3 Enemies To Parenting in the Moment

I have found that parenting is only truly difficult when I am trying to get my child to do something else. I enjoy the job of parent more often when I am focused on being in the moment. What does that mean, exactly? I started to understand it more when I thought about three main forces working against us:

  1. What the internet tells us we should be doing.
  2. Our own desire to be doing something else.
  3. The fact our government, employers, and culture don’t want us to spend time with our families.

The modern world of parenting self-help constantly pushes us to question what we are doing. Let’s take bedtime as an example. Is she up to late? Should I lay her on her side? What horrible patterns am I creating if I rock, sing, or snuggle him to sleep? Did you read enough to her? Other parents have their children in bed by this time! And they sleep all night! What am I doing wrong?

I can’t enjoy this time with my child when I am focused on a future state and not the moment I am in. I have been trying to forget about what I should be doing and simply be with my child. I find way less stress and frustration this way. Yet, that pressure to be in a future state can come from another place.

We often want to be doing something else. It sounds horrible but it is true and completely valid. Why do you want to rush bedtime and get it over with? Maybe you want to spend talk to your spouse. Maybe you are in an online class and have to be free at a certain point. Maybe you are tired from the day and want to watch Bones or some other bad TV with a glass of wine. Maybe you want to call your Mother. It turns out that parenting is a real chore when I am focused on getting it over with. This is another way we can build frustration into the experience. When I am not present, night time can go like this: “C’mon man! All I really wanted to do was read this last chapter and now you are awake. UGH. This is horrible.” Only once I let go of the future was I able to better enjoy the moment. I also found that I reached my goals even better. I remind myself out loud: “This is where I am. This is what I am doing. My child needs me. I will be there for him.” It is hard not to think about all of the other stuff we need to do as people outside of work and parenting. This brings us to the third enemy to parenting in the moment.

Our government, businesses, and culture doesn’t give us enough time to balance everything and be a fully present parent. It would be a lot easier to be present with your child if you had more available time. You could then be present with your child without thinking about all the other 100 things you have to do. There is always a sacrifice. If I spend more time with my child right now that is less time I have to pay bills, talk about life with my spouse, go to the local town council meeting, call a friend, workout, etc. So we parents sacrifice family or one of these other things. You know who doesn’t factor into this sacrifice? Your workplace or the system (for a lack of a better word).

The U.S. is the only one of 4 countries (if I remember correctly) that doesn’t have paid family leave. Here is an infographic from 2013 on paid family leave that has a nice visual comparison. Our country is telling us that time with our families is not important. This sets us up for bypassing being present with our kids because there is limited time to take on other pressing matters we have as adults. Sorry kids.

Most employers don’t offer paid family leave. But that is only scratching the surface. I think we all know that taking time off work for your kids is frowned upon. Even if it is allowed, there can be a nagging thought of what you missed out on or the company valuing the worker who chooses to be there more often. There are times you sacrifice your work and career to be present with your children. Remember, though, that is you sacrificing work time, not work sacrificing your time. Check this out: Americans wasted 658 million vacation days in 2015. Whoa. Talk about pressure to be at work and away from your family. Additionally, we are encouraged to shame the parents that make this choice. Hardly anyone shames the company who should value their leave policy enough to encourage if not require time off with job safety and security. End of soap box. The broader point is that we are set up to fail. We are set up to spend less time with our kids in the first place, let alone be fully present with them.

So what is one to do? I have a few things that work for me, that I don’t do all the time but I try!

  1. Name it. Know when you are focused on something outside of right now.
  2. Develop that mantra for you that will help you stay present. This is where I am. This is what I need to do. I don’t need to be anywhere else.
  3. There is more than enough out there on mindful parenting. Here is a Huffpo blog post on 5 main tenets of mindful parenting. I know there are better resources out there, but someone should be waking up from a nap any moment and this is what you get.
  4. Embrace being good enough and not sweating the internet of parenting. This also goes for not comparing yourself to other families. If you and your child are playing blocks, play blocks. Don’t think about how many he should be stacking at 15 months, or if she should be better able to tell colors at 2 years, etc. Just play. For bedtime, focus on right now and not the future.

