How “double dipping” misses the point – reflections on the last decade of PPL policies

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Image by Greenleftyidealist

Over the past decade I’ve had four kids. With each addition, I’ve become more and more aware of the issues facing women (particularly regarding balancing paid work and caring roles) in Australia and thus with each one, I’ve become more and more of a feminist. Often feminists are stereotyped as being perpetually angry. But, at least until recently, when I reflected on the past decade it was heartening to see the very real advances in parental leave and associated practices in what is a relatively short space of time.

When I had my first child in 2004 I was pleasantly surprised that although many women had no access to paid parental leave (PPL) in Australia I was fortunate to have access to 12 weeks paid parental leave whilst I was completing my PhD on an Australian Postgraduate Award Scholarship. When I started my first “real job” in 2005 my partner became our son’s primary carer but as I was still breastfeeding my son (he was 9 months old) I scurried back home every lunch hour to feed him (but had barely any break for myself in the process). In 2007 when our second child was born I had access to 14 weeks PPL from my workplace which I took over 28 weeks at half pay. For both my first and second child we also got the “baby bonus”. When our third child was born in 2012 I was able to access not only my employer provided leave but the Commonwealth Government’s PPL Scheme. I thought it was wonderful that Australia had made the advance in 2011 under Julia Gillard to offer universal PPL (both as a safety net for those whose employers provided no paid leave and as an advance for those who already had paid leave from their employer). I was also able to access paid breastfeeding breaks. If I was still breastfeeding when I returned to work I would no longer needed to use my lunch breaks to feed my baby (or express) and barely have time to feed myself.

When I commenced maternity leave for the fourth (and final) time in late 2014 I still had access to both my employer provided PPL and the Commonwealth PPL Scheme and fresh out of the 2014 Federal Election it looked like Tony Abbott’s promise of 6 months leave on full pay for women would at the very least see further advances for Australia in PPL in the near future. How wrong that turned out to be! As Michael Bradley wrote in his brilliant opinion piece, just when the issue of PPL was beginning to be taken seriously, “the Abbott Government has changed the conversation from one of social good to one of entitlement”. The conversation has turned away from the importance of parental leave to ensuring gender equity and giving the best start to the nation’s children to labelling parents accessing both employer provided and the Commonwealth provided PPL scheme as akin to welfare cheats – parents sipping café lattes at the tax payer’s expense.

This week my youngest son turned six months old. Yesterday was my last day of paid parental leave (taken at half pay) provided by my workplace. As of Monday I’m officially going to be a “double dipper” accessing the Commonwealth Paid Parental Leave Scheme. If the Abbott government had its way and ensured that only one scheme (either employer paid leave or the Commonwealth PPL could be accessed) I would be back to work on Monday. I cannot fathom how hard that would be with a baby who is still fully breastfed, won’t take a bottle of expressed milk, has only just started on solids (spitting most of it out!) and still wakes several times each night! Returning to work now would clearly not be in the best interests of either myself or my son.

The Government’s neo-liberalist philosophy tends to individualise issues instead of looking at them from a broader societal perspective. When there is a housing affordability crisis we’re told to “get a better job” to solve the issue. Individualise paid parental leave and you get parents being labelled as sponging off the government. But take a societal perspective of PPL and you see that it is not about a free ride but about trying to give our kids the best start and ensuring parents can take time out of the workforce to achieve this.

Paid maternity leave is a basic entitlement that women in paid work should be able to access. Paid maternity leave has been enshrined in the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the International Labour Organization’s Maternity Protection Convention 2000 (Maternity Protection Convention). In terms of child health and development, the World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding of infants until 6 month of age (where possible) and continuing breastfeeding into their second year. PPL is essential to fostering this recommendation. In 2009 Australia’s Productivity Commission wrote in a report into PPL that the benefits went beyond the individual “The gains do not only accrue to parents, as society often has to pay for health costs and other consequences of poorer outcomes for children and parents”. The report also cited an OECD publication which stated that “it seems that child development is negatively affected when an infant does not receive full-time personal care (breastfeeding issues aside…) for at least the first 6 to 12 months of his/her life”.

