Owning it; opening up

Since the gradual but steady and rather linear movement of my partner and I in exploring different ways of parenting and living together – frankly, radical lifestyles in the context of USian family life, and I take no particular pleasure nor displeasure in that particular label – I have often been reluctant to publicly vocalize in a pointed way how the drama, stress, illness, and disharmony in our household has gone down drastically – something like 400% (that is a real quantitative estimate, as best as I can make one).

Why shy? Well, I think for a while I was afraid things were only temporarily better. Then as it began to dawn on me this was no fluke, I still felt oddly gun-shy; perhaps publicly announcing definitive improvements would jinx them (I am occasionally superstitious like that). There was a third reason, the one I struggle with even today: considering how fraught with ugliness the public conversation on Parenting can be (usually levied most viscously against women and children: examples, the false rhetoric of the “mommy wars”, also contemporary feminist and mainstream science purporting concepts of children and teens as “little sociopaths”, inherently flawed, or less-than-human) it sometimes seems like any personal discussion of success is constrained to being misinterpreted out of the gate. A frank discussion of successful alternatives to dominatorstyle adult strategies runs the real risk of a reader – especially a parent/carer – interpreting my experience as a referendum on their failures, worldviews, or character – this referendum is so agonizing for some their ability to listen is thwarted. I’ve seen many grownups shut down instantly, unable to entertain theories or even digest others’ lived experiences, swallowed up by knee-jerk reactions brought upon by years of accepting the child class’ oppression (not just parents, either).

But there are two compelling reasons to be honest and to not worry about appearing a blowhard or creep or worse. Maybe three reasons. The first is, I have a right to my experience and my online journal has been where I’ve recorded many of my experiences, for years now – and no one is required to read nor endorse. The second is, JEEBUS, I am not selling something and have no sinister agenda in writing boldly in defense of Love. I don’t do much of anything but write, write, write, (often) devoting my heart and guts and brains to helping families and children and grownups. All of this is pretty goddamned brave of me and I know it. Why not be braver still, and claim a victory when I experience one?

Because – and here’s that third aspect – I know how inspirational and helpful my writings have been to so many. Over the years I’ve experienced hundreds of emails, texts, IMs, tweets, phone calls, physical letters, and personal conversations – from all quarters of the world – attesting to this. It has been an honor to be brought into discussion and occasionally claimed as a mentor to others. Thing is: if I didn’t write, I couldn’t help. And reflecting on this I often feel sad for the parent I started out as, because I was not exposed much to dominator- and fear-free models of parenting for several years (and what I was exposed to, I probably missed). I myself could have used a hefty dose of wisdom eschewing the zero-sum game of life with children – long, long before I started a family of my own.

So let me tell you a bit about how it is for us. Let me be clear.

These days our household is such a peaceful one and my children are such strong individuals that the stress involved in parenting is almost entirely reduced to matters of paying bills and affording clothes, food, and the pursuit of creative exploits for the members in our one-income family. These are not necessarily small matters, but the agony and work and tension of life-caring-for-children has plummeted by virtue of what I have left behind. Every day I peel back the culturally-reified illusion of righteous control in their little lives and as a result my ability to be Present, aware, nurturing, and loving is increased all the more. The relief of leaving behind the contemporary small-minded and culturally-prescribed pressures of parenthood is glorious. I’d like to believe every day I heal a little more.

Time slips by quickly as most parents have had reason to observe. Last night while we four sat talking and laughing in the low light of our living room my husband said to my daughter in a voice I’d never heard before, “When did you get so big? It’s breaking my heart.” And I’d just been looking at her thinking the same thing; she’s tall as my shoulder now and she’s tough and tender and whip-smart and brave and scrappy and deeply empathetic and present. She is, in a word, (relatively) Undamaged. I can’t think of a word that fits better. Raising children in a consensual manner is an experience, perhaps like a happy, healthy, and supported drug-free childbirth – that is best experienced for its potential to be fully or partially understood. Today while I gave blood the phlebotomist asked me the ages of my children. It amazed me to reflect and name them as eight and six. Their moral development, their life skills, and their vocabulary and ethics are more fully-endowed than many grownups I know. These children are not experienced as burdens to me (well, not usually) so much as people I thank daily I have the gift of experiencing in my life. They are my favorite people to be with, and besides the deep-experienced protectiveness and crazy-in-love Mama-identifiers I’ve been overcome with many times, these days it seems more and more we are fellow travellers and friends. They inspire me more than anyone else I  know.

My children’s (relative) wholeness is no credit to my partner and I, really, any more than by providing fertile ground, planting a seed, and weeding and watering we could claim it was us, not the earth and lifeforce itself, that brought the green and vibrant vine springing to fruition. Indeed, I often feel aggrieved at my many, many mistakes I’ve made; I don’t get a do-over. I can have the knowledge my mistakes are in large part because I myself was damaged as a child, through many means and measures large and small, and I remain broken still – but it is frustrating to be so limited in my responsibilities as a parent. I sometimes feel so deeply sad because I don’t believe I’ll ever be whole again; I feel sad less for myself, but for what I’ve wreaked on my family. I sometimes think if I’d have known how much I would screw up, I would not have chosen to bear children.

All the same, children are incredibly resilient and thrive despite poor or abusive or anemic circumstances. And make no mistake, despite their wholeness and strength, I do believe our children still need Ralph and I. They need us for food, clothing, support, nurture, and love. The chillingly dismissive child-hate linked to above at least alludes to vital clues about our role in caring for children; there is evidence human brains continue to crucially develop well into our twenties or beyond; if this is true this means so many of us should be helping younger ones instead of hand-wringing, pearl-clutching, and stridently complaining about “bad” kids and their inept (or worse) carers (which usually means blighting under-supported women and alloparents, and the child class).

I hope I’ve been clear that things have improved for us; not that we have attained some kind of perfection impervious to sorrow and anger and suffering. Relative privilege has allowed us the space to heal. And disaster, despair, setbacks, drama – all of it is around the corner, or may be at least. One illness or death or devastating disability; the free will of other human beings who can choose to victimize any one of us, a day or week where the limitations of my partner and I keep us from meeting our still-growing children’s needs, one ugly fight where destructive words are spat out. Parental methods and spiritual concepts aside, I cannot offer immunity for suffering and I don’t try to. I can say suffering has diminished and the daily language and experience of love has swelled in recent years. It strengthens all of us and it makes life even more worth living, more deeply enjoyed; whatever time we have left together is savored like that delicious strawberry on the vine.

The false and harmful rhetoric of family life vs. work life

Over at Noble Savage a husband and wife team discussed the implications of a report in the Guardian UK regarding housework, childcare and heterosexual partners working in-home or out-of-home.

I thought I’d conduct my own interview with Ralph. As I conducted it I realized the interview questions and the “study” itself had inherent flaws and assumptions or supported such, but I figured what the heck, this was the mainstream language and framework most people could relate to. I didn’t warn Ralph of my reservations about the interview and I told him to be honest, “warts and all”.

Here is my interview and some of my thoughts after:

Do you believe that childcare is primarily a mother’s responsibility or are both parents equally responsible?

Those are two possible functional family structures, but the question implies those are it. That’s wrong dude, get a better question.

I believe a child has needs, and the parents and adults that are in the child’s life are at fault if they do not provide and meet those needs. This is everything from listening to excited ideas to changing diapers in the middle of a sleepless night. Different people meet those roles and needs. It is up to the adults in the child’s life to communicate honestly about who can do what task. The capability for an adult to provide loving care for children changes all the time. If there’s more than one adult involved, this can be accounted for.

But – a second part – in one sense, yes it is the woman’s responsibility, but only due to external pressures i.e. “Where was the mother?” [Many] external messages tell me my wife is responsible for the family, and I have a chip on my shoulder about that.

How is the childcare divided between you and your partner? Are you happy with the current arrangement?

Our children are older (6 & 8), so the immediate need for hands to keep the children alive is passed for now. We no longer need someone with the child at all times in case they choke, for example. Child care today, for us, means being present and able to respond to what/where/when our children have needs of us.

My wife is a stay at home parent, and I go to work for 40+ hours per week. She drives the bulk of domestic tasks, planning meals, washing clothes, and managing children’s scheduled appointments (when they happen, which is rare).

I pick up tasks when I can, and am primarily responsible for vacuuming, recycling & garbage, and during hours when I’m home try to take the lead on folding clothes, dishes, and cooking. I’m a slow cook, and so am sometimes discouraged by it.

I’m unhappy in the arrangement in that I wish I was home more. I work for an educational institution, which is more rewarding personally than when I worked for companies whose goals began and ended with money. But I find home life more rewarding and interesting. I wish there was some magic way we could both be home, and maintain our income and NOT have to leave home.

The unhappiness is not a drama, however. I do find rewards in a career, and am generally happy to have both work and family as highlights in my life.

Current research suggests that men with two children whose partners works full-time and childcare is shared are happiest and least stressed. Why do you think this might be? Are you happier when your partner works?

Just thinking about my partner working gives me some stomach knots. Having one of us at home means no school – we homeschool – therefore no school schedules. The shuttling of children to/from school, events, etc, would put us all on a schedule and disrupt our flow of life right now. That would increase my stress, definitely.

So having a partner work would increase my stress, I think. Also, my partner leads in the family with parenting theories, education, and style. So it’s easier for me to subscribe to her ideas and concepts of parenting than to balance work, schedules, life, and explore better ways to raise my kids. That means less stress. Doing it different means more stress.

I wonder if the study you mention takes into account a predisposition with lifestyle inflation, or a view that lack of money == stress and that more money/higher lifestyle fixes everything.

The study focusses on the happiness of the fathers; but do you think your partner would be happier with some work outside the home?

I believe my partner would find joy and reward, internally and externally, in employment. I think this because she’s she’s said as much. I also know there’s relief in just going and doing something you’re told to do, sinking your teeth into a task and thoroughly accomplishing it. There’s coworkers saying “Well done!” and all the validation that comes with a job.

We’re both aware of our culture’s disregard for women at home. Working provides positive, external reinforcement both culturally and financially (Hey, you’re worth THIS much!).

I also believe my partner would experience some stress, guilt, and frustration. Does it balance out, would it be more good than bad? That’s not really my call. It’s her business.

You touched on this a bit, but in an ideal world, and if work/financial constraints were not an issue, how would you balance your professional, personal and family commitments? Would you like to spend more or less time at work and with family?

In an ideal world, I think we’d both volunteer for interests we liked, often with our children involved. We all like hanging out together, and we also like personal time to recharge. In an ideal world, my wife would sew when she wanted to, and be with the family & fully present when she wanted. I imagine as my kids get older, they’ll begin to engage with her in sewing, too, as participants and not just recipients. Maybe not fully participating, but at least dipping their toes into the art. For me, and my ‘work’, the stuff that’s most interesting to me turns out to involve others, and my kids are fine candidates.

