SAHM Old SAHM Old and the Semi-Femi-Feminism

This might be rambly and brambly, so let's start with my newest edition of "Random things I say to my child." Because sometimes I think we quote our kids a little more often than is fair or balanced.

"Can you find the matching sock? That's the one that looks just like the one you're wearing... Or actually whatever sock. Pick any second sock that feels right. Love comes in many forms and pairings and it's all good and wonderful. Shoe love, though... That's different. They're like foot fundamentalists. Lots of rules."

"Another famous guy died, sounds like. People die, Chaya. People die all the time. Especially famous people. They're dying a bunch. That's your lesson in morality"

"Ouch. You are making this hard for me... But then again that's your job. Mommy needs adversity to keep her brain functioning... sort of functioning... Thank you for giving me challenges to rise to so I don't stagnate." 

"No honey, I don't think the birdie (on my mug) wants anymore cheerios and milk. He's very small so he's full. Also he's lactose intolerant like daddy. You'd better have his milk."

"If you're hoppy and you know it you're a bunny. If you're hoppy and you know it you're a bunny. Or I guess a kangaroo because I hear they hop hop too, or maybe you're a beer that makes dad sneeze." 

"No matter how many times you say NUM to me you will not be able to climb my pants. You are not a monkey and I am not a tree. Maybe vines like ivy or blackberry brambles. But you are not a monkey" 

And now we return to the unfolding SAHM experience and the mulling on gender and mommening. 

 Chaya sees the world as populated by (1) Sebastian and Isla (sometimes Alex), and their mommies (2) PAAAAAAM (and probably her other less-clearly named associates, and (3) mommas/daddas/babies. Eventually she will start to associate herself more with mommas or daddas most likely. Children are obsessed with sorting and identity. There's little way around that.

Meaning how Andrew and I interact will be her first and strongest initial window into how men and women interact. Gulp! Please, Chaya, be gay to take some of the pressure off of that!

No really.

There are always balances to be reached. I'm never fully sure where or what, but there are balances.

TL;DR - there's still some major societal forces that make it hard not to fall into (and teach) certain gendered patterns. And it gets even murkier when one parent works outside of the home.  

At the moment, I don't think I always walk the talk of a true feminist. 

 I am a feminist-sympathizer. I am strongly opposed to a culture that pushes girls to be one thing and squashes other messaging into boys. I resist the culture that fetishizes masculinity and denigrates femininity. The culture that suppresses male feelings and calls strong women shrill. I want Chaya to have the full range of gender spectrum.

But I am not that sterling role breaking role model sometimes. I play into a lot of social messaging and preconceived gender conceptions. And sometimes I feel like the same patterns and preconceptions will play out for Chaya that play out for every girl. 

We're a modern, enlightened, and respectful coupling, her Dadda and I. I wanna start with some kudos to us: 

1. Andrew doesn't expect me to take care of him. He does his own laundry. He handles his dishes and confines his clutters to his areas. 

2. Andrew contributes at home. He asks if I need anything from the outside world when he's out. He handles some basic maintenance and financial stuff that is hard for me to get to specifically because he knows it's harder for me. 

3. Andrew contributes with Chaya. He helps getting her in her chair and set up for dinner. He watches her while I get a walk on weekends. He plays with her plenty. And he changes her and reads her her bedtime stories. Even when she's having a rough night, he takes her to bedtime and does his best to soothe her. And has sat up with her on rough sleep nights before.

4. Andrew and I treat his work income as our whole family income and talk about budgeting and big decisions together.

5. Andrew expresses appreciation for what I do at home and for him. Because, again, he does not expect women should care for the household etc.

6. I'm pretty strong willed and I am not afraid of taking on certain tasks that might be unsavory for women. I think we both project an attitude of equality instead of deference or distrust.

7. Generally speaking we make great decisions together about an array of things impacting us both and model some very good conflict resolution. So we rock.

But there's always a but:

But we are also raging stereotypes. Most of my cadre consist of well educated women and self-sufficient, enlightened men. Yet certain themes tend to persist universally. With a few exceptions I actually don't know any mom who's had daddy watching the kids more than ninety minutes at a time. I know few dads who know the dietary preferences/needs, bath time rituals, nap time rituals, clothing sizes, complex emotional triggers and tells, and any other handful of things that pertain to their children. There are constant frustrations over dads getting the kids wound up or not getting fed or getting sleep and vanishing when home, etc. 

