Tag Archives: domesticity

WFPP Guest Post: Before I was a Mother, I was a Woman . . .

The Womanist/Feminist Parenting Primer is back, with a piece from Zoey of Good Goog about what it means to her to be a woman and a mother.

Zoey discusses her journey from career-driven no-kids-no-thank-you woman to mostly at-home mother, and the things she has given up, as well as gained, along the way. She touches on issues of economic independence (and the risks of the lack thereof), the intersection of privileges and hardships, the blessings of flexible work options, and the notion of sacrifice in motherhood, and ultimately explains how she has continued, “even” in motherhood, to be a woman — to be herself.

Before I was a Mother, I was a Woman . . .

Seriously. I wasn’t always a mother.

Once upon a time, I was a woman and I was quite probably one of the most ambitious people you’d be likely to meet. And I wore really high heels and had impractical handbags. Because I loved it and because I could. I wasn’t ambitious in the conventional way – I didn’t care about earning money (although it did help with the accessories). But I wanted to have enough impact to change something in a big way – to leave something behind and say – look! I left my mark. Maybe it was because I was completely invisible in High School. But I doubt it, some people are just born that way. And although I hadn’t admitted it to anyone I was considering a move into politics because I’d grown tired of banging my head against a brick wall trying to change something from the bottom up. What was I interested in changing? Healthcare and the treatment of mental illness/drug and alcohol addiction but that is a very long story.

If you’d asked me back then what I thought about a woman staying at home while her partner works and living off one income I would have told you that the very idea made me physically ill. Because it’s such a risk to take a gamble that your relationship is going to work out. Because if it doesn’t you have sacrificed however many years of experience in the workforce, have no money of your own and are essentially left stranded to fend for yourself. It’s not about trusting someone, or believing in your relationship: it’s about not placing your future in someone else’s hands. And only a stupid person would do that. Is it becoming obvious that my parents had 6 marriages between them? Full disclosure – I may have a few broken home issues.

Also if you’d asked me back then if I wanted to have children I wouldn’t have been able to tell you, because I knew that if I was to have children I would want to put certain dreams of mine aside for a time. And I liked the freedom of selfishness. I didn’t believe that I was capable of being a ‘do-it-all’ supermum. If I was going to be a mother, I was going to want to be a mother in the home and not miss out on anything. Are you seeing a problem with this scenario? Eventually I realised that while further study and career aspirations don’t have an expiration date, having children does (at least for a woman) and I swallowed my fears about leaving the workforce and did just that. I rationalised that if I ever wanted to go back to work my husband could be a stay at home dad for awhile.

And then she was born and everything was different. Not overnight of course. For the first few days it was surreal. I remember thinking she was beautiful but not quite being able to relate to the idea that she was mine and it was permanent. Within a month I had completely abandoned the idea of going back to work full-time because I loved being at home with her and found that to be more fulfilling than any job could be. In the interest of modesty I would like to say that I got lucky and I was given the opportunity to work part-time from home. But the truth is I am really good at my job and I was lucky that my boss was able to see the value in being flexible. I was also fortunate enough to be born in a country where public education doesn’t end with High School, to have a mother who worked three different jobs to keep us afloat and to not have the kind of obstacles thrown in front of me that indigenous Australians face every single day. Not to mention my phone phobia which had led me to an occupation well suited to at home work.

But how could a woman like myself be happy at home? Had I abandoned the woman for the mother? Surprisingly, no. I am the kind of person who will not do things by half-measures. I embraced being home with my little one and wore her most of the time. I persisted with breastfeeding despite difficulties and didn’t pursue any hard and fast rules – I just followed my instinct. She slept with us most of the time too. Along the way, I found out that I didn’t feel stifled by this because by being true to who I was as a mother, was also being true to who I was as a woman. Suddenly, outside of my usual career-focused environment I was able to rediscover all my creative interests that I’d also put on hold – like writing and photography and even home renovation and I was more myself than I had been in a long while. I will stop working entirely next year and it doesn’t scare me anymore.

I would still like to leave my mark in some way. And while it might be tempting to think that the difference I will make is in the lives of my children, I hope not. Because I want to avoid influencing them as much as possible and just be excited to find out who they are. I still miss my high heels, and my handbags, and spending hours on my own. As my children get older I will actively return to my formerly ambitious self because it’s important to me that they see me the way I see myself. And I am nothing if not driven.