 

 

At Home Parenting: It Runs In The Family

If we are open to thinking about a son or daughter following in the footsteps of either parent then the idea of a man staying at home with the kids is not an anomaly at all. He is following the ultimate family tradition that extends back thousands of years.   

I teach English as a Second Language (ESL) a few hours a week for the local community college. One of the activities we do is trace our family tree to learn the names of relatives and family members. On top of that we write down the careers of each person in the family tree.

As my primary career is at-home parent, I looked forward to doing this activity. Being a man and staying home with the kids is foreign among the cultures in the classroom and it is always an opportunity to blow a few minds. I remember sitting down to do this career family tree for the first time. I wrote next to my father and grandfathers-“Pharmacist, Pharmacist, Farmer”. I imagined the tree going back farther and the entries were essentially all Farmer.

Then something interesting happened. I wrote down the careers of my Mother and Grandmothers-“At home parent, at home parent, at home parent.” It was my mind that was blown. For the first time I realized I was carrying on the family tradition of caring for children at home. It was even more powerful when I quickly thought of the maternal family tree expanding a hundred or thousand years and seeing their career as an at-home parent.

Just like me, each of them had some way of making income on the side. My farm-wife Grandmother sold chickens and chicken eggs. My pharmacist-wife Grandmother worked a few hours at the drug store and helped with the books. My Mother did the same when they took over the store. At the end of the day, though, they all stayed home with the children when they were young.

What a relic from our gendered past that is only now starting to shed. I had only thought of “carrying on the family business” from the lens of the patriarchy in my family.  Yet, this rich career history on our Mothers’ side has been there all along. Maybe this is different for daughters and this default to dads is a thing for sons. I don’t want to assume that though. If you are woman reading this, I look forward to hearing how you have imagined and thought about “the family business.”

To all my fellow at-home dads: thinking about carrying on the career tradition of my matriarchy has been a powerful thing for me. I feel even more purpose and legitimacy in the role. When others ask if you should be doing something else, remember that our Moms are just as important as our Dads and carrying on in their footsteps is a historically valid and important career to pursue.

 

 

WWZAMD? – What Would Zombie Apocalypse Me Do?

Sometimes when I feel like giving up on a challenging parenting task I stop and ask: “What would Zombie Apocalypse Me Do?” What would I do if there was no one around I could call for help?

tumblr_mff5ie9vas1qcwe13o1_500Yes, we are fans of The Walking Dead on Tinkerbell Road. In the story there is a baby whose mother is gone and the team of survivors in the zombie wasteland are left to keep her fed. Even the toughest dudes pull Daddy weight with the little one.

Last week, in the real world, I was giving our 1 month old a bottle while Mom was out. He wasn’t taking it. More appropriately, I wasn’t doing it right. We were both frustrated. In the back of my head I knew that I could call her. It would be so easy. But there I was with a child, a bottle of good breast milk, and nothing but time on my hands. As an At-Home Dad there are many times like this during the day. The fact Mom was on maternity leave and I could call in help was all too tempting.

Before I gave in I imagined a world where I was my child’s last resort, his only hope. The two of us alone in a zombie apocalypse. I knuckled down and did my job. (Apologies to my would be zombified wife in such a scenario.) A phone call to a relaxing mommy was not necessary.

I also recognize that there are many people in the world living their own apocalypse. Refugees, survivors of domestic violence, torture, and other horrific things. I could think of friends who at one time huddled with their child in the Sudanese brush, the jungles of Burma, or the rescue mission down the road. To think that I would cry UNCLE when a little trouble came my way? I can buck up and make it through.

The idea that people in our real world are faced with such adversity can be emotionally crippling and in some cases too close to home. In the South, we have a notion that if we think about bad things happening they may in fact come true. It’s best we don’t focus on a situation that could come true for us or anyone. So it’s safe to pick a scenario that’s fake. Imagining fictional people in a stressful reality that will never exist can be a safe way to imagine a scenario that inspires perseverance.

Dad and Two Kids

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is important for me now because next week Mom goes back to work and my caseload will grow from one to two. I will need to bolster my nerves for a whole new set of challenges.

