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Three years out of the paid workforce and I started to want back in. Is it a mistake?

Everyday, I am so busy as it is. I am exhausted. My head is spinning with all the things I’m trying to get done, trying to think through. I have a long list, my finger in many pies. It is difficult to explain to people what it is I do, but please believe me when I say: I do a lot.

And if I get a paid job, even a very small teeny-tiny part time job, what will change? What can I stop doing? Yes, someone will else will have the pleasure of minding Wren while I am at work. But I will still have to make his lunch, get him dressed, get him there. Will Turtledad do more cleaning? more laundry? more anything?  Nobody but me will put the time and mental energy in to do all the research in to Wren’s health care needs. And I just don’t trust the professionals.

My volunteer and activist work will probably suffer. My social life will suffer. The dog will get even less attention, no doubt – poor old thing. And this already very-intermittent blog will suffer.

I do hope that my garden won’t suffer. I hope that my mental health won’t suffer. I hope that Wren won’t suffer.

I think there’s little doubt that life will be even more busy. I can only hope I’ll learn to cope.

So why do it?

To develop another side of myself, to help me feel like a more-rounded multi-dimensional person, because somehow the many, many things I do now are not enough.

So that I can say ‘I have a job’. I don’t believe anyone should need to say that, because there are so many other things of value in the world – but right now, I do.

To keep myself employable, with the possibility of financial independence, because who knows what will happen in the future.

Because it’s been three years out of paid work, and each day I feel my confidence is dwindling and that world is becoming scarier. If I don’t do it now, it will just get harder.

Because full-time parenting is too much for me now. I need time away from Wren. Oh yes, there’s the mama guilt as I write that, but that’s how it is. And I feel like I need a paid job to justify having someone else care for him for more than one morning a week – even though I could easily fill that time in other ways.

Because I live in a town where it is surprisingly easy to get work right now, even possibly interesting and meaningful work.  That may not always be the case, so I feel I should take advantage of the situation while it is here.

And I have a beautiful wonderful friend who will care for Wren for at least some of the time while I work, so I feel like I should take advantage of her while she is her. Um, no, I didn’t mean it like that. I just know that Wren will be happy with her. Ah, easing mama guilt.

So there you go. Are you convinced?

I have applied for a job. I had to do it, but I am terrified of what will happen next.

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In my last post on climate change, I may have declared in a moment of enthusiasm that absolutely everybody must see The Age of Stupid. Allow me to clarify that. I don’t believe it is appropriate viewing for children. It’s really scary! because it’s real! It left me with real fears for my future and especially Wren’s future. If I didn’t already have a deeply held belief and experience in the power of activism, I believe it would have left me feeling like there was no hope. This is why the action campaign linked to the film is essential. There may be some debate about whether scaring adults in to action is the best approach – I think there is definitely some need for it, combined with other approaches, given the urgency climate change – but what I want to explore here is:

how do we create environmental awareness in children without creating fear, despair or hopelessness?

Given the severity of the environmental issues we all must face now and in the coming years, how we share it with out children is something that needs more thought.

I came across an article at Kindred, A Brighter Shade of Green, on rethinking environmental education. I like its starting point: that children need to be given the opportunity to fall in love in their environment first, before any kind of ‘formal’ education or visions of impending doom. Time spent in nature, directly experiencing the connections between ourselves and our environment is really valuable and irreplaceable. Of course even if we live in the middle of a big city, we are still dependent on the environment for our survival, but many people live as if this was not the case.

This is where I’m at with Wren. For now, he is not old enough to understand or cope with any explanation of climate change. But he is old enough to enjoy the natural world. He loves animals and water and rocks and bushwalking. He loves the moon and stars. He likes to talk about the weather. He loves food we’ve collected ourselves – fruit directly from trees, herbs from the garden, eggs from our chooks. We seek out books with stories about the natural environment. I hope this love for nature will lead to a desire to protect it.

He is old enough, also, to participate in small, positive solutions. He loves to help me in our organic vegie garden. He likes to help sort the recycling. The example of us, as his parents, is crucial. I hope that behaving in an environmentally conscious way will become second nature to him, not difficult or ‘a sacrifice’, just the way things are done.

When I think of my own childhood, this all rings true. I lived in the city, but adjacent to a National Park. My brother and I spent our days playing in the bush. I fell in love with it. Weekends we often went to the beach. I have a particular love for the marine world. My parent were not the most environmentally conscious people, but certain things like composting and recycling were given. I remember being at a friend’s house and being shocked to see vegie scraps and glass jars thrown into the garbage. At 8 years of age, I don’t think I had any sophisticated understanding of issues of limited landfill space and embodied energy, but it just seemed so wasteful to me.

