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Feminist Parenting Collective

I must apologize for the long delay in posting. I had a very exahsting experience preparing for and taking the LSAT in combination with some trying financial issues that have kept me from having the mental capacity or time to write a blog post. However, I’m back. I’m going to try to post more regularly again. Please. please forgive my absence. You forgive me don’t you?

I have however taken this time to jot down ideas that I have finally compiled into something that is (somewhat) coherent. After reading it please don’t hesitate to comment or ask for clarity about things. I’m all for revision and it is currently after midnight so I’m sure there is need.

Anywho, since I found out I was preggers I thought of creating a collective. At first it was a childcare collective that I was thinking of but the more research I did on feminist parenting the more I though of creating this collective statement about what 4th wave feminist parenting is. I just started to realize all of the changes necessary both in society and within the feminist movement in order to support feminist parenting and change from this idea of mothering dominating all discussions of parenting. The more I read about feminism and childrearing the more I realized that feminist literature did nothing but talk about mothers and mothering. It rarely, if ever, spoke of fathers except to critique traditional roles of the male parent. Literature was almost exclusive to parents that were heterosexual and married. There just isn’t any practical information on parenting at all. You can find a ton of “What to Expect” type parenting books (that are almost exclusively geared toward women as parents) that guide you through the various stages of your child’s life but NONE that provide similar practical knowledge from a feminist perspective.

This bothers me. How on earth is one supposed to learn how to parent as a feminist if we are only reading non-feminist how-to books? How do you perform the acts of feminist parenting? And what the heck is feminist parenting?

Well those thoughts (coupled with some experiences) led to bigger thoughts. Why can’t O’Neil get more than 2 weeks off from work to stay home with the baby? Why am I only getting paid 60% of 5 weeks pay when I was out for 9 weeks? What the hell cost $12,000 when I didn’t even have an IV!? Why is every-damn-thing in the girls department PINK?! Why do I have to pay to ask a question about proper latching (breastfeeding)? And most recently, can someone else watch this child and not charge me more than I make in a day so I can remember who the heck I am? Or, at least, so I can gain at least a bit of my sanity back?

So, it’s late and I’m tired but you can read more about my brilliant idea here. Please comment and discuss. I’m really interesting in what everyone thinks. Good night all!

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Stay At Home Feminist – Forced Division of Labor Along Gender/Sex Line

February 1, 2010 2 comments

In an effort to get my January post out actually in January (I only have 8 minutes left) here’s a bit about what I’ve been struggling with recently. It really gives some perspective to the struggle taken on by feminist activists. I had mentioned in my October 31, 2009 post Feminist Mother Struggles – Part 1 that I would be discussing the forced division of household labor due to economics and how the Second Shift is often more like the third or fourth shift. Well, now is a prime time for that post. This will also touch a bit on the “working mother” versus “stay at home mother” debate. Although I won’t really argue for or against, I will give my personal perspective to do with what you will.

My partner works 2 jobs. His part-time job is from 4:30am-1:30pm and his full-time job is from 3pm-11pm. He only works his part-time about 2 or 3 days a week (sometimes not at all depending on what the capitalist management decides is in the best interest of the owners money) and his full-time is usually 5 days a week (with the occasional 4 day work week for the same reasons as his part-time). He also does some catering with a friend of his. The catering is not steady but they do get some work a few times a year and they are usually pretty big jobs that require quite a bit of time. He schedules this in between the other two jobs. So, in short, he’s a very hardworking person and understandably tired. I might also add that cooking is his career, not, just a job that pays the bills (trust me it barely does even that).

I graduated in August and have not been able to find gainful employment in my field and have continued to wait tables. I had a second job tutoring until May but I no longer tutor because it was student work. I attempted a new second job in retail (see this post) but the pay was less than what I would have to pay someone to watch my daughter on the off hours that I would be scheduled. I normally work mostly lunch shifts on the mornings he doesn’t work his part-time so that my partner is home and we trade off watching the baby when he goes to his full-time job at three. Usually, we need someone to watch her for the hour of overlap time between me leaving work and him leaving home or he will ask for a later schedule and work 4-11pm.

Recently, he has been getting his schedule for his first job later and later in the week and getting scheduled more heavily (3 shifts). My schedule is released on Thursdays; his has been Friday or later. See the conflict? I can’t schedule off or find shift coverage if I don’t know when he’s working before my schedule is released. Normally, if he is working in the morning, I’d be off so that I can be home with the baby. Also, my occasional sitter can’t sit for me anymore and we had a nice barter system going: childcare in exchange for cooking dinner. As a result of this recent childcare fiasco, I am know about 95% “stay-at-home mom.” I cut my schedule back to 1 scheduled shift a week and I will occasionally pick up a shift when schedules allow. It was either this or get fired for calling out 2-3 times a week.

