A Few Meditations On Being a Feminist Parent

25 Sep

My kid has a tractor obsession. Like, he goes bananas any time he sees one of the damn things. This bit of information will, hopefully, help explain why I found myself at the International Plowing Match And Expo on Friday with Theo and my mother.

The plowing match was held not far from where I grew up in Kitchener, Ontario, and was filled with men who looked like this:

The pipe is my FAVOURITE PART

It was basically a whole day of mingling with old white farmer dudes, watching people use old-timey plows and admiring farming equipment. In a way, it was oddly comforting, or at least comfortingly familiar – I feel like a lot of my Kitchener childhood was spent around old white farmer dudes, so seeing their mutton chop beards and dingy overalls definitely gave me the warm glow of home.

Anyway, Theo basically had the time of his life. There were so many dang tractors at the show; there was even a tractor square dance. I kid you not. I bought Theo a toy tractor, which he promptly named Go and hasn’t put down since.

That night, after we got back to Toronto, I went over to my friend Caitlin’s place to help her pack for an upcoming move. Afterwards, I texted Matt to let him know that I was on my way home, and asked how Theo was doing.

The response I received was less than encouraging:

Bad. He just threw up.

Theo spent the rest of the night throwing up, and part of Saturday. Weirdly, he seemed totally fine in between bouts of vomiting – he would get ‘er done without much fuss, then run off and go about his business. He was fine all day Sunday, so we brought him to daycare this morning.

Unfortunately, Theo-the-puke-machine turned into Theo-the-poop-machine this afternoon. Which means that one of us has to stay home with him tomorrow.

So here’s where things get tricky: as Theo’s mother, and the person who has been his primary caregiver for, oh, pretty much his entire life, I feel like I should be the one to stay home. But I won’t be, because, as a person who has recently joined Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Club Of Serious Grown Ups And For-Real Feminists, I have to, you know, go to work. Matt’s job is in some ways more flexible than mine, and it was easier for him, in this particular instance, to take the time off.

This made me feel guilty. Because, really, doesn’t a sick baby need their mother most of all?

I’ve been feeling a lot of guilt lately. Granted, we’re only about two and half weeks into Theo’s daycare career, but I’m frustrated that I’m having so much trouble ironing out the bugs in our schedules. The hardest part is that I feel like I barely see him.

In a perfect world, I would only have to work two evenings a week, and would be able to pick him up mid-afternoon most days. In the real world, I’ve had to jump at a few subbing opportunities that have come my way (the first rule for new yoga teachers being Make Yourself Available), and I often find myself coming home before going to pick my kid up so that I can get a bit of housework done before Hurricane Theo returns.

I guess that what it boils down to is, what’s most important to me right now: being with my kid every moment that I’m not managing the studio, or trying to balance my Theo time with my building my career as a yoga teacher time? More and more often, I’m finding that building my career is winning out.

Why? Well, I spent the first nineteen months of Theo’s life devoting the vast majority of my time and energy to his well-being. I’m glad that I did, because that was what worked best for me and my family. But now that Theo is older, and really beginning to assert himself as his own person, daycare seems to be a really good fit for him. He’s excited to go, and he often talks about his friends there: Ella, Anand and Eliana have all come up recently in conversation. Oh, and my favourite, Jonah, which Theo pronounces “Gonad”.

It’s not that Theo and I didn’t have fun when we were home together, but I’ve realized something: this is a tough age for me. I don’t mean that Theo is difficult to be around, or that he’s throwing terrible tantrums (not yet, anyway), but I often find myself unsure of what he needs from me as a mother these days. When he was a tiny baby, it was easy to know what he wanted: me, and plenty of it. When he’s older, and we’re able to have proper conversations, I think I’ll find that easier, too. But this stage, this in-between I-need-you-but-don’t-need-you stage, is tough.

I have a hard time knowing when to inundate him with talking and singing and general in-your-faceness, and when to just let him play quietly. I feel like I spend so much of our time together chasing him away from things he’s not supposed to be touching, and trying to convince him to do whatever it is I want him to do. Maybe I’m kidding myself, but I think that being in daycare for a good chunk of the day makes him more eager to listen to me when he does get home. And instead of spending my time half-assing my way through housework while he desperately tries to get my attention (or dragging myself through it late at night, after he’s gone to bed), I can get it done quickly and easily while he’s not there.

