confessions of an ex-housewife

Almost three years ago I wrote this post in which I ranted about the difference I perceived between stay at home parents and housewives. Now I’m revisiting that post to eat a massive slice of humble pie…

Firstly I must apologise for the gross overuse of exclamation marks in that post!!!!!!!!

Secondly, well, despite my assertions otherwise I totally was a housewife and I am paying for it now.

One thing I did get absolutely right in that post was this bit:

I have temporarily given up my career to parent our children…

As a result, while Bean’s earning capacity has increased, time spent out of paid employment has meant my earning capacity has decreased. That is a significant sacrifice to make for my family!

Between finishing high school and having my children I spent much more time studying than I did in paid employment. In my first year out of high school I studied one year of a three year advanced diploma in theatre lighting design, after that first year I left to study an advanced diploma of naturopathy, and on completion of that course I worked for a while in the south west of WA before traveling to Northern NSW to do a permaculture internship. All of these things were really interesting and I gained a lot of life experience while studying them, however I never really established a career in these or any other fields before Girlie was conceived.

During my relationship with Girlie and Boyo’s father I didn’t have paid employment. I stayed at home with our children and I did the lion’s share of the housework. I was a housewife.

Now that we are separated and I have become the sole, full time carer of the sproggets I am really paying for that choice. While their father left our relationship with a useful qualification and an impressive CV I left with one (economically) useless qualification and a bit of two other qualifications, all of which I had before we began our relationship anyway. During our relationship their father was able to further his career significantly with my support, and I thought that was 0k because it was all going to benefit our family and I knew it would be my turn next. Unfortunately I was naive and my turn never came. I left before I got my turn.

I now rely on a parenting pension and child support while I study to gain a usable qualification so I can independently support myself and our children in future.

While I am entitled to receive child support payments to help care for our children the reality is that I haven’t received any money from their father since February. The child support agency told me they’d get onto it immediately, but their idea of immediate is three months and counting. Due to his comfortable income the mythical child support that I receive from the sproggets’ father is an amount that causes my parenting pension to be reduced to just covering my rent and nothing else. Since February I have been relying on loans and charity from friends and family to put food on the table while the sum of my overdue bills is now in the hundreds. There is no guarantee I will ever see the child support that I am owed, that our children are owed.

If I had chosen to study or do paid work while I was still with my children’s father, instead of being a (fucking) housewife, I would have far more control over my life right now.

I would not be relying on external and unreliable sources of income.

I would be able to put food on the table.

I would not have overdue bills.

I would not be borrowing my father’s second car.

I would not be borrowing school uniforms for the sproggets because I have been unable to buy them their own.

I would not be answering every request with, “No, I’m sorry, we can’t afford that.”

If I could change anything about my past it would be the choice I made to stay at home with our children and believe that I would be rewarded for that*.

In the wake of last week’s announcement of the Abbott government’s proposed budget I am despairing even more than I was before.

I may have made a financially misguided choice to stay at home with my children to the detriment of career advancement but after finally having the courage to leave an unhappy relationship and embark on a course of study to enable me to establish a career,  I am now in a position of having to question whether I can afford to complete the university degree I am currently enrolled in. As a university student and as a sole parent I will be shafted by Abbott’s budget.

They really don’t want to support people to better their situation do they?


 

 

*It utterly disgusts me that our culture does not value the work of child rearing. I shouldn’t regret my choice to be a full time carer to my children when they were babies. With regard to the impact my choice had on their early childhood, I have no regrets, but I am bitterly sorry that we currently have a reduced quality of life because of that choice and I am terrified I will not be able to financially recover from that choice.

 

posted by wildecrafted in journal and have No Comments

playing with dolls

When I was a child I had an impressively large collection of Barbie dolls. Many of them were hand-me-downs from my older sister who had lovingly cared for her dolls and was utterly dismayed when I got my claws into them… I thought I could improve on Barbie’s face with a little biro (ok, a lot of biro!). Our younger sister was worse still, she pulled their heads off so often that they became loose and would fall off during play. When that happened she would always say, in character,

“Oh no! My head fell off, just wait while I pick it up.”

She also cut their hair, very short. She cut it when the head was attached to the body, and when the head was separated from the body. She wasn’t fussy, if it had hair, she’d cut it.

