More on Free but not cheap

[It's been eleven years. Every year I think I won't feel the grief and sadness, and every year I do. Ambulances still startle me, bagpipes still make me weep. I am so thankful for the beautiful new tower in the gaping hole, and still so sad for everyone and everything we lost.]

Wow, what an amazing response to my "Free but not cheap" piece on the relationship vs. the jobs! Thank you so much for your kind, sweet, moving comments, on this site and everywhere else. Here are two more big insights I had in the process of talking about the piece:

1. In the comments, epeepunk (who is a father, and married to longtime frequent commenter hedra) said:

been trying to figure out why the recent discussions about motherhood
and having it all were bugging me. One was the omission of the concept
that dads could fill any of the roles that are traditionally mom's. But
the other was that it seems that women (in broad general terms) develop
the relationship through the jobs. And there is resentment at dads who
are developing the relationship without doing the 'work'.

And this is another reason (I do have them listed out) that I love
hedra. Because we've always been very clear about how we're sharing the
*jobs*. And that leaves us free to develop the relationships on our
terms and in our ways."

YES. "It seems that women (in broad general terms) develop
the relationship through the jobs. And there is resentment at dads who
are developing the relationship without doing the 'work'." YES. I never begrudged my kids' dad his relationship with the kids, even though I was doing the vast majority of the jobs involved with them, except when I resented him for it. Which I did, a lot. And a lot of that was because I didn't like doing those jobs, and envied that he got to have all of the relationship and nowhere near as many of the jobs I had.

We resolved that problem by getting a divorce (I'm not really joking–I don't think there was any way to resolve that or most of our other problems and still stay together, given the fact that our relationship was largely a facade) and that equalized the jobs more (50/50 custody) and also completely separated the relationships.(And our kids got older. See #2 below.)

I can't recommend divorce for everyone. I can recommend epeepunk and hedra's very explicit decisionmaking and delineating jobs. I can recommend any deliberate and conscious method of making everyone happy with their own jobs ratio.

2. When you have very little (toddler and under) children, sometimes the only tangible evidence of the relationship can be the job. Think about back before your child started smiling: There was no positive feedback whatsoever for any of the jobs you were doing. The only way you knew you were someone's mother was because of the jobs. And even after the smiling starts, there's still not a lot of relationship there that you can actually touch. Think about the number of times you thought things like "He only loves me for my milk" or you made special food for your 20-month-old and when your kid rejected it you felt personallly hurt, like it was *you* your kid was rejecting.

I think that is the number two reason (number one being sleep deprivation and other stress) that women with little little kids are so much more adamant and defensive but simultaneously confused and unhappy about what jobs they spend their days doing. If you're doing all the kid jobs, it's easy to feel like that's evidence that you have a great relationship. But IT IS HARD, so you have to tell yourself there's some big payoff that women who go do other jobs during the day don't have. And women who go do non-kid jobs during the day can worry that that means they don't/won't have the relationships with their children that the women who do kid jobs all day do. So they have to come up with some way of consoling themselves about that. And it all gets defensive and posturing and angry and the next thing you know we're all on the cover of Time magazine.

It's a big cluster. And that makes the jobs seem even more high stakes. Who can win, ever?

Parents of older kids (6 or 7 and up, I'd say) can see much more clearly that the jobs are only sometimes connected to the relationship, depending on the relationship and the jobs. Who cares who does the laundry or supervises homework or packs lunch? (If you have older kids, can you think of a job that you feel is important for you to do because it has some relationship resonance with you, but that your kids may or may not care about because for them it's just a job? For me it's making birthday cakes. I would feel like I was letting my kids down by not making them the cake they wanted, but my kids don't care who made the cake.)

Have you ever seen people interviewed and they say something like, "My mom worked four jobs to support us but I always knew I was the most important thing to her"? Kids get it. But they can't always verbalize every aspect of it while it's happening, so we end up with a lot of feeling like we should be doing something we're not doing, and there's a lot of job misallotment and misallocation.

I'd argue that that's life. And that if we're focused on the relationship we have a lot of space and time and conversation to get it right. Any one job isn't going to make or break things. Any thousand jobs isn't going to make or break things by the time your kid is an adult.


Second round of thinking about this: What's hitting you about your relationship with your own parents? Your relationship with your own kids? Your relationship with jobs?


