What I found most interesting about the guest post yesterday was how much I have in common with Caitlin.
It shouldn’t be so, because I’m a child of the “children of World War II” (my dad was a child during WWII.) The fact that Portugal was a non-combatant doesn’t seem to make any difference. This is the time at which family lost precedence to the state, and the state’s ever-expanding maw devoured more traditional ways of guidance — church, or even civics — and more traditional structures. In fact, the ever-centralizing states (in the sense of nation-states) devoured the differences between sexes, and we all became producers and consumers.
Despite the fact that I was born half way across the world, in a country where sexism was actually very real (married women couldn’t legally work, unless their husband signed a permission form, for instance) by the time I hit puberty, all of a woman’s worth was supposed to be in a career. Wanting to marry and have children was evidence you were stupid. Smart women had careers. And by the 80s we were all, somehow, strangely, supposed to be executives, and get married, and be perfect wives and mothers, and and and.
We could analyze everything that went into that, and also the less than stellar results. If you’re lucky, you’re no worse off than I was/am, being more neurotic than a shaved cat, and constantly feeling like you’re incredibly lazy, because you’re not in fact super woman sailing through life while effortlessly achieving everything. (Mostly because no one is. The very few people who appear to be, usually have a support team.)
The worst outcomes involve multiple divorces with the kids being treated as afterthoughts. (Note I’m not saying everyone with multiple divorces has that problem. I’m saying that’s the worst possible outcome, and considering I know several families where the kids are ultimately “nobody’s kid” it gets really bad indeed.)
And the medium outcomes are often families where each member feels like he is or should be on his own, and like there’s no one watching anyone else’s back, be it in learning to be in the world, or in being able to be at ease in your own home.
Along the way some of us tried to spit out the expectations of “great career” as opposed to/or beside “do it all family person” with mixed success. Some of us forged extended families of friends, sometimes by the use of duct tape for extra-legal adoption. And we tried to raise our kids better.
Kids are the product of their time as much as of you family. So that success is mixed too.
Because apparently subsequent generations also thought they should be Mary Sue, for whom everything is automagically perfect, I thought I’d share the few things I learned along the way.
1- Forget quality time. Go for quantity time. Look, kids aren’t supposed to be with you for the few hours you have to pay COMPLETE attention to them. Frankly, paying complete attention to the kids is not natural and probably unhinges their little brains. Yes, we know, that you have to pay attention to the little terrors, because if one of them gets a blister the social workers will think they’re abused.
BUT you train yourself to look for the really serious infractions that might kill them, and otherwise at least pretend you’re not giving them undivided attention.
Your earliest ancestresses minded the kids while gathering edibles and killing the occasional rabbit. You can do it while cleaning the stove, cooking or sweeping. Or sewing, or writing or whatever.
Some of our happiest moments as a family were while driving around on Saturday shopping and doing errands. Some of my best moments with the kids were writing while they played on the floor of the office.
Now, you have to train yourself (and it’s hard to untrain. So, for the first two months when school started, I became antsy at the silence) to the danger signals.
And yeah, you’re allowed to play with them. Younger son and I made epic train tracks that spanned two floors and several rooms, and then ran trains on collision courses. BUT that was maybe a few hours a month. If I hovered over them, the guys started getting worried.
2- Try to figure out the basics. Yes, cooking, but also how to sew a simple seam, how to put a button back on. In a pinch, can you came yourself look fancy on very little, by adding some lace to a sweater or whatever (if you’re female. Don’t freak out the co-workers, okay?) Can you make the house look comfy? Do you know how to make/refinish/find what you need on a limited budget? If not why not? You have youtube and well… the internet in general.
3- Do find something you want to do, whether it’s a “Great career” or not. Yes, being a mom and a wife are challenges enough. BUT if you feel a need to something more, find something you can do while the kids are little that you can expand when they live the house. If it’s something that brings a little cash, bonus.
Look, most people don’t become “executives”. Not even very smart people. But almost everyone has a talent or an interest they enjoy. Learn to make it pay/expand it/etc. Someday the kids will move out (which won’t actually mean you’re done, but–) and you’ll have time to pursue other things. If you have started it’s easier.
4 – Be a good spouse. This means letting your spouse know your relationship is a safe space. In your relationship you can tell each other everything knowing it won’t be used against you. The motto should be “you and me against the world.”
5 – Do the best you can and forgive yourself. (Yeah, I have trouble with that too.)
6- Remember you’re only human. You’ll get sick, you’ll get older, etc. Give yourself permission to do less when those hit. Learn to adapt.
7- Love your family and friends. This means being supportive, but also means allowing them to fail, and loving them even when they do.
8- Do the extra. No, I don’t mean overwork yourself (yes, I have trouble with that) but you know, if you’re doing something and can make it extra nice with little effort, do so. Even if the “thing” is for you. For instance, I love fresh flowers, and for years when I cleaned the whole house, I’d buy a bouquet of flowers (in CO I only managed cutting flowers a few weeks a year) for the dining room table. Because they made me happy while they lasted. Allow yourself the extra, in the limits of cost.
9- You know that thing about no one lamented the time NOT spent working? But people lamented time not spent with family/friends. It’s true. So incorporate time to hang out with family and friends, even if you’re doing nothing much, and you know you won’t deserve it because you’re not perfect.
10 – Reward yourself, even if you’re not perfect. Do something nice for others, even if they’re not perfect. Don’t feel guilty for existing. And never feel like you owe “the state” or “society” or whatever anything. “From each according to his abilities” is an evil fairy tale. Do your best for yourself and those who depend on you, but not for the vast mass of strangers. That’s just useless guilt.
We are in a phase of the great relearning, in more ways than one. Among the things we will be learning are how to rebuild civilization. And won’t that be fun!
But all you can do is all you can do. And you will do it a day at a time, and an action at a time. Even if sometimes that action is cooking a meal. Cleaning a floor. Writing a book (or a letter.)
You do what you can, every day. And you pass the baton to the next generation when you can’t do it anymore.
You love, you teach, you think, you create.
And you hope the world you’re building will be a better one for those who come after.