And it appears to be a national thing, stay at home or not. I won't quote all the studies. But women carry a lot more of the load whether they work or not.

When we first got married, we had our separate live and shared the load of that sliver in the center. If I wanted to do something on "my time" I did it. I had my finances for my hobbies and purchases. Andrew had his time and finances. We had a shared space. Shared expenses. And a division of tasks not too different than roommates would have. We had a cleaning service, a yard service, and our respective spaces could be cleaned by us to our tastes in the interim.

Emotionally, yeah, we've always been a little traditional. I'm uber-empathetic. Andrew's an engineer. Did we handle his stuff more than mine? Did I not talk up a lot about my feelings because he hadn't asked? Were they more complicated? And did I feel more comfortable facilitating his goals quietly and for my own happiness? Yeah. But still.

The external divisions started to make less sense given the disparity in aptitude and availability. Andrew was commutting and it was fun and much more efficient for me to take over food for both of us. To handle a little more of the household tasks and accounts. Of course we consolidated. We're partners. It makes sense. Why reduplicate when you can have expedient division of labor? 

And then there was parenting and staying at home and everything else that you know complicates ... well... everything. And it's good. And logical. We complement each other. But it's also complicated.

There was a comic going around recently that made a splash on Facebook. It made me think, although nothing there was particularly new. 

It starts describing the difference between male and female partners/parents by describing the "mental load" that women carry. And the additional taxation of a spouse who wants to help (and strongly wants to be an equal contributor), but leaves it at requiring specific delegation to complete household tasks. More or less. When I hear "I'd love to help if you'll let me" my first reaction is "oh great, my brain is already totally overwhelmed and now I have to discover the perfect task for you and explain it!" Not entirely. But somehow when you're a mother in triage, the additional chore of using brain space to discover how you could use help is onerous.

Multi-Taking Mental Load:

When we're having a conversation at dinner this is my brain (1) listening and interacting with Andrew's post-work monologue about his day and keeping this cataloged so I can pick back up in between singing whatever song Chaya is demanding to hear, (2) bringing up and/or searching for the things I have meant to tell him or consult him about for the house or child at appropriate pauses before I totally forget again, but keeping them in my head for a conversationally appropriate moment and trying to phrase them in a neutral non-confrontational way if it's something I need him to help with, (3) keeping an eye out for the fifty ways in which Chaya is about to make a huge mess or hurt herself, with one of ten utensils she's demanded of me (4) keeping an ear out for one of several household devices that's likely to start beeping, (5) trying to figure out what on earth Chaya is yelling ON/OFF about while staring at me expectantly, while trying to trying to encourage her to eat something that will balance her gut so she won't be miserably gassy or constipated but also not forcing eating if she's not into it, (6) trying to alert Andrew's attention to the fact that Chaya is now attempting to get his attention to give something to him or demand something of him, and then translating, (7) mentally checking off the various things my beleaguered body and/or brain needs to do for personal stuff and/or Chaya's medical appointments, (9) trying to drown out some chaotic mess somewhere in the house that is stressing me out, (10) running back and forth to the kitchen getting things and putting things away and otherwise not living in the moment because once Chaya's in bed all I want is some actual downtime where I am able to relax and not be cleaning up the disaster zone of things that actually can't wait believe it or not (perishable?) Plus our relationship needs downtime together and I want a healthy model for Chaya so we need to really have that time together instead of cleaning...

Andrew's brain: (1) work, (2) occasionally funny face from Chaya when she says dadda, (3) bikes or cars, and whatever that FB notification was (4) dinner.

Un-Free Time:

And of course this goes beyond the present and presence. In a sense, being a SAHM means not having your own discretionary time any more.

For instance, if Andrew needs a personal appointment it's fairly simple. He can just schedule one, take some vacation time at work however it fits his build schedule, work late somewhere, or drop by a provider on the way home. If it carves out some time he spends at home, well that's sad to miss out but it has to be done.