Feel free to join me and use this the next time you are feeling like the baby won’t eat or sleep and the buck stops with you. If you are not into Zombies, think of your own alternate world where you are the only one left who can help your child. You can get the job done. You can pull through. (Even if you hear scratching and moaning at the door.)

2015 National At-Home Dad Convention

Last weekend I attended the Convention of the National At-Home Dad Network. Over 140 Dads from across the country met to take some time off, share parenting tips, and most of all get energized to advocate for Dads and parents everywhere. There’s a lot I could say, but let me raise four major take away messages from the event.

1. At-Home Dad describes who we are, but Dad Advocacy is what we do. 

We shared plenty of parenting tips and gave each other support as primary caregivers. A major connection, however, is that we are all actively working to promote and inspire a new state of fatherhood. We stand in the face of stigma surrounding “Mr. Mom” and proudly demonstrate that fathers can be caring and nurturing parents. Two examples:

In the opening keynote, Dr. Scott Behson (@scottbehson), author of The Working Dad’s Survival Guide, repeated this mantra:

“Almost every dad I know is putting in the hard work to be a loving, hands on, involved father.”

Sounds like preaching to the choir. Unless the choir is a leading voice for improving the status and opportunities of fathers across the board, not just those who can be at home. The another component to his talk was on self care. He gave us some tools to create more time for ourselves that can help us recharge and relax to be a better father every day.

Closing keynote speaker Josh Levs (@joshlevs) is a CNN reporter who was denied paternity leave. He fought back, won, and wrote a book titled “All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families and Businesses — And How We Can Fix It Together.” He electrified the audience with a call to arms to get back out there and fight the good fight.

Levs pointed out that the U.S. is one of only three countries in the world that doesn’t provide paid family leave benefits. And in the U.S., only California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island provide paid family leave benefits at the state level. Why is this?

“Workplace policies, structures, and stigmas are rooted in outdated 1950’s sexism,” says Levs. “It is based on the idea that women should stay home and men should keep working. If you believe a woman should stay home, why would she need paid leave? And if men should work, why would they need paternity leave?”

Myths that lead us to think that men are bad caregivers also fuel these sexist policies. Lies like “dads are lazy, focus on leisure, don’t help out at home, can’t change a diaper,” all support a false reality that men are bad at caregiving. They support the sexist notion that men should work while women should stay at home, because aren’t they better at the job? These images of fatherhood are not true. This also energized this choir to go back home and fight even harder for all Dads.

Sound like a bunch of homemakers sitting around and dishing on their spouses? Hell no. These are guys committed to making the opportunity to be a great father available to all.

2. Everyone at this conference loves his job and is doing it by choice.

This was the first work conference I have been to where no one complained about the company or was jockeying to find a new job. Each Dad present loved what he does. This year Yahoo released a marketing study that confirms 70% of At Home Dads are there by choice.

Its a job we are suited for and seek out. If we all worked in an office or a call center, I am sure we would all find each other as friends. Why? We have similar skills, interests, and work styles that make raising a family full time our dream job. “Isn’t being full time Dad all video games and naps?” some ask. Not in my world. But don’t take my word for it. Ask the other working Dads I encounter who clearly tell me there is no way they could do our job. We are in this by choice.

3. There is collaboration among all Dads and Dad groups.

This convention was hosted by the At Home Dad Network. Active leaders and panel members there this weekend were from Dad 2.0 Summit, City Dads Group, Life of Dad, and a number of other fatherhood organizations. Heck, a bunch in the audience were a blogger of some sort who could benefit from sponsor attention, right? Not at this convention. Everyone was working together for the big picture of building up Dads, demolishing stereotypes, and creating a new set of rules so a guy could do work he loves and have time for his family.

4. We are early adopters of a growing movement. 

As our message gets out and more Dads make choices our numbers start to grow. It’s not only full time At Home Dads, but Dads changing jobs to align more with their desired lifestyle- freelancing, part time working, and other creative ways to earn a living in a way that incorporates family. I believe the future of this organization and our efforts is in diversity. We can benefit from reaching out to Dads of color, and Dads in the LGBTQI community. If you are out there reading this and have a voice on the issues of fatherhood I encourage you to reach out and speak out. This group of guys I am a part of is here for you, willing to listen, and ultimately open to learning from you. You will be welcomed with very large, and often hairy, open arms.