But at what point do we introduce discussions about the precarious future of life on earth? These discussions are everywhere today, so it is unlikely that we will be able to shield our children from them for long. I think we need to speak honestly, but always keep in mind our child’s level of understanding and their need to feel safe and secure.

I remember being around 11 years old and reading Ruth Park’s My Sister Sif, an ‘ecological fantasy’ for young adults. It left me in tears; wild, terrified, angry tears. Although the book is a fantasy about mermaid-like people, it was real enough to stir up strong emotions in me, and I don’t think that was a bad thing. I look back on it as a turning point for me, it brought my consciousness and sense of responsibility to a new level, it inspired my future activism. At quite a young age, I joined several environmental organisations and encouraged my parents to make more changes in the way our family lived.

So I guess what saved me from fear, despair or hopelessness (though I have certainly been through periods of it), was the feeling that change was possible, I took action, found activities into which I could channel my intense emotions.

I hope to convey to Wren through my actions that there is hope. Not only through the lifestyle we live at home, but through being actively involved in creating broader social change. I want him to be exposed to adults who are working for a better world. This is where there is hope. Although I want him to understand the situation the world is in, I don’t want him to take it on as his own responsibility too early. I hope that seeing adults working for change will make him feel safe and looked after. As a society, I’m not sure that we do have a right to ‘hope’ if we are not willing to work for change, because dammit, we really are in trouble if we don’t do something. I think that a positive example from me and other adults will convey a message a hope better than any discussion about climate change I could have with Wren.

This is where my feelings diverged from the article I mentioned. They categorise environmentalists as being either ‘light greens’ (believing in lifestyle changes and personal responsibility), ‘dark greens’ (believing in radical ideological change as industrial-capitalism is the problem) and ‘bright greens’ (believing in better designs, technologies and more widely distributed social innovations). They herald the bright greens as the way forward, as the ‘positive’ message to pass on to our children, one that does not involve personal sacrifice or structural change.

Personally, I think we need all three. There is no one solution. Techno-fixes can help, but they are not enough. And while it might be a simpler message to convey to children, ultimately I want my son (and everyone) to have a real, well-rounded understanding of the situation we are in.

I don’t have all the answers. If anyone has any other thoughts or experiences in sharing environmental messages (particularly scary ones) with kids, I’d love to hear them. Wren is still only two years old, so these challenges are still to come for us. These are my ideas so far.

This blogging business is tough. Tough to find the time. Energy too seems to be lacking. Ideas are plentiful. Oh sure, I could hash something up for you, another quality post like this one (!), but something really good? Oh no. No time.

Turtledad warned me about starting the kiss-it-better thing. Something about toughening him up, I think. But c’mon, one little kiss can stop the tears! Magic. Sweet, simple magic.

When I was a child, my parents didn’t kiss-it-better; they would ‘blow-it-better’ instead. I’m not sure why. But I do remember really believing that it helped.

Today, however, I was presented with two kiss-it-better spots which were rather challenging. This morning Wren pointed to the molar erupting at the back of his mouth: kiss better? kiss better? A little kiss on the lips was the best I could offer. He wasn’t quite convinced.

Later this afternoon, I was sitting on the floor reading the paper, when all of a sudden, there was a bare bottom presented in my face – downward dog style – Bum kiss better bum? I couldn’t kiss the part which was actually sore, but kissing a smooth, soft butt cheek was a pleasure.

I was recently very happy to come across this article ‘Imagining Intimacy, Family, and Sex in a Better World’ by Cynthia Peters at ZNet. I’m not sure yet if I agreed with everything – it covers a huge range of issues – and I don’t like the attitude of ‘waiting for the revolution’ to make change, but I do find it enormously useful and heartwarming to think in both visionary and practical terms about how things could be better. I often get caught up in the day-to-day parenting; it’s refreshing to look big picture sometimes. I do read a lot of stuff by feminists mothers, which is usually written for other feminist mothers, so I loved that this article is directed at a wider progressive circle of people. It’s a discussion which should be had more, more, more.

