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Archive for the ‘work and family (im)balance’ Category

A writer friend comes round. She brings her son, who is the same age as my older daughter. Once we carried these children in our arms; at other times we pushed them in strollers, or led them by the hand. Now he follows his mother in like a pet lion on a leash, a proud, taciturn beast who has consented, temporarily, to be tamed. My daughter has this same aura of the wild about her, as though beneath a veneer of sophistication she is constantly hearing the summons of her native land, somewhere formless and free that still lies inside her and to which at any moment she might return. The manners of adulthood have been recently acquired. There’s no knowing how quickly they could be discarded. She and my friend’s son greet each other in territorial monosyllables. It is as though they are two people from the same distant country who have met here in my sitting room. They’ve met before, often, but you’d never know: Those were old– versions of themselves, like drafts of a novel the author no longer stands by. All the same, I expect them to take themselves off elsewhere, to another room; I expect them to flee the middle-aged climate of the sitting room, but they don’t. They arrange themselves close to us, two lions resting close to the shade of their respective trees, and they watch.

My friend and I have a few years of conversation behind us. We’ve talked about motherhood — we’ve both spent a large part of our time as a single parent — and its relationship to writing. We’ve talked about the problems and pleasures of honoring reality, in life and in art. She has never upheld the shadowless account of parenthood; and perhaps consequently, nor does she now allude to her teenage son as a kind of vandal who has ruined the lovely picture. We talk about our own teenage years, and the hostility of our parents’ generation to any form of disagreement with their children. Any system of authority based on control fears dissidence more than anything else, she says. You two don’t realize how lucky you are, and the lions roll their eyes. What is being controlled, she says, is the story. By disagreeing with it, you create the illusion of victimhood in those who have the capacity to be oppressors. From outside, the dissident is the victim, but the people inside the story can’t attain that distance, for they are defending something whose relationship to truth has somewhere along the line been compromised. I don’t doubt that my parents saw themselves as my hapless victims, as many parents of adolescents do (“You have this lovely child,” a friend of mine said, “and then one day God replaces it with a monster”), but to me at the time such an idea would have been unthinkable. In disagreeing with them, I was merely trying to re-establish a relationship with truth that I thought was lost. I may even have believed that my assertions were helpful, as though we were on a journey somewhere and I was trying to point out that we had taken a wrong turn. And this, I realize, is where the feelings of powerlessness came from: Disagreement only and ever drew reprisal, not for what was said but for the fact alone of saying it, as if I were telling the residents of a Carmelite convent that the building was on fire and was merely criticized for breaking the vow of silence.

From “Raising Teenagers: The mother of all problems” in The New York Times by Rachel Cusk.

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.. was about the Productivity Commission’s report on childcare and early childhood. (Whoops, I forgot to tell you).

I snuck in some talk of universal minimum incomes, too.

I don’t regret being a work-outside-the-home mother. There are many advantages to having parents in the workforce – higher family income and social capital opportunities, to name a couple. And as a, now, single mother I can attest to the benefits of staying attached to the workforce in terms of the longer term security it provides me. (Which is why it can make economic sense to work during the early years of motherhood even when part-time work and childcare costs mean you may not lodge a profit. Think of it as an insurance policy). But if we’re going to encourage higher participation rates for women, and quite frankly our economy now depends on such, then we need to think about how we incorporate care into economic systems rather than segregating it outside the system. We must recognise that love and reciprocity are drives as fundamental to us as self-interest.

File all of this with notions like a guaranteed universal basic income and other economic possibilities for happiness that might actually be a real option if we were ready to consider them. Because, we are not talking some stagnant old debate here between capitalism and communism. We’re talking about ways of better organising our economy and care. And it starts with framing the debate around the understanding that children are in many ways a public good and warrant public support accordingly.

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Reference this clip over at Huffington Post next time there is a discussion about women’s housework versus men’s. Because although the hours men do are s l o w l y catching up they still tend to do more of the kinds of chores you can tick off the list once complete, like mowing the lawn or repairing the shower or painting the fence. Whereas women tend to do the kinds of chores you see in this clip.

And be sure to turn the cutesy music right up when watching the clip.

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Apart from undermining the credibility of paternity leave what is the point of this?