This decision was not made lightly. We discussed and discussed any other viable option. The problem was there really weren’t any. I would have had to pay most (more some weeks) than I was making for childcare. I cannot (and truthfully don’t want to) put her in daycare not just because of financial but because the restaurant business is not 9-5 as the centers cater to.

Now, I am, for the most part, in the traditional gender role for my sex. I cook, clean and take care of the baby. Yes, I’m still prepping for law school but only at stolen moments while the baby is sleeping (like this one). I haven’t been able to really study for the LSAT in weeks and I’m mostly just preparing application material and contacting potential recommenders. I thank God for email working at all hours of the night and day or this wouldn’t be possible. This is driving me insane.

Let me begin by saying this: This situation was completely forced by finances. My partner didn’t ask me to stay at home. His paycheck is the biggest and therefore the most important. I am thankful that I am just waiting tables and it is possible for me to hang on to one shift for my sanity’s sake. I hate my job so I really don’t miss it, just the sense of self-reliance it gave me. Had this break not been about finances and been about me preparing for law school, it would have been welcome but without the money to occasionally have someone else watch my daughter while I study this is just not the case.

Now, I am beginning to feel suffocated. I know in my heart that my partner does not believe that a woman’s place in the home but lately it is hard to remember. Past experiences with men who to feel this way and demand that “their woman” take care of home has cause many a knee jerk reaction to a completely benign question. For example:

Him: I thought you were going to wash clothes today?
Me: I was, but I didn’t. I did something else today. I worked on some law school stuff while the baby napped.  What’s the problem?
Him: Nothing! I was just asking!?

Let me explain. I did say I was going to wash clothes. He needed something that was in the hamper to wear to work. I didn’t realize this or, maybe I did and I forgot because I got wrapped up in what I was doing. He was smack in the middle of a 3 day stint of working both jobs. He doesn’t have time nor energy to do laundry while he’s home. He really didn’t mean it the way I took it initially but nonetheless my reaction was based on prior experiences. I won’t say that he doesn’t occasionally just wait around for me to do laundry. He does. Quite frankly he sucks at doing laundry and I prefer to do it myself. I could use a little help with the ironing but I don’t generally do any mopping, vacuuming or scrubbing so I think we’re even. We share the cooking. Unless, he is just working too much to have time or is just too tired from constantly cooking at work.

So, he can’t really share in Hoschild’s “Second Shift.” He’s really just too busy with trying to support us not because he wants to but because he has to. Coming home after work to take care of the baby is more like a 3rd shift to him. As a kidney transplant recipient, he’s really not supposed to be killing himself working this way but with no other options we don’t have any other choice. I worry about him and I respect and appreciate all that he does. He sacrifices a lot to do what he’s doing, even time with his kids which is something I know he values and wishes he had more of.

The feminist analysis:

What caused this?

A few things: a broken capitalist economy, an invisible working class, men’s labor being valued more than womens, the job market. I could probably name more.

We fall into a category that is in the crack between poverty and middle class. We are working class. Our income is just above the poverty line used to determine eligibility for government assistance and therefore are left to fin for ourselves. I do take responsibility for some of this though. We bought into the capitalist idea of credit as a legitimate option for purchases. We have a car loan, credit cards, medical bills, student loans… way more than we can afford to pay in our current situation. We have depleted our savings trying to stay afloat. But really, how are we supposed to know any other way of living in a society and economy that is so heavily reliant on consumer debt and is so classist that we are taught to want more, more, more than we can actually pay for. It’s not just the wants that get you into debt. Gaps in medical coverage have left us with a stack of bills as well as the incredible cost of higher education.

And, why the hell is the poverty line so damn low! Seriously, I think we should have the people who decide these things try to live off of the money they set the limits at.

How do we change this?

Well, activism is a big one. We feminists know that much. Most of us live and breath it. I also think that we need to teach our children to avoid consumer debt and the capitalist trap (you knew I had to tie this into feminist parenting practices, right?). We should teach our children the art of simple living and to avoid materialism, particularly when excess is going to cause unnecessary financial burdens. Of course, that means we must also follow the same principles. We must also advocate on a larger level for society to look in the cracks. To acknowledge we exists is at least a start. Dare I say we do something as a society to prevent people/families from falling in the cracks. Or worse! How about we stop everything below the crack from falling off completely. How radical and idea! Uh oh, someone might call me a socialist… if I’m lucky 😀

FYI: Technically it is not January anymore. It is 7:53am on 2/1/10 but I started the post before midnight and the baby woke up so I finished this morning while she slept. She’s awake now so I better be off. Comment away!

