Saturday, August 21, 2010

Experiences of single motherhood and children-as-a-burden

I am a single parent, and I am trying to get to a point where I can experience being the primary caregiver for two children as just a normal part of everyday life as opposed to a burden on me... for some reason, I feel the need to note that I love my children, I love being a parent, and I enjoy their company- I am writing about the specific times where things come up that children cannot go to (or are not "supposed" to participate in)-things that children on TV sitcoms magically disappear for.

Generally speaking, it is not difficult for me to enjoy having children around as part of my everyday life- they can make a weekend more exciting and open up a wide range of activities that I can do, such as going to various parks and playgrounds, and I love a good game of tag or follow the leader on the climbing structures when they aren't too full. However, as much as I try to get away from the children-are-(sometimes)-a-burden framework that used to dominate my thinking right after my divorce, I find that various circumstances are pushing it back into my life- two main examples right now being the university and my position as a union executive.

I begin grad school this fall, and it is a small program at a small university. Two years ago, there were fewer students and 2 more course options. This year, there are basically no electives being offered due to a severe prof shortage. Anyway, the part that is relevant to parenting is my schedule. My earliest course is at 4:30pm, and I will be in class at least two nights a week until 10pm. So, I help the kids get on the bus to school in the morning and do thesis work and readings through the day (things that I could easily do at home in the evening), then the kids have to go to daycare all evening while I attend classes.

I am really struggling with whether it is ok for me to spend that much time away from them. It is important to note that their father does not feel guilty about only seeing them for a couple of hours every other week, so why do I have to feel guilty about leaving them at daycare until 10pm 2 nights a week? I think it has something to do with my youngest's "behavioral issues" that developed at school last year when i was in class until 6:00 twice a week. He stopped listening to his kindergarten teacher and refused to go to bed for me at night, and when we consulted a specific agency about the behaviors, they suggested that it was because I wasn't spending enough time at home (with no suggestion that an absent father could be partially to blame).

Combining this class schedule with mother-blaming, I've gone as far as to debate whether I should actually get a graduate degree because it might not be fair to the children... but, on the other hand, would it be any more fair to them for me to take whatever type of job I can find with my current degree (insert liberal arts joke here) instead of following my own dream and my passion to continue my education and get the job that I see myself doing for the rest of my life?

The other issue I have been having related to my children is about working on a union executive. Our union has been having regular meetings and conferences 4 hours away (driving- 1 hour flight- 7 hours by train) to combat wage restraint legislation. My university needs to be represented, and, until we find more members to step in this fall, I seem to be the only one who is willing/able to do this. My union has a policy where children are welcome- daycare is provided at the meetings and speakers often talk about how happy they are to have entire families able to attend. However, there are activities that are planned at night, which means I cannot fully participate in the activities that are taking place as "good" parents put children to bed at a "reasonable" hour. Most participants have a spouse to stay with the children while they go out, but, for the single parents (in my experience, all of the attending single parents have been mothers) who attend, things like games night and camp fires are cut quite short. I have even had to miss evening meetings where important document wording was being debated in detail.

I'm not saying that I think there should be daycare all night at these events so I can go play games night and then go drinking with my peers, I am just saying that having children has stopped me from doing things that I might otherwise be able to do. So, I now need to try and reframe this discussion and get to a place where I can get around some of these experiences where having children sometimes feels like a burden... keeping in mind that when my children are together, they are not really capable of being quiet enough for non-child-friendly situations.

So, I guess my point is that as hard as I try to not see my children as a burden, I feel like this view is being pushed back on me- and my experience is that they are my burden, not their father's.


  1. Know what's really strange? I feel almost totally opposite. That is, I feel pressure and guilt because I don't feel like the children are weighing me down or whatever. And, yes, it's hard to write anything that is negative about mothering without feeling like clarifying (THEY ARE MY GREAT JOY, etc. etc. ). Seriously, though, all of my friends either take more time away from their children or want to and if I don't agree that's a goal of mine (it isn't) I end up feeling like something's wrong with me.