This week I had my first night away from my (now) 18 month old and she had her first sleepover. She was beside herself with excitement when I came back and spent the next day holding on to me for dear life, not really willing to let me out of her sight and giving me cuddles so fierce that her little body shook with force of it. And that’s when I know that nothing I’ve given up feels like a sacrifice. Not because I don’t miss the things that I surrendered, but because they are overshadowed by everything I’ve been given.

Zoey is a (mostly) at home mother of one, and no matter how many people look at her like she’s just weird, she’s still planning to have four more children. Professionally she works part-time as a proposal writer, which somehow evolved out of managing a drug rehabilitation centre for dual diagnosis women and their young children.

WFPP Guest Post: My Kid Loves a Kyriarch

The Womanist/Feminist Parenting Primer has been honored with the following contribution from Anonymous.

In this piece, Anon discusses her experience raising a child with a white cis man who hasn’t explored his privileges and doesn’t wish to, who actively perpetuates kyriarchal notions and undermines her attempts to oppose them. She explores the privilege of having a supportive coparent from the stance of someone who has never yet had such (but is looking forward to in the hopefully-near future), first being partnered with a “kyriarch”, and currently separated and sharing custody with one. She describes the compromises she has had to make, and the lessons — good and bad — her child has learned from those.

She reminds us once again that no matter how noble our intentions, we can never eliminate the kyriarchal influences on our children — and sometimes the very people we are parenting with, whom our children rightfully adore, are the influences we have the least ability to counter.

Anon wants you to read her bio first, for some context of what she writes:

Anon is an adult, white, cis, temporarily able bodied, somewhere between working and middle class, queer, fat, mentally ill woman. She lives in the UK with her two year old, Jake, and two kittehs. She works as a typist in the mornings and as a present mother for her child in the afternoons. She likes both her jobs. Her ex husband has Jake some nights during the week. Anon is engaged to Anna, but Anna lives elsewhere and will for a while yet. Anon isn’t a “welfare queen” but does rely heavily on government assistance which she sees as her wages for her afternoon job.

My Kid Loves a Kyriarch

How do I start? I’ve written a long bio because it will help you understand where I’m coming from when I write this. But really, it’s difficult.

I’ve read many of these wonderful WFPP posts and found myself nodding along with them and waving my metaphorical pom poms at points! Yet I feel like there’s an aspect of most of them that is speaking from a position of privilege, possibly without realising it. The privilege of having a present co-parent. Better still, a present co-parent who is mostly on-side with your parenting ethos.

I’ve never had the latter. When I was with my husband, I did have the present co-parent, and that did make many things easier. Back then, I had a choice. If I wanted our child to be parented in a gentle, feminist-friendly, biologically appropriate way, I had to do everything myself, because he wasn’t on board with the majority of that way of parenting. But if I wanted to share parenting with him more equally, I had to let him have his way on some things I felt were not in our child’s best interests.

I chose the former.

Our child learned in those two years (and especially his first nine months when I was on maternity leave) that his needs would be met wherever possible. That he would have access to human milk on cue including during the night; that he would never be shouted at; that he would never be forced to sleep through the night before he was ready; that he would be worn most of the time until he was able to crawl. He’d never be given a time-out or told “no” just because “it’s good for him to hear it sometimes”. He’d have his own “no” taken seriously. [Eventually, my ex-husband did at least come round to the idea of relatively gentle discipline; certainly no smacking or angry shouting, at any rate, which has put my mind at rest a lot.]

These were good lessons for him to learn.

He also learned that a woman does everything. That a woman changes the nappies. That a woman gets up with him in the middle of the night and tends to his crying, that a woman carries him everywhere; that a woman does all the housework; he learned after the first nine months that even when both parents are away from the house during the day (and it was still a woman who looked after him then; his grandmother) it is still a woman who does everything in the evenings. He also saw his father use words to make his mother cry and sob.

These were not such good lessons for him to learn.

And then me and my husband split.

And gradually, once the dust had settled, my child learned more things. He learned that mothers live small rented houses in poor areas, but fathers live in their own, larger houses in nicer areas. He learned that mothers have tiny televisions and fathers have huge widescreen High Definition affairs with surround sound and cinemascope. He learned that going to the supermarket with his mother takes forever by foot and involves heavy bags being lugged back home, but that doing it with his father is a quick two minute job in the car.

This is not a good lesson for him to learn.

