Banter in the Garden
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Tea and Strumpets
A local journalist contacted me for comment on paid parental leave.
A Manawatu academic and advocate for women’s rights has slammed the government for threatening to veto moves to extend paid parental leave, accusing it of ignoring the needs of babies.
Professor Deborah Russell, a lecturer in accountancy at Massey University, working mother and a feminist blogger said while affordability was an issue, there was always a way if the need was great enough.
“We need to have a think about what are the important things to afford and at the moment we are not very good at directing funds towards small children.”
Dr Russell said if parental leave was extended it might encourage fathers to share more of the load of early childcare, giving them a chance to bond better with their children in the early stages of development.
“Women normally take the parental leave and the childcare duties and that can have a long term impact on their careers. If we extend paid parental leave to six months men might take it up or share the leave and so we lose that gendered dimension.”
Just to be clear, I’m not actually a professor, and given that the paper contacted me, rather than me contacting the paper, that word “slammed” is exciting, but perhaps not quite accurate. However, the journalist represented my views very fairly indeed, and captured the two ideas I most wanted to get across.
1. Childcare is heavily gendered, with women more-or-less always being responsible for it. This shortchanges both women and men. Women lose income and career progress, and men lose connection and confidence with small children. More paid parental leave might enable more men to share the childcare in those early weeks and months.
2. Saying paid parental leave is unaffordable only makes sense if we regard it as something that has to be funded in addition to everything else we already fund. If we were willing to re-examine all our existing spending commitments, such as giving farmers a tax break on the emissions trading scheme, and the lack of means testing around New Zealand superannuation, then it might turn out that more paid parental leave was affordable afterall.
The Sunday Star Times reported today that more and more women, and some men, are giving up paid work because childcare costs are simply too great.
The story is familiar: by the time a family pays for childcare in order to enable both parents to earn income, nothing is left over from that second income. It is simply too expensive. This certainly gels with my own experience, and with the experiences that other women have reported to me. Just last week, one of my cousins told me that she gave up on returning to her interesting job when she realised that she was looking around for cheaper childcare. Given the nature of her job, and the extent to which her partner travels, she needs bullet proof childcare, the sort where she is able to call half an hour before she is due to pick her kids up because an urgent task has come in. That kind of childcare is simply not available at a price where she will have money left over from her salary.
But there is a curious anomaly in our funding of childcare and education. As it turns out, for many parents, the turning point is when their children head off to school. School is virtually free, “donations” and stationery aside, and it is freely available to every five year old in the country. We fund reasonably comprehensive childcare and education for five year olds, but not four year olds. The anomaly exists for historical reasons, but it seems to me that it could usefully be reviewed. Just like our existing spending could usefully be reviewed, both a part of a national conversation about what kinds of support we want to see young families getting.
We had a family trip to the movies today, to see The Hunger Games. It may be the first movie ever that we have all very much wanted to go and see, ‘though there have been plenty of other movies that all of us are happy enough to go to, to keep those who are desperately keen company.
I thought long and hard before taking my pre-teen daughters, who are aged 10. The movie has an “M” certificate in New Zealand, which means that it is rated as:
Suitable for Mature Audiences 16 and over (but still unrestricted). Possible descriptors: Anti-social behaviour; Horror scenes; Scenes of cruelty; Offensive language; Violence; Sex scenes; Violence and offensive language; Violence, offensive language and sex scenes.
So that’s a step or two up from “PG” or “Parental guidance recommended”. It’s obvious why The Hunger Games is “M” rated: it’s extremely violent.
Even so, I took my girls. They have read all the books, and they have been circulating them at school, and discussing them with their friends. They very much wanted to see the movie. And so did I, because I thoroughly enjoyed the books.
Having seen the movies, I think that it was okay for my girls to see it. I did do my best to prepare them for it. We had several briefings, talking about the “M” rating, and talking about the various violent scenes in the books. We talked about specific scenes, and how the movie makers might show them. And we tried to identify scenes that we thought would be especially upsetting or frightening to watch. My aim was to give the girls a framework for perceiving each scene, so that it wouldn’t blast on them unawares.