We’re not big on exclusive activities, I guess.

So in this ideal world without financial constraints, I’d have a record label to help out local musicians. My son and daughter would help with the artwork, studio recording, and mailings. When they were willing, of course. Both have shown an interest in music. Or I’d be working/doing graphic art – drawing at the same table with my daughter as she draws is awesome. Or gardening. My son enjoys being outside, planting and harvesting. So I imagine there’d be an open invitation to other family members to come and participate in our activities, and vice versa.

Back to the real world! We all know that women have had (and still have) numerous struggles within the workplace and balancing their careers with their families. Do you see men having the same struggles within the home, trying to spend time with their children and be accepted as adequate parents?

Men don’t have the same struggles. They don’t have the same expectations. They don’t have the same judgements against/for them. The scale of the struggle in culture is such that it’s a different story. Men are given free passes by culture to ass out on so many things, that when they do step up and engage in domesticity it’s soiled by the heaps of praise invariably piled on. I think it’s a messy thing to dip into, because I find it impossible to shut out the world and lean entirely into family.

That last sentence is bugging me, the part about “trying to spend time with their children and be accepted as adequate parents?” I have a little slice of hate in my heart for fathers who whine about this, or sort of wave with the idle “wish I had been around my children more when they were growing up!” thing. Just fucking do it. You had a kid – that’s your qualification for being an adequate parent. Now, to be a better-than-adequate parent, do some work. Grow up even more. Learn about different parenting techniques. Be critical of the way you’re handling things, and try to fix the things that don’t work. “My child didn’t come with an instruction manual.” Nope, but there’s over a bazillion books on parenting. Read a few of them.

If you’re a father, and you’re trying to be accepted (by whom, actually?) as an adequate parent, you’re an asshole who needs to grow up and do a better job. Trying to be adequate is just not acceptable.

So in your view, are fathers genuinely interested in having greater flexibility between work and home?

I can’t speak for all fathers, but I’m very interested in that flexibility. I’ve got some flexibility, and I’m grateful for it. My work culture doesn’t punish me for spending time with my family, it doesn’t require overtime, and encourages me to bring my family to the occasional work function. Taking sick leave to care for family is legally protected (I work for the state of Washington in higher ed), and acceptable.

I think now my views have shifted enough toward family that I won’t take a job that doesn’t have these provisions. With employers, we’re merely travelling the same direction for awhile. My family with always be in my life.

That said, I would welcome even more flexibility. Open options from my employer to have reduced hours, etc.

Do you think women are less inclined to find working at home difficult and miss office life, or just that they’ve had to get used to it?

I think they’ve had a lifetime of american culture telling them to expect it, to tolerate it, and to keep quiet about any complaints they may have. With that environment, with little support, do they have much choice other than ‘get used to it’?

Final question: do you think ‘juggling’ work and children is something women do naturally or only do because they have to? Be honest!

Again, I can’t speak for others with any authority. I only have my own experience to go on.

Regarding ‘juggling’ work/home, I try not to have work and home life be these separate silos. If I’m having difficulty at home, it carries over into my job. If I’m having a success at work, I bring a positive smile home to my family. I try to think of it as just ‘life’ and it happens all the time. To think that one doesn’t influence the other seems a little goofy.

I used to believe that there was a special, chemical/magical bond that happens between mother and child right after birth. I don’t believe that anymore. I don’t believe one gender has a knack over the other, but it’s not a level playing field either. We all bring our past experiences to the table, and a life where one gender has expectations to be a selfless, tender nurturer and the other a breadwinner workaholic prepare people in different ways. Basically, we all have baggage when we apply for the parenting job. It’s important to our future that we strive to do the best with what we have, and to grow as parents. I read once that the problem with parenting is that the child is the teacher, and once we realize that, learning gets easier. I totally get where that’s coming from.

Thanks for taking the time. I’ll be posting soon!

**

Responses to my husband’s interview aside for a minute, I was struck by the subtle and overt article and interview suppositions mirroring those I see in Western cultural attitudes – namely, that “work” means (only) paid work, that “work” and “family” are and should be discrete and separate and there are problems when they are forced to co-exist, that there is something exciting and empowering about work life that cannot be found in home life (this last conversation also erases the lives of the many who have stress-filled, unpleasant, or socioeconomically-forced work that lacks “enriching” factors), and finally, that there is something rather dull, less ambitious, and more chore-like when it comes to raising children and keeping a home (which will then necessarily set up a tension and/or struggle over who “has” to do these things).

On the other hand, my observations make it clear most parents/carers genuinely do love their children and find family life restorative, or aspects of it anyway – usually more so than most paid work. Most people want their out-of-home or paid work to have meaning as well; they want to relate and share good relationships with those they spend their day with. In fact our patriarchal and kyriarchal framing of family and earning life coupled with the valuation of the acquisition of property, financial success and “security”, and our insistence in the reality and rightness of dominator and insecurity narratives fights these well-intentioned and hardworking parent/earners tooth and nail. I suspect many men and women aren’t following their hearts and minds because they’ve internalized such toxic worldviews. This is one reason it’s important to me to identify aloud the instabilities and corrupting narratives in our culture while extending compassion and understanding to those who participate in them.

My observation is many self-labeled “progressive” USian men claim they want things to be more egalitarian with regard to house and kid “chores” but those in the socioeconomic strata empowered enough to make this a realistic venture – well, when it comes down to it, they are not willing to give up privilege and learn some new tricks and/or disentangle from a life centered around the ownership and upkeep of material possessions. They tend to be dismayed and angry about the work that child- and housecare really entails and find it “not good enough” to center more of their life around (yet requiring their partners or state or private institutions to focus on it is fine). Many women attempt to evade or at least lessen their portion of the work judged as less-than (and the lack of pay, validation, retirement and social security benefits, and village support). They try to carve out some security and respect by eschewing this workload or at least lessening it or attempting to (hence: paid childcare, schooling, “shortcuts”, Costco trips, goods and products made by sweatshop labor). Our children watch our attitudes and values and evasions and frustrations and thus internalize many of them.

Conversations referring to the “distractions” of children, the (apparent) necessity of “juggling” once you have kids, the concept that the only real “work” is paid work, and the oft-touted construct that childraising and the running of a home is innately “braindead” stuff – those are cultural fables in the Western world continually repeated and reified such that they set up a zero-sum framework entirely toxic to children – who are going through crucial stages of development – and their parent/carers. In most of the articles I come across “childcare” – even the care of one’s OWN children – always sounds like shit-work, frankly. A lot of people believe it is. And, more devastating still, children learn come to believe this themselves.

Tangentially: as a figure of speech the fact “juggling” comes on the scene much more after we have progeny (without children our lives were “busy”) is quite interesting. “Juggling” implies an instability and a danger – something, somewhere, will have to give. That we don’t “juggle” until we have children suggests, however subtly or largely, that it is the children who are the resented presence introducing danger and impoverishment of resources. In short, I find the language compartmentalizing life with children to be downright creepy lots of times.

As for my husband’s answers, there were some surprises for me. I am pleased to see though, that our first thoughts were the rejection of the family-work binary. And I’m glad my husband and I both began, long ago, to see through the devaluation of the raising of children (all children, not just our own). We don’t think of our (single income, working class, homeschooling) lives as “juggling” and we don’t feel some of our work is better or deserves more status than other work (although sometimes it’s hard to see an upside to changing the litter box).

As a life learning /radical unschooling family we’ve researched a fair bit on what happens when a person has internalized concepts that something is a “chore” or a tick-box, rather than a conscious, joyous, hard-earned effort that involves the mind, body, spirit – and has the capacity to change and heal the world as much, if not more than, anything else.

I feel deeply grateful to begin my journey anew every day.

Question: How do you deal with the subject of pedophilia?

Trigger warning: this post contains discussion of abuse and pedophilia.

I got a great question from Formspring today. I keep thinking I need to kill that account. Its encouraged anonymity is not coincidental to being the only time I’ve received hatey-mail. Still, besides that one bit of spew (which was quite clarifying for me, actually), I’ve enjoyed what’s been put forth.

Today:

Free range kids (“Men and boys in the locker room”) got me thinking: pedophilia is at once real and the source of way too much fear. I know lots of adult pedophilia sufferers, but I don’t want that to justify paranoia inflicted around my kids. How do you navigate this?

(Note: I don’t feel qualified to direct advice to sexual abuse survivors. The question here asked is how I (and my husband) navigate this terrain; here I’m going to express some of the limitations that mainstream parenting culture purports and my response to the suppositions of “safety” afforded by these commonalities. Full disclosure: neither my husband nor myself were victims of sexual abuse as children, although I have experience of sexual abuse and coercion as a young adult.)

Thank you for your question!

What is “too much fear”? If you mean many parents/guardian adults/teachers have an inflated sense of Stranger Danger I’d agree with you. If you seek to quantify the suffering that abuse has wreaked on children and grown children, I don’t know if we can ever say “too much”. That said, our mainstream media certainly deals in many scarepieces and/or graphic (and repeated ad nauseam) true accounts of Misery Porn and Sadistic Pervert Fables and I do think this has tainted parenting culture and village child-rearing (because the rest of the village is participating, whether they want to admit it or not) in unhelpful and harmful ways.

Yet for those of us who are able, it is very possible to parent our hopes and not our fears with regard to keeping our children safe.

Most abuse of children is inflicted by those the child knows and trusts. That can help give us pause when we worry about the lurking fellow at the library or the one jumping out of an alley (these incidents happen, but are much rarer). Compounding the misery around this topic, many abuse victims are routinely silenced, blamed, second-guessed, minimized, and even vilified. Embarking on a discussion of the relative safety of Strangers often re-injures those who were abused by strangers. Any discussion is best served by sensitivity and acknowledgment: because it is true, many have been victimized.

A re-focus on the family, where most abuse occurs, might help us respond with more compassion and intelligence when stranger abuse/violence is inflicted on children or the very rare case of stranger abduction (about 110 cases a year in a nation of 40 – 45 million children). Ironically (and tragically) our cultural concepts that families are “safe” and we can keep our children unscathed by strangers through the right amounts of control and vigilance, means not only are we frightened and teach our children to fear but we are currently responding very poorly indeed to those families who are the victims of tragedies, mistakes that could happen to any of us, or a combination of these events.

Provided your children are currently safe, we can do much for our them while they are in our care. We can help them – or rather, not hinder them! – as they develop their personal intuition, inner strengths, knowledge of autonomy, and internal convictions of right and wrong. Sadly many mainstream parenting strategies actually serve to subvert these developments or seriously compromise them as to be nearly unworkable.

