In Support of Mothers; Antonella Gambotto-Burke's Book Offers Sage Advice to Those Who Feel Conflicted and Lost as They Navigate Parenthood

The Northern Star (Lismore, Australia), July 26, 2014 | Go to article overview

In Support of Mothers; Antonella Gambotto-Burke's Book Offers Sage Advice to Those Who Feel Conflicted and Lost as They Navigate Parenthood


Byline: Helen Hawkes

INTERNATIONALLY published journalist and author Antonella Gambotto-Burke, who lives in the Ballina Shire with her husband, is the mother of one girl, Bethesda.

Her journey into motherhood inspired her to write Mama: Dispatches from the Frontline of Love.

Life Matters' Dr John Irvine described the book as being to motherhood what The Female Eunuch was to feminism.

We caught up with Gambotto-Burke to canvas her views on some controversial motherhood and parenting issues.

Weekend: Do you think there is a lot of pressure on mothers to be "yummy mummies"? And how did you find you felt about your own body or sex appeal post pregnancy?

AGB: Something I find extraordinary is our cultural focus on the mother's appearance after birth. It is toxic. Instead of focusing on the infant, on facilitating the maternal/infant, paternal/infant and maternal/paternal bond, we fixate on the size of the mother's stomach. In years to come, our descendants will look back upon us as a pack of idiots. I felt (the pressure) too - every new mother does. And it was terrible.

Weekend: You are anti television for parents of newborns and toddlers. What do you say to the mums who argue they put their children in front of telly - a kind of electronic babysitter - when they are too busy to do anything else?

AGB: In Mama, Steve Biddulph talks about how toddlers verbalise to themselves continuously as they play. This babbling develops the language centres of their brain. But, as Steve points out, if you have a television or a radio going on in the background, it eliminates 80% of the child's verbalising.

We really have to look at the auditory environment we put our children in. When my daughter saw her first television at the age of two or three, she didn't know what it was. In terms of babysitting, we used to put her in a playpen every day. Around the inner periphery of the playpen, dozens of little books and those wonderful Fisher-Price blocks and teeny tiny dolls and Fisher Price people and little cars and so on, all neatly arranged the night before.

She would systematically work her way through every one of them - of course we changed the order and the contents to keep it interesting - and this kept her busy for a long, long time.

Weekend: How do working mothers deal with the guilt they feel about not being there for their kids?

AGB: Guilt serves no one. The thing that matters is attachment. We have to live in the real world, and the real world involves paying bills. You can work outside the home and still be beautifully attached to your children, but it takes commitment. Critically, children need to feel that you're emotionally present when you're with them - look deeply into their eyes, speak tenderly, touch them gently when you're not rough-housing. Really make an effort to connect. Attachment parenting (of which Gambotto-Burke is an advocate) doesn't mean that the parents sit there, staring at their child for the term of his natural life. It's about sensitivity to your child, and about prioritising that connection - not just for your child's benefit, but for yours. Poor attachment to children is one of the top five regrets of the dying.

Weekend: Do you feel we live in a society where motherhood is valued but women are still seen as people of value in themselves? …

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