After the movie, we talked some more, about the scenes where we cried, and the horrid scenes that they didn’t watch (it turns out that if you are only ten years old and small with it, you can curl right up in your cinema seat). We also talked about how the movie makers had adapted various scenes, and which bits we thought they did well, and which not so well. In other words, we had a thorough debriefing session, and I’m sure it will continue over dinner tonight.
I also made sure that we went to an afternoon session, so that the children would have plenty of time to talk before they go to bed tonight.
They seem to be okay with it all. It has taken a bit of work on my part, but given that they wanted to see the movie so very much, I thought that was the better thing to do, rather than refuse to allow them to see it.
As for the violence in the movie – yes, it’s bad, but it’s integral to the movie, rather than just there for the sake of it. It is not unnecessarily dwelt on in loving detail, and the focus is always on the people, rather than the acts of violence.
*HERE BE SPOILERS. CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED. THIS IS A RESOURCE FOR OTHER PARENTS WHO ARE TRYING TO WORK OUT WHETHER OR NOT TO TAKE THEIR YOUNGER CHILDREN.*
Most of the violence is not shown in detail. We see the aftermath of killings, rather than the killings themselves. For example, in one of the expository scenes, we see a Hunger Games set in a ruined city, where a tribute has become victor by killing the last other person left alive by bashing him with a brick. We never see the bashing, but we do see the victor holding the bloody brick aloft over the dead person. It is a fleeting sequence rather than a drawn out one.
The blood bath at the beginning of the games is shown as fights and people falling dead, or we see a killer throwing a knife or a spear, but we don’t actually see any killing blows or deaths. When Rue dies, we do see her speared, but not the moment of spearing. There is an extended knife fight which I thought went on too long, too much of an “Ooohhh – look at the girlies fighting!” feel to it, but just as I was starting to think that thought, it stopped.
I had thought that the penultimate scene in the arena, with the mutts, would be very, very difficult to watch. It *is* frightening, but it is set at nightfall, so we don’t see the mutts clearly. I thought this was a good thing, because I know that this is the stuff of nightmares for me. It was considerably toned down from the book.
All in all, I think that this movie can be managed with younger children who have already read the books. I think the pre-visualisation helps, and I also think that it helps to know that Katniss is alive at the end. I would be cautious about taking young children who have not read the book, and I would even be cautious about somewhat older children going if they are not familiar with the story. So my assessment is a little different from Common Sense Media, who think that it’s too violent for pre-teens, even those who have read the book.
On a pure fan note, I loved the presentation of the tributes in the chariots, and I loved the scene with Seneca and the bowl of ‘fruit’ right at the end, and I loved the flame-dress, and I thought Cinna and Effie and President Snow were fabulously realised, and I cried as Katniss gathered the flowers for Rue and laid them on her.
I’ll be going again.
More on breastfeeding, and how those silly naughty mothers are just wilfully doing the wrong thing. This time it’s an article in the NZ Herald, coming out of the “Growing up in New Zealand case study”: NZ mums ignoring breast feeding advice.
An official guideline that babies should be fed only breast milk for their first six months is being challenged after a study of almost 7000 babies found the vast majority of mothers ignore it.
The director of the study, Dr Susan Morton, runs through some of the reasons for many mothers not breast feeding exclusively for six months, including the pressures of work, and the reality that in our developed first world nation, the water supply is reliable. She points out that the directive for women to breast feed exclusively for six months sets many women up for failure.
That seems to me to be a useful way to reflect on the advice handed out so freely to new parents. Instead of always pushing the ideal, let’s think about the practical realities, and see if we can develop guidelines, and support to help parents to with achieving the goals of the guidelines.
But the Children’s Commissioner is having none of that.
But the Ministry of Health and Children’s Commissioner Dr Russell Wills are standing by the official guidelines. Dr Wills said Dr Morton’s comments reflected a classic “authority’s dilemma”.
“What should authorities advise when what good science says is best for baby is not what most parents do?” he asked.