I’d love to write more on the content of the article, but time is against me – I will return to the ideas in future posts.  Let me leave you with Cynthia Peters’ conclusion:

“…in a better society, the art of kinship will not be relegated to dark and private recesses of the family. As we work to ensure that all spheres (economics, community, and politics) enhance liberty, justice, solidarity, participation, and diversity, we should also ask if they enhance our ability to love and nurture each other. Family and personal relationships will of course be more or less private, but they will happen in a context that honors and supports the importance of the human work of social reproduction and that actively combats the systemic oppression that cause distress in personal relationships. Imagine a world where racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism don’t divide us and where we see each other for who we are rather than through the toxic filter of stereotypes and defenses against stereotypes. Absent these negative aspects of others spheres, the kinship sphere will automatically improve.
But no matter how positive the other spheres are, the kinship sphere will need a second key ingredient, and that is, ongoing sustained attention by every future generation. This essay provides a cursory look at what that attention should include: the role of the family in creating lifelong attachments and intimacy; the fact that children are vulnerable to parents who exercise tremendous power and authority over many aspects of their lives; the need for people to have sex and express sexuality; and the importance of social ties in the caretaking of children, those with more needs, and the elderly. In all of these areas, it will be the public’s task to encourage participation, balance privacy with transparency, and focus on what must be proscribed (rather than prescribing certain behaviors). As we grow and change in what will be a constantly improved environment, our minds will be more and more freed to meet these admittedly difficult challenges, so we should be prepared to constantly revisit the challenges of the kinship sphere, allowing our responses to evolve over time.”

Here are my answers to bluemilk’s 10 questions on feminist motherhood. This is what inspired me to start this blog, as I started writing and realised there was a lot more thinking and writing I wanted to do (Thanks bluemilk!). Some sections of it were written, oh, um, over 6 months ago now, and I was about to start re-writing it again, as my ideas have evolved, but I figure I better just post it as it is now, or I’ll be re-writing forever (that’s what this blog’s for, isn’t it?).  So here it is.

  1. How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?

My feminism is the most personal aspect of my broader social justice politics: a belief that all people deserve respect and should be empowered to control their own lives; it is a belief in collectively challenging the structures which prevent this.

I think I identified with the word ‘feminist’ the first time I heard it, as a child – I remember feeling very angry at any suggestion that I couldn’t do anything because I was a girl.  Of course my understanding of what it means has changed enormously, and continues to change especially after becoming a mother.

2. What has surprised you most about motherhood?

The fierce mama bear inside of me! I love my child more than I could have imagined.

How amazingly beautiful and joyful it can be at the same time as being so difficult and frustrating and painful.

I am surprised by how my friendships with non-mothers have withered.  I feel like many old friends do not respect my choices, or assume that I am less interesting or less feminist because I choose to look after my son full time.  I feel like I have grown a million times in the two years, I feel like a more well-rounded feminist, yet I feel like I am less interesting to the world, including the feminist world.

3. How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?

Oh so much! My feminism has become more radical in many ways, yet might appear more conservative on the surface. I guess it’s more nuanced, less black-and-white.

I’m embarrassed to admit now that as a teenager I thought my mother was a ‘bad’ feminist because she gave up work to raise us kids.  I thought I would be more proud of a mother with a strong ‘career’ of her own. My mother, however, was always very clear that being a stay-at-home mother (I hate that term!) was her choice. As she used to say:  why would you have a child if you don’t want to see it grow up? I didn’t understand that at the time. I certainly never thought I would make a similar choice.

My feminism developed a lot a university, but the issues of motherhood were not a major concern to me. It always disappoints me how hard it is to understand something until it affects us directly.

Now, here I am, a full-time mum (at least for the moment) and still most definitely a feminist.  I am much less sure of the value of much paid work, and more sceptical of the economic imperatives which are behind the attempt to poach all the mums off as workers and farm the kids off to childcare. Of course I’m not saying mothers shouldn’t go back to work. I think I am much less judgemental of whatever choice women make (or are forced into making).

What I want is a world that centralises children, so that it is easier for mothers to be mothers (and fathers to be fathers) and also engage with the wider world (whether that’s paid work or something else).  I used to be cynical about the term ‘family friendly’ and yes, it is often used by conservative forces, but I think maybe feminism needs to reclaim it.

So my feminism has gone from a simplistic ‘women can and should work’ (access to childcare and maternity leave should facilitate this) to a more radical ‘the whole fucking world needs to change’ (we need radical social change so that parenting can be more equally shared and is not isolated from the rest of life).

4. What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?

I try to share parenting and household tasks equally with my partner, as much as practical.  This is partly for fairness in our relationship and my own sanity, but also to set an example for our son – I don’t want him to believe there are such things as ‘men’s work’ or ‘women’s work’.

