What do feminist mothers fight with their partners about?

This post by blue milk came so at the right time – or wrong time -that it made me want to contribute my bit – or more honestly, rant.

First, I will say that we don’t fight much, and that we get along pretty nicely, mainly because my partner is very very patient and he is the kind that diffuses fights rather than escalates (like I do). But we do have our moments, obviously, especially when we are both tired and overwhelmed.

One of the most frequent fights is about sleep, which inevitably leads to discussions about how much we each do and contribute – both of us probably feeling and proclaiming we do more or that our work is not valued. And for me it ends up being about feminism too.

Here is why.

Let’s put it in context first. R. has always woken up several times a night until very recently – that is almost 2 1/2 years without proper sleep. The nights are my domain, mainly because I breastfed her, and because she would yell like she was being killed if my partner went, and even if I know that if we kept it up she would get used to it, I could never reach the point of letting the process happen. So it was and is mainly me. He wakes up, true, because he is a light sleeper, but stays in bed and can roll over and go to sleep again -unless it is the screaming type of wake up. My partner usually takes r. in the mornings, and I sleep in an hour or sometimes –pleasure of pleasures- two, which are very precious to me.

However, he expects loads of brownie points and brings it up at times when we discuss what we each do ‘you sleep in every morning’ type of thing. As I am a slacker for that. And I am grateful, and it is true in many ways. But so why is he then not grateful about my all night work? So my reply is as true (or truer– it’s my blog, ha!) ‘I let you sleep every night and that is much much harder’. put up the volume for the reply… and a rich description of what waking up every nigth implies. But it does not seem to get through, the message – for either of us- since we always come back to that. Of course then we go onto other niceties. Who needs to sleep more – he works, brings the money home. I work too, but not on well paid things –like my PhD, a few classes, consultancies, or even worse I spend time doing this blog, which does not bring any ‘profit’. So he needs more sleep, while my sleeping in is a luxury, a treat. He never actually says that, but for me, it is implied. so my reaction is not that afable, as you can expect. 

Another typical tipping point, which is related to the above, is the one described already in blue milk post and links, and in a much better  way too: the day the nanny gets ill. Not so much the day r. gets ill, because as in the nights, I seem to be the requested one, and it is ok, I also want to be there. But the day the nanny gets ill. And the discussions begin…because it seems obvious that I am the default person. But why is it me who is the default person to take care of r.? Why isn’t it what should we do, how should we split it –unless it is an emergency like the day before my viva? And the fight about what is valuable, what is not, what counts, what not, ensues.

Let me get this clear – I don’t want to get into too much trouble here – my partner does not stop doing tasks all day, just like me. But since r. is little, and since I work mostly from home, loads of things are on my domain, and most of them are those of the invisible kind. And it seems also that my work is more expendable, I am the one to tweak, to work evenings to catch up or weekends. I worry that despite everything, R., as others, see my work as ‘play work’ and her dad’s as ‘real’, and I am not sure how to make that clear, when the reality is that it certainly looks that way many times. Because this is wider than us, it is about how value is given to things that bring in money rather to those such as homemaking and mothering which are enablers of that, rather than bringing money in itself. And old but prevalent feminist fight. And the issue is my partner would not be able to work like he does, and have a daughter with the level of care that we both want for her, without having someone staying at home and doing all the things that I cover, or at least it would be quite expensive – or at least I hope so!

So the resurgence of fights are, I think, even though shit at the moment, quite good to keep tweaking, going over things, and reminding ourselves of not falling into patterns and defaults. And this is mainly brought up through these explosions – though they mostly comes out in one of my rages. But if I react so strongly, it is because these battles reach my core, it feels necessary for me. And I think they are very much part of my feminist work.  And I know it will go on and on, because we haven’t got round that one, nor I think has the world. But if you have, I accept tips!


2 responses to “What do feminist mothers fight with their partners about?

  1. I hear ya, sister. The thing is, I’d rather have my partner being the stay-at-home parent. However, if I’m honest about it, I do worry that I would cop the same attitude that many bringing-home-the-money folks do. Plus, of course, my partner makes enough money for us to live on…I do not. I think there’s something about the flexibility of the stay-at-home work, in addition to the fact that there isn’t external policing going on by employers (although there is often quite a bit by other parents, but just not the kind that makes you financially destitute) that makes it *appear* less demanding (but, of course, it is quite the contrary). I don’t know…if I were paid six figures for my 4 years of serious sleep disruption, would I take it and appreciate my position more? Maybe. But then again, I think I’d just rather have a third parent – one to make $$, one to handle domestic work and one to be the primary nurturer – and the freedom to move between all 3 roles as the spirit moves!

  2. Thanks! the thing for me is that I want to be the one at home…but without the worthlessness attached to it! I think a six figure pay wouldn’t hurt at all! 🙂
    Ahh, the freedom to move from different roles…that’s what the equally shared parenting thing aims to I suppose, but more than freedom I feel stuck with more and more to do, and on top of that, to do well…

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