“If you compromise and say that something is fine when it’s not, you are misrepresenting the science and selling parents short.”
Hmm… let’s focus on that word, “authorities”. Yes, people can be authorities, and experts in their field, and someone that other people turn to for advice. But the way that advice is translated into practice often turns into on-going policing of parents, and in particular, women, and instead of being a guideline, the advice becomes a rigid rule.
Let me tell you a story. When my younger daughters were tiny, my Plunket nurse kept up home visits for a long time. For people overseas, Plunket is a child-health service, designed to support new parents and babies and young children. In the first few weeks after your baby is born, a Plunket nurse will visit you in your home, and offer you advice and assistance.
My Plunket nurse was, for the most part, excellent. She was unintrusive, she quietly made some very helpful suggestions about how I could manage my infant twins, and she had her eye on my elder daughter too. Of course, I would find it all comparatively easy having a visiting nurse in my home, because I am white and middle-class, and any judgements she was making were likely to be positive. I felt assisted, not assessed.
But one thing puzzled me. By the time my little girls were about 18 months old, they were fully weaned, and drinking cows’ milk. Not a lot, because they weren’t big milk drinkers. One little girl was drinking about 400mls a day, and the other about 500mls. “You should really try to get them up to 600mls,” the Plunket nurse said. “That’s the official guideline.”
Then, “What about your elder daughter?” At that time she was aged about four, and she was drinking somewhere between 800mls and 1,000mls a day.
“Too much!” said the nurse. “She should only be drinking 600mls a day.”
So it turned out that in my Plunket nurse’s mind, what was supposed to be a guideline was in fact a rigid rule. Children should drink 600mls of milk a day, no more and no less.
This to me is a large part of the problem with the rules about breastfeeding. What is intended to be a guideline is interpreted as a rigid rule, with no flexibility for the needs of the individual baby, nor for women’s and families’ varying circumstances.
I think that the “authorities” need to engage a little more with the realities of women’s lives, instead of turning guidelines into hard and fast rules, and then wondering why women ignore them.
The National Government is no friend to women. They cancelled the pay equity research into social workers and school support staff within the first few months of their election to power. They dissolved the Department of Labour unit that oversaw that research. They reduced the Ministry of Women’s affairs into a tiny, cloutless office (that despite their meagre staff and budget still produces incredibly important work). They have continued to ignore the Education Review Office’s recommendations to improve sexuality education in this country.
They appointed Pansy Wong as their first Minister for Women’s Affairs (her pet project was getting more women into trades. Not, you know, paying women more in the roles their already doing). They appointed Jo Goodhew as the next Minister for Women’s Affairs, who voted against the abolition of force as a justification in smacking, for defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and for appointing a strongly anti-choice doctor to the Abortion Supervisory Committee. And now they’re “reforming” benefits that are primarily used by women.
These new “reforms” are aimed at the poorest of families, aimed at mothers raising children alone. And they’re masked by the rhetoric of “those who can work, should”. Because apparently, raising children doesn’t count as work.
For many sole parents in this country, if you want to raise your child full-time, then the DPB is your only option. Oh sure there’s parental leave, if you happen to be employed. Of course that’s providing you’re not self-employed, and you’ve been at your job long enough, and there’s no restructuring at your workplace. If you pass those requirements, then after the pitiful partly-paid three months that one parent is afforded by the parental laws, your job will be held for 12 months. Then you’re on your own. So you better have a shitload of savings.
For couples, on the surface our parental leave laws appear gender-neutral, with the ability for one parent to swap their 12 months leave with the other. If you don’t, your partner gets 2 whole weeks unpaid leave to be with you. But given that mothers are ideally their child’s source of food for the first 6 months, and not very many workplaces allow for infants to be present, mothers tend to be the primary carers at home. Even for couples, you either need to have savings, or one partner who earns enough to pay for you, your child, rent, food, utilities and everything else that comes with starting a family.
So our workplaces and social constructs tell us that women should stay at home and be caregivers, and our maternity leave tells us that you must have savings (or a partner to support you) to take the full allowance, and even more savings (or a partner to support you) if you want to raise your child full-time after that.
