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Top Tips for not-yet-a-mum Feminists, please?

(32 Posts)
LRDTheFeministDragon Sat 11-Jun-11 11:41:39

There are a lot of threads at the moment about being a parent, and I know I'm not the only one who isn't a mum yet but would like to be. I am learning loads from those threads but also obviously missing a lot because I don't know what it's really like yet! I wondered if you could take a minute to tell me what you wish you'd known before you started, how you wish you'd tackled things - and what you did that you think made a big difference and really worked. What should I watch out for?

I know some of this will have been covered but I think it'd be nice to have it all on one thread - there are a few of us on here who are probably on the scrounge for tips and I sometimes feel it's difficult for me to understand what the real battles will be.

Thanks! smile

blackcurrants Sat 11-Jun-11 12:18:01

Somethings that worked for me: talk to your partner NOW and OFTEN about how birth and childrearing skew an otherwise equal relationship. Talk about how you worry about being the 'universal mum' who cleans up after them as well as the kid(s). Talk about the hit that your career will/might take. Talk about the hit your health and body might/will take. Talk about how people are already asking you how you'll balance career and parenting - I introduced this by asking DH if people were asking HIM that - and when he said 'huh, no...' I asked him why. That lead to a really handy discussion about people's expectations on women being the 'primary parent' - eg it's the woman's fault if the baby cries in public, even if the man is also there.
If they're feminist-allied, give them things to read about this (Wifework, or Klein's Misconceptions - both gave my DH quite a shock and have stayed with him). I read "The Politics of Breastfeeding" while preg and he read bits of this too, which opened his eyes (and was the perfect nexus of feminism and anti-big-corporation stuff to get and keep his interest). This made him a perfect breastfeeding supporter - by which I mean he did all housework and cooking for the first 2-3 months, and brought me food and drinks (even cutting up my dinner!) while I fed DS absolutely bloody constantly.

Erm. These are really ways of patriarchy-proofing your partnership IF your partner is a feminist - I'm only a year in to this lark, and it DOES make things less equal without constant vigilance, frankly. (And of course, the work of the constant vigilance is unequal. If I'm the one worrying about how our partnership isn't equal, I'm the one in the lower position.) Right now I'm fighting the "If I'm home all day with a very difficult pre-toddling child, don't come home and launch straight into a long account of your acrimonious meetings. Come home and take the bloody kid off me!" - he's pretty good, but the work of mothering is pretty invisible, and I've had to learn to say "HELP ME NOW" and not roll my eyes and expect him to intuit when I need him to tag in. Also, and oh god this is key - don't be a martyr. You only make yourself unhappy. Lose your cool and/or live in a pigsty, but don't be a 'oh I'll do it' person - or you WILL do it, forever.

LRDTheFeministDragon Sat 11-Jun-11 12:27:53

Thanks! I love the phrase 'patriarchy-proofing your partnership', btw.

I do talk to DH about not wanting to be the one who does all the childcare, etc. Our tentative plan is that we'll start trying when I've finished studying, so with luck we will have a baby when he's doing his degree - this plan is very deliberately with the idea that, this way, he will have the flexibility to do a lot of childcare early on. But we'll not know if that works until we try, and obviously it'd rather dependent on timing!

I hadn't thought to discuss my health re. pregnancy/childbirth, which is daft of me as I've read masses of threads about labour and am relatively open-eyed about possible health implications (insert hollow laughs here, those of you who've, erm, actually done it! grin). But I will discuss that with him. The Politics of Breastfeeding sounds interesting too.

karmakameleon Sat 11-Jun-11 13:49:14

I'm in the same position, so also keep to get everyone's tips.

blackcurrants, It's interesting what you say about discussing the implications of children up front and I have made sure I've done that, but I worry about how you know they are taking it all on board until the baby is actually there. For example, we've talked about sharing the childcare and DH has committed to cutting back his hours if he needs to, but the reality is that he is always aiming for the next promotion or pay rise. Obviously he loves his career and is ambitious (more so than I am although I do enjoy my work) and I can see that he really doesn't understand the conflict a baby could cause. He's just got another promotion so we've decided to stop trying for a bit until work is more settled, but I'm beginning to feel like I'm running out of time (I'm 34 this year) so the tempation to go ahead regardless and suck it up if the worst happens is getting stronger.