It is true (as the Productivity Commission points out) that there is no exact science for determining what the most appropriate period of paid parental leave is, however; international evidence seems to show we ought to be aiming for at least 6-12 months (and certainly not cutting leave options back by 18 weeks!). We also need to be thinking critically about parental leave that is specifically targeted at men. Countries that have enacted additional PPL entitlements which are available only to men (or the non-birth parent for same sex couples) have been shown to have the highest paternal participation rates in the world. In his recent piece on gendered jobs Paul Chai cites evidence that in Norway, since implementing PPL periods that can only be taken by men (or otherwise must be forfeited), not only has paternal involvement in caregiving increased, but rates of domestic violence have dropped by one third.

In Australia we are finally becoming aware of the extent to which domestic violence permeates Australian society (nearly one woman a week dies and nearly 1 in 6 have experienced violence from a current or former partner) and issues of gender equity seem more prominent in the media than ever before and yet we are being subject to cut backs across all areas of potential progress. Domestic violence shelters are losing funding, women may be means tested when they try to seek legal aid and now women trying to stay home longer with their babies are labelled social security rorters. What we desperately need is a wider, societal approach that looks beyond immediate budget savings to the bigger picture. As Norway shows there is a crucial intersectionality to these issues. We must start tackling gender equality from many different, yet interconnecting, angles. Adequate PPL for women AND PPL that is available for men (or non-birth parents), addressing (and properly funding programs for) domestic violence, helping women and men break into untraditional jobs (like getting more male childcare workers and more female tradies), strengthening flexible work conditions for parents to enable a more equal sharing of parental responsibilities, addressing the representation of women in parliament and leadership positions and breaking down other gender barriers and stereotypes.

It is 2015. It really is time for Australia to get serious on gender equality. If not now when? What are we waiting for? When will a real Minister for Women stand up?

Posted in equity, feminism, parenting, society, women, work | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Clawing back creativity

Image taken from nist66s' photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

Image taken from nist66s’ photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

So it has been a real long time between posts. Time and time again I read some amazing articles, and have amazing ideas about what I’m reading, but I never seem to find the space and time to have more than a brief mental play with my thoughts (or at best scribbling down some seeds of ideas). I guess that is to be expected with the addition of our fourth child in late 2014 (hey I struggle to get time for a shower!)

There are so many wonderful things about being a parent (I’ll make this the subject of a different post at some stage) but I think one of the most challenging parts is getting time for yourself to pursue your own needs and interests. When doing anything requires organising someone else to be looking after the kids most things get put in the too hard basket.

More and more I have come to realise that there are three things that sustain me beyond the precious relationships I have with my family and friends. Those things are exercise, getting into nature, and writing. For me writing is my main creative and intellectual outlet. It allows me to crystallize thoughts and ideas on a wide variety of issues I’m passionate about (and share the expression of them with others). Exercise helps maintain both my mental and physical wellbeing and it is also essential to my creativity – it gives me both the time and meditative state to zone out from the everyday (not to mention providing a nice endorphin hit). Being in nature recharges my soul – without which I’m not inspired to be creative. These three elements have all been a bit too absent from my life of late. I’ll certainly accept that when I have this to snuggle and look at:

Image by Greenleftyidealist

Image by Greenleftyidealist

But I’m conscious of the importance of, little-by-little, trying to reclaim them in my life.

Many writers have commented on the close relationship between reading and writing; that you can’t write if you don’t read. Reading has always been something that prompts my writing – sparking the seeds of ideas. With these ideas sparked I’d then sit down and write – researching the issues further as I went, referencing other interesting bits I’d find – opening a gazillion tabs of interesting things to look at (and frustrating my partner in the process when the computer would be running slowly). But you need a dedicated hour or more to write like that. I don’t have that luxury at the moment.

I’ve probably only read 20 or so books in the last couple of intensive kid wrangling years. But they have been well chosen, life influencing books (How to be Free, How to be Idle, Radical Homemakers, The Ethics of What We Eat, The Life You Can Save, The Bitch in the House, The Meaning of Wife, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination – just to name a few). I used to read fiction but it has been a very long time since I’ve done that. Now I (mainly) read non-fiction. But it is a certain kind of non-fiction book that I crave – intellectual yet accessible discussion on the issues I’m passionate about (like feminism and equity, sustainability and ethics, parenting, connecting with nature, finding purpose and meaning, and dealing with grief and loss). I also lap up shorter pieces online. The collected blog posts on Greenleftyidealist are really a testimony to the exploration of ideas in all my areas of passion.