If you don’t fit that very narrow criteria, and need state assistance, our new welfare “reforms” will ensure your family planning is decided for you. And if you don’t play ball, you’ll be punished.
The changes involve parents on the DPB being made to find part-time work once their child turns 5, and full-time work once their child turns 14. Because remember, caregiving isn’t work. But the real kicker is that if you get pregnant while on the DPB, you have to find work when your youngest child turns 1.
Don’t even think about expanding your family. Unless you want to be forced back into work. Work that might not suit you or your family’s needs. Work that might not fit your skills or experience. Just work, any work at all, because you’ve broken the rules.
Despite the fact that we’re at crisis point with a lack of jobs in this country, your expectation to find work trumps your family planning decisions. Because supporting families is not a good investment for government money, apparently. And you should have known better than to get pregnant while taking money from the government.
The government dabbling in family planning decisions extends to the point of the Ministry of Social Development investigating long acting reversible contraceptives for women receiving the DPB. I know this through a few sources, and it was also recently mentioned by Jan Logie.
On the surface this actually seems really great. It would be amazing to see the government invest more in sexual health and contraception. Except, hold on, why are they only investigating providing this kind of support to people receiving welfare? And why is the contraception they considered providing, the kind that doesn’t rely on people remembering to take it? On top of their new “reform” to punish beneficiaries who breed, it kind of seems like they’re trying to stop poor people from having babies, doesn’t it? Oh hang on that’s exactly what they’re fucking doing.
Parents on the DPB (which, in case I haven’t made it clear enough, could be pretty much anyone who isn’t lucky enough to have a partner and/or fuckloads of savings when they have a child) have the added bonus of raising the child alone if they don’t want to go back to work. If they meet someone and get into a relationship with them, they lose their welfare. Have I mentioned they also live on fuck all each week? Oh and this all occurs within a society which is lead to believe (often by right-wing politicians) that beneficiaries decide to have children as some life investment so they can milk this amazing lucrative system we have.
When people like the National Council of Women put out press releases that state these “reforms” are a “move in the right direction”, and when people are iffy about the punishment part of the changes, but not welfare-recipients being forced to get a job when their child hits 5, then we have work to do. If caregiving isn’t seen as legitimate work, then everyone is going to continue to have to meet that narrow, incredibly privileged criteria in order to have the family lives they want.
When are we going to start investing in our families? Really investing. Not just Working for Families schemes, not just minimal paid parental leave, not “flexible, family-friendly workplaces” in principle, but tangible support for people who don’t happen to have investment accounts. Support that doesn’t come with a close-your-legs-clause, or a time’s up countdown, or an allowance for only one parent to take time out of work. Support that says hey if we’re going to suddenly get really worried about this country’s children we should probably invest in them and their families, huh?
Like Annanonymous, the latest breast vs bottle dust-up has touched a raw nerve for me, no doubt due to my own experiences with breast feeding. But also because I find the number of shoulds and shouldn’ts that are dished out endlessly to parents deeply wearying. All too often the edicts seem to be handed out with little thought as to how parents might achieve them, or what constraints there might be, or what other issues a parent may be facing.
I’ve found some of the language used disturbing. This sentence from Dita di Boni’s column in the Herald is a case in point.
[La Leche League / midwives / etc] can suggest, coerce and press the issue, but it is a mother’s choice in the end whether or not to take the advice proffered.
Well, that’s… revealing. “Coerce.” That has been exactly the problem for many mothers who have tried breastfeeding, but experienced tremendous difficulties, for whatever reason. There is an enormous amount of pressure on women to breastfeed their babies. And it is facile to say that women can just choose whether or not to take the advice. When that pressure to breastfeed is applied by an expert, it is very hard to resist it. All the more so in those early weeks and months with a new baby, especially a first baby. So many new parents know so very little about how to care for babies, so they are very dependent on midwives and health nurses and and La Leche League experts. To suggest that a new mother who is struggling with pain, and cracked nipples, and ever-feeding infants, has the emotional resources to withstand the pressure applied by those she is depending on is bizarre.
di Boni goes on to say that, “It is up to women to have confidence in their choices.”
