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Emergencies In Breastfeeding

It’s World Breastfeeding Week and we are celebrating at Fusion Parenting.  Come back for a new post on breastfeeding every day!

 

It’s World Breastfeeding Week. You may have noticed, particularly if you read parenting blogs or websites often. This year’s theme is “Breastfeeding in Emergencies”.

Being serious for a moment, breastfeeding is critical to the survival of babies in emergency situations. Breastfeeding is a complete source of nutrition for babies; it doesn’t require clean water or bottle washing facilities; it’s free, it’s always available – access to enough or appropriate infant formula is a serious issue in emergency service provision. The World Health Organisation says,

“Children are among the most vulnerable groups during emergencies, and small children are the most vulnerable of all, due to the combined risk of deat due to diarrhoea, pneumonia, and undernutrition… The best way of preventing malnutrition and mortality among infants and young children in emergencies or otherwise, is to ensure that they start breastfeeding within one hour of birth, breastfeed exclusively (with no food or liquid other than breastmilk, not even water) until six months of age and continue breastfeeding with appropriate complementary foods up to two years or beyond. Even in emergency situations, the aim should be to create and sustain an environment that encourages frequent breastfeeding for children up to two years of age or beyond.”

You can read more of the statement here.

On a less serious note, though, the idea of ‘breastfeeding in emergencies’ naturally brought me to thinking about ’emergencies in breastfeeding’. Because I’m like that, you know.

Breastfeeding is one of those things. It’s like changing nappies. Well, it isn’t – it’s very different, because breastfeeding is about yummy stuff going into a baby rather than yucky stuff coming out of a baby. But nappies and poo are an endless source of amusement and “oops!” stories that parents laugh about together. We’re all in the club – we all know about it, and it’s pretty darn funny. Similarly, breastfeeding has some amusing moments too, and it comes with its own set of ’emergencies’ that you just don’t know about until you get there.

New mothers tend to be sleep deprived. It goes with the territory. It makes it hard to remember which boob you’re up to, if you’re making sure to swap sides regularly. But forgetting to switch sides didn’t worry me so much as forgetting to do up my bra again after feeding. I went into McDonald’s once, where I was served by a teenage boy. He had an odd expression on his face, and seemed a little uncomfortable. I didn’t think much about it – adolescence and feeling awkward are basically flatmates who don’t really like each other much but can’t move out on their own for a few years. It wasn’t until I returned to the car, and noticed that my right breast was hanging a good two inches lower than the other, that I realised one side of my bra was still unhooked.

Random leakages can be amusing, too. If you’re someone who leaks milk all the time, I think you get used to it – you wear bra pads all the time and make sure you always have some on hand. But I rarely leaked at all, so it was always quite a surprise when it happened. Possibly my favourite episode was the one where my landlord dropped by unannounced, and I answered the door wearing a singlet and clutching the baby. About halfway through the conversation I realised my front was very cold: the breeze was blowing gently across two great wet patches on my singlet. I shifted the position of my baby, using him like a shield, all the while acutely aware that the wet patch was spreading. I couldn’t end the conversation and get back inside fast enough!

Even at home though, the sudden leakage can be an emergency situation. Baby on one breast, hand clapped over the other in a hurry, all the while calling out, “get me a cloth nappy! NOW!” to whoever is within earshot. Because of course you can’t get up and get it yourself – even if you are at the stage where you’ve mastered getting up and carrying the baby around while feeding him (this skill is a prerequisite for eating regularly, I discovered), you’re still faced with being hands-less, as your ‘free’ hand is busy stanching the flow from your offside.

Needing to pee is a breastfeeding emergency, if, like I did, you have a baby who likes to feed for very, very long periods of time. Unlatching a baby mid-feed is never a happy solution; but after an hour or two of leg crossing and uncrossing, sometimes you’ve just got to go. I knew that motherhood would teach me many skills I didn’t have before, but going to the toilet with a baby latched on is not one I’d envisaged learning prior to motherhood. For the record, I can undo and do up my jeans one handed while feeding an insistent baby. Maybe I should put that on my resumé.

