Sunday, July 04, 2004

First Parenting Post

I noticed the other day that, despite the fact that I was hoping to use this blog as an excuse to write and a means to publish material that combines the personal and the political (or sees the personal through a political lens, or the political through a personal lens), I have not posted a single, solitary thing about my biggest time commitment these days: parenting. We have a 10.5 month old baby called Liam, and I am his primary caregiver from 8 am to 5:30 or so pm every weekday, and co-primary caregiver any of the rest of the time that I am not holed up at my desk writing or working on my oral history project. I suppose not writing about this represents a bit of a failure on my part to fully engage with something, though I am unsure whether that something is the political aspects of parenting specifically or if it is a sign of ongoing partial disconnection from grounding my politics in my own experience. Probably both.

Anyway, I will include one observation on gender and parenting, though it isn't a particularly recent one.

Obviously gender has a lot to do with expected roles, socialization, and societal patterns related to parenting. One manifestation of this surprised me in the lead-up to our move here. In discussions with two different women about my hopes and fears about my pending role as primary caregiver, I received what seemed to be a distinct lack of sympathy. This kind of surprised me, because both women in question are people with whom I share fairly profound emotional intimacy, and with whom the mutual sharing of support is fairly central to how we relate to one another. In addition, both are quite conscious that I am not unaware, at leaset at an intellectual level, of the oppressive gender bias in how caregiving roles tend to be assigned.

On reflection, I think it is fair to say that "lack of sympathy" is an excessively harsh way of characterizing these reactions. They were, rather, responses that were less expressive than I might have expected due to differently gendered socializations on our respective parts, but still entirely supportive. Wrestling with issues of having time for myself, being able to establish activities and identity outside of the home, fear of the mind-numbing boredom and lack of intellectual stimulation that can come with childcare provision -- all of these things and more were and are relatively novel to me. However, though one of the women I was talking to is relatively new to parenting herself and the other has no children, they both have been forced by social expectations to deal with the potential of having to invest large parts of their lives in childcare since they were essentially children themselves. I suspect that this diffrence led me to talk about the issue in a way that was based in but did not problematize the fact that it was, for me, a deviation from expected privilege rather than a long-expected challenge. This is true even though it is a role I have been expecting to take for 6 or 7 years -- expecting in an intellectual sense, but, as I said, not really internalized until recently.

They both are extremely supportive of me and my experiences in this area, of course, and I don't want to disrespect that. Also, I know that I have it easier than most women who are primary caregivers during "business hours" because my partner is much more willing than most men would be to take a significant portion of the responsibility the rest of the time; in fact, though "eager" would be perhaps a bit of an overstatement some of the time, there certainly seems to be an element of internal compulsion to her taking the little dude while I work that I think would be much less in most 9-to-5 working Daddies (probably including me) if the roles were reversed.

So there you go. I'll try to keep myself involved in political reflection on this topic in the months and years ahead.

No comments: