I’ve always thought of patriarchy (and am starting to think of kyriarchy) as a colonising force that has, literally, camped out in my brain (okay, not literally camped, but is literally present in the structures of my brain). I can send rebel forces in to resist those ideas when they arise; I can take land back; I can build my own ideas and clear space for those of others. But I can also, sometimes, be overwhelmed by the power of those forces that a lot of people over a lot of time have sent in. They hold their positions fiercely, and when my guard is down, they take their opportunity.
And becoming a mother was one of those opportunities. It’s all so new, every little thing such a new and specific challenge, and, frankly, I’m always so damn tired. To be the rebel mother, I have not only to be a mother, but also to be a mother in ways that, at most, I’ve only seen demonstrated by one or two people, or have only read about, or have only extrapolated from things I believe in other areas of my life. And if the rebel mothering forces fail, the ground will be held by powerful, culture-wide ideas I’ve been taught and have absorbed all my life.
I had smugly thought that being in a same-sex relationship meant I got a free pass on having to deal with gendered dynamics at home. And, yeah, my partner and I were together for nine years before we had children of ours (she has older children from a previous relationship), and in that time, we didn’t have gender-founded issues to address between us very often.
But then, I gave birth to our two children, and gave up working and studying (and then worked part-time). And I was tired, and I was Mummy, and I couldn’t remember how to question what a Mummy is. Ah, responds the colonised brain, a Mummy does everything for her child, and is happy to. A Mummy respects the working-for-pay partner as “really” working, and counts her own hard labour as something else. A Mummy doesn’t seek to be listened to as if her day really counted. A Mummy takes the day shift, and the night shift, and the organising, remembering, managing of the household, and thinks she isn’t using her brain.
I hate bathing my children. I seriously considered not writing that, because it’s supposed to be such fun. But I’ve always hated it. My partner, on the other hand, loves it. But for a long time, I thought I had to do it, at least some of the time, because it’s totally unacceptable for a Mummy to be absent from a whole area of parenting. It was a year or more later that it occurred to me to ask: why? Well, because I’m only doing this little tiny thing, mothering, not using my expensive education and my apparently-atrophied brain, so I must do it right, must love it all, must not burden the proper worker with tasks that are necessary rather than a fun extra to the kids’ day.
I’m working pretty hard now not to be The Mummy (a sort of bandaged zombie, right?). The howling toddler, the stroppy four-year-old, those belong to both of us (and to their dads) just as much as the joyous zaniness of two small kids in the dressing-up basket does. The broken nights, the vile nappies, the food on the floor, the dried-up felt tip pens, the friendship drama: we’re a family, and the children should expect their love, care, comfort and discipline from all their parents.
And I have a daughter, and I have a son. What will they think a Mummy is, if they come to be one, or come to be the partner of one? Will it be easier for them to resist?
As I left for work one day last week, Firstborn said mournfully: “You’re not nice to your children and you don’t spend enough time with us. I decide that [Partner] is my biological mummy.”
After I’d finished trying not to laugh at her, we discussed how my bio-motherhood is immutable, but that doesn’t mean I have to be the only one who spends time caring for her; likewise, because Partner isn’t Mummy (usually, though terms vary) doesn’t mean she can’t be the one who’s simply There. Or, indeed, that one or other Daddy can’t be that person, as well.
So I like to think I sent a small rebel platoon into her brain. I hope her forces are stronger than mine. I’m her mother, after all, and that’s my job.