The unexpected spray of milk is always a winner. Around four months of age, my son did what many babies do – he got very interested in the world around him, and consequently if we were out in public, he’d pull off the breast constantly to look around him. It’s hard to know exactly what to do when your baby pops off the breast, and a great arc of milk sprays across the table and over the chair opposite. Do you try to wipe it off, thereby drawing attention to the fact that you’ve spray painted your surroundings with milk? Do you pretend it never happened, and keep talking in the hopes that your café companions will treat it like a fart – best left unacknowledged?

I was faced with an interesting conundrum recently. I was away from my son, actually in an emergency department of a hospital with a friend. I got to the point where I needed to express some milk for comfort, and there really weren’t too many options to hand express privately. It was not so much that finding privacy was difficult – it’s that I needed to catch the milk somewhere. I was unprepared for this, being that I don’t normally express milk… the only option I could come up with was to hand express into the bathroom sink. Seemed like a reasonable enough option, until I discovered that the bathroom was a unisex facility.

Now in theory at least, I see nothing wrong with hand expressing milk into a bathroom sink, whoever might walk in. But let’s be honest. Even given that breastfeeding is perfectly normal, no matter where you are; and even given that expressing milk needs to be treated the same way, because it’s something you do when you can’t breastfeed; if a strange man walked in on me while I had my breast hanging out over the sink, and I was manually milking great squirts out of it, aiming for the plughole… I’d feel a bit odd. I think he’d feel pretty odd about it, too, and that’s putting it very mildly.

Now I object in principle to expressing in toilets. It’s food, after all, and we don’t make sandwiches in the loo. (Well, I don’t: if you do, please let me know so I can avoid ever having lunch at your house). But in order to express some milk privately – and remember I wasn’t keeping this milk, I just needed to get rid of it for comfort – the toilet was my only option. In fact, I needed to express the milk into the toilet.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to do this. It’s really rather difficult. The angle is all wrong, for a start. The height is really very awkward, and I was faced with all sorts of uncomfortable options – leaning over forward, basically bent in half; kneeling on the floor (and I could just imagine the reaction of anyone who entered the bathroom and saw my feet sticking out under the stall door); and sitting down anywhere just wasn’t an option.

I’m not really sure how I managed it, in the end. I think I crouched down halfway: I know I went for speed rather than accuracy.

I’m sure I have more stories, and probably funnier stories too. But tell me yours – when have you had breastfeeding ’emergencies’? When have you thought to yourself, “I never expected to be doing this – what on earth do I do now?”

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Pink

My son likes pink.

I mean, he really likes pink. I think it’s his favourite colour.

Me, I’m okay with that. Pink is just a colour. I don’t like pink much myself – I’m genuinely dismayed at the fact that pink really suits me, because I can’t stand pink.

But I figure taste in colour is not hereditary. Unless my husband has a pink fetish he hasn’t mentioned.

But I’ve been thinking about this recently, particularly given the recent news articles about ‘Pop‘, whose parents are refusing to disclose her/his gender, apparently in an attempt to a) prove that gender is solely a social construct; b) allow their child to grow up without feeling pigeonholed into specific gender roles, or c) a bit of both. Or possibly other reasons entirely, given that media is about shifting units rather than clear, factual, unbiased reporting.

As far as Pop’s parents are concerned, I’m going to do something shocking: I’m going to assume the media has its own agenda (raising revenue through selling more papers/attracting more viewers/gaining more advertising/etc); and I’m also going to assume that however positive their choice turns out to be, that Pop’s parents probably have Pop’s wellbeing in mind. But their choice not to disclose Pop’s gender has had me thinking about how my son’s preferences are being shaped by me and by his father.