44 thoughts on “More on Free but not cheap”

  1. interesting thoughts in my mind…I think the “job” of feeding a baby becomes the first job we feel emotionally attached to. I’m sure this is why we get so judgmental about feeding methods (breast/bottle). It is hard to breastfeed (I was only partially able to breastfeed one of my kids, the other not at all) but I resented that someone else could have that relationship w/o the hard work, but then I was needing to use bottles too (lots of inner conflict there!) I wouldn’t let my children hold their own bottles; I wanted them to be dependent on me even if the nipple wasn’t my flesh.
    Now, with older kids (8&11) I’m trying to find my new role. The “jobs” are more volunteer positions at the schools for me now. I’m still looking for role models for how to parent. I delegate more of the daily jobs to the kids now.
    I’m convinced that while I’m afraid of feeling unneeded someday, that well… that’s the goal. Eventually they shouldn’t NEED me to meet any of these jobs for them. Hopefully by then they’ll WANT to be with me on more equal terms.

  2. My Kids Mom, yes. For me the breastfeeding (after the first 6-8 weeks) was really just relationship, not too much job, because it was so simple. That’s a totally different perspective from women who had troubles breastfeeding for whom it was all job with none (or few) of the relationship sweetness.That seems inherently unfair to me.

  3. Thanks for this.. as a man/dad I rarely think in these terms. I not too long ago discovered much to my surprise that i was a stereotypical man and thus rarely if ever think of or analyze emotion. I actively avoid “Oprah conversations”. Oddly, my wife does think in those terms and unless I want to get a divorce I’ve learned I need to meet her somewhere in the middle.I’ve never understood why she so aggressively did the jobs. to me connecting with the kids was about rolling on the floor and laughing, not about making sure clothes were neat and lunch was the perfect combination of health and pleasing to the child. I like epeepunks approach, I’m going to have to think about that more and explore how it can help my marriage get better going into our next 10 years.
    thanks Moxie.. i think you’re better at this than you are at the GMAT thing! 😉

  4. You mention the phenomenon of the mom with four jobs who raises a child who knows with no doubt that he or she was the most important thing to her. This to me, is the core of the thing. I know in this forum in years past there were many times Cloud articulated this so well, this idea that the ratio of love and support should not be connected with time spent as a SAHM (now I see–time spent on the jobs) because to do so reduces the whole equation to a financial transaction. I.e, if I had the forethought to have children with a wealthy partner (or the forethought to be born relatively privileged) I would then be able to stay home with my children and would then, ergo, love them more than the mother who earns a wage outside the home. This is the argument that ties love to the jobs. I was always baffled by this argument, as it seems to posit that the woman who works two jobs as a cashier somehow does not love her child as much as the clever woman who has more money. And then we are linking love to class and this always seemed dicey territory. And everyone gets mad and we all end up on the cover of Time. (So funny, Moxie!) Because, as you mention, you then hear those stories, “My Mom worked around ther clock for us kids and we were always the most important thing in her world.” And now, it’s all clear–because it’s about the relationship, not the jobs. So I was never able to reconcile that, because I was so convinced in the primacy of the jobs.I’m very interested to follow this conversation, thanks for continuing it.

  5. Completely agree with all of this! I have school-aged kids (elementary & middle), and I’ve noticed how much easier it is to combine the jobs and the relationship with big kids. Not only do some of the jobs become the kid’s responsibility, but many become easier or more fun. I don’t mind fixing dinner if my son is helping and I get to hear about his day. (I hated triaging cooking with babies/toddlers.)Also, I have always said that different people like different ages/stages of parenting because we’re all suited to different jobs. I LOVE parenting school-aged kids because the jobs suit me (organizing schedules, coordinating activities, social events, etc.). I know plenty of people who find the school-aged kid phase stressful and exhausting and would rather be back home with little ones. But we all have great relationships with our kids, whether we prefer chaperoning field trips or chasing toddlers!

  6. I’d also comment that many parents tie their success as a parent to the success/outcome of the “job.” Sleep is one area that leaps to mind but there are many others. I am shocked by how much, well…lying parents do about their outcomes (sorry, no nicer way to say it!). For example, the vast majority of parents I know report that their children – toddlers and older – sleep 12-13 hrs a night. This would be almost statistically impossible, as this kind of child would be above the 95-99% for sleep need. And yet, everyone tells the same b.s. story….interesting! I think parents lie to each other, which drives parents to lie as well so that they don’t feel inadequate. Odd, no one on the playground or dance class talks much about the relationship, just the outcome of the “jobs.”