For example many parental/adult discussions about “safety” for kids involve measures of external control, “rules”, and lectures. Those kinds of external motivators in fact detract from our children’s inner strength and personal knowledge of righteous anger and/or violation (or “uh-oh” sense, as I’ve heard it called) and also subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) reinforce the idea they are second class citizens and grownups know best. Most kids spend their lives being told to do what grownups tell them. When someone comes along who wants to abuse them, if they have any skill and finesse at all, our children are easier marks than many would like to believe. Not to mention we are teaching future perpetrators if you’re big enough and strong enough (mentally, physically, etc.) it will be your dominion to do with others as you please.

I don’t have very nuanced advice for recognizing pedophiliac tendencies within a family or trusted friend – the lack of detailed and holistic discussion of this is sad indeed as these abuses are endemic (for instance, note the dismissive reviews and overall low ratings of a nuanced and disturbingly real, complex, and absolutely true case in the documentary Awful Normal, which I recently viewed). I do think familial abuse could almost be called commonplace – and yet it remains under-discussed. I am not very sophisticated at guessing as to WHY it’s so under-discussed. I have some theories. Culturally we undervalue women and their lived realities and the majority of sexually-exploited persons are female-bodied – but by no means all of course. Culturally we oppress children (even very loving adults/parents/carers do, because they don’t know better or are too scared to do anything but what is handed to them as “good parenting”) but we aren’t ready to admit that, of course, abuse is a tragic and inevitable result of this systemic oppression.

As far as pedophilia goes, as long as our culture is invested in oppositional sexism, misogyny, and dominator culture, we will see a rich (if underground) environmental home for full-fledged pedophiles. Our culture supports many of the cornerstones of pedophilia – look around at images in our MSM and you will see the constant sexualization AND infantalization (meaning here enforced powerlessness) of women and girls – women turned into “girls” (or told they should try to achieve this through surgery, hair removal, “feminine” – as in docile and het-male-oriented – behavior, surgeries including labioplasty for a “young” vagina (a cosmetic procedure currently on the rise), a widespread disgust of, dismissal of, trivialization of or lack of respect afforded to women’s bodies including, notably, childbirth and breastfeeding, images of rape in television and film made “sexy” and provocative), and girls in turn given messages their sole functions are either (eventual) reproductive ones, roles of ornamentation, or to satisfy the normative heterosexual man’s tastes and preferences (this in turn gives our men poor scripts as well). The power dynamics reified in these cultural messages are staggering and speak to our complicity in the power dynamics inherent in sexual abuse. In other words Monsters don’t just hop out of closets and grab our little girls (and boys); we create them.

This all sounds very glum – but I hope any adult/parent/carer will take a few minutes to realize how vulnerable our children are and how they need our better care – and they need us to do better to change the world, not just for our children but for our children’s children and so on.

As for us and how we, Ralph and Kelly Hogaboom, have “handled it” – the answer would take many more pages for me to type. The subjects of sex, sexism, power, and bodily autonomy are ones we’ve invested in since before the children were born (because we are genuinely interested in them, not because we seek to “program” our children properly); we don’t hide these subjects from our kids but we also don’t frighten them. The in-tune parent/carer will usually see when a child is frightened or unsure or curious or playful. The in-tune parent/carer will respond when a child asks a question, then be a decent-enough conversationalist to pick up cues as to the child’s understanding level and willingness and interest to listen.

I ask my kids a lot of questions. I ask them if it’s okay to kiss someone if they don’t want you to. I listen to their responses and thoughts about marriage and procreation. I ask them if a man can be married to a man. I ask them if they know what “rape” is. I obviously don’t ask them all this at once! Rather I am condensing a series of amazing conversational moments (and much learning for all parties) over the years.

I play games with them. Some of my favorite involve asking them permission to touch them, or willingly giving them power over my body (to “control” me like a voice-activated robot, or to push me down, etc.). Sometimes I ask them permission to kiss them (and then wait). Sometimes I ask permission to PINCH them (never painfully – by the way, my son loves this game). They enjoy having power and they enjoy scaring themselves. I don’t hold them down and tickle them. I don’t make them submit to my desire for them physically (although sometimes I will beg for a hug). I come to them when they ask me to hug or cuddle them (they do this often). I let them decide how they want their bodies treated, including what medical care they’d like and what food they want to eat and what they want to wear (and no, I did not give them this much freedom from the moment they were born either… when children are babies it is very appropriate we decide what they wear and and that we lock up poisons they might try to drink and what medical care they receive – the latter is a responsibility that we often take for granted but is rather mind-blowing when I think about it).

On that note I also do not disrupt their bodily autonomy. MOST parents I know, my husband and myself included until relatively recently, are very poor at this – we disrupt children’s spiritual, emotional, physical, and bodily autonomy on a *regular basis*. Sometimes I think re-affording children that autonomy is the very, very best thing we can do to keep them safe (some amazing and wise parents/carers know to do this from the beginning). It also does wonders for the health and happiness and harmony of all family members.

How to do that, to begin to do it or learn or deprogram, is not something easily expressed and depends on individual factors. I am always happy to listen to specific family scenarios and respond. I’d like to think I’ve helped many families (and I’m told I have). You can email me at kelly AT hogaboom DOT org.

Good luck! You have an awesome, incredible, wonderful responsibility. Raising children has been the best, so far, adventure of my life.

How to mommy-blog, or whereupon I sound like an asshole four years ago and possibly but hopefully not today

Mid-August a reader writes:
I’m pretty happy with my little blogging enterprise. I earn just a tiny bit of income, I enjoy having something that makes me write (my alleged trade) regularly, and I value the relationships I’ve forged with other women all over the world through the blogging community. Good stuff, right?

BUT (and isn’t there always a but?) some of my IRL friends find my internet sharing tacky or take things I say personally (even when they were not intended as such). I’ve noticed IRL friends unfollowing my blog. Now, in nearly all cases the reality is that these were not good friends for me. They were folks that I might not have liked so much IRL, but depended on to break up the monotony of stay-at-home parenting. And yet, illogically, it still stings.

I have experience being on the other side of this. Several months ago I had a mom acquaintance that blogged and though I liked her all right in person, I couldn’t stand her blog. It was preachy and condescending. In hindsight, I see that she was insecure and stressed. She was a literal and extreme devote of attachment parenting and she put a lot of pressure on herself to be perfect and put out a perfect image. To me, it was all insufferable. I quietly unfollowed her so I’d stop getting ticked off at her writing. She noticed and confronted me via email, a nasty exchange ensued, and we no longer speak, in person or online. I realized that if I could grow to hate her through her blog, other people could feel the same way about me and my blog.

I blog under my real name because I am (again, allegedly) a writer by trade and though there are great reasons to be an anonymous blogger, there are very few professional outlets for writers unwilling to put their own name to their words. And rightly so. Part of the challenge of writing is finding a way to deal with other people in your work that treats them fairly, is honest, and that you can live with being out there. But it’s tough to walk to balance between keeping my IRL friends 100% out of my writing and not writing about anything, especially given that over the last several months so much of my time is spent in the company of mothers.

I always do my best to make it clear to the people in my life that I do not expect them to read my blog. In fact, I’d rather they not read it if they’re going to feel put out by the task or otherwise not enjoy it. But I did eventually gather from one mom acquaintance that she felt like she had to skim my blog to check for references to her. Ack! What paranoia! Especially given that I’ve never referenced her or anything related to her. But boy do I regret having ever written about any of my mom friends, in however oblique terms, even though those few posts were the most cathartic to write at the time I wrote them I thought through very carefully how I’d feel about everyone in my life reading them and decided it was okay with me. A few (good) friends reached out to get clarification. The rest, it seems, just assumed I was pissed at them and withdrew from our relationship.

I’m conflicted about how I feel about putting myself out there. On one hand, my blog is doing me a service by screening out friends who might not be a good match for me. The woman that skims my blog out of paranoia and I have been hanging out for over a year, and yet, we barely know each other. Still, I enjoyed her ability to help me pass a monotonous afternoon of baby minding and now that chance is gone. And likewise, I was poorly suited for friendship with the wooden toys/cloth diapers purist, but it sucks to be eliminating social contacts before I can alienate them with my big fat mouth in person. I mean, jeez, I tend to think of my blog as a very distilled and edited version of myself so if folks can’t jive with that, what good can I do in person?

How do you deal with IRL friends/family being insulted by your writing? I’d prefer that folks address concerns and disagreements directly with me, but lo, that is not the way of the modern woman. (Thanks for the, now long ago, recommendation for Curse of the Good Girl. I know a lot of “nice” women, which is great, except that I am not a “nice” woman.) So instead people have qualms with my writing and choose to withdraw from my company. I don’t know how to deal with that.

I feel a lot of pressure as a woman, as a mother, as a human, as an American, to always be polite and likable. Thus, I feel pressure to make my blog always positive, never critical, and never controversial. But jeezusfuckingkrist, how lame is it to always be agreeable? I have stances, damn it! Unpopular ones. And I want to write about them and not just be bland “yeah for everybody” ladyblogger all the time (not that I succeed at that even when I try). But I don’t know how to walk this line between honesty and offensiveness in either my essay writing or my blog. Your thoughts?

Oi! This was a much longer query than I intended it to be. Can you see why I didn’t just formspring it? Again, no obligation to respond. This is just something I was curious about what your response might me.

All the best and well wishes,

First of all, thank you for your email. There is a lot to address here!

The first thing that pops up on my radar are your stated experiences you find SAHMing and housework “monotony” and one coping strategy is to find friends, even potentially ill-fitting ones, out of desperation (or perhaps some word akin to “desparation” that isn’t that drastic-sounding). More about this in a minute.

The second thing that comes to mind is how bad, bad, bad of an idea it would have been for me if I’d have ever tracked too much who was following me and who wasn’t, or conversely if I followed solely out of social obligation! I’m glad I don’t know specifically who is following my blog or not. I would worry a particular thing I said hurt someone. Or that they were judging my ass. Or something. And there are too many readers and back-and-forth followers for this to be a cost I should bear. Now, maybe there are people who could track this without distress but for me this would disrupt my writing and take some of the agency away from others. If they find my blog offensive or upsetting, they certainly have the right to tell me. And those who read or decide not to read are probably really NOT doing it about me anyway, because…

The truth is, our friends and readers should be allowed to stop reading our blog for ANY reason and they don’t owe it to us to say why (just as we never know exactly why those who choose to read, do – unless they tell us). In the case of those who jump ship, maybe they need 100% uplifting stuff right now and our snark is too much. Maybe our life or parts of it represent an ideal, and they feel envious and don’t like those feelings. Maybe they find us boring. In any case when they read or don’t read it’s about them. Why should I automatically make it about me? It doesn’t help me write better or feel better or behave better.