And there it is again. Holding individual women responsible for the failings of a society that promotes breastfeeding, but doesn’t provide the resources to enable women to access help with it, and then berating them for lacking confidence if they try to withstand the pressure put on them by those who are experts. Experts in breastfeeding, that is, but not necessarily at all knowledgeable about the particular contexts within which individual women are living and rearing children.
On the other hand, I am baffled by the idea that being pro-breastfeeding is equivalent to being anti-fathers and fathers being involved in their children’s lives, and that bottle feeding is great because then men can be involved in caring for their children. That’s the view espoused by fathers’ rights activist Darrell Carlin.
But there are myriad ways for parents of any gender to care for their children: talking, playing, reading books, cuddling, settling to sleep, dressing, changing nappies, taking to doctors’ appointments, toting them around the house in a sling while you get the housework done, going for walks, singing. And that’s all just in the first few weeks, and just the things that you can do with the baby (c/f say, earning an income to support the baby, or doing housework while the baby is asleep). There is precisely one task that the great majority of fathers can’t do: breastfeeding. And really, if they really, really, really do want to do it, then they could always try a Lact-Aid.
The remainder of Carlin’s column is taken up with wailing about how the nasty feminists have taken over the world and men are oppressed. And put upon. And really, women should be fighting for men’s rights because after all, men gave women the vote. Also, the nasty feminists again. Whatever.
And the last thing that has surprised me: La Leche League’s complete inability to use social media. LLL has tried to say that all it did was ask the Health Council to remove a few seconds from an anti-smoking/pro-smokefree public service ad showing Piri Weepu feeding his baby. In doing this, the only thing they were trying to achieve was to ensure that one public service message – smoke-free – wasnt’ contradicting another – pro-breastfeeding.
But actually, that’s not all they did. As it turns out, what they also did was alert their membership to the issue.
The irony is the damage to the league was done by its own hand. When the Health Sponsorship Council asked their opinion on the Weepu advertisement, La Leche supporters responded intemperately by launching a mass email campaign. The language in the emails was, by the admission of one supporter, “passionate”.
“Passionate” was one word that was used to describe the e-mails. I also heard, “virulently intemperate”. I haven’t seen any of the e-mails, but I’m guessing that they were not polite. And that’s what created the story. Not the request made by LLL, but the allegedly vicious language used in the e-mails sent by supporters. I’m guessing that if LLL had simply given some advice on the ad, without initiating the e-mail campaign, then the story would never have hit the headlines in the first place.
Piri Weepu, All Black and devoted father, filmed an ad promoting non-smoking. As part of that ad, there was a few seconds of him feeding his younger daughter, using a bottle. Before the ad was finalised, the makers consulted the La Leche League and the New Zealand College of Midwives, who asked for the clip to be excluded from the final version of the ad, because it sent the wrong message.
The “wrong message” being the bit about bottle feeding babies, instead of breastfeeding.
Right…. let’s just overlook the minor detail that the great majority of men are unable to breastfeed at all, so if Piri Weepu is going to feed his baby girl, then he must use a bottle. We’ll also need to overlook the idea that our feeble lady branes are so feeble that the mere sight of a man using a bottle to feed his baby will result in mass abandonment of breastfeeding. To be fair, Piri Weepu is an All Black, which for non-NZ readers, means that he is a Hero, and to be even more fair, he is even more respected than many All Blacks, because not only is he a great rugby player, but he seems to be an admirable person off the field too (c/f say, what’s his name who spent large parts of last year getting drunk and falling over). Even so, is it really the case that a few seconds of a man bottle feeding his baby in a public service ad about the benefits of non-smoking is going to change someone’s decisions about breastfeeding?
I find the whole breast vs bottle discussion enormously difficult. I breastfed one baby for just under a year, and then after about ten days or so, bottle fed my twins. It has taken me years to shake off the guilt I felt about not being able to breastfeed my younger babies.