I will blog more about what I learned at this convention, but here are the main points from Tinkerbell Road. Thank you to everyone who played a role in putting together the convention. I look forward to staying in touch with everyone over the year.

Please let me know any specific questions you have about the conference and I will be glad to answer them!

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“Fair Game” Playground Parenting

How you approach an unattended toy on the playground can say a lot about your parenting style. 

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At the park with our community toys.

You find toy on the playground that your child wants to play with that has no clear owner. What do you do?

  1. Allow your child to play with it.
  2. Look around. Find the owner and ask if you can play with it.
  3. Tell your child she can’t play with it because it is not hers.

If you read this blog you can probably guess that we at Tinkerbell Road believe in the first response. There are benefits to treating toys on the playground as fair game for both children and parents.

Quick Overview of “Fair Game”

Any toy brought to the park is fair game when unattended. If your child doesn’t want others to play with it, he or she shouldn’t bring it to the park. The owner of the toy can come back and request to play with it, but it is not cool for the owner to take it back but then go play with something else leaving the toy alone again. Toys parked off the playground are not fair game. This primarily applies to vehicles like scooters, trikes, and bikes used to get to the playground. If you brought a truck and stash it under a tree thinking it will be left alone you might be surprised at who will find it. Books are generally considered not fair game. In our experience, books require a level of permission that left-alone trucks or other small toys do not.

Here are three benefits to fair game toy use on the playground:

1. Children learn the concept of community. 

You can have the conversation ahead of time about what taking a toy to the park means. This is a rich topic that delves into concepts of possession, sharing, and ultimately what is personal and community space. Our culture has a strong bent towards possession and property rights. The playground can be a great place to practice the idea of community and the benefits from social capital, or the idea that we can find benefit from something that someone else has without needing to possess it ourselves. What we really want is for a child to get pleasure out of seeing someone else enjoy something he or she owns. This is the spirit of community that can be a foundation for a life of rewarding relationships.

2. Children can practice negotiating with others.

This philosophy of fair game allows for more interaction than answers 2 and 3 to the quiz above. If the toys stick with the owner we miss out on so many learning opportunities. The playground is a place where kids of all ages are open to play together. They are not in a grade or other similar age class. This creates some interesting dynamics when a five year old has to communicate and bargain with a two year old on the use of his toy. A good practice that comes out of this for the older kids is mentoring and leadership. As a rule, they have to give in because they are older and better understand what is going on. Your more eager leader can take on the role of managing turn taking for the group. For the younger ones, they can learn how to get what they want by being nice and patiently waiting for a turn. If all else fails the older children have a quick introduction to what community space means and the implications of bringing a toy into it.

3. Fair Game is the easiest way to manage toy use on the playground. 

I will agree that the approach of look around and ask is not bad. The problem here is that it is time consuming and confusing. I have seen many parents find the toy we leave for others to play with fighting off their kid asking “whose is this?” A person could spend hours asking around for the owner. We parents don’t have time for this. Let’s agree that toys are open and parents can relax (until we have to step in and help with negotiating use!)

If you choose number three and force your kid to stay away you will more than likely have a difficult tantrum on your hands. It is like taking a kid to a candy store and saying no to candy. It isn’t fair to bring a fun toy to the park where anyone can touch it and say that no one else can play with it. Keep that toy at home if you or your child don’t want to open it to the community.

Abiding by the third philosophy usually comes hand in hand with “don’t go up the slide” or “use the equipment only as it is intended” or “stay out of the puddles.” The point isn’t to judge but to simply state the facts: your child and my child will be raised with a different set of values. A community toy on the playground can be a good indicator, actually, to help parents know a bit about each other early on and find like minded parents.

5 Specific Ways to Support a Nursing Mother

World Breastfeeding Week came and went without any comment here at Tinkerbell Road. We were busy having a baby! Little boy arrived in the morning on Thursday. We are over the moon. It wasn’t long, however, until we were back to square one with getting life organized with a newborn in the house. Having a toddler here too is a new thing. More on that later. One of the first challenges with any newborn is breastfeeding. That is pretty much all they do aside from sleeping and dispatching the breast milk.

