Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

Roles, not Rules, of the Household

We radical unschooling families like to call ourselves by terms that suggest a large cohesive group. Even when there are only three (even as small as two) members we often go by clan, band, tribe or something of the like. Really we’re just a family  but we’ve defined ourselves as something bigger because  we want to suggest we are something a little different then the typical family where the parents are in charge and the kids are along for the ride. We recognize that each member is a valued part of the whole. We realize that the youngest is just as important as the oldest and the oldest has just as much to learn as the youngest. Our head of household is usually our philosophy and not a parent. We band together to take care of each other. We all have a job to do that’s mostly independent of each other but affects each member. We have jobs that we share and jobs that we rotate. Some of our responsibilities we have to do out of necessity- though boiled down it all comes to some choice we made somewhere along the line.  For instance I never dreamed I’d be a homemaker but the choices I’ve made led me here. Each of our jobs are important to ourselves and to each other. They are all hard work, they all come with struggles, and they all have their rewards. No one job is more important then the other and neither is it more difficult. We all have a right to be upset about our duties once in a while but life will be so much easier if we focus on the rewards. If we realize that the more mundane and even difficult parts of our jobs is just a tiny fragment of what is otherwise a pretty good life, then even those small parts can seem alright too. Its not always easy to stay in a positive mindset but a part of being a family is supporting each other. We help each other out.. Sometimes its by picking up a little of the other persons duties. Sometimes its just offereing a silent ear so another can vent. In some cases we can even try to cheer the other up with kind words, a special gift or a hug. Never is it appropriate to tell another your own opinion of how that person should behave, think, or believe in the moment they just need love and validation.

Our duties change with time. Right now our family is 5 people: a dad, a mom, a pre-teen, and two toddlers. We have cats, cars, a house, and a yard to take care of.

Before the Daddy was a daddy,  he went to school for a lot of stressful years and didn’t get to study much else that interested him. He was able to buy his home and his car soon after he graduated but he also acquired a girlfriend and the girlfriends kid. The girlfriend didn’t have a very well paying job, didn’t have many babysitters for her kid, and the kid wasn’t yet school age. He probably wasn’t looking to be a dad or a husband but that’s the way it happened.  When the kid turned school age and the girlfriend was about to get a job she discovered she wanted to homeschool her kid. After his own research he thought it was a pretty good idea too and not long after they wanted more kids.

The Mama started out wanting to explore the world. She was going to write, she was going to stay single, determined not to fall in love til she was elderly. She was going to get a few odd jobs to support herself and she was going to travel and be youth leader and missionary. After she decided that mission work wasn’t for her she decided to fall back on bodywork which had also called to her. She researched schools and decided on one in Seattle. But then she fell passionately in love, got married, and had a kid and all her plans started falling away. Partly due to dreams being dashed and thrown into a lifestyle she didn’t know much about, she got depressed. She tried to make it work, tried to find her place, worked a few service jobs but, with her husband, barely sustained a  living. The marriage fell apart and she still wasn’t sure how to combine her passions and her mama-hood. She wasn’t looking for love or even another relationship. She certainly wasn’t looking to be a homemaker or full time mama. But that’s just kind of how it evolved after the daddy (to be) and the girlfriend met at work.

Our family didn’t start out as democratic as it is today. We weren’t taught in school how to be part of family with household duties. I remember carrying an egg around and pretending it was supposed to be a baby for a class, but that doesn’t  teach a kid ANYTHING about the responsibility of being a parent. Sure we had our own families to look to as an example but they didn’t give us all the tools we currently use to make our family what we want it. Like many kids we weren’t raised to express our views or believe we were equally important. It was through homeschooling and more specifically unschooling that we learned to be the family we wanted to be. We didn’t sit down and talk about the roles each of would take. We’ve had to feel around and just kind of fall into it. They are not static roles but the basics are and will be about the same for awhile. I’m sure there have been times we’ve silently expected something more or less from each other and didn’t get it so I encourage everyone to communicate about their duties and set some very basic ground rules. This will avoid resentment from building.

Currently the Daddy’s job is to provide financially. He works long hours in a  career that’s not in alignment with his personal philosophy, dealing with a sometimes difficult public, and in a sterile windowless environment. But he also has a spectacular open mindset that allows him to maintain a positive attitude. He looks at the more difficult times as challenges that better his overall world view and I have to agree that it does. He has a pretty nice staggered schedule for a full-time job and we get to spend a few days a week just hanging out as a family. Because of the income he brings in we dont’ have to stress about basic things like warmth, electricity, food, clothing, and gas. I’ve never earned enough on my own to have that peace of mind. Even when I was a kid, even though I didn’t really stress about it, I knew my mom struggled to even feed us let a lone do much extra. But with the Daddy’s income we’re even able to take a few small vacations…even if most of those are traveling by car a few hours to visit family its not something we have to scrimp and save to do. Since he makes the money and most bills are in his name he also takes care of paying them. He also does a few other household duties like taking care of the garden and houseplants, shoveling snow, and carrying heavy things like pellets for the stove. In the winter its necessary for him to do some of the grocery shopping because the roads and weather won’t allow me to get out of the house. He’s also taken over a lot of the food preparation and will even help out with the dishes.