But, he also learns that his father changes nappies now. That his mother does DIY. That fathers can and in often do see their children even when they’ve split from the mother. That mothers don’t always put barriers to access even if the paths of men they don’t like and have reason not to like. That his father also cooks and cleans. That his mother also sometimes sits down and rests in front of the television with a beer.

These are good lessons for him to learn.

At his father’s house, however, he takes in media that reinforces gender stereotypes. He regularly hears language – usually “jokes” – from his father and his friends – that come from a place of unchecked privilege. He is told he is “good” when he behaves in what his father considers appropriate ways for a boy and, although in more subtle ways, the opposite too (feminine = not “good”).

These are not good lessons for him to learn.

And that’s even before you get to the lessons he learns from outside the family unit. The messages from school, from society, the messages that all parents who are feminists are fighting against in their children. Before I can even get to that, I have to fight it in my child’s immediate family situation.

So you’d think that my house would be completely television free, and my child would spend his time playing with dolls, dressed in pink, learning to cook and clean and be kind to our pets, right?

But no. I try. I really do. But I fall short. Because I’m exhausted. Because sometimes, I need to shower and wash and I have to put on the television and frankly I don’t care if Lazy Town is promoting an unhealthy obsession with weight loss and exercise and fat shaming because fuck it, I need to get ready for work and there’s no one to keep an eye on him. Because sometimes, it’s easier to watch endless diggers and dump trucks and lots and lots of fire engines on youtube than to expend mental energy I sometimes just do not have in reading a queer-affirming story book to him. Because sometimes it’s cheaper (or rather, free) to get hand-me-downs of blue blue little boy blue clothes for him than to spend money I don’t have on organic, fairly traded cotton gender-neutral clothes, or even dyes to colour the free blue ones. Because sometimes it’s just easier to wait until he’s gone to bed than insist on us tidying together.

And so on.

I don’t want advice, because I know what I should do; I even know how to do it. And I do do it, sometimes, and I do try to do it more often than not. And I also know this won’t be forever; that one day, Anna will come over here permanently, and Jake will live in a household, at least part time, where he has two happy co-parents who love him and share chores equally (though all the other influences will still exist).

But I just wanted to let you know that sometimes, the kyriarchy isn’t just in pre-school or on the television. Sometimes kyriarchy sleeps in the room next to your child.

Rage, rage against the end of unemployment

Tomorrow — finally, 3.5 months after being laid off, 1.5 months after getting offered this new job — The Man goes back to work. And the Boychick and I go back to hanging out alone together during the day. To say I am not looking forward to this would be both a misstatement and a massive understatement.

We got used to having the whole week together as a family, used to going shopping during weekdays, used to waking up with everyone still in bed, used to sharing and trading off parenting fluidly, effortlessly, and often. I got used to being able to sleep in (while The Man got up with the Boychick), blog and study during the day (while The Man distracted the Boychick), go out and run during the day (while The Man played with the Boychick — noticing a theme here?) — just generally have time to myself, knowing my child was in good hands (the best, really).

While I can’t say it was a utopia — especially the first half, when we were all adjusting, all dealing with the stress, not knowing when or whether The Man would get work again (and we would start getting money more than the pittance offered by unemployment insurance again) — in many ways it was ideal, and certainly closer than what we’d had before, and what we’re going back to. We were both engaged in (albeit unpaid) work that engaged our minds and our interests — both of us together and him alone on finding him a job, me on the blog and on school — both home (and out and about) with the Boychick, both parenting equally, both able to hand off primary responsibility when we needed a break, both able to step in when we could see the other flagging. And we got to play, all three of us, as a family, in ways that are in short supply when he’s working out of the house full time.

Perhaps more pertinently, The Man in many ways became primary parent, especially once his job was secured and it was a matter of meeting the dead-tree (aka paperwork) quota to get started, since he then went more out of his way to give me time to blog, to run, to do the things I won’t be able to as easily after he starts. The Boychick is going to be losing a primary parent 40-50 hours a week. He’ll cope, of course, and adapt, because children are amazingly resilient that way. But in my current melancholy, I cannot help focusing on what he’s losing — and what I’m losing.

This, of course, even more than the funk when he lost his job, is so much privileged whining. He has a job, when so many don’t (Oregon has the 2nd highest unemployment rate in the USA right now, and the highest homeless rate). And it’s even a better paying, higher status job. We weathered this unemployment without going hungry, losing our (rented) house, adding much to our debt, or letting go of our pets or our property. We are so very lucky, and I am so very grateful.

