Parental Responsibility-Sharing: Phase 2

Ok, let's assume that you've accomplished your mission for Phase 1: Keep the Baby Alive.

Let's say the Baby is no longer really a "baby", but now, rather, a "toddler" -- it is no longer entirely dependent on mother's milk, and it's entered Phase 2.

During this Phase, I still think that all parents who have not signed their rights/responsibilities away have mutual responsibility for their offspring.

One (or both) of the parents might go off during the day to make $ (USofA western culture version of hunting/gathering).

If both are off hunting/gathering, offspring must be placed in the care of someone who takes on the parental protection/nurturing role while parental units are away.

There may be a very direct physical-resource swap involved for this care (ie. Paid Child Care -- "I'll give you some of the stuff I hunt/gather today ($$) if you protect my offspring while I'm gone" OR "I'll protect your offspring tomorrow while you hunt/gather, if you protect my offspring today") -- or there may be a vaguer, more esoteric swap involved with a close family member ("I'll continue to acknowledge you as part of my tribal system and give you access to your grandchild if you protect said grandchild while I go out to hunt/gather $$").

If only one parent goes off to hunt/gather during the day and devotes their time and energy specifically to that activity, and the other parent remains "in camp" (at home) to do "childcare" (nurturing/protecting), then I consider that they have made a swap for that period of time ONLY.

When the hunting/gathering parent returns to camp/home, I believe that the shared parental responsibility is back in place.

And therein seems to lie the rub. I cannot tell you how many parents that I know (regardless of gender-mix, blended family status, or sexual-orientation) -- who have clearly chosen to have one person go out into the world to "make a living" while the other remains in camp/at home to "mind the kids" -- that seem to have the same fucking argument over and over and over again.

Here are the two sides of this argument:

"S/he doesn't understand how stressful it is to go out and hunt/gather all day. When I come home, I just want to relax. I want a break from having to "do" things."

"S/he doesn't understand how stressful it is to be in camp with the kids all day. When the s/he comes home, I just want to relax. I want a break from having to "do" things."

See how vastly different the two sides of this argument are?

If both parents considered that the protection and nurturing of their offspring was their full-time, 24-hour-a-day/7-day-a-week responsibility, for which they have simply swapped specific responsibilities for a certain period of time, then I think that, at the end of the swap part of the day, they would realize that the kid(s) are still there, as a mutual responsibility, and NO ONE gets out of that (without making a further swap).

Of course, if some people considered that the care/nurturing of their offspring was a 24/7 responsibility, they might choose not to have children at all.

Which might be bad for the human species. Or not.

But once again, I digress.

What I'm about to suggest is, I believe, effective for any period of child-rearing where the child is not survival-dependent upon the specific milk from a specific mother:

  1. I suggest that both/all the parents who agree to raise the offspring together (whether they are "bio" parents, "foster" parents, or "adoptive" parents) think of the nurturing and protecting of the children they choose to make or raise as a 24/7 responsibility -- from the moment the child is conceived, taken on for fostering, or adopted -- until the child is an adult.
  2. I suggest that, if one parent wants to take on a specific, partial set of responsibilities around the protection/nurturing of the offspring, that these "responsibility swaps" be made consciously and, if possible, before the kid hits the planet or arrives in the home. (While acknowledging that these responsibility swaps will need to be monitored and adjusted throughout the entire period that you are parenting.)
  3. I suggest that wherever one parent takes on a certain set of responsibilities, that they also be granted power over how those responsibilities are carried out (IOW -- if I'm going out to "get the apples", I get to decide how the apples are gathered unless we make a different agreement about that -- if I'm staying in camp to protect the offspring, I get to decide how the offspring are protected, unless we make a different agreement about that).
Now, all this means that you're going to have to think about some things, and talk about some things, and keep an eye on whether your exchange with other co-parents is balanced and satisfying for everyone involved, while you're assuring that the kid is safe, fed, and learning how to be a fulfilled human being.

It's my belief that parental responsibility for your kids' protection, nurturing, and training to successful adulthood has to be prioritized ahead of "making the kid happy".