Generally I think we’re pretty good. To be honest, we do select his clothing mostly according to our own aesthetic; but that’s not gender based. My husband and I have a not-very-secret interest in the goth subculture, and we both wear a lot of black. If we wear something that is not black, it elicits comment. That’s just for context. We don’t dress our son entirely in black, though darker colours do predominate – black, grey – along with bold reds and greens and blues. Oh, and pirate motifs. If our son shows preferences of his own, we go with that. That’s how our son ended up with a pink Upsy Daisy singlet.

I was shopping for shoes with the small boy, and he spotted a selection of In The Night Garden clothing. He was about eighteen months old at the time. I showed him the (blue) Iggle Piggle singlet; he grabbed the (very, very pink) Upsy Daisy singlet and refused to put it back. Okay, cool. I bought him the pink singlet.

Six months on (that’s a quarter of his lifetime!), his Upsy Daisy singlet is still his favourite shirt.

What bothers me most about the gender typing of children’s clothing is that it starts so young and it’s so all-pervasive. As I mentioned, if our son shows preferences for anything, we go with it – which is why I wanted a toddler sized shirt with some sort of butterfly on it. My boy loves butterflies. Naturally, if I find a shirt with a butterfly on it in a shop, it’s very, very pink.

I’m okay with him wearing pink. But I do have a problem with supporting companies which perpetuate the whole girl = pink sparkly butterflies and boy = blue corduroy trucks thing. It bothers me that if I buy a pink butterfly shirt, not only will people assume I’ve put a boy in “girls” clothing, I’m giving money to a company that pushes this horrible stereotype. As far as I’m concerned, butterflies do not belong to girls; and I don’t want to tacitly approve of this sexist crap by paying money for it.

I got around this by making him a butterfly shirt that is unashamedly ‘boy’. I think it’s very hard to get around stereotypes – you’re either buying into them, or you’re rejecting them. I kind of felt that rather than hitting either end of the spectrum, mixing up those expectations was a little bit more subversive. The reactions I see from other adults when we’re out and about suggest I might have something there. When he wears ‘boy’ clothing, people assume he’s a boy. When he wears pink, people assume he’s a girl. When he wears a ‘girl’ motif in ‘boy’ colours, people aren’t sure what to think.

I really, really wish there was more unisex children’s clothing around – but not in a bland, solid colour design-free sort of way. I’d like to see blue and brown flowers with sequins; pink and purple dinosaurs with big teeth; pink dogs and blue cats (ever noticed that? apparently boys like dogs, and girls like cats!); beetles and fairies and monsters and cement trucks in all the colours of the rainbow… with lace trimming.

here it is! –> myth

Early Morning Trains

I’ve started back at work, and everything is going swimmingly. My two year old is loving spending time with Grandma or Daddy on different days, and he loves catching trains with me in the morning.

I could do without the early starts in some ways – I’m not a morning person, never really have been. But the early mornings really do have their compensations.

The walk to the train takes about twenty minutes with my son. It takes me about ten minutes on my own. I get a little impatient with his frequent stops to look at things or even just to swap sides and hands. Even so, I love our conversations.

“Dog! Woof woof!”

“Yes, that is the house where the dog lives. What colour is it?”

“Black!”

“Lelloo-cotter!”

“That’s right! We saw a helicopter in the sky last week when we were standing at this corner.” (We did, too – we saw a helicopter one morning, and he reminded me of it when we got to that corner the following week).

“Lovely tree! Lovely flower! Pretty!”

As we near the train station, he starts to say, “Train, more train. Train coming!” He really likes trains, and looks forward to train rides. As we wander down on to the platform, often he’ll ask, “Play ‘tendoo?” He likes watching me play my Nintendo DS, and it can be a useful way to keep him sitting safely on the platform with me.

Once we’re on the train, he gives a running commentary on the doors opening and closing, and talks about changing trains when we get to the city. “Catch train, another train!” Other passengers smile indulgently as he steps on and off the train, which usually involves a very big step up or down over the gap.

When we get to the city station, we have a fifteen minute wait for our connecting train. Sometimes we go via the coffee stand, depending on how badly I need a coffee by then, and we take the stairs up to the platform. There are many stairs, and my two year old tackles them with ease. There’s a small platform halfway up the stairs, and when we get to this point he often looks up and says, “Another stair!” which results in more indulgent smiles from early morning commuters.

