Tag Archives: fathering

Doesn’t everyone have house elves??

I’m getting really fed up with the crummy mother-shaming exhortations to “slow down” or “simplify” or whatever, and today I read one that included a couple lines just perfectly encapsulates why I loathe them so, that went something like “slow down mommy, those dirty dishes can wait / slow down mommy, let’s bake a cake”. Because, uh, HELLO, I CAN’T BAKE A CAKE IN A KITCHEN WITH A SINK/COUNTER THAT’S COVERED IN SHIT THAT NEEDS TO BE WASHED AND ALSO NOT IF ALL THE SHIT WE NEED TO BAKE A CAKE IS, Y’KNOW, FUCKING DIRTY BECAUSE YOU JUST TOLD ME NOT TO WASH IT ALL.

Who the hell do the authors of these things think is gonna make sure kids have a clean plate to eat off and oh by the way also something to eat (maybe even something that isn’t going to spin them into hypoglycemic crash and turn them into asshole devil children)? In what magic fairy land does messy play not require a significant amount of prep and/or clean up which apparently we’re not supposed to do because gods forbid we spend two seconds doing anything other than staring at our cherubs in absolute rapture? Where the hell do the clean warm clothes come from for kicking in the leaf piles and how the fuck are we supposed to spontaneously hop outside to jump in them if we can’t find anybody’s %$#@ boots because no one spent the time to make sure they were put where they belong? What the FUCK are we teaching our children if we never let them see us engage in the daily activities of life, including cleaning up after ourselves and yes washing the fucking dirty dishes NOW, not after Freespirit doTerra Moonbeam goes to bed?

But no, fuck all that, once again allllllllll the damn work that mothers do is made invisible1, dismissed as unimportant, and we are told, again, that we are doing. it. wrong.

I get that I’m not the intended audience, but I still get caught in the shotgun spray. Because these things almost never say “hey, if you haven’t played with your kid this month because you’re still polishing the silver, maybe you could consider letting that go for a day”. They don’t often say “you’re doing the best you can under an impossible and unbearable set of demands, so yay you! When was the last time you cut yourself a break and took a moment to just breathe in your kids?” No, they say “you, Mother, I know all I need to know about you because you’re a woman with children and there is nothing beyond you than that, and so I know you’re doing it wrong, and let me tell you how in guilt tripping and/or infantalizing ways”. And that’s fucking awful.

Now someone clean my damn kitchen. I want cake.2

  1. Also invisible: any parents who are not mothers! Because they do not have Sooper Speshul Relashunnship With FdT Moonbeam because, um, vagina! Or something! Also, they wouldn’t be caught dead washing dishes in the first place cuz that’s wimmin’s work, ammirite?
  2. “WHAT THE HELL ARWYN WHERE THE FUCK HAVE YOU BEEN?” Umm… hi! A…round? Mostly trying to earn munnehs and do good work and shiz? And, y’know, cleaning and parenting and sometimes even baking cakes? Y’know! Stuff! Um. Sorry? Hi! …bye! *runs away*

Childrearing v. Parenting

There are two ways of talking about the work of caring for a child. One is childrearing: the daily acts of keeping the child alive, keeping them and their environment relatively clean and whole, getting them to bed and school or the fields or what-have-you. The individual tasks of childrearing can, for the most part, be done by anyone willing (or perhaps anyone the child is willing to allow). This is the work that is discussed, and disparaged, as unworthy of an educated woman’s time, and really, it doesn’t take a lot to know how to wipe up yet another cup of spilled water-broccoli-and-half-chewed-food-bits.

And then there is parenting. Parenting is the work of doing childrearing without killing the child, yourself, or random judgmental strangers (or not so random judgmental relatives). Parenting is the internal, invisible work it takes to show up to the overtired screaming baby, the trying-to-kill-hirself cruiser, the tantruming toddler, the never-stops-chattering preschooler. Parenting is handing a self-centric, swiss-cheese-brained, immature primate every single one of your triggers, most of which you’ve managed to not realize you even have, and then trying, trying, to deactivate the ones the monkey is stomping all over — before they grow just a little more and find a whole new set. Parenting is the work that is never discussed except in hyperbolic terms — effusive praise for those of us who do it, horror at the thought of it, demonization of those whose failures are made public. Parenting also can and is done by anyone willing, but is a commitment of years, not moments; it is built of moments over years, and once commenced, is only interchangeable from one set to another with wrenching consequence.

