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Archive for the ‘motherhood’ Category

This response from Eliza at tea plus oranges is such a considered response that it’s hard to imagine it was written with a sleeping baby on her chest… and reading it was a lovely opportunity to revisit those first early months of motherhood. All my love to new parents.

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

I’m interested to see how this will pan out. It’s something we’ve talked about a lot at various stages of our relationship, mainly in relation to balancing two careers. We met at uni as two ambitious law student types, and he fully supports the idea that I should be able to go forth professionally and do interesting, meaningful things in paid work, as well as being an available and attentive parent. However, there is an inevitable tension in trying to carve out an equal relationship in a non-equal society. “Lean in” feminism emphasises the need for a supportive partner; but the limits of individual action in working around structural problems also apply to the concerted actions of a couple. He wants to support my career, but doesn’t want to sacrifice his. That’s fair enough. Why should either of us have to? Why can’t employment conditions accommodate family life for both partners? Yet, they don’t. So we intend to find some way of realigning the division of labour once we’re through the early years of parenthood (in which I want to be at home with my babies). Watch this space.

He took four weeks’ leave when bubs was born, which was really really fantastic. I’m now passionate about the feminist importance of paternity leave. There was a revelation in that month – he “gets” household management now. Five years of living together, I’ve done more than half the domestic load, but since bubs arrived that has changed. All it took was four weeks in which I completely abdicated responsibility for everything other than breastfeeding… He’s back at work now, and while our relationship may look very traditional at the moment, in many ways it’s more equal than ever (we’re both exhausted). I’m really grateful to be able to spend a full year at home with bubs. In an ideal world, we’d have better maternity leave provisions, so that women’s ability to do this doesn’t depend on the work status of the father. In the meantime, I’m pretty glad to have a breadwinner spouse just now.

(You can find all the many other responses in this series here. If you’d like to respond to these questions yourself you can either email me your answers and I’ll put them on blue milk as a guest post or you can post them elsewhere and let me know and I’ll link to them).

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My latest column for Fairfax newspapers is here:

Go ahead and brainwash your baby. There are few enough privileges as a parent, you might as well seize this one. If you want to change the world and make it a less sexist place then this little human sponge of yours is the best chance you’ve got. Because truth is, the world is going to try to brainwash your baby right back. I’m wary of anyone being too prescriptive about either parenting or feminism these days, I’ve made my share of compromises with both, and I’m not much interested in perfectionism. But in case you’re after a starting point with anti-sexist parenting then here’s three general tips from my own experience.

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At first, it was easy. Tom and I supported each other in our work, shared the domestic drudgery equally, and always seemed to have time for each other and for fun. Life was not only good, it felt fair.

Then we had a son. And then a daughter. Like that frog in the science experiment who has the sense to jump out of a pot of boiling water but, plopped into tepid water, he doesn’t notice it gradually heating to boiling point until he is cooked, our division of labour through the years steadily grew laughably, ridiculously, irrationally, frustratingly unfair.

Forget about having it all, it felt like I was doing it all.

“You are not the Lion King!” I would occasionally yell, usually after finding myself scrubbing an oven hood so clogged with grease that the smoke alarms wouldn’t stop screeching while he watched TV. “You don’t get to laze around while I do all the work!”

He’d shoot back that my standards were too high. “You’re just like Marge Simpson. When her house was burning down, she found dirty dishes in the sink and stood there washing them,” he’d say.

When it came to the kids, I took them to all their medical appointments. Tom didn’t even know where the dentist’s office was. Without question, I was the one who stayed at home or rearranged my work schedule when they were sick. While Tom slept soundly or was off at work, I was the one still up at 2am baking cupcakes for the school or wrapping Christmas presents.

It had reached the point where I didn’t want to feel so hostile and resentful all the time, so I made a weird, lopsided bargain: I would do most of the child, house and garden work, taxes and drudge stuff. All I asked for in return, I told Tom, was this: “I just want you to notice – and say thank you.”

Our wildly out of whack division of labour is a big reason why my life felt as if it had splintered into unsatisfying, distracted and fragmented scraps that I called time confetti.

From “How my husband and I finally achieved equality at home” by Bridget Schulte in The Guardian. (Thanks to Sara for the link).

This article is a very good description of how inequality creeps into a relationship but in spite of the title, a less clear description of how you correct it. Yes, you take turns at all the domestic work and yes, you spend more time connecting, but how? How did you get there? How did you unpick such entrenched patterns of behaviour? How do you monitor it without that becoming someone’s task, too? How do you get everyone equally invested in the outcome when some were clearly benefiting from the old unfair way of doing things?

But anyway, I really just want to take note here of a couple of things in this article. One, I always find it amusing to hear the unique terms couples invent for describing one another’s annoying behaviours so, I enjoyed ‘Lion King’ immeasurably and two, how recognisable is that deal she made to swallow inequality if her sacrifice could at least be acknowledged by her partner and kids? And how devastating is it when you discover there is no appreciation?

 

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I went with the kids to stay at the beach on the weekend with our friends at their beach house. I don’t think I’ve ever arrived anywhere more worn out.

At one point my friend took my daughter to the shops with her while her teenage son took my four year old boy to play outside with him. I sat in front of a window, all by myself, looking out over the sea thinking I will just have a minute to take in the view and then I will finish reading this book I am reviewing. Two hours later I finally looked down from the sea to find the book in my lap.

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Cormac on the beach in the evening being very pensive.

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My friend’s teenage son helping Cormac cross the channel. It was deeper than we expected.

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Watching all the children swimming in the sea from my friend’s beach house verandah.

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Lauca and my friend’s daughter boogie boarding together.

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Horses in the sea.

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Cormac and one of our friends.

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Lauca learning to make twine as a form of active meditation. Yes.. that didn’t come from stressed out me.. that little intervention came from one of our friends. He’s Aboriginal and he taught her how to make a traditional form of string.

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My column this week for Daily Life is out:

For weeks this year, before that night, I dreamed about snakes. On and off I’ve had these dreams since childhood and they always look like Pierre Roy’s Danger on the Stairs (1927). Recently people tried to tell me that the dreams were a sign of healing but Google that old surrealist painting and tell me if you see any good omens there.

Before I tell you what happened that night I want to tell you what happened a little further back, which is that I suddenly became a single parent. My partner and I, after more than a decade and a half together, decided to end our relationship. Doesn’t matter how a relationship ends — whether you leave, are left or it happens mutually — there’s still a moment where you take a breath and jump. It’s a moment of acceptance that this is your new reality.

 

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My latest article for Daily Life.. it was also lead story on The Age today:

How to stop child abuse and sexual abuse is not as simple. But as an observer you have this frustration, this helplessness and this stomach-churning revulsion and so, I understand the temptation Joe Hildebrand feels in making the solution simple, though he is mistaken. Only those with incredible strength and patience work in the field of family violence and child abuse because the problem is just that nightmarish and crafting the solution is that protracted as a process. If you can’t handle the complexity, if you’re feeling yourself beginning to break, beginning to reach for big dumb hammers to crack this nut then you have to step away, you’ve become part of the problem.

 

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I have a co-written article with the very clever Lori Day in the Huffington Post today about the four reasons why parents buy into the culture of gender stereotyping.

 

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We grow old in fits and starts, it’s not a linear progression. I don’t know why but I stay looking the same age for about two years and then one day I suddenly look three years older and then I plateau for a time and on it goes. I’ve just noticed we grow up in fits and starts too. I gave Lauca a day in the city with me for her ninth birthday. She skipped school and went to my salon for an encounter with my very good looking, perfectionist hairdressers. Then she ate sushi in my office while I tended to something urgent before we strolled together through an art gallery for the afternoon and finally, off to dinner in a restaurant with my family. I think she turned into a teenager in the process.

When I started this blog Lauca was not quite two years old. As with all change I seem to feel both happy and sad about that.

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In the lift at my work.

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And at the art gallery. Right now Lauca is fascinated with European history so this exhibition was perfect.

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This, “Out of Body: Reading Gender Through “Women’s Fiction”” by Rob Hardy in The Critical Flame is a wonderful essay about being a stay-at-home father and how that changed the way this literary academic read women’s literature. This essay visits a number of places that I love.. how women writers are represented, the purpose of reading fiction and the important role of maternal feminism in the feminist movement at large.

After The Way Things Are, I began to search the shelves of the local used book stores for more Virago Modern Classics. At one of the shops on Division Street, I found a peculiarity in the shelving system: there was a section labeled CLASSICS, and a separate section labeled OLDER FICTION. Most of the authors in the Classics section were men, with a few well-known women thrown in—Jane Austen, George Eliot, the Brontës, Virginia Woolf. The Virago Modern Classics were shelved in the OLDER FICTION section.

I asked Dick, the owner, about this peculiar arrangement. Why, for example, was William Faulkner (the Nobel Prize winner in 1949) shelved among the Classics, but Ellen Glasgow (the Pulitzer Prize winner in 1942) shelved among Older Fiction? Was it that men became classics and women just became old? Or, not to make a gender issue out of it, why was Virginia Woolf a Classic, but May Sinclair, who first applied the term “stream of consciousness” to fiction, simply Older?

And..

As a young stay-at-home father, I gravitated toward Virago Modern Classics because they illuminated the ordinary domestic life to which I was growing accustomed, without becoming sentimental or losing sight of the broader human concerns and higher aspirations of their female characters. For most of the history of the English novel, writing was one of the only occupations open to women, one of the only ways in which they could make their voices heard outside the nursery and the kitchen. Their writing can’t help but express the immense gulf between the expansiveness of their imaginations and the apparent narrowness of the sphere to which they were traditionally confined. But being confined to that sphere, the sphere of domesticity, they also couldn’t help looking around and seeing some of its homely significance. They couldn’t help seeing that this world of messy children and dirty floors, of broken cookers and tight household finances, was also the real world. More real, perhaps, than anything else.

 

Thanks to Tedra for the link.

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I was interviewed recently for a television program that intends to look at various styles of parenting and the kinds of children these create. I know they’re trying to be nuanced about the topic but I can imagine the stereotypes their audience will have in mind. Namely, the idea that my generation of parents are coddling our children, are too intense about our parenting, that we’re a little too attentive.. that we want our kids to get trophies just for showing up and we’re creating feckless brats in the process. Yes, so about that..

I really, really like this piece, “How the ‘trophy for just showing up’ was earned” by Sonya Huber in The New York Times.

My son’s eight soccer trophies are lined up above his bed. One is a fake-metal bobblehead, and one has a little soccer ball that spins. He received each one for merely being on the roster.

These pieces of plastic and metal handed out by park-district coaches have emerged as a symbol of the unearned praise that is said to have weakened our children’s characters.

But I love them, those memorials to grit and mud.

Motherhood writing could do with a lot more of this… a lot more perspective, a lot less stereotyping.

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