounts, we’re robbing people of valuable information too.

I think this is what’s happening with CSP. CSP stands for cloth sanitary protection, in other words, reusable sanitary pads. Now, some of my friends know I’ve been using CSP since 2005 but to be honest, it’s not something that tends to come up in conversation. I think I’ve mentioned it once on Facebook (only because I found someone who could make me TARDIS pads!) and never on Twitter. 

Because reusable menstrual products aren’t mentioned, online or offline, women aren’t informed about them. So when it comes to keeping clean during our periods, all the information we have shown to us is paid for by the only companies who can afford it, i.e. the large pharmaceuticals. And they’re making a killing because their products are disposable, meaning women need to buy a new pack every month. Hence the big companies have got the money to advertise...and so it goes round and round.

The period revolution

In fact, there’s a period revolution going on. It’s going on pretty quietly, on a few websites, a handful of Facebook pages and at the dining tables of some enterprising women who run up cloth pads on their sewing machines. If we want to find out about this different approach to menstrual products, we won’t see an ad in Cosmopolitan or in the commercial breaks on TV. Women will have to somehow find out CSP exists before they can even start doing their research. Articles (often excellent) can be found in the online versions of the broadsheets but they’re often spoiled by narrow-minded comments and questionable statistics.

Reusable pads are important

It’s a shame that this revolution is so quiet because what the CSP revolutionaries are doing is really important. They’re reducing waste, reducing carbon footprints and reducing the power of the large pharmaceutical companies. They’re offering products that stop you ruining your knickers but don’t carry a risk of toxic shock syndrome. They’re saving their fellow-women money – after all, pads, tampons, Mooncups and CSP are only a necessary outlay for half the population and anything reusable constitutes a saving. How would you feel if I told you I haven’t bought any menstrual products (disposable or reusable) for over five years?!

The way forward

Cloth sanitary protection and reusable menstrual products like Mooncups are the way forward for us and our planet. Before women are going to start using them, they’ve got to get used to the idea and that’s only going to happen if it’s in the public consciousness.

So everyone, talk about this! Get the idea of reusable menstrual products into women’s minds and let’s start to normalise it. 

Monday, 5 January 2015

What’s worth more: time or money?

I heard a British sheep farmer on the radio a few winters ago. He’d been armpit deep in the snow, digging out his sheep...and consumers were all down Buy N Large, picking up imported New Zealand lamb while the hard-won British meat went out of date. He was asking one thing of the listeners: serve up his lamb for Sunday roast and make his demanding job worthwhile. 

I think this is something that work-at-home mums experience too. 

I’m a full time mum and a part time freelance copywriter. I feel the same eye-rolling frustration when a client has commissioned something, paid me for it but never used it.  I charge the going rate for ghost blogging; that’s because if I charged for what it really takes to deliver some blogs, you couldn't afford me! Of course, many things I write are quick and easy. But for every few like that, there’s one that’s been written in spite of everything conspiring to prevent it. I’m talking about the pieces I've only been able to write because I've parked an ill, off-school seven-year-old in front of a DVD. The pieces I've cancelled a school holiday outing to complete.

Now, in some ways, this is Fair Enough. I signed up to combine motherhood and copywriting – I went into this with my eyes open. I write what I say I will and (somehow!) I make my deadlines. But if I have written something for you, and you've liked it, for goodness’ sake USE IT. Post it to your website, splash it all over social media, send it off to the paper like you said you were going to. Then – and only then – it will have been worth what I might have gone through, and the sacrifices I might have asked of my family. I may not have been up to my armpits in snow but I probably have been up to my eyes in present-wrapping, Calpol, meetings with teachers and Tooth Fairy duties...and all while I’m trying to get my work done too. For my work to sit, ignored (but paid for!) in your inbox, is heartbreaking.

Many parents have turned a hobby into a business to fit in around their families. Show them the respect they so heartily deserve: if you buy something from them, whether it’s a blog, a plant pot or a hand-knitted jumper, please, please use it.  

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The Car Hug (or “Love Conquers All”)

I like to share ideas I’ve had that work for my family, just in case they work for you too. Our latest has proved to be the solution to a ridiculous yet serious problem: how to get all my children quietly out of the car.

Now I don’t know what happens with your family after school, or even if you use your car for your school run, but this is how it was for us: I’d arrive home from school in the car with my eight year old son and six and four year old daughters. I’d say something like, “Come on, everyone, let’s go in!” but they never heard me. Tired and hungry, they’d be winding each other up or fighting, or else showing off to each other and climbing out of the windows instead of opening the doors. Just going into the house and waiting for them to finish messing about wasn’t really an option – our house layout is such that all the living space is one storey higher than the car and the front door. This was terrible. Tempers were frayed, my children were getting hurt and my house and car kept getting left open and unlocked.