I keep saying when #4 sleeps through the night that I will start getting up early or going to bed late to make time for writing but I’ve realized that I’m not going to get dedicated space and time for a long while yet and that to sustain me I need to start writing blog posts jiggling babies up and down on my lap and snatching time here and there (though perhaps the results may be somewhat disconnected and not as satisfying as the well-crafted piece). I have to settle for a morsel when I’d really like a feast. But morsels can still help sustain us.

One of the frustrations with the lack of time to write is that I come across some amazing articles and then lose them in the ebb and flow of time passing and sleep deprivation. Many months ago I read a great piece on the implications for society when people don’t have enough time to be creative. A study showed something like 4/5 people feel they don’t have the time to be creative in their life. The study was all about what the loss to society is when we don’t value creativity. For a long time I’ve pondered this. I know personally I have so much I want to say and do in me but not the time to unleash it. The article talked about inventions and things that just would not have happened if people hadn’t been given the luxury of time and space.

Image taken from D. Keith Robinson's photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

Image taken from D. Keith Robinson’s photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

Workplaces often value bums on seats and rarely appreciate the value of time and space to mull things over. This can really deaden creativity (and spirit!). Though perhaps it is changing a little with recent trends like corporations allowing employees time to colour in to de-stress (clearly every colouring minute isn’t billable!). Colouring allows the mind to wander and release which is an important step to fostering creativity, yet for my mind it is still a long way from it. Work forms such a large part of our lives I strongly believe it would lead to far more workplace satisfaction (and probably productive output too) if we were supported to unleash our creativity at work.

But if we can’t get creativity in our workplace how can we get more creativity in our lives? When you walk in the door from work or kid wrangle all day only to step up to a second shift of meal preparation, homework supervision, bathing and bedtime stories how can we make space and time for creativity (and indeed exercise!) when there doesn’t seem to be a spare hour in the day?

Over Lent I gave up Facebook. I also started to use Instagram more but not in the same way as I used Facebook (religiously checking in multiple times a day). I participated in the #fmsphotoaday challenge for a few weeks. It was interesting how it gave me a little bit of creativity  for a few moments every day – focusing on unique and beautiful ways to depict the “prompt for the day” in an image.

Social media is an interesting one because it has the potential to foster creativity like this and yet it also has its addictive side. If you can free yourself from the need to pursue likes and followers and just use it as an art form it can be great. I need to free myself more from Facebook (but not abandon it as it is an important social outlet for me) to use those cumulative snatches of time during the day to be more creative or to snatch 5 minutes of exercise instead. To choose the life affirming stuff, instead of the addictive and habitual time wasting stuff.

Exercise is also really important for creativity. The writer Haruki Murakami in, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, looks at the intersections between writing and running and how the one depends on the other for him. I’m a bit the same way.  Right now I’m pretty unfit (and perhaps not so coincidentally pretty writing unfit!). Dodgy knees don’t allow me to run and a crazy kid wrangling schedule doesn’t allow me to put the time in to fixing my knees.

Image from bronwynbatten via instagram

Thankfully (at least before the cold weather hit) I’ve been able to occasionally seek out exercise through swimming and welcomed the same zen-like meditative time out I can get in a long swim as I can in a long run. It allows me a kind of mental zone out which gives my thoughts precious time and space (often a writing idea gets work-shopped or a life direction mulled) whilst physically working my body and getting the amazing sensation of the “well oiled machine”. So I know I have to make space and time for this in my life just as I have to make the space and time to be in the places which inspire me and refresh my being.

Creativity for me is about living life fully. Embracing the detail of what I see around me and writing about it, or bringing out the beauty in it by capturing a moment in a photo, or helping my body move in a way that exercise becomes a thing of beauty and creativity in itself – my body working as it was meant to.  Bit by bit I’m determined to try and bring a bit more creativity into my life.

Posted in identity, social media, society | Tagged | 2 Comments

The selfie that really raises breast cancer awareness

Almost everyone will have been confronted with the phenomenon of the “no makeup selfie” raising awareness for breast cancer. They’re everywhere on social media accompanied with the usual hash tags – #nomakeupselfie, #beatcancersooner #breastcancerawreness.