Classist Oblivion

November 27, 2009 3 comments
There are many reasons that I am anti-capitalism but the effects of classism inherent in capitalist societies are my biggest gripes. Lately, the effects of classism have been painfully apparent in my own life. The most significant situations have come out of my hasty return to work 6 weeks after my daughter’s birth.
I didn’t really have a choice. We weren’t (and still aren’t) able to make our rent every month. It is by God’s grace that we have kept food in our stomachs. Many of our bills are going unpaid and with child support and taxes being garnished from O’Neil’s check (the result of choosing food and shelter over other bills) there was little left for us to work with. Even our oil company has held all oil shipments due to a residual bill from last season.

So, on October 6th when Kenisha was 6 weeks and 1 day old, I put on my uniform and cried as I kissed my baby goodbye for the next 7 hours. That was the first time I’d been separated from her for more than a half hour since her birth. She wasn’t even fully adjusted to taking breast milk from the bottle. I had no choice. She would not like the abrupt change anymore than I did but the alternative was for us to face an eventual eviction. We may still be evicted but at least we are doing all that we possibly can to prevent that from happening.

As I cut through the mall on my way to work the morning of my return, I saw mothers and their young children in strollers exercising in a circle near the escalator. I physically felt a stab in my heart as I watch these mom’s playing with their babies as they worked on returning their abs to their pre-pregnancy state (or possibly better). Why do their babies deserve to have their mother’s with them? Why does my baby deserve to be at home sucking from an unfamiliar plastic nipple and wondering why her mother isn’t there to nurse and comfort her?

If you remove class and money from the equation, what have those mother’s done to make them more worthy of spending this time with their children than me?

My return to work has been hard and little gains have been made financially since my return to work. I am not making enough to cover the difference the garnishes made in my partner’s pay. I am not making enough to pay a babysitter to watch Kenisha while I work. I’m struggling with the fact that once my mother-in-law leaves I may quite possibly have to quite work to stay with the baby since childcare is out of our financial reach.

The two pictures below are of the place at work where I express breast milk before I start taking tables. I can’t begin to state the number of problems with this arrangement. The most poignant of all being that I am preparing my baby’s food in a public restroom. What makes my child deserve to have her meals prepared in a bathroom, while other’s have their meals prepared in shiny clean kitchens? There are no logical ways to answer these questions. The only answer is that I’m working class in a society in which only the upper class is entitled to the protections and privileges that all humans deserve.

As I walked through the mall, I watched the stroller strides moms assemble once again as I was on my way to orientation for yet another retail job. I had to leave my daughter without feeding her fully in order to catch the bus on time. I’d be hard pressed to say I wasn’t depressed this morning. I am quite close to tears. These women with their children work to keep themselves fit while spending time with their children. I have to leave my baby girl at home for a second service oriented job that pays very little. I’m still trying to figure out why I am here. It’s going to cost me more in childcare than I actually make once my mother-in-law goes home.
The stroller strides moms are now singing “the wheels on the bus” as they exercise with their resistance bands. They are completely oblivious of my existence; comfortable in their happy bubble where no one worries about how to buy groceries or if the rent will be paid this month.
Classist oblivion is certainly a luxury available only to the upper class. I believe that this that the choice to employ such a luxury is just that: a choice. With every other news story reporting on something recession related, these women must be aware of the toll this financial crisis is taking on those less fortunate than themselves. So what does it mean that despite the fact that many are being forced to make choices between shelter and food, the upper class spends the equivalent of a week’s worth of groceries to exercising in a group in the mall (where many people walk for exercise for free). They are certainly supporting and flaunting their own superiority.
How do we, as feminists and as parents, work to end this oblivion? How do we get people of the upper classes to see us? And when they really do see us how do we get them to understand our trails? More importantly, (and certainly the most difficult task) how do we get them to care once they see and understand?

Feminist Mother Struggles – Part 1

October 30, 2009 1 comment

It has been quite a long while since I posted anything on this blog. I’ve had things building up but I just never have the energy or time to get things down. I will be posting a piece about my birth experience and how I felt about it from a feminist perspective. However, today’s blog is more about the struggles of the past few weeks. I am thankful that I have such a good understanding of intersectionality and the various types of oppression that exist because had I not had this understanding I could be buried under an anvil of depression and self-doubt.

The biggest of my struggles of the past few months is financial. The recession has really taken it’s toll on my family and the effects of capitalism and this classist society we live in has never been more real.