And Kate Harding has written the most perfect reply over at Dame Magazine.

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My latest article is here.

Speaking of personal stories, Latham has an interesting story, too. He’s a stay-at-home father with a wife working outside the home. Having made the transition from political leadership to primary caring he might offer an insightful perspective, instead, he seems clouded by a kind of defensive masculinity. And his hostility towards feminist parenting is curious when you consider Latham’s own role reversal is exactly the kind of freedom feminists are seeking as an option to be available for more parents. But critiquing parenting has long been an underhand route for simply censuring women.

Women well know that when male commentators talk about women’s lives they are prone to holding unexamined views that run contrary to one another. So, being the primary parent has allowed Latham to see the hoax that fathers can’t be nurturing, but somehow mothering is still essentialist enough for inner-city feminists to be capable of running a secret campaign to “free themselves from nature’s way”. And further, mothers who take their experiences seriously enough to write about them are “self-absorbed”, but to not take them seriously is to be “breeding a generation of shirtless, tone-deaf, overweight, pizza-eating dummies”. Although Macdonald, apparently, manages to do both.

 

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Because what my class of mothers consumes most is education. We know how precarious our world is, and how easily our children can fall out of it. We see the invisible line down the middle of the street that separates the good school district from the bad. We see the line that separates our Prius, hovering silently at the crosswalk, from the corner, where 50 lower-middle-class children wait for the bus. We see, at our Creative meetings, the line that separates state-college folk from Ivy alums. Clearly, the solutions for overwhelmed working mothers include either moving in with some kid-loving older relatives (but they’re Republicans! from Ohio!) or kicking it 1950s style by just letting their kids play with the other kids on the block. In my part of Los Angeles, this means going over to the Mexican-gardener neighbor’s house and jumping on an illegal trampoline with 11 children, five chihuahuas, and three chickens, as we did often enough when my kids were toddlers. But the gardener’s children were English learners, who would gradually (I was told) leach the vocabulary from my English-speaking childrenand then my daughters would never test gifted, never have academically motivated peers, never get into the good college-prep classes

So, like other Creative Class mothers in big cities, we band together with our fragile tribe of geographically remote, like-minded mothers (who, while friends, are also competitors for community resources—the last magnet application, spot No. 102 on the charter-school waiting list—resources of a dire, frightening scarcity never dreamed of in the 1950s). Weekends are a manic whirl of Kids’ Science Museums, Baby Mozart concerts, and laboriously educational “craft” days when, instead of dumping kids and going off for a 1950s-style hairdressing-and-martini break, mothers are expected to sit down and glue things with their children for seven and a half hours. (I remember decorating Easter eggs with the help of art-history books depicting glamorous Fabergé eggs. The refreshments, though, were still depressingly kid-focused—Domino’s pizza and juice boxes.) Today’s Professional Class mothers are expected to have, above all, the personalities—and the creative aspirations—of elementary-school teachers. But if you’re like me, you can’t compete with those seasoned professionals for whom child education is an enthusiastic vocation. My daughter Suzy’s kindergarten teacher, Lori, was the type all children fall desperately in love with. We are talking the high flutey voice, fluffy cotton-candy-like blond hair, pink glasses on a chain, hugs, rabbits, treats, prizes, songs, games, fun. (For God’s sake, I want a Lori!) Suzy devotedly made Lori love cards throughout the year (even for Mother’s Day), although truth be told, the next year, Suzy’s new mission was winning a sleepover with (and then leaving our family and simply moving in with) her first-grade teacher, Heather. And—yikes—it makes sense that kids bond so tightly with their teachers, as these are the women they spend their quality time with. I pick them up after four, when they’re collapsing into crankiness, and ferry them home—because what mothers do nowadays, most of all, is drive their children.

And for what? Why do we agonize? David Sedaris is one of the most successful writers of his generation, and his chain-smoking mother is known for drinking herself into a glaze and locking her five children out of the house on a snow day.

Which causes me to wonder gloomily: except as consumers and chauffeurs and anxious guardians of the middle class, why are mothers, today, needed at all?

From Sandra Tsing Loh’s “On being a bad mother” in The Atlantic.

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Want to see this film. (Review here).

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