Domestic Life

Domestic Labour 101 for Kids

As a feminist parent, I’ve thought a lot about gendered role models, what I’m teaching my boys about women, the effect of the current political climate on gender issues, and domestic labour issues. Recently, I had an interaction with my barely-four-year-old that smacked me in the face with the need to start re-framing the way we do domestic labour in our house – and it’s not, I was surprised to realize, through hammering in explicit ideas of equality.

I asked A a simple question: “Can you pick up your toothbrush?” It was on the floor of the bathroom.

He responded equally as simply: “Oh, no, Mommy – Daddy actually knocked that over. And you always say, ‘If you make the mess, you clean it up,’ right?”

I paused. I do always say that – when I want him to clean up a mess instead of expecting me or his dad to do it for him. I don’t want to raise no boys to men who don’t understand that they are responsible for their own actions!

At the same time, I realized instantly that I’m contributing to a very patriarchal ideology here: every-man-for-himself, avoidance-based individuality.

In this very small pause, I understood intuitively that if I really want to raise my boys to be equal partners with another human someday, I need to teach them not just equality, but community and nurturance. I need to teach them not just accountability, but helpfulness and generosity of spirit.

“You’re right,” I said. “I do say that. And now I think you’re old enough for me to explain to you that three different things are all true at the same time in our house,” and I explained to him the following rules, which my beloved and I have since talked about and agree that we want our kids to internalize as part of the fabric of our family:

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So much of what I’ve seen of domestic labour organization and rules, both in my own life and in the stories I’ve heard from others over the years, comes from such a place of negativity or avoidance. We emphasize personal accountability for one’s own things in order to avoid someone else having more than ‘their share’ to do. We emphasize cleaning up a mess you made to reinforce warnings about undesirable behaviour and instill a sense that you are ultimately responsible for your own actions. We focus on division of tasks in an effort to make things ‘fair’, only to find that people become attuned to doing the bare minimum required. We use rewards and allowances with kids to inject some positivity into ‘chores,’ unintentionally perpetuating the dichotomy that work/helping = necessary evil, leisure/no responsibility = ideal end.

What bothers me most is that using these methods operates from an assumption that in our families and close communities, we will be taken advantage of, and we will be unfairly burdened with ‘someone else’s’ mess or consequences if labour is left unchecked; and that the ultimate goal of human life is to avoid effort and work – especially work we don’t deserve.

I’m trying to start from scratch. I’m hoping I can begin instead from a place where we’re all in it together, where we’ll all help whenever someone else is working on something, and where we understand that together, our efforts knit the beautiful fabric of our home and our life. If each member of our family follows all three rules, there will be less work and stress for all of us, and we’ll all feel supported.

If someone’s going to be a jerk about it, take advantage of others, or shirk responsibility, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, and my attention to that will, likely, be swift and relentless (I have zero patience for that shit!). But in the meantime, I’m going to assume the best, and try to teach my boys a way of life that I hope will serve us all well.

Since I’m new to this, anyone else have some strategies, framings, or words you use with your kiddos in this light? I’d love to hear them!

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SPOTLIGHT ON: Sarah Kowalski – Motherhood Reimagined

Sarah Kowalski is a fertility doula, life coach, and author of the recently published memoir, Motherhood Reimagined: When Becoming a Mother Doesn’t Go As Planned, which chronicles her journey to motherhood when she realized at almost-forty that she actually did want a child – but she still didn’t have the partner or the white-picket-fence life she’d always pictured. Now, Single Mom By Choice and raising her beloved son, Sarah’s making it her mission to reach out to other women looking down the same poorly-lit path she embarked upon – and hoping to shed some light based on her experience.

I jumped at the chance to read an advance copy of Sarah’s book, and to chat with her about her quest, life as a Single Mom By Choice, and the guilt and self-care struggles so many moms face, partnered or not. Sarah’s book is personal, fascinating, heart-wrenching, funny, and oh-so-relatable – even though I got knocked up the old fashioned way and am raising kids with a partner. Continue reading

GUEST POST: On Having More Kids

Laura Marquis is back at Raise A Mother – and this time, she’s contemplating a question that looms in many, many parents’ minds. Laura lives in St. Augustine, Florida with her husband Jeremy, her son Will, her daughter Caroline, and her dog, Lucy.  She works part time and enjoys reading, painting, writing, swimming, and pilates.