It’s very rare that I see another small child on the trains at that time of the morning. I wonder why that is?

We go up to the far end of the platform to wait, so we can be in the front carriage to meet Grandma at her station. And this is the part of the morning I like best.

We sit together on the platform, and my son eats a sandwich for breakfast. There usually are very few people at that end of the platform, so we sit together and cuddle up, watching trains and talking about colours and numbers; pointing at birds (usually pigeons and sparrows, though sometimes he says they’re seagulls) and chatting about the next part of our train ride.

However flustered I’ve been, rushing through the cold morning to get us both dressed and to the station on time, this part of our morning is always pretty easy. Some days, my husband looks after our son so I don’t have to hustle him on the train… and on those mornings, it feels lonely sitting at that city station on my own. I watch the trains and birds and think about how alien it feels that my son isn’t with me; which is a bit odd because we’ve only been making this trip together for about a month so far.

Once we get on the train again, I make sure we’re near a window so he can stand up and look at the river as we cross it. At that time of the morning there’s usually a City Cat sailing under the railway bridge, which he calls a ‘silly cat’.

We pull up at Grandma’s station, and I say goodbye as he gets off the train into Grandma’s arms. The last time we did that, he didn’t cry or protest at all – just smiled and waved goodbye to me as the train pulled away again. Before now, he’s wailed momentarily, though I know he’s smiling again moments after my train pulls away (Grandma texts me to let me know). Even knowing that it’s just something toddlers do, and that it’s just his way of letting me know he likes it when I stay, and that he’s laughing and happy within moments, it is a bit hard seeing your child’s teary face as you leave. So I was excited to see him smiling and waving at me the last time I dropped him off, and chattering animatedly to Grandma.

I have work tomorrow. I am not looking forward at all to getting up before 5am. I am looking forward to our train trip, though. I have a feeling these mornings will be precious memories some time all too soon.

He’s healthy, he’s happy, and he likes me

How do you measure your parenting skills?

Because, let’s face it. Most of us feel guilty about, well, everything. I think most of us feel inadequate as parents sometimes.

Or maybe it’s just me.

But, either way, I’ve come up with what I think is the best yardstick by which to measure my ability as a parent: I mentally tick off these three boxes:

  • He’s healthy.
  • He’s happy.
  • He likes me.

I figure if I can tick off two out of three of those boxes at any given point in time, I’m doing okay. And usually I get 100% on this test – I have a perfectly normal, healthy little two year old, who’s generally a happy camper (waking up grumpy from naps doesn’t count, nor does the occasional meltdown because I won’t give him Promite sandwiches for the fourth time in a day). And he likes me. “Mummy, hug!”

Now these three things aren’t necessarily key performance indicators of good parenting for everyone. Particularly the health thing. Kids get sick, and there’s not a lot we can do about that – hey, my child had swine flu recently (and wasn’t that the most cabin-fevered fortnight of my life?). And sometimes you have to shift the bar – if your child has something serious or chronic, chances are pretty good it is something outside your control. But, like a lot of mothers, I worry about a lot of things – does he eat enough? is he getting enough vegetables? oh no, he didn’t have any fruit today, but he ate biscuits three times… I look at him, and I see a perfectly normal little boy who’s lean and tall and who seems to have boundless energy, and I think, well, whatever he ate today/yesterday/over the course of the last week, he seems pretty healthy to me – I must be doing okay on that front.

I think my point is that I’ve found a little set of quick checkboxes that reassure me at any point in time. If I can say to myself, “he’s healthy, he’s happy, and he likes me,” then I can easily and rapidly remind myself of the bigger picture – which is that as a parent, I do just fine.

Have you ever thought about a quick checklist like this? Day to day, what is it that you want for your child – things that are within your control, that is? What is it that you look for in your child to reassure you that you’re doing okay at this parenting thing?

Lunch!

