A call for support as I parent

New Order Voice

August 14, 2013 | Viewpoints
Katie Doke Sawatzky |

Right now, my family and I are living in mild chaos. Boxes are stacked against the walls, bookshelves are empty, the give-away piles mount and to-do lists abound. We’re moving from Winnipeg to Vancouver, so my partner Glenn can study at the Vancouver School of Theology.

I know moving is a significant event, but I never expected it to elicit the same kind of daily mantras I recited at other times in my life. I used to answer the questions, “What colour are your bridesmaids’ dresses?” and, “When is your due date?” Now the inevitable question, well-meant but annoying all the same, is, “What are you going to do out there, Katie?”

People ask because they’re curious, because they care. But as a budding feminist who is mother to a young child, this question bothers me because I can’t answer it in a way that satisfies anyone, myself included. Right now, it looks like I’ll be the primary caregiver while Glenn goes to school, and that’s it.

The “that’s it” part of that response is what bothers me. I hear the guilt in my voice as I admit I won’t be doing anything else. I don’t have a job lined up and am not sure if I’ll get one during the two years Glenn is studying.

This is hard for me to admit because, up until this point, Glenn and I have shared childcare equally, resisting the prevalent, patriarchal assumption in our society that the mother is the more natural caregiver. As a result, we’ve both had the freedom to pursue career interests. So the fact that we’re transitioning to a more traditional parenting model makes me uneasy.

On the flip side, I also feel guilty for considering daycare, which, while unaffordable, would allow me time to work, go to school or take on other projects. While this guilt may just seem like a bad case of pre-move anxiety, I’m learning that the reason for it is the result of a much bigger problem.

Thanks to a society that embraces individualistic living, mothers are expected to be the primary providers of physical and emotional support to their children. For mothers with the financial means, this often results in solitary days giving constant care. For mothers without, it means shouldering the harsh judgment of not tending to their child’s needs.

I’m learning to resist the expectation that I am to be everything for my child. After all, I don’t expect him to fulfill all of my needs. Instead, I want to embrace parenting as what feminist blogger and writer Jessica Valenti calls “a community exercise.” In her book Why Have Kids? (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), she encourages mothers that “children do best when they’re raised by a community of people—parents, grandparents, friends and neighbours”—and that “if we want to take some joy in [parenting], we need to let go of the notion that we are the only ones who can do it correctly.”

This will be hard to do in a new place. We’re moving far away from all kinds of supportive “parents”: friends, family, people in our church. But whether it’s through student-family housing, our few B.C. friends or the mom’s group down the street, I hope to build relationships with people who will help me parent, who will teach my child in ways I do not.

So what will I say the next time I’m asked what I’ll be doing in Vancouver? If it’s a bad day, I’ll grit my teeth and admit to full-time parenting. But if it’s a good day, I’ll say, “I’ll be seeking a supportive community. Do you know anyone out there?”

Katie Doke Sawatzky can be reached at katiesawatzky@gmail.com.

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