If I need to do any minor thing, I need to arrange childcare. I need to ask somebody for help and work with their schedule. I have options. But for instance this month, my mom is working, Claudia is just gave birth and I don't feel right about dumping another baby on her until she's safely out of labor and those first weeks. We could start dealing with daycare, but that's a whole 'nother can of complicated worms (and expenses). And, while Andrew had previously said he'd like to help,  that means juggling his schedule (difficult with the commute and his build schedule) with mine and Chaya's and a practitioner's schedule. None of those are static. And it's a huge headache so I often feel overwhelmed and don't bother. Especially for something non-emergent. Or something that will require lots of repeat sessions (like, say, PT for my messed up back)

The same is true for "fun" stuff. Andrew wants to have a fun long lunch, he just has to work a little later. Yeah, he'll be home later, but he's not thinking about any gymnastics to make sure somebody watches Chaya in that interim between his usual and his new time at home.

Or Andrew sometimes schedules weekend trips without consulting me about whether I'm going to be there and able to watch the beast. He invites us to join and respects if I choose not to participate, but he makes the first decision about whether he'll be home and available on his own.

 I would never do the same. I feel like I need to ask permission and plan around somebody's availability. I feel guilty sometimes just squeezing in my treadmill time in the morning. I've asked him to recognize that our weekend plans now affect each other directly and that we need to discuss them regarding childcare, but that mental idea of "I want to do something... but who will watch Chaya? I'd better coordinate" just isn't a starting point.

 I have one walk a weekend day that I doggedly hold onto now. He then has a morning-long preparation,  1-3 hour ride, and shower. Usually followed by a nap while Chaya's napping and I'm scuttling around the house doing EVERYTHING I can't do while she's awake. I am planning to start taking day or half day trips with my dad to the opera after this summer. But there's going to be a discrepancy that persists We both contribute to that discrepancy.


 I'm constantly in triage mode so I am much better at getting little things done while watching Chaya. If I'm in the house and Chaya needs something (or the house needs something), I do it by habit instead of waiting for somebody else to step in. Andrew's more likely to wait until he's asked to do something. Which never happens if we're both there, because of my aforementioned habit. When we're both home, he's more likely to need to vanish and get some things done whereas I'm more likely to bob and weave between everything. Constantly on call. Never fully done going through my checklist.

And the time each parent and child spends together: Andrew gets the luxury of dropping everything to be with Chaya when he's with her. Whether he does or not is up to him, but he gets to. It's discrete enough and then when he needs something (even a phone call or the bathroom) he goes into the other room knowing I'm nearby. Me, I'm a pro at getting things done in-between demands for attention. I'm a pro at doing everything one-handed while holding a baby in the other. I'm a pro at navigating an entire house with a munchkin pulling on my pant leg and shrieking. I don't remember the last time I've used a bathroom alone while the toddler's up. Andrew still locks both doors.

Treatment and triage...

And Chaya knows this. Dadda is for playing and snuggling. Mama is for playing too (because I do get a ton of that as well), but she's also the one who manages the daily routines. The one who knows them and enforces most of the daily rules. The comforter in chief, but also the enforcer. 

But in many ways, Andrew is gentler and more protective of her. I am more familiar with how much she can take on a given incident. And I'm more likely to be running. I wonder if this will shape her expectations of interactions with men and women... I'm not sure how. I just wonder.

And if Andrew wants to help me when I'm swamped it works when she wants fun. If I am doing something and Chaya is making it hard, he says "Chaya do you want to hang out with me?" But he doesn't know how to coax her away and if I respond to get bids for attention at all, he will often recede and really until I've perhaps convinced her work coaxing and books and distractions to hang out with him. 

For my part I am often guilty of shooting down attempts to contribute, because they maybe will make it more challenging for me in the short run. Or maybe I'm being defensive. I try to step back and explain my thought our simply apologize and defer but it certainly puts him off.

Yeah, advice-mongers I "should" just go away. I need to let him struggle a bit more. But the consequences also won't be born equally. If Chaya goes a day without a nap, or not drinking anything and getting dehydrated, or getting totally over stimulated, who gets to deal with her when the fall out hits? The primary parent. 

Division of Helplessness?