And that’s where the La Leche League and the NZ College of Midwives get it wrong. There are enormous structural failings in our society that make it difficult to breastfeed, and for many women, there are physiological problems that make it difficult to breastfeed, yet women who are unable to do so are made to feel that they are inadequate at best, and at worst, people who are deliberately setting out to do something terrible to their children by feeding them with formula.
Things that militate against breastfeeding in our society? How about the underfunding of maternity hospitals and wards which leads to new mothers being kicked out just three or four days after birth, whether or not breastfeeding has been successfully established. If a woman wants to leave within hours or days of birth, then of course she should, but just because some women can do so doesn’t mean that all women should. What about the fact that many women go home to with a new baby to a house full of other children who need to be cared for, but with little home help? Our social structures used to be such that a sister, an aunty, a cousin, a grandmother, could come and stay for weeks to enable the new mother and her baby time to recover from birth and establish breastfeeding before having to take on the full load of running a household, but it is a rare woman these days who can call on such help. Ignoring the changes in our social structures means that individual women are made to carry the blame for not being able to devote all their time and attention to their new baby.
As for the physiological problems… these are unavoidable, and perhaps can be mitigated in some cases, if a woman is given sufficient support. I was not, despite asking for it, and despite having my babies in what was allegedly a baby-friendly hospital. Because I have had some benign breast lumps removed, I have only one breast that can produce milk. It turns out that perhaps the other breast could have produced milk, if I had been given advice and support about tandem feeding right from day one. But that advice and support was not forthcoming, even though I had explicitly asked to talk to a lactation consultant both before, and immediately after the birth. There was no support to help me to overcome the particular physiological difficulty I faced. And some women simply don’t produce enough milk to feed their babies. Or they could, if all they had to do was lie on a couch all day, but the great majority of women in our society don’t have that option. Dairy farmers are fully cognisant of the fact that some cows produce more milk than other cows, even when they are in exactly the same paddocks and being fed exactly the same food. Cows differ from each other in their capacity to produce milk, and so do women. That’s why some women simply must supplement their breastmilk with formula. Otherwise, in the absence of donated breastmilk, their babies will starve. Some women have tremendous difficulties with latching their baby on, and with pain, and with cracked nipples. These are not trivial problems, but they are brushed aside as though they do not matter by many of the pro-at-any-costs breastfeeding promoters.
There are some medical benefits to breastfeeding, but in a developed Western nation with an excellent water supply, they are not large. Meta-analyses of the advantages of breastfeeding show that that there is some reduction in diarrhea, and some inconsistent evidence about other factors which may or may not be associated with breastfeeding (source). All other things being equal, breastfeeding is better for your baby. Even just most other things being equal, breastfeeding is better for your baby. But formula is not poison, and a baby in New Zealand who is fed with formula will do just fine.
Let me be clear. I am in favour of breastfeeding, and all going well, I would have liked to have been able to breastfeed all my babies. Not just “liked”. I desperately wanted to breastfeed all my babies, and I was shocked and distressed by my inability to breastfeed my twins. I was even more distressed because of the huge load of guilt that was heaped on me for bottle feeding.
The answer is not to stop promoting breastfeeding. It is to get serious about offering support for it, instead of just guilting individual women out for being unable to breastfeed. And it is to normalise breastfeeding, to make it part of everyday life. When Facebook can ban pictures of breastfeeding, but ignore pleas for it to remove pro-rape pages and groups, we know which activity is acceptable.
As for Piri Weepu and the La Leche League… I find it bizarre that a small section of the ad showing him caring tenderly for his infant daughter has been removed. Annanonymous puts it well:
Talk about looking at the hole instead of the doughnut. Here was Weepu – national icon and male role model – proudly taking part in childcare, and lending his voice on a key health issue affecting kids. La Leche shot him down for taking part in the feeding of his own baby – a baby who, at six months old, can now be bottle-fed even by World Health Organisation guidelines.
I also recommend Spilt Milk’s excellent post about breastfeeding: Breastfeeding support: less is not more, which takes a different view of the support offered by the La Leche League.
My mother made the fruit mince, I made the shortcrust pastry, and Ms Thirteen and I cut out the rounds and pressed them gently into mini-muffin pans and filled them with the mince and cut out the stars and put them on top and baked them.
(Description: six small Christmas mince tarts, with star toppings, dusted with icing sugar)
They were delicious.
As my daughters have gotten older, I have had so much joy passing on the knowledge that came to me from my mother. I anticipated many of the joys of parenting, but not this particular one, the deep sense of connection with my mother, and through her, my grandmother. I think that my mother loves seeing my daughters learning and growing, and especially, learning at second remove from her.
My partner and I are rearing three wonderful girls. We’re doing our best to help them to develop enquiring, critical, engaged minds, and a sense of justice, and a desire to be good people, who care for themselves and for others. But much as I would like to, I don’t think I can raise them to be feminists.
The reason is straightforward. If we are able to help our children to become independent thinkers, then feminism is a choice they must come to on their own. My guess and my hope is that each of them will develop her own commitment to feminism, but it must be their own commitment, not mine.
There are perils in rearing independent thinkers. They have a wretched habit of going their own way. To my horror and great delight, when Ms Thirteen was a tiny girl of four, she sat at the lunch table and announced that she had changed her mind about what she was going to spend her carefully accumulated pocket money on. She had decided that she wasn’t going to get a goldfish, and instead, she was going to get something that I wouldn’t like (she said this with a sideways and then very direct look at me). That child is going to get herself a Barbie, I thought to myself. And she did. Her father had to assist her, taking her down town, and lending her the extra four dollars she needed to buy some clothes (she worked it off in chores), and he did so with my support. She had made an independent decision about what to spend her money on, and we didn’t want to countermand her sense of autonomy.
Over time, the decisions will no doubt become much more difficult, especially when the girls start to develop their own sets of compromises with the world. All I can do is be on hand to talk the issues through with them, if they want to, to point them towards books and articles and blogs and artworks that may help them to work out their ideas, and to reassure them that no one is right all the time, no feminist leads the perfect feminist life, no one person has all the insights and answers needed, or even understands all the questions that can be asked. They may not want to call themselves feminist. And it would be wrong of me to require them to do so.
They are of course, learning feminism. How could they not, living with me, and with their father, and hearing the political and ethical and theoretical discussions we engage in nearly every day. Sometimes extended, sometimes just a brief comment, but there as the constant background of our lives. They’re also absorbing a fair degree of classical history, and science, and literature, ‘though not so much about sports. They already know a fair amount about feminism. But calling themselves feminists is a different matter.
I will just have to wait and see.
For anyone who might be inclined to wonder why I am not raising my sons with a knowledge of feminism… I have only daughters. Although I rejoice greatly in my daughters, this statement is to be read as expressing neither regret nor delight: it is a mere statement of fact. I would have rejoiced in sons too, had we happened to have sons.
It has been one of those days. I had a mass of administrivia to get through at work, and half way through, I got a call from my girls’ school: Miss Ten the elder was feeling queasy and could I come and pick her up. Yes, I could, in half an hour. Frantic rush to get the trivia done, and I got to school an hour or so later. Working at home for the rest of the day.
After school, I had to get Ms Thirteen to her drama class. I left the Misses Ten together at home, as is my usual practice. The law in New Zealand says that you may not leave a child:
“without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child, for a time that is unreasonable or under conditions that are unreasonable having regard to all the circumstances.”
I figure that the girls are fine at home alone, together, for 10 or 15 minutes, as I run their elder sister somewhere.
We’d been gone for about three minutes when my mobile phone rang. Ms Thirteen answered it. It turned out that Miss Ten the Elder had thrown up, and Miss Ten the Younger was caring for her.
Bad mother moment.
I was back home five minutes later after dropping Ms Thirteen at her lesson (Greenhills is not large, and we are very conveniently located). Miss Ten the Younger explained to me how she had looked after her sister, and cleaned up after her, and settled her on the sofa with a bucket and a towel.