Thanks for the book recommendations, and let me know if there are any more (putting in an Amazon order this weekend so may as well throw some more in!!). I'll think about getting DH to read them, although, I'll hope that he doesn't take Wifework too personally. He does do his fair share now, so he's adament that he will do if there's a baby, and may not like the implication that he wouldn't.

MovingAndScared Sat 11-Jun-11 14:18:25

some good thoughts there -
From my observation is the main people who have real problems after children arrive are those that their partners are not great with housework etc before the birth of a child
totally agree about not being a matyr - a clear request about what you need before you are desperate can be good

with (paid) work - what has made the difference again from observation is that partners share the dropping off and picking of children from childcare - I loathe the asumption that it is the womens job - and it can make it really difficult for women if they do it all the time - eg difficult to travel, work late etc
re dropping hours/going part time - that is another issue altogether - in this society it does normally have an impact on the carrer prospects of who ever is doing it (and it doesn't have to happen - lots of people work full time with children) -so I think it has to be something that people are happy with - whether male or female -
so I don't know if that what is what you were talking about with your DH or where you just saying he would need to get home at a reasonable time - which I would say would be a big help in the early days of a new baby at least -

if you are soon to be 34 - this isnt a feminist thing particularly - I would start trying again soonish but sure you know this

LRDTheFeministDragon Sat 11-Jun-11 14:28:59

My DH is not bad at all with housework, in fact he probably does over 50% of it, esp. if you include cooking. What bothers me is that he is rubbish at doing the planning bit (or maybe I'm just bossy, given that he does things when I say they need doing!). He'll happily do things, but won't anticipate them needing doing, if that makes sense? I don't think he realizes how annoying it is to be the one constantly keeping tabs on what we need to buy or noticing that the sheets need washing/the washing-up is sitting in the sink.

What worries me is that atm it's quite easy for us to have an equal relationship because we have no kids, we're both on roughly minimum wage (so no discussions about who earns more/how to spend our riches) and we rent a tiny one-bed flat so there's not exactly extensive housework/maintenance to do. I just worry that when we do have kids, the burden will shift because I plan and notice what needs doing, and he doesn't so much - I keep reading threads where people say they end up doing things/ getting up with the baby simply because their DH doesn't seem to respond to need.

Hope that made sense. I know it's a problem; I just don't knwo the answer.

SomersetBelle Sat 11-Jun-11 14:42:32

You're probably well aware of this book - Delusions of Gender - but PrinceHumperdink recommended it to me on here recently and I'm a bit obsessed!

I wish I'd read it before having DD. She's only 17 months so it's not exactly a disaster, but I think we would have approached things slightly differently.

The other thing I would have done is to 'let' DH do more. I effectively set up a culture at home where I had all the answers re the baby and he had to defer to me. Not exactly empowering for him and it meant I was on duty 24/7. However, I think hospital births don't help as partners are not allowed to stay overnight, enforcing this pattern from the off.

I really struggled (and still do) with being the primary carer and the resultant inequalities with freedom of movement. I really wished we'd got that nailed. If there's a next time I'm looking forward to shared parental leave very much!

karmakameleon Sat 11-Jun-11 15:19:18

Moving, for us, the problem is that DH travels a lot for work. So when he's at home, he'd be able to do the pick ups as he tends to leave work by 5.30 and work from home later if he needs to. But obviously if he's travelling, I'd struggle and sometimes he travels a lot. He says the next role won't be as bad, so we'll see how it is when he's bedded in.

Somerset, how do you think you could have encouraged your DH to gain the knowledge around babies and come up with his own way of dealing with her? Somehow I've already got more information on babies and children than DH and I can't just forget it all, so he can catch up. And even if I could, I wonder if he has enough interest to try to find stuff out. For example, I don't think I've ever heard him ask one of his friends about their experience of having children, while I ask mine all the time. (Obv, he asks if the kids are well etc, but doesn't take much more interest than that.)

SomersetBelle Sat 11-Jun-11 15:40:37

karma someone talked about this on another thread recently and I thought it was a good idea. Instead of taking control and dealing with everything yourself you share the challenge by asking "DD has a nappy rash/doesn't like yoghurt/won't nap what do you think we should do?" etc rather than just sorting it out yourself.

