I’m researching childcare for this week’s column. When I write, I tend to invite old demons to torment me.
Old fundamentalist, complementarian demons are divebombing me this week about childcare. During the shutdown, a fundamentalist Orthodox Christian I know was giddy that women were divesting themselves of careers because they belonged at home. My mom stayed home. I tried to stay home. For the first four years of mothering I spend scads of what felt like my husband’s money trying to assuage my ennui. I made candles for gifts using hundreds of dollars of Hobby Lobby finds (I shudder now at what I spent at a place I no longer support). I spent hours cleaning up the wax. I made jewelry. I created pies as gifts. I bought out the seasonal produce and put up several dozen pints of goods like spiced cherry jam that lingered on our shelves, in expensive mason jars, mocking my investment of time and money. I grew the veritable $84 dollar tomato. All of this because I was bored. I needed to earn money and contribute, so I tried to offer childcare but I resented the parents who went home, napped, then picked up their kids at the latest minute when I was trapped in my home with three weeping toddlers clinging to my arms.
I had to admit I am not a nurturing type. While I love kids’ imaginations and development, and find activities and songs with them fun, I have a timer on my “love” for doing this. I cooked with them, made art, read stories, cuddled sick kids, fed them treats and gave them “airplane” rides. I did this in explosions of energy, a hour to three at a time. Then, I let them play and explore until they’d dug up my house plants and colored on the walls and I screeched in surprise. Their behavior didn’t surprise me. My disinterest that allowed them to do whatever until it tipped my scales, that is what appalled me. I had to accept that I am not a child care provider.
I want to write books, create art, help people. I am a renaissance woman. I am a teacher. I didn’t know it then. I only knew I was deeply bored at home. I failed to be a child care provider so I went to work to pay off loans to Taylor University, then on to more loans from Purdue University to complete my degree. Beforehand, I recall a long through town with my father, a kindly, wise, but traditional man, who ventured that couples now -in the nineties he meant- may need both incomes to survive.
I interrogated myself as I slumped with relief at his words. I knew I could be thriftier to support our three person household. I could even have more babies and use that to try to salve my ennui, but I also knew listless creativity, my vision, and my impatience. While I wanted to honor my mother’s years at home, those old time values, I worried that my restlessness would result in a kind of resentment, anger and cold frustration at limited circumstances. I decided to take my father’s words as a blessing, even if offered not in line with my literal circumstances. Thus I set myself from free from guilt and let another care for my child en loco parentis, in place of parents.
The fundamentalist view of the world condemns this. I learned growing up, It was worse so when using public resources, so I tried to hold the tension. I asked my husband to choose a private ministerial childcare provider, then a private Christian school would show that I was not “allowing” the state to “nanny” my children. These are the frets that tense the fundamentalist. Though I would go on to teach in public schools, and often queried as an outsider who’d been home educated, I didn’t let the system have my kids until they were both in high school. I was trying to thread a needle that would sew my children to a moral and cultural cloth of my choosing. If only that is the appropriate analogy and metaphor for raising humans. Alas, what a fallacious approach to the human condition.
My point is this. We paid too much for our daughter’s church-based childcare, and endured some hyper-silly procedures in the name of moralism, and we paid what we could afford for our son, once no family could provide affordable childcare any longer. In both cases, the childcare was costly, imperfect, and something we thought we could dictate improvements upon, inasmuch as we had economic power. Except we were economically disadvantaged.
What silliness. Had I kept the kids home, I might have been as morally, spiritually, and socially as silly as the church-based ministry. I would have been an enormous linguistic improvement to the non-ministry and more affordable daycare for my son, though he would have taken months more to potty-train. I would have read stories, been a strict disciplinarian, impatient on matters of messiness, kindly on matters of fun learning, and been familiar with my kids’ personalities. I would have remained restless, which might have led me to teach my kids how to bake bread, preserve fruits and veggies, to do art and sing, but I would have also ignored them when my brain was overwhelmed with all that I knew I was called to do, but not for or with them.
They would have also experienced the same deep economic stressors that almost imperceptibly affect spirits and bodies when there is never enough money for food, bills, housing and transportation. They experienced this acutely while my husband was in seminary and was wildly underpaid in a small parish in his first years of ministry, when at times our shelves were bare and we juggled bills. Sometimes the electricity and water were shut off for a few hours or day. Nothing awful, but always a reminder that we survived on a thin red line.
Choosing to work made it possible for my husband to go to seminary, to be a priest, to let those ascetical years of almost nothing teach us to care for those in similar situations. We’ve learned to identify with the “other” over and again, though our situation has improved.
Looking back, I don’t regret putting my kids in childcare. I cringe at the fundamentalism that haunted me and made me question the spiritual and moral validity of becoming a teacher and letting others contribute to my children’s moral, spiritual, emotional, social and intellectual development.
I’ve come to a conclusion that the fundamentalism dictating that a nuclear family unit is the superior mode of raising children, a unit where mother is nurturer in the home, lacks the historical evidence as the right way for raising children. In Biblical times, there is scant evidence of a nuclear unit being the primary or only social unit for human development. Across all religions, including my own faith confession’s historical tradition, there are far too many modes from polygomous marriages, to villages, to multi-generational and non-traditional methods of child-rearing, including dropping a kid off at the temple. I was held captive a dogma that has no justification for being dogma.
And that truth set me at ease.
Because kids grow up in an ecosystem and any agrarian knows there is only so much a person can control in the environment. Soil, rain, pests, heat, sun, coldness will all effect what grows and what doesn’t that year. Most of that is out of human control. Ours is to do our best to cultivate soil, water, weed, love and prune. That is all.
I’m not the mothering type, not a nurturer, as is nebulously defined by fundamentalist religious people. I’m a gardener, I suppose. Yes. I am a gardener, willing to acknowledge what I cannot control and accept the wildness of things.