Fast forward a couple of years and I began buying Barbies of my own with my pocket money. I lovingly cared for them, just like my older sister had cared for hers. I adored my Barbies, they were my favourite toys to play with. They had managed to keep me captivated all through my childhood. They were a toy that evolved with me, from the basic doll play of a young child to more elaborate character play spanning several “episodes” where I created personalities for my favourite dolls and used them to act out long and involved plots. I played with Barbies a lot, I even played with them when I was in high school. I had two friends, one from primary school and one I’d met at high school, who also played with Barbies still. I’m certain there were more of us, but it wasn’t cool to admit it so we pretended to everyone else we knew that we didn’t play Barbies when we visited each other. No, we “hung out” (playing Barbies!).

As a young teenager my Barbie play moved from character play to character and scene creation. I created a character in my mind, gave her a name and made her clothes out of old socks and fabric from my Mum’s stash. I then built her an environment that expressed her personality. I’d make dioramas out of cardboard boxes, poster paint, fabric and craft glue. I never really played anything out once I’d created a character and an environment. I just posed the doll in there for a little while until I felt inspired to develop a new character.

One sunny day I was in the backyard hand sewing some clothes for a Barbie when a friend of my Mum’s (who I didn’t like then, and who I still find incredibly irritating all these years later) came out and teased me for playing with Barbies. She shamed me, told me I was “too old”, and asked me when I was going to grow up like everyone else in high school.

After that I decided it was time to pass my entire collection on to my younger sister who wasn’t particularly interested. It wasn’t long before we were packing the dolls, their horses, their cars, their accessories (I told you I had an impressively large collection!) into big boxes and giving them to the little girls who lived across the road.

I was really sad to see my Barbies go. I hadn’t wanted to stop playing with them.

Now we’ll fast forward a few more years. I’d finished high school, long since forgotten about the Barbies. I was at uni and I met a fella who sparked my interest in feminism. Here’s a funny fact for you… most women I know remove their body hair for men, but for this particular man I stopped removing my body hair. He told me he’d never been with a woman who shaved her arm pits, and being eager to please that particular man I stopped shaving mine, realised how much easier life became and in the 8 years since I’ve not looked back. I’ll have to remember to thank him next time I see him! Anyhow, I digress…

So, back to the Barbies, my young hairy self began to critique fashion dolls. They’re a cog in the huge machine of patriarchal oppression. They create unrealistic “beauty” ideals for young girls. They perpetuate intolerance. They represent a narrow expression of femaleness. Etcetera…

I decided then that no child of mine would ever play with fashion dolls! It’s so easy to idealise the way we’ll parent when we’re not yet parents, isn’t it?! So, I the hairy, feminist, idealistic parent of as-yet not conceived children would not set my child up to idolise a symbol of opression. When my daughter was born I adhered to it too. I ranted to my family, I gave strict instructions to them all to never, never, never buy my daughter a Barbie doll, and they’ve been obeyed for 4.5yrs (those strict instructions still stand, in case you were wondering). I had my older sister on my team also. We were the anti-Barbie brigade and you should have seen us go!

Let’s fast forward again shall we, because this story is already getting ridiculously long… We’ll fast forward to last week. Boxing Day to be exact. The day I, the hairy anti-Barbie feminist Mama, bought THREE fashion dolls. One for Sprout. One for Moe. One for me!

I know, I know. Those who know me in real life can pick your jaws of the floor now and allow me to explain myself.

Back in October 2010 I wrote this post about toy weapons and my (then) feelings toward them. The first comment, from Kestrel, on that post is one that introduced a whole new perspective to me. Here is the first part of Kestrel’s comment, for those who don’t want to click the link.

There is an essay in Katrina Kennison’s “Mitten Strings For God” which you may find helpful. She has tow sons and one has never shown any interest in things that (to quote from memory) slice, swat, explode, shoot but her other son has always been fascinated by pirates, swords and guns. Because of her own attitudes towards weapons that son began to name himself “bad”.

I began to wonder if it was ok to impose my own value judgements on my children and the things they expressed interest in. I know I hate it when someone poo-poos something I’m interested in. I know I hated it when my Mum’s friend did it to me as a young teenager. What happened to me then, being shamed into giving up something I really enjoyed, could very well be what I would end up doing to my own children. The thought that I could say or do something that would lead my children to believe that they were bad because I didn’t approve of their interest was really upsetting. After lots of discussion with myself, with Bean and with other parents, I resolved to be a bit less black and white about everything my children showed an interest in. Sure, I can discuss issues with my children, I can explain why guns are harmful, why Barbies are harmful etc. but at the end of the day, I’m not interested in creating a forbidden fruit or creating a situation where my children believe there’s something wrong with them because they like something I don’t approve of.