There’s been a lot of commentary around whether the makeup free selfie is really a good awareness raising tool or indeed whether it really is a “brave” thing to do, and whether it is actually encouraging a kind of vanity – being seen to look good naturally – which is actually decidedly unhelpful environment for those currently undergoing cancer treatment who look like a shadow of their former self. As people are want to do on social media there have also been endless spoofs of makeup free selfies. People have placed photos of anything from witches with boils on their face to dogs with funny expressions.

I want to share with you the breast cancer awareness raising selfie that we all need to see. Because there is one aspect of breast cancer that really does need awareness raising and there is a selfie pic that might achieve that. So here it is:

BobLawtonSelfie

This is my dad. In the spirit of the exercise it is make up free (mind you he never wears it). And no it’s not a joke or a spoof. Most people are totally unaware that men can get breast cancer. When we think breast cancer we think pink – pink ribbons, pink products. We’ve tinged breast cancer awareness in this stereotypical female colour, yet it is not only a woman’s disease.

Men possess a small amount of breast tissue behind their nipples, so yes, they too can, and do, get breast cancer. According to statistics from Cancer Australia over 100 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer each year in Australia, and the numbers appear to be rising. In the US approximately 2000 men will be diagnosed each year and almost 400 men will die each year from breast cancer.

In our society breast cancer is seen as a woman’s disease when actually it is not gender specific. The lack of awareness in men (and women) about the existence of male breast cancer means that it is often diagnosed late. Men may be aware of a lump and not see a doctor. Even among doctors there is a lack of awareness about male breast cancer. When my dad went to the GP about his inverted nipple he sent him to a specialist. The specialist merely advised that it was likely to be hormonal and to reduce his consumption of chicken and chocolate and things that might influence hormone production. If he’d been female, there would have been no way he would have walked out of that office without a referral for an ultrasound or even a biopsy. When his cancer was ultimately diagnosed much later, like many male sufferers, the cancer was more aggressive and advanced. For some men, it has already spread to other parts of their body.

The lack of awareness about male breast cancer also has the unfortunate effect that, for many men, being diagnosed with breast cancer can be a source of shame and humiliation. The sea of pink that has arisen around breast cancer has probably made it the most feminised place to be in the world. Male sufferers have reported doing the ‘walk of shame’ into waiting rooms full of women, and being interrogated by nurses and receptionists as to whether they’re ‘in the right place.’ Explaining to friends and family that they have ‘breast cancer’, something they never thought was humanly possible for them (as a man) to get, can somehow make them feel emasculated.

So I hope this selfie really is an awareness raising tool. My dad likes to tell his story because, like many other male breast cancer sufferers, he thinks that if his story can reach just one man and help them to detect the disease early it is a story well shared. But for me it’s not just about helping men avoid late diagnosis. It’s about helping men like my dad feel more accepted.

Breast cancer networks and pink ribbon days need to reach out and include the male sufferers of the disease. Otherwise it’s always going to be such an incredibly hard road to walk for these men. Who needs to fight stigma on top of fighting cancer?

This post was first published on Women’s Agenda http://www.womensagenda.com.au/talking-about/opinions/the-selfie-that-really-raises-breast-cancer-awareness/201404103868

 

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Cutting into gender discrimination

Image taken from Sean Freese's photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

Image taken from Sean Freese’s photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

Recently I took my three kids to get haircuts. It was my 21 month old daughter’s first one. Like all my kids she had very little hair at birth and even with almost 2 years of growth her hair was still really fine and very short. The only reason she was getting the chop was because it was just beginning to get a little long around her eyes and I was taking her brothers anyway.

The boys went first – being old pros at the haircut business. When their turns came they sat in their chairs, their hair shaved and chopped away at for a good ten minutes or more in their usual ‘short back and sides’ styles. When my daughter’s turn came she was a little upset so I sat her on my lap so the hairdresser could do the few quick few snips required to chop the long wispy bits at the back of her head and shorten up her fringe. Albeit accompanied with the unpleasantness of a small child exercising their lungs, her haircut was over in less than 2 minutes. We got up, brushed the hair off, and went to pay.

It was then that I realised that I wasn’t just introducing my daughter to the concept of haircuts. I was introducing her to one of her first bouts of discrimination. Her haircut took less than a quarter the time of her brothers’ haircuts. Her haircut was a third more expensive – because she was a girl.