My focus is on how the nursing partner, in my case Dad, can and should support the mother as she gets in the swing of feeding the little one. There are a number of resources on the subject. I hope that you did a lot of research before the baby was born. All you dads to be should also find a breastfeeding class to attend. It was enlightening for me. These resources aside, I am going to share with you ways I try to support the nursing mother in our house. (If you think the other people in the house don’t have a role to play in breastfeeding you are quite mistaken. Nursing mothers need and want support.) During the birth you were a birth partner. Now, you are a nursing partner. Here are five things you can do:

  1. Boost her confidence.

Even if you have a mother who has done it before the worry about the child’s latch and her milk production will raise its head. These worries are also topped with postpartum feelings, emotions, and moods that only add more complexity to the issue. Remind her she is doing a great job. Quickly dash any negative self talk. You know her. Provide the type of positive reinforcement that connects with her.

2. Take the child when she is not nursing. Do the breastfeeding Tango.

Breastfeeding is a dance. The partners trade off when needed to get the other one sleep and rest. The mother will have more work to do because she is feeding the baby and you can’t. So when the child is done, ask Mom to let you burp and hold the baby while she sleeps. This is when Mom should try to rest. You have to nurse on demand so that baby will be back at it soon. Hand the baby back over for feeding and you get in your rest.

Also, try using assertive language. “Let me take him for you,” demonstrates that you are willing and anxious to help out. “Do you want me to take him?” sounds less committed like you really would rather sleep. I mess this up alot and quickly regret my use of questions. Mostly because there are times it is true I would rather have her deal with it, I want her to say no and carry on. Bad nursing partner behavior. I try to take polite action and toughen up for my role in all of this.

3. Know the signs the child is hungry and wants to eat.

This is fairly straightforward. The child will root, suck, chew on fingers, bob his head like a little chicken when it is ready to eat. This is also a trap. A SERIOUS trap for the nursing partner, especially dads. Ever take a baby and then tell the mom “I think he’s hungry again, you should take him,” minutes after Mom thought she had a break? False hope, take it away is one of the worst forms of torture. Do this and you will not only make mom mad and frustrated, but you will let down all of fatherhood too. “I just give her to mom, she hops on the boob and I can drink a beer.” Don’t be that guy. Try to soothe your child to sleep one more time before handing her over.

All of this aside, you should breastfeed on demand. So if the baby really is hungry back to back, pass her over and stay by mom’s side to quickly take baby when they are ready. This is our situation. Both kids were cluster feeders. Don’t go out and start doing the dishes or changing the laundry. Stay close. One of the things that can happen is mom enjoys holding the baby after feeding and passes baby off at the end of its little sleep cycle, missing the chance to get a solid 10-20 minute block of time without the baby. If you can be there to help burp and swaddle right away mom can get more rest.

4. Keep track of time and manage the schedule.

These little new dudes need to eat at least every 2 hours in the beginning. It can be a good job for the nursing partner to keep track of feedings so the stressed and sleepless mom doesn’t have to. Again, be polite when you ask when the baby last ate and when it is time to go again. Most of the time they will root well before the two hour mark, but there will be times they sleep too long and need a nudge.

5. Help manage her pain relief and water intake.

All mothers I know benefit from a schedule of Ibuprofen and Tylenol weeks after birth to help recover from labor. If you don’t know already, breastfeeding will heighten any cramping she has after birth. If the mother hasn’t taken any pain reliever nursing can be more painful. Not to mention, when her milk comes in and breastfeeding increases she will experience more pain. Here is another thing the mother has to manage. Help her out. You keep track of her pain relievers and make sure that she is taking them at the right intervals. Water too. Keep up with making sure she has enough water. It was a big deal as birth partner, its a big deal as nursing partner too.

There is more to share about what I am doing as a nursing partner, or am trying to do (I can’t say I am batting 1,000), but I am doing this on my nap time and need to get to it.