My job is the mama. Right now it seems most of my day is revolved around food. I plan for grocery shopping,  execute us getting out of the house with the right gear (coolers, diapers, shopping bags, etc) shopping for food, preparing food, cleaning  surfaces, cracks, and crevices (both human and inanimate) of food. Somewhere in there I have to feed myself as well and then my body converts that food into more food for my babies/toddlers. That’s the messy, sometimes gross, and monotonous part of my job. Since we are unschoolers, I also get to facilitate the enriching of the kiddos’ minds and by proxy, mine as well. I consider myself fortunate that I get to spend so much quality time with my kids because I really like and respect them. I’m perfectly qualified for my job for that very reason alone. But its not without its struggles. I don’t really have time or motivation to do anything that caters just to me or my creativity. I can’t get a shower, a haircut, bodywork, do  yoga, or sew something simple without a combination of strategic planning, a willing and able husband to look after the kiddos, and sometimes cooperative weather. It takes immense patience, multi-tasking, and creative ways to keep little hands occupied for me to do anything. I have to take my entertainment and correspondence in snippets ( and yes, its taken me weeks just to do this post). I often have to prioritize-its either enriching my kids’ lives or mopping a floor. In fact I consider the housework to not be my job alone. We all live in and use the house so we all can help maintain it. We can all clean up after ourselves to an extent-though I’m willing to do the bulk of it and happy to help the kids do it since they are still learning how to clean. I prioritize spending quality time with my kids then stressing about whether the house is spic and span. I do what I can when I can and I expect the rest of the family to help with the household chores. When I do clean, I try to allow the kids to help, I try to be cheerful when doing it, and I try to show them the proper way to do it.

The preteen has a job to do too. Mostly its just to be a kid. She gets to have fun, craft, play at the park or take a walk, hang out with friends and make up a play, draw a fursona, use the computer to explore the world or watch funny videos, sculpt a Tardis and paint it blue, sing a song, blend a smoothie or cook herself a grilled cheese. Sometimes she takes a class or does a workbook or reads a book. She has responsibilities too. She is supposed to feed, water, and clean up after the cats. She has to bathe at least twice a week. I need her to watch her sisters while they sleep in the car and I do the grocery shopping or keep an eye on them while I run upstairs or load the dishwasher. She runs a few errands for me when the toddlers are busy nursing or cuddling me and don’t want me to leave them. She helps with the laundry and unloading the dishwasher and sometimes even cleaning a bathroom or taking out the trash. She gets an allowance for her chores. Sometimes she takes on more household cleaning duties when she wants to earn a few extra dollars. I have to tell her to do all those things but we’ve decided together that is what I need to do so she remembers.

Even the little girls have a duty. (Even thought they are individuals, I’m grouping them together since they are close in age and development). They must play. Play is not only fun but teaches them all sorts of things. From dexterity, to problem solving, to social interaction, play is their most important job of the day. They play with each other, by themselves, with their toys, with their big sister, with their mommy and daddy. They also play with their friends and whole new worlds are opened up to them.   Now this is not really a job that they’ve had to learn to do. This is all very normal behavior and development. But they are learning and we’re giving them the space and guidance to do so.

None of the kids have MUCH responsibility. but they acquire more as they get older. Most of their learning is through play, like I said before. However they also learn a lot through observation. That’s why its important for the parents to make sure they are living their ideals. We must be pursuing our passions and sharing it with them. We must nurture our spirits and maintain a positive attitude. We need to keep communicating in kind and effective ways with each other, those around us, and with our kids. We have to be willing to take care of everyone’s needs, not just our own. They see it and feel it all. And then they mimic it. They remind me constantly to be a better person, to communicate my needs, to allow them freedom, to offer my respect, to maintain patience, and to honor their needs.

It was partly due to the method of homeschooling we stumbled upon as well as our own spiritually inquisitive natures that led us to this lifestyle. I’m so thankful that my husband and I agree that it makes more sense for us to be the primary caregivers and pass along our passions and views then pay for someone else (including the school system) to pass along theirs. It makes our separate roles seem all that more important. I’m not just shuttling the kids from this and to that.  The daddy isn’t just around a few hours of the day barking orders, handing out discipline, or tossing the ball in the yard. We are both actively involved in the day to day growth of our kids into human beings. And we’re learning a whole heck of a lot in the process. We are fulfilled and our kids are already successful. Being the sole bread winner can be hard. Finding equality in being a housewife can be hard. After all our duties are done there is even less time to devote to developing and maintaining a partnership with the Daddy. I have little time to keep myself purdy let alone spend alone time with my husband. But we both realize that even though this is difficult its for a greater good. The first few yearss of a humans life is essential for them to learn trust and independence and we believe the mother is the most qualified and important person to build that. Sure its hard and sometimes we need to vent, just like anyone with a hard job needs to do, but its what we WANT to do. The parents have their bumps to overcome but so does everyone. Even being a kid, dealing with all sorts of newness about the world and themselves can be hard. Its still a struggle to remember we’re all equal and deserve to be heard and honored. Wife and kid are roles that are devalued partly because neither makes any money. Success is often associated with the size of income. Breadwinner is often seen from the outside as head of household. Wife and kids are often the secondary and its even more so when the wife is a homemaker and the kids are homeschooled. Fortunately we’ve learned to see success in terms of how much we all get along and how truly happy we are.