Etahi mea e marama ana au inaianei

(ko tenei te wiki mo te reo Maori)

1) Malls. Me two years ago – ugh, malls, those horrendous bastions of consumerism, how cool that Wellington doesn’t have one. Me now: a warm dry place with lots of different sub-places and plentiful parking! Genius. Wish Wellington had one.

2) Good enough is good enough. Ain’t nobody got time for that perfectionist faffing around.

3) Patience is a virtue, and virtues are more important than skills and accomplishments. Enough said.

4) People who care for children are the backbone of society, and it’s egregious that this is not properly acknowledged.

5) Adulthood is not a voyage towards independence from other people, but towards interdependence, reciprocal support.

6) We’re all just people. We all started out as tiny helpless babies. We all just want to enjoy our lives and care for those we love. A Palestinian woman in Gaza with a baby and an Israeli woman in Sderot with a baby are more similar to each other than either is to their political leaders. Perhaps we need to think less about political solutions to bloody conflict, and more about human solutions.

7) Learning new things requires trial and error, doing things poorly, figuring out a new plan, and doing it all again tomorrow.

8) Sleep deprivation is manageable, until it’s not.

9) Singing a lullaby soothes the desperate parent more than it soothes the teething crying baby.

10) Everything passes. Something can be terrible for a week, then it’s over. Something can be wonderful for a few seconds – quick, remember it.

Advertisements

I really don’t know clouds at all

After my last post, a friend asked on Facebook whether I’ve read Lean In. Disclaimer: I haven’t (I did watch that ted talk a while back). Random annoyance: Wellington library doesn’t have the audiobook. So this isn’t a review of any sort, it’s just a list of things that are at the forefront of my mind in this whole merry dance of being a parent desirous of maintaining a career, and also the child of a woman who did the same dance. This perspective is not one that I’ve come across in any of the public discussion about these issues. Women like Sheryl Sandburg and Anne Marie Slaughter offer a first generation perspective, and I don’t find it especially useful to hear from them because I’ve grown up living with that. My mother wasn’t quite in their league, but I’ve met only a tiny handful of people my age whose mothers had more impressive, demanding, or high-paying jobs while they were children. At high school, I oscillated between three and a half conflicting emotions: pride that my mum was a real genuine Career Woman; satisfaction that she was also a totally awesome mum, leading to wistful longing that she wasn’t around more; and self-consciousness in the knowledge that her career could have been even better, had it not been for the joyful and wonderful surprise of my lovely self. 

I’ve learnt from her experiences, because they were also my experiences. 

  • Small children accept whatever you present as normal. I didn’t know or care that my mother worked more than other mothers when I was three, because everyone I knew also went to daycare. 
  • When at primary school, children judge their parents based on their peers. I didn’t wish that my dad worked less, he was more involved than many of the other dads. I wished my mum worked less. Is this fair? No. Will your adult child cling to that view? No. Will it still be tough on the little kid whose mother isn’t there on school trips to the museum? Yes.
  • Teenagers have their own agenda for time spent with parents. I think this is why I prefer what I’ve read by Anne Marie Slaughter to what I’ve read about Lean In. Sheryl Sandburg might not know it, but the hardest part is still ahead. The hardest part is when your teenage kids say “yeah, but you choose to work those hours, we don’t need this much money, you could just quit.” 
  • Childcare isn’t generic. Kids can tell whether they are being looked after by someone who loves them. My mother couldn’t have had her career without her own mother being on hand to look after me and my brother, especially when we were sick. This “tertiary caregiver” role is super important, whether it’s a relative or a regular babysitter who becomes really close to the children.
  • Life is all about the little crazy moments. Kids get this, a good day is just a day where interesting stuff happens. It’s not a day where productive things get done. Do not make the mistake of thinking that life is about efficiently doing lots of stuff! It’s not a marathon, it’s one of those crazy mud run obstacle course things. Something that is really really annoying at the time might become a cherished memory. Here’s an awesome story: one day in fifth form, my brother had a friend round after school when no-one else was at home. He and the friend dragged the kayaks down to Pt Chev beach, and paddled out a bit. Then, PLOT TWIST, they got caught in a current and ended up coming ashore somewhere around Home Bay, in the private backgarden sand strip of a posh house. My mum had to leave work early to retrieve the two wet, shamefaced boys, who of course weren’t actually allowed to go on independent sea voyages when no-one was home. But how great is that story?! I would have told a cool story about myself, but the most dangerous thing I ever did with a friend on Pt Chev beach was sticking my tongue in a sea anemone. And that was only because our science teacher said it would sting, and we wanted to test it (yeah, it stings!)
  • The anecdote was a bit of a derail (worth it though right), but the efficiency thing goes to the core of parenting. Splitting care is efficient. If you’re looking for an efficient solution to your caregiving dilemma, that’s the one to go for. But it’s usually more fun to do stuff together as a family! Not necessarily all the time, sometimes it’s great to do things separately too, one-on-one time is really valuable. Yet, if both parents are important attachment figures, the child is going to want them to both be there for all the important milestones. IMPORTANT POINT COMING UP: having fathers be equally involved won’t halve the burden for mothers. “Dad came to my school prizegiving, so I didn’t care that Mum wasn’t there” said no child ever
  • Children are resilient, and they cope with what life throws at them, and then they grow up into adults, and unless you have kids later in life you will spend more time as the parent of an adult than as the parent of a child. Take from this what you will. Treasure the child years? Delay career advancement until they’re all grown up? I’m not sure. Just remember that you won’t get to dictate the terms of the parent-child interaction forever. 
  • Your child does not know how hard your professional peers work, and nor does your child care. Your child does know how much time you spend at home, and your child does care. Your child loves you and wants to hang out with you.  

