venerdì, agosto 19, 2016

When needs and convictions align

I always have stood up for more social attention to families - better access to better childcare, better parental leave - but because of the circumstances of my own charmed, work-from-home-with-flexible-hours life, my convictions have always been abstract. I took six weeks off when Godzilla hatched, and things never got too desperate even with the precisely zero family support we got in Australia (besides my mother flying in for a month), since by the time he was mobile we had the money to get a couple of lovely girls coming to the house to help us out during my work hours and since the F-word was working part time while we were there.

But now my convictions are frightfully concrete. I'm still a week shy of my third trimester, and wondering how the fuck I would manage, as the baby mamma of a man who is now holding down a full-time middle-school teaching job (which is a surprise to us; we thought he'd be on two-thirds time this year; the hours will be difficult for me, but the money will be fabulous), if my son - who wouldn't be starting kindergarten until next month in Canada or Australia and wouldn't have any affordable quality childcare options preceding that - wasn't in 35 hour kindergarten at an awesome public institution already. It would be so painful to start settling him in now, while I'm so big, and tired, and enamoured of naps.

And oh my god - the future would be so much more logistically frightening.

This past trip to Canada already nailed it down for me, TBH. To see people having to empty their pockets for summer daycare, and see people - usually women - put their careers on hold because it made more financial sense to spend the first few years of their kids' lives not working. To see bullshit between couples over how the woman should probably not work because "half her salary will go to childcare" - as if the childcare is something that benefits her personally, and her baby daddy has no particular stake in it because of course he'd be working anyways.* To see families just sort of gritting their teeth and dealing with generational childcare - a blessing in so many ways, yes, but NOT EASY for anyone. It is NOT THE EASY OPTION. Sometimes paying for services, or contracting them, makes them so much easier to enjoy . . .

Anyways. I'm reaching the stage of my Krautland experience where I've started complaining a lot, because that's just the sort of person I am. But knowing that the new baby will be able to be in a well-resourced kindergarten of my choice from the time it is two, and knowing my first child is already well-settled in such an institution, and knowing that there are subsidized childcare options before then for the new hatchling if we need them - besides just the experience of being middle-class with a middle-class income (which is what would make life possible, if not easy, in Canada or Oz) - this is all making me sigh with relief that all those years of abstract principles and convictions have really worked out for me, in that they helped us choose to live in this wonderful, WONDERFUL country.

And nap. Nap with relief. Which is what brought this word onslaught on. I just had the most delectable nap and when I woke up I reflected that in Australia or Canada I might not have been able to afford it.

The horror. The horror.

*And in defence of the Not All Men movement, I will say that nine times out of ten, when I heard that disgusting notion voiced, it was by women.

8 commenti:

Anonimo ha detto...

It's always pissed me off. Big style. All the shitty gendered assumptions surrounding care of children - as if men were somehow exempt by virtue of them having a cock and balls.
And yip, just as much of the 'it's more natural for women' shit that accompanies any challenge of the innate prejudice and discriminatory behaviours exhibited, comes from women themselves...
Back in 1997/98 I was regularly working away from home Mon-Fri. We had three kids. R filled the primary carer role just fine - with the same support from my Mum that I'd have got. But I lost count of the number of women who were either openly shocked or surprised or (and this made me very very cross) who were angry with me - that I wasn't 'there for my children'. I was accused of being 'a bit unnatural' and 'odd'.
It hasn't changed much.
I've had years of p/t work interspersed with some non-working and some studying years. Nobody ever really asks what R has done - or what his work pattern was or is - but they feel free to ask about mine...
Our youngest was born in 2003 and I returned to f/t work when she was 6 months. R was f/t but as a teacher he had the 'big holidays' which helped a lot. The care of our kids has always been a shared thing. But I have to acknowledge that R's role as a teacher really helped this happen.
The Scottish Govt/Councils provide nursery places from 3 years. But that only covers 3 and a half hours per day. Our kids start Primary school in the Aug of the year they turn 5 years. There's some financial assistance for the low paid to secure more childcare. But childcare is expensive and I remember a time, back when I was studying for the law degree (1993/94/95) when we were paying £110 per week for our number 2 child to attend the Uni nursery. R was f/t and we were above the financial threshold for financial help... it was a bit of a struggle but we managed. Strangely the costs haven't increased that much - but it'll still be roughly £160 per week for f/t childcare at a nursery. They will take from 6 weeks - and will accept the government 'vouchers' from when the child is 3 years.
Maternity leave will cover up to 12 months - but sometimes some employers offer more (and will also offer enhanced Mat Pay packages).
The biggest issue with it all is that paternity leave just isn't adequately supported.
And while I know this isn't a popular observation to make, I have observed that many women actually, in reality, don't want to share the care - personally I think that's because they've successfully internalised the myth that only women are natural caregivers or they fear the approbation that sharing care seems to attract (i.e. that they are seen as inadequate or uncaring mothers...).
In the meantime the gender pay gap remains a problem and discriminatory behaviours towards women returners or pregnant women still occur with hellish frequency.
What I did notice in Germany was a huge number of men out on their own with very small babies.
R and I were really impressed to see that.
I am genuinely so glad you're in Germany :-)

Mistress La Spliffe ha detto...