My best friend just had a baby, and my youngest just turned two.  This is a classic formula for baby fever, I know, but I have been debating a third child since my daughter was a week old.  She is hearty, feisty, and beautiful, and I remember thinking to myself during one of her loudly demanded nursing sessions that she would be a perfect middle child, because from day one she has been one who will not be overlooked.

Continue reading

An Amendment to F**k-Off Time: How About Smoke Breaks… for Non-Smokers?

I wrote a few months ago about how my partner and I had designed a new plan for better life balance: daily Fuck Off Time gave us each regular periods almost an hour long completely free of responsibility in the late afternoon, and it was glorious. I knew even then, however, that this luxurious pattern would likely have to be altered when I returned to work at the end of mat leave, and indeed, it has. It just hasn’t been practical or sustainable now that neither of us is home during the day, and as soon as I get home at 5, it’s time to feed little R while my husband finishes making supper – c’est la vie, for now.

I’ve often thought enviously of colleagues of mine who smoke at various workplaces. From my grass-is-greener vantage point it seems like those extra breaks are quite the luxury. Taking five to ten minutes to remove oneself from all the tasks at hand, sit quietly, consume something pleasurable, and take in fresh air and sunlight? Delightful. (I know, I know, this is totally a non-smoker’s view of what a smoke break entails.)

I was thinking of this when last week, after the dishes were done and it was time for the boys’ baths, I said casually to my husband, “Is now a good time for me to have a smoke break?” No, I didn’t actually take up cigarettes to get this time. But I did go pour myself a glass of wine, put on my coat, and head out to the backyard. I spent a leisurely ten minutes loitering around my property while sipping a little Pinot Grigio – checking out the early spring growth of plants I hadn’t noticed returning in the garden, plucking a few dead heads that survived the winter off a flowering bush, siting on the step of the back porch and watching the early evening light through the semi-cover of the maple leaves overhead. The fresh air was rejuvenating. The quiet gave me a moment to appreciate the home I love. The wine felt luxuriously self-indulgent. It was an excellent ten minutes, and when I returned inside, I felt relaxed and ready to embrace the rest of the bath and bedtime routine with ease and joy.

I think more “smoke breaks” of this sort are in order, for me and likely, for parents everywhere. I wish there was something healthy that could be inhaled, as I find the physical action of smoking fairly relaxing. But as I don’t want to take it up, nor do I really want to get into the habit of taking a glass of wine outside with me every evening, I’m trying to think of what else might do the trick… perhaps a square of dark chocolate, slowly savoured? Perhaps some of the Kombucha my friends keep raving about, mixed with soda water to make it feel like a cocktail? I’m looking for more ideas here, so let me know what you would suggest!

I wish you all ten minutes of relaxing, self-indulgent, break time every day.

Sometimes Others See the Gifts You Don’t

I’ve said more than once to my husband or a close friend that I don’t have many skills that would be useful in an apocalyptic situation. I’m not particularly creative with foodstuffs, I don’t know how to repair things, and I’m certainly not equipped for any sort of hunting/security needs. My skills, such as I have, seem pretty well geared toward a luxurious state of peacetime. I think I rock at my job of helping undergraduate students sort out some of their problems. (How many people are going to be in university when the zombies rise?) I’m confident in my writing skills. (Maybe I can help write the manifesto of the underground rebellion…) I’ve been told that I give pretty incredible hugs. (I’m not naive enough to think this could solve many dystopic conflicts.)

Sometimes this questioning of my “valuable” skills trickles down into the level of my friendships. I have friends who are amazing bakers, generous chauffeurs, thoughtful gift-for-no-reason givers, crafty geniuses, or handy repair people. When they share these talents in a way that benefits me, my family, and my home, sometimes I hear a quiet inner voice asking, so what do I contribute to this friendship? have they not realized yet that I don’t bring anything tangible to this table? Continue reading

Go the f*ck to sleep, my sweet little angel monster

Let me set the scene: a mother sits on the couch, sobbing while she holds her screaming baby for what seems like hour number 74, even though it’s only 2pm. Amidst her crying there’s “I’m so sorry”, “Oh my God, go to sleep!”, “Why are you so cute?” and “I love you so much”. It’s a normal day and it’s completely insane.

Sound familiar? I’m pretty sure this has been every parent at some point in the first year of their child’s life, (or at least that’s what I’m telling myself these days). This has definitely been me. It was me yesterday…and the day before.

Yes, this is where I’m at these days, mamas. Serving at the whims of an adorable little tyrant who WILL. NOT. SLEEP. I consider myself a fairly patient person, but this test is next level. Continue reading

We Let Our Kids Grow… What About Each Other?

Recently, my partner and I got into a spat. It seemed to rise out of nowhere, was emotionally intense for about five minutes, and then ended up being almost laughably frustrating because, at the core, we struggled to identify what exactly was the sticking point of the argument. When we stepped back, it seemed we were perhaps mainly griping out of habit, based on particularly trivial triggers. (I take great comfort in the fact that the longer we are together – and it’s been a loooong time – the fewer, farther apart, and shorter our arguments seem to get for the most part.) This particular disagreement got me thinking about the stories I tell myself about my partner, the assumptions I make about him, and the way I treat him accordingly.

When partnerships last for a long time, we really get to know each other, and it’s easy for us to think we have our partner “figured out”: we know what they do, why they do it, and how it fits predictably into the well-worn pattern of our relationship (“I knew it!” “You always…” “You’re just saying that because…” Insert-your-own-key-phrase-here). I think this dynamic of assumptions is likely true of most long-term relationships, whether they involve friends, lovers, or family.

Parenting my two young children gives me a different experience of being in a relationship with another person. Instead of taking this same approach, I find myself allowing a great deal of breathing room to just watch them develop, and I’m more generous in my assumptions about why they may or may not be doing what they’re doing or not doing. I can be enormously patient (not all the time, but I can be) with my kids because I acknowledge that they are simply not ‘done’ yet. They are working so hard to master new skills, dealing with high emotional reactions, trying to communicate and not having the vocabulary to articulate all they would like, getting overstimulated by much of the world around them, and learning a bajillion new things every day. I accept that life is likely overwhelming to them, and I try to support them through this experience – to share in their joys, notice their efforts, and empathize with them when it’s hard. And it feels like a no-brainer that I do these things – after all, I love them fiercely.

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…Which begs the question – don’t I also love my partner fiercely?

When we’ve been with someone for so long, it can be easy to take for granted their familiarity, our own knowledge of them. The way I approach and interact with my children is, in one way, so much slower, requiring so much more patience and energy on my part. I have to pay attention. I have to read the cues and behaviour they display now, and hear the words and beliefs about the world they express now, not what they displayed or said six months or two years ago. I have to be constantly attuned to their development as people – their changing capabilities, stressors, desires, and viewpoints. That is what it means for me to connect with them as individuals.

Yet I don’t always extend this same attention to my partner, my beloved, the one I’m committed to loving through thick and thin. I don’t necessarily allow the same grace and breathing room for his development, though I certainly would like to have this from him, when I think about it. After all, I’ve changed a lot over the years, re-assessing my priorities, values, and understandings of the world, myself, and my relationships. I hope that my partner and others in my life can allow me the space to continue to develop as a person, instead of assuming I’m stuck in whatever ways they found me when we met.

Yet in those conflicts, quite often, it seems we don’t deal with each other as we are now – it’s far too easy to let our assumptions of what we think we know about this partner of ours dictate how we react to them. It’s easy to cast each other in the same roles we played in the early days of our relationship, though likely they don’t fit so well anymore. It’s easy to project the values, opinions, and behaviours of years gone by onto the tensions of today, but it doesn’t provide much opportunity to acknowledge growth.

Of all the things parenting tiny people has taught me about myself, a major lesson is that I don’t know it all. I don’t always know where the life path is leading, the best way to get to a goal, or the true desires of those closest to me. Yet despite this lesson, I still sometimes fall victim to the ignorance of thinking I have my partner completely figured out.

Perhaps we need to more often treat one another like we treat our children – with that kindness and that acceptance of being a “work in progress”. Because we most certainly are works in progress, every one of us. And if we can love each other as such, hopefully we can model the kind of love we want our children to find throughout their lives, too.

 

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