For the record, Sprout is really fascinated with killing monsters at the moment. She’s hugely into guns, though she hasn’t got any toy weapons she still uses sticks to pretend. I’ve been told it’s very normal for 4 year old children to be into weapons and fighting games. I view it as an opportunity to discuss violence with her. She’s reminded regularly to play carefully with her”guns”. She knows (though sometimes needs reminding) that if someone says or otherwise indicates that they don’t want to play that game that she’s expected to respect that and stop the game. She knows she’s not bad for playing at killing monsters. She knows she’s not bad for telling someone she just killed them. We’ve been able to give boundaries, while not stifling the phase she’s in right now.

So, how does that tangent relate to me, anti-Barbie me, buying fashion dolls for my children?!

I’ve taken Sprout into toy stores a few times, and every time since around the time she turned four she’s asked me about the fashion dolls. I’ve dismissed it, told her they’re just toys, told her they’re for doll’s houses, told her all sorts of things without trying to put (too much of) my own value judgement on it. She was never going to get one, right? So what did it matter? Wrong. She kept saying things like,

“Oh I really wish I could have one of them.”

And I would reply,

“Why? What makes you want one?”

She could never give me an answer beyond saying that she just wanted one.

I remembered how much I had loved playing with my Barbies, and felt like a bit of an arsehole for telling her she couldn’t have one. I still couldn’t get past the Barbie thing though. All the bloody make up. Ewww. I started doing some research on Barbie-sized dolls that weren’t Barbie. I was looking for something my daughter could relate to a little more. I found a few, but the ones that stuck out at me were the Liv Dolls. They were inexpensive, unlike the Japanese dolls I’d found that were a bit more realistic. The Liv Dolls don’t tick all my boxes. In fact, they tick few. They still have skinny bodies, disproportionately big heads (reminding me somewhat of starved catwalk models) and flawless skin/make up.

What they did offer, aside from a price tag that make them attainable, was more realistic eyes, an articulated body, flat feet that can wear normal shoes and hair that can be replaced with a new wig so hair cutting wouldn’t be such a big deal.

I decided to buy a doll for each of the sproggets, and one for me, so there’d be enough for us to play with all together. If I’d just got one for Sprout then Moe may have decided to wreck the game since he couldn’t play. I also wanted to play with my daughter, so that’s where my doll comes in to the equation.

While I was reading about dolls I came across a few tutorials for how to remove the stock face paint on dolls and how to repaint faces and seal them so they could be played with without rubbing the paint off. I also found some inspiration for handmade doll’s clothes, which I thought couldn’t possibly be too hard… I was slightly wrong there! Sewing anything in miniature is an exercise in frustration. Aaaaanyway…

I decided that for the cost of these dolls I could wipe one of the faces, and try my hand at customising. At the very worst we’d just have a doll with unpainted features, it’d have to be better than the stock make up look, surely?

So I got the materials I needed (acetone based nail polish remover, acrylic paints, matte varnish, gloss varnish) and had a go.

Before
After wiping stock paint off and before painting
After face repaint.

Turns out I’m not so bad at painting doll’s faces. After I did the first one Sprout asked me to do hers, she wanted freckles on her doll too. I got a wig for Sprout’s doll that is closer to her hair colour so her doll shares her eye and hair colour. She has named her doll “Annie” and Annie comes to a lot of places with us. Annie originally had inserted eyelashes like the others I’ve done, but Sprout wanted yellow eyelashes and on learning that I can’t buy yellow eyelashes she decided she’d rather Annie have no eyelashes than brown ones!

Annie, dressed as a pumpkin!

I’ve made 3 or 4 t-shirts for Annie (and friends), a couple of skirts, a couple of dresses, some overalls and a pair of pants.

I have since wiped the paint off my doll, but left Moe’s for now since Moe broke the leg on his doll and has shown that he’s still too young to be interested in dressing dolls.