Childrearing can be tedious, or easy, or challenging — usually each or all in turns. But the kicker is, the key and secret that those who denigrate childrearing never acknowledge, is that what children most need, more than organized playrooms or clean tables or even getting to schools, is to have adults who love them so deeply and broadly and fiercely that we’ll do the reflexive work of parenting. They need us not merely to be centered, but to center ourselves: they need to see how we wobble and return and be broken and yet thrive and be triggered and move on. They need us, us, whole and human and damaged and glorious, they need us bodies and breasts and arms and laps and minds and souls and they will eat us down and leave us drained and that is what they are supposed to do. It is what we did, what I did, what you did, and we can see this as a horror, or we can see it as a gift, or we can see it, we can know it, as life. Life. Just life.

Choose it, or decline it, make it your vocation, or something you do on the side. But don’t ever, ever deride it. Not around me.

He is the very model of a modern multitasking man

The Man works from home on Wednesdays, a fact both I and Vulva Baby adore (he’s pretty happy about it most weeks, too). Here he is giving my back a break, bonding with his baby, keeping Vulva Baby happy (and vestibularly stimulated), participating in a group interview for a new potential hire, and chatting in the back channels about said interview:

He wears a baby now. Babies are cool.

This picture brings many thoughts to mind, none of which I have time to explore fully (because she’s back on my chest now):

  • I know not everyone has jobs that can be done from home, but so many do who aren’t being allowed to (even The Man is only able to once a week). This is a part of the strict separation of “work” and “life” in most current societies — a ridiculous division which fails both at honoring and valuing home-work and at acknowledging that most of us want to work1 and want to have it be part of our lives.
  • Similarly, though many people don’t have work that is baby-friendly, many of us do who aren’t being allowed to. Even The Man’s work-from-home guidelines include a ban on performing any form of child care during paid work hours. It is true that having sole care of an infant while working would be exceedingly difficult for most2, but again, the expectation that any parent have sole care is a result of the work-life separation mentioned above. There could be so many creative approaches that make far more sense, if we were willing to consider them.
  • This is life in a “social media” world: communicating in multiple channels at once, often with the same people. Pundits who deride the “current generation” (usually teens or young 20s) for their “technology addiction” are utterly missing the point that communication technology3, is changing how we work and live. But the fundament remains the same: humans communicating and connecting, as we always have and will. Only the particulars differ.
  • I have a damn adorable baby.4

Your thoughts?

  1. That is, to engage in activity that is meaningful, part of something more-than-us, and connects us with others, whether our family or our tribe. Sometimes, in capitalism, we are paid for this work, and sometimes we do not, but we nearly all seek it in one form or another.
  2. It is not coincidence that the days I have been able to write have been when The Man is also working from home, and we are able to trade off.
  3. As it always has and will, from the start of spoken language through writing, printing presses, telegraphs and telephones, and whatever is developed in the future.
  4. C’mon, like that wasn’t one of your first thoughts looking at this picture!

No, less-than-threes do not need their moms 24/7/365

“A mother shouldn’t leave her child until about the age of three”, declares a father.

Oh, I do not think so.

What infants and toddlers and preschoolers need is attachment — loving, responsive care from people they know and trust, preferably have known for most or all of their lives but at least with whom they have built a relationship. They need to have older people — adults, yes, but also teens, older children — who know them and love them and who they know and love, accessible to them when needed. The placement of that responsibility exclusively on the mother makes it not a joy, a task of life easily fulfilled, but a burden, under which so many of us are breaking.

Something is wrong with a culture that expects a six week old to sleep through the night, that tells a four month old her hunger is inconvenient and needs to be scheduled, that is surprised when a one year old doesn’t want to be left with a stranger. Some of us recognize this, and some have decided the problem must be because women are employed outside the home, have chosen to have lives that do not revolve around our children.

Not that we have moved away from our families of origin.

Not that we have built fences real and psychological between us and our neighbours.

Not that we have tiny families and a dearth of siblings and cousins.