It was time for a change.

I knew why my children were behaving like this. They were over-tired after their school days, and demonstrating all the bad behaviour mums seem to have to deal with after they’ve been separated from their children for any period. What I needed was something to soothe them, comfort them and show them that I was thrilled to have them back again. In other words, a hug.

So what I do now is this. I turn off the engine and say, “Shall we have car hugs?” Then I open the front door and give each of my children a hug as they get out of the car. The hugs are quite long, and I take the opportunity to tell them how happy and proud they make me. The others wait beautifully because they know they’re going to get theirs too. Then they go into the house – quietly, because they’re calm and reassured.

This is one area where love has been more effective than all the shouting and timeouts in the world. The car gets safely locked too!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

A family run

My partner and I are both regular runners. We don’t train for marathons or follow iPhone app running programmes but we run to keep fit and we find it helps us deal with life’s little challenges better too.

In addition to our running habits, we also have three children aged seven, five and three. We have to fit our running in around them with me usually running before my partner leaves for work and him running home from the station most days. Today, we had a very successful park trip and my five year old and I managed a run too! I’m sharing it here in case it inspires any of you to find ways to take exercise that combine well with family life too.

Today, in my head, I’d planned to have a run after lunch. Hoping to create a new activity (and also take the pressure off my partner!) I asked my two eldest children if they’d like to come running with me. My five year old accepted and, while we were digging out trainers, my partner suggested that he and the others come too: they could play in the park and me and my 5yo, R, could run round it. Off we set, walking together while R and I warmed up. R and I peeled off after we’d crossed the road and started our run. She did really well! R ran fast for a couple of minutes, got worn out and then we walked briskly for another minute or so before running again. After one running/walking circuit, during which we’d jumped over the park speed humps, had a few races and some great mum-and-daughter time, she was a bit tired so we went looking for the others. We found them in a tree by the lake. R wanted to climb the tree too so I left her there with her dad and siblings and did another continuous, grown-up circuit on my own before coming back to see how they were all getting on. This child-led interval training continued with me running alone, visiting the tree-climbing delegation for a hug and a giggle and collecting and dropping off R. Finally we headed for home, calling in at the playground en route.

So, all in all, a very successful afternoon. I got my run but not at the expense of a family trip out and I had loads of fun with my middle daughter too!  My partner and I plan to do this again but with him in his trainers too so he can have his run as well. I hope to persuade my seven year old to do a lap next time too!

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Three children's books for parents

As well as all the mainstream, well-known parenting books, I feel there are some fantastic messages about family life  to be found in children's picture books. Here are three that spring to mind. You might have your own list too!

Winnie the Witch by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul.
Plot: Winnie the Witch lives in a black house with her beloved black cat Wilbur. Unfortunately, she can never see him because he is always camouflaged against the black decor, with the result that she continually sits on him or falls over him. She tries to make things better by changing Wilbur's colour but  that just upsets him and he disappears up a tree to hide. So Winnie has  a think and turns him back to black and makes the house a difference colour instead.  And now, Winnie can see Wilbur no matter where he sits. 

Message: we shouldn't try and make our lives easier by changing our children. There are bound to be other things we can have a go at changing first. 

Zou and the Box of Kisses by Michel Gay
Plot: Zou the little zebra is going to a summer camp without his parents for the first time. After he tells them he is worried about it, they make him a box filled with paper kisses to take with him, enough for every night of the trip. The next night, the little zebras travel together on a night train to the camp. Zou feels a bit worried but he gets a kiss out of the box and feels better. One of the other zebras is inconsolable but Zou offers him a kiss from his box and cheers him up. Soon all the little zebras on the train have a paper kiss and the box is empty...but everyone is asleep and happy. The next day, they arrive by the sea feeling great and all ready for summer camp. 

Message: If we make our children feel confident and secure in our love, they can pass that emotional confidence on to others and make a real difference in their lives. 

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Plot: Max's games get out of hand and he charges around the house making a mess. His mum shouts at him and sends him to bed without any supper. He gets into bed and sails away to where the wild things are. He rules over them and they all have a wonderful wild rumpus...only then he wants to go home. Home he goes and there, on the table in his room, is his supper waiting for him. And it is still hot. 

Message: This books gives me so much strength on a bad day! Us mums all try our best but sometimes we lose our rags. Even so, the breach can be healed, we still want our children there and they still want us there.  Afterwards, it is absolutely right to show our children love and affection again. It isn't weak at all.  

