Collective childrearing in a liberal society

This is a brief follow up to my last blog, People who need people. It took off a bit after being linked in a few places, and I’ve seen comment threads elsewhere that have misinterpreted it as advocating some sort of Gloriavale-style commune or something. Which, whoa, no! I usually write for a small audience of people who know me in real life or follow this blog closely, and read each piece in the context of two years’ worth of ramblings. In the recent piece, I didn’t discuss what collective childrearing might look like in a liberal society. It’s something I touched on in one of my earliest pieces, back here.  It’s an area that I’m kinda preoccupied with. It seems like the way we do things now is so punishing for at-home parents and it doesn’t need to be, it shouldn’t be this hard, what the hell.

I think the issue is best tackled by asking why caregiving is done so predominantly by so few. The answers seems really obvious to me: working hours.

Tonight a friend popped over after work to visit, which was lovely and I should arrange that more often, but… she arrived at 6.30pm, and the little dude didn’t nap today so his bedtime was 7pm. Weekends are when my friends are free, but it’s the weekdays that drag. Weekends are kinda fine because – wait for it – there are other people around!

Today the little dude shrugged off napping, second day in a row, and I’d been hanging out for the downtime of his nap after a bad night with bub, and I had no emotional reserves when he refused it. There was a gruelling patch in the mid afternoon when I so desperately wanted to be able to take a break – and when you’re alone with two littlies you can’t. Who ya gonna call? All my Wellington peeps work standard office hours. I was not my best parent self, I yelled at him when he hit the baby and I cried at one point and he anxiously said “no mummy cry!” and it was all a mess. When I clamour for a more collective model of care, I fantasise about a set up where there are drop-in childcare centres or a shorter working week, I dunno, something that reflects a cultural expectation that parents shouldn’t be stranded at home alone all day during the early years. That’s all. It’s ridiculous that on a day like today I had the thought “maybe I should just call my boss and ask to come back to work early” – because that’s the only way I can think of to have a break from the kids for more than a couple of hours a week. The baby is only four months old! I don’t really want to put him in childcare yet! But ugh, today, not a good day.

And y’know, it’s fine, it was one rough day and whatever, tomorrow is a fresh start. But it seems to me that my yelling is on the same spectrum as someone else’s hitting a kid, and I know that I wouldn’t have yelled at the little dude if I hadn’t had a bad night then a whole day alone.

Off the top of my head I can think of several people I know who would happily take the kids for a couple of hours to give me a rest, but they’re only available evenings and weekends. Which doesn’t do anything for us in the hours where I’m most stretched. It’s so obvious that the working week doesn’t take into account caregiving responsibilities. Argh. Not that I think shorter hours would solve child abuse, it’s just symptomatic of the whole problem that raising children is utterly invisible and unaccounted for, and I don’t think we can expect children to receive consistently good care when it’s not put foremost in policy development across the board.



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