Not that we have segregated adults and children, and alternately marginalize people with fewer years as second class citizens and exalt them as angels on earth (but never simply honor them as perfectly imperfect persons).

Not that we hold ideal a single family home, and define family as up to two parents and 2.5 children.

Not that we have taught half the population to deny and repress any nurturing potential, for fear of being “unmanly”.

No, it is, as always, entirely the fault of women. Of mothers, for daring to stand up for our humanity and our autonomy, for daring to do the work that earns power and prestige and some amount of protection, for daring to say we have needs and wants and goals too, for daring to take even an hour away to nurture ourselves so we have something to give to our children.

How dare we?

What some misguided whistleblowers (on the problem that is our parenting culture) have deemed is the solution — a mother, subsuming her own desires entirely to her offspring for a full three years each, minimum, accessible at all times of day, all days of the week, all weeks of the year — is just as unnatural and damaging as the model it rebels against.

We are not supposed to do this gig — which risks becoming labor and work and mind-breaking, body-destroying toil the less it is shared with loved ones — all by ourselves. We are not. That some can do it and survive, even enjoy it and would pick it first over any other idealized options, speaks far more to the diversity and flexibility of humanity than it does to the failure or unnaturalness of any woman who doesn’t choose or wouldn’t enjoy (possibly wouldn’t survive) 24/7/365 sole caregiving.

Kids don’t need one person, if that person is going to break if she has to clean up one more fecal-smeared surface.

Kids don’t need one person, if that person is snapping and yelling and cannot catch her breath alone.

Kids don’t need one person, if that person’s back is breaking from twelve hour shifts of bending and lifting and carrying and holding.

Kids don’t need one person, if that person has lost herself and her center and has no core around which her child can revolve, no life from which her child can learn.

Kids need people, people they know and love and trust, people who are with them and responsive to them day after day, who know their rhythms and their personalities and their needs and their wants, who have done the work of endless toiletings and feedings, who have assisted nap times and play times, who have tickled and carried, who have been there through laugh fests and crying jags. Kids need as many of those people as possible. Blood relation entirely optional.

One? Is a bare minimum. The kid might survive, even thrive (because humans are fantastically adaptable); and the parent might as well (ditto): but it comes at a high risk of burning out the carer, torching the relationship, scorching the child. And if that happens, there is no one for the child to turn to.

Two is better.

Three or four are better still.

Half a dozen is getting closer to ideal.

Half a dozen? Sure: a parent or two, a grandparent or two, a parent’s sibling or two, a couple teens or older kids: it’s not a big family, as primate evolution (or human tribal history) goes. But good luck growing it in this society.

(My infant only wants me. She’ll have nothing to do with her dad!

Has her dad been there? Does he know her? Does she know him? Did she hear his voice in the womb? Did she breathe in his smell within hours of birth? Did he carry or wear her her first day out of the womb? And the second? And the third? Does she sleep with his breath on her face, his heat keeping her warm, his body keeping her safe? Does he respond to her attempts at communication about her hunger and elimination? Does he help keep her clean? Does she know him?)

Kids — the younger they are the truer this is — need to be with people they know, and trust, and love (who among us doesn’t, really?). They need attachment; this is immutable biological fact. They’ll make do with almost whatever we give them, but the more the better. It is only our messed up society — or the very rare, very exacting child — that says that this means all-mom all-the-time.

(Oh, the breasts. The sweet, sweet breasts. Yes, infants need near-immediate access to milk at basically all times; known and trusted lactating breasts are biologically expected to be on call 24/7. Only humans — and only some humans — would translate this as mother’s-breasts-only, and even fewer as mother-as-primary-minder-at-every-moment. But a ten, a twenty, a thirty month old gets ever less in need of such omnipresent access, even as their need for it sometimes, and their need for constant nearby presence of trusted caregiver(s), might remain unabated.)

Do you, caring mother, have to leave your less-than-three? Of course not. (If there’s no one around we trust our children to trust, why would we want to? If we have enough people to share the load with that it is still a joy and not a toil — however many that is for us, zero or a dozen — why would we want to?) But you could. If you wanted. If your child wanted. If there are other people your child knows will care for them.

And I promise — it wouldn’t destroy them.

Moments in time: a love letter

Welcome to the February Carnival of Natural Parenting: Love and partners!

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month we’re writing about how a co-parent has or has not supported us in our dedication to natural parenting. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

******

Moments in time: a love letter

I am not blessed with a partner who supports my parenting, but blessed by watching him parent you. These are some of the moments I have been witness to:

~~~~~~

We are in separate states, murmuring those words of endearment and infatuation so long familiar but with new depth now, new breadth as my belly expands, as the baby inside me grows. I hold the phone low on the lump that my torso has become, as he speaks from hundreds of miles away, over air waves and through the layers of my flesh and the precious sphere of fluid it contains. He speaks words I never hear, words that are not for me, words that the listener’s ear recognize only as that voice — known — love but are so essential to say, to have said; words that pass through me, beloved and welcomed by me, but are not for me. I will always remember these words I never heard, from him to you.

~~~~~~

We have danced together, you and I and he, for hours ephemeral and eternal, and you are almost here, your body in mine and out of mine, in this space between contractions, between bearing down, between born and not. He is behind me, behind us, (but before you as well), and he cradles your head, waiting, all of us waiting. Later he writes:

The first time I touched you only your head was out. I was cupping the back of your head and I felt an ear. It was so amazing.

It was.

~~~~~~

This image I could never forget, if only because I have studied it now so often. You are eighteen hours old, and already asleep on his chest. You will spend so much of the first weeks of your life this way, and it will be a familiar comfort to you for years.

~~~~~~

It is he who suggests the hold that allows us to nurse in comfort at last. This time is ours, this aspect of parenting you for me alone (except a time or two when your need to suckle is greater than my ability to stand it, and he latches you on, you confused, the two of us giggling — but I have the respite I need, you have the comfort you sought, and he and I have a new shared vocabulary for this experience, that we draw on for so many months to come), and he respects that, protects that, and steps up everywhere else to support that: but here, too, he is essential, not extraneous, and his suggestion saves my back, soothes your hunger, and we are content, thanks to him.

~~~~~~

So many more moments I could tell you of, my little love, my child. The times he knew why you fussed when I despaired; the times he walked the halls with you when neither of us knew; the moment when you laughed, laughed for the first time ever and it was for him, because of him; the moment you pushed a book to him to read to you, and all the moments of all the books he read with you in his lap, in his arms, in his heart. Of a million such moments, mundane and miraculous, does a relationship grow. Yours flourishes before my eyes.

~~~~~~

I hear you now, in the bedroom, reading, laughing, talking. I am sitting up to write, as I do almost every night now, because you do not nap and it is my only chance. I can just hear his voice, calm and low and slow, lulling and loving, and sometimes louder to speak over you, to answer your persistent questions. Yours dances over his, bubbly and bright, not willing to yet relinquish consciousness. Bedtimes are your time now, yours and his: my job is to fetch you more books if needed, to hug and to kiss and to slip away quietly, to stay away until I am sure you slumber. He has always been there for you at night, reading to me, walking with you, a warm body to turn toward when you were done with mine.

You are done with mine now, and I cherish the memories from when it was my body, my presence and my breast and my milk, that you needed — but no more than I will cherish the memories I etch in my mind on nights like these, when I steal into bed hours after you both crossed into sleep, and I see you, my family, my hearts, lying together: him with an arm curled above your head, you pressed to his side, stretched out so impossibly long, one leg claiming the space I’ll push you aside to slip into, momentarily. But first I give myself this, this time when I am the intruder on something intimate. I am a part of it, yes, but apart from it as well. You two are two, complete, whole on your own: add me, three, and we are something different, not better, just bigger.

Dear child, know this: I love you with all that I am; I am your mother, from my body were you born — but I am not the only one who loves you completely, unreservedly. You will grow up knowing this, of course, grow up having so many moments in which I am on the outside, and you two are two, together. This will be old news to you, because love is built daily, and he is there for you, loves you in actions and words and presence, every day. But indulge me, and allow me these moments when I see your love and it explodes me, when I write it down so I do not forget.

There is quiet now: my two hearts slumber in another room, while I toil, alone. I would have it no other way; and neither, I think, would you.

******

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated Feb. 9 with all the carnival links, and all links should be active by noon EST. Go to Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama for the most recently updated list.)