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The anti-helicopter approach

Harried mother
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MOTHERHOOD: Is it time to take a more relaxed approach to parenting?

All right, I admit it. During both my pregnancies I ate soft cheese. I didn't just filch a teeny bit from the corner of a cheese platter in guilty secrecy. I ate it flagrantly and often, luxuriating in the squishy, oozy deliciousness of brie, camembert and those dodgy French ones with the funny-coloured rinds.

I gave up lots of things when preggers - wine being the one I recall most ruefully, although I have been making up for lost time ever since - but I just couldn't sacrifice cheese. I think I love cheese more than chocolate, and that's saying something. Mind you, I didn't sacrifice chocolate, either. After all, if you're going to get fat anyway, you may as well eat.

If that wasn't bad enough, I had no birth plan, except an adamantine determination to avoid any pain, and so I aimed to take as many drugs as were on offer. I had no interest in the grim maternal competition that equates a ''natural'' birth with being a good mother. Consequently, I had no interest in home births, birth centres, birth coaches, water births or whale song.

When I went on the obligatory hospital visit, I asked about the availability of anaesthetists. I spent my pregnancy studying up on pethidine, nitrous oxide and epidurals. Once in the labour ward, at the very first hint of real pain (I have still never felt anything like it), I yelled for the spinal block. It was bliss. I take painkillers when I have a headache, why not when having a baby? Thanks to the miracles of biochemistry, I actually enjoyed the birth of both my daughters and started new motherhood rather less shell-shocked than some of my more idealistic friends.

And what was the first thing I did on emerging from the labour ward? Cracked a very expensive bottle of bubbly, that's what, and enjoyed every drop. I did manage to breastfeed but this was because I had what's called copious flow. When I experienced let-down, it was like those fire-hydrant ships you see on the harbour. Forget about breastfeeding in public discreetly - I had to actually lie down for the first few months and breastfeed against gravity if I wasn't going to choke my poor child. If you think it's confronting just glimpsing a breastfeeding mother, try stepping over one. I used to wonder about donating myself to Oxfam.

My aim as a parent mirrored my aim as a housewife. How quickly can I get all this boring stuff done so I can do what I want? Read the paper, a book, watch a movie, pour a drink, have an adult conversation. My eldest daughter loved to have the same book read to her repeatedly, which bored me to screaming point. I developed a strategy - after three readings, I threw the book as far across the room as I could. She'd attempt to crawl after it but her progress was so slow I'd have started another one and distracted her long before she reached it.

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I regularly left the children asleep in the car while I ducked into the shop for bread and milk. I never washed or disinfected a single toy. The house was usually a mess and I saw cereal, sandwiches and baked beans on toast as the epitome of a balanced diet.

When my children woke up in the night feeling sick, the most I would do is grumpily tell them to get a bowl. A friend remembers getting up in the night and complaining to her mother that she couldn't sleep. Her mother replied ''Well, I can'' and rolled over. That's my kind of mother.

I left my kids with teenage babysitters from an early age, and sent them to the nearest childcare centre and school without any thought about whether either institution would nurture and develop their ''special'' gifts and talents. Quite frankly, I wasn't at all convinced they had any.

For birthdays, I bought two packs of 12 lamington fingers and stuck a candle in each one. They served a whole class.

I was very bad at any sort of preparation. I only once helped a daughter with a project - we couldn't find a ruler, the glue had dried up, as had the felt tips and the eventual product on creased blue cardboard looked like the cat threw up on it. The only photo we could dredge up of a marine creature was of brain coral. ''That'll have to do!'' I screeched at her. I think she'd had fantasies of whales, dolphins or seahorses. I went into the classroom a few days later only to see it displayed on the wall alongside other pristine, laminated dissertations on more glamorous sea creatures. Surprised to see it so honoured, I asked the teacher why it took pride of place. ''Ah,'' she said, ''because she so obviously did it all by herself.'' Once again, sheer incompetence came up trumps.

When it came time for the weekly swimming lessons, I invariably realised I hadn't unpacked the bag from last time. ''Oh well,'' I reasoned as I forced them to don their damp, mouldy, smelly togs, ''they're only going to get wet again anyway.''

I just read this to my youngest daughter and she reminded me that I once made a deal where if she walked with me every morning at 6.30am, she could have the dog she was begging for. I argued she had to prove she was capable of looking after it. I didn't believe for a minute she'd ever do it. She did, but we still never bought her the dog. She got a kitten instead and went back to sleeping in.

They're both grown up now and, despite everything, quite well-adjusted, cheerful, contributing members of society. It only goes to show just how right I was to put the minimum of effort in.

- FFX Aus

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