  7. My own issues with my parents are coming up in a BIG way for me now that I have children (ages 4 and 20 mos.). My dad was in and mostly out of my life while I was growing up, and I recently recognized that it drives almost everything I do as a mom. I feel the need to respond to my children immediately, whether it’s to answer why the sky is blue or get them another snack or soothe their nighttime fears. I do pride myself on being so responsive, but it also places a constant stress on me to not be “that” parent (my dad). Will this ease up as the intensity of the jobs ease up? Will my kids someday ask me to back off? I don’t know. All I know is that right now, I am utterly haunted by my own childhood demons. I don’t ever want my kids to experience that level of pain that comes with abandonment. I know they won’t, but I continue to overcompensate for my dad, who shirked both the job and the relationship.

  8. This is very interesting. As the primary do-er of kid related jobs (getting them up, dressed, fed, off to school, picking them up, dinner, bath, laundry etc. ad nauseam) I often feel like I don’t have time for the relationship portion of child rearing. I’ve been trying to let some of the “job stuff” go until after they are asleep so that I can have more “relationship time” while they are awake. Its hard though because when they go to sleep just I feel like sitting on the couch not doing anything. Its less down time for me but better time with the kids.

  9. There was an interesting discussion on Chris Hayes’ show Saturday about this, and related, topics. They discussed who’s in charge of the “jobs” of raising kids, and how we value motherhood more when it’s done by affluent women, but consider it “not work” when it’s done by a poor single mother who needs public assistance to stay home with the kids: idea of building a relationship through doing the work really illuminates the dynamic between my (divorced) parents– my mother raised me and my brother while my dad worked and socialized and was rarely home. They separated repeatedly while I was in high school and finally divorced when I was 25. My brother and I have worked at building a relationship with our dad, who sees now how little he contributed to our upbringing and has expressed his regret and gratitude that he has a chance now to get to know us and be part of our lives. Our mother is unbelievably jealous every time we spend time with him. One night, after a few glasses of wine, she told me, “It just seems so unfair that he gets to have a relationship with you when he didn’t do any of the work of raising you!” It’s an ugly thing to have spelled out so nakedly, but now that I have a daughter of my own, I can understand why she’d feel like that. It’s hard to see your kid(s) bonding with someone who hasn’t put in the effort you do (especially when you know they SHOULD put in the effort, but displace it onto you).

  10. This is interesting for me to think about as DH and I start discussions on whether or not to try for a second child (DD is 16mo). I’m pro, he’s con. His arguments center around how much work it was the first time around and why would I want to put myself through that again. I didn’t really have a good answer, other than that I wasn’t focused on the trials of pregnancy and the first year. From thinking about this and the previous post, I think I’m focusing on the relationship and he’s focusing on the jobs.Growing up, my mother would comment on how her mother was always so worried about keeping the house perfectly clean. She felt like that dominated their relationship from the time she was little and worked hard not to let it dominate her relationship with us. Now, I understand a little better what she was talking about (and tend to agree with her).

  11. This distinction between the job and the relationship is one of the newest, smartest things I’ve ever heard about this time of life – so thank you.

  12. What’s hitting me isn’t exactly in response to any of your questions (though cooking dinner and making Halloween costumes are on the list) but it’s this:The way that the current work world considers the jobs of parenting to be not-work and not-jobs, and therefore not as important as work is really a problem, and possibly more of a problem for men than women. Mr. C has a big job, and the expectation is that of course his family relationships are important to him, but that he will never be prevented from doing “real” work by a family job (aka drop-off, sick kid care, meal prep, etc.). We challenge that all the time – we share those jobs intentionally – but every time it comes to it it’s noticed, people are surprised, etc. at his work. At my work, less so because that’s more expected for moms, but it’s still a problem.
    In my birth family, my dad took over most of the jobs when my mom started med school when I was 3. He was good at them and good at relationships too. My mom got very envious of my dad for his good relationships with us (which had little to do with the jobs, more to do with the fact that he listened and saw us for who we were) and would get angry and try to take jobs back from him to try to get the relationships back. Guess how well that worked.

  13. I too really appreciate thinking about the relationship aspect as distinct from the jobs aspect. However, when I think of my birth family, my mom did both. My dad did not do jobs (related to caring for children, although he did lots of yard/house maintenance jobs). Because of that, it was hard to spend much interactive time together and I think his relationship with his children suffered. He did get down on the floor and rough house with us, but that was a few times a month? He was a pretty task-oriented person, so he didn’t just goof off/hang out with his children when he had free time– he did other kinds of jobs. And being who he was, I think interacting with us around childcare jobs might have been an easy way for him to enjoy and develop more of a relationship with us.The “daily-ness” of childcare jobs can provide a means to interaction, which feeds the relationship. I try to remember this, as I am also by nature a task-oriented person and less likely to just “play” with my child. Also, on work days I try to enjoy the interactions we can have as I brush my 5 year old’s hair, apply sunscreen, drive her to school, etc. Especially on days I work, those jobs are the medium for our relationship.

  14. Moxie, I have read your site from the it’s inception and I value your non-judgmental style and your thoughtful responses. That said, I have not been able to relate well to these last two posts. I have read through the comments of both and I find myself feeling quite the odd woman out. But in the interest of sparking discussion and including others who might feel as I do I will try to explain. I don’t know if I can explain adequately in a comment (probably should do a blog post on it) but I am going to try.First, my perspective: I have three young children, ages almost 6, 3.5, and 9 months. I work outside of the home (3 days a week) and also run a small business from home and also have volunteer commitments. I do “outsource” some of the jobs (daycare, grandparents watching the kids, some take-out). For all the other jobs my husband and I have a fair split.
    For me, the jobs and the relationship are inherently connected, both in the relationship that I developed with my parents and in the relationship I am developing with my children. One theme I have seen in the these posts and comments is the “But IT IS HARD, so you have to tell yourself there’s some big payoff that women who go do other jobs during the day don’t have.” I respect that there are many mothers and fathers (my husband is one of them) who don’t particularly like the jobs associated with raising young children. But, it seems that sometimes people forget that there are those of us who truly love the baby and toddler stage of parenting. I resent the implication that I am “confused” or “consoling myself” or being “defensive” because I enjoy parenting young children and I think that being the one doing most of those jobs is important. Yes, I am exhausted. No, I don’t really like changing diapers. But overall I feel incredibly happy and fulfilled parenting young children. I am not crazy. I just like it. Others don’t like it. I get it. Don’t make my enjoyment of it a justification for something it is not. An example, night wakings. My 9 month old is in the thick of the sleep regression. Last night she was up and awake (and so happy – let’s party!) from 12:00 am to 2:00 am. Yes, (if I was rich), I could hire a night nanny and not deal with the “job” of being up with her at night. But last night as she smiled and climbed all over me she learned blow raspberries on me for the first time. She thought this was the height of comedy and I am so happy I had that time with her. If someone else had been doing the “job” of being with her at night, I would have missed it and while missing some raspberries wouldn’t change our relationship in and of itself, the relationship with our children is built upon all those little moments – some that happen on during “fun” times but many, with both young and older children, that happen in the course of a “job”. I am finding that with my oldest I still feel that the relationships and the jobs are intertwined. No, I don’t like the “job” of dropping him off at school in the morning, but we have great conversations in the car – building our relationship. I don’t see myself completely separating the jobs from the relationship even as the children grow older. Relationships are built on the everyday. Children’s greatest role models are, quite naturally, their parents. Children need to see their parents teaching them to do some of the “unpleasant” tasks of life, cooking, cleaning, and childcare, etc. I want my children to turn into adults who know (and have practiced) calculus *and* how to change a diaper, make dinner, and do their laundry. The have to see my husband and I doing the jobs in order to do that.
    You gave the anecdote of “My mom worked four jobs to support us but I always knew I was the most important thing to her”? . For every one of those stories there is also probably someone who has a “My father/mother worked all the time and I don’t have a relationship with them.” I fall into this category. My father worked all the time (still does, in fact) because (he says) that his job required that in order for him to support his family (financially). Perhaps he was right. But the fact is that other than earning money he basically didn’t do any of the jobs – just tried to be the happy fun guy when he came home and I resented it – even as a child. He felt like an interloper; he didn’t know how to relate to us (myself and my siblings) or discipline us – because he never did it. I wanted my dad helping me with homework, I wanted my dad taking me to school or picking me up. That never happened. My good childhood memories with my father center not around the “fun” times (vacations/playing games/hanging out watching a movie) but around doing things – “jobs” together like cooking Christmas dinner. It makes me very sad and definitely influences how I feel about the jobs vs. relationship debate.
    I am not arguing that parents need to do all the jobs – I don’t. But I do think that you need some of them – probably quite a lot of them. I also think that this entire thread smacks of classicism. The idea that one can choose to stay home or work, can choose what jobs to do, is just not reality for most of us. Framing the “jobs” as optional is the luxury of the relatively wealthy (which both you and I are) members of a wealthy society. And as you emphasized in your first post the work that we outsource: childcare/cooking/cleaning/gardening is not highly valued by or society nor well paying work. How is it ