I have been a dad four times now, that’s quite a few times by average statistics which, I believe, gives me some authority to comment on the subject of parenting and, for the purpose of this blog entry, the last month before the baby is born.
OK, so we’ve got over the shock of discovering the pregnancy and for several weeks, not a lot happens. Actually, it’s fair to say that for those few weeks we sometimes doubt there is any baby at all until it say ‘hello’ on the ultrasound scan. Once we know it is really and is going to happen we do the gooey stuff, the potential name choosing, we will go through several before the birth. We’ll then be deciding where the baby is going to sleep, doing the usual jokes about who is now going to be called what, all the more fun for first time grandparents as they realise they are about to step up a generation. There is a period of ‘not a lot’ when there may be the occasional midwife appointment, possibly an antenatal appointment but really they are just to get on the system unless there is an issue with the pregnancy. By about 6 months though it all becomes about the mother. Dads can feel terribly left out, we have to fight to exist much of the time “HEY, IT’S MY BABY TOO”. It’s a horrible feeling. Trust me here, so much worse in the period when I was experiencing it. These days we have ‘parenting rooms’ back then it was all about ‘mothers rooms’ and ‘mother and toddler groups’. For me, well, I was married, that makes it easier because husband/fathers have automatic rights, have had for quite some time though much more so these days. Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s we did have to still push for dads to have the right to go with mums to antenatal appointments and, all too often, they were still asked to wait outside during examinations.
I cannot imagine my being able to cope, not even now and certainly not then, with being excluded from any part of my child’s‘ existence. In 1986 my fiance, pregnant with our eldest told me she really wasn’t certain she wanted to get married, couldn’t she just have the baby and she how she felt then? I could only think of one reaction and my viewpoint remains the same now as it was then. If you cannot commit to me as the father then I cannot be in the child’s‘ life knowing you can change your mind whenever you feel like it and take that child away from me. I could just about take the loss of an unborn child but could not imagine ever being able to cope with having a child I knew taken away from me. I fought for the right to be my children’s father, it meant that much to me. Clearly we did get married and the other three children followed. I have no regrets and their mum understands what I meant back in 1986.
With all the children, by the last month, at that period where Daisy is now and, where, as it happens, the baby would be described as ‘normal’ were she to give birth from any time onwards, things followed a pattern.
Yes, there are old wives tales which say, no preparation should be made for a baby before the birth as it is unlucky and certainly nothing should be brought into the house … yes, well, thank you old wives but there was a very good reason for that theory which is simply not the case now any more than it was back 20 years ago. The story originated during a time when child mortality was not good. A very high percentage of women did not carry to term. If they were premature the baby rarely survived. Of those who survived even at term, there was a high percentage of those who didn’t make it to their first birthday. They were the statistical facts and, precisely because of that, people naturally looked for anything they could do to increase the chance of having and keeping a healthy child. One possibility was that they were tempting fate by assuming everything would be OK so they took no chances and, hence, the old wives would argue, best not to make preparations for something which may not happen and certainly not to plan to far ahead. Again, considering the degree of poverty, no one could afford to invest in the future of a child who may not survive long … so, that’s the history of the tale and why I and anyone else should now put that one to rest and get on with things as they are in 2009.
On that note … it is part of nature with many mammals (that’s what we are by the way) to want to ‘nest’ prior to the arrival of their offspring. Now, clearly we don’t see elephants nipping into Mothercare (no, this is not because they don’t have any stores nearby), it is because we are unique among all species in that we have a concept of material things. Things we could survive without but which are ‘essential’ tools to us all the same. This considered, it is natural then for parents, not just mothers (unless we want to perpetuate this myth that only mothers form a bond with their child), so, parents should have that need to nest. In real terms this means, prepare the baby room for the baby. Get the cot, the buggy, the car seat, tons of nappies, volumes of products for cleaning, protecting and healing … clothes up to 6 months (they don’t know how big their baby will be), changing mats, toys, bottles, food, bouncers, walkers, things to help them about and things to stop them going places … hell, most of us have seen Mothercare, we know what it’s all about! So, this is what parents do in that last month, many start way before that.