Which brings me to my next point. You asked,

How do you deal with IRL friends/family being insulted by your writing?

In many years of regular blogging with a fair readership I have only had two incidents of someone telling me they were insulted or hurt (and one incident of anon hate mail). I can’t speak to those who may have been insulted but haven’t told me (it takes a lot of courage to do so, I understand).

My strategies are simple and threefold. I

A. Try to be honest and committed to personal healing (more complex than it sounds), B. Make sure the blog is about ME – not other people – and is vulnerable as opposed to telling “my side” and C. (from my entry over four years ago* which is still rather apt): “[Employ] a pristine, crystal-clear policy on when to use names and how to tell stories with the degree of anonymity that [works for me].”

Addressing A.: If someone is insulted or offended and they tell me, I owe it to myself and them to care. I may reject their accusations of bad faith (if they make them), but I will probably behave differently in the future because I care enough to care why they hurt. I may apologize if I did something wrong. Now I don’t know how much this matters, once the hurt has already occurred. But I do think most people experience me as an empathetic individual who is open to knowing how I am experienced.

B.: It takes ovaries to make the blog about me. I don’t use the blog as an excuse to communicate to people indirectly. I use it as a place to write about my feelings and experiences. I am as vulnerable as I can be. This last part is very hard. Sometimes people read things I write and think I’m tough as nails and have It All Figured Out when actually I’m crying out in pain and anger. In fact many of my friends and readers seem to think I have fewer vulnerabilities than most people. I’m truly not sure where they get this idea. I’ve tried lately to say, “This hurts” or “I’m in pain” etc. This means I have to brave the tumbleweeds and crickets if none of my many readers comes to my rescue (which happens sometimes). But I’ve learned also I am kind of on my own, and pretending I’m not hurt or vulnerable isn’t really a solution I want to employ.

C.: I absolutely respect both my right to write about anything I want, but also my desire to not hurt people indiscriminately. Fortunately, this hasn’t been hard considering I’m at what, well over half a million words and I’ve not fucked up too many times. We can know deep-down which friends would rather be talked about as an initial or not mentioned at all. We can also ask them, or at least open a dialogue. Sometimes I mention people’s names, sometimes I do not. Sometimes I choose not to write anything at all for a long time – or write in such a way as to entirely obfuscate details that may have social repercussions I don’t want to set in motion. Hopefully my readers know if I am writing anything at all that has drama, it’s not because I am tattling or need reassurance (unless I specifically ask for reassurance, which is rare), it’s because I’m chronicling my life and who I am.

Tangentially, at first in Port Townsend I had a handful of what I affectionately called “star-fuckers”, ladies and gentlemen who read primarily to see if I’d written about them. Hee. They skimmed my blog for their name for the “fame” (such as it is, which is near-naught) or the worry I’d diss them. But I don’t blame them.  Human beings are smart enough to know the words we say to one another in-person aren’t the summation of human response. In particular women and girls are socially trained to gossip and back-bite and be indirect with their feelings. Why shouldn’t my friends be worried and/or tuned in, assuming (with good cause, but not so likely in my case) I’d be less-than-direct about my true feelings only to air them online later?

Over time I think most readers who know me IRL have developed a sense of trust. I feel proud to write about what happens during the day with relative freedom, knowing I’m (likely!) not stepping on toes and knowing I am open to hearing if my language has hurt (1st footnote, here). It is an art, I must admit! In the entry four years ago I wrote, “Write what you really think and be prepared for anyone to read it (your pastor, your parents, your spouse, that blog-stalker you were trying to avoid). Be prepared to re-evaluate your policy, but don’t be in a hurry to. My policy: no one has to read this. If you read my blog, you are looking through my windows – don’t be offended if you don’t like how I look in my panties. That said, it is never my intention to hurt feelings or humiliate, and I’m open to reconsideration regarding my entries.” I take every word of that very seriously.

So now on to you some more. You wrote,

I feel a lot of pressure as a woman, as a mother, as a human, as an American, to always be polite and likable. Thus, I feel pressure to make my blog always positive, never critical, and never controversial.

Yes. Of course. There’s a lot of this pressure.

But jeezusfuckingkrist, how lame is it to always be agreeable? I have stances, damn it! Unpopular ones. And I want to write about them […] I don’t know how to walk this line between honesty and offensiveness in either my essay writing or my blog.

You do realize the idea of living “politely” and somewhat inauthentically, then going to the blog and ranting about attachment parenting/working mothers/babystrollers/babyslings/breastfeeding Nazis/formula-feeding louts – is as much of a harmful behavior required in sacrifice of “Nice White Lady Syndrome” as is being overly-polite?

Given that, I think one of the best things we parents/carers/mommy-bloggers (and parents/carers/mommy-IRL-people) could do is not buy into the mommy-wars. It’s false rhetoric anyway as the C-section or vaccinating mama loves her kids as much as the homebirthing crunchy one; social pressures set them against one another and sadly, too many succumb. Let’s be above this! Let’s save our PISSED for the social pressures, sexism, misogyny, devaluation of certain groups (children, people of color, disabled, etc), and the kyriarchal mindsets of the many men (and women) who ignore our suffering or laugh it off as being “less than” – let’s not hate on one another!

So for instance your final (for now) read on your Wooden Toys Purist was a good one. At the time it hurt you to read so you stopped reading; later you had compassion for what she was probably going through (and you probably intuited correctly). Too bad it was too late in her case. (or is it? You can always apologize if you hurt her… your unfollowing was justified for your own mental health – and she may relate to this more than you know! – but perhaps you said things in the email exchange that you regret…)

It is a lie we are all “different”, and we should not read one another’s blogs if other women have different “priorities” (it is absolutely true we should keep our mental and emotional health as safe as possible, which may include not partaking of a certain blog or experience… but we can do this without vilifying others and their choices or laying all The Hurt at their feet). Those women (and men) who upset us, we have more in common with them than less. I recommend a heavy dose of NVC, yes with their New Agey sounding giraffes and jackals et al. It really helps.

Finally, what’s with you finding at-home parenting to be so boring? Or social life so unsatisfying? You know that’s not a requirement of mommyhood/SAHMhood/laydeefriends, right? These are things you can change (probably). Do you need to go back to work? Do you need status and support for staying home? Do you need to vent to supportive people (not to other new mamas who might feel raw and pecked-at as well)? Do you need more help? (this latter is what I really needed, back when I joked about at-home parenting being “monotonous”) There are solutions to these problems, and they are individualistic, and they are also important.

Because the suffering of mothers and at-home parents (especially female ones) is real. We should work to improve scenarios for these parents/carers/women, not encourage them to settle for less (less status, less social life, less respect, less freedom and autonomy). I was fortunate to have a large group of awesome ladyfriends when I started my family, and two incredible and loyal close friends who helped me raise my little kids. They have not only my love but my – well, there aren’t words for how deeply I feel for them. Not all new parents (women) have this gift. If you don’t have it, it’s not your fault. Just know the other ladies probably yearn for what you do, too.

Maybe that’s a good (re-)starting place.

In the meantime, write what you can and what you need to. Focus on being vulnerable, not antagonistic. It will help you more, and mean more to your readers than you can imagine. Need to vent? You can do that too, because sometimes you gotta – or you can email me. I’m pretty tough. I can take it.

* This old entry still basically stands as – in my view – rather good advice for the casual blogger. Yet I’d add the following changes/caveats: I still like to write (and read) what happened, as opposed to what a blogger thinks. But that’s just a personal preference when I write, and I no longer categorically find other types of writing ‘boring’. This was rude and insensitive of me to go on about. The truth is, I have discovered, many people don’t write because they think they’ll be called – you guessed it, boring! And here I was being a jerk and contributing to this.

So having a few years to reflect, I don’t agree blogs (tweeting/facbeook) are “boring” or (as I heard the other day from a friend) “narcissistic” – precisely because we, ourselves, are allowed to read or not read! Bottom line is I wish more people kept an online journal with integrity. I can’t begin to express how much it has helped me, and helped others who read me.

The Stretch & Sew Guide to Sewing on Knits

Sewing support: beginner with knits

[ed. updated 9/2015] 

In late August a reader writes, Hi Kelly, I’ve been following your blog for a couple of months now at the recommendation of a friend (June 2010, to be exact) and I thought it was time to reach out. Firstly, I love your blog. It’s one of the few that I jump to read when I see a new post in my reader. Thanks for providing such an intimate look into your family, great perspective on your kids and lovely cooking and sewing projects. I am absolutely astonished by the amount and quality of sewing you’re able to accomplish. It’s really quite stunning.

A bit about me & my family. We’re a family of 5. We have three kids, two dogs and two cats [Ed. – some information removed for reader privacy]. I love to sew, craft, cook, bake, garden, the list goes on & on. I do still work, part time at home, part time at work. It’s a good mix so I can be available for the kids before & after school. (BTW, I think your kids sound amazing – have I mentioned that yet?) I thought you might want to know who’s reading your blog, since you share so much of yourself on it! I do have a question for you though. I am planning to sew my daughter some gymnastic leotards. I’ve selected a pattern and some spandex fabric from Joann’s. I had hoped to order a Jalie pattern and some nicer fabric (which I may still do), but wanted to try it with the cheap/easily available stuff first. I read your recent-ish tip about painting the seams of knits [Ed. – this one] with water soluable interfacing, but I was wondering if you have any other suggestions/tips/resources about sewing on this. I do not have a serger, and I’m thinking that I should zig zag the edges before sewing, to prevent fraying?? What do you think? I appreciate you taking the time to read this. I imagine that you’re swamped with emails. Thanks for having such a great blog, and I can’t wait until the next post comes out!

Thank you for your email! Nice to “meet” you and your family. I am always so happy to hear of someone taking up a sewing challenge. One of my missions in my life is to help people reclaim this wonderful artisan craft!

You sound like a beginning sewist and certainly a beginner to knits as you were asking about finishing the edges of a knit to prevent fraying. Most every knit will not fray (there are exceptions) which is one wonderful thing about them.

Also: you don’t need a serger and unless you are sewing rather regularly I don’t suggest buying one BEFORE becoming familiar with knits. They are a big investment – in time, in resources (and funds) – and they take up space. If you sew your knits on a machine using good technique you will soon start to know whether you want a serger or not and whether it’s worth it to you to buy one.

I perform 80% of my sewing on a a lock-stitch machine (meaning: regular sewing machine), 15% by hand, and the remainder on my old serger. As for sewing with knits on a machine, my best advice is as follows:

1. Use the correct needle (have many ballpoint or stretch needles of a few different sizes on hand)
2. Use a strong poly thread or cotton-wrapped poly
3. Use a narrow zig zag and check carefully for skipped stitches or ones that “pop” upon pulling
4. Practice with each fabric for a bit to get the feel of sewing with it – many knits behave rather differently!

Personally I think a leotard is a bit advanced as it’s close-fitting and your sewing will have to live up to the strain. However, a leotard is something a beginning sewist can do provided he/she has a mentor and/or good resources. If as you go along in this project you need help, please don’t hesitate to write me, especially with photos (I’m available for video chat as well).

Also, I have some resources for you: One is a book, the Stretch & Sew one (R.I.P. Ann Persons!). I checked mine from the library first. It was so handy I then bought it:

http://www.amazon.com/Stretch-Guide-Sewing-Creative-Machine/dp/0801985935

The Stretch & Sew Guide to Sewing on Knits
Despite the very late-80s stylings on the front, the technique is solid gold.

One of my favorite resources for tips with sewing on knits is Timmel Fabrics.  They have a series of sewing “lessons” for knits. When their site went down, I archived these lessons with their permission.

In addition, the forums at patternreview.com are pretty active and full of VERY experienced stitchers.

Best of luck! Don’t hesitate to email or find me on Facebook at Bespoke / Hogaboom

Over-involved parents

Today in an unschooling Yahoo group someone writes in – I’ll call her Jean – about about getting her PhD while her children are young. Her question is, Does anyone have experience unschooling when both parents are out of the home working? She says,

“I do want something in my life that is my own because I don’t want to be one of those over-involved parents that lives vicariously through her children as they grow up and have their own lives (or have the empty nest syndrome).”

I replied:

***
By all means get your PhD and do what you need to. But please don’t trot out the “over-involved parents who suffer when their kids move out.” I think it’s a strawman (usually a straw-woman) – I see it invoked often but do not personally know hordes of these people. I hear this often by those justifying their work (usually work away from their kids) and I think it can sound rather insulting.

First of all, mourning our children moving or growing doesn’t seem like such a bad thing (my mom was widowed and she mourned that – I mourned the loss of my father). “Living vicariously” through children’s lives has nothing to do with work and everything to do with traditional parenting schemas of child as Performer (which I find less prevalent in the life learning families I know than traditional schooling ones). One doesn’t necessarily need to perform any ONE particular career move (or even have a career) to make sure the eventuality of child-obsession is avoided – nor will such a career pursuit guarantee a fully-lived life of self-actuated integrity.

I have a chemical engineering degree and had quite a little career going. I loved it. I put that aside years ago and became involved in work in the home, where I am now eight years later with my wonderful kids. Even if you were to surgically remove my kids and their influence from Me (which is silly to think of) I still have something “of my own” -or rather many things. My intelligence, my bodywork, my writing, my sewing, my personhood, my integrity, my volunteer work, my marriage, my friendships. My life with my kids has informed me far more than my career did. Note I am not speaking prescriptively but about me and my family only.

We need more smart and awesome people who are fulfilled in the work they do. If a PhD is what you need, go for it! You have my support. As for unschooling, there are as many ways to go about this and most unschoolers are a creative lot. If you do return to school, reaching out for ideas will help you navigate and do what’s best for you.

Tangentially, I wrote about the so-called “overinvolved mom” if you’re interested: “the over-involved Momster, a convenient premise to continue the laydee-hatin”

Good luck in whatever you go forth with!

***

A few minutes after posting I decided to delete my message because I wasn’t sure how link-friendly the Yahoo group was (I hate breaking posted rules of online groups, and I am a member of many so I’ve sometimes muddled it up). While I re-downloaded the group rules list I emailed Jean and asked if she’d like to hear my thoughts off-list. As I waited other group members began to engage and I’ve watched the conversation flow. Jean responded in kind and I observed as her assumptions about life with kids began to issue forth…

For instance: one can’t travel unless one has money from a second income. Spending time with children while not pursuing a career is life “on hold”. “You need your own life”. “There is a big difference between interests and having work you are passionate about”. Self-sufficiency requires two incomes. And perhaps most illustrative:

“I don’t like the idea of having to put my own life on hold entirely, I don’t think that would be fair to me and my kids.  I don’t want to teach my kids that once they become parents they have to put their life on hold for 20 years!”

I don’t mean to pick on writer Jean because, whatever choices she makes and family structure she has, her reported worldviews are common enough in the USian adult sphere (and therefore continue to get passed down to children). I also, upon reflection and reading the conversation unfolding within the group, see she is struggling with these very problematic assumptions she puts forth as Facts Of Life (as opposed to personal and owned realities). For now I shall leave aside this person’s specific claims because at root the fallacies and fears that dwell within many American parents and carers, perhaps most especially mothers, are worth addressing here.

A brief point before I start talking about work for pay (“career”) vs. work without pay (“staying home”). Women are, unfortunately, pressured to justify their work, career, reproductive life, ambitions, and activities (or lack thereof) in a way men are not required to do. Full stop. In fact in today’s supposed egalitarian society this disparity is so striking and so deeply-ingrained it is really quite something to consider when we open the discussion.

If men ignore the conversation – fine. I can’t force them to care or put some time in (which begins by: listening to women’s related experiences, not rushing in and mansplaining or trying to “relate”). I’m not going to talk much more about gender disparity in questions of “work” (income) and family life. But I’d like to give a moment and pause and express my gratitude for the women, especially working mothers (by this I mean all mothers) who struggle with these questions, often without afforded status and proper support while being mocked for their struggles (yeah. Don’t make me link to the Hate).

For now I’d put forth the following:

The careful societal delineation of working for pay versus work required for living is a false dichotomy that has no positive results and ultimately disproportionately hurts women, children, and other marginalized parties.

This false dichotomy enforced by kyriarchal standards punishes every parent (especially mother) no matter what choices she makes (make no mistake, mothers who work out of the home are still judged and socially policed heavily). She is truly damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t.

People work-for-pay for all sorts of reasons. Many work-for-pay because they simply have to in order to survive. Many work-for-pay because they can’t stand to have fewer material possessions, or delay ownership of Nice Things. Many work-for-pay because the external validation of status and pay are essential to their sense of well-being. Many work-for-pay because they like to.  Many work-for-pay because working in the home is disparaged. Many work-for-pay because they are afraid to consider anything else, ever; money and job represent a Security either abstract or more concrete – for instance medical benefits or retirement benefits – they cannot fathom finding anywhere else and have good cause to suspect won’t be supported by our culture today. Reasons vary far more than I could list and obviously there are many combinations therein.

Most of us Work whether for-pay or not. And some find work because they can and they have the extraordinary privilege of making their life about work they love through-and-through. These are the fortunate ones. I am one of them.

I’ve been working without pay for most of a decade and this “housewife with no life and no security” bit has been beaten on my head ad nauseam. The idea that living a life with our children alongside means we “have no life”, or that while we are full-time parents “nothing can get done”, or that we will be husks of people when our kids one day move out, is not only supremely insulting to those of us who thrive in such work, it is demeaning to children themselves and I’d say at odds with the natural order. For instance: human beings eat and shit and make messes; younglings need TLC and food and instruction and protection and – really – love.  Some of us deal day-to-day with those realities and quite well (and in my case, not because it came to me “naturally”). The idea that our work is not “real” or it’s kind of pathetic or short-sighted or unintelligent fodder (my mother used to call women who thrived in in-home work “cows”) is insulting and in the end analysis, sad and limited. This does not, of course, only extend to female carers. I’ve long thought it ridiculous that words on a memo could be esteemed as Important while the shiny floor my father procured day in and day out as a janitor would be disparaged and his ilk mocked.

The kids and I spent part of yesterday in our working-class fishing/touristy town on the south beach of Grays Harbor. While following the children as they ran along fishing boats, I had a whole new respect for the men and women working hard at their jobs. These workers let us run in and about and, because they were on their boats and not on the floats themselves, we were able to observe one another without hindering one another. The unselfconscious and bustling aura of Work was one I felt entirely grateful and exhilerated by virtue of being around, and I was glad my children were exposed as well.

I reflected: we have a class and job caste system in America that is complex and remains largely undiscussed. I am familiar with worldviews that place my so-called “mundane” bum-wiping stay-at-home work on the lowest tier of worthwhile daily fare, the working class fisherman getting the chuck on the shoulder of being “a good American” who tries hard at least and pumps money into our tax base, God-bless-’em, and one’s own illustrious sciencey- or brainy-whatever Work much higher on the Worth continuum.  This has always irritated me (even and perhaps most especially when I was an engineer and surrounded by other engineers, many of which clearly thought themselves the apex of human thought and performance). Worldviews may differ but the myopic analysis of worthwhile exploits flourishes within those who don’t actively reject such narratives.  I’m reminded of a Facebook friend L. who posted a rant about the “modern domestic” woman who was taking too much joy and pride in her at-home married and kidlet life. According to L. women needed to farm out their kids, get Master’s degrees, and get into the workforce to advance Feminist Agendas! Coincidentally the exact same pursuits L. had recently embarked on.

Funny how it all works like that for some people.

As for another key aspect to the worldviews demonstrated in Jean’s original message (in the Yahoo group), it seems rather obvious that “living vicariously through children” is not at all the territory of those (women) who work in the home.  Please don’t make me immediately Google the high-profile adult children who have cracked under pressure, with sometimes tragic results, in response to a lifetime of familial training and expectations of high-status careers or “work” or societal esteem. “Living vicariously through children” (which we charge with pitying snarkiness on the futures of vast numbers of women, not men), as I understand the author to mean, is important to discuss and safeguard against but will not be precluded by bringing home a paycheck.

Bringing it to the personal sphere with regards to charges brought against homeschooling and/or life learning families, I’d posit that those of us who’ve embraced the autodidactic lifestyle for our children – which usually ends up influencing family life far beyond the role of an educational model – are some of the least at risk of the “vicarious” living so often thrown about as a potential Parenting Danger.  In the unschooling Yahoo group I mention moderator Meredeth writes, “If anything, I think unschoolers do this less than any other parents because we’re actively working on Not projecting our own needs and hopes and fears onto our kids.” (I don’t know if the capital “N” in “Not” was intentional but I rather like it.) No life strategy is a guarantee for Better Thinking, but personally our exploration of unschooling has been instrumental in my partner and I developing better parenting strategies for our children. Should my children attend school again some day, we have already reaped many benefits from these studies and life pursuits.