I want to raise him to respect women and all people. I want him to be emotionally intelligent – not a ‘man’ in the way that ‘men’ are expected to be by much of our society. So feminist mothering means not imposing gendered norms on my son, allowing and encouraging him to explore whatever activities interest him.

I don’t want to make too many generalisations about non-feminist mothers.  I think that most parenting has to some degree been influenced by feminism, whether they acknowledge it or not – for example, most fathers play a much greater role in parenting than a couple of generations ago.  However, I am continually surprised by the extent to which non-feminist mothers actively impose gendered norms on their children; in the clothes they dress them in, the toys they buy, generally treating girls and boys very, very differently.  I would hope that most women, whether they identify as feminist or not, would want to raise their sons to respect women, though I do think it requires active thought and practice to do it, given that we live in a society that does not really respect women.

My son is only just 2 years old, so I imagine there will be many challenges to come as far as raising a feminist son goes.

5. Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?

Yes, I do feel compromised a lot of the time. But no, I don’t think I’ve failed.  Feminism for me isn’t a pass/fail kinda thing.  It’s not an individual thing.  We can’t be ‘perfect’ feminists in a patriarchal world.  But even though I know this intellectually, it doesn’t stop me feeling like a failure sometimes.  I feel compromised because I do so much more parenting work than my partner, but that’s not my fault or even my partner’s fault.  It’s largely because we live in a society which creates such a divide between parenting and out-of-home work, making it difficult to divide tasks in a more equitable way.

6. Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?

Well, no – there was never really any other option.

But, yes.  The last 2 years have been an adjustment coming to identify myself as a mother, let alone a feminist mother. While I’ve always been a feminist and now I am a mother, I am just going through a process of fitting the two together, working out how all the new feelings and priorities I have as a mother can sit nicely with feminism (these questions are helping, thank you).  It has been difficult for me to explain any of this to my old non-mother friends; I feel like they think I am less of a feminist because of the choices I’ve made as a mother.  It has also been difficult with my new mother friends, just because I don’t know how to start a conversation about feminism in amongst all the talk of sleep, nappies and all that other baby stuff (any suggestions???)

7. Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?

This was initially a tricky one for me.  I was shocked at how quickly and willingly I gave up so much of my former work, study and social life.  The sacrifice didn’t feel ‘feminist’, but I didn’t know how unimportant that stuff would become compared with my son.  What I have gained is so much more valuable. The alternative, sacrificing a close relationship with my son, would be unbearable.

So it’s not the sacrifice itself which is the problem. I think the sacrifice involved in motherhood is a shock to many of us partly because of the individualist culture we’ve grown up in – and this includes some interpretations of feminism.  It’s relatively easy to imagine we are free, empowered ‘feminist’ individuals when we are single, childless young adults, with few real responsibilities.  So motherhood comes as a shock. All relationships involve ‘sacrifice’ in some form, if that’s the word you want to use.  I’d prefer to think of motherhood as revealing how connected and interdependent we all really are.  How could we possibly invite a new little person into our lives and expect to be able to do everything as we did before?  Sacrifices should be seen in context.  Feminism shouldn’t mean being individualistic or always putting ones self first – this is a gross misinterpretation of the view that women shouldn’t always be last.

So I think the question might be referring to the extraordinary amount of sacrifice in motherhood.  This only confirms my feminism – it does not need reconciling – if the world was organised along more feminist principles, I believe motherhood would be more balanced.

8. If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?

My partner is in general agreement with my feminism, though I don’t think he takes it as seriously as I do.  He is supportive in the sense that he takes on as much parenting as is practical.  Shared parenting is not something he does because of my feminism, it’s just what he wants, what seems obvious to him. However, I think there are plenty more conversations we need to have about what it means and how we want to raise our child.

9. If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?

I am an attachment parenting mother and initially I felt like this was very challenging to my feminism.  I was doing what felt right as a mother and what worked for me and my baby (before I knew what attachment parenting was), yet I felt that as a feminist, I should be able to be more independent, do more things that I used to do.

Having thought long and hard about this, I figured that what felt right as a mother simply could not be in conflict with being a feminist.  I was not making these choices because patriarchy was telling me to, I was doing it because it worked for me and my baby. However, if society wasn’t organised the way that it is, attachment parenting choices could be easier and less demanding on the mother.  To be consistent with feminism, it has to be attachment parenting, not attachment mothering.  Fathers have a major role to play too, and, ideally, so do other extended family members or allo-parents.  I think many attachment parenting books do not acknowledge this adequately, and therefore end up encouraging women to be martyrs.