I haven’t blogged in a few weeks because I’ve recently returned to work, and it turns out that being at work takes up a lot more of my time than I remember. Some mornings, it really does take ages to get a toddler out of bed and dressed.

Anyway, being that I’m back at work, I’m back in the swing of packing lunches. I have a bit of a thing about lunches – I love packing tasty, healthy foods. Even more than that, though, I like packing pretty lunches.

baby bento - sushi and tomato

The Japanese have a tradition of packing nifty lunchboxes, called bento. The word ‘bento’ simply means ‘boxed lunch’ or something like that, but that’s a deceptively simple explanation. The most simple bento is a box of rice with an umeboshi, but bento may also be incredibly elaborate. Apparently some mothers at certain kindergartens in Japan compete with each other to make the most intricate bento for their children, with the result that they spend hours fiddling about with food.

I don’t do that. I like speed bento. Although I like spending a few minutes on pretty flourishes sometimes, I really don’t want to spend more time preparing a lunch than I do eating it.

There are plenty of resources around on how to pack a bento for adults. Where I find bento techniques incredibly useful though is in packing toddler lunches.

Bento has taught me three things. The first is how to choose and pack foods so that they’ll be safe to eat. The second is how to make the best use of available space – the more compact a lunch, the better, in my view. The third is how to make lunch look delicious.

toddler bento - lots of yummy things!

Everyone eats first with their eyes, and then with their mouth. This is particularly true of toddlers, who are notoriously fussy. Even children like mine, who will eat anything at all, have fussy days – favourite foods suddenly become anathema and are eyed suspiciously. Bento encourages the use of colour, particularly foods which are colourful in their natural state – different coloured vegetables, and the fresher the better. Bento often also incorporates cute touches like miniature food picks or vegetables cut into interesting shapes. Little picks are not just pretty – for a toddler, they can be a way of making some foods easier to eat. Little divider cups don’t just keep food separate – toddlers love investigating containers and sampling the treasures contained therein.

You don’t need a lot to get started with bento. You can spend a lot of money on a purpose-designed bento box, or you can simply use any old plastic container. Because I have a bit of a thing about lunches, I do have quite a collection of bento boxes, but I also have quite a collection of other plastics. The toddler bento pictured in this entry all use containers bought from a supermarket or department store: the first two are Willow containers, about $8 or $9 for a pack of three; and the third are made by Décor and cost less than that, again for a pack of three. I collect plastic spoons from our local gelateria and icecream parlours. Although you can buy vegetable cutters to make flowers or animals, you can also easily and quickly cut fruit into traditional designs.

fruit and sammiches

Reckon you can do it? I reckon you can! Pretty soon you’ll be looking for excuses to pack lunches for your kids – or for yourself.

Up in the air, I fly…

Oh my, oh my. It’s good to be home. I’ve just spent most of a week in an unfamiliar city with a not-quite-two year old.

I’ve learned a few things over the course of six days. The first is that despite airline assurances that a child under two is an ‘infant’ and should travel on a parent’s or caregiver’s lap, a child who is almost two is most definitely a toddler and far too big to share a single seat with comfortably.

Actually, to be fair, I don’t think many single people can sit in a single airline seat comfortably – at least not in cattle class, which is the way I travel. But travelling with a small child on your lap presents some interesting challenges.

Boarding presented our first conundrum. If you are travelling with children, you have the option of boarding before everyone else. This is a great idea, because wrangling small children while trying to stow away carry on luggage does require the patience of Job and the dexterity of Mandrake the Magician. However, there’s a catch.

It’s difficult enough to get into or out of a seat on an airplane with an infant, but basically impossible if there are seats between you and the aisle. If you want access to the toilet or change table, you need an aisle seat. Murphy’s Law dictates that if you are stuck in a window seat, your child will poop shortly after takeoff, whereupon you get to decide what will irritate your fellow passengers more: crawling over them with a wriggling toddler to get to the change table and back again, or sitting quiet while their nostils are assailed by an unpleasant olfactory crescendo. I don’t know about you, but as much as I like to adopt a devil-may-care attitude to other people’s dirty looks, either option leaves me quailing.

So you select an aisle seat, of course. Which makes sense; except that by getting on the plane first, you ensure that at least one and probably two people are going to have to squeeze past you to get to their window or middle seats; and that of course is impossible with the added mass of a toddler strapped to your lap. So you have to vacate your seat with a protesting child at least once and possibly twice before you finally get to sit in relative peace and wait for takeoff. Naturally, unfastening your seatbelt two or three times is enough for your toddler to work out how to take his belt off himself, ensuring fun and games for the rest of the trip.

When the plane begins its ascent, the adults on the plane begin to chew and swallow and make whatever other jaw movements they need to make to even out the pressure in their ears. Babies and toddlers need a bit of help, and airlines recommend breastfeeding or bottle feeding infants through takeoff and landing for this reason. It’s a fabulous idea, and works brilliantly, but the practicalities can leave a little to be desired.

Breastfeeding a toddler who’s attached to me at the lap belt in a space the size of a small sardine tin is an acrobatic feat I don’t ever really want to repeat. My toddler just doesn’t fit in my lap any more: certainly not cross-ways, anyway. Eventually we worked something out where he just about folded in half and his legs stuck out into the aisle (see? another reason to grab an aisle seat), and concertina-ed thusly we got through takeoff.

The airline I flew on has a feature which, at first glance, seems tailor made for parents trying to keep small children amused in a fixed position – cable television on screens in the back of the seats in front. However, my toddler found his face virtually pressed against the screen, and I battled to keep his headphones anywhere near his ears. I did think ahead and brought along a cheap pair of old school headphones – the kind that have a band going over the head, rather than the ‘bud’ earphones the airline hands out. Still, the cord kept tangling in our seatbelts or being knocked out of the socket by flailing toddler arms and legs.

Another interesting feature of flying with a toddler strapped into your lap is that you cannot lower the tray. If you ever need a tray to rest food and drink on, it’s when you’re sharing them with a toddler. Heck, it would be handy just for resting books on, or playing with toys, or colouring in. I had the marvellous idea of bringing a sticker book with me, but was foiled by the fact that I couldn’t actually open the book in the space I had (note to self: nothing bigger than A5 is at all useful).

On the plus side, it turns out that a not-quite-two year old can (mostly) sit (mostly) happily for a two hour flight. He found the big glass windows in the terminal excellent for watching aircraft and vehicles going back and forth. Most other passengers don’t mind the odd rendition of “Open, Shut Them”, “Up In The Air I Fly”, or even “Old MacDonald’s Farm” when things get tough. And occasionally you’ll find a nice person sitting next to you who offers to share their tray.

Mostly, I’m quite proud of myself. It’s a great relief to be home, but I’ve learned that I can travel accompanied only by a toddler. It will be different next time: in a few weeks he turns two, and that will mean he’ll need his own seat (which will mean paying a full fare for him). I’m confident now though that I can do it. Travelling with a toddler in tow was terrifying, at least before I did it. Now, I think it’s challenging, but not unduly so.

Now I’m just deciding where I’ll take him next, and when.

Whatever Works

I went to a mothers group meeting once. I was quite new to the group, and I felt a bit nervous. I can’t remember how the subject came up, but one of the other mothers asked me how the Dumpling, then four months old, napped during the day. I explained that we’d moved a mattress into the lounge, so I could lay down with him and feed him to sleep there; and the moment he stirred I’d lay back down beside him quickly to feed him fully to sleep again. I was a little bit apologetic I think as I said, “It’s just easier that way.”

She just smiled at me and said, “Hey, whatever works.”

I remember feeling very relieved at her attitude. It’s something which has stuck in my mind, though, and I refer back to it often. You see, I frequently find myself in a position where I need to go with the “whatever works” option, rather than doing what I think I “should” do as a mother.