I live in quite a multicultural part of Sydney and at this particular establishment the language barriers were too great to have any kind of dialogue on sex discrimination and hairdressing. I also had a sense of unease in that I know that these hairdressers aren’t earning a lot to start with so who is to begrudge them a few extra dollars. But it really struck home to me that as my daughter grows older I’ll be introducing her to a world which will increasingly throw these kinds of issues at her (and at me as her mother).

In December 2012 Denmark (the bastion of gender equity) ruled through its Board of Equal Treatment that charging different prices for men and women‘s haircuts was illegal. I know that some people will say this is ridiculous, women’s haircuts take longer. Denmark did not rule that hairdressers could not charge more based on the length of time it took to do a haircut, or for different styles of cut. They just can’t charge more for a haircut simply on the basis of someone’s gender. And that to me is a great thing – a milestone which feminists should celebrate. A milestone that will hopefully one day (just like paid maternity leave and other Danish advances) be achieved in Australia also.

Image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/seanfreese/8217922575/ with thanks to Sean Freese

Posted in equity, feminism, parenting, society, women | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Heigh-ho heigh-ho it’s off to work I go… if I can get childcare!

DSC_0065-1-2_Anne_PeriChildcare: It’s a vexed issue. Do you? Don’t you? And if you manage to get beyond the initial loaded question of whether to put your kids in care then there’s a whole barrage of other issues waiting for you. With the amount of parental guilt and logistical nightmares that come your way when tackling the issue of childcare you’ll need to invest in shares in L’Oreal to cover your hair dye bill or resolve yourself to going grey gracefully.

So you’ve decided to put your child into care. Let’s hope that you actually stuck them down on every single waiting list in your area the day you peed on a stick. We put our middle child’s name down on 15 waiting lists. 15! When the time came that we actually needed care only 2 centres had places and we were told we only just scraped into them.

With childcare timing is everything. January is the month that child care places are most likely to be available. So you’ve decided you want to have 12 months off after the birth of your child? Better make sure they were born in January then. And too bad if you’re one of many who can’t get pregnant at the exact time you want to. If your baby is born in June you’ve got buckleys and none of picking up a spot when they turn 1. It’s in the middle of the year! Your 12 months leave may soon be turning into an unexpected 18.

When you’ve had a baby you’re more emotional. Hormones are racing through your body and there’s this amazing little person who has wrapped themselves around your heartstrings pretty darn quickly. So what happens when you’re one of the lucky few to actually get called up and offered a child care place quickly – before you’re even actually physically or emotionally ready to go back to work? How tough is your decision when you’re not ready to leave your little one but you’re told that if you refuse the position being offered to you they’ll actually put you right back down at the bottom of their waiting list. So you’re shoved into the modern dilemma of going back to work and securing a place for your child or playing roulette and hoping another spot becomes available later when you’re actually ready for it.

Congratulations! You’ve been offered a place and you’ve decided to take it up. I hope you’ve been saving your pennies! 4 weeks bond and 2 weeks in advance is not uncommon. Yep we’re potentially talking $1000-$3000 required before you even get to start making a dollar back at work. This hurdle alone may be responsible for making childcare effectively inaccessible to many parents every year even if they could get a spot.

So your child has finally made it to primary school age and you think all your childcare issues are behind you. Welcome to school hours. Oh 9 to 3 how we love your incompatibility with office hours! Bring on the waiting lists once more – before and after care here we come. If you can get it – if you can’t you’re begging for reduced working hours and wondering at what age you can responsibly let your child walk home on their own and how long they can be left on their own for. At least when they reach high school your free of the care dilemma right but even though high-schoolers mightn’t need minding as such now we’re being told that kids actually need more parental involvement and not less when they’re teenagers.

One of the cornerstones of feminism is the ability of women to be economically independent. But for many this cannot happen without childcare. Yet sometimes childcare can be inaccessible or a logistical nightmare trying to create an arrangement that can work for your family. It is also an emotional roller coaster trying to do what’s best for yourself and your child/ren. It’s easy to see why and how it can be put in the too hard basket and why more and more women seem to be choosing to stay at home or work part-time.

