In January, I read a fab book called Children Who Do Too Little. It was, and here I am using Gru’s voice, a “lightbulb” moment. Since my brain started to recover from having children (Frog, now 8; Meerkat, now 6 and Mouse, also 6) I have been battling with the issue of Wifework and how that sits with my beliefs about the world and feminism. (I still haven’t read the book. It’s on my list.) I had NO IDEA before I had children. I thought that feminism was something that was important 20 years ago (or more) but that in today’s society it was no longer relevant. Ha ha. If only I’d known. Then I had three children in quick succession, gave up work (because I wanted to and was able to) and took on the mantle of being a full time mother and running a house for five of us. Wow. I felt like I’d died. I remember distinctly going out to lunch en famille when the girls were still in high chairs (we were on holiday) and looking at other women, particularly mothers, trying to work out if they still actually existed as people. I concluded that a few of them — and all of those had only one child — probably still had remnants of themselves, but most of the others just didn’t. They ceased to exist and became a human-shaped long to-do list in order to keep body and soul together. You could see it in their faces. In my face. When people asked me how I was, I felt I couldn’t answer that question because I didn’t know who “I” was anymore.
Time passes, routines settle in, and you live your own new normal. I my case, I did everything because I felt I had to do everything (my partner was working more than full-time hours; my children couldn’t do anything because they were, at that stage, just blobs).
And I read stuff. At this stage, books were too difficult, so I was reading blogs and bits and bobs I found in my precious moments of internet surfing. And it struck me that mothers have such a different life experience from other people. Politics and politicians were all irrelevant to me: people making decisions about this country and my life were so far removed from my life experience that they did not represent me in any way at all (even women politicians — how many of those are mothers? I know why, of course.) I was, very much, down among the women. And it also struck me how universal my daily battles were: the glass left on top of the dishwasher; laundry on the floor not in the basket; being asked what was for dinner; feeling like no-one knew (other than other people doing the same thing) just how HARD this all was. Running a house for five people and feeding five people and keeping all the balls in the air is HARD. The work required has a kind of relentless, unforgiving, suffocating quality. Then, two years ago, I started working (=paid / professional work) again (not full time). I loved it. Work was EASY compared to running a house. (And allegedly, what I do is not all that easy.) It put what I was doing at home into a new context.
Then, last month, I read Children Who Do Too Little. Amazing. Her basic premise is that everyone in the house should equally share the work that needs doing. (There’s a lot more in there that is useful and thought provoking, particularly about what work children can and should be doing.) It’s so bloody simple that I felt like slapping myself for not working it out toute seule. So, because there is no time like the present, and my work was unusually quiet at the end of January, I sat down and worked out the work I would like to share out, and that I felt my children were able to do. (They had been doing some, but I wanted to ramp it up.) Everyone in the family will do one day of “kitchen” duty, which required cleaning up after every meal; everyone would do one day of “bathroom” duty which required giving each bathroom a once-over (we have three). Then there were laundry duties, bin duties etc. Mr Particular and I are also in the rota. Surprisingly, everyone was quite up for it, and off we went. It felt right. I felt virtuous.
Mr Particular has been working away from home this week (WHY DID I START THIS ON A WEEK HE WAS AWAY?!). Last night I finished work at 6pm and then walked into a long list of things that still needed doing; and needed doing with my help. I felt like crying. I took remedial action: we decided bathrooms didn’t need doing after all and Frog could switch that to Sunday, because he still needed to tidy up the family room (which looked like the children had taken all of our board games (we have hundreds) and emptied all of them all over the floor and then built towers with the boxes); I needed to clear the kitchen (I was on kitchen duty); I needed to wash Meerkat’s hair with special shampoo (she has skin issues and we are trying something new so can’t do it on her own, even though caring for her own hair is her (new) job); the children all needed to make their own packed lunches (new job); I hadn’t prepared anything for my own dinner … and so last night I was wondering what on earth I had done to myself. The children were all tired and not in the mood; I was tired and not in the mood. By the time they were in bed (later than normal) I reflected perhaps I had bitten off more than I can chew.
This morning, I still think it’s the right thing to do; and we will battle on. It hurts, but it’s right. It takes up more time and energy and effort than I think I have, but it’s still the right thing to do — and it will (please) get easier. Frog does make his packed lunch with little input from me, and that’s a good thing, even if it does take him half an hour. I need to work out the schedule a bit better: on the days I work til 6pm, we need to do it differently. If Mr Particular is away, until the children really can do it all without supervision or chivvying (ha ha see what I did there? I’m such an optimist), I need to take that into account on the rota.
And so we’ll see. I’m still pretty convinced this is the answer, though.