Category Archives: Lists

Parenting for lawyers

I’ve been a mother now for longer than I’ve been a lawyer.

Actually, that’s not strictly true. My dad’s nickname for me as a child was “I know, but” – because I’d take any particular proposition and argue against it, often just for the sheer fun of it. Temperamentally, I think I’ve been a lawyer all my life. It just took me a while to get round to the qualification bit.

We’re a niche group, I know, but lawyers – by temperament or qualification (NB – having the temperament of a lawyer does not authorise you to practice as one. Sorry.) – may struggle with certain aspects of parenting.

1. Your retainer fee is always in arrears

We know that some clients pay a certain amount regularly to ensure that they always have legal advice to hand. Suddenly, your account is being settled with cuddles, shared lurgies and the occasional half-melted chocolate button.

2. Disclaimers don’t work

It is tempting, I know, but it honestly isn’t the done thing to ask a play date’s parent to sign a form confirming that they are leaving their child at their own risk and will hold you harmless from any, well, harm that should befall. Nor is it acceptable to attempt to discharge your duty of care by murmuring “be careful” as your children hurtle off slides and down hills – or at least not to expect it to cut any mustard with them when they get hurt anyway.

3. The contract’s not worth the (sweetie) paper it’s written on

Lawyers should make ace parents. After all, our negotiation skills are up there with the best of them. We like to resolve situations beyond reasonable doubt, ensure that all parties know where they stand, clear up any possible room for doubt. Yeah, forget that. Whatever agreement you come to with a small child is never going to stand up in court. You think your child is the client or the other side? They are actually judge, jury (and quite often executioner too).

4. Losing on appeal 

You may well have right and the weight of evidence on your side, but sometimes, you shouldn’t argue your case any more. Let it go.

5. What’s yours is mine

Property rights? Title deeds? Personal space? You can try to register your ownership in something (and if you have more than one child, they will – usually with indelible pen in a conspicuous place) but family life is essentially a commune. Particularly hard for the conveyancers among us.

6. WiP report

Suddenly, no-one’s recording your chargeable hours any more. Yet at the same time, you’ve never been under so much pressure to get stuff done. The beauty of it is, there’s no-one to bill. It’s all a work in progress from here on in.

7. Explaining what it is that you actually DO.

Never will you have wished so much that you were a doctor, or a hairdresser, or a teacher, or anything a child recognises as of value. Perhaps easier if you work in criminal law, but if the highlight of your professional life is scrutinising the terms and conditions on a purchasing order for engine oil, explaining your 9-5 is difficult. “I tell people the rules and help them keep them” you say, feebly, as your offspring survey the near-anarchy in which they live and look faintly incredulous.

8. A frolic of one’s own

We lawyers, perhaps naturally, like to find the best way to do things. We research it. We look at precedents. We apply training and reason and care. But the best bits of parenting are those that happen when you’re not really thinking about it at all. Enjoy.

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How to be a Wild Thing (or Paleo for Toddlers)

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Of all the unlikely things ever to have happened in my life, joining a gym has to come top. Exercise to me has always been like vegetables to my children: essential, yet minimal and never voluntary. And yet, I find myself now pretending to row and ski and fall asleep on the floor do Pilates several times a week.

Among my new-found gym-based knowledge is Paleo: a diet for people for whom avoiding crisps is just not challenge enough. The idea, apparently, is to eat like a caveman. There are adverts for it everywhere: on the walls, by the equipment, on the back of the loo door. I don’t know about its followers’ dinners, but I’m feeling hunted.

It struck me this morning, though: why stop with food? What else could we learn from our Neanderthal ancestors*? What, in fact, do our children already know?

1. Don’t waste daylight

Perhaps my children just haven’t caught up with evolution yet, and think that being awake as soon as the sun rises gives them an advantage over their competitors (for which, read “their parents” *yawn*)

2. Don’t waste food

In a harsh prehistoric environment, there was no Mr Tesco to bring fresh supplies. This might explain why I regularly find crusts of bread down the sides of the sofa, sweet wrappings scrunched under pillows and lumps of broccoli under the table (on second thoughts, this last one might have another cause)

3. Defend your territory

So that’s why they will fight to the death over their bedroom, their toys and (on one memorable occasion) fresh air

4. Fight or flight

What I take as an opportunistic bolt from my side in the playground is, in fact, a honing of the reflex to bolt in an emergency (or on seeing a small colleague with an exciting-looking toy)

5. Don’t trust the dark

know that there’s nothing to be scared of in the middle of the night when the lights are all out, but they have an atavistic impulse to see a woolly mammoth or a sabre-toothed tiger in every shadow. Muuuuuuuuuummmmmy!!!!!

6. Travel lightly

Cavemen weren’t burdened down with coats or hats or gloves. Why tolerate it nowadays?

7. Appeal to the tribe

As well as being equipped with those heart-meltingly huge eyes, human babies have an innate ability to evoke the urge to protect in any adult they encounter.  This might explain yelling blue murder when being required to do something against ones will in public.

8. Caves

The wanton dismemberment of soft furnishings to build a den is, in fact, a primeval instinct to retreat  into a confined space. Children and dens. I rest my case.