The truth is, really – and I am not going to touch on this much further for now – in some ways I am that pathetic mother some want to flesh out as being a Social Wretch. I have give-give-given to my children over the years, beyond what I ever thought I would want to, or ever thought I could. The results as they stand today are not what others might predict.  I have found the more fully I release to this giving the more I absolutely have my own life, the more my children are walking and breathing and joyous demonstrations of healthy nurture, and the less struggle Parenting is for me (I’ve been surprised to see my children reaching remarkable self-sufficiencies when not submitted to schooling and authoritarian schema). I am beginning to undo the damage I did them and myself in earlier years when I had internalized the “scarcity” model I was raised on (especially with regards to society’s messages), when I was suffering and overwhelmed and couldn’t believe how much work young-kid-rearing was (and when, I hasten to add, I was ill-supported by society at large as a mother to young babies, and when also our financial circumstances were far less sound). Life circumstances were hard for me and I did not perform well as a parent. Life circumstances are better now – due to my work a bit, my husband’s work a bit, the support of a few friends and my own mother, and good fortune. My parenting and the Work in my life is a font of inspiration and happiness – for now. I am enjoying this while I can.

I’d add one caveat: “give and give more” (a quote from the below-posted Sandra Dodd article) is not possible for some people without further inflicting self-harm.  I have been relatively fortunate in my resources and my privilege. So I write here primarily for those who are not so different than I, those who aren’t in immediate danger (any more than any of us) of losing their homes, those who are not struggling with a legacy of abuse or mental health issues or poverty or debilitating life changes. It isn’t that my writings would have nothing to offer anyone else; it is that in offering my experiences I do not want to be experienced as delivering prescriptives to all who read. Rather I want to testify change is possible from the garden-variety damaging legacies we were delivered. For some, parenting is miserable and scary and claustrophobic – and it used to be for me. Undoing the damage has been a lot of hard work but I want to help those who are able and willing.

For now I will say I am tired, TIRED of the oft-mocked “no life” housewife caricature. You can’t invoke it and say Well, I don’t mean YOU Kelly. Yeah, but, you do, you mean me and all the carers who love their Work and take it Damn Seriously. It’s time to let this trope go and stop talking about her ghostly wretched form.

Let’s talk about you.  Let’s talk about me.

Honestly, it’s a better conversation.

***

A great tongue-in-cheek but entirely heartfelt and awesome read: Sandra Dodd’s “Precisely How to Unschool”

8/26/2010 Edited to add:
This post was in response to the oft-repeated stereotype of the lifeless, boring housewife with no personal autonomy and agency, etc. It occurs to me as I write that since many at-home carers have been victimized by these assumptions and narrow views they may have developed vitriol in reaction and might be tempted to say something negative about other types of parenting/caring strategies (specifically, moms who work outside the home). I ask anyone commenting comb through their intentions and words before posting here; nothing said should in any way further laser in on and/or negate choices of mothers, “working” (for pay) or otherwise. If you have doubts, don’t post, or send the comment to me first. Thank you!

Question: Beginner sewing

A reader writes in late June:
Hi Kelly! My name is S. and I am just letting you know, you’re inspiring me. I have a 7 month old daughter, K., and I am wanting to homeschool her. But the main reason I am writing you is to ask where you get your patterns and how did you learn to sew. I have a sewing machine… But the best I can do is make basic pillowcases and curtains! =]

I am wanting to learn how to sew clothes. If you have any tips, please let me know. Thanks again for a very entertaining blog! (By the way, your children are beautiful! I love their names!!)

S.

Thank you for the email! I learned to sew as a child, or rather I was around sewing a lot (my mother) and gradually learned over the course of my childhood. I was at the so-so sewing and/or curtains stage in the year 2000 when my mom gave me my first real machine. I started sewing in earnest after my children were born.

As far as patterns, well, it depends on what you want to sew. I personally love Ottobre but they aren’t really “beginner” patterns by any stretch.  I am friends with the two lovely people who started Patterns by Figgys, which are beginner-friendly patterns for children – lovingly drafted, unique, and have large size ranges. Really the best of all worlds. And finally, you can just go into a Joanns or Hancock Fabrics and grab some patterns when they’re on sale and get started. Most established pattern companies know their stuff enough that you are pretty safe to try something out.

It’s good to have a little guidance before selecting patterns. If you find a few things you like online – either sewing patterns or readymade clothes – I can help direct you to some patterns that might work for you.

As for learning, I find the best thing for many people is to take a class or find a mentor to help you. Your mentor ideally shouldn’t be someone who says they can sew (lots of people say that but their skills aren’t sturdy or reliable), but someone whose items you’ve seen and you like and someone who is frothing at the mouth to teach (these people exist – I’m one of them!). I am happy to mentor you online inasmuch as I’m able but of course, a person you could meet with would be even better.

Do you live in or near a city? If so, and you have the funds, or a sponsor, a class is a great way to get a head start.

Of course there is more information online, many amazing books, tons of YouTube tutorials, etc. It depends on what kind of person you are and how you best learn. Example: when I was first learning to knit, at a certain point I needed to learn how to do a simple cast-on. I went online and looked and looked and I couldn’t get it and I spent over an hour and wanted to cry and/or pee my pants. Then I bought a beginner book and just read the actual words describing the long tail cast-on method (not looking at the pictures) and it clicked. Maybe the writer was gifted. Maybe I am more written-word oriented than picture oriented (this would explain why the abovementioned Ottobre patterns work for me). In any case, don’t let one or two bad spells deter you. There is a perfect methodology/teaching method out there to assist!

I loaned that book to another person and never got it back. I hope she got good use out of it too!

Finding an online group that is supportive and clicks is great, too. There are so many. Again, I was part of a group for a few years and it lost a group owner and got a new one and that changed everything for me.  I hang out a bit at the forums on Pattern Review and Sew Mama Sew. I haven’t found the group that clicked as well for me as I had a few years ago, but I know it will happen again in time.

Good luck and if there is any way I can help, don’t hesitate to email/send pictures/IM/DM/tweet etc! Please do take me up on my offer because one thing I love more than anything else is assisting people in their stitching adventures.

(& thank you for the compliments!)

Question: I’m blogging now in earnest; how should I go about it?

On July 14th Stephanie writes,
Hi Kelly! I hope this finds you happy and well.

I’ve been blogging for almost a year now. I’ve had some mixed reactions to it, but most have been good. A friend of mine recently told me I should be putting my writings onto a flash drive, writing a book and publishing instead of putting them on the internet for anyone to plagiarize.

I honestly like the blogging sort of writing. It fits my style very well, since I’ve been a journal-writer since I was in the 4th grade (all the journals sit on a shelf in my apartment). My thoughts on book-writing have always been in the back of my mind, and I thought blogging would be a good way to introduce people to ME and my writing, and see what the reaction is.

I recently switched from LiveJournal to WordPress, and I love it! I noticed your “kellyhogaboom” blog is on WordPress, and I was wondering how you have the domain name? I saw that you can transfer a domain name there, but I didn’t see anything about purchasing one.

My other question is your thoughts on the book vs. blog with plagiarizing and all that. Have you ever experienced a risk with this? Also, have you ever felt like your blog was drawing some “freaks” from “out there” to your family unit?

The last question is more of a favor or request: could you read/look at my blog and give me some real, honest, feedback? http://stepville.wordpress.com/ [Friend A]. actually told me she’s never read it because she’s sure it contains nothing but woefulness, while [Friend Z] reads it and is a fan. There are times that I definitely feel like I’m sniveling, and I try to “make up” for it with a positive entry. There are posts where I just unload frustrations about my kid’s dad and/or my (now) ex-boyfriend that make me feel like such an unhappy, hateful person, to be perfectly honest. I don’t know. The aftermath of a break-up is usually full of low self-esteem and self-doubt/loathing.

Anyway, I do enjoy your writing, and any thoughts or feedback you could give me would be very appreciated. Thanks.

Hi Stephanie,

Hello and thanks for writing!

First of all, I’m sorry about your breakup. Without having read your blog as of this writing, I must say I am a fan of “unhappy, hateful” blog entries personally. First of all, this is a reality of your life and to never express these feelings is surely not a good thing; putting them in public is not the only way to handle these feelings, but it is not an illegitimate way either. NO ONE is forced to read your blog, so don’t feel bad about your content. Many might find your writings – yes, the painful ones – helpful; I get many emails thanking me for my expressions of darkness.

One caveat: I think sometimes dark entries can run the risk of hurting parties – not even necessarily those directly involved in the entries, either. For my part, I hope I’ve conveyed an openness to receiving emails, comments, etc. from those who may feel stung by anything I’ve written (this has happened only rarely, more in a minute). I also hope my readers stick around enough to know my occasional venting post is not the sum total of Who I Am. So far I’ve been happy with my readership, very much so.

I hope if nothing else your blog serves as cathartic and mind-clearing to write and publish (mine does for me). I wonder if later in life you will find those “dark” posts hard to read (I do in mine!). In any case, I find keeping an online journal a wonderful exercise for about a half-dozen unique reasons, and I hope you do to.

On to your email queries.

I can’t help you with good book-making and/or selling advice. I don’t have any plans on monetizing my writing. As far as worrying about plagiarism… you have copyright. If you like you can publicly claim copyright in a more visible way and put some text out there like, “Don’t steal or use without permission,” etc etc. Many sites say something like this and require that if anyone reproduces their blog content they ask first and/or reference the original works (and usually these blog-owners are more than happy to grant permission). In any case if someone were to “steal” you’d have the upper hand legally. Is it likely anyone will steal at this stage in your endeavor? I don’t think so. Is it likely that saying, “Hey, just ask permission” and granting it will increase goodwill and following? Yes.

You asked:

[H]ave you ever felt like your blog was drawing some “freaks” from “out there” to your family unit?

I am not sure what you mean by “freaks” but, if you’re asking if I’ve ever felt in danger in any way – no. Most of the comments, tweets, and emails I receive are supportive or at least earnest, even if they sometimes challenge me in ways I find a bit time-consuming or contain accusations of bad faith (example: Christie’s comments and my response). I’ve only allowed comments in the last year, after much pressure from many. I have mixed feelings about the ways this has changed my blog experience but so far I continue to allow them. One thing some of my readers may not know is I make every effort to respond to comments, especially those my readers have put some time and effort into. This isn’t always possible with my other time commitments and responsibilities but I feel very good about my comment dialogues so far.

Ultimately I think my lack of fame or self-promotion along with my writing caliber has brought me to great readers who’ve given me a lot of joy (those who have contacted me via Twitter, DM, IM, email, phone and post anyway… there may be lurker/haters for all I know!). And yes, I really have had people contact me via all the above. Two days ago I got a phone call from upstate NY with sewing questions. Interactions like this make my day.