Gain Perspective – Look Back a Year Everyday

We all have quick access to a million photos. After your child is 1 year old, I recommend taking a daily glance at a year ago today to remind yourself how far your child and family has come.

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July 6, 2015
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July 6, 2014.

This is a new thing I am doing. I think back to all the school photos we had as kids. My mom kept them ordered in an album. But it wasn’t easy to look at.

We have all of this at our fingertips now, so why not start your day with a quick look at how your family was on the same day a year ago? I wonder if this is something I can do as they get older, and review 15 years back at once every morning. (Google or Facebook, can you please give me a tool to pull up photos on a single day from all years in my catalog?)

Even if its not the exact day, I am sure you have a photo from that week. It will be close enough. Time flies. Yeah right. Time crushes you into a little speck of dust on the “you are here” Universe map in your brain.  Seeing a quick glimpse of where I was a year ago reminds me that I am not simply present in today’s today, but in the today of every day I have ever lived. Life is not a line, but rather one big ball.

You Can Control the Stress of Time

Spend the limited time you have with your little ones well. When you feel rushed, stop and ask yourself if hurrying right now is absolutely necessary. I know this has been said before, but it is always good to hear again.

The other day we were leaving play group and Boogie wanted to walk up and down some steps. “C’mon. We don’t have time for that! Let’s go!” Mom was going to be home in a while and I wanted to get home to clean up a little before she got there. Boogie looked at me and kept on climbing. I stopped. Did I really have anywhere to be? No. I put things in the car and then joined her. She spent 5 minutes on this and was ready to go. (We need to come up with some time conversion like we have with dogs and their 7 years to our 1 year thing. I will go with 10 minutes in kid world is like 1 hour in ours.) I told Mom that I spent time with Boogie doing her thing instead of cleaning up. Interaction with our child wins, an should win, every time.

20150611_085421Another example: this morning we made bread. Someone wanted to play with toothpicks. All good, we moved them from one box to another taking up an hour (in toddler minutes). We were getting ready for a play date, but the same someone wanted to make toothpick bread. Why not? We really have nowhere to go. Any stress about leaving the house is created by me alone. We were done with that and then on our way. If it is a situation where being late is rude? We have cell phones now. Send a text to keep your folks informed but don’t get stressed about it.

Of course there are times you do need to be somewhere: doctor’s appointments, the bank is closing, the post office is closing. For the most part, however, your need to be somewhere is manufactured. This is the thinking behind Slow Parenting, or the practice of scheduling less and having free time more.

A few tips:

  1. Live the slow life. Schedule less. If you still want to have scheduled events have fewer of them. Or, schedule free time.
  2. If the scheduled event is a loose playgroup or other social engagement you can take it easy. Everyone knows what it is like. Don’t create your own stress around these meet up times. If you show up at the end, folks will be like “Hey good to see you!” If you miss completely everyone will all be meeting up next week. If someone chides you for being late you should leave and never come back. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
  3. If you absolutely have to be somewhere, and you know that ahead of time, factor in 10 minutes of free space before the event. Give your little one some decision in play before you take the lead with your decision to go do this urgent task.

Time is your currency as a parent. Spend it well. Don’t choose the stress. Stop and assess how urgent your need is. If you don’t have to be somewhere indulge your kids and go with the flow. They will be onto the next thing soon enough (about 10 minutes in our world).

Thinking of Time in Seasons

Once you quantify “time is short”, it gets really short. This post is about freeing up your thinking on where and how you want to live. 

We were at over at Village Burgers in Chapel Hill yesterday, enjoying a lentil burger and tater tots after getting some wiggles out. An American Indian man stopped to chat us up. He is 73 now, but raised his three daughters alone back in Oklahoma. He is going to live with them in South Carolina in a few weeks. He was modest about how hard it was to be a single father of girls, especially in Indian culture in the 1970’s.

He told me that in his culture they think of time in seasons, not years. “If you go sledding with them”, he said, “you take the sled off the wall only 18 times.” What a good frame of reference. If we have a family beach week once a year that is only 18 beach trips. That is even being generous. You lose them to adolescence at what, age 15?  The classic comment to “enjoy time now because before you know it they are old” rings true, but it speaks to sweeping periods of time. I like the idea of focusing on the narrow moment, the specific events we really use to judge the passing of time.

