Monday, 10 November 2008
Eco-Housewifery and Other Mysteries
I have a new computer monitor...hooray! It's fantastic, and came to me absolutely free, courtesy of a good friend who I've spent most of today chilling with, along with our two babies. I've been so used to looking at a flickering screen, that this feels like a real treat.
The weather is extremely melancholia-inducing at the moment. Hence I gave up and left the house after lunch to avoid getting stuck in it. There's only so much housework I can do - and today it was very little. As a 'SAHM' (Stay-at-Home Mother) I feel barely related to those moms who actually enjoy the 'home-making' thing, such as Shannon Hayes, the 'eco-housewife' and author of Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture, discussed in Tracey Sutton's article in Brain, Child Magazine's Fall 2008 issue. I was in awe reading about how Hayes survives on about 3 hours sleep, gets up to milk the cows and spends all day working hard to provide her family with the basics -with childcare thrown into the mix.
I am far too lazy for that. I like a bit of play, a little navel-gazing, a bit of literature, and a lot of socialising. I like to just enjoy the day alongside my developing toddler and watch his forays into the world. I wept when I read Kyo Maclear's Pictures of Awful (Brain, Child, Spring 2008) this morning during J's nap. It was a moving yet unsentimental essay on watching one's children gradually release the awful-ness of the world: the cruelty, the heartlessness, the wanton destruction. It hit me for the first time that, right now, J doesn't know. He has no idea what he's in for. He doesn't know about Hiroshima and Auschwitz and the Iraq War. To him, the world is a trustworthy place.
I remember when, as a teenager, I posted affirmations all over my walls. I liked to read them morning and night and during the day when my confidence wavered. One day my sister saw one of them, which was about the world being a safe place. Something like 'I am safe at all times.' She said, outraged, her innocence already fractured at the age of fifteen: 'But that's not true.' Especially in post-apartheid South Africa, that didn't seem true. We both grew up in a nation full of fear.
How to strike a balance between a healthy guardedness and a trust in the sacred of life? My yoga and meditation practice bring me back, over and over, to the fact that I cannot control anything other than what is internal to me. Yet, and especially now as a mother, I feel a strong need to help make the world a better place. If I didn't, what kind of person would I be?
Making the world a better place, some argue, is best achieved in one's own 'back yard': through bringing up one's children in a way that reflects certain values and ideals. I've been struck in a hard place by reading Cynthia Eller's article Why I hate Dr Sears (Brain, Child Magazine). It led me on to discover blogs that discussed the attachment parenting philosophy of Dr Sears, America's 'favourite paediatrician', with scepticism and even disdain. At first I felt shocked - not because I've adopted Sears as a 'parenting expert', but because I hadn't questioned his prescription of attachment parenting practices 'across the board' - to all parents and all babies, everywhere.
I realised that I have been a little naive in my willingness to take on 'natural parenting' and 'attachment parenting' as a package deal. Something about being a new parent made me long for certainty, for answers, for a way to know that I was doing the right thing. So when I found the natural parenting community online and through Dr Sears' work, I felt that I had found that. And soon, anything of the opposite polarity became anathema to me - and evidence of bad parenting: controlled crying, sleep training of any sort, putting young babies in buggies.
I'm grateful to these articles and blogs for bringing me back to the broader, more sociological perspective that used to be second nature to me in my more academic years. For helping me to remember that these ideas are socially constructed and change constantly, and that dogma is dangerous. The debate must continue, and I hope to be part of it.
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