In an earlier post, I talked about my short term disability not paying for my full leave. I was only paid for 60% of the 6 weeks after birth. I had to leave work 3 weeks before my August 22 due date and my daughter was born 6 hours late on the morning of August 23. So, I had to attempt to stretch $1315 over 9 weeks. On average, over 9 weeks I’d make approximately $3287.50. That’s a difference of $1972.50.

In addition to my serious income loss my partner, O’Neil, had his hours cut at his main job and his second job sometimes didn’t schedule him at all. Needless to say there were quite a few bills that would go unpaid or paid significantly late. This lack of funds and inability to pay everything that needed paying led to a domino effect. We weren’t able to finish paying off the oil bill from last winter, so we cannot get oil until it’s paid off, which means that we cannot turn on the heat because our hot water is also fueled by oil. His ex-wife also took him to court about their divorce agreement to split certain debts and most recently had his income withheld for child support (this is a whole new topic I’ll explore in more detail at another time because I’d like to address women who contribute to sexism). The newest of this debt spiral is CT DRS garnishment for 2008 taxes despite our paying every month (this apparently wasn’t good enough).

There is also the pile of medical bills related to my pregnancy and delivery. I was covered by two insurances. Both of which said the other was primary and continuously denied every claim sent to them until the other paid first. Fun! I have to spend hours and hours of phone calls with each explanation of benefits statement I receive. Even with the insurance issue beginning to be straightened out, the high deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums have left me with a significant stack of bills to pay.

Basically our income is a third of what it is normally and our bills have doubled (mainly because any open line of credit had to be used for essentials like food, utilities, and baby supplies). I was lucky enough to be granted a forbearance until January on my $35,000 student loan debt.

Since O’Neil’s second job laid just about everyone off except the part-timers and a select few full-timers, he’s been getting a steady 2-3 day schedule. Business at his first job has increased and he is finally on a 40 hour schedule most weeks. He should be on salary and in a management position for all the work he does as a “supervisor.” Supervisor in his case is basically someone with all the responsibility and accountability of a Manager but without the salary. Of course with the economy and job market in such array who can afford to make demands for anything they deserve at work.

(How ironic: I just received a phone call from a debt collector telling me my auto payment was declined. They tried to take the payment out 2 days early. Had they waited until the actual date, it might have cleared.)

The job market is another struggle. During the first months of my pregnancy I was working 1 full-time job as a server and another part-time job as a tutor, interning at DVCC, taking 4 classes to finish my degree, organizing our school production of ‘The Vagina Monologues” and puking regularly due some pretty terrible morning sickness. My idea of lightening my load was to drop one of my classes and take it in the summer. I did finish my degree in my 7th month of pregnancy. After I had the baby, I immediately began looking for a job. I have sent out more than 60 resumes and filled out even more applications in the 10 weeks since her birth. I stopped looking exclusively for jobs in my field and education level in around my second week of searching. I even started looking for food service jobs (which is where most of my work experience is) that at least had better schedule and pay than the one I currently have. I’ve tried secretarial, receptionist, personal assistant, human resource, and tons of other entry level or ‘high school only’ required positions.

Of them all, I’ve only receive about 5 phone calls. One required a car which I don’t have. Another hired someone before I even got to my interview and called to cancel. Another decided that despite the minimal requirements posted on the web site that they needed someone with significant experience in a particular area of which I had little. You get the point. Nothing has come through.

I’m back to serving full-time (or at least what they call full-time 23 hours/week) and I have to pump breast milk in the family bathroom. Every time I say ‘breast milk’ my GM cringes. Everyone seems to get a yuck look on their face when I mention that I’m going to go pump. The sexist remarks fly in all directions. The latest attack on my breastfeeding was the comment that I shouldn’t leave my (clearly labeled and dated) breast milk in the walk-in because the Health Department would “close us down.” Not to mention how many times I’ve been looked over for promotions because I was either pregnant or nursing.

So, why am I going on and on? Complaining? A bit, yes. But actually my purpose to give (my 2 or 3) readers a context for the next series of blogs I am going to put write.