And then there’s the whole work thing: these early days are important for networking, and I need to build a reputation as someone who is eager to work, and able to pick up classes on short notice. I’m creating a foundation for what will hopefully be a solid career. This is something that will, someday, benefit not just me, but Theo, and Matt, and any of our future kids too.

And, finally, it’s becoming increasingly important for Theo to learn that it’s not just mom who’s the solution to all of his problems. As Matt spends more and more time with him, Theo is learning that his father can be just as much of a source of tenderness and comfort as his mother can. He is learning that the world is much bigger than just one person and her boobs, and that people other than mama can be relied on to fulfill his wants and needs. The more time he spends apart from me, the better Theo is becoming at communicating just what those wants and needs are.

You guys, Theo is growing up.

I guess that what I ultimately want to say here is that being a feminist parent is about balance: learning to balance your kid’s needs with your own, and figuring out how that will shape your life. It’s about realizing that you, as a mother, do not need to be the be-all-end-all of your child’s life. You can learn to share the responsibility. You can figure out when to step back and say, I’m going to focus on myself for, like, five minutes and my kid will be just fine.

Most of all, it’s about accepting the fact that you have needs, too, and your kid does not always trump those needs, no matter what some magazine or parenting blog or conservative politician wants you to think.

Now, if only I could beef up Theo’s immune system and get him to stop bringing home these daycare bugs, I would be totally set.

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10 Responses to “A Few Meditations On Being a Feminist Parent”

  1. Sarah D. September 25, 2012 at 2:56 am #

    I totally get this. My own disappointment that it made more sense for Ari to take parental leave with Jacob (he qualified for EI AND his work topped him up; if I didn’t work, I didn’t get paid etc.) – was only made worse by the fact others assumed the same (and when they learned otherwise I was quickly dismissed in favour of the praise heaped on what a wonderful father Ari was for something that would just be considered part of the job if I did it). I have the kids in daycare so life doesn’t get tossed topsy-turvy if I get called in for subbing – somedays I’m home alone farting around with the part time work I do have and know they could be with me – but then what if I get ‘The Call’? I think the clue to time is quality, not quantity – I spend time with them and they know they’re the centre of my world when I’m with them – in the meantime, they are in the care of people I trust … which includes their father, who I am blessed to have someone I trust as much as myself (and sometimes more!) as my co-parent and partner on this journey. It’s not easy – society’s expectations + our own = murder sometimes. But just as we’ve both said many times women need to go easier on each other, I think we need to go easier on ourselves sometimes too.

    • bellejarblog September 25, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

      ” think the clue to time is quality, not quantity – I spend time with them and they know they’re the centre of my world when I’m with them”

      This is so, so important. Thank you for saying that!

      Also, it drives me bonkers if I’m out without Theo and someone says, oh, is his dad babysitting? Like, it’s not considered babysitting when I’m watching him – why is it babysitting when the dude does it? It’s not like I pay him for the time they spend together.

  2. Erin September 25, 2012 at 3:33 am #

    I think self-identifying as a feminist mom makes it tough (tougher than it needs to be?) because there are SO DAMN MANY conflicting messages about how to do that. Bad enough that every parenting website/book/magazine/expert/news article is bound to make you feel you’re doing something wrong, but feminism itself can’t seem to make up its mind. Feminist moms are free to be career moms! No, wait, feminist moms can choose to be SAHMs because feminism is all about choice! No, just kidding, feminists who don’t take advantage of hard-won benefits like subsidized daycare and paternity leave are traitors to the cause! And god help you if your Male Life Partner doesn’t willingly pitch in with the housework – you’ve clearly not feminist enough.

    No, how about everyone just mind their own business about how other people run their families.

    As for the balance part, I think it sucks that women STILL feel so much pressure to justify their personal calibration of work vs. family vs. self. I’m not picking on you or blaming you, Anne, because this culture gets to all of us. Even if you think you’ve finally got it right, something will come along like, so-and-so has TWO kids and a full-time job, and her kids are in two sports each, and she somehow has time to maintain a crazy active Twitter feed. Or, Whatsherface has a high-tech degree but decided to spend 7 solid years at home, till both her kids were in full-time school, and she’s getting great projects now that she’s back at work. And then you realize… I only have one kid, I’ve missed more parent-teacher interviews than I’ve attended because I always seem to be travelling for work in the fall, my career isn’t even really moving the direction I think I want it to… and I’m still planning to ditch him for a few hours this weekend while I go do my own hobbies. Oh god I’m a terrible, horrible, selfish mother.

