Why a family is not like a corporation
So, my friend M. sent me a link to this article the other day. It’s an article about “core competencies” and how corporations are doing it, so should moms!
(Core competencies, in case you’re lucky enough not to be up on the latest corporate speak, is doing what you do best and then outsourcing the rest. So if you make widgets, why hire janitors? Pay a company that does nothing but hire janitors to clean your building. Concentrate on making widgets. Now, I happen to think that it’s a terrible and short-sighted idea, because all it does is add layers of middle management and reduce the actual number of options for working people. But that’s not relevant.)
The author, Laura Vanderkam, states: “…assuring a worried kid that he can in fact make friends in his new school – and helping him develop strategies to do so — is a mom core competency. No one else can do it better. ….. So is eating a relaxed dinner as a family — rather than racing to wash heaping piles of dishes.”
She goes on to state that stay-at-home moms really don’t spend that much more time with their kids than working moms, only 8 hours a week more. The rest of our at home time is spent doing household chores and food preparation. That it’s okay, GOOD even, to oursource things like grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning. It’s fine to buy paper plates and toss them out instead of doing dishes because then you’re focusing on your “core competencies” as a mom and not a homemaker.
I call bullshit.
There are so many things wrong with that statement. First of all, yes, I spend time cooking and cleaning. Not nearly 32+ hours a week (!?!) but I do spend time on the household. But I spend that time with The Child! She helps me cook by ripping lettuce, “chopping” veggies, fetching things from the pantry. She loves to dump things into the bowl and stir when I make waffles or to turn on the food processor when I make hummus.
She sets the table for breakfast and dinner (I get down the place mats and napkins and dishes, she puts them on the table). She clears her own place.
She loves to go to the Farmer’s Market. She know the name of the lady who makes our cheese. She knows the guy who sells us our beef. She is slowly coming to understand that just because there were strawberries last week doesn’t mean there will strawberries this week.
That’s not time “traded off” from my parenting — that IS my parenting. I am communicating my values and important lessons. I think it’s important to know where you food comes from and to eat seasonally. When she loses her temper because she can’t figure out how to put the place mats on the table because there is something in the way, I talk her through how to calm down and how to look at the table and oh, yeah, I can just move the radio, can’t I? How can I teach her to work through a problem if we never WORK together?
She is also learning how to be a part of a family unit. That there are responsibilities as well as privileges that come with being in a family. Some of those responsibilities are a chore and a bit dull, but they are part of the work of a relationship — be it with your spouse, your parents, your roommate, your kids, even your pet.
She is also learning that I think taking care of the Earth is important. That having someone drive to my house to do my cleaning is a waste of gas. That using paper plates is wasteful compared to doing the dishes. That buying frozen meals is a waste of money, resources, and food. Much of this outsourcing is based on sheer consumerism and I really think that many of the problems in the world can be traced back to rampant consumerism.
She is also, importantly, learning how to take care of herself. In Ms. Vanderkam’s world, all the kids will grow up not knowing how to shop, cook, do laundry, or clean. Which is fine for a middle-class woman with two six-figure incomes, but what about before then? Hell, do you really think that elementary school teachers won’t hate these kids because they don’t know how to pick up after themselves? What about college, when they are faced with a laundromat for the first time? What about when they are young professionals who can’t yet afford these high-end services? What about, Gods forbid, if they choose to go into teaching and can’t ever afford such a thing? Are they going to fumble around, trying to learn to do very basic things, to self-maintain, at the age of 21? 25?
Finally, doing these things is often FUN. We like to make bread together. When I finally manage to do it well enough to include her, she’ll probably enjoy making cheese. She LOVES learning things from me, she practically GLOWS when I take the time to teach her something and she learns to do it well. This attention is really what parenting is all about, I think.
Finally, I want to quibble with her language — talking about “mom core competency.” It’s a parenting core competency. Now that The Child is weaned, The Husband and I could switch roles. We don’t because our temperaments are better suited to a more traditional role — I hate offices with a fiery passion and The Husband hates to shop and cook. But he does the laundry and The Child goes with him to do it. She knows whites and colors go into different piles and that sweaters don’t go into the dryer.
I don’t think that Ms. Vanderkam intended this article as an attack on stay-at-home moms. But, in effect, that’s what it was. I’m trying hard not to end the paragraph with a “Fuck off, bitch” so instead I’ll say, “I’m not passing judgment on you. Do us all a favor and stop passing judgment on me.”