*disclaimer – on reflection, we may not actually be their descendants. 

Bust mything

Reading the debate about breastfeeding in public, the same idiotic ill-informed comments as always appear, fundamentally suggesting that some people can’t distinguish between the human breast and a plastic bottle (a problem which, presumably, makes their shopping trips – let alone bedroom antics – fraught with embarrassing confusion).

So, as a former bottle- and breastfeeder, let me help, if you ever feel tempted to suggest these helpful solutions to the “problem” of feeding a baby while otherwise conducting a life.

1. “Express a bottle to take with you”

Excellent idea. Everyone’s a winner. The breasts stay – metaphorically speaking – at home; the baby is satisfied and silenced in public. Only: boobs don’t work like that. You can’t leave them at home, metaphorically or otherwise. I’m wary of drawing any analogy between breastfeeding and defecation (because, Lord knows, that’s not a new one), but it’s roughly akin to suggesting that public toilets would be unnecessary if everyone just went to the loo before they left home.

Expressed milk is an earlier feed’s milk. Human breasts are amazing, but they aren’t programmable. They expect to deliver the goods again one, two or three hours after the last time. They fill up. If you ignore them, they can (and given even the slightest chance will) rush headlong into blocked ducts, mastitis and infection. It’s a pain, in all senses. Expressing is no picnic, either. All of which means that the price of your comfort is bought at that of the mother, who will have to either find somewhere to express (a little backward, no?) or rush home immediately after feeding her baby that expressed milk. Which may be tricky if she’s on a plane, or waiting for an appointment or has, for some selfish reason, strayed more than thirty minutes away from her house.

Which leads me neatly onto:

2. “Time your feeds” (aka “I breastfed thirteen babies and never needed to feed in public”)

Well, lucky you. Some babies seem naturally to have a well-set body clock from birth onwards. Others respond instantly to some kind of routine. I’m not going to get into the whole routine argument, because I fall firmly between the two camps, but let’s just say that some babies won’t have a three or four hourly feeding schedule for all kinds of reasons. Insisting that they go hungry as a consequence seems a tad harsh.

There’s another aspect to this “never needing to feed in public”. A lot of the people I read making this comment tend to be women with grown children. And I wonder whether perhaps lives (both mothers’ and everyone else’s) used to be smaller? When I was very young, we walked everywhere. There was a row of shops nearby where my mum would take us daily to buy meat, groceries, vegetables (and also, probably, to get us out of the house). Church, play school, grandparents and school were all just a few minutes away. We didn’t have a car; we rarely went anywhere further than half a mile away from home. Our lives are different now; more spread out. We go further both for the basics: shopping, school, families; and for the “luxuries” of days out or other trips. All other things being equal, when you criticise a mother for feeding her baby outside of their home, you’re essentially committing an entire young family to a kind of purdah until the smallest is weaned.

And speaking of purdah…

3. “Cover Up”

Those cutesy ditsy sling contraptions weren’t around when my eldest was born. Some friends used blankets or muslins, but I managed pretty well (I think) with a combination of loose tops, vests and furtiveness. The most attention I ever drew to myself was misjudging the tension needed to refasten the clip on the feeding bra and punching myself hard on the jaw. Breastfeeding covers are fine, if they work for you, but they are discreet in the same way that those hideous maternity smock dresses used to be: by making something unmentionable unmissable.

I tried the muslin-on-the-shoulder manoeuvre a few times and it was invariably more of a show than when I fed normally. In between positioning the baby and removing the breastpad and tugging up the vest and smoothing down my top, it was just another thing to get wrong. Beneath the cover or not is a breast, not a bottle passively awaiting instruction. Especially in the early days, as a feed draws nigh, boobs get a bit carried away: they leak, they (whisper) spurt. The most discreet way to handle the whole damn thing is to calmly apply the baby’s mouth and let it handle it. Not to do some dance of the seven veils with umpteen pieces of fabric and only two hands. If you really want to remain unaware of breastfeeding in public, here’s a thought: don’t frighten and fuss mothers to such an extent. Being a bag of nerves never helped anyone perform with aplomb.

“Perform” brings me to my final point:

4. “Some women just enjoy showing off” 

This one possibly needs, for certain people, to continue in brackets “(but not the women I’d enjoy seeing show off”). 

There’s this creature, well established in urban legend. She has enormous boobs and a bad attitude. She can’t pass a cafe window, a prominent bench or a front row without establishing herself, whipping off all clothes from her upper body and clapping a child (probably her own, but not necessarily) to her breast. She has roamed the land for years, trouncing all efforts of other women to combine breastfeeding and a normal existence, with her one-woman production.

I’ve been a mother for eight and a half years. I’ve seen a fair bit of breastfeeding. I’ve yet to come across the flop-em-outer. Everyone else seems to have seen her, though, so she must exist. But here’s some advice. If you see her, just avert your eyes and comfort yourself that timing is on your side. She and her bosom have an extensive programme of outrage to deliver: she’ll be gone soon. In the meantime, if you catch sight of an inadvertent nipple or a crescent of flesh, pretend it’s in a magazine, and just look the other way. It won’t hurt you, I promise.

And try to remember that it’s just a baby, having its lunch; and a mum, doing her best.