Of course, these books are primarily for us to read to our children for their enjoyment and these are just my own additional interpretations.  That said,  I sincerely feel they have some great messages for parents.  There many tools - memories, books, news stories, other things I haven't thought of! - out there to guide and support us in our parenting journeys and we can find them if we keep our eyes, ears and minds open. That's a fantastic thing to teach our children too.  

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Libellous language and the power of positive parenting

An article written for the Woking NCT newsletter back in 2010 where it appeared under the title "Listen to your Language." Thanks to all who helped me to write it.

This isn’t an article about how we speak to our children. This is an article about the words in our heads when we think about our children, the labels we dress them in and how we talk about them to other parents; how important it is to keep the good thoughts uppermost.  Of course, of course we all love our children, but the words we use don’t always reflect this.  A bit of consideration about our language might help us be calmer mums who have more fun, and, hey, some of this calmness might even rub off on the children!

First up, the language we use ourselves. I should start with a pet hate of mine: “kids.” I never call my children “kids” because I find it a derogatory term. It refers to baby goats, cloven-hoofed ones, little ones that eat everything whether it’s food or not and trash the joint at the same time. How can I like “kids” enough to deal with tantrums, cook dinners, get them all ready for school, do all the things I like least but that have to be done calmly anyway? Doing something “for my children” is a much more positive phrase, I feel. “Children” reminds me that they are humans too young to fend for themselves, in need of mummy’s guidance, guidance offered calmly, willingly and lovingly.

Well, maybe I feel more strongly about the word “kids” than most do but what about this one: I saw a car recently with one of those yellow diamond-shaped “Baby On Board” signs – only this one said “Brat On Board.” Now, it takes a lot to shock me but I’m afraid that did. Did someone think that was funny? Why? I only hope the child was too young to read – how would you have felt if your parents had a sign on their car like that?  It is just an insult to the child and a constant reminder to the parents of the bad days. Maybe it was bought in a moment of dark parent humour when the child wasn’t there, or maybe it was bought on the day the child smeared hand cream all over the French window, but it is my belief that, for the parents, seeing that label on their car every day is a self-fulfilling prophecy that just reinforces their poor opinion of their child.

There also seems to be an increasing market for T-shirts with messages like “100% Trouble” and “Little Monster.” One friend reports an increase in difficult behaviour from her two year old on days when he is wearing his “100% Trouble” T-shirt. Could this be because she unconsciously projects that view of him when she reads the T-shirt? It is widely known that little children have a strong awareness of their parents’ moods so these negative T-shirt messages may quickly become self-fulfilling prophecies.

The words we speak out loud are even more significant. Obviously, letting off steam is normal and healthy but arriving at school pick up to collapse on a friend’s shoulder and say, “It’s hell today!” isn’t going to help. You’ve still got another few hours with your children before bedtime and approaching it with the idea that it’s going to be “hell” is guaranteed to make it so.

While this is not an article about speaking to children, it is important to remember that they are not deaf. They can hear us complaining to our friends about them. A neighbour of mine used to annoy me infinitely by pressing me when I had nodded to the children and said to her, “Tell you later, eh?” It’s important to support other mums - that great sisterhood of understanding and recent experience is invaluable - but once we have toddlers who can understand what we say, it’s important not to let them think mummy doesn’t believe in them.

Some of these mum-to-mum conversations make us dismiss the problem without taking action. “It’s just the Terrible Twos,” we say to our fellow-mothers as we look down at our screaming child. We don’t see our son’s frustration at not being able to express himself, don’t see our daughter’s over-fatigue now she’s able to run and jump. If we hadn’t dismissed the event with a trite phrase, we might be able to find some patience and regain control of the situation.
Sometimes we forget that what we say to another mum is our opinion but not necessarily hers. When this happens, the other mum may feel a lack of confidence in her own parenting or feel brought down by the other person’s negativity.
I must confess that I hate going into Woking town centre with all three of my children. On the whole they behave beautifully, play quietly with Lego in coffee shops, choose delightful books in the library and generally do me proud. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to stop people taking a quick glance at my family, seeing three children under five and blurting out, “you’ve got your hands full!” This makes me feel that it’s wrong of me to enjoy my children, makes me feel that I should be worrying about the next bout of drudgery instead of singing The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round in (unintentional) four part harmony.

