Mother at work texting on mobile phone at desk while feeding her baby. Picture: iStock
Mother at work texting on mobile phone at desk while feeding her baby. Picture: iStock

Parents still don’t know where we stand with ScoMo

WHEN my son was about six-days-old and I was pumping milk like a cow in-between what seemed like interminable bottle feeds, I had a question I could not answer.

I was a brand-new mother, my son's birth not only bringing new life into the world but bringing me into a new role that I was wholly unprepared for. Two newborns, he and I, struggling to make sense of the crazy world that looked exactly as I remembered it but was nothing like I had ever experienced before.

Because I was using formula, I had been sent home with what felt like strict instructions from the hospital that my baby was to receive a certain amount of milk, down to the millilitre, at each feed. On day five he would get this amount and on day six a little bit more. The only problem being that as soon as he finished the bottle that I had correctly and carefully measured out, he would wail and wail and wail. And I would wail along with him, experiencing a shocking mix of hormones, exhaustion and frustration that I could not help the tiny babe in my arms.

It wasn’t until I needed breastfeeding advice with my newborn that I realised how badly parents need their village. Picture: iStock
It wasn’t until I needed breastfeeding advice with my newborn that I realised how badly parents need their village. Picture: iStock

I rang my girlfriend, she with her young children in Melbourne and me with my newborn in his nursery in Canberra.

"He seems hungry at the end of his feed, even though he's had the amount of milk the hospital dictated. Should I keep feeding him?"

My question, boiled right down to a central thesis was this; should I feed my hungry child? I literally had to call a friend to ask a question that in hindsight has a remarkably obvious answer.

Yes, Alys. You should feed your hungry baby.

The village I had expected to help me raise my child was curiously missing, and instead I had to seek out the advice of someone 700kms or so away from me.

This may seem a long bow to draw, but bear with me, because this yearning for the missing village seems to be strangely relevant following Saturday's Federal Election result.

There are many things that divide Australia, I think it's fair to say. Rich, poor, progressive, conservative.

But I see the biggest divide being that between the individual and the community.

And for parents, herein lies a conundrum.

We yearn for community. Online parents' groups are overrun with mums and dads looking to find a village. Influencers build their own communities and we, seeing someone whose life we might aspire to sharing their own honest struggles in the captions of Instagram and Facebook, flock to them hoping to find some clue to that might unlock a sense of relief on our parenting journey. We scroll and stare at screens looking for friends and people to rely on and to ask the questions that we cannot find the answers to ourselves.

And while we yearn for community, we are also driven by the idea that we're on our own in this crazy world. We hear messages that tax is bad, that we should 'have a go', that if we're not getting a go that it's our own fault, never mind the fact that for many, many thousands of us, getting a go is hampered by systems and circumstances that keep us behind, that the tax we have come to believe is bad is the thing that will actually fund the go that most of us desperately want.

There are many things that divide Australia, but the biggest is between the individual and the community. Picture: iStock
There are many things that divide Australia, but the biggest is between the individual and the community. Picture: iStock

It's hard to say exactly what will happen for parents and children with Scott Morrison elected for another three years. We don't know if early childhood education will become more affordable, we don't know whether public schools will get desperately needed extra funding, we can't say for sure one way or another if Australia's paid parental leave arrangements will ever catch up with the rest of the world. We don't know what measures, if any, there will be to help children thrive and flourish, especially vulnerable children. The Coalition did not make their policy plans very clear during the campaign.

But what is clear is that the Liberals and Nationals have put the individual at the heart of their policy making. And, for parents, those who need and yearn for a community, for a village to help them on their way, that's unlikely to be ultimately very useful.

Alys Gagnon is the Executive Director of The Parenthood.



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