This also raises a thought I have had about family living far away. I believe most of us have close but distant relatives. If our kids and their Aunt and Uncle, or Cousins, only see each other two times a year, that is only 30 times over the next 15 years. 15 years seems like a long, comfortable time for making childhood memories. Say it in the terms of only 30 visits in those 15 years? That time sounds paltry. And if those trips are only 3 days long, we are talking 90 days, or 3 months of childhood with the cousins. These numbers are not good enough for me. Okay, now I am sad.

So dear parent, how do you make decisions about where you live and who you live near? Hopefully you are not bound by debt that requires you to work in one place. Aside from that, I think you are completely free to say you want to move closer to family, near old friends, or to any old place doing anything that is important to you.

Thank you man from Little Creek for helping shift my focus. And since you are an Indian Elder passing through town and stopping at this mall, I have to wonder if you really exist or only appeared for a brief moment to give me your story. Cue the fog machine.

“Stay at Home” Parent Isn’t a Real Thing

the old family

If you have any worries about your role as a full time Dad, rest easy–any cultural pressure to “bring home the bacon” is based on myth.

The woman in the center is my great-great grandmother. Based on her face, would you dare call her a “stay at home” Mom? Was “stay at home Mom” even a phrase in her time? I strongly doubt it. Everyone worked. Everyone played a part. I know there wasn’t a level playing field for women (with legal and institutional exclusion of women from the workforce) but I bet no one accused women of not working hard like some of the Men’s Rights crowd does today. Why? Before there was electricity, gas, washing machines, dishwashers, irons, et al, household work was hard. This is of course in addition to the OBVIOUS task of raising that many children and being pregnant for 11 years of your life while butchering chickens and hoeing the garden. Take this back a few hundred thousand years and you get a feel for what is the true nature of being a human family on this planet — not the crap fed to you by the Mad Men era. (And by the way, being a woman and raising family is STILL a hard job in 2015.)

This idea that there is a stay at home person who “gets it easy” is only seen after industrialization. This false imagery of a the real “man” going out to support the family is so ingrained we forget it isn’t fact. For thousands of years the gathers (the women, the “stay at home” crowd) brought home all kinds of meat for the family like snails, crabs, turtles, you name it. And when the hunter did slay a 250 lb beast did he bring it home alone? No. He waited for the help from the rest of the family or community to haul in the heavy load.

Our thinking of historical gender and family roles is built on some very recent lies. This is important to think about not only for feminism, but also the full time father. We are often pegged as taking a less masculine role, or within ourselves we battle the notion that we should be out there “hunting” and being the main income provider. This perception is all rooted in myth.

I am on to this because of an important essay from Rebecca Solnit in the June, 2015, issue of Harper’s titled “Shooting Down Man The Hunter.” She lays out this case for rethinking our past. Check out this excerpt to get a taste of what she is saying:

For most of history, housework was much harder than it is now. It involved shoveling coal or chopping wood, stoking fires, pumping water, emptying chamber pots, washing everything by hand, and making bread, clothes, and much else besides from scratch. There have often been women of leisure, of course. But they were usually married to men of leisure. And their leisure was made possible not by hunter-mates but by servants, many of whom were also women.

In any case, leisure was not the primordial human condition, nor is it the condition of most women around the world now. There was a brief era in the Western world when many middle-class women weren’t part of the wage-earning economy and industrialization had made running a household a bit easier. You could look at some of these women as non-producing consumers, though to do that you’d have to discount the labor involved in raising children and keeping a house. This period lasted several decades, but it didn’t start 5 million years ago, and it ended when declining middle class wages sent many more women into the workforce.

So there you have it. Our concept of the family is just a blip on the scene. This imagery of the wife preparing the martini for the guy coming home from selling insurance should no longer be perpetuated. It wasn’t that way before and it won’t be that way in the future. Men never “went out to hunt leaving the weak women at home”. This puts to bed any useless discussion of how masculine caring for the family at home is or is not.

Please check out her essay in full.  The myth of man the hunter is so strong and a part of my schooling. I never knew how easily it can be torn apart.