Surprise! I'm a single parent

This smacks of crazy
July 25, 2009, 4:32 pm
Filed under: politics

If you live in New Zealand and you are a parent you would have to be a seriously unconnected person not to have known about The Smacking Bill as it was unfortunately known.

You will see my bias right away when I summarise the Bill for non-kiwis like this: Its a bill that firms up the law regarding physical disciplining of children. The reason the Bill was needed was because parents and caregivers who have harmed their children (mostly parents) have often used a defence about the right of a parent to administer a smack or two to reprimand their child. There was a grey area in the law and courts were less able to deal with parents say, hitting their children multiple times with a leather belt or jug cord, than two drunks clobbering each other in the pub car park.

There was a lot of public debate about The Bill when it went through. But it went through. Done and dusted right? Nope – now we are having a referendum.

Next month if you choose you can answer the following referendum question:

Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?

What????? The question is confusing – John Key said it seemed it had been written by Dr Seuss but that gives it too much credit. It was written by people who think it is so important to retain their right to smack that they are happy for other people’s children to suffer. It is a manipulative question. It does not address the extremes of society the bill set out to deal with. It insinuates good parents have become criminals. 

A lot of people have expressed more emotion about the wording of the question than the question itself. There is a risk, I think, that the extreme right (who believe government should be less interfering) and more fundamentalist Christians (who want to use the rod in order not to spoil the child) will be out in larger numbers than those who have found more effective ways to communicate the rules of safety and socially acceptable behaviours and have just moved on in the culture of parenting.

I guess I’m one of the latter – I’ve been reading the plunket book, had the fortune to have witnessed trained early childhood caregivers resolving small disputes between kids and larger problems like hittng and biking without violent tools. I had parents who mostly responded with reason and ran our household in a way that more democratic than autocratic or despotic. I can count on one hand the times smacking has been an option for me. But it’s not about me – I’m part of the cultural shift away from smacking. When I vote yes, I will be saying yes smacking children should be a criminal offence in New Zealand because if it isn’t it sends the message that degrees of violence towards and between children is ok. And what I expect to happen in society because of that clear ruling is that nobody thinks twice about making a complaint about a violent or abusive parent, that interventions happen sooner because there are no grey areas, that children grow up exposed to more effective ways of negotiating their expected behaviour. That ultimately children who might have grown up to be unable to communicate about conflict and used their fists, use their heads.

shared care
July 27, 2008, 1:36 am
Filed under: politics

This was the second week we’ve done shared cared – the part when I’m not actually caring for anyone else than me. Shared care is scary on so may levels:

–         will my babies be ok?

–         will he look after my babies?

–         will I be lonely?

–         will I look after myself if I’m not looking after other people?

What I learnt the first few weekends that he had the kids is that I feel down if I don’t have contact with other people. I’m not a very insightful navel gazer but I have learnt it’s important for me to make contact with another and do something otherwise I get grey thoughts.  I am a social creature.

The first weekend I was alone I felt alone. And once I felt lonely like that it was just so hard to ring up friends to see what they were doing. And by that stage it was last minute and hard to arrange things – every ‘rejection’ was hard and after maybe two I felt like I just couldn’t try anymore.

The next kid free weekend I prepared early and had a few things organised to do and then the rest of the time I had alone felt… great. And the kids came home and they were fine and dandy and apart from lost clothes and some things he used to do when he was living here anyway it was all ok. In fact having time with his kids seemed to have the very positive effect that their father was aware of the time and really was present with them.

When the time came to go to week on and week off I had skills to be alone and I was even feeling guilty about looking forward to it.

There is an international film festival on so Ive been able to get to an Iranian one: Persepolis . It was in French and I love French movies with subtitles. Actually I love subtitles cos I love the feeling of being able to follow a language and getting the benefit of hearing its difference sometimes sexy sounding like French and sometimes discordant or just different. Then I saw an Icelandic one. The unfamiliar language was great but this one was particularly interesting for its glimpse into the landscapes of Iceland both rural and urban. So different.

And the weather has been just turning it on with the wind getting stronger and stronger. Its lift the roof, lift up bushes, fly the dog like a kite, rock the car type stuff. Tomorrow the kids are home and we can all cuddle on the couch and watch TV and have a blobby weekend.

July 27, 2008, 1:17 am
Filed under: politics

My eldest daughter told me she is dreading high school. Its 18 months away – a long time to be in dread mode. I want to say don’t bother yourself with that yet – wait till the week before you go! I don’t like the idea of her carrying fear.

But I understand fearing change, losing what is known and the chasm of the unknown. As much as I rationalise my fear as an adult I still feel it.

looking for a lawyer
June 22, 2008, 7:32 pm
Filed under: politics

How do you get a good lawyer?

