Tag Archives: community

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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When I Get Advice, Maybe It’s Worth – Ahem – Listening.

Sometimes, it feels like self-sufficiency is the name of today’s mom game. We’re supposed to know how to do it all, anticipate it all, and get it all right – nevermind that it’s our first time around the block. Trying to figure out how to navigate this is a catch-22, because it seems like there are lots of people around who’ve been down this path before – namely, women of the previous generation, our foremothers – but it also seems so obvious from the neverending slew of emails to our inboxes and posts in our social media groups, that the parenting game has so dramatically changed since their day that there’s no way they would still be valuable sources of information. They’ll probably let our babies taste sugar! and sit in a wheeled exersaucer! and drive the car!

Well, I had two experiences last week that were excellent reminders for me to not fall into that yucky little trap.

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my tiny lobbyist

I was in a place where I was at the complete end of my rope, friends – with toddler behaviour. (I can hear the sympathetic groans from those of you also in the trenches of your own threenager battle from here.) Oh, the neverending resistance! It seemed no matter what I said, the first words out of his mouth, before I’d even finished speaking, were “But Moooommmmy –” or “No, Iiiiiiiiii wanted…” or just a horrifying, whiny “Eeuuuuyynnnh!” that led straight into to a tantrum. Everything had to be his way, and I was FED. UP. I was tired of not having anything MY WAY and I was, frankly, starting to act like a three year old myself.

 

Thankfully, just at this juncture, I got to speak with two quite different, very lovely women, both of whom happened to have spent a great deal of time caring for me as a small child.

One afternoon, I had coffee with my bestie from childhood’s mom, with whom I hadn’t spent much time in the last several years, but at whose house I spent countless mornings before school, weekend sleepovers, family dinners, and game nights. Our chat inevitably turned to parenting, and I described my struggles with A: “I just don’t know what to do when he gets like that, when words, reason and logic aren’t his language,” I said.  She looked thoughtful and then said, “Have you tried sending him a picture?” I was confused, to say the least, and more than a little skeptical as she explained that he might have other languages I wasn’t using. She said I could form a picture in my mind before bed, of what I wanted to see in A’s morning the next day, and then ‘transmit’ it to him (no precise instructions on how), so that we’d be on the same wavelength. I would never, ever, have even thought of something like that.

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A couple of days later, my mom was over, and it was a particularly trying bedtime. A had been resisting and whining almost constantly since dinner ended, and R was crying through an uncharacteristic and seemingly endless battle over being alone in his crib. On one of my many, defeated slumps back down the stairs between checks on my small, wailing boy, my mom put her arm around my waist as I stood next to the armchair where she was seated. I sighed and asked, “Any tips?” She paused, the way good mothers do when asked for parenting advice. “Honestly?” she said, “At this stage it’s about picking your battles. I could tell earlier tonight wasn’t the time to tell you, but you seemed to want to die on a lot of hills, honey. I’m sure you had your reasons, but you’ll probably be happier with fewer. And so will he.” She squeezed me and said, “You’re a good mama.”

When we get advice on parenting, especially from women who’ve done this before, it can be easy to feel offended or questioned, to dismissively shake our heads the moment they’re out of sight and think, yeah, whatever. But in these particular instances, I didn’t feel offended, or dismiss their wise words. Instead, I followed their leads.

After my mom left that evening, I made a decision – I was going to say “yes” the whole next day to anything Arlo asked for – unless it was unsafe or impossible. I wasn’t going to engage in any battles unless absolutely necessary. It was quite difficult, and I slipped up a few times, saying “no” reflexively when my patience was worn thin or I momentarily forgot my goal. But it was better – decisively better. Whining was shorter lived and less frequent. And no, he didn’t spend the whole day watching television or drinking chocolate milk.

 

And yes, I even tried sending A pictures. I don’t have any claims to make about whether or not it “worked,” but I do know that some of the things I focused my energy on at night, creating those pictures, did seem to run more smoothly the next day. The bigger shift, though, was a newfound consideration that maybe A and R have some other languages  I can use to communicate with them, more important than “words, reason and logic.” I considered body language, eye contact, and touch. For the next few days, when A began to wail or whine, I tried not to reason with him or convince him with words that everything was actually fine. I got down on his level and relaxed the tension from my body. I waited quietly next to him, offering him my arms as a cozy place to hunker down until his feelings passed. I spent long pauses looking into his face with all the kindness and empathy I could muster, rather than straining the words, “I know you’re mad. I’m here.” And let me tell you, A absolutely responded; I feel we are regaining a closeness that I had felt starting to slip away, which I had assumed was just part of his growing independence.

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my sweet, funny, creative kiddo

Sometimes I think the momosphere would have me believe that if I have a community, it’s limited to the women of my own generation, my fellow travellers on this new and rocky terrain, who are the only ones who can really understand me and the only ones who really ‘get’ what this is all about these days. But it’s not true. Some things have changed – laws about car seats, or recommendations about screen time, for example. But what has not changed are some pretty important things, too – like connecting to and loving a tiny person who’s just figuring out the world, keeping your cool in a strenuous moment, or learning how to maintain your sense of self and to give unconditionally at the same time. How remiss we’d be to not realize that there is, for those of us lucky enough to have some foremothers in our village, a potentially vast wealth of knowledge, ideas, and seemingly-strange new things to try. What have we got to lose by listening?

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What’s a gem you’ve gotten from one of your foremothers?

 

 

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

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

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