Time and time again politicians promise change. Rudd pledged to end the double drop off. More recently we were lead to believe that childcare workers would receive an increase in pay. Many hoped this would also lead to an increase in the number of positions and quality and  stability of care for our children, attracting more people to the profession and allowing those who wanted to continue to work in the sector (but perhaps could not afford to do so) to stay on. Surprise, surprise the “Minister for Women” and PM Tony Abbot has let this promise fall by the way side too.

When will we ever get a government who takes the issues of making quality childcare accessible, available and affordable for all seriously? Perhaps when our government will actually acknowledge that more women can’t get a seat in cabinet it’s not a level playing field to start with – not because there aren’t any women good enough. Childcare is just one of the barriers.

Australian families agonise about care. Families in Norway don’t have to give it a second thought. In Norway there’s universal childcare for all. Australia has one woman in the federal government cabinet and five in ministerial positions – women making up 16 % of the ministry. Norway has surpassed the 50 % mark of women in ministerial positions in their government. Don’t kid yourself – childcare is an issue at the very heart of gender equality in Australia.

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Learning to play

Image taken from duncan's photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

Image taken from duncan’s photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

Are you one of the 9 million + people who have shared one of the latest quirky wall posts doing the rounds of Facebook? I didn’t share it, but I must admit to thinking that the photos two parents took showing a new scene they set up each night to make their kids think their toy dinosaurs come to life at night were pretty awesome. From modest beginnings with the dinosaurs ripping into a packet of cereal they advanced to cracking eggs all over the kitchen floor and playing ‘Operation’. The parents’ justification was interesting though. They wrote that they did it because in the age of iPads they wanted to foster a sense of wonder, mystery, and imagination in their kids. Looking at the photos though I suspect there is also another reason they got into it and kept it going – because they really enjoyed being able to play – something grownups don’t get enough of.

Our Facebook feeds are full of them: Adults recreating childhood photos, doctors dancing, teachers and students doing Gangnam Style parodies and the various flash mobs that occur. Even celebrities join in – Brian Cranston and Colbert doing Daft Punk roller disco style comes to mind, as does Cranston’s alternate Breaking Bad ending. Companies play on it – creating giant piano keys to place on staircases. Heck even the very memorable viral video clip back from 2009 – Jill and Kevin’s wedding – was all about adding the fun back in to life: Adults who are allowing themselves to let loose, to have fun – to play.

We tend to look at play as something we gradually abandon as we become an adult. As a first step we lose interest in playing with our toys. Superhero figurines, lego, cars, dolls and teddies languish at the bottom of toy boxes. I’ve often lamented that this process seems to happen more quickly for girls. At high school boys still play handball, basketball and football at lunch. Girls tend to sit around and talk in groups, with not many teenagers necessarily conscious of the fact, or willing or able in their egocentric states, to break this gender stereotype. Yet play is an essential aspect of life. We recognise the importance of play in early childhood with many experts arguing that formal schooling is in fact pushed on children too early and that better results are achieved when the emphasis is on learning through play until kids are 7. Yet we see play as something grownups should have grown out of.

Sharing these playful posts on Facebook makes us smile. Some of us might be inspired enough to initiate our own playful activities but chances are most of us will probably just have a little chuckle, click ‘like’ or ‘share’ and carry on with the seriousness of life. But maybe we should give a little more thought to following in their footsteps and breaking out into play.

In his TED talk Stuart Brown argues that we’ve lost play from our culture. In the 15th Century it was a common occurrence for adults to engage in play – and not just competitive play in sport. Adults would engage in all sorts of play just as children do today – rough and tumble play, imaginative play, social play, playing with objects like balls and puzzles. Yet for adults today it seems that play has slowly disappeared from our culture. Some of us might participate in team sports still, occasionally we might play with our kids but that is often the limit. Indeed some adults feel that they don’t know how to play with their kids or don’t like to play with their kids. Part of this may stem from the fact that many of us don’t know how to play anymore ourselves.

Play is about letting go. In his TED Talk on creativity and play Tim Brown discusses the fact that when we become adults (and during adolescence) we become more conservative. We fear the judgement of our peers and become self editors of our behaviour. We lose the ability to let go and be happy and silly and crazy in the moment.

New research into play shows that play lights up the brain like nothing else. Play stimulates us and allows us to think creatively. Indeed Stuart Brown suggests that a state of play is the antithesis of a state of depression and that human beings are a unique species in that it seems we are actually designed to play throughout our lifetime. Indeed Brown argues that play may well fill a biological role in humans just like sleep and dreams do.

