Why, after decades of social progress, is motherhood still so much harder than it needs to be? It seems that while Mothers are trying hard to fit into all sorts of identities, while also losing their own. Eliane Glasser is a writer, mother and joins Amy for this honest and upfront conversation, including discussion about:
- How feminism has almost left Motherhood behind.
- Guilt, resentment, anger and the feelings of injustice and isolation, particularly after years within the COVID pandemic culture.
- Being more separated than ever, with judgement, types of parenting, sleeping, food and the social patterns that have emerged from that.
- Gap and gatekeeper syndrome and media portrayals.
The discussion between Eliane and Amy is rich, exciting, progressive and heart-warming at the same time. There needs to be a change in the way mothers are valued and seen in our society. We are here to spread the whispers of Matrescence together.
To find out more about Eliane please visit https://elianeglaser.org/
Find out more and receive your Matrescence map here https://www.amytaylorkabbaz.com/matrescence/
[00:00:00] Welcome to the happy mama movement podcast. I'm Amy Taylor-Kabbaz. I would like to start by acknowledging the Gadigal people of the aura nation on which this podcast is recorded as the traditional custodians of this land. And pay my respects to the elders past, present and emerging. And as this podcast is dedicated to the wisdom and knowledge of motherhood, I would like to acknowledge the mothers of this land, the elders, their wisdom.
[00:00:33] They're knowing and my own elders and teachers.
[00:00:38] Welcome back Mamas. I have a question for you this week. Why after decades of social progress is motherhood still so much harder than it needs to be? This is a question by my guest this week. Eliane Glaser.
[00:00:58] In her book, Motherhood, a Manifesto, Eliane bravely and beautifully asks questions of why, after all this time, we are still experiencing such isolation, struggle and depletion as mothers.
[00:01:17] Why after all these decades of feminism and massive changes in parts of our culture and society is motherhood still, the same. Why is it the way it is right now? As Eliane says in her book, I love my children. They fill me with joy, but I feel guilty when I rebelliously ate runny cheese while pregnant. I felt guilty when I had an epidural for my first baby and I frequently feel guilty when I sneak off to check my emails while my children are at home.
[00:01:52] Why do we still have a belief around motherhood? That it is only up to us. Eliane is a writer, radio producer, and research fellow at the school of advanced study at the University of London. And she brings her insight into motherhood and her own experience in her book. And in this conversation challenges me,
[00:02:16] and I'm sure you as well, when you listen to really think about how could we be doing this better, especially after two years of a pandemic. I hope you get a lot out of this interview as much as I did enjoy.
[00:02:32] Welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for joining me. We have been trying to talk about your book, your amazing book, and your work in motherhood for many months, but I think today's the day we're meant to have this conversation. So thank you for being here.
[00:02:49] Oh, it's, it's really good to talk to you, Amy.
[00:02:52] Before we talk about motherhood in 2022. Can you just share with the audience with this amazing community of parents, how you came to write that book, your experience on becoming a mother and the questions that you wanted to ask and the answers you wanted to find?
[00:03:13] Yes. I think I was terrified of becoming a mother. I mean, I really wanted to a hundred percent, but I was really terrified of losing my identity my previous identity as a person with a job and with time and with my own thoughts and time to, to think them and time to see my friends and be kind of be my own person.
[00:03:37] I think I was really terrified that that would all go out the window. And I think for reasons that perhaps we'll discuss, I don't think it was surprising that I was terrified. Because, I think we're told by society. Everything's going to change, you know, give up your old life. And, you know, in so many ways, things do change and it is really hard.
[00:04:01] But I suppose what I think is that it's way harder than it needs to be, but I was terrified and I was going through that whole, um, satsuma of emotions, when I was preparing to have kids. And then, I had a really terrible birth experience with my first child. So 12 years ago now, I was worried about childbirth itself.
[00:04:26] I think, I like to be in control, which I think is not, you know, not a control freak. I just, um, the idea of giving up control in this moment of childbirth, you know, pain. And the incredible transformation that childbirth is. I think I was really particularly scared of that moment. And I think.