Oh, there's still sexism here. And still pressure for mothers to be the primary, even though there is such a deep pressure and so many practical opportunities to get women back in the workforce (German feminists tell me the historical focus of the movement here has always been social rather than political). It's a very polarized country in very many ways, though people get along well enough. I guess they remember what happens when they don't. Or maybe a bit of the Duch polder mentality rubbed off on them:

Nonethless the KinderKuckeKirche crowd even have a name for women who don't seem engaged enough in their kids - "Rabensmutter" - which is as stupid as the sentiment behind it, as ravens are actually excellent parents and raven young are educated by their parents rather than just sort of left to the mercies of their instincts (which is why ravens are such successful birds despite rarely integrating with human settlement the enthusiastic way crows have).

I think I got it just the other day, actually, at Godzilla's kindergarten. We're now taking advantage of the full range of hours on offer (35) instead of the 25 or so we used last year, when he was still really exhausting himself there with not speaking German and having his nap schedual totally destroyed. I think he's adjusting splendidly, but one of the teachers took me aside after a few days and asked if he couldn't have an early hometime once a week, as he seemed a little tired to her still. I explained that wasn't possible, as his dad was now working fulltime hours, and she asked, without missing a beat, if I couldn't do it myself in that case.

Now, maybe she would have said the same thing to me if the sexes were reversed, but maybe she wouldn't. I don't think she would. The school was aware of our work situation when we started there, and even when we applied two years ago. Anyways, I just gave her a flat no. She can think what she likes, and I'll do what I like.

Otherwise I've also got the odd look from playground mums here when they find out I'm fully and gainfully employed, but given that they're playground mums and my irregular hours let me go to the playground when they're mostly being used by families with parents who aren't working outside the home, I have no problem writing that off to their confusion that someone is managing to not be 9 to 5, or their own problems with their own life choices.

I have seen some really top-notch fathering here, in all honesty. Even from the very "conservative" types.

The Scottish situation sounds like a bit of a clusterfuck for childcare. But it also sounds a lot better than the bits I remember of the English one. (Do Scots do that thing of dismissing their own troubles because at least they're not English troubles, like Canadians over the US?)

Anonimo ha detto...

Hahaha. Yes. We do. Bit like the Portuguese re the Spanish or the Catalan re the Castilian or Czech re German... aren't we just a right mess of predictable prejudice and hate and blame.
I've avoided the playground thing since forever. Can't stand the competition and pretend 'community'.
I worried (for a short while - though maybe it's still an occasional scab I pick at) that my aversion sprang from a contempt of 'stay-at-home mums' that was really not healthy. I know I'd defend to the death the right to choose (middle class luxury of choice) - to either work or stay at home. But I also know I am deeply suspicious of those who embrace that choice... particularly those who moan about their partners not shouldering any childcare but who don't actually trust their partners to do any caring.
But then, fundamentally, I've always been conflicted about being 'a mother'. I know that having Meg was truly empowering - I felt alive and strong and as if I could do anything. And the love consumed me. But I think somewhere along the line, when I was growing up, I got a bit confused - wasn't thinking clearly about what 'feminism' was saying - and whatever was planted then has become an innate repulsion for 'being a mother'. 'Becoming a mother' became irrevocably connected to loss of power/withdrawal from the world/confirmation of gendered roles etc etc etc
I did get off on the birth bit (hence 5 wains). I liked the challenge of it - and I enjoy small babies.

But when that was over I was a parent.

I like ravens. I think I'd be honoured by that label.

Mistress La Spliffe ha detto...

I can't judge. Our whole series of years in the small Australian town we used to live was me coming to terms with my hostility to that lifestyle choice. Economics there at the time, and a strong decayed-hippie ethic that was staggeringly socially retrograde but that's a rant for another time, made single-income families pretty common, and the single income was invariably the man's. The women seemed so infantilized by not having their own money and something to hang their interest on outside of the house, and the men often resented a choice they felt had been made for them.

I see that choice as totally unnatural, the way it's usually done. Yes, kids are happiest and most confident when they're in familiar surroundings with familiar and loving caregivers, and that is definitely the ideal. But there have been two times in the millions of years of human history when that involved a nuclear family and an omnipresent mum: for middle-class western families over the last 90 years or so as extended family and community networks atomized in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, and colonial pioneer families in isolated cabins who lost their marbles as often as not but still get culturally idolized by Europeans.

I don't consider either ideal social environments. And I think there has been, as you say, a lot of successful internalizing of very false and damaging myths about what a good mother is.

Yeah, ravens are pretty great. It was nice to have a lot around in Canada again; they're all crows in our district here. This is a cute book:

Anonimo ha detto...

