Relationships

Flow & Resistance

I’ve learned many valuable things about parenting from my own mother. She’s given me tips and tricks for dealing with things like whining/arguments (ie. the ones she used on Shannon and I as children), as well as bigger-picture principles and approaches to motherhood in general. One of the simplest and yet most influential things I’ve learned is the mantra that she says informed all of her parenting:

“Say yes when I can, and no when I have to.”

When she gave me a no, I rarely made a stink about it, because I knew she would have said yes if she felt she could. I fully intend on using this approach with my own kids.

This little mantra has got me thinking about something else, though – not my interactions with my kids, but with my partner, as well as my general approach to life inside our house. While I don’t find myself saying no a lot, I do find myself resisting things, or intervening when it’s not really necessary. This resistance or intervention seems to be my default setting, and it doesn’t feel good. Continue reading

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Gratitude Journal #2: A Heart Full of Love

A HEART FULLOver the past few weeks, our house has been suffering from a cold that just seems to be bouncing back and forth between the members of our household. This week, our 22-month old son was the main victim. The result was an increase in toddler meltdowns and a pronounced decrease in the quality and quantity of sleep for all of us.

Needless to say, this has not been an easy time. But somehow – just at the very moments when things get tough – I’ve found reminders of all of the love and support in my life.

When I got to work bleary-eyed from a night of broken sleep, and a chat with some co-worker Moms reminded me that none of us are alone…

When I totally dropped the ball on something my sister had asked me to do weeks ago, and she reminded me to be a little kinder to myself…

When my husband and I fell into bed completely exhausted, and our kindness with each other reminded me how important he is to me…

When I just wanted to go back to bed in the middle of the night, and my son snuggled into me, reminding me how much he needs me…

In all of these moments, I’ve felt my heart bubbling with love and gratitude. Sometimes, it’s hard to see the forest through the trees. This week, I’ve been fortunate to be able to peek through the challenges of this time, and glimpse the loveliness of my life.

 

Hey, Dads-to-Be: Patriarchy Might be Causing Some Shit at Your House

If you’re a dad-to-be, I know you’re likely getting a lot of information right now on why your pregnant partner isn’t… well, herself. You might hear about incessant nausea, joint and muscle pain, bloating, extreme fatigue, trouble sleeping, swelling of limbs, constipation… and that’s just the physical side of things. From the emotional/psychological angle, your partner might show inexplicable weepiness, sudden bursts of anger, emotional confusion, frequent changes of mind, or overwhelming worries that she can’t seem to make you understand… thanks, hormones. Hopefully, it’s understandable why these things might make the person you thought you knew so well behave at times like someone you don’t even recognize. But there might just be another, sneakier, underlying contributor to your partner’s frustration, sadness, anger, or anxiety… especially if you happen to be in love with a feminist.

Chances are, if your partner is a feminist, patriarchy might well be fucking up her day (or week, or month) right now. Think about it: your partner’s likely proud of her ability to achieve things, happy in her self-sufficiency, and values her place in ‘the world.’ So if this sounds like her, consider these six new realities she may be facing:

#1. She simply can’t do things she’s used to being quite good at. 

“Girl power.” “Empowerment.” “Be the change.” These are catchphrases of modern approaches to raising girls into strong women. She grew up on these, perhaps internalized them, and is, hopefully, damn proud of the things she has achieved – athletically, professionally, creatively, organizationally, you name it. Now she might not be able to get out of the car without assistance, carry bags, reach things on high shelves, shovel snow, or, you know, walk at a normal pace. Nothing to make you feel like a child again like not being able to walk properly.

#2. Her own brain and body seem to be working against her. 

Patriarchy is bolstered by assumptions that female bodies and brains are simply inferior to male ones – that women’s brains are simply less “rational” than men’s, that their bodies aren’t as “strong,” etc. – and such beliefs have been used to justify women’s oppression for centuries. Now your partner’s dealing with “baby brain” (where she forgets things or has trouble articulating ideas), and she can’t lift heavy things. It might be frustrating her to feel that she’s perpetuating stereotypes that have been used to discredit women for eons, even if it’s only temporary, and even if the whole reason for her temporary lack of rationality/strength is that her body’s busy working on an incredible feat of strength: you know, growing a whole other damn human being, brain, muscles, organs, and all.

#3. She knows she’s about to be thrown into a shit-storm. 