[00:04:48] Yeah. I went to antenatal classes where, you know, the message was give up control give in to your animal instincts. And you know, this really was not what I wanted to hear. Um, and as a professional woman in my thirties, I really didn't want to give up control and. So terrifying right of passage. And my birth experience confirmed my worst fears in a way. I came into hospital, um, in a lot of pain, I was bleeding and the midwife at the hospital told me to go home, she said that I wasn't in established labor effectively told me that I shouldn't be complaining so much, that I should just go home and wait and just, get on with it. And, so I went home and, and things got worse and worse and I came back and actually I had a really rare complication, which is really dangerous.
[00:05:45] And as it turned out my life and my son's life were in danger. So I just felt like this really confirmed my worst fears of not being listened to, in childbirth. And that's an experience that so many women share that they asked for pain relief. They asked to stay in the hospital because they're scared it's their first baby, but they're kind of fobbed off.
[00:06:10] Um, They're told to not complain or it's implied that they shouldn't complain so much, um, that they should just get on with it. And, um, and then the first night that I spent with my baby in the hospital, this message of don't complain was really reinforced. So harshly. If I couldn't even lift up my baby to feed him.
[00:06:34] And when I pressed the button to call for help, the implication was that I really was being demanding and, uh, that I should just get on with myself. And I just thought, I can barely move. Um, and, and yet, you know, instead of feeling. Um, indignant or aggrieved or angry about this. I remember just thinking.
[00:06:57] Okay. Right. So really everything has changed. I really can't complain anymore. Um, and actually, you know, this baby is so much more vulnerable than I am, you know, he's the priority now it's really time to put my own needs second. And even though, you know, as a good feminist, I, I knew rationally that this was ridiculous and that my needs were also important. Um, I just think there's this incredibly strong message. Sort of gets through to all women. And we have babies that actually it's time to sacrifice their own needs and wants it's time to put their baby's needs and wants first. And if you complain or you get angry or you think, hang on a minute, I'm really not getting the support that I need, that somehow you're being demanding.
[00:07:43] And, and then of course the guilt sets in that you're being selfish. Um, and I just, the reason I wanted to write this book, As a fairly self-aware kind of feminist women, all of these feelings of guilt and self criticism. Um, I was feeling all of them and I, and I just felt that there was a great injustice being done.
[00:08:08] And, and I, and I think, you know, in many ways, things really haven't got better for mothers, I think we're more isolated than we ever were. I think we're more guilty than we ever were. I think conditions have got really worse for, for mothers. You know, workplaces haven't shifted a bit. Attitudes haven't really improved, still, you know, great expectations of perfectionism, around motherhood. And of course, you know, as we might discuss all of those things, we've got way worse during COVID as well. So, I really wanted to write this book, but to, to give mothers, you know, sense of, of license to, to say, hang on, things really could be so much better.
[00:08:55] And how come you know, even now we're suffering so much, even though we love being mothers and we love our children, that's never in question. Why is it so much harder than it, needs to be.
[00:09:07] So I feel like I want to answer that question. Up until 2020, and then ask it again for 2022. So when you were researching that book and asking why after all this time, and after all this social progress and after all of the breakthroughs and feminism, why is motherhood still this hard? What, what answers did you find?
[00:09:32] Not in an academic sense, but as a Mum, like what was. Things that you discovered that changed the way you felt?
[00:09:40] Well, I just think that,, it's almost like motherhood is, the great exception to feminism. That, we kind of accept that we need equality and all these other spheres. So why is this great exception when it comes to motherhood? And I think there are really interesting reasons for that. I think it's almost as if, becoming a mother just puts you in a, in a tunnel where you just almost can't think clearly anymore.
[00:10:07] You're isolated from your peers. You can't compare notes. It's not really the done thing to complain. This is a great, kind of a stiff, stiff upper lip and, kind of a sense of gratitude. And, um, uh, you know, let's not complain you, others have it so much worse than me. At least, my baby's fine, after this traumatic birth, oh, I can't complain. I've only got two kids. Other people have three or four, um, And, and there's just this sense of you're complaining it's somehow, I don't know, is it, I remember going to, meet my other mothers, my antenatal class after the birth. And it was like, we had a brief window where we could say actually, things didn't go to plan, but then quite soon, this sense of, oh, well, you know, buck up.