    Also, it's amazing how easily my STBX (soon-to-be-ex) has transitioned into a visits Dad. He's better suited for it, but, I realized the other day, he never does their laundry. He used to always do the laundry. Now that he's not living with them (he comes and goes from our home) he's stopped doing that stuff. I think of him as nearly a babysitter, really. And, honestly, I'm afraid that's how my girls see him, too. Daddy comes to play.

    Love your blog. Keep writing. :-)

  2. Thank you... It is great to hear that you don't feel burdened by your children, and I don't think that there is anything wrong with that either. I think it depends on a lot of factors, such as your patience levels, job, daycare, support, relationship with their father (I could go on indefinitely). I think my point is I am trying to get to that experience in all areas of my life, but I feel like the world wants me to experience my children as a burden and to be grateful for them at the same time.

    And yes, my ex transitioned to baby-sitter role rather quickly as well, only taking the kids for overnights when he was living with a girlfriend (who would do their laundry, he didn't). I've commented on fathers as "babysitters" before, albeit briefly... back in March when Ryan Seacrest said that a male contestant was babysitting his infant son. That would have to be one of my biggest pet peeves.

  3. Ms. Marx, I'm a single mother who is also a union officer (damn near all-male union). I get the hairy eyeball from my fellow (all male) officers for bringing my daughter with me to E-Board and meeting night (she sits in another room and reads, or draws). One former officer complained to the business manager about it---the last straw for him was when my daughter overheard a tale about fucking and pussy told by a (non-member) guest at the E-Board meeting; she said, "That'll be enough of that!!" really loud.

    Anyway...I was asked to find babysitting. I said that would only be possible if the meeting time went back to its previous time, later in the evening (y'know, when the male officers wanted it to start, back when their children were younger---after their kids grew up, they wanted the meeting right after work. When my daughter aged out of day care, it was no longer possible for me to access child care).

    So, I bring my daughter, and everyone else likes it or lumps it. Funny how that guy thought I was being "unprofessional", but talking about pussy and conquests at the business table magically isn't unprofessional.

  4. Wow... that is rough. I am lucky enough to be in a university sector union where approximately half of our members and executive are female. However, it is made up of graduate teaching assistants, so most have not started a family yet and do not always understand the difficulties of trying to do this while parenting. Within the group, I have never heard that type of language being used, and I think it would be pointed out as unprofessional by many people in the union.

    In my co-op, however, they refuse to move board meetings to times that are more convenient for parents with young children, which means that our board is made up of parents of teenagers and empty-nesters. Because of this, the playground has not been a priority and money has been going towards things like horticultural committees and social gatherings instead of building a park where our children can play. I cannot bring my children to these meetings because of the language and fighting that goes on.

    I wish I had some major insights for you, but all I can say is keep it up. If it is a predominantly male union, they need some female (if possible, feminist and anti-oppressive) voices to represent the needs of less privileged members.

  5. It's interesting to hear that you feel guilty about going to school to perhaps make a better life for you and your children in the future. If it was a single father going to grad school I think he would be highly praised for trying to get a higher paying job in the future while making a sacrifice now for his family.

    It's unfortunate that your school does not offer these classes for you during the day. Just try to make the weekends a little funner or even talk with your kids and tell them that you have classes at night, but they will/should be sleeping when you are gone.

  6. Thanks... I completely agree about the double standard. They won't be sleeping when I'm gone either, because I think the daycare will require that they stay after school until 10pm, which is going to be rough. Or, if I want to see them, I can pay a sitter to watch them at my house, but the problem with that is that licensed daycare is free for me right now, whereas a sitter in my house would come out of my pocket, and OSAP does not pay me enough to pay sitters.

    As for making weekends more fun.. I'm on that, we've signed up for the YMCA (swimming, gymnstics, family judo) and I am putting my kids in drama classes. Nevermind the usual skating, sliding, and all that other fun stuff we can do in Northern Ontario... Quality over Quantity, right?

  7. but all I can say is keep it up.

    Heh. Thanks. I've been the battering ram for women in my Local for over twenty years now. :-)

    Sometimes my head hurts. Thankfully, it's a hard head.

  8. from my (limited) experience with unions, a hard head can definitely be an asset sometimes!