Despite how far feminism has come, the label mom still comes with a lot of baggage. Check out Google Images’ top hits for “moms”:

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 08.06.55

 Superhero. Handling everything. Blissful. Clean. Beautiful. (With one little tiny freakout in there, but it’s the ugly outlier.) Our culture still assumes motherhood is a ‘natural’ state your partner will just easily, gracefully fit into. (If this was true, we wouldn’t have postpartum depression, but we sure as hell do: about 10-15% of Canadian mothers are affected, with similar rates in the US.) It’s also culturally assumed that a woman will necessarily – and don’t forget, happily! – set aside large portions, if not all, of her adult identity to devote herself to being a mother… though she’s also expected to retain enough appeal (sexually, intellectually, socially) to maintain her relationship with you, and all other adults. Then there are the “mommy wars” and contradictory parenting philosophy camps on all sides to contend with, plus pressure to choose one of these camps so you start things off on the ‘right’ foot.

Even the strongest and freest woman might reasonably dread her inevitable entry into this fray, because even if she tries to avoid the whole thing, she doesn’t live in a bubble, and she’s smart enough to know this. She will, at some point, be thrown into the mix by others.

#4. Her world has shrunk to the bubble of your relationship. 

Reading stacks of literature on pregnancy and baby care. Being too fatigued to do anything after work other than get home, eat dinner with you, and then go to bed. Giving up physical activities she used to do regularly. Having to reduce hours at work or go off early entirely in order to be on bedrest. If your partner faces these sorts of limitations, it can feel like her world has become entirely enclosed in this pregnancy – which, since the baby isn’t here as a separate person yet, might really feel like her whole world has become enclosed in your relationship. And if she values interactions with the world outside of her partnership, this can be incredibly frustrating or lonely.

#5. She is sometimes literally barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. 

There will come a moment when your partner will be shoeless, with a uncomfortably large belly, and happen to be making herself a sandwich. The cultural relevance of this will hit her, and she will either react with exceptional good-humour defensive skills, or fall somewhere on the irritated/grumpy/sad/angry/outraged spectrum. If you’re not familiar with the phrase, see here; it’s a fairly upsetting history.

#6. She has to watch you continue to live with none of this. 

You won the biology and patriarchy lotteries. While your life might have changed since the positive pregnancy test, it’s no contest with the changes put upon your partner. You’re not responsible for prenatal vitamins; eating with the growth of another human in mind; doing 9-months worth (and probably longer) of designated-driver duty; getting up multiple times during the night to keep hydrated and use the bathroom; having an altered libido (and often, contrary to popular lore, not in an awesome way); preparing for a necessary and possibly lengthy absence from work; and learning how you’re going to push a baby out of your genitals. So from her viewpoint, you get to maintain all your physical abilities, keep staying up late if that’s what you choose, keep eating what you like, keep drinking with friends, and just generally carry on with life.

Of course, this isn’t patriarchy, it’s biology, but it’s so wrapped up in patriarchy and socialization that it can be a psychological gong-show for your partner. And it’s not your fault that this is the way it is – it’s the biology lottery. It’s not your fault that you won, but it’s not her fault that she lost either, so the least you can do is be a gracious winner, empathize with her over the inequality, and understand where she’s coming from.

There are good parts of pregnancy, too, no question. There are women who love being pregnant and have minimal discomforts. There are women whose chosen lifestyles already fit well with the demands of pregnancy. There are non-feminist women and women who don’t see their feminism as contradictory with the roles of wife and mother. But this isn’t for the partners of those women.

This is for the partners of women who might feel some patriarchally-fuelled upset about their pregnancy, motherhood, and the tangled interactions of biology and culture. If any of these things seem like they might resonate with your partner, being open to talking about them with her might help you get through what can be a conflicted, confusing, and stressful time. Who knows? Sometimes a simple, empathetic, “Fucking patriarchy, eh?” is all she might need.

 

 

Bonding – a Whole Approach to Life

I recently read this beautiful essay on how human connection – not sobriety – is the remedy for addiction. I highly recommend reading the whole thing, but if you aren’t going to, I’ll try to snapshot the key points that have sparked my thinking here:

The author, Johann Hari, explains two separate addiction experiments done with rats, the long and short of which is that the rats who were kept in isolated, un-stimulating environments were exceptionally prone to drug addiction, but those who lived in ‘Rat Park,’ a healthy, happy environment for rats, were not. Moreover, once rats who had been conditioned to addiction in the isolated cages were allowed to live in Rat Park (“a lush cage” with “colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends”), they quickly returned to a life free of drug use. He goes on to make comparisons to human examples of Vietnam-war veterans and those prescribed heavily-addictive drugs in hospital settings, which are quite interesting.

But my thought-train here has really nothing to do with addiction per se, or with rats, or with the ethics of animal experimentation. Rather, one of Hari’s passages struck me particularly:

“Human beings are bonding animals. We need to connect and love. […] But we have created an environment and a culture that cut us off from connection, or offer only the parody of it offered by the Internet.”

His argument is about addiction as a clinical condition, but I think his assessment of human beings is something we can all reflect on and learn from.

While not in as dire circumstances as many people, there are many of us living what appear on the surface, or from the outside, to be ‘full’ and ‘happy’ lives… or at least what ‘should’ be so. In truth, many of us live in self-constructed cages of isolation. Even if we’re not facing depression or constant physical isolation, we’re often more isolated than we would like to be. Why is that, especially if we are lucky enough to in fact have the means, the people nearby, and the opportunities, to be more connected, more bonded with our village?

Too often it seems we feel we don’t have the time to connect with our people, our friends and family; this is the most common cause I hear. But what are we doing instead? The usual culprits seem to be working, getting chores done, driving around to do errands, with the awful end result that when one does have some ‘free’ time, it needs to be ‘me’ time (read: a chance to collapse from exhaustion, to sleep or zombify in front of a screen).

But I think in these cases we need to question the importance of the things we’re using our time for instead of connecting – because at the end of the day, we are choosing to do so, and only by acknowledging our own agency can we start to either change it or become okay with it.

Do our living spaces really need to be tidy in order to enjoy our home with those we love? Does our time need to be ‘free’ of obligations or to-do lists before we can engage with our people? Or would it be better if we did more things communally – buying food, cooking, folding laundry – embracing that we’re all going through this together, rather than feeling we need to ‘get our shit together’ before we can enjoy one another’s company? Do we really need to ‘unwind’ at the end of a long day by scrolling through a social media feed that only gives us that ‘parody’ of bonding? We could instead be actually connecting with the people and activities that bring us joy, or indulging in that ‘me’ time by having a bath, walking outside, or doing an activity that engages our bodies and minds rather than just collapsing from exhaustion, often in front of a screen?

We have created a culture, as Hari says, “that cuts us off from connection.” The expectation is that we will all live in our own little kingdoms, whatever your particular box of living space looks like, and that our first responsibility is to keep our own kingdom in order. If we are good at keeping this order – bringing in the right amount of money for our lifestyle, tidying and cleaning, having the ‘right’ groceries in our cupboards with our near-future meal plans settled, having at least some plans in the works for how we’ll change our kingdom/life, and maintaining whatever image we’ve created of our lives in our online worlds – then we can occasionally, when it’s a ‘good’ time, invite others into our kingdom to enjoy the space we’ve cultivated, or allow ourselves some time away from our boxes to enjoy someone else’s kingdom… provided they have kept their kingdom in order, of course.

Perhaps we need to start living with each other, instead of alongside one other with the occasional meeting in the same space.

The people we wish we bonded more with might live in the same space as us, our spouses or children; they may live down the street or across town or across the country or the world, and technology may be a necessary tool for allowing us to simulate face-to-face interactions with some of them. We may wish to bond more with ourselves, to connect with our interests, and hobbies, those experiences that allow us to feel more alive, more engaged and joyful.

The point is not how we connect but whether the connection, the bonding, is a real bond or a parody. Even more so, the point is accepting our own agency (should we be so fortunate as to have some, as there are many in the world who truly don’t), so that when we feel we’re living in a cage, we can look around and determine honestly if the bars are real, or if we’ve given them form and weight with our own perceptions.

“Bonding” in this broader sense doesn’t seem to be something that can be done or felt effectively if only allotted in rare, discrete blocks of time; such a model means there will also be set times of isolation, boredom, or loneliness. It would be idealistic to think all of life will be continuous bonding and connection, but it also seems sad and unnecessary to resign ourselves to a life plan where bonding and connection are rare ‘treats’ if we’ve been ‘good.’ I’m not sure what the solution is, but I think it’s worth some serious consideration, and I hope some of you will leave your thoughtful comments below!

Mom Things I Learn During Yoga #2

Recently, my husband and I were at partner prenatal yoga. The last class of each eight-week session is always offered as a partner class, which is just one of things I love about the yoga through Rebirth Wellness Centre here in my hometown of London, ON.

In this particular class, the teacher was directing the partners to massage the pregnant yogis as we lay in relaxation pose with our eyes closed. We had been having a pretty standard yoga class experience – calm, focused, quiet. And then my husband decided to mess with the calm: when the teacher encouraged the massagers to touch their pregnant partners in “the way that feels good,” my husband stuck his hand down my shirt, and nudged his other thumb into my mouth, just for a second. I couldn’t help cracking a smile, and had to do my best not to laugh so as not to disrupt the other participants.

In that moment, he had broken the yoga code, since we were supposed to be all zen and focused. Often, this might have irritated me, as I really like to maintain the calm and quiet of yoga, the soft, introspective nature of the practice. But somehow, it didn’t bother me. And for the rest of the class we kept being a little bit silly: silently high-fiving when balancing in partner tree pose, grinning with mock-risk that we might fall over when sinking down into a partner squat.

My husband reminded me in that class that it’s important not to take things too seriously, and that even if I usually like something one way – a calm, focused yoga class, for instance – allowing myself to enjoy a shared experience of that same activity in a different light is not only okay, it just might even be better sometimes.

As a parent, this applies to lots of activities, especially with a toddler. While my impulse might be to try to introduce my kids to life experiences in the way that I have always enjoyed them – dancing to a certain kind of music, noticing certain things on a walk in the woods, or tackling a household chore with a certain focus/drive – it’s also important to sometimes let them take the lead. Because trying those same experiences with them the way they want to feel them, and the way they want to learn, might open up a new experience for me, too.

With Love & Respect, “Get That Shit Out of My Way,” She Said

This morning a dear friend shared this article by Scary Mommy with me, called “Why I’m Done Asking My Husband To Help Me Out.” As I read it, internal bells ringing Yeah! and Exactly! went off more than a few times. This is something I’ve discussed with my mom, my sister, my husband and I’m pretty sure more than one girlfriend, but Scary Mommy sums it up well, with excellent reasons why specifically not to ask your partner to “help you out” or “do you a favour” when what you’re really looking is for some good-new-fashioned partnership participation. She explains that by taking the asking-a-favour route, a woman a) diminishes her partner’s value, b) puts undue responsibility on herself, c) sets an unwanted example for her kids, and d) diminishes the partnership itself. If you’re like me (female in a hetero relationship), I’d wager there’s a fairly good chance it might resonate with you, too – so give it a read!

equal housework
Should she have needed to ask for ‘help’ to make this happen? (Source: healthland.time.com)

(I should note first that there is a time when I think the asking for ‘help’ approach is apt – namely, when my partner and I have clearly determined that x job is mine or his, and we want help with that particular job. So in our house, if he asks for help with gathering garbage for collection day, or if I ask for help with folding laundry, for example.)

I’m always interested in the “why do we do this?” part of any social question, so naturally, my brain went to, “Why the hell am I still doing this?” I’ve thought about this for years. I often correct myself in the moment when speaking to my husband – “Can you do me a – actually, no, wait, not a favour, can you just do this?” Yet I still find myself phrasing requests for him to do his share as requests for ‘help,’ I think for two main reasons:

1. I’ve internalized the overwhelming fear of being a ‘nag.’ 

Among the things our culture encourages women to stress about in their domestic life, fear of being a ‘nag’ is pretty high on that list. So no wonder we ask for ‘help’ instead of reminding our partner that they didn’t clean up their own coat/socks/papers/plate again. Asking for ‘help’ lets me seem more sweet, feminine, and likable – definitely the opposite of a nag – and increases the likelihood of a positive response, because my partner gets to feel like he’s doing something great and gets a gold star for going above and beyond, so everybody’s happy… right? Except… not. Because I’m still left holding the bag of responsibility for all things domestic, and I never really get to respect myself as a feminist who asserts her desire for equality in household management. I end up catering to fear and shame instead of self-respect, when I really dig down to the heart of it. Which brings me to reason #2:

2. On some level, I’ve internalized the idea that domestic work really is my responsibility as the woman in the partnership.

As much as I try to deny it, I think this nugget is still there. Sure, I’ve attempted to justify and couch it in enlightened, post-feminism rhetoric about how my partner and I simply have different personalities, and I simply care more about cleanliness/organization, so it’s not a sexist thing, it makes sense that I’m inclined to do more, and yadda yadda yadda. And there may be some truth to that – some. But it’s also very likely that we’ve each been, at least to some extent, socialized to have these personalities and tendencies to care more or less about domestic tasks/management. So am I happy to just accept that the socialization has happened and live out my life that way? Not really. Do I want to contribute to socializing my kids according to this status quo? Not if I can help it. These are not glamorous labours, nor ones that society really places a lot of value on, and I think if I was a man, I certainly wouldn’t be motivated to learn to take more initiative on these things. But at the end of the day, clothes need picked up because we each eventually need clean clothes to wear, so whose job should it be to make sure each item of clothing ends up in the laundry bin? Probably the person who was wearing that item of clothing. At the end of the day, dinner needs cleaned up because eventually we’ll need clean dishes to use, and we want to avoid bug infestations or health hazards of rotting food all over house, so whose job should it be to make sure that dishes get picked up and leftover food goes in the garbage or back in the fridge? Probably anyone who ever needs dishes or dislikes bug infestations. Again, asking for ‘help’ with these tasks reinforces a socialization I don’t like, instead of presenting myself as an equal partner in my home.

I want to act out of love and respect for the equal partnership my beloved and I have been building for fourteen years. So if love and respect means creating an environment where it’s sometimes okay to say, to borrow Scary Mommy’s words, “Get your shit out of my way,” well then, I guess that’s what we’ll do.

 

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