So next time, rather than clicking ‘like’ or ‘share’ how about thinking about how you can put a bit more play back in your own life? Play isn’t an immature action or an indulgent way to escape life. It is a way to more fully engage with life, and a great way to really connect with our kids and each other.

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/duncan/79106711/sizes/o/with thanks to duncan.

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Red Nose Day

Wyn Red NoseLike many people I have suffered “awareness day fatigue”. There is red ribbon day, white ribbon day, pink ribbon day and teal ribbon day; all important in their own right, but the list of awareness colours does go on and on. I have sometimes pondered whether there might be enough to be able to wear a different one every single day of the year. Wikipedia lists forty-four different ribbons, and if you added in all the other awareness raising days, with jeans and bandanas and daffodils, you would probably get the 365 quota.

My partner and I were ambivalent to most of these days. We would support some of the big ones but would let the rest pass without a thought. Red Nose Day was one of the latter for us. We had no connection to it. No one we knew had lost a child to SIDS and we are not the type of effervescent people who can pull off walking around with a red nose on their face. But in the space of a year that has all changed. Now it is a day we will never forget.

June 2012 was tragic in our world. On the first of June old school friends of mine lost their 11 day old baby girl to a sudden illness. Watching my classmate walk into the church bearing the tiny coffin of his baby daughter was the saddest thing I had ever witnessed. Home for only a handful of precious days, happiness turned suddenly into days shrouded in grief. Their baby, Arielle, would be forever in their hearts but they would never hold her in their arms again.

I was 36 weeks pregnant when Arielle died. I walked through the last weeks of my pregnancy with a heavy heart. For the first time I understood so keenly the fragility of life. But the lessons about life and death had not finished. On the 19th of June my best friend’s son, Walter, was stillborn. We had shared the journey of pregnancy together and never doubted we would both be embracing our bundles of joy. Instead, her hopes and dreams for the future were shattered. The baby boy that she had longed for, and had already grown to love, was gone. My partner and I went to the funeral, 38 weeks pregnant, hearts literally aching for our friend. How could so much tragedy occur? Why her?

Three days after Walter’s funeral our daughter, Aowyn, was born. It was Red Nose Day.

I did not really understand the true scope of Red Nose Day before June last year. I knew that raising awareness about SIDS had been crucial in reducing cot deaths. I did not understand, however, the role the group SIDS and Kids played in supporting research into stillbirth and neonatal deaths (which unlike SIDS have actually increased in the past decade) and supporting families dealing with the grief of those deaths.

When two of my friends had lost their babies it felt unfair to be embracing my own newborn. Holding my daughter I was sometimes overwhelmed knowing how much pain my friends would be going through. I also struggled with wanting to support them in their grief, yet wondering if I would only add to it with the newborn that I held in my arms.

I took comfort, though, from my daughter being born on a day that is about supporting people in their situation. Since that time I too have tried to support my friends and all those treading such a difficult path. In return I have learnt more about life and love and friendship in the past year from both Walter and Arielle and their families than in the preceding 33 years of my life.

A year has now passed and my daughter’s first birthday is just around the corner and Red Nose Day has become a day I can never overlook again. Once so naive to the tragedy of stillbirth and neonatal death I am now so very conscious that many parents – my dear friends included – never get to witness so many ‘firsts’ with their babies. I am reminded of this daily as my daughter grows.

Now I understand the red noses but I also think I understand the daffodils and the ribbons in every imaginable colour. The grief of stillbirth, the loss of a loved one from cancer, or the magnitude of problems like domestic violence are confronting in their reality. It is often easier to let awareness days pass by in blissful ignorance. They are things that happen to other people. But once you have been touched – once stillbirth, or cancer, or domestic violence, or the myriad of other causes have breached your inner circle – you will never be the person you once were. Every ribbon worn, every daffodil bought, every red nose donned becomes a way of showing others that you stand with them. This June we stand with our friends and with all who have experienced such heart-wrenching loss. Our hearts, and our noses, go out to you.

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If you would like to make a donation to SIDS and Kids we’re running a ‘Red’memberance appeal during June. You can donate online at http://www.everydayhero.com.au/redmemberance

Posted in identity, parenting, psychology, stillbirth | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment