Writing in today’s Times (£) about the rise of detached parenting. There’s a backlash going on in the US, a reaction to the over-involved, wrap-you-up-in-cottonwool parenting of the 1990s and early 2000s. As I’ve tried to make clear in the piece, this isn’t about throwing all the good bits of attachment parenting out with the bathwater (no-one is saying that you shouldn’t breastfeed). But it is about wondering whether it’s a healthy thing for parents to overload children with activities, analysis and, consequently surely, massive expectations. (“How will they ever repay us?”) No-one wants selfish parents. But it’s not clear who a lot of the frenetic activity that goes on is really for. It is for the benefit of the parents or the children? More on detached parenting here. And a fascinating piece in the Huffington Post — Why I Choose Detachment Parenting — here.
Black and white baby pic: not one of mine — this is Alutka from Wikimedia Commons.
This interview with Cath Kidston is in Red’s June issue. Really enjoyed meeting her: she seemed quite quiet and understated but a very straightforward sort of person. She did not say anything controversial and I don’t think she ever will. She has just spent the past twenty years quietly and discreetly building a £75 million empire. It is the British way.
I am mad about Lionel Shriver’s new novel Big Brother, out May 9. I’ve given it a very short review (because that’s all there was space for) in June issue of Red (coming soon) but was actually relieved not to review it at length elsewhere as there is a massive “spoiler” situation. It’s the sort of plot twist it would be very hard to review without mentioning. But it’s also something that if you mention it… you’ve totally ruined the reading experience for anyone else. Instead I have written this profile for The Observer which is all about the phenomenon of “Lionel Shriver”. I do think Shriver is judged in a certain way simply because she is a woman. Although people did love to tease Martin Amis about his teeth. So it’s hard to say. Either way, she’s a great honorary British eccentric and a truly great writer.
Covering for Libby Purves in today’s Times, writing about the joy of Easter. Not that there aren’t niggles. The person who has commented that lie-ins are irritatingly compromised by the clocks going forward is right. And a curmudgeon, which I applaud. Otherwise, big up Easter.
Interview with Amanda de Cadenet in this month’s Red magazine. Amanda was exactly as she seems in the interview. Open. Interested and interesting. Very LA in the way she talks and in the way she sees the world. I was half-expecting Gwynnie or Demi to phone her during our meeting — “Excuse me, Viv, I’ve just got to take this call” — but to my great distress this did not happen. Good luck to her and her Conversation (her on-line talk show — which is actually good and has extraordinary guests like The Gaga.)
Covering for Rachel Johnson in today’s Mail on Sunday: stay-at-home mothers, respect and latte money (yes, we should value what they do — but the real question is how to help the women who want to work stay in work); the disturbingly slim win of Nigel Farage at this week’s Intelligence Squared debate (it only takes one per cent and we’re out of Europe); and what’s more stupid — someone who puts petrol in Obama’s diesel limo, The Beast, OR a woman who crashes her car into a wall in a multi-storey car park? Don’t answer that. Because the woman is me.
Reviewed in today’s Times: The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg, an entertaining, beautifully-crafted novel with rave reviews in the US, dubbed “the Jewish Corrections.” Jonathan Franzen is a fan, of course.
Essentially it’s the story of a family where the mother’s weight issue has spun out of control and is dominating everything. Over-indulged in childhood, Edie was huge as a five-year-old: “Fifty years on and Edie still can’t stop eating. She now weighs over 300 pounds. Her law firm, embarrassed, has pensioned her off and she is about to undergo a second surgical intervention, years after she had promised that she would do everything she could to avoid the first one.”
In reality, though, obesity is just one sign of family dysfunction. Edie may have very obvious, physical flaws but everyone else around her is suffering in their own neurotic and often equally damaging way. Sure, she’s unhealthy. But so is the attitude of her husband, who walks out of her after thirty years of marriage. A very funny, poignant and insightful read. Loved it.
Writing in today’s Observer about the latest development in the breastfeeding wars. Next week Professor Joan B Wolf is speaking at the University of Kent in Canterbury about her views on the science behind the “breast is best” health claims. I’m fascinated by the idea that a lot of the research done into breastfeeding is fundamentally flawed. In all the studies mothers are self-reporting (ie. scientists can’t actually monitor their feeding or know the content of the breastmilk or their diet). Plus, mothers who participate in the research have either chosen to breastfeed or chosen not to. There’s no random element and no placebo marker as there would be in most scientific studies. I’m not convinced this means we should hold back on promoting breastfeeding but it does mean we should be more wary about over-emphasising the health differences between breastfed and formula-fed babies.
Meanwhile hardcore breastfeeding fans (and, hey, who isn’t one?) may enjoy these previous outings: Let the breastfeeding rebellion begin (Guardian, July 2009); The joy of wet-nursing (Guardian, January 2007); Extended breastfeeding — past aged two… (Guardian, April 2005).
Writing in today’s Independent about the anniversary of The Feminine Mystique which was published on Feb 19, 1963. So much has changed since then — and hooray for Betty Friedan! Big fan. She foresaw a lot of the problems that the women’s movement would experience.
However, so much hasn’t changed — or has actually got worse. As I argue in the Independent piece, we’re gradually regressing back to 1970s sisterhood politics where you’re supposed to decide if you’re “One of the Girls” or “One of Them”. Beyonce is a case in point: she keeps getting criticised for not being a “good enough feminist” because she sings about sex and appears to enjoy being married to a man. But maybe – CRAZY IDEA – that is who she is.
This is what worries me about how far we haven’t come since Betty Friedan. We’re just as judgemental about the choices women make as we were when Friedan was complaining that women wanted to be more than wives and mothers. Until you get to do what you want with your life without it being seen as a good or bad thing for the sisterhood, feminism has not really worked at all. And that is a most unbootylicious fact.
Writing in today’s Independent about the announcement that the government will be “reforming childcare.” Of course, it will not be reforming childcare. Minister for Children Liz Truss has merely proposed that nurseries and childminders be allowed to increase their staff-to-child ratios from 1:4 to 1: 6 for two-year-olds and from 1:3 to 1:4 for one-year-olds.
First, this is just not radical enough for the crisis we’re facing where thousands of parents feel unable to work because of the cost of childcare. Second, it’s voluntary and the biggest nursery and childminder associations have already said they’re opposed to it and won’t do it because it’s detrimental to children. And, third and most deadly, it’s just a rubbish idea which parents will hate. Who wants their child to get less one-on-one attention?
It amuses me that the government got a woman to front this task. There are so few females in the Commons that they must have spent so long looking for one that they didn’t leave her any time to work out an actual policy. If there were more women in parliament, this issue would have been handled differently: with pressure, urgency and seriousness. Because childcare legislation affects women’s working lives. With 1:10 women to men MPs in both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, it’s hardly surprising they are clueless as to how to help families. If they like ratios so much, maybe they might want to take a look at that one.
Above: It’s another Wikimedia Commons baby! This one’s called Thomas.