You see, I have a mental illness. I have bipolar disorder – Type II Bipolar Affective Disorder, if we want to get fancy about it. Actually, like Stephen Fry, I prefer the term ‘manic depression’, but that name has largely fallen out of use and it seems a bit pedantic to swim against the tide.

People don’t often talk frankly about mental illness, particularly not as it relates to parenting, so I thought I’d share some thoughts from my perspective. Heck, I don’t even talk about it much, mainly because mental illness is largely stigmatised still. If you watch a soap opera and a character has a mental illness, almost without fail they’re dangerous to other characters in some way. Schizophrenia is a convenient excuse for criminal insanity on television and in books. Actually, criminal insanity is a convenient excuse for just about anything, or so it seems sometimes on the 6 o’clock news. It’s not hard to see why people are often uncomfortable with the concept of mental illness.

Even setting aside the all pervasive media for a moment, in reality mental illness carries with it a number of slightly unsettling ramifications. There are several professions which are basically off-limits to people with certain mental illnesses – positions of critical responsibility, like the police, or ambulance service. There are some good reasons for this, and I don’t dispute that even if I sometimes think these policies could be a little more flexible. But the message we receive from these kinds of limits are that people with mental illness can’t be responsible people – they could go nuts at any time.

And have you spent much time with a person who’s having a psychotic episode? It’s disturbing, to say the least. By definition, a mental illness screws with the way a person thinks and behaves. This is way outside many people’s comfort zone.

So if societal attitudes carry an undercurrent (and sometimes a tidal wave) of fear: that people with mental illness are dangerous, crazy, incapable of shouldering responsibility, and just plain weird; it’s no wonder we don’t talk much about people with mental illness becoming parents. Parents are supposed to be stable, and responsible, and people to emulate.

According to SANE Australia, approximately 20% of adults are affected by some sort of mental disorder every year. (SANE factsheet: “Facts and Figures”) Twenty percent. That’s one in five. It stands to reason that there are awful lot of parents out there who suffer some kind of mental illness. I assume most of them are doing a relatively good job, given that civilisation isn’t crumbling around us.

Basically, people with mental illnesses are just like everyone else. Well, as similar to everyone else as everyone else is, anyway. We’ve all got our idiosyncrasies, we’ve all got our peculiar set of problems, and we’ve all got interesting families. Mental illness presents its own particular set of problems, especially where parenting is involved.

It’s not always simple. I have a particular responsibility to balance my health needs with my child’s. I need to pay close attention to my mental health and be compliant with treatment plans, because my son’s wellbeing is directly affected by my own. But there’s room for flexibility, which is good because even when my condition is well managed, episodes are still inevitable.

This is why I return, time and time again, to that mother’s words: “Whatever works.” The truth is that I can’t always be the parent I want to be. When I’m having a depressive episode, my toddler watches a lot more TV than I’d like. I read fewer books to him. We don’t walk to the park, because it’s too hard to get off the couch.

So what do I do? I call in my in laws, and he spends some more time than usual with Grandma and Grandpa. I leave the dishes in the sink, and I remember that he doesn’t care if he eats baked beans on toast for dinner. To be honest, he kind of likes it. Even if he has it three days in a row.

On the flip side, if I’m hypomanic, we have a great time. We dance a lot, and we run around in the playground together. I’m sure that other parents watching us in the park think I’m a little strange: my toddler just thinks I’m awesome. We draw and paint and cut and paste and make cars out of boxes and I run with him in the shopping trolley through the supermarket making “broom, broom!” noises. We sing and dance in public and I don’t care. So I suppose it all balances out.

I worry, frequently, that I’m not a good enough parent. I’m not stable enough, I’m not consistent enough. But the thing is, if I put aside my worries and just look at my child, I see a happy, healthy, confident child who’s developmentally well on track. So my ‘up’ days and ‘down’ days don’t seem to be having a negative effect on him.

Hey, whatever works, right?

Further info and some useful resources:
SANE Australia
COPMI – Children Of Parents with Mental Illness
Beyond Blue
Black Dog Institute