Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Growing a girl.

I would like to thank you for the wonderful response that I got for one of my recent posts. It was the one where I spoke briefly but candidly about my struggle with eating disorders. It highlighted for many of you, some of the battles that we may encounter whilst bringing up our little ones. And this isn’t just exclusive to girls. As I understand it, eating disorders and problems with body image are as prevalent with boys. It has probably always been this way but it is certainly more documented in the press nowadays.
 Parenting preys on those who worry and if you weren’t a worrier before, you certainly will become a worrier once that small person pops into the world. Well, they don’t just “pop” do they. But we’ll leave that one for another day. I am a self-confessed worrier and, as my husband calls me, safety chicken. I always follow the green cross code, I always wear a seat belt and I always check where the nearest fire exits are if I go clubbing. (Many of those venues are complete fire traps.)

No, having a child has increased these worries threefold. It starts with the sleeping. Are they breathing? Are they too hot? Are they swaddled too tightly? Is it too light in the room? Should the hood of the Moses basket be up or down? Then the feeding. Have they eaten enough? Should I do another feed? They threw the last one up, so should I go straight back in for round two? They’ve just done a poo so they must be hungry again? Then, comes the weaning, the teething, the crawling/bum shuffling/ dog with worms manoeuvre? Oh Christ, my child is doing none of those things? Will they have bad coordination, have autism, be unable to get into Oxbridge? Then they start to talk but the children in the NCT group have children that can say “circumference” and “algorithm” by the time they’re 18 months!   AAAAARRRGGH!!! When will it end????!!

The easy answer to that one is that it won’t. Ever. My mother was up for nearly 36 hours when I went into labour.  I was 36 years old at the time, had a mortgage, was married, had a career but she was still frantic. Mothers and Fathers will always worry about their children. However, I think that the relationship between a mother and a daughter is a strong one and I think ours is particularly so as my Mum brought me up on her own. She was divorced by the time I was my daughters age as my Dad had “other interests” and we moved down to Cambridge to be near my Granny. I was brought up by two strong women: my Mum and my Granny. Both nurses by profession so mealtimes were quick (a habit they had got into working shifts in hospitals) and I could rarely get away with being off school. It took me throwing up all over my mother in the bath for her to accept that I had a stomach bug. Granny had been through a divorce herself and brought up two children and had a very successful career nursing. My Mum trained as a health visitor when we moved and managed to do a degree whilst I was still a young child. She was at the top of her game when she retired from Nursing 3 years ago. These were strong female role models. The sort of role model that I want to be for my daughter. So, when your child turns around and tells you that they have something like an eating disorder I can imagine that must be terrifying. It’s only now that I am a mother myself can I fully appreciate that. You put everything into bringing up your children. I had an amazing education, good friends, was relatively bright and had a very happy home life. Somewhere along the line, the wiring went wrong and I went down a slightly different route to the one initially intended. My Mum’s 17 year old baby was hurting and she must have been scared as hell. Crikey, I’m barely two years into parenting and I find it difficult when my little one has fallen over or is in pain from constipation so how the hell will I cope with the bigger issues? I hope that I will be as strong as my Mum and my Granny were. They were amazing.

 One thing that I am very grateful for not having when I was growing up is social media. This is something that I am very fearful of for my own daughter. Things like SnapChat, where as far as I can make out, you simply give yourself a tongue as if you’ve got elephantitis, bulbous eyes and post it for a few seconds. Apparently that is entertainment. I see children as young as 10 on this ruddy thing, acknowledging nothing and no one as they stare into their device taking endless selfies. Interaction nil, satisfaction momentary. The darker side of this is the other images that are taken in private or unwillingly by others and then posted for all to see. Now that scares me. This is no longer a bit of fun but a weapon. A tool of destruction that can obliterate lives and self-esteem. That worries me more than anything. How will I protect my little girl then? It is a very different world that my daughter is entering into. We don’t post pictures of her on any social media as we feel it is her decision as to whether she wants an internet presence or not. My husband is in education so he has been to endless talks and training sessions about online safety and security and it scares the hell out of us. All we can be is aware and try to keep up to date as much as possible.

Sorry, shizzle got a bit deep and heavy there but it’s scary stuff. The other thing that I don’t want my girl to go through is an eating disorder. It really takes up a lot of time and energy. Time and energy that could be spent on many other things. The main one being, living. Really living. Enjoying the world and people around you, experiencing things and by looking up into the big wide world and not bumping into them because you’re on Instatwat, Snap Git or Face Ache, worrying whether you look thin enough in the photos, with your hips sticking out like two pieces of Toblerone. I want to teach her to value herself and be nice to people. To actually care what happens to her fellow human and live her life through life itself and not a social media unreality. And respect herself and her body.

There will be hiccups along the way, there will be sadness and hurdles that we have to get over but there will also be some great times. I am a self-confessed worrier and safety chicken but there is a big world out there and I want my daughter to go out and get it. Explore it, travel it, eat it, drink it (responsibly), smoke it (within reason and only once, just to try it), kiss it (under supervision) and also learn through her mistakes and achievements. Parenting is tough and there are many things that our parents didn’t have to deal with that make it that little bit tougher but I’m up for the challenge. Bring it on. Here’s to my brilliant Mum and dear Granny (God rest her soul). They’ve grown a girl and I’ve not withered through lack of watering or feeding yet. I am strong and have shiny, curly petals. I’ll be even stronger once I’ve shifted this feckin cold. Here’s a tip: don’t put lots of Olbas oil into a hot bath. It tingles but not in a good way. More of a melting your skin kind of way. See, that amazing education wasn’t wasted at all now, was it…

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