It's so easy to get into the habit of doing things yourself because it's quicker and easier, but I think encouraging shared responsibility with the detail as well as the bigger picture stuff helps make things more equal.

Going back to paid work part time (DH looks after DD) really helped as he had to cope on his own. He also said that he bonded much more with her when I wasn't there.

alexpolismum Sat 11-Jun-11 15:41:00

I agree with a lot of things blackcurrants said. I's also like to include children's health, as this can also have an impact on your relationship. And I don't just mean what happens when your normally very healthy child has a touch of the flu. My relationship started to become unequal when my ds2 was born with various problems that mean he needs a lot of physiotherapy and care. My plans to return to work have been scuppered, and although dh was trying to be supportive, he didn't realise how hard it was for me, or how tiring doing the physio was. We had to have a good talk about it.

Also, I would consider your relatives/ inlaws. My inlaws are very good about making comments about untidy houses (they see it as my job to sort it out), and if dh was not prepared to put them in their place and put a stop to it, this could be a problem. You can probably tell your own mum/ brother/ whatever to shut up, but you need your dh on board with regard to his relations.

Himalaya Sat 11-Jun-11 16:06:21

LRD & Karma -

Good questions. I think it is so important to think and talk about this stuff early on, and keep talking about it, and expecting that your DH to be as flexible as you are.

Even in the most loving and good relationships, if the man is marginally more ambitious than the woman, and the woman is marginally more houseproud, a year or two of maternity leave can transform you from a basically equal partnership into traditional roles.

I think it really sets in with two children, if you EBF and take a year of maternity leave then by the end of the year you have put in so much more time with your DD/DS that you are the relative expert in that department. You can do stuff better than he can, particularly the planning side of the household.Then you go back to work (but you 'own' the relationship with the childminder etc..) and where everyone assumes you are just back for a short tine before your next maternity leave. And sure enough you are. Then the second time round because you are BFing the baby and on mat leave, it's easier for you to do everything to look after the older one at the same time. So at the end of that year it's you who knows all the drs, dentists, food preferences, playgrounds etc... You have a bunch of mummy friends while your DH's relationships are still firmly embedded in his work.

Which is not a reason not to have two, not to BF etc.., not to take your full mat leave, but is a reason to be aware of how these patterns set in.

Karma - I would be woried about your DH will take time off if he needs to. It sounds like he is thinking of it as a favour to you, 'babysitting' etc....

My top tips (some have already been said)

- be a bit of a slob/not too precious about the housework
- the same about your children - try to avoid the whole PFB thing where you read 1001 books and have fixed ideas about how to do it.
- decide actively if you want to be a FT SAHM in tge LT nd if you don't work out some plans and scenarios so you don't end up in a situation where it's uneconomic for you to work.
- if you can at all afford it both take time off work from day 1 - e.g. DH goes down to 4 days/wk when you go on mat leave and you use 1 day a week to do a course, do some freelance work or something that will keep your career going over that year, and so that he doesn't get used to the idea that nothing has changed for him.
- be wary of moving to the suburbs, for cheaper housing, more space and better schools, it is harder to have an equal relationship when long commutes are involved.
- Enjoy it!

Cattleprod Sat 11-Jun-11 16:18:51

Re: your career - especially if it is important to you, or you feel it defines you in some way, rather than just being a means to earn money. Remember that your career is somewhere in the region of 45 years long, so in the grand scheme of things, scaling it back or even taking a complete break for three or four years will not make you less 'valuable' to society, or less of a feminist, or weaker, or 'a housewife'. You are simply taking up a priceless opportunity (finances permitting) to do something amazing for a while. Celebrate that, and the fact that you as a woman have that chance, whereas many men don't.

Ephiny Sat 11-Jun-11 16:31:42

I'm a not-yet-a-mum feminist too, good idea for a thread LRD smile

One thing I've been meaning to ask is about the decision to have children in the first place, from a feminist perspective. Given that we have too many people in the world already, that as feminists we understand that a woman doesn't have a duty or obligation to have babies, that we shouldn't feel that reproducing is necessary for us to be fulfilled or feel like a 'proper' woman, that sometimes what we feel we want to do or should do comes from cultural and societal pressures that we should 'unpack' rather than blindly following, that the birth of children very often leads to a fairly equal relationship becoming very 'traditional' in terms of gender roles, that research shows that having children (especially more than one) tends to make women less happy not more)...I'm interested in why feminists do decide to have children.