But I am, also, scared. I’m scared that the transition will be harder on the Boychick than I’m anticipating (as hard as I imagine in my nightmares). I’m scared that I won’t be able to deal with him, at 2.5, used to near-full-time parental attention, the way I could when he was just-two and used to 40 hours of benign neglect from me a week. And, mostly, I’m scared as I look back because I wasn’t handling it nearly as well as I thought back then; The Man coming home for lunches, sometimes far too long, was a necessity. His working to 5pm was rare; working past it almost unheard of. And yes, that possibly contributed to his lay off in May (though I will point out he survived the first two rounds of lay offs, never had problems with his performance reviews, and there were only 2 people left in his department after his departure). Between wanting to avoid that again, the desire to make a good impression at the new place, and more practically the transportation and parking situation from working downtown, it’s highly unlikely we’ll be able to take such liberties at this job.

My heart hurts just thinking about it.

I am, when it comes down to it, afraid of going insane again. I’m afraid of losing my emotional stability. I’m afraid that I’ll get sick (being bipolar is who I am, and I’d never wish it away; having active episodes of bipolar is an illness from hell, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone), that the new insurance won’t cover the things that will make me well, that all the “extra” money will go toward trying to survive the dark days with hot drinks and dinners out, rather than paying down debt. I’m afraid of slipping back in to a black pit I feel at times so far away from, and at times so frighteningly close to. I’m afraid I’ll spend all my time trying not to yell at, shove, be violent with my precious baby Boychick, and too much of the time failing.

Except for those rare few with specific aptitude for it, and the necessary support network surrounding them, solo stay-at-home parenting isn’t easy for anyone, in this misogynistic kyriarchal culture. But what I hear from my friends (not all of them, but too many) when I try to discuss my ambivalence, my fears, my dread even, is “Oh, you’ll do fine!” or “You’ll get back in your groove in no time,” or “I should be so lucky!” From women who stay at home full time with their children, there’s an attitude of “well what’s the problem? you had your playtime, now it’s back to work.” From the women who work out of home full time, there’s one of “sure that was nice, but you still have it so good,” often with a heaping side of “I wish I could be SAHMing, and you should enjoy it because I can’t.”

Which is a horrible exaggeration and mischaracterization, but I can’t help but hear that in so many of their pat, trying-to-be-nice answers. There there, dear, you’ll do fine, no cause for worry. Except there is. I hope — when optimistic I believe — that the risk for my insanity, my pathological, problematical instability is small, but it is, regardless, real. It cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand, it should not be disregarded as a triviality.

And further, even without my particular situation as a person with bipolar disorder, I have every right to grieve this loss. I am lucky, yes, compared to so many, but I am still a woman, a person, under kyriarchy, and so I am damaged, I am constrained. This is not the life I would choose if I had full free will, denied to me by the corporate capitalist kyriarchical society I live in. I should have close community, allomothers galore, my partner should have work that does not drag him away from me, from his family, his child, for a majority of his waking day — and so should I. We shouldn’t need to work so hard, earn so much, to pay off debt (at crippling interest) we acquired from illness and unemployment, from trying to stay sane in an insane society, from trying to get education enough to get money enough to get out from under the burden of debt.

This grief I’m feeling? This fear? This rage? Don’t tell me it’s nothing. Don’t tell me I’ll get over it, get used to it. Because you’re telling me to accept my oppression, accept the cage kyriarchy has placed me in.

I will, of course. I’ll go back to slogging through, dealing with daily mundanities, accepting the new normal. I will because I have to — have to divorce myself from my pain, tamp down my rage, bury my grief — in order to survive. We all do; we all have to swallow shit at times.

But now, in these last hours before the new reality sets in, don’t hasten to shush my scream of rage and fear and grief because it discomfits you to hear. It may seems such a small thing, such a good thing, to you, having my partner go back to work. And it is, as well. It is. As much as good can be had in kyriarchy, it is good. Forgive me, though, if I wish to yell about how fucking huge that caveat is, before I sleep, and wake to a half-empty bed and an empty house and a child demanding his father, and smile because I must, because screaming then will only make things worse. Let me scream and cry now, because tomorrow, life goes on.

The problem with “the problem with men”

This is how feminists get a reputation for being humorless: we fail to laugh at jokes or quips that serve the kyriarchy. Like the one I heard yesterday, from D, an otherwise dear friend, spouse of my sister-in-all-but-genetics-and-law.