[00:11:00] Get on with it, you know, that, that sense of it's almost impolite or self-indulgent to complain. I think. So that was a real, block on really on trying to find the ways in which we're all going for the same things. And actually we need what we needed was solidarity. And, so I think that there's that.
[00:11:16] And then I think just the baby, you know, I think there's this really pervasive sense that the mother and baby you're you're in a zero sum game. You know, what you, uh, lose the baby gains, what the baby gains you lose. And that very much in pregnancy, you know, if you have a drink, I was a baby looses. You might get some rest and relaxation, but the baby will lose out.
[00:11:39] But I think that zero sum game logic is really pervasive and really wrong and damaging. It's really there in work as well. You know, the hours that you spend at work are the bit that they, you know, that the baby loses and I think that's so wrong that actually I get so much, my mother had is, is bolstered by having, professional identity outside the home.
[00:12:02] It's almost as if the baby is incredibly vulnerable, um, being the baby's needs are kind of set against feminism. So to any feminist gains where those will be a loss to the baby.
[00:12:15] Why is
[00:12:16] You know,
[00:12:18] Why, why, why has feminism forgotten motherhood so much? Like, I don't expect you to have a complete answer here, but it blows my mind, like it does for you in the book as I was reading it. And I was like, oh God, I'm so with you, Why? Why? Are we so unable to make a change in this area when we've made such changes in everything else?
[00:12:41] Yeah, it's interesting. If you look back to a previous generation of. Both, childcare experts, but also psychologists from you know, the early 20th century, they were really quite tolerant and understanding of, Um,
[00:12:58] maternal ambivalence. You know, Donald Winnicott's, he's one of the leading lights of child psychology.
[00:13:05] He wrote all about how mothers naturally hate their children. You know, at times, because their children deprive them of, their pleasures and their ambitions. Um, and he wrote in this incredibly understanding way, what, of course a mother is going to have feelings of hatred towards her child.
[00:13:28] Uh, at certain times and, another great book, by, the, psychoanalyst was Zika Parker torn into all about maternal ambivalence. Why it's natural to feel ambivalent about being a mother, about all the sacrifices you've made about all the things you can't, you can no longer do your freedoms, your relationship with your partner, your job.
[00:13:50] And yet, you know, this was a previous generation of experts, and writers and, analysts. And I think that sense of understanding of, of mothers predicament has really fallen away. And I think now, that there's a great atmosphere of intolerance and perfectionism, for example, about anger, you know, which is a subject I really feel strongly about because I felt terrible anger. Um, I mean, sorry. Terrible. Yeah. Terrible anger you see there it pops out. Um, but terrible guilt about my anger. Uh, you know, when I've lost my temper with the kids, when I had a baby and a toddler at home, my partner was late coming back. Um, my kids, even now that they're nearly 10 and 12, when they're being really disobedient
[00:14:39] um, it's late in the evening. I lose my temper. I feel terribly guilty and beat myself up. But you know, the, the advice on anger now, which is issued by like parenting TV programs or experts in the media. Is it absolute kind of zero tolerance approach. It's all about, mothers should never express anger, you know, count to 10, go, go into another room, understand the children's feelings.
[00:15:07] What are their rights? Well, of course, you know, these will laudable aims, but they don't really, take account of human nature and of course, mothers are going to be imperfect. Mothers are going to snap and shout as I do. Um, and then, you know, it's important. Everyone learns from, from the experience and it's actually quite good for children to see their mothers be imperfect and to see those natural reactions being, you know, see, you apologise. And to be able to kind of, um, see that even, even adults are human and, um, respond to provocation. But I think that that societal intolerance of ordinary human reality. Yeah, which you know, which sort of came out of a laudable aim, which was to protect children from harm, you know, which was great.
[00:15:58] But I think the pendulum has really swung so far the other way, this kind of paternal attitudes in pregnancy. What you're allowed to eat and the food you should avoid. Advice sort of avoiding this and that and the terrible consequences of ignoring that advice or putting our child in nursery in childcare, you know, the terrible consequences of that.
[00:16:21] And I think that flood of media censoring of, of mothers has really weighed against any kind of attempts to put motherhood back into the feminist picture and to, and to fight back. You know, and I think really the secret weapon, a really difficult part of it is that because mothers are so isolated in their own homes, we feel so guilty.