Nearly all mothers have their share of battles but nearly all mothers deal with them extremely well. Don’t dwell on those battles.  Let’s celebrate the successes and share the joy!  Instead of “you’ve got your hands full!” and “you’re a glutton for punishment!” why not say, “you’re doing a great job!” or “what lovely children!” The mothers you say it to will dance away, in love with their children and far better equipped to deal with fish finger rejection at teatime.
I’m not saying we can’t let off steam sometimes, hiss expletives into cupboards and cry down the phone to our sisters. I am saying that we are all great mums and if we consider our language more, we’ll feel like great mums too!

Charlotte Buchanan

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Mixed feelings about Breastfeeding Awareness Week

Breastfeeding Awareness Week will soon be upon us once more and, as usual, I won't be participating. I believe that breastfeeding is normal and therefore doesn't need an awareness week - we don't have a "birth awareness week" so why do we need one for breastfeeding? Giving it its own "week" only serves to highlight breastfeeding as something unusual that only affects the lives of the few. While the UK breastfeeding statistics may currently bear that out (!), we all want them to improve. Portraying breastfeeding as an exception to the norm is only going to help keep it that way. 

NBAW can also be a platform for stunts like nurse-ins, which is when as many mums as possible all breastfeed their babies in the same place at the same time. If that's not weird, I don't know what is! But breastfeeding isn't weird and, to my mind, one of the aims of NBAW should be to minimise any weird image attached to breastfeeding, not add to it. Other events are just a bit pointless. I noticed a scavenger hunt is being organised this year to "raise awareness of breastfeeding."  I can only assume this raises awareness of breastfeeding in the same way that changing your Facebook status to a fruit raises awareness of breast cancer. 

I also question whether the good that NBAW achieves justifies the organising of it. NBAW has several audiences but I don't think they particularly benefit. Mothers-to-be are the obvious one. It is widely observed that the majority of pregnant women can't think beyond labour and so their thoughts about breastfeeding are probably going to be either "I'll give it a try!" or "yuck!" and no more detailed than that. I know my own thoughts weren't! So they're probably not going to come up to an enthusiastic health visitor/lactation consultant stationed in her local shopping centre to get more information like they would if it pain relief advice were being offered. Conclusion: NBAW has little to offer mothers-to-be.

Mothers are another obvious audience. They, too, are unlikely to benefit. If they are already breastfeeding, unless theyr'e struggling, they won't need any breastfeeding information. If they are struggling, they'd be better off going to a  breastfeeding group that meets regularly than getting help on a one-off basis. A regular group gives better support as mums will receive continuity of care and have their concerns followed up. With the best will in the world, a random health visitor in a public place cannot do that and, at best, can only offer details of the aforementioned groups.

Other mothers may well have given breastfeeding a go but given up before they wanted to, for all kinds of reasons. The last thing these mothers want is people telling them how great breastfeeding is. They know that. They've just been to hell and back trying to get it established because "it's so great" but ultimately (and often wisely) prioritised enjoying motherhood over dragging themselves up the steepest learning curve of their lives. So NBAW isn't going to help them either. 

Then there are mothers who have never had any intention of breastfeeding and really, unless you manage to convert them while the babies are young enough that lactation can be re-established, they have little to gain. 

Lastly, there is everyone else! These are the people that I think could potentially benefit from NBAW!  Grandmothers of breastfed babies could be told in a non-emotional, polite way why giving bottles to the babies isn't actually helping  in the long term. Likewise dads who were feeling a bit left out  and wanted some reassurance that they were still needed.  Shop owners, say, could get information about the importance of demand feeding and how to sensitively offer a mother a chair if she needed to feed her baby in the shop, maybe coming away with  "breastfeeding welcome here" signs to put up on their doors. 

The problem is, I don't think that happens very often. Not only are these people not NBAW's target but they are also unlikely to get involved. My partner wouldn't go up to someone at a stall to talk about his relationship with his breastfed baby: he'd either talk to a fellow dad or to me or - more likely - just keep schtum. If you're not a breastfeeding mother or close to one, you're unlikely to be trying to implement a positive breastfeeding policy in your business. If you are a working breastfeeding mother, you don't need the information because you already have it (see above).  The grandmothers, though, they might get something out of this. Picture the three-generations shopping party - you've all seen them! The mother might say to the grandmother, "ooh, look, Mum, there are the breastfeeding ladies. You know what I was saying about not using dummies? Bet they've got a leaflet - it'll probably explain better than I did. Come on..." and, the relationship between mothers and daughters being as it is, off they all troop and the grandmother may well come away enlightened. 

In conclusion, I believe Breastfeeding Awareness Week will, at best, help a few people; at worst, damage the image of breastfeeding and most likely...? Achieve nothing at all. 

Anyway, these are just my opinions. What do the rest of you think? Am I being too cynical? If NBAW does real good or has helped you then please, put me right! 

Thanks for reading.