The dysfunction of nuclear families

21 Apr

Now that I have a baby, and I’m a stay at home mum*, I realise how dysfunctional the nuclear family system is, and how smart other family structures are. One of the women in my coffee group** in Auckland lives with her husband’s Samoan parents, and despite having a baby who didn’t sleep for long, and only when he was actually on someone, they got pregnant again and will have two babies only 14 months apart. The rest of us were flabbergasted that they were having them so close together, but when you have 4 adults in one house, who are all committed to family, it doesn’t seem so crazy after all. It seems do-able.

Although I have a ‘good’*** baby, it is still  a struggle sometimes. His Dad comes home every day after work, plays with the baby, gives him a bath and his bedtime bottle and cuddles him to sleep. He spends the weekends with his family and is happy (well, willing at least) to change nappies, feed, and get the baby to sleep. And yet it still feels like I do it by myself most of the time. In the last 13 months I can count on one hand the number of times I have been away from him. It’s not that I want to be away from him, it just gets really hard to entertain him, look after him, carry him round, do the housework, run errands, work on my business, and be myself. The few moments I steal to myself to sew or write are golden.

Since my brother moved to Wellington it has been easier. He doesn’t have a job, and we are really close, so he is happy to come and hang out with me and the baby for the afternoon. Having that extra pair of hands to ‘just hold the baby while I…’ is a surprising relief. Imagine if I had more family around. Not just to hold the baby, but to share in with the housework and all the other minutiae of daily life that gets overwhelming when you are doing most of it by yourself, but which is totally manageable when you have many hands to make light work.

I’m not talking about making relatives come over to clean my house and look after my kid. I’m more than willing to work hard and do what needs to be done. But when there is a more communal attitude and lifestyle, any burden on the individual is lessened.

——-

*’Stay at home mum’ is such a silly phrase. Implying that all I do is stay at home, when really what I do is take care of my child instead of paying someone else to look after him. Quite aside from all the other things I do, like run a business.

**I could never fathom why they are called coffee groups. Do we sit around talking about coffee? No! So let’s call it a mothers group, or baby group. Sigh.

***Yet another strange phase associated with parenting. All babies are good. To imply otherwise is just plain wrong. I guess when people say ‘is he a good baby?’ they mean: ‘does he sleep well, does he do what his mother wants, does he cry very much?’. Yes, he sleeps well, he does exactly what he wants and sometimes it coincides with what I want, and no, he doesn’t cry very much.

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