I've spent so long in my own wilderness that I'd grown to believe my views on motherhood etc were a complete aberration - I've just grown used to censoring myself and also to hiding 'me'. Not mentioning I have 5 children is a common tactic for me as I've noticed that drawing attention to that quantity seems to intimidate or 'anger' some folk - especially when they are aware of the MA(Hons) LLB MSc DipLP (mark of nothing but the fact I like learning). It's like I've just passed some silent judgy comment on their own adequacy or otherwise - when actually it's fuck all to do with anybody else - or if it's to do with anything it's just my contraceptive laziness and genuinely not giving a shit-ness on my part as a sexual partner etc.
It's a strange painful relief to know that I can speak my mind - and that your own take on it seems much like mine.

I've ordered the book. I'm at a reading loose end until the Spanish starts - there's a raven shaped space to fill.

The 'look inside' function made me think of 'H is for Hawk' - I need to read it again too. If you overlook the odd clumsy bit that would have benefited from better editing, it is an amazing achievement:

Mistress La Spliffe ha detto...

Ugh, no, your views seem about right to me. And I think part of the strange anger you've faced is that they seem right to other people too, who nonetheless haven't lived them or tried to live them because of that internalization they've managed of a fake social role, that isn't even practical half the time anymore because families need two incomes to access social mobility in most places.

I mean you could start in on the unnaturalness of modern paternity with a lot more justice if you really wanted to - pre-Industrial Revolution, at least most boy-children would be with their fathers almost all their waking hours learning their trade or helping with whatever needed helping with from the time they could hold tools sensibly. And yet we've decided as a society it's not unnatural for them to be going to school eight hours a day instead, and that it makes perfect sense for them to be spending their downtime from school with their mums instead, because dads get respect for working long hours.

Absolute nonsense.

Thanks, Victorians, for this bullshit, bourgeois, enslaving, snobbish cult of the mother. And I do like being a mother. All three times I've got knocked up were a decision, and at least two of those times I had some notion of what I was letting myself in for. I consider myself a super-fortunate person for how much time I get to spend with Godzilla, and hope to spend with the next one too, because of my rarified work situation. But the cult around it makes me grind my teeth. And I know that if I didn't have my rarified work situation, I'd have to deal with a lot more bullshit pushback about my choices as a parent, because frankly I really, really enjoy being the primary breadwinner. And that just raises my hackles sky-high.

(BTW don't know about you but when I have been in situations, like playgrounds, where I feel like my educational and professional choices are encouraging the other mums to Rabensmutter me, I've got a lot of snide joy at whipping out a boob and breastfeeding a toddler who was old enough to request it with a please. I promise I didn't breastfeed Godzilla until the miscarriage last year so as to be a glowing example of the Maternal Breed, but I do enjoy the way the extended breastfeeding bucked expectations. I WILL DO THIS MY FUCKING WAY, PLEASE AND THANK YOU.)

Anonimo ha detto...

Hahahaha! The power of 'the boob'! Silences screaming children - and uptight adults.
Were we separated at birth?

I fed the lot of them until I got bored or they got bored - the way it worked out I fed the eldest 4 until they were 24-30 months. 'The baby of the family' decided she could manage perfectly alright thank you Maw, without the boob, when she was 12 months. I felt a bit rejected but got over myself.

I've been asked to leave a soft-play cafe area -and told to feed the then 18 month old in the baby changing place (no, I didn't go). But mostly I think folk were feart of me. And times have changed since then (circa 2000) - I think.

There was one prima donna, uptight, cat's arse-mouthed mother who really really really couldn't stomach me - she decided that the biggest insult she could deliver was to tell her then 11 yr old that I was that 'weird goth mother who bred like a rabbit and who breastfed her children' - the 11 yr old later spat this at my eldest (then 9yrs), like she'd just wiped the floor with her... Meg had the sense to tell her to shut the fuck up (I later got a phone call about my child 'using profanities' - I said that I was relieved to hear that she was using it in the right context).

Mum said it's when they attack you from even the most absurd angle that you know you are winning at life...

(Anyway I did hear (from Meg, who had heard it from cat's arse's daughter) that cat's arse put sellotape on her nipples to keep them from sticking out because she thought 'nipples were disgusting'... )

Thing is - there are these boxes we are meant to fit into. I fear I am hellish shallow as a person because some of my greatest joys have been when I have obviously confounded expectation...

You are spot on re the inherent contradictions in approaches to parenting. We are now socialised (and socialise our kids) to believe that 7 hrs per day of classroom (or 10/12 hours per day of office or factory or shop etc) is essential if you're going to be a socially 'valuable' member of the community. We flip out over the kids/folk who reject that - despite knowing full well that we just do more damage when we force folk into a mould that will never fit them.


Mistress La Spliffe ha detto...

Oh holy fuck. As nasty as cat's arse sounds, I can't help but feel terribly sorry for her. Your mother is right, with the corollary that anybody who cellotapes nipples for anything but some sort of recreation I can respect without fathoming is losing at life, even at being human, and it's quite sad.