I’ve dreamt a lot about walking through shaky, wobbly high buildings, baby in my arms; or of giving birth in odd places – alone, in the bank, out on the street, the supermarket; on the floor in front of everyone. Private parts exposed, infant at risk. Other nights I’m heavily pregnant, struggling with bags of groceries while my nappy-clad daughter runs out onto the road or off into a crowd. I’m helpless, powerless and words are stuck in my throat. Where’s our protector? I want to shout. There’s something very wrong here – I’m supposed to have help with this. Then I remember why he’s not with us. Time is all skewed, events are muddled – my daughters are at school, the new baby is a year old, life is better, we’re OK. We’ve adjusted.
Waking from these dreams the feeling of vulnerability is hard to shake, so I live with it.
Days move along efficiently; four girls off to school, house tidied, baby and I go through our routine. We go for walks, sit in our favorite café while I write and she charms the regulars. She falls asleep to the sound of the coffee machine and I let myself drift a little.
“You’re so calm!” People say to me, stopping by.
“How do you do it?” they ask
“Its not fair” some complain, impressed by a cool demeanor, smooth hair and slim hips – as if I should be harried, overweight and upset that I have five children and no husband.
‘A defense mechanism’ is my carefully prepared response; ‘If I’m upset, baby’s upset, and I wouldn’t be able to cope’.
A calm mum makes calm babies is how the cliché goes – and so it satisfies most.
As for the rest, I smile and move on rather than say what’s really on my mind – a rant about choices and fairness and staying home eating vegetables, not drinking, not eating out and walking and walking and walking to stay sane. I shake off the resentment I sense, breathe deeply. I hold my gaze steady – stand by my convictions and the direction I’ve taken my life in.
Women have been doing this since we first looked up at the moon, I tell myself. We’ve been raising children alone – men leave, they go off to do ‘man things’; once they were hunters and warriors and often they didn’t come back. We call these things by different names now, but the nature of the beast hasn’t changed, and why should it?
So we get on with it and look elsewhere for understanding. Well, we hope for understanding. I do.
I know I’m not alone, not really. There are an alarming – and growing – number of children in this developed country being raised without fathers, with part-time fathers, by mothers who are under-valued, over worked and – I suspect – enraged.
One in five children goes through every day looking to a mother who, based on the cultural norm of ‘ the nuclear family’, is doing the job of two people [i]. There’s fear for the future, for the hearts of these children who will grow into men and women, but mostly for mothers who, right now, are also told that raising children isn’t enough, and they must do more. Be more. Be productive and legitimate members of the economic nation, within bounds.
Even women with partners, with legitimizing positions within community, careers, media profiles, and money – who do all of it willingly and joyfully – continue to do the lion’s share of parenting. It seems we had a feminist revolution but the boys, well, the boys are still taking the head off the Medusa and becoming heroes.
Heroes don’t change nappies do they?
And even though we are good brave patriarchal daughters we know that we face an issue that’s more than political – one that cuts to the deepest part of the collective psyche, to our very soul. It’s archetypal. It’s about a human relationship with the Anima Mundi – the essence of the world itself.
But its all too huge, too hard and scary and it feels like everyone else is satisfied with the way things are. Anyone who wants to change this Big Story is fighting against a powerful reality and losing. Its sensible to go with the flow, not to try and swim against the current.
Even so, there are the small things – taking care of what’s in front of us, and that’s what I do. I want let go of my fear and anger and my idea of the way things ‘should be’ and change my life bit by bit; strive to give others what I want for myself; become willing to see things differently; allow others to be right; to recognise the good stuff when I see it, when its in my hand.
If I can see that the problem of our relationship with the world – both the world as a concept and the planet Herself – and the worldview of mothers is tied up together, then I need to; it must be a calling. Writing it all down may be the answer to that calling, but mostly all I can do is nurture my own part of the world, my own piece of the Anima Mundi – my own soul, and those of my children.
Will it ever be enough? God only knows.
Over the last two decades, one-parent families increased substantially as a proportion of all families with children under 15 years. In 1986–1988, one-parent families accounted for 14% of such families on average. The proportion increased to an average of 20% in 1996–1998, reached 23% in 2002–2004 and then fell slightly to 22% in 2004–2006. (source; ABS, 4102.0 Australian Social Trends)