As I've said, there are a ton of things Andrew does in the outside world that make my life so much easier. But of course this enhances that sense of mutual learned helplessness. I cannot fix a stroller tire, put together simple furniture,  or work the carseat because it's impossible to do anything like that with a toddler around and I'm not about to use my precious nap time to struggle with learning. This embarrasses me I guess because I feel like a woman should be equally competent with these things.  And that means things really impact my life depend on an independent contractor's priority for what needs getting done. Leaving my options at waiting or nagging if it isn't high on a long list. Or helping out extra to get other things higher on the priority list done (If Andrew gets out the door earlier in the morning, he won't have to stay as late at work... if I clear up time for him to get xyz done, then he'll have more time to fix the whatever). We're parents. That means life will always be overwhelming and we'll always have more on our plates than we can handle.

And, here's a challenge. I often feel like Andrew is super behind and overwhelmed. I'm sensitive to that and want to help. But at the same time, some part of me will feel like that's partially contributed to by his own choices to have fun and tend to personal matters that put him further behind, and which may have already reduced his presence to contribute previously. And that's a tough spot sometimes.


Another tough spot is that sometimes I feel like we send this quiet little message that the outside work/world is still "better" somehow. I don't know how to explain this exactly. I've been an independent grownup with a job. So when Andrew and I talk about his day, we both have this common ground. We both know how satisfying a day's work can be and how maddening coworkers can be. Being a stay at home parent, though, is quiet. Without clear metric. And not something that Andrew has ever truly experienced. Even if he watched Chaya for a week or a month, he wouldn't really quite grok it. He knows it's "hard" in some murky abstract way. But he doesn't know the day to day. Why certain things lead to negative consequences that snowball. How on earth I know in advance how Chaya's likely to react in a few minutes. Why certain things stress me/her out. What joys I take in perfunctory matters like bowel movements or actually getting my child to brush her teeth without a battle. 

We don't have common ground and it makes it hard to have a conversation about my day in a relatable way. I think we relate to each other by analogy, and he mostly has "not working" as his analogy. Which is pretty well flawed, of course. He means nothing by it, but often makes comments about certain activities being great for a "stay at home dad" that few actual SAHPs would ever have time or energy to accomplish. He often talks in rosy terms about my future career. To him he sees the absence and perhaps the amorphous "sacrifice" but lacks an anchor in the reality. 

This alone has a lot to do with what I'll call Daddisms - things I hear form men/secondary caregivers in particular, and which run akin to that obstreperous if well-meaning "the dishes can wait" adage. Akin to the whole attitude of "just mellow out, we'll get to things when we get to them." Yes, the dishes can and do wait quite a while. Yes, the dirty diaper I have left on the table to run after a half clad baby can wait, and the pile of trash on the floor, and the clutter... And yes, a baby who doesn't sleep or eat well for a few days will eventually probably sort it out.. I am the queen, I remind you, of triage. Every naptime, there's a long list of moving parts with priorities of what must be done, what would make me feel happier not to deal with later, what can wait, and everything in between. Because I may have to drop everything at a moment's notice to deal with a crazy toddler or some other fire things have to be good enough in every arena.

 Can the dishes really wait until college? Because I don't think you'd like that all so much. But eventually we do need to eat something off of something and if there are sharp objects lying around that's a problem and if we get ants because of the pile... so basically everything can wait for a few days, which is about as long as most people saying these things ever have to bear the full brunt of the consequences of things waiting. One day of missed toothbrushing... who cares? Two years?

Semi-Femi - Modern State of Things?

 I think perhaps this comes down to some half way there feminism in terms of the messages men and women have still been getting from childhood.

1. Modern men now are raised with high priority in independence. Women still are placed in a much highly communally focused context.  Men still get prickly when their independence is encroached upon. Women accept and expect their lives to be more subject to the web of lives around them. 

2. Women have still been trained to be sensitive to the needs of others and to rush in an help/set at ease without being asked or noticed. In fact women often feel guilty if they've let something go long enough that they have to be asked in the first place. They may somewhat expect a similar level of attention from those around them. 

3. Women have been raised not to impose. Men have been raised to feel weak about needing help. Both deters asking for help, but changes how it's accepted. Men are also raised to say what they want and "mean" clearly. Women are taught to measure how they approach another person and address the impact it will have on them. 

4. Women have been raised to value their relationships as innate part of identity, while men (valuing independence) still have a high value on accomplishment and external metrics. 

I'm sure there's more

And I'm not sure what. 

But it seems like there is a balance somewhere. And Chaya will be her own person. I just hope we continue struggling forward and finding that balance. Letting the burden fall on neither of us too palpably and always questioning. 
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