My doll

I have also spent this week customising dolls for my niece and nephew. The children of aforementioned older sister, who is also anti-Barbie! With my sister’s permission I’ll be giving my 9 year old niece and 5 year old nephew their first fashion dolls. A cowgirl and a farmer…

So, it’s not a perfect solution. There is still something anti-feminist about them, but it’s been a good compromise for our family, and at the end of the day I have to acknowledge that despite my obsession with fashion dolls as a child and young teenager (and even now, as an adult I suppose), I’m still hairy and damned happy about it!

posted by wildecrafted in education,journal,wilde crafts and have Comments (9)

I am NOT a housewife!

Over the last four years my role as a stay at home parent has been called into question countless times. Recently though I have been criticised for not being a good enough housewife because I expect my partner, a responsible adult, to do his fair share of the housework at the end of the day when he comes home from working outside the home.

I have 2 things to say about this, the first is not very nice so I won’t write it! The second, well…

I AM NOT A HOUSEWIFE!

In my role as a stay at home parent I have 2 young children depending on me all day. To list just a few of my duties, I dress them (or help them to dress themselves), change nappies & wipe bums, feed them, breastfeed one of them (giving of my physical body!), console them, answer their questions, play with them, take them out to socialise, read to them, sing to them, dance with them, pick up after them & ensure our home is a safe environment for them to be in.

Not only does Bean regularly get a full 8 hours sleep per night, compared to my average of 4-5 hours (due to me doing the bulk of the night time parenting with Babyman breastfeeding overnight), he also works a job with a set lunch break & smoko. Most days I don’t even go to the toilet without an audience! I work all day.

I do the food shopping for our whole family & I do it with the children in tow. I prepare at least 2 meals plus snacks each day for our children, I often get dinner ready also since Bean isn’t usually home until late of a weekday evening. I change 5-6 nappies per day & I do the bulk of our family’s laundry – including Bean’s laundry!

I can't credit this image to the original artist because no one else on the nerd has. If it's yours, do let me know.

Like Bean, I enjoy my job most of the time. Like Bean, I sometimes feel tired of my job because it’s physically & emotionally hard work. Like Bean. I sometimes want to swap roles, working out of the home seems very appealing some days.

I have temporarily given up my career to parent our children. This is a decision we are lucky enough to be able to make & we made it because it’s important to us that our children have a parent at home with them while they are young. Given that breastfeeding is also important to us, & I have the boobs, that job falls to me! As a result, while Bean’s earning capacity has increased, time spent out of paid employment has meant my earning capacity has decreased. That is a significant sacrifice to make for my family!

I have 2 children, not 3! Bean is an able-bodied, able-minded adult. If we did not live together he would be responsible for himself. Why assume that, since he lives with the owner-operator of a vagina, he no longer has to be responsible for himself?! Being a woman does not make me his slave. I am nothing to him but his equal.

Just as I am responsible for myself & responsible for providing for the needs of my dependent children, so is Bean. What is between our legs has no bearing on our responsibilities!

Our children are Bean’s children as much as they are mine. The fact that I care for them full time means Bean doesn’t have to worry about finding someone else to do it, nor does he worry about paying someone else to do it!

When I have furthered my study to bring my earning capacity in line with Bean’s & when our youngest child is no longer breastfeeding I intend to return to paid work. I’m really looking forward to it, actually. Eventually we will both work part time in paid employment & part time caring for our (unschooled) children.

As a student I will need to set aside time at the evenings & weekends to do my study. Being that Bean is their other parent, the children will spend that time with him. Neither of us view that as a chore, or an unfair expectation of him. His anatomy doesn’t disqualify him from being a good & involved parent.

While I am studying, then when I am working in paid employment, & Bean is caring for the children, as I do now, the housework & general household responsibilities will be divided as they are now – EQUALLY!

I am responsible for myself. He is responsible for himself. We are both responsible for our home, we are both responsible for our children & will continue to be until they are able to be responsible for themselves.

I am not a housewife, I am a woman*!

 

I originally published this with the last line reading,

“I am not a housewife, I’m a feminist!”

and another woman pointed out to me that being a feminist is a choice, but being a woman is not. She explained she thinks what I have described in my blog post should be reality for every woman simply because she’s a person, & that some men & women may read it & think something along the lines of,

“Well that’s your choice.”

So, I agreed & I have changed the post to reflect that.

Every stay at home parent deserves to have the work they do recognised for what it is, a job. Regardless of our sex or our gender, I believe no one in a partnership should be cleaning up after another able bodied, able minded adult as part of the role of stay at home parent!

posted by wildecrafted in home and have Comments (5)