He and The Man were outside with the Boychick and his cousin, watching them run through the sprinklers (well, encouraging them to, anyway: the Boychick was standing at the edges saying it was “too cold!”, while his cousin happily ran around getting soaked). D came in, and my sister asked if they had towels out there for them. D’s reply was “Of course not: we’re men, we don’t think that far ahead!”

He didn’t understand why I raised an eyebrow and rolled my eyes, and nor did anyone else in the room.

The Man would have gotten it.

The problem with “the problem with men” type “jokes” is that they serve to support the patriarchy-assigned sexist gender-roles. Although directed at men, and not women, and supposedly OK and “not sexist” by being at the expense of men, and not women, by supporting the limiting and dehumanizing gender roles of the patriarchy, they ultimately hurt women. Not to mention being incredibly insulting to men who have worked hard to get past said limiting stereotypes.

These jokes are especially problematical when about the incompetence of men in the domestic sphere, for by casting men as bumbling idiots in the home, it falls on women to pick up the slack there, keeping us tethered to the domestic sphere, leaving the public sphere, with its associated privilege and power, exclusively the domain of men.

So call me a humorless feminist all you like, but I fail to see why I should laugh at tired old sexist tropes that dehumanize and underestimate the capabilities of my best beloveds, many of whom are male, while ultimately reinforcing my own oppression.

It’s not that I don’t have a sense of humor, it’s that I’d much rather laugh at the patriarchy rather than with it, and that requires thinking for yourself instead of regurgitating the partriarchy’s old standbys.

You can do it. I believe in you.

The Adventures of The Family Lactational, and a Fathers’ Day postscript

Okeedoke, I was trying to write an entire actual, y’know, post to go with these comics, but… nah. Later, maybe.

For now, a quick explanation: several years ago, long before the Boychick’s conception much less birth or extrauterine life (which is to say, way before I had any first-hand experience with any of this), I came up with the idea for a comic-based handbook for new fathers/non-lactating coparents. It would address the concerns non-lactating parents often express about how to be “involved” when their mamababy is a breastfeeding dyad. I liked the idea so much, I drew up half a dozen examples, starring the superheroes Nursing Mom, Supportive Partner (originally conceived as Super Dad, the rejection of which title and my ambivalence toward SP meriting a post to itself), and Amazing Babe.

They sucked.

But that’s OK, because I liked them.

I redrew them, from lined paper (bad for photocopying) to beautiful textured journal paper (er, also bad for photocopying, in hindsight)… and then forgot them.

Well, not exactly forgot: I’d pull them out and look at them and go “hey, this was a neat idea!” every once in a while, and then I’d carefully put the originals back in to the journal with the newer sketches, and put the journal back on the shelf, and not do anything with them.

Consider this a slightly more public, virtual rendition of that tradition.

For your titillation (sorry, I had to), may I present the partial adventures of

The Family Lactational

[Image: Mom in rocker nursing baby, partner bringing plate with drink and apple. Text: Supportive Partner helps keep Nursing Mom hydrated and healthy!]

[Image: Partner wearing baby in sling, on a walk holding hands with mom. Text: Supportive Partner spends lots of time with Nursing Mom and Amazing Babe!]

[Image: Mom nursing babe in sling, partner blocking talking head pointing and "blah blah blah"ing. Text: Supportive Partner guards Nursing Mom from Interfering Ignorami!]

[Image: Partner and Mom in family bed, superhero capes hung up for the night, babe asleep in between them, cat at foot of bed. Text: Supportive Partner spends the night with Nursing Mom and Amazing Babe!]

But what I wanted to say with this, what I really wanted to say and have been having trouble finding the words for, is:

Beloved, when I drew these, I had no idea how far you would blow them out of the water with your fathering, your parenting, your love for our Boychick, your thoughtfulness for me. I had no idea how insulting these caricatures would be to the reality of your deep, rounded, complete parenthood. You had no need for such a guide, and could write your own handbook on how to be a parent (full-stop, not a coparent, not a helping parent, not a mom’s-assistant father) as a feminist male in a patriarchal society — and you should, because the world could and should learn from you: you do nothing miraculous, you never expect accolades for what you do, you expect more from yourself than any one, you just simply, and beautifully, parent our child. It should be nothing out of the ordinary, but it is, and it irritates you that it is, and for that alone, even if I didn’t have the hundred thousand other reasons I have, I would love you.

Thank you. Happy Fathers’ Day.