However, I must admit my pre-comment blog experience was much easier on my mental health. In sum I say remember, this is your space and you can do exactly what you like with it.

As to your request for “honest feedback” – let me read and digest for a while. I just put you in my feed reader and I’ll read for a few days then let you know what I think. I‘ll be watching you, heh.

I’m Ccing this email to Ralph who can help you with the domain-name thing (no, you cannot buy domains through WordPress) and if you have more questions re: copyright. I am no copyright maven but he comes close!

Hope this helps, and do write back if I’ve been unclear or if you have any other questions.

Question: How should we handle our daughter’s “dramatics”?

A friend and reader writes me an email in late June, 2010:
[My 8 year old daughter L. has been having] periodic breakdowns (when overly tired) that are just SAD AND INTENSE. Everything comes up -including things that we talked about the last time. Specifically, the dogs dying, if I might go to the hospital with allergies and die there, why the older kids are so mean, that I like [her younger sister] R. more b/c she is littler, that [her father] C. laughs at her when she is angry, and more.  Some of these big feelings are traceable to events , some start to feel like dramatics.

We handle it the same each time.  I lay down with her in bed and she cries and talks.  She is so wrecked that her breathing is all ragged. Once she is wound down we read a story and she goes to sleep.  This morning I am thinking about it and it occurs to me that I do not make a lot of one on one with her.  I will increase that so that she gets all of my attention when she is not all upset. 

I want to be clear that I do not think L. is being dramatic or making anything up.  I just am amazed by the depth of her feelings.  I wonder if she is running this stuff through her mind all the time… I wonder how I can better support discussions about death (not my best topic) when she is not all wound up.  I wonder if I should take my kids to church so they have a spiritual foundation.  I wonder how she will manage these huge feelings when she is older and bigger things are happening?

Mostly, I wonder if you have any thoughts from your own experience to share.

Hello,

I thought quite a bit about what you wrote to me about L. I think the situation has some complexity and there are a few factors involved. First I want to speak about parenting girls (especially firstborn daughters), secondly some of my observations and thoughts around L. and your family specifically, and finally some of my similar issues with my daughter. I hope you can take a few minutes to read, respond, re-read and digest. And I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I have come to believe our culture is horrid at raising girls in a healthy way. I would go so far as to say once you step outside the door it’s an anti-girl zone. Even our societal shortcomings might be navigable (and as it turns out our social landscape would improve) if more parents were aware of just how girl-toxic it is out there and sought to supplant these harmful effects by giving their daughter their compassion, shelter, and support of her inner resources. Yet it is a rare mother, father, or carer who are fully nurturing and protective enough to best raise a strong daughter. Success is bestowed when we raise a daughter who functions well (and is convenient to others), but this is not the same thing. The academic- or career-achieving “good girl” etc. is created often at the expense of her integrity, happiness, internal awareness, and autonomy.

I don’t want to raise a well-functioning daughter anymore (although this is what I started with when I first had my child). I want to raise a strong and happy daughter. The funny thing is such a child likely will appear well-functioning to others. But if “well-functioning” is my only or primary goal there is every chance I will limit her severely.

It sounds noble and it sounds like every parent/carer’s goal to raise a “strong girl” but it is very difficult in practice because we are working against our culture and (usually) our own upbringings. We have a tendency to highly-socialize girls, expect more from them (in terms of manner, performance, and pleasing others), and boy do we not like their “displays” of unacceptable behaviors, including “throwing fits” or having “drama” (or bullying or rudeness etc etc.). We are so much more forgiving and have a sense of humor about this stuff regarding boys.

This brings me to your family in particular and L.’s wind-ups or wind-downs or what have you. First, a couple observations. Since L. was a very young infant/toddler, I have noticed when she has emotional displays you frequently tell her she is over-tired or over-hungry. Even in this email you cite her over-tiredness and seek to on one hand call her behavior “dramatics” but on the other hand seek to distance her behavior from “drama” (it seems clear you think “drama” is a bad thing).

I don’t know how L. experiences this but I can tell you as a young girl I experienced this kind of minimization (usually from my mother) as extremely condescending and infuriating. There were many variations of this diminishment growing up. I was told I was “too young” to understand (when I wasn’t), or “too tired” or “too hungry” or “going to start my period” (this was especially annoying as I was told this for FOUR YEARS before I ever did start my period). As an adult I think about the “fits” and the displays I had and honestly, they were usually for a good reason! Yet I was belittled so much. Now, I have empathy for my parents and I believe they were ill-equipped to handle emotional displays (my mother believes this as well and admits this now) and so they (esp. my mother) sought to “cure” me of my undesirable behaviors. Unfortunately the sum message – especially when compounded with cultural messages of “niceness” and virtue and unselfishness – was that I was an asshole and my “drama” was not appreciated nor would it be listened to, much. Hence I learned to sacrifice authenticity or else be shamed, I learned to subvert my feelings, to sneak around and hide, and to foster resentment which turned venomous over time.

I don’t mean to make it sound like my childhood was horrid because in many ways my home was a nurturing and loving one. Just that as an adult female of 33 I am still prone to second-guessing myself and it has not helped me in any way. Being tired or hungry is still an issue that crops up in my adult life, but it hardly makes my emotions and thoughts invalid. In fact sometimes being over-tired or over-hungry or what-have-you reveals deep-seated issues I”ve been repressing, and can serve as a divining rod to things I need to address or bring awareness to (And hello, I tend to think women’s so-called PMS can actually have the result of peeling back the veil and being a woman’s pretty goddamned valid expression of self). I know neither you or I want our daughter’s to feel so restricted and/or candy-ass or be a “play nice” adult (who is devious and resentful, or viscous behind her friends’/coworkers back). But if that’s true we have to do some hard work in the here and now.

(In contrast to the treatment I received as a young/preteen/teen girl, I recently wrote a bit about some different ways I’ve responded to my own daughter here: [ link ]).

L. may be experiencing the following as minimizing and frustrating: Her father’s laughter at her anger, the suggestions she is “tired” or “hungry”, or the admonitions that she won’t be listened to unless she can say or express it better or nicer or more articulately, etc. Even if she is not (yet) experiencing these as condescending or frustrating, I’m not sure these responses A. honor L. as a person with genuine feelings that are OK, no matter how strong or startling, or B. help her find out for herself when she is “tired” or “hungry” or what she needs.

Also, a rush to comfort a distraught child or a fear of their display sends the message: “You are out of control and I am unhappy with this,” (abandonment, heartbreak, conditional love may be experienced by the child) or “You are out of control and I don’t know what to do either!” (may be scary and/or alienating for the child) or “I do not trust you to handle yourself” (may undermine self-esteem and self-worth and/or foster resentment in the child). In other words any fear you feel at her displays are sending her the message something is Deeply Wrong with them. I encourage you to check every iota of baggage on this.

Another caveat: if you are NOT taking her emotions seriously – well, that’s almost worse. In other words if you view her displays as kind of “cute” or “childlike” or “drama” only and therefore laughable or beneath mention, this is a serious infraction (I have this tendency with my son Nels). This sends the message: “I will decide when something is important, and you have no say” or “You are less of a person than the adults in this house.” However I don’t think this is very You – it’s just worth mentioning as it runs in my family (especially my mom’s side).

Obviously this is all a tricky business and in similar scenarios I have responded quite poorly to my daughter’s displays (and more rarely, my son’s) – I’ll talk more about my struggles in a minute. However as the growunps we have the opportunity to regroup and come up with better strategies (as your email evidences you are doing).

Before I talk about my own experiences, a coda re: death in your household: the subject of death comes up when she is “all wound up” for a reason, not as a coincidence. She has, through her exposure to you and C.’s attitudes, developed a picture of death as frightening and overwhelming and perhaps a bit sentimental. By your own admission you have a hard time with death (as do many, if not most, people I know – except maybe my 512-year old dyed-in-the-wool Christian friends and neighbors) and I wonder if C. does too (he is a lot like you after all). As long as you both struggle, your children will pick this up too either some of the same fears and sentimentalization, or as a way to manipulate response (and I don’t mean the latter in a bad way). E.g. when L. is sad and overwhelmed she will refer to death because this is heavy emotional currency in your family. She is either just as fearful of death as you are and genuinely needs help, or she is “using” death as a way to communicate how Big A Deal her feelings are. When our kids tell us how Big A Deal their feelings are – by “drama” or hitting or strong words or the silent treatment – we are handed a supreme gift. They are still trying to communicate with us, and they are giving us their most vulnerable part. If we blow it, and continue to blow it, we risk hurting them or we risk them shutting down.

One more thought about death. Death is a subject that is not innately traumatic or horrid for children, but often they are made to experience it in that way. My children have been there for several deaths, sometimes graphic ones (we lost our first hen last night, BTW, FML). Most notable for us was my father’s death (right up close in the home) and our matriarchal cat Blackie’s death (lingering illness then euthanasia at the vet). I cope with death very well (I’ve had lots of practice I guess); my husband less so although he is improving. Our children have responded by being present and sorrowful but also strong and stable on the subject, and they have rarely evidenced nightmares or fears around it, even when “over-tired” or what-have-you. Now I can’t tell you or C. to just “get over it” and cope better. It is a highly personal issue. But to the extent that you struggle your children likely will as well. If your daughter brings up death when she is “all wound up” I would view this as a natural expression given your home and it’s unique challenges and emotional subjects. How to handle it, well first I’d have to hear some more details of your own feelings and I am open to the conversation and interested as well.

Now I want to talk about my own daughter a bit. I fall prey to poor parenting strategy regarding my daughter often. It is taking a lot of focussed work to improve. I wrote a bit about some recent stuff in the blog post I linked to above. I have many more thoughts on my daughter and her state of emotional health and I’ll share some.

I would say it is hard to know when Phoenix is doing well, because she gives the appearance of socially functioning well (as in, is “well-behaved” and doesn’t “act out”) even when she is unhappy. She is very subtle to me and thus I’ve had to grow new antennae. This is still a work in progress. Up until a couple years ago she was well on her way – thanks to me, her father, and school-environs – to being a “good girl”. In other words she was performing well in school and I was still socializing her to be polite and mannered. She got praised by her school staff often and at parent-teacher conferences the teacher would talk about the TINIEST MINUTIAE EVER – further ways Phoenix (then Sophie) could “improve” or be better. Because you know, it’s not enough to have a good girl at the top of the class who is a genuinely nice person, when she could be just even more perfect and well-behaved. I began to see the potential problem for my daughter wasn’t that she’d be “bored” in public school (b/c of her academic accomplishments) but that she’d start to thrive on praise and external validation. I’ve been there done that and could write tomes on the negative effects of this experience (but I’ll spare you for now).