“Well done,” I said to her. “You did very well.”
“I knew you would say that,” she said.
“Well, yes,” I said. “But *you* knew you did well, and you did do very well, and it’s important for me to acknowledge that.”
They both coped very well indeed. And of course, that makes me much more confident about leaving them at home, knowing that they can, and will, cope with minor disasters.
I have loved every stage of my daughters’ growth, from their baby sweetness to their toddler learning to the first days at school. And I’m loving this stage, as they become increasingly independent. That is my hope, that together with my partner, we will be able to work with and guide our children so that they will be able to grow into competent adults.
For a meditation on loving children, check out my friend Denny’s thoughts about her children: In praise of a wise woman. The ‘wise woman’ of Denny’s post is not her, but that soubriquet fits Denny too.
Oh, the old “All those fat children should walk to school and get off my road” debate again… The Dominion Post has a front page article this morning: Why don’t children walk to school?” Apparently most children are driven to school, including 50% of those who live within 2km of their school, and only 35% walk or bike. This is a BAD THING.
The reasons for children not walking to school are to my mind, obvious. Time, and safety. If you are in paid employment as well as parenting, then time counts. Even twenty minutes walking your children to school is a huge impost in the mornings when you are racing to get to work. I’ve written about it before:
If it’s not the children who are at fault, it must surely be their parents. They are the ones who won’t take 20 minutes out of their mornings, or afternoons, to ensure that the children get to school safely, on foot. Never mind that many families need to have two income earners, just to pay the cost of housing and food. Two incomes means two jobs, and frantic mornings trying to get everyone cleaned, dressed, fed, lunches made and school bags packed, all while trying to ensure that both adults can get to work in reasonable order, and hopefully, on time. Twenty minutes may not sound like much time, but it is a huge chunk out of a busy morning. Yet somehow, the “children should walk to school” brigade think that parents can just dream this time up out of nowhere.
And let’s not forget that some parents are told very clearly that they ought to be working. sole parents are perhaps the busiest parents of all. And now here’s yet another thing that they ought somehow to be doing.
Then there’s safety. Getting across busy roads is a difficult task, even for adults. And it’s not just roads that are problematic: children are typically totally unaware of driveways, and cars reversing out. Yes, the driver of a reversing car is responsible for ensuring that she or he doesn’t run over any pedestrians, but that legal nicety is of little comfort when you are confronted with terribly injured children. There is a vicious circle here: driver awareness of pedestrians and cyclists would be better if there were more pedestrians and cyclists on the road, but the numbers are so low that at present it is simply dangerous to be out there, so the numbers of cyclists and pedestrians are decreasing, so awareness drops even lower and it gets more dangerous, so even less children walk and bike. The problem is well known.
Those points are obvious. But there are some other issues that might be raised. Children’s age makes an obvious difference. We live near one of the local highschools, and every morning, we see hordes of teenagers trudging along the nearby streets, and virtually no congestion outside the school gates. The article in the Dom Post notes that 70% of five year olds are driven to school, but only 42% of eleven and twelve year olds. My guess is that one critical factor in determining whether children are driven to school is the age of the youngest child in a family.
Second, parents are given competing directions about what to do with their children. On the one hand, we are told that we should make our children walk to school, but on the other, we are told that we are not allowed to leave our children unsupervised. So it’s okay to send your child out alone to walk to school, but it’s not okay to leave them at home alone.
Third, my guess is that many adults live within easy walking distance of their workplaces (the article seems to have two distances in mind: 2km for easy walking, and 5km for possible walking or riding), yet there is no pressure on them to leave their cars behind. Yet it would be just as easy for adults who don’t have responsibility for children to take the extra 20 minutes in their day to walk or bike to work. But as usual, it’s just so much easier to ladle blame and shame onto parents and children.
My children walked to school in Adelaide, where we lived about 600m from the school, and the children could use a controlled crossing to get across a very busy arterial route.
We drive our children to school here in Greenhills, where we live about 3km from the school.