Arguing with your partner, and other feminist work
April 12, 2010 by blue milk
- I don’t usually talk about arguments with my partner here, partly because of his privacy and partly because it seems kind of passive aggressive to tell the Internet about it. But returning to work after our second baby I would be lying if I didn’t say a major part of this process has been negotiating with my partner about what needs doing and who needs to do it.
- I have had two important breakthroughs. Let’s skip the whole idea that one of those breakthroughs might have been achieving true equality as feminist parents with our work and family life. I don’t want to disappoint. Frankly, if becoming a parent (at least in a heterosexual way) isn’t an experience in compromising your feminist principles and seeing just how far you can bend over backwards to accommodate the patriarchy then I don’t know what else it might be.
- So, my first breakthrough comes with the caveat that I have historically spent a lot of time getting angry in my personal relationships with sometimes little result to show for it. Thus it was an important breakthrough (which possibly came from reading so many parenting books) to realise that my partner has certain ways of coping with stress, particularly the kind of stress involved in juggling this whole ‘two children in two different places on three different days of the week while two parents go to their separate workplaces’ thing. His way is to be completely disengaged from the process until he is up to his ears in it whereupon he gets very tense with me and threatens to withdraw his involvement (such as it is) if any of it looks so badly disorganised as to be likely to fail (and things can easily appear disorganised when you haven’t bothered to engage with any of the organising). This, naturally infuriates me. I am the one getting everything organised, thinking of absolutely everything, panicking about how to get it all to work by myself, and on top of that I have to deal with someone’s tantrum because they are only just now realising how time-pressed all this stuff is..
- I used to get incredibly angry and then because he was also angry we would have this horrible stressed-out argument, but now I say to him “I know this is how you cope with this stuff, and it is very annoying to me that you do this, but I am not going to get into an argument with you because at least you are now engaged with this problem and so we can both work like crap to see if we can pull off this big nightmare of a schedule and it if falls apart then we can have a big argument about it, but right now I am not going to waste the time and energy”. Then miraculously it seems to turn out ok. The patriarchy, it doth like to see you bend way, way over backwards to placate it; and let me tell you, I bend.
- The other day this problem came up in another of its variations. I rang him at work frantic with worry about how some of the arrangements for Cormac’s care were actually going to work. It goes without saying that my partner had been pretty much disengaged from this little crisis too. He told me to stop worrying about it and that he was really busy, ya know, so could I wrap this freaking-out thing up and let him get on with work. I tried to point out the seriousness of my concerns, that it isn’t just the baby I was worried about but also making the arrangement work for the carer, too. Again I felt myself getting furious, but this time I said “I know you need some time to think about this stuff before you engage with it, so consider yourself warned. I will need to talk about this tonight because I am going out of my head with worry about it. Just so you know and we can be on the same page tonight, start thinking!”. It worked.
- I am five years into this working mother thing, and I am still shocked about how unfair the work-family split is – all the work of getting it to happen, getting it to work, and keeping it running smoothly is done by mothers. It seems ridiculous – two people working, two people are parents – the organisational workload should be shared, but that isn’t how it happens. I am torn between fighting to get some equality and conserving my energy to deal with making what actually happens work for me, and especially for the children (who are like the carrot to the donkey for women).
- Last night something (almost) wonderful happened. Cormac woke up twice and had trouble getting back to sleep. It took me almost an hour the first time to get him to sleep and I had been at it for well over an hour the second time around when I had a break-through – fuck this, I am back at work, and this night-parenting stuff is long overdue for sharing. My partner had had a late night getting things ready for the week, but then so had I. So I woke him up and gave him the baby and he finished the job of getting Cormac to sleep. I didn’t fall asleep in that time but I rested.. and I smiled to myself.
- Other observations of the return to work? I am so broke at the moment that I am feeling a whole lot less sympathetic about my returning to work angst. With the wolves at the door this is not the time to wonder whether I really want a job building doors.
- I am also disappointed to discover that I am broke. Not so long ago I was being quite self-congratulatory about managing this period of maternity leave without acquiring credit card debt, as happened last time. (We split and share costs but manage our money separately). Turns out I just hadn’t paid a lot of recent bills, we can officially be in debt any time I want to go ahead and pay those bills.