Concomitant to unschooling at home I began to tolerate her “fuss downs” (her phrase) with less sharpness and irritation (for the child, our intolerance can be experienced as minimization, humiliation, and conditional love). I have noticed that in working against an intolerance for Phoenix’s emotional displays and focussing on being present for her these displays have decreased. She genuinely seems more happy and centered than she ever has before. Her name change was quite a good sign to me and the calm way she has owned her new name with steadfast determination is not something I would have predicted a couple years ago. She is gradually shedding her Good Girl upbringing and I hope to continue to assist her in doing so. Along with her happiness she seems more resilient to standing up to me and telling me “no” (which I’m aware can’t be easy). My job is to realize her “no” is her right and allow her that “no”. Of course, paradoxically, this makes her all the more willing to respond “yes” when it is something that will help me. She is also more honest about her mistakes, more proactive in apologizing, and more willing and able to make amends. Rather than these being rote duties she performs due to training, they are genuinely stemming from a place of gladness and a sense of responsibility and integrity – her own (not mine). A core of resentment she’d held towards me (from my more controlling parenting) seems to be dissolving and is now hardly evident.

To prove I am not a saint or awesome mom I can illustrate some failures on my part. Unfortunately I still respond to her sharply at times because I am often overwhelmed by the difficulties I have. One problem is I am still sensitive to strangers giving me the glare (or my perception of it even if it isn’t there) if my kids are rowdy in public. Sometimes I will suddenly abandon my mellowness and snap at them, take out my anxieties on them. The other problem is Phoenix often feels overwhelmed by her brother (who she will play with all morning and love so dearly, but when they have a spat it’s like a cage fight) and I feel unsure of how to help them and upset by their fights. I sometimes feel plagued with guilt when Nels hits her – like it is my fault. This is a short-sighted response because of course Nels’ hitting is only his poor strategy at having his needs unmet. Still, I feel such judgment and terribleness when this happens I become in my way paralyzed. And finally, I am pretty responsive and present with my kids alone but less so when there is an event or activity or friend I want to be with. I tend to wish my kids could operate well-mannered while I socialize or (like yesterday) get my haircut even when apparently this isn’t always realistic. I have still not let it sink in I am a Mother Full Time and that most especially includes when the kids are physically with me, whatever other activities I wish I could engage in. Also, frankly, our culture is just SHIT when it comes to helping parents with young kids – especially mothers. How many times in a world organized for Adults Only do you see strangers get that fart-smelling look at the “bad” child (sometimes even a very young baby!). I haven’t yet reconciled myself to this reality (and maybe I shouldn’t) so it is a strain in my life.

I am still working hard to re-program and I continually make mistakes. I wish I’d had even the slightest clue about all this when I first had a baby. But I didn’t, and I’m doing my best now.

For L. it doesn’t sound like you are handling things poorly with her crying etc., but I do think no amount of nurture and love in those moments is going to be the solution. These are issues deeper and will take some time to sort. I suggest adopting a long-view on this. If L. doesn’t have a crying jag tomorrow and the next day it doesn’t mean the factors I cite (or others I’ve missed) aren’t at play. My daughter’s gradual change from tension and performance to relaxed authenticity was not overnight, and it is still progressing. Handling the “crisis points” (like crying jags or in Phoenix’s case, the silent treatment) well is good enough, but getting to the roots of it to diffuse the crisis in the first place is harder work and may take a while.

I agree with your thoughts that one-on-one time is a good thing but it need not necessarily be “quality” time like crafting or whatever. Even just driving to the grocery store together, in fact especially mundane errands that take you out of the house and away from R. or C. or whatever, will foster healing for L.. You can try something more special like going on a hike or beach walk with just her, no one else and no distractions. I am fortunate in that Hoquiam/Aberdeen is big enough that when we go somewhere I don’t run into four hundred people to gab with, so I can be primarily with my child. So keep this in mind that an errand out with L. may be imperiled by the typical shoot-the-shit I know you and C. enjoy so much.

When Phoenix and I are alone together we often spend our time in companionable near-silence. It’s been wonderful and healing.

You can also think on what you think C. may or may not be adding to this. For instance Ralph is very nurturing and sweet to Phoenix and is often experienced as her respite and her supporter. He continually makes errors with Nels and I am all up in his business about this. He is improving with time. I know some people instruct one shouldn’t “manage” the relationship of a spouse with a child. But in my own life Ralph and I absolutely intervene when we think the other is fucking up. You are probably in a good place to weigh in on C. but maybe after you and L. are in a more stable place.

Additional reading material – I know I’ve recommended this book to you but I’m not sure if you’ve read it: The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence by Rachel Simmons. I would actually love more reading material on our girl-socialization because this book, though excellent, is limited to teen interactions with peers, and the only one I’ve read about contemporary girl-culture toxicity.

Please keep in mind I’ve thought deeply and responded based on what I know from my experience in my family and around yours. If I’ve said something that doesn’t ring true for you and your family by all means discard what I said or correct me.

Thank you for sharing with me and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

***
Editor’s note: my friend – who wrote this in the capacity of friend-to-friend, not so much as a reader of my various writings on children, parenting, culture, and unschooling – was courteous enough to agree I could post this letter (blog/journal-related emails and queries are subject to my Policies on publishing, although anonymity may be requested). I am not interested in comments weighing in on my friend’s unique circumstances nor guesses as to how she and her partner might be failing their child. I specifically posted this so that parents – especially parents of young girls – might engage in discussion of their own observations on parenting girl children, their own difficulties therein, and any gentle and respectful commentary re: this particular scenario.

In short, my friend had the benefit that I know her and her family very, very well over the years since we’ve had children. You don’t (know them). If you wish to comment, proceed with caution.
***

Question: A callous parent?

On May 30th a reader writes:
So, I was thinking about your post yesterday after a little accident on the beach yesterday. [My friend] G. and I make a great team with her kids. I know her kids and I know how she parents, and since we’re together all the time she gives me the right to draw boundaries and set consequences if need be for her girls. It works for us. Her kids are tough and if one hits the other and the other punches back, she just sits back and waits for them to work it out. I’ve learned to be comfortable with that.

So, another woman comes down to the beach with her two boys. They live there, so I’m sure they are much more familiar with the terrain. She seemed largely unconcerned that her one year old was tottering around near the quarry sans life jacket. Okay. Then her oldest sits down on the swing and the littlest toddles over and gets a little too close and bam! The bar on the bottom of the swing beans him on the head and he goes tumbling several feet. I jump up because the mom is nowhere to be seen and then the whole swing collapses and falls backward, most notably knocking the wind out of the oldest. I run over and no one’s crying, everyone seems fine and the mom saunters over and asks if everyone’s okay. I tell her that the youngest got hit on the head and went tumbling and she asks if everyone is okay and then walks away, leaving the kids to fend for themselves. I do likewise. Because – it’s not my deal. I feel like it was okay for me to run to the rescue, should someone have been bleeding or unconscious, but since she seems unconcerned, I have to do the same. But I felt weird about it.

Anyway, just wondered what you thought about it in light of what you wrote.

A story like this is rather hard to get a read on because I wasn’t there. First off, of course it was okay for you to run to the little one’s rescue. Had they been hysterical and hurt, you could have helped (although most young children usually want their mommies/daddies/carers when they are hurt and frightened). When I was a child I liked knowing grownups noticed when one of us had trouble, and I was comforted when they stepped in to assist whether I took them up on it or not.

As for the mother and your thoughts on her, I will say many parents I observe run the gamut of heavily managing injuries/crying to barely reacting. If I were being judged from outside by someone who did not know me I would likely often look like more of the “barely reacting” type. Not so much my kids don’t seek me out, though: they come to me for a hug and wipe their tears on my clothes and move on, and I always give them exactly how much love they need (How do I know? While I am still there, present, holding them, they release me and move on.)

Funnily enough when the kids have a huge throwdown (like what people call “a tantrum”) I am also usually pretty calm through that too. Last night we had a dinner guest (childfree) and I could tell she was watching me like a hawk to see how I’d handle my daughter’s “drama”. But the thing is, it is the very part of me that “allows” drama that also enables my children to move through it quickly and for the most part remain quite even-keeled through many stressors (as far as I can tell). My daughter had a few upsets at the beginning of the dinner and then she was calm and happy throughout the evening beyond 11 o’clock when our guest left. Not that I think anyone has the right to judge my parenting and my child based on her “convenience” for guests; my point is that I did not need to lecture my daughter about her “bad behavior” (or whatever) for her to move on to “better behavior” – but I often feel a social pressure to do so.

Back to the beach: those kids sounded pretty young and when I had young babies I tended to react more than I do now. It isn’t just because I love(d) them, it’s because I felt expected to (or else be judged a “bad mother”). I now believe I did not need to react and rescue and moderate as much as I did. But then, I was new to the whole bit too. Now instead of social mores I have my intense knowledge of my own children. A parent in tune with their kids recognizes relatively quickly when they really do need cuddling, a bandaid, some attention, etc. and when they don’t.

Was that mother in tune with her kids? I can’t tell because I wasn’t there, but you might be able to make a reasonable guess if you think back on what happened. I do see people here where I live who seem almost callous to their children. But often these people have a look like things are rough, their lives are rough, or at least they’re having some sort of terrible clusterfuck of a day. A sort of drawn look not to mention their clothing and their cars (or lack thereof) or their tone of voice or what they’re talking about or the look in their eyes – it reminds me I have things more fortunate than many others. I am not saying everyone who’s an ass-hat to their kids has some tragic story as to why. But I’m far less likely to jump to any conclusions than I used to be.

Another possibility is the mother felt shamed for not being there or shamed/angry for having another person “infringe” on her territory (I hasten to add again, you did nothing wrong) and she might have responded from a hardened place. I just don’t know but you might have a sense.

And finally, the life jacket thing. Well this is not only cultural but varies within families and if we needed to keep our kids safe 24/7 we, well, we wouldn’t HAVE kids. Anecdotally I am very, VERY paranoid with my children around water – and they both can swim. Since they were babies I’ve worried about drowning; even when I had them strapped to my body and was crossing a safe bridge I’d have terrible fantasies about them plunging in. At a quarry I’d probably have crazy-eye with worry over my baby.

And finally, off-topic a bit, anytime I hear adults judging one another about parenting I think of this video:

http://www.break.com/index/two-year-old-toddler-smokes-cigarettes.html

The truth is parenting is a hard job and most people are doing the best we can. It is wonderful you help your friend out and you are one of those valued friends who shares family life with us. I have several of those childfree (or childless, depending on your preference) friends and they are very treasured by myself, my husband, and my children. G. is lucky to have you.