Personally, I believe that your kid's happiness is, essentially, none of your damn business -- it's been my experience that if kids are safe, well-nourished, and surrounded by adults who are modeling self-fulfillment, they learn to create their happiness for themselves, which is, in my opinion, a much more important talent to develop than learning to have someone else "make" you happy.

Evidence of how protect/nurture trumps preservation of childhood happiness is this: When the toddler is dashing toward the blazing hot wood stove with both hands outstretched, you do not hesitate to sweep the little tyke up in your arms, or shout "NO!" in your most authoritarian voice, and you ignore the shrieks and howls of outrage as the three-year-old will is thwarted. You don't think at that moment: "I'm a bad parent." Quite the opposite.

Back to my point. I think that a lot of the confusion that arises in present day society around child-rearing responsibilities actually stems from the fact that the USA is truly a cultural "melting pot" -- each of us has inherited or learned child-rearing traditions from parents who may have come from vastly different socio-cultural or ethnic backgrounds, and the ingrained ideas that we have about the roles of "mom" vs. "dad" may be entirely unconscious for us. Add to this changing ideas about the roles of women and men in society, what constitutes a "family" in the first place, etc. -- and then give yourself a comforting pat on the back if you sometimes experience complete befuddlement about it all.

The thing is that rearing children from a stance of mutual responsibility requires that you come to agreement with the other parents about a few things:
  1. What is our intention in creating "a family"? (Or even a relationship with one another, for that matter.)
  2. What roles do each of us want to take in the process?
  3. Are we both committed to sharing the responsibility of raising our children equally?
  4. What do we want to model to our children? (Anyone who has actually raised children will confirm what I'm about to say: "Children do not actually listen to what you say -- they watch what you do". Given that, being miserable in your job, even if you say that you "have to do it for the family", is probably not the model for a fulfilled life that you want to demonstrate for your kids. Just sayin'.)
  5. How are we going to handle child-rearing when one or both of us is too tired/sick/whatever to manage our responsibilities well, or to do them with enthusiasm?
  6. What responsibilities do we agree we must fulfill as parents, regardless of how we're feeling about one another (or the kids) at the moment?
  7. If we make a swap during the day (I go to work, you care for the kids), does that include other stuff based on cultural assumptions? Like, do "you" also do the laundry, cook, grocery shop, clean the house for everyone in the family? Do "I" handle all the finances, fix everything that get broken, take out the garbage, mow the lawn for everyone in the family? If so, make these agreement clearly!!!! (This is where that bleed-over of "optional-imperatives" can get messy and confusing -- a lot of those assumed responsibility swaps are "gender-fied" in ways we're not consciously aware of -- and may actually have little or nothing to do with child-rearing -- but they seem to emerge when the mommy vs. daddy roles come into play.)
Here's a real-life scenario from the intentional community I live in (it doesn't, at the moment, involve children, but I think it's a good basis to start from before you have children):

We have a list of agreed-upon needs and optional-imperatives (we all agree that we want to eat organic food, that we want our clothes to be clean, that we want bathing facilities available, internet access for everyone, etc.).

We then talked about the tasks involved in that list, and we split them up equally, starting by having people who actually like doing some activities take those (I actually enjoy paying the bills and keeping the community accounts, another person loves cooking, another likes certain aspects of housework). The shit that nobody really "likes" to do (dish-duty, duh!), we rotate on an equal basis. One person is responsible each week.

Our community is amazingly functional (I've lived in relationships and communities that were not), and I believe that one of the reasons is that we all come to it with the understanding that, if we weren't living together, we'd each be responsible for fulfilling all of these needs for ourselves. We don't have the "replacing the toilet paper" argument -- ever -- because we've already had the talk about it, and agreed that we'll all be responsible for changing the roll if we use that last bit.

You might say that that's kind of ridiculous, but people actually argue about this shit -- I've seen tiny stuff like this mount up and crush marriages, communities, and friendships.

So, if you're going to be a parent -- a job that is both one of the most complex and rewarding experiences that I've ever had -- why not get the "little" agreements handled? -- 'Cuz it's a 99.99...% probability that you're definitely going to stumble into some more complicated conundrums down the road.

I welcome any questions. I'll be posting later about Phase III.

Posted byPortlyDyke at 12:25 PM  

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