Creating equal

For almost a quarter of my baby’s life, both his parents were off work. My husband and I started out trying to find our feet together, hoping to end up on an equal footing. When they made him leave the hospital that first night, I felt panicked (dear hospital, change that policy please, it’s stupid – partners should be allowed to bunk in). When he went back to work, I felt huge trepidation. Don’t leave me alone with this little alien, I don’t know what to do!

That was just over three months ago. We’re now in the swing of the at home mum, at work dad dynamic. For me, the hardest parts of the week are Saturday morning and Monday afternoon. I have my weekday systems for making things work well, then on Saturday it’s all different. By Monday I’ve gotten out of the weekday groove, but then I’m back in the deep end. I worried a bit while pregnant about how being at home would affect my sense of self, my future career possibilities, the division of labour within our marriage, and our parenting roles. The take-turns parental leave option didn’t seem like a good fit for us; my husband started a new job when I was six months pregnant, so wouldn’t have been eligible for extended parental leave. I also wonder whether the take-turns set-up perhaps presents a false equality, because each month is easier and more fun than the last – and, no apologies for this, I feel like I deserve this time at home with my baby as a reward for making him in my body then giving birth to him! Having both of us be full-time parents that first month was awesome though, there’s no replacement for starting out together. I really wish Mr Daddy could be part-time at work now, and next year we could split work and childcare between us and opt out of daycare until bubs is a bit older, but that’s not financially feasible or career-savvy.

Which brings me to a “tips for male feminists” list that is currently circulating on Facebook. I think it’s a great list, but I want to add a bit more discussion around the points that address equal division of labour and power within heterosexual couples with children. This is touched on in several points, and while I agree with the specifics, the suggestions combine to give the impression that, of all men, fathers in heterosexual relationships need to do the most work to support feminism. And I’m not sure that’s quite true. 

First though, can we all just pause and applaud point 34 – says it all really.

34. Get in the habit of treating your maleness as an unearned privilege that you have to actively work to cede rather than femaleness being an unearned disadvantage that women have to work to overcome.

*enthusiastic clapping*

So point 1 basically says, do half the chores blokes c’mon ffs seriously do half the goddamn chores and stop whining! Point 2 says be an equal parent: “Be willing to take paternity leave and to stay home and care for them when they are young. Divide childcare responsibilities so that you are doing at least 50% of the work, and ensure it is divided such that you and your partner both get to spend an equal amount of ‘play’ time with your children too.”

Point 13 presents an additional aspect: “if you are in a domestic partnership where you are the primary income earner, educate yourself about the gendered wage gap, and work on dividing labour and economic resources within your household in a way that increases the economic autonomy of your partner.” There are some issues with the assumptions behind this. The wage gap is only part of the problem. There might also be a job status gap, a flexible working-hours gap, a career advancement gap, an availability for taking time off in the school holidays gap, an expectations of availability for work travel gap, or an ability to take sick leave at short notice gap. Not all paid work is equally valued, not all paid work is equally family friendly.

Following on from this, here’s the point I suggest needs to be added:

36. Whether or not you have children, negotiate for working conditions that would be compatible with being an actively involved caregiver. 

Employers compare women with children to men with children, and hold us to that standard of availability for work responsibilities (tacit assumption: if the men can do it, so can you). But, employers compare men with children to men without children, and hold them to that standard of availability for work responsibilities (tacit assumption: your wife will look after the kids, right?). So it follows that people without children have an important role to play in changing work expectations. Even if you’re in a junior role with not much bargaining power, start with the basics: don’t volunteer for overtime, for example. If you’re more senior, take it a step further – actively seek additional leave, shorter hours, the ability to work from home. If this is normal, parents will be able to combine work with caregiving without asking for special “family friendly” working conditions. And non-parents can do other things they enjoy! Win all round!

Without reduced hours, it will always be a struggle for two parents to have equal time with their kids. It’s easier to negotiate one flexible job than two. That’s a shame, but let’s not put the onus solely on fathers to address it. 

And yet, there’s also more to this equal split thing than equal time. Parenting is a partnership. It’s not like doing half the chores. There is no set list of parenting tasks that you can stick on the fridge and tick off – or at least, people who do that are weird. Parenting is about creating a relationship with someone, and that relationship is ever-evolving. The child will shape the relationship too. The things you enjoy doing with your child might be different to the things your partner enjoys doing. When you decide on the person to have children with, you’re not just choosing someone with whom to share the workload, you’re choosing someone with whom to create a network of family relationships. You want your child and your partner to adore each other. 

I say this partially as a new parent, but partially as a child of an involved father who nonetheless didn’t meet the point 11 criteria. He was an equal influence in shaping the adult I am today, but it was nearly always mum who took me to the doctor.  I had a lot of one-on-one time with my mum, and less so with my dad. Yet I remember some of those one-on-one occasions very vividly. Children don’t measure parenting the way parents do. I remember the time we went out for dinner together when I was about 12, and had a long discussion over what we thought “reasonable” meant. I studied law and philosophy, and I still think that conversation was one of the most profound and thought-provoking conversations I’ve ever had. We did the Tongariro crossing together one Queen’s birthday while I was at high school, it snowed overnight, it was so so beautiful; we forgot gloves, we put socks on our hands; we got to that bit where it’s all downhill but not a proper path and took our packs off and sledded down to the next orange marker. You can’t measure that, you can’t keep a score of “really awesome experiences that my kid will tell at my funeral.” 

When I think of what makes a strong partnership, I think of the lovely words my bridesmaid said on our wedding video: enjoy life, and keep helping to make each other better people. This needs to go both ways, supporting each other in careers, in parenthood, in leisure activities and community involvement. Being an equal parent to me means supporting each other to flourish as parents, while also flourishing as people and enjoying life together. All parents, regardless of gender and relationship configuration, need to try and make sure the work and play and everything else is split in such a way that this can happen. For the men that the list is targeting, this means making sure that you prioritise your partner’s enjoyment of life equally with your own. 

Gingerbread loaf (sans dairy)

Ingredients

110ml grapeseed oil

150g brown sugar

150g golden syrup

3 Tbsp molasses (or more or less)

2 eggs

200g flour

½ tsp dried ginger powder

½ tsp mixed spice

1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger

½ tsp baking soda

¼ cup almond milk

½ cup sultanas or walnuts, or either, both, or neither

Method 

Line a large loaf tin and preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius. 

Dissolve the baking soda in the almond milk. 

Sift together the flour and spices.

Using a hand-held beater, beat the oil, brown sugar, golden syrup, and molasses. The syrup and molasses will need to be at room temperature to beat properly. 

Add the eggs and continue beating until well mixed. 

Fold the flour mixture through the wet ingredients, then add the nuts/fruit, almond milk, and grated fresh ginger just as it’s coming together. Mix fairly well, gingerbread is meant to be dense so you can’t really over mix it. 

Bake for 1 – 1.5 hours at 160, rotating halfway through (if you can be bothered). It’s done when a skewer comes out clean. 

I’m not sure how long this keeps because it never lasts more than a couple of days at our house.

Hobby horse

Most prominent rights theorists consider that the fundamental right in a democratic society is the right to political participation. It’s the base right, upon which all other rights are built. If you can participate in society, you can advance your interests. Disenfranchisement; restrictions on freedom of assembly, expression and access to information; and denial of equal treatment under the law all amount to a limit on participation in society. Ergo, bad. 

Most prominent rights theorists are men. The right to contraception is perhaps not forefront in their mind. Yet it’s just as important as the other rights listed above. Without contraception, I’d have four or five kids by now, and another nine or ten waiting in the wings. That would be a pretty significant burden on my ability to participate in the world beyond the walls of my kid-filled home.

Without contraception, a woman does not own her body. It can be taken over by someone else, made subservient to another’s needs, again and again and again. Without contraception, we’re screwed. 

This is what Hobby Lobby is about, and it scares me. The discussion is relevant here; Colin Craig could be a cabinet minister next year, and the following is a genuine quote

“Why should a seventy year old who’s had the same partner all their life, have to pay for a young woman who wants to sleep around? People should be responsible for the consequences, and meeting the cost of their own lifestyle choices.”

Well, a seventy year old woman who’s had the same sexual partner all her life might have used contraception all her pre-menopausal life too, and be totally happy that it’s taxpayer funded. She might think that’s bloody brilliant. She was in her 20s when the pill was introduced in New Zealand, and unless she has 10 children she’s probably quite keen on the freedom afforded by reproductive autonomy. So don’t feign concern that the taxes coming out of this woman’s superannuation contribute to reproductive health care. What he really means is “ladies, you got wombs, and that’s your problem”.