[00:16:46] And when you feel so protective and worried and anxious about our, our children are our babies and then our children, how they they're growing up, that in a way, you know, we become our own worst enemies. We undermine that fight for equality by that little questioning voice. Oh, maybe we're not doing enough for them?
[00:17:06] You know, maybe we have damaged them by shouting at them. Um, maybe I am damaging them by working too much. And I think those questioning voices really undermine. This real need for solidarity and real need for, really fighting against, you know, the injustice that mothers are bringing up children in circumstances, which absolutely if you reverse them and replaced fathers with mothers and um, if men were, were having to stay at home and to kind of bring up children alone and be isolated and the way that women work.
[00:17:41] And the, society would be up in arms.
[00:17:44] I totally agree. And as I listen to you, I actually feel incredibly sad that in a way. I feel like we're doing this to each other now, too. When I think about the feminist movement, when I think about how women came together against the patriarchy, against the system and spoke up as one voice, not always, obviously there was great battles within it, but really the changes we've seen in history came from that unification.
[00:18:12] And I feel like at the moment in motherhood, we're actually more separated than ever. We judge each other. We put labels on each other. There's different types of parenting. There's different types of sleeping. There's different types of food. There's different types of labels. I feel like we're separating from each other more than ever.
[00:18:30] And that is just heartbreaking.
[00:18:33] Yeah, I totally agree. And I think if you see those sort of social patterns that have emerged over the past few decades, and it was so individualised, privatised, isolated in our own homes, that those kind of networks, supporting mothers and brought mothers together in the past have really fallen in a way, both kind of extended family networks, but also institutions, you know, clubs and societies and all of those kinds of socials.
[00:19:00] Um, the social fabric really has frayed so much, and I think that's really isolated mothers and there's very little state responsibility also for. It takes a village to raise a child. And yet now it's just mothers on their own and that individual homes, um, which is just, I mean, absurd really. And also, I think, as you say, there's so much division between mothers and I think that's really been exacerbated by social media, which was gonna, it was supposed to be great, way to bring people together. And yet, as we've seen, it's just encouraged division and, there's so much sort of competitiveness and judgment on these sort of parenting message boards. I Know it's a mixed picture. There's also lots of solidarity on there as well. Um, and humor, and, comradery, but there's also a lot of, kind of subtle um, sort of shame and shaming behavior that perhaps, you know, it's easier to project onto other people and judge them, then look at it really yourself, and your own self. And I think, I think also the parenting wars, you know, have really contributed to that. This idea that you know, all the breast versus bottle work versus stay at home.
[00:20:14] All of those wars have really divided mothers in the least helpful way possible.
[00:20:21] I want to bring up fathers as well. And I want to acknowledge that when I mentioned this, it's very, you know, the stereotypical assumption of, of these roles. Of course, there are many in very different roles, partners and, uh, situation. But I was in researching, speaking to you. I read in one of the many articles around what's happening with COVID and parenting and motherhood in many different parts of the world.
[00:20:48] One of the questions that the journalists were contemplating and putting to you was why is it that after all this time, father's participation seems to have flatlined. Is it not only are we in a situation where it's not changing for mothers, but we're also in a situation where, as you beautifully said, father's participation has flatlined that we don't seem to be making many breakthroughs in that area.
[00:21:16] And I know that in many situations in individuals it's different, but as a culture and a workplace and a society, it's not changing.
[00:21:25] No. And you know, it's not that there haven't been, haven't been any shifts too. There's been slight shifts, but. But Yeah.
[00:21:32] I mean, fathers participation in the home, um, the degree to which they're doing more in the home. That change is basically stalled in the 1980s. And I think, and it's amazing that you hear so many headlines, like, you know, about hands-on dads and, you know, and,
[00:21:53] the headlines, I think it's because the media, they get so understandably tired, the same saying the same things over and over again. Um, you know, it's so unfair, so unequal that it's almost like it's more interesting to have a story about hands on Dads, I understand really skews the picture and, you know, although you might see a few more Dads pushing prams around the park, you know, at my kid's school, you go to a parents evening or a curriculum meeting.
[00:22:25] It's basically 20 to one, you get 20 Mums and one Dad and, and lock down has really exposed the imbalance in a really stark way because. Um, you know, so many Dads now have had time to be at home and, um, working from home and juggling just as their female partners where, um, jobs and homeschool. And yet even then even when the dads were at home and able to do more, they didn't, you know, and the, the lion's share of homeschooling and domestic, duties fell to the mothers.
[00:23:06] And I think that it really has been shocking because then you realize it's not just at work. Um, it's that they just, they're just not doing it even when they have the chance and I'm not blaming that. And, you know, I think there's this, you know, set of really deep seated, structural and attitudinal, um, divide that set in.
[00:23:30] And of course it's about competence, you know, Yeah.
[00:23:34] I remember my friends even on the first night when she was in hospital and it was the same with me. And I had partner came in the next day and already she knew so much more than him about how to change a nappy. How do you know how to hold a baby?
[00:23:48] And so you get this competence gap that opens up, you know, widen so much during the first year maternity leave. And then, the paternal or gatekeeper syndrome it's often referred to. You know, mothers know so much more about how to handle these really tricky everyday situations. And so the Dads do step back.
[00:24:08] And so, you know, it's, it's not appropriate to blame men, but I think there's a huge imbalance, a glaring of imbalance, even within supposedly very liberal and progressive, couples, that I see around me, you know, progressive and feminist men. But when it comes to the home front, just, they don't step up and it's kind of, embarrassing in a way it's shameful, but it's imbalanced if it's kept behind closed doors. And I dunno, is it perpetuated by? I mean, I think I've, protected my own sense of dominion over the kids, you know, because. If that's what you spend your time doing, you want to be good to sit and you want to have some sort of sense of agency.
[00:24:56] And this is the thing that I'm good at. And this is my realm. And I think it becomes a way to punish male partners. Oh, look, you know, you're hopeless. You can't even, you know, do this. You can't even dress them properly for a day out in the park. It becomes a way to punish them for, for your resentment,
[00:25:17] at having to do it all the time. And so I think there's a real, really common spiral there.
[00:25:23] Oh, I love your honesty and you know, almost your brutal insights there. I totally agree. We can't say it's just one reason why we are flat-lining in this. And I think that, um, you know, I've listened to thousands of Mums over the last 10 years, and there is a lot of resentment and anger and, and that agency they have over the kids is used at times.
[00:25:47] Um, but also at other times, it's the only thing that they feel seen for. For the last day, 10 days, two years. So it's so complex, isn't it? It, it makes me sit here and think so. Is it any wonder we're not making any progress because how did we get ourselves out of this? Especially after two years of a pandemic, like, what is, what is our way out of this, of having mothers experience this differently?
[00:26:24] And this is why I wrote this book because I just thought if you look to, these insights of people in the past, you had such different views and so such understanding perspectives, um, or mother or motherhood, and you look to how things were done so differently?
[00:26:38] in the past, you know, mothers who in a way, had a lot more latitude, um, even in areas that we consider much more repressive like the 19th century or the 1950s.
[00:26:48] They have more freedom and latitude um than they do now. We look at other countries and see how, how differently children are brought up, um, and how they turn out fine. And actually, I think you're seeing these really liberating. Past precedents and, and examples from other cultures, I think, and really what I've tried to do is kind of make the argument that hang on.
[00:27:11] Um, if you look at the science also, the evidence really doesn't support, the kind of paternalistic and, anxiety-inducing and kind of punishing attitudes that you see in the media that evidence just isn't there to support it. And, and so once you see those things, It's possible to then start to feel, um, indignant and justified and entitled to, to a sense of, if not anger then,
[00:27:39] well, just to see that there's a great injustice here, being done to mothers and to see that it could be, could be so much better that the transition to motherhood is always going to be momentous, but it's made so much harder than it needs to be. And I think once women, once mothers start to feel less guilty, once we're able to throw off those feelings of guilt and self-criticism, and start to feel entitled to thinking that things could be different, then I think that's a really important first step because, I think,
[00:28:13] too often we don't, we just would beat ourselves up. Rather than think that we are entitled to having anything for, for ourselves. So having any time to ourselves or to have any kind of attempt at equality with our partners or ability to, you know, to really have a fulfilling job that doesn't make us, run all the time between home and work and feel terrible about being late for everything all the time.