It’s not like flatmates where you put an ad in the paper and they line up to be interviewed. It’s not like husbands where – well how did that happen?

Lawyers cost three hundred dollars an hour to interview. Three hundred dollars!!!

So I put an add on my work bulletin board. Discretely. In amoungst does anyone know a good panel beater, painter, mechanic, piano tuner I placed ‘divorce lawyer wanted’.

I got 5 recommendations and now I need to come up with some criteria. What I’d really like to be able to assess is how well they identified and secured a good share of assets, how cheaply they did it and how fast. But I’m not sure how to guage this. Instead I think about how easy it will be to get to their office, whether I could park there and what their office hours might be. I want to know the hourly rate but …. are the faster ones more expensive?

Again in all this I realise that although I feel poor and like some sort of emotinal refugeee Im actually in a better position than most. I have a job where I have flexibility to head out and meet with a lawyer, I have a super scheme I can break in to in order to pay a lawyer and I have some assets to split. But why do I just feel completely resentful I have to pay someone to do my negotiating for me?

I have some numbers and I’ll write my questions down:

About how long and how much do you think this will take?

Will you be able to take my phone calls?

Will you be able to get him to be a better parent?

Could you get him to take all his rubbish away?  I have rooms of the house I can’t get into because of his things and I think I may need to get a boarder in order to pay you… hmm maybe that last question I should keep to myself.

So lawyers – how can you tell a good one? Do you really need one? All this and more maybe in a future bloglet from the erratic surprised single parent.

but I’m not bitter……
April 10, 2008, 3:48 am
Filed under: politics,Uncategorized

I touched a nerve when I blogged about what being a parent is about. I said:

“My kids also spend regular time with their Dad. I wouldn’t exactly call him a parent … but there is no doubt he cares about the kids and to a kid having someone around who says he loves them is often just as good as a real parent – as long as there is an actual parent around too.”

 Well Kim I didn’t intend this blog to be a big whine about my ex – I was rather thinking I’d use it to explore my new state on my own. I would quite like to get to a place where I don’t have to bite my tongue about him in front of my kids.  But you asked and I will tell you from my probably hugely biased point of view:

When I met my partner in my early 20s he was already a Dad and I had no experience of parenting. He told me over and over how he loved and missed his child and wanted to spend time with him.

In the early days I noticed he had the odd tendency to race off fishing on his child’s one weekend a month visit with us. At the time I stupidly put this down to the completely terrible weather where I live coupled with his passion for sitting for hours in a little boat in the cold of the ocean hauling in kaimoana (that’s Maori for seafood I thought I might try and bring in a little NZ culture). And I also noticed that all the ‘caring’ – feeding the child and thinking about their needs went straight away to me.

I became a sort of parent secretary for him:

“He might need shoes on before he goes outside.”

“He should probably go to bed now.”

“why don’t you call him?” “Why don’t you see if you can get his school reports?” “What are you gong to get him for his birthday?” “Why don’t you check he knows about safe sex?”

My husband to be had a knack of saying the right things and being very charming and I was absolutely smitten by him. Five years into the relationship we had our first child. Before she was conceived I made sure he understood we were parenting together. Oh yes yes he said I love beng a parent. Before she was born he told me how helpful he was going to be, how he knew how to change nappies and just loved babies. During my pregnancy he carefully outlined bit by bit the limitations he needed to put on the scope of his involvement. He told me he could never get up to a crying baby in the night – because he worked with power tools and might have an accident if his sleep was broken. I accepted this. Stupid me! That was the year he discovered Warcraft  and stayed up late night after night swearing and shouting and being angry as he killed little monsters. But not once did he bring me our child.

He told me it was very important he was happy and happiness for him was fishing. I said I only want you to be happy dear – you go fishing – but perhaps occasionally when you are not getting up on the weekends to fish I might have a lie in? That’s another thing he said – I’m very tired after a weeks working – try and keep the children quiet in the mornings so I can have a lie in (when not fishing). 

Then my husband remembered he always liked tramping and hunting – and soon his fishing was supplemented by these hobbies too. I still don’t really mind that he did this so much I just wish he could have thought about spending some time with his kids in the way he seemed to love spending time with boats and packs and guns.

My husband could lie on the couch sleeping while I cooked and a baby cried. I couldn’t leave the children with him and expect they would be fed – to this day if they are going somewhere with him you will see them dive to the kitchen and eat before they go because they expect they will be hungry otherwise. He was a completely unreliable babysitter. I could never commit to going anywhere unless I asked my mum or a babysitter to look after the kids. So: I hardly ever went anywhere. I became the person other people leave their kids with.