Here’s a bit of what I hope to cover:
– Classism – how it is apparent in my life
– Forced division of household labor by sex due to economics
– why I’m anti-capitalism
– “Good” mother’s have “Bad” thoughts
– My Birth Story – The Empowerment of Childbirth
– Necessity of intergenerational living amongst the lower classes
– Co-parenting (when you have different views, histories and cultures)
– The “Second-Shift” is often the third (or fourth)
– Emergency Assistance & the ‘poverty’ level

I hope that I will gain some readers and get some discussion and comments going. Towards the end of each of these pieces I hope to write something of about how this relates to Feminist Parenting. So here’s today bit about Feminsit Parenting:

Through all of this I think to myself, “At least my little girl is healthy.” My partner is health and my little girl is health. It is the one thing that we have right now. I haven’t thought much about myself except to try my best to eat healthy (which is not easy when you can afford groceries). I woke up at 2:30am in excruciation pain and rushed to the ER to find out I have kidney stones. O’Neil was terrified it was something worse and relieved that it was nothing life threatening. He and my mother-in-law have taken over feeding my 2 month old, a responsibility that was almost exclusively mine except when I was at work. It hasn’t been easy because she can smell my breasts and doesn’t want the bottle. This has meant not being able to comfort her at all until the pain medicine is out of my system.

I thought this would be a welcome break since I haven’t slept through the night since a few months before she was born. Instead it’s been a bit relief and a bit more torture. It hurts not to be able to comfort your child. It feels selfish to be happy that I’m well rested for once! Doesn’t this seems odd? Even with all my feminist knowledge, I still feel like the bad mom! Realistically, I know I’m not a bad mother. I had no control over the kidney stones but the feeling is still there. It’s not easy deprogramming yourself from these sexist societal beliefs.

I talk to my daughter as if she were an adult (except she responds in coos and giggles). I talk to her about what’s going on. I am greatly thankful that she is so young and will have no memory of these hard times. I also hope that there is some (mild) suffering in her future so that she can genuinely understand the importance of feminism. I know that until now, I hadn’t had such a profound understanding and intersectionality and I want this for her too.

Working Class Woes – Part 2

I am a firm believer that pregnancy is not a disability. I want to work during my pregnancy and I want to be treated fairly not just by my job but also by my healthcare provider.

I called my the midwife on call for my practice today because I had pain and contractions last night while at work. I’ve been trying all morning to decide if I should go to work. Truthfully, I can’t afford to miss work. Missing work tonight is literally the difference between being able to afford groceries or not this month. With this being the case, I didn’t want to make this decision lightly. I expected when I called that they would say I wasn’t in labor and I should probably keep a close eye on the situation but that there was no reason to stay home tonight.

Instead this is more how it went.

“Six contraction in 2 hours isn’t labor. Your probably just tired and dehydrated. Lots of women work while their pregnant and I can’t put you out of work. (I never asked her to). Midwives and other women work they just sit down more often and stay hydrated (she never asked how much water I was drinking).”

I explained to her that sitting down wasn’t an option for me as a waitress on a busy Friday or Saturday night.

Her response: “Well then that’s just a decision you have to make because pregnancy isn’t a medical condition. You need to drink a few big glasses of water and then you’ll know how you’ll feel later. If you have regular contraction call back.”

I understand that I just wanted to be sure before I went to work that I wasn’t doing anything wrong or that would cause a problem.

Categories: Classism, Economics

Working Class Woes -written 5/30/09

As my due date gets closer, I start to realize exactly how well this capitalist system is designed to keep the bottom on the bottom. My partner and I are far from well off but we had reached a point where we had our heads well above water. Lately, it feels like we are starting to drown again. With the end of the semester, a lot happened. My tutoring job ended and my doctor advised against double shifts at the restaurant. O’Neil has also suffered a cut in his hours at both of his jobs. This put a big dent in our income. Not exactly an ideal situation when there is a child on the way. After much calculation, we realized that there is about $1300 a month going out that isn’t coming in anymore. To put this in better perspective, I am probably one of the most frugal people you will ever meet so there is no wasted money in our house. We have stopped eating out (which is somewhat blasphemy when you work in the industry), use coupons for everything, buy in bulk, pack lunches, buy store brands, hunt for freebies, adjusted our phones and cable to reduce cost, use as little hot water as possible, ration electricity… I mean really the ways in which we have tried to reduce costs are just about endless.

Two nights ago, I spent 3 or 4 hours online looking into cost effective (and eco-friendly) ways to raise a child. I already knew breastfeeding was a sure bet at reducing costs and after an intial investment so would cloth diapers. The problem is I can’t stay home to breastfeed so I’m going to have be a cow and milk myself a few times a day while I’m working. Why is this a problem? I work in a restaurant right now, until I find a new job utilizing my degree (which, in this economy, is not going to be easy). There really is no where other than the nasty staff bathroom for me to pump and I can’t exactly say “I’m sorry I need 30 minutes to pump so someone else will have to take my tables.” Quite the catch 22 don’t you think?

Categories: Classism, Economics