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  • WEDNESDAY 18 DECEMBER 2013 4455 7741






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    The biggest baby boom in 40 years means that the pavements are choked with buggies and schools are overloaded. Alice Fisher reports from the frontline.



    My daughter Robin is 28 months old and her favourite ques-tion is: Mummy,

    what are you doing? She repeats it with a frequency that gets to me if Im tired. Like most parents of young children Im doing a lot. Im holding down a full-time job and feeling insecure about my per-formance because Im knackered all the time. I have to shoot out the door bang on 5pm every day on the nursery run whether Ive fin-ished my work or not. Im worrying about the money I pay for child care from a salary that isnt ris-ing in line with inflation. Im also worrying about whether I should be working at all. Is it emotionally bad for her, for me?

    Obviously Im also doing amaz-ing, ridiculous things. I am sing-ing for so long to make a car journey pass that I lose my voice. Im looking for a poo that has dematerialised during a surrep-titious nappy change while were on a tour of a cave thats part of a World Heritage site. I am see-ing snow for the first time. I am being kissed with a ferocity that has not yet been muted by embar-rassment. But mostly, Robin, what am I doing? The truth is Im not really sure.

    Its an odd time to be a new par-ent. Families seem inescapable at the moment, whether you have one or not. We hog the political agenda with debate about parental leave and benefits. We clog up magazine lifestyle pages with our post-baby figures with our toddlers whose clothes cost more than ours. We ruin your weekend brunch with our howls and our scattered rai-sins and the buggy bumping your table, spilling your flat white.

    Part of this is unavoidable: There are more of us. In 2011-12, more babies were born in the UK than in any other year since 1972. There were 813,200 births, according to the Office of National Statistics. It was the most bountiful year of a decade of ever-increasing fecun-dity. Since 2001 the birth rate has risen were in a baby boom which will have major repercus-sions on healthcare, housing and education.

    There arent enough midwives: More than half of birthing units do not meet staffing guidelines and 28 percent have had to turn expect-ant mothers away because of a lack of space or staff in the past year.

    By 2015 well need 450,000 more school places. And as demand grows for places, in the private sec-tor nursery fees are growing faster than a landfill mountain of nappies. Full-time care costs are close to

    200 a week, a rise of 30 percent in just three years. Meanwhile, more mothers work now than a decade ago: 29 percent of households had two full-time earners in 2011 and those who work part-time work more hours.

    There is a lot of pressure on a finite pool of resources. Theres not enough money or stirrups or school desks or professionals who know what theyre doing: If par-ents now seem pushier maybe its because they feel pushed.

    That is the overwhelming rep-utation of the modern parent pushy. And lets be honest, when we say parent we still really mean mother, with all the exasperat-ingly traditional, sexist connota-tions that word now holds. We are tiger moms, we are slummy mum-mies. If we want to lean in like Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg we are deluded. If we stay at home were making a lifestyle choice. We are breast feeding, co-sleep-ing fanatics like Time cover-star Jamie Lynne Grumet. We are the Duchess of Cambridge. We are Gwyneth Paltrow. Mumsnet isnt just a website but shorthand for a particular type of over-bearing parent. Though there are sound economic reasons for parents to be a national focus, disliking or judg-ing them has become a national pastime.



    Its ironic, says Justine Roberts, CEO and co-founder of Mumsnet, because the underlying common phi-losophy seems to be much more lais-sez-faire than tiger mum. Its true that Mumsnet users are opinionated, and when they see things that they want to change, we try to use our collective muscle to help achieve those changes. I think there is a strand of thought out there which brands opinionated women as pushy or shouty.

    Jo Swinson, junior equalities minis-ter and under-secretary for employ-ment relations, is expecting her first child, but has already experienced a change in the way people view her. Theres a gender difference in the way the media approaches these stories, she says. Im currently the only minis-ter in the department for business who does not have a child, but the inter-est in how Im going to manage my job while being a parent is already there. To my knowledge, that isnt a question that gets asked of my male colleagues.

    When Dr Aric Sigman spoke at a conference for the campaigning par-ent group Mothers at Home Matter in October and coined the word mother-ism to describe the prejudice full-time mothers encounter, he was amazed by the international media interest. It was just a euphemism to encapsulate how they felt as educated women who, because they had stayed home with their children, had been relegated socially and economically but there was a huge response.

    For new parents this raising of eye-brows, this pursing of lips is a mean kick in the teeth. The average age of British women having babies is 30. So youve had roughly three decades to get used to the prejudice you typically face as a female youve worked out in your head how you feel about being called stupid, fat and ugly. Then youre given a whole new negative identity to untangle at the point when you feel

    most vulnerable. Nothing can prepare you for becoming a parent. One minute you are not and the next you utterly, brilliantly and terrifyingly are. Every action feels earth changing and you do it all on very little sleep, very little food and in a state of panic. Its akin to try-ing to fill in your mortgage application in your tent during the closing night of Glastonbury or assemble flat-pack fur-niture wearing mittens and a blindfold. Every new parent feels theyre doing it wrong. They really dont need society to tell them that they are.

    Government legislation on shared parental leave comes into effect in 2015 and it could genuinely shake things up, not just giving men the chance to stay home but allowing women to leave it sooner. It will be interesting to see how the reputation of parenting changes when it is less exclusively womens work. Im, sadly, not expecting that suddenly men will do 50 percent of the child care, says Swinson.

    Until the revolution comes, though, its understandable that most par-ents fall back on the coping methods theyve used throughout their adult lives. They search for meaning and expert guidance. They chuck money at the problem. There is a line of argu-ment that there are currently so many gurus in circulation and parenting has become such an intensive occupation because this is how women are used to approaching life now.

    Last year in a piece about feminism and mothering, Time magazine jour-nalist Belinda Luscombe wrote that womens rising social and economic power has enabled them to mother with ferocity. They research; they seek out best practices; they join a group, form a committee and agitate for their version of feeding/disciplining/sleeping. Its funny that after all that analysis, most women decide the best solution is cuddles. Attachment guru Dr Bill Sears and Dr Harvey Karp

    (who suggests you show empathy by talking toddlerese to your child) are two of our most popular experts. We are parents of skin-to-skin contact, of slings and breast is best. We do not leave our children to cry it out. They do throw food.

    This professed love of back-to-nature doesnt stop us spending a lot of hard cash, though. According to a 2013 survey the first year of your childs life will typi-cally set you back 10,526. A lot of this is spent panic buying nonsense: Baby tea, intricate bands to keep socks on and reusable nappies youll never use at all. My personal low point was forking out for a homeopathic teething remedy even though I knew it was hokum. My only excuse is that sleep deprivation does funny things to the brain.

    One thing you can waste an awful of money on is clothes. The blue/pink gender debate is another way that todays parents use up a lot of words and thought trying to control, but that stereotypical girl-boy divide is already blurring. Blue v pink first dominated in

    the 40s and 50s and dissipated during the last great wave of feminism in the 70s before reemerging in the 90s. Its interesting that colour coding is fading as the tide turns back to feminism, but this time its happening in a culture awash with fashion and in particular designer clothing.

    Now it seems to be not so much a question of whether you let your daughter wear pink, but what style of pink you go for. Do you want to go for a vivid sangria shade in a utili-tarian Scandi style or sprinkle ditsy roses over a frill-collar blouse, a look favoured by the French? What about a coral-coloured tee with an ironic slogan? C