For both parents the last month can seem like a lifetime. I can only describe it as having a ‘floating Christmas’ or, to put that in English, we know Christmas day is sometime this month, it could be tomorrow or it could be in 5 weeks, we have no idea. But, we do have to be ready for it when it happens and, we get virtually zero notice of just when that will be. The most amazing event ever, the birth of a child, and we can only ever have this vague idea of when it may be.
So, the time drags on and it becomes all the more important to make sure we are ready. Anything nagging in the back or our minds about what we may be missing and we are in real panic mode. Do we have enough nappies? Does the baby have enough to wear, do I have the cot set up right … hell, the list goes on loads.
In Daisy’s case, and I mean no disrespect to James here, as I said above, I can’t even start to comprehend how shit it must make him feel to know he will never have the sort of role with his child we all must want. But, with Daisy, she is waiting … yes, it is mainly my fault I fully accept that. But, the effect is the same. James has given a list of things he already has for the baby plus asked for and accepted a list of things he can get which still needs to be got. Because of that I am trying really hard to hold out buying what Daisy wants to give James the best chance possible to step up to his promises. It would be so easy for me to take Daisy out tomorrow and just buy what she needs, as it happens, I can afford it right now. But, is that fair on James? I don’t think so. I think it take away from him the chance to make his contribution. It’s not about ‘rights’, it’s about his feeling the need to care for his child. That said, there has to be a cut off time, quite simply put, we don’t know when this baby is going to be born, the things it needs it does need. Most certainly I think we are looking at a matter of a couple of weeks, no more before even I have to concede, perhaps this promised contribution is never going to turn up. Everyone else close to this baby has made a significant contribution especially my friends who have given up a small fortune they could have made by selling items in order to provide for this baby. James is in danger of feeling very left out simply because there will be nothing left to contribute.
James is not a bad person. I have always told him, and I meant it, he could be the sort of amazing father his never was. He has it within him if only someone he trusted was really guiding him along the right path. Social Services spend so much time hooked up on legalities that sometimes forget the humanity of a situation. This isn’t about anyone ‘winning’ anything because it cannot be. This child will exist, it will have loving parents and grandparents no matter what. James can, and we all hope, will, take a very full and active role in the life of this child, there is no reason why he should not. But, if the advice he is given is to fight legally for his rights I fear he has more to lose than to gain. It’s like when parents divorce. Most often they can sort access out between them but some stupid solicitor will advise they go for residency, make it all legal. Once that happens the bitterness starts, the dirt digging about the ‘other side’, the proving who is and isn’t suitable and, once that happens, actually working together as loving parents becomes all but impossible. In this situation James can have everything he wants, full access to the child, weekend visits, occasional holidays maybe … all he has to do, and this is a requirement he will no doubt hope for himself, is to grow up and put his child first. No social life, girlfriend, extended family member or, anything else (short of an emergency) should be thought of as more important than doing things for and spending time with our kids.
If I were where James is now I’d be putting by every penny I did not have real ‘need’ for and giving it to the mother or buying what my child needed without question. I’d be calling regularly to make sure those who would be caring for my child were all OK and knew I cared. I’d most certainly not do anything which even for one moment could encourage them to think I was not serious about my baby or that I would only ‘fit it in’ if I had nothing else I wanted to do. I’d never let myself open to claims that I was not contributing financially to the baby whilst spending my money on things for my own pleasure. ‘I’ would not do that and I appreciate that it is me and I am not perfect, I make loads of mistakes as well but that’s my feeling on things based on my own experience. I don’t ever want to watch Jeremy Kyle and find a lad on there who reminded me of James, James deserves better than that. I want him to let go the shit of his past and realise he’s his own person now with the right to decide for himself what is right for him and his baby. If he’s given advice, no matter who it is from (including me) and he feels it is not right, that he wants to do something different … do something different! Don’t ever allow himself to have regrets because of the things he did because someone told him he should. They don’t have to live with the consequences of those decisions, James does. It’s the same as when he and Daisy came to me with the new that she was pregnant. My first thought to myself was that I hoped Daisy would have an abortion as I thought and a huge emphasise on ‘I’ there, and abortion would be the simpler option. But, I was sure it was not my decision to make, only they could make that decision as they had to live with it. What should be happening now is that both Daisy and James are advised of the full range of their options open to them right now. It should not be clouded by prejudice or bias but pure information so they can make informed decisions. Decisions, incidentally, they should be talking about together as adults despite their ages. It worries me greatly that social workers are involved, they simply rarely have a full picture of a situation. They are only interested in a good paper outcome and that, quite often, is not the best outcome people could have got.
