A different glimpse of parenting
Posted by Dora
During my childhood, my parents operated within a very traditional framework. My father worked … a lot. My mother stayed at home with the children, doing the physical and emotional nurturing of the children and home. I can’t decide if this was more a function of the era (early 70’s), their political leanings (Republican), their religion (LDS) or their own family heritage (immigrants from Japan and Korea).
My memories of my mother are legion. Being exposed to all types of lessons: ballet, gymnastics, drawing, swimming, tennis, Japanese language. She finally settled on piano, and that stuck for about ten years. Being taught the importance of education. Having her do my hair up in precise ponytails, very occasionally with curls. Learning primary songs together, and looking up the words I didn’t know in the dictionary. Flying with me to Japan when I was five years old. Always petitioning my father on my behalf for any type of learning experience, especially travel. She pervades every part of my childhood, along with my maternal grandmother, who spent half the year with my family.
My memories of my father are different. They revolve around weekends (doing gardening chores and attending church sports events) and family vacations (camping and cultural trips). From what I remember, my father worked a lot of overtime, and provided very amply for his family, and made up for it outside of the workweek. And when I really stop to think, my father seems strangely absent from the day to day memories of school, friends and lessons. However, things started changing around the time I turned fourteen (or when my youngest brother turned seven). I’ve written before about how my mother gradually returned to the work force, and how my maternal grandmother took over many of the physical nurturing aspects of our home, and how we children pitched in to make it all work. However, when I think back to it, I can’t say that my father did a lot to fill in the gaps. My mother still did the shopping and cooking, and was still the one that we all congregated around. This came home to me as I thought about the examples of a couple of friends that really astound me.
I was out dancing a couple of weeks ago, when I saw E for the first time in ages. Turns out that he and his wife had recently moved back from Massachusetts, where he continued some work on his dissertation in computer science. When I asked him how life was, he replied that it was exhausting. Why? The baby. Turns out that they have a three month old infant, and he and his wife spend equal time taking care of the baby. This surprised me. E comes from an Israeli background (spent years doing Israeli folkdance before coming to lindy), and with knowing hoe busy he was with his school work, I had just assumed that his wife had taken over all the parenting duties.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that other examples were out there. My good friends P & M are both very active latter-day saints. M grew up in what I assume was a very traditionally structured home. However, P grew up with an aged father who did most of the nurturing while her mother worked fulltime. P & M had a baby a little less than a year ago, and had just assumed that P would probably not return to work. However, after maternity leave was over, P returned to work in the evenings. M shifted his work schedule so as to be home in the early evening when P went to work. It’s his responsibility to get the baby into bed and asleep. The more I talked with them about it, the more it astounded me. I don’t know many fathers who have regular, dedicated time and responsibilities with their infant. M doesn’t just slip in time between work and sleep. He has actually changed his work schedule to be home and care for his child. M gets bonding time with the baby, P gets time to be out and interact with other adults and contribute to the family finances.
I was so awed by P & M’s example. I envision something like it for myself. And yet, I wonder. How will their arrangement change with time? Will P want to continue to work? Will M still want to have dedicated time alone with his son? Infants are so dependent on parents. Will M’s relationship change as the baby becomes more independent? Or will their increased interaction carry over throughout their lifetimes?
Lastly, I hosted a picnic dinner with a bunch of friends, and was able to reconnect with L & S, who are also very active latter-day saints. L has recently started staying at home with their two children, both pre-Kindergarten-aged. She’s actually been home for a while, but now she is not doing any part-time work from home. She’s taken this step because she recognizes the importance of having one parents at home. From our little stolen conversation in the kitchen, she’s told me that it’s been tough. And yet, she is constantly on the trail to find activities and experiences that enrich both the mother’s and children’s lives. S, after having worked in his industry for a while, returned to school, and is now a professor. At one point during the evening, L thanked S for taking a job in academia, which allows him more flexible time to be with his family, as opposed to staying in the private sector.
L & S’s example made me think about the best description of parenting that I’ve ever read. It comes from Xenocide by Orson Scott Card. And while I do not agree with his politics, Card nailed down the type of parent I would like to be. And funnily enough, it doesn’t have anything to do with gender.
“I saw what Andrew did in our family. I saw that he came in and listened and watched and understood who we were, each individual one of us. He tried to discover our need and then supply it. He took responsibility for other people and it didn’t seem to matter to him how much it cost him. And in the end, while he could never make the Ribeira family normal, he gave us peace and pride and identity. Stability. He married Mother and was kind to her. He loved us all. He was always there when we wanted him, and seemed unhurt by it when we didn’t. He was firm with us about expecting civilized behavior, but never indulged his whims at our expense. And I thought: This is so much more important than science. Or Politics, either. Or any particular profession or accomplishment, or thing you can make. I thought: If I could just make a good family, if I could just learn to be to other children, their whole lives, what Andrew was, coming so late into ours, then that would mean more in the long run, it would be a finer accomplishment than anything I could ever do with my mind or hands.”
“So, you’re a career father,” said Valentine.
“Who works at a brick factory to feed and clothe the family. Not a brickmaker who also has kids. [My wife] also feels the same way … She followed her own road to the same place. We do what we must to earn out place in the community, but we live for the hours at home. For each other. For the children.”
The structure in my parents’ marriage has been turned on its head. My father in now retired, and my mother continues to work full-time. And while my mother still does most of the grocery shopping, my father is now the mothering one, encouraging her to eat well and trying his hand at cooking and maintaining the house.
How have you structured parenting in your own family? Is it similar to how you yourself were raised, or have you made a deliberate effort to change? Are you satisfied with your parenting style? Is there something you wish you could change? If there are obstacles, what are they? How have you developed strategies around them?