I should clarify what attachment parenting means to me.  It is an approach with encourages becoming in tune with your child and building a relationship of trust with your child. For this reason, it is entirely compatible with my feminist mothering, which aims to raise an emotionally connected son. It is usually associated with particular early parenting choices, like breastfeeding, baby wearing, co-sleeping, but it is not defined by any particular choice – I think very few attachment mothers do all the attachment things all of the time. These things are all just tools which can help with attachment, but they don’t work for everyone all the time. But neither can they be considered to always be more limiting than other parenting choices. For example, I have a friend who insisted her baby would sleep in a cot from birth, then found she couldn’t sleep anywhere else, and was thus stuck at home for many hours a day, whereas I was out doing stuff most of the day, my baby happily sleeping in his sling.  Also, breastfeeding makes healthier kids, so less time spent caring for sick ones.

I see attachment parenting as an alternative to popular ‘detached’ parenting styles which encourage an adversarial, authoritarian relationship with your child.  Such approaches are ‘patriarchal’ in the sense that they are ‘male’ ways of relating – less emotionally involved, more ‘rational’, more authoritarian*.  I don’t think feminism is supposed to make women more like men; more like make men more like women.

What I am trying to say is that I hope that the ‘outcome’ of my mothering is feminist.  That is, it is more important to me that I raise a feminist son in the long term, rather than that I appear a free, independent woman in the short term.  I hope the time invested now, building a good relationship with my son, will make things easier as he gets older.

* There are a million variations and combinations between styles of parenting – I don’t want to suggest there is only a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ way to parent.

10. Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?

Feminism is an ongoing process; it hasn’t failed mothers, but it certainly hasn’t achieved all we might have hoped yet.  I do think that some interpretations of feminism let mothers down, as some of the above questions have implied.  For example, the idea that women can ‘have it all’ – motherhood and a career – puts so much more pressure on us and is quite unrealistic in the current culture.  Also, mothers who choose to look after their children fulltime can be seen as not doing enough.

But despite all that, feminism has given mothers so much, and that should never be forgotten. We need to remember and celebrate our gains, not give up on feminism just because we haven’t got everything.  Women today have much more choice and control over their lives (if not complete choice or perfect control, and some women have benefited more than others).  But at least we have the option of working after marriage and children, and a broader range of work, with better pay too.  Fathers today are much more involved in parenting.  Feminism also gives us a language to talk about mother’s issues, and has put many of these issues on the broader political and social agenda.

So really, feminism has given mothers so much, and the potential to gain so much more.  Hurrah for feminism!

Beginning something is always the hard part, so let’s forget the all the ruminating I have been doing over my First Post:  How will I make my entrance into the world of blogging?  What impression do I want to leave?  How will I set the tone for my blog?  Blah, blah, blah – all ridiculous,  I know.  Chances are I do not have any readers yet, and may never have more than the casual passer-by, the internet being a very big place.

I figure the safest way to begin is by setting the bar very low.  That way, I will not be too intimidated to add further posts.

I begin with the assumption that this blog is just for me. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll remind myself how I got to be here.

Sometime after becoming a mother in mid-2007, I came to the realisation that parenting is one of the most thought-provoking, challenging (on many levels) and rewarding things I have ever done.  Unfortunately, I have also discovered that there is little outlet for all my ground-breaking new insights and thoughts.  So it will all have to go, ah, around here somewhere ..

Oh, what was that I was saying about not setting the bar too high? Let’s be honest, the groundbreaking discoveries will be few and far between.  In all likelihood, this blog will be a place for me to complain about the drudgery of motherhood and share the little joys which are probably of zero interest to anyone else.

Oh, ok, there will be that, but, what I would really like to explore, and hope others will too, is the relationship between feminism and motherhood/parenting; my own journey in finding some balance. I practice attachment parenting, though feel there are huge challenges to making it work in this society. I have a supportive partner, but the challenges in sharing parenting equally are massive. I have a son, and I watch all the forces at work in creating him, and wonder how to make him a feminist. I also consider myself an activist, which for me is a refusal to accept the status quo, and taking action wherever possible to create a better world.  This is a worldview I take to parenting and one which I want to share with my son. If I ever find the time, I would like to explore these issues here.

Ah, well, I’ll just get something up and we’ll see what follows.

At the very least, a beginning!