As I said earlier, legal action would be the worst possible for all involved with this baby. I can see at least one way and a few possible situations that everyone can come through this content they have the best possible situation for them.
Next week, we think, we have a meeting of everyone involved. I am not looking forward to it as I feel it is going to concentrate on the negative to the exclusion of the positive. That too much weight is going to be given to a perceived truth and, not enough to the reality of three people, James, Daisy and the baby who have a truth quite apart from what any of the social workers think they know. That if this is left to the social workers they are going to concentrate on ‘James, the victim’ of life who needs to be understood, to have allowances made and Daisy, the young single mother living with homosexuals who jumped straight into a relationship with another guy and who, incidentally, they actually no sod all else about. Neither of those perceptions about James and Daisy is right, both are reactions based on stereotypes. None of them will see what an amazing grown up person James can be with the right incentives, he is no longer a victim until social services or a family member puts him right back there. Daisy, like James, has had a tough life. It is no relaxing childhood to have two special needs siblings and especially only like her eldest brother. None of the social workers know about that let alone understand it. Daisy has been through a lot, a hell of a lot and yet, she is still coping well with pregnancy, putting her child first and is committed to education which may lead to a profitable careers and stable future for her and the child. How many single mothers can claim anything like that? James is 17, he had a very difficult childhood. I don’t think its fair for me to mention it here but it is fair to say he deserved much better than he got. But, he’s been allowed, as is the way of the care system, to get away with too much. To ‘play the system’ and play one person off against another which is all too common with those in long term care. All social services seem to be really interested in is ensuring they have as easy a role as possible and that invariably means, making allowances and given young adults under their care what ever they can get away with to keep them quiet until they can dump them on society totally unprepared for a world which does not make allowances for out difficult child hoods and which has no responsibility to give us anything. The system is sick and no one seems interested, as yet, in trying to heal it … I am trying in what small way I can but I am fighting a machine which ticks boxes. Their results don’t indicate the amount of best results they achieve for their clients but whether, or not, they did what they were expected to regardless of outcome. After all, if things go tits up when someone leaves care at 21, it’s all rather easy to blame the young person.
So, I guess this is a plea to anyone with a voice. Don’t let someone else make your decisions for you. If you are being pushed a route you don’t want to go, resist. Within the law, we can write out own rule book but that book must be agreed with all those we include within it else it won’t work. Those paid to give advice who cannot be sued, have no real incentive to give best possible advice for their client, only the advice which gives them the result ‘they’ want. If we went into a bank and asked for the best money making bank account we wouldn’t expect them to tell us about a better bank, we’d expect the product which gives them the best deal. That’s how advice works within social services, they are not always set up to give the client the best advice or to meet the needs of their client. They offer which resources they have available regardless of suitability and then convince clients it is their best, and worse, their only option. Vulnerable clients believe them and there is then no one to turn to when things don’t work out and social services (or whoever) claim they can prove they gave the best advice open to them.
I have made several complaints against social services which have been mainly upheld … that means, agreed with. Just because they are big and powerful, that doesn’t always make them right and when they are wrong, even if it doesn’t benefit us in any way, we need to challenge them just so as they don’t screw over anyone else the same way.
Oh dear, I am writing way too much, it is very nearly dinner time and I started this not long after lunch. Just maybe someone reads this, it makes sense and something changes. I hate living knowing I can help and not being able to.