When we split he asked for shared care and I said YES! If we had had anything approaching this in our relationship we may not have split. You can have them as much as you like, I said. What he likes so far is every second weekend. He picks them up late – he drops them back early.

However: You have no idea how improved my life is now I can book a hair appointment, walk his dog, stroll at my own pace through a gallery, sit down and blog or write, and spend the morning reading the Saturday paper uninterrupted. It is such a privilege to have that freedom after the prison my life became.

I want to be fair Kim – I need to tell you the house close by he shifted to has needed work so its habitable for the kids. That is why we are ‘working towards’ shared care. But I’m also aware he never calls the kids. He was looking after them for 2 hours on Thursday nights at first but he does a sport – did I mention this? And he decided to do that 4 nights a week so gave up seeing them weekly.

I have hopes and fears about shared care. I guess I will blog about them in another entry. You made some other excellent points Kim and I hope I will be able to get around to commenting on them. Right now I brought work home and I need to look at it. I have a date with my electric blanket and some rather boring papers.

amazing facts (not really)
April 10, 2008, 2:33 am
Filed under: politics

It says here husbands create 7 extra hours of housework per week: I believe it. All my friends comment on how together my house seems since my husband went and the weird thing is: I do far less housework.  

just what is a single parent?
April 7, 2008, 2:44 am
Filed under: politics

The term single parent family kinda sounds like a family where the kids only have one parent. But – in my kids case they definitely have two and maybe three. For a start there’s me – and then there’s my Mum.

I think ‘parenting’ is the thing you do when you have an ongoing interest in a child’s well-being and development. It’s nurturing in the now and for the future. My Mum and I both do this.   

My Mum is unbelievable. She’s not only a great parent to my kids but she’s also an unwavering support to me. On Thursdays she picks up my kids from school and takes them to drama lessons, then she feeds them and gets them showered and has them overnight. On Friday she takes them to swimming. In this way I manage to work two long days in the week and can work shorter days the rest of the time to be there after school for them.

Mum thinks about what the kids are learning – like how to lose a game of chess and still enjoy it, like how to share, and how to shampoo your hair in the shower. Mum suggests vitamins to ward off colds. She bakes for lunch boxes, she springs for ballet costumes.

I’ve been really slow to grow up but one thing I have realised is that I’m very seldom a unique case. I’m know I’m a lucky single parent but I expect some other single-parent family kids have non-residential parents like mine do.

My kids also spend regular time with their Dad. I wouldn’t exactly call him a parent – not by the definition I’ve coming up with above, but there is no doubt he cares about the kids and to a kid having someone around who says he loves them is often just as good as a real parent – as long as there is an actual parent around too. We are planning to transition to shared parenting (meaning equal time) and I think this will mean he will become more of a parent.

The term single parent often evokes sympathy from people. I have found this a little ironic. The sympathy part is because they assume you are slogging it out on your own. Managing on your own. Doing all the grown up jobs. My experience is that when I was in a relationship I was doing far more slogging and managing on my own. Then, people assumed I had help. Fair call. I used to go down to our local play park on Saturday or Sunday mornings and be the lone mum there is a sea of Dads. Maybe half of them were having weekend access but the other half, I was pretty sure, were giving Mummy a lie in.

Hmm another part of the definition of a parent is someone who helps the other parent.

Then another thing people think about when they think ‘single parent’ is that you are , well, single. While that’s true right now I have been thinking that if it were not true in the future it still wouldn’t necessarily mean an additional parent in the mix. I kind of know about this in advance because I am a wicked stepmother to my 19 year old step son. I know it’s a relationship you don’t get of right and that even if there is some sort of agreement between the potential parenter and parented there is not necessarily any recognition of this from their existing parents. So: it’s complicated, complex and convoluted.

I will let you know how it works out.

seven months without an iron
April 6, 2008, 2:57 am
Filed under: politics

I got the washing machine and dryer and he got the iron and ironing board.  He got the boat and I got the leather lounge suite.  Automatic washing machines are really underrated in human progress. People celebrate man (sic) walking on the moon, they know who invented the phone (Bell) and they are always coming out with new and better TVs. But really without washing machines we’d have no extra time and/or stink. My current washing machine has gone 6 years without problems. That boat on the other hand has been like a second tax department since the day it was bought. Another woman would have been cheaper. Seven months without an iron hasn’t had much impact on me. I’m not putting the ironing board away and avoiding the cord on Sunday night. And I’m not wearing those three shirts I have that you really need to iron to wear. Ironing is an oppressive pastime if not invented by the Victorians then certainly promoted by them in order to visually reinforce class distinctions. Well – that’s my theory. The washing machine though – that’s the tool of liberation.