    Maybe I’m projecting a bit.

    It’s still a pain, though, how there’s so much attention on how women “balance work with family” or even “have it all.” (I think having it all is bullshit, BTW, and basically an impossible to achieve standard.) First of all, it’s unfair because no-one talks about the balancing act when it comes to fathers. Second of all, it’s totally misleading, because I seriously doubt anyone actually perfectly balances all those things all of the time. Sometimes career is going to win for awhile, sometimes kid is going to win for awhile, and sometimes you may actually get to do something purely for yourself for an extended period of time, and you feel guilty about “neglecting” the other things, but you know what? Forget that. As long as the pendulum swings one way roughly as often as it swings the other way, it averages out to balanced, and I think that’s a more reasonable, realistic expectation to have from life.

    P.S. I heard you like blogs, so I wrote a blog on your blog.

    • bellejarblog September 25, 2012 at 2:06 pm #

      I do like blogs, so thank you for writing a blog on my blog!

      I think a lot of the guilt I’m feeling comes from the fact that my schedule is a little whack right now, so there are nights when I’m not getting home until, like, 7:30 or 8. So I get to see Theo for half an hour or so before he goes to bed, and that sucks. I worry that he thinks I’m suddenly abandoning him or something.

      It’s just a change, and I suck with change, and I worry about what effect it’s having on Theo. Of course, the truth is, he’s totally fine, which is what I was trying to get at here.

      Also, as a tangent, I would like to say how tired I am of people being like, “ignore the housework! spend time with your baby! you’ll never get these days back!” While that may be true, having a clean house is something that I need for my own well-being. Frig.

      • allison jayne September 25, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

        Um, are the people who say to ignore housework people who have other people to do their laundry??? Like as if you’re giving up time with Theo so that you can, like, polish your silver tea sets every week or something.

      • bellejarblog September 27, 2012 at 1:38 am #

        I dunno, but every time I complain about not getting housework done, people are all THESE DAYS ARE MAGICAL, SPEND THEM WITH YOUR BABY. Uh, I won’t be able to spend ANY time with my baby if CAS comes to take him away because my house is filthy. Just sayin’.

  3. Joy September 25, 2012 at 10:24 am #

    Judgmental me is judgmental about this “It’s about realizing that you, as a mother, do not need to be the be-all-end-all (BAEA) of your child’s life. I mean, you can totally be if you want to! ”

    I disagree after a certain age and even before that age with certain circumstances. It doesn’t matter if you want to be the BAEA in your child’s life if it damages you in the process. And I’ve seem mothers so desperate and convinced by society that they should be that BAEA all that they can not see the damage they are doing to themselves as fatigue and exhaustion rear their ugly heads. Throw in some PPD for some of these people and it just gets worse as these people use the BAEA mentality to avoid supports, respite care, and that beautiful beautiful thing called sleep.

    As for age, there is a point where you need to let your little one be an individual. I’ve also seen moms who don’t want to do this and it’s bad. Really bad.

    So there you are: judgmental me.

    • bellejarblog September 25, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

      You know what? You’re totally right.

      I added that line in at the last minute out of the fear that some woman, who truly believes that being a mom is the only thing she has going for her and thinks that she needs to be the BAEA for said kid, might read what I’ve written and feel badly about herself. And making mothers feel badly about themselves is, like, the last thing I want to do.

      But, ultimately, that sentence is something I don’t agree with, and I’ve gone back to edit it out. So thanks for making this comment, and for pointing out that, really, I was just furthering this damaging idea.You made a really, really good point.

  4. Leopard September 25, 2012 at 1:21 pm #

    I love this post. Also, “Gonad” is awesome. =D

    • bellejarblog September 25, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

      I know! I die a little every time he says it. I’m constantly like, WHAT’S THE NAME OF THAT BOY YOU LIKE AT DAYCARE? WHAT’S HIS NAME? CAN YOU SAY IT AGAIN?

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