[00:28:42] I think so. I think it really starts there. And then I think after that, I think the solutions really are about coming together and it's about ways to bring mothers together. Um, and to compare notes, and that's really how you build solidarity. And that has to be kind of in the real world. And, the listening to each other, um, through podcasts like this, um, and through you know what I wrote the chapter on postnatal depression, which is a whole subject in itself. But, but one of the most potent cures for postnatal depression, was mothers hearing other mothers talk about their own experience and realising that they weren't alone, that their feelings of ambivalence and inadequacy failure, normal failure, not, you know, not really actual failure, but just normal human imperfection, realising that those feelings were universal.
[00:29:40] And that was really the thing that helped most of all. So, and then I think, you know, Finally it's about lobbying for structural solutions. So, you know, lobbying politically for,
[00:29:54] finally a better way to combine work with, with child with childcare. And I think, you know, initiatives like the four day week, you know, really powerful and simple, actually that if both mothers and fathers who working a four day week.
[00:30:10] That'd be so much more time in, in the week for childcare. Um, and you know what so many parents want any way men as well as women. So, you know, maybe that's one good thing to come out of the pandemic. Is these ideas about changing work practices, I think are much more talked about now than they were before.
[00:30:30] Yeah, I think structural solutions like that, um, like the four day week, um, you know, I think those simple changes can make a big difference.
[00:30:39] I hope so. I said just before we started recording that, I have this beautiful community of parents around the world. And, you know, at the start of this year, they're really telling me how depleted they are. That way we're here again another year and it's on my shoulders and trying to balance this. And so I wanted to see if we could obviously talk about the amazing research and insights that you've been able to bring better, hopefully, and on a little hope that, and I love your solutions.
[00:31:11] You know, at first we talk to each other, we share those stories and we gather, and we are honest and we listen to each other and say, this is what it's been like for me, instead of trying to hide behind this perfection perfection mask. And we, you know, lobby changes when we can. But to know that I hope, I hope we're in a point of history that it's going to start turning around.
[00:31:35] I really do.
[00:31:37] I really hope so. I think this, you know, is in a way we're poised between two possible futures. Aren't we now, because I think COVID has really sent many women back to the 1950s. You know, we all feel like sort of 1950s Housewives, even more than we did before. Although, interestingly, I feel like COVID.
[00:31:54] Homeschool. It's been like an extension of all the worst aspects of motherhood. You don't being stuck in the, oh, well here, you know, business as usual in many ways. I mean, I only way worse because we're having to homeschool as well, but, um, you know, it's, I think there's, that's one trajectory. Yeah, the clock goes back, but I really hope that we go the other way and that it opens up a conversation about different, um, ways of working and equality between partners and that we will see, start to see some change.
[00:32:26] I hope so, too. Thank you so much for your time and your insights it's been activating and, you know, I can feel that fire in my belly again. And then at the end I was like, yes. Yes. Let's hope that there's changed. So thank you so much.
[00:32:41] Oh, it's been a real pleasure.
[00:32:42] This interview with, Elion challenged me to really think about how we are approaching motherhood and how much more we still need to change. Sometimes in these conversations, it can feel a little depressing, a little frustrating. Are we really still stuck in this place? But I hope you feel at the end of this conversation today.
[00:33:07] That there are ways we can change the conversation around motherhood in the workplace, in our families and in our community. You can grab a copy of Motherhood, a Manifesto by Eliane online or at your local bookstore or library, and also go online to read more about her research and insights. At elianeglaser.org.
[00:33:29] And as always, please leave a review of this podcast on your podcast player so that more Mamas can find it and share it with your Mama friends far and wide. This is how we change the conversation around motherhood.
[00:33:45] Thank you for being a part of this conversation, mama, we changed the way mothers are valued and seen in our society and our world by bringing these conversations to light and spreading the whispers of matresence. And so I ask you to be a part of this movement now. Speak to others around you about matresence. About your experience of motherhood.
[00:34:12] Let's bring it to light together. To find out more about my matresence.
[00:34:17] Go to amytaylorkabbaz.com forward slashmatresence. And receive your free ebook the matresence map. So you can understand it even deeper. Thank you for being a part of this. Until next week. Satnam.
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