I'll start another thread if it's too much of a side-track. Please don't feel I'm criticising or judging anyone's decision, I'm not a militant child-free type and will probably be trying to get pregnant fairly soon myself! Just genuinely interested in people's reasons.

My reasons are basically: because DP is very keen to have a child, and because I have a vague sense that since so many people have them, there must be some reason, and I'll be missing out on something if I don't. I probably wouldn't bother if I didn't have a partner who was keen though.

MovingAndScared Sat 11-Jun-11 16:33:36

with confidence with child
My Dh probably had more experience of babies as he had much younger siblings - but to honest didn't make much difference as its totaly different having your own - the only thing that really helps is to have other new parents around and mumsnet of course to reasure you that its normal!
my DH was great with my DSs - but I would just say here you are - I am off to bed etc - I tried not to micro manage
when I went back to work he had a few days of looking after Ds1 on his own - so I knew he could do it
longish parternity leave helps
some midwife units have room for partners to stay over BTW
I think the key is to work out what is going to work for you as family -
ob have to adjust as you go along -
so I don't mind doing more housework as I am not working full time -I would mind doing it all
I don't mind doing the planning but DH does the weekly shop mainly
I would mind doing all the pickups - and couldn't have done my previous job if I had to
- I did most of the nights with DS2 as I was BF but DH would get up early with the boys and let me sleep in
re travel - I think that is an issue - and you have to talk to your DH about how you make it work - he may have to travel less and/or work out some kind of childcare/or working arrangment that works for you

LRDTheFeministDragon Sat 11-Jun-11 17:21:21

Somerset - Yes, I think Delusions of Gender is great! Might have been PH who recommended it to me too - certainly somwone on here.

I like your idea of constantly asking 'what should we do', too - makes sense.

alex - good point about children's health.

Actually, this isn't health but maybe a similar kind of thing - I know my mum feels that if she hadn't been a SAHM my brother (dyslexic) would just never have learned to read/got an education, because she had to home-school him some of the time. Which is a bit scary as it runs in my family, whereas DH blithely assumes children learn to read easily and education is something easy to get.

Himalaya - thanks. I'm guessing your experience is being the less ambitious/more houseproud side, that sounds hearfelt! grin I am prob. more 'houseproud' than DH, but also more ambitious. Something I worry about is that he doesn't seem to have to be ambitious - whereas even now I feel I'm constantly having to prove I really am keen to make myself a career, against the default assumption I may well want to have babies 'instead'.

ephiny - thanks! I thought there were a few of us around. Good question re. why have children - difficult one for me to justify, but I suppose all I can say is, I don't think it's anti-feminist to admit we (men and women) can feel strong urges to have children. For me - and I admit this is not a good reason, but it is a strong influence on the way I feel - it's partly because I really want to build a family with my DH, and feel I never had the greatest sense of that from my own parents. Classic dodgy logic, but not an unusual reaction as far as I know.

SomersetBelle Sat 11-Jun-11 17:29:33

Ephiny we actually didn't feel we had much choice in the matter - just a very very strong urge to have a child.

Karma to answer the rest of your question tbh DH didn't take much interest in babies or children until DD was born. He read some 'funny' books about pg and childbirth, came to scans and took on more as I was so tired, but that's about it. I became very inward focused when pregnant which probably didn't help much.

When she was born it all changed though and he was completely into her and other children too.

One other thing - make sure your free time is equal. This drove me up the wall - DH thinking just because DD was asleep he could go out and leave me to it.

I hated his assumption that I would always be there, as it implies he is just helping out, rather than taking shared responsibility. I used to tally up his little 'poppings out' which was petty I know but he got the message.

SomersetBelle Sat 11-Jun-11 17:34:24

MovingAndScared I did not know this about midwife led units, thanks for sharing.

Himalaya Sat 11-Jun-11 18:59:51

LRD - actually no, I am the more ambitious, less houseproud one. grin Currently sole earner with SAHD, but we have done all different variations on work an childcare. We did move to the suburbs though, and all the mum friends have made here are in that situation I describe - smart, qualified women who didn't mean to give up their careers but somehow did. Their DHs salaries and their mortgage payments so overtook their earning power when they took a few years off, that there was never a good time to go back, and now they've left it so long they've lost confidence and connections.

Cattleprod Sat 11-Jun-11 19:30:44

Ephiny - the short answer to your question is 'family'. I wanted children because I wanted to be part of a regenerating family, not one that gradually died out. I wanted new people as part of that, but I never wanted 'a baby' in the broody sense of the world, and I've always thought of my producing a child being for my family, rather than just for me, and it certainly shouldn't fall on my shoulders to do all the childcare or other 'female' roles. It just happens that I'm the one with the right biological equipment to grow it!! I don't think the fact that China, India, some parts of Africa, arguably the UK are overpopulated and sometimes struggling with resources really comes into the decision. After all, there are too many cars on this earth too, doesn't mean I don't want one to make my life better.

blackcurrants Sat 11-Jun-11 21:24:57

ooh this thread is so interesting.
As to why have children/babies - because they smell amazing, are delightful and entertaining, and I absolutely HAD to have at least one. I'm crazy about babies and children - am a very proud aunt to lots of little ones, and felt sure from an early age I wanted to be a mother. DH was even more broody, and we were both upfront about it from the moment we met (weirdos, I know!) so that was simple. There is no reason to do it, and certainly no one should. But we just had to, IYSWIM.

The health stuff is important - DS is very healthy so far, we've been lucky, but I spent the entirety of my first trimester either asleep, being exhausted, or feeling extremely sick. DH had to do all the food stuff (and wasn't allowed to even fry an onion some days!) and all the laundry (I couldn't cart it up and down 3 flights of stairs) and clean the bathroom (I couldn't bend without throwing up) - and I had a relatively uncomplicated pregnancy - nothing out of the ordinary. If he had been a bastard about it then - if he had so much as murmured, frankly - I would have lost my shit about it, because I had to be pregnant and he didn't and I hated being pregnant. I went to bed at around 6.15 most evenings (having got home at 5.45) and we barely ever had sex or even cuddled, I just felt too awful. DH had to work hard to not feel rejected and unloved and the unpaid housemaid, I think.

Second trimester was a lot better, but I had constant heartburn. Third trimester I was just a big puffy hot thing with a raging horn (that's what the men like, you know, enormous women who cry at the drop of a hat and then try to jump their bones...) - I had to struggle with my OWN internalized patriachal values, too. "I'm hideous" and "What if I'm a bad mother", etc.

It just so happens that DH was glorious at that stuff, and either honestly did find me attractive all the time I was pg or is a damn good liar - but yeah, it's tricky. He did a lot more housework when I was pg than he ever did before, because I simply couldn't - in the last 2 weeks I was so swollen up I couldn't grip things properly - and that was a good inkling that he'd do a fair share in the following weeks.

Second whoever says get your DH to go to 4 days at once, and you get a day to be your own self. I went back to work VERY early 3 days a week, and DH did the childcare drop off - that helped keep things on an even keel, I think. I also had a "I put food in, you change nappies" deal with him for the first 3-6 months, which gave him a special role. . . and therefore an area of expertise. When I wasn't BFing I gave him the baby... tried not to tell him how to do it...

It's very hard.

cleverything Sat 11-Jun-11 21:47:35

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

MovingAndScared Sat 11-Jun-11 21:56:37

ephiny - how old are you - if you don't mind me asking - as it can be something that feels stronger with age - and if you are not that bothered I would make sure that your DH is very on side with support - as I think its particularly unfair if that's the case- seen it in a couple of my friends - they were less keen but went along with it - careers badly affected and it turns out the husbands liked more the idea of having children than the actual reality - not that either are bad people or fathers - both also friends of mine - but they are a lot less present/helpful than I would be happy about
I agree just because you are a feminist that is not a reason not to want children, it was just a very strong feeling for me -

cleverything Sat 11-Jun-11 22:00:31

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

PrinceHumperdink Sat 11-Jun-11 23:25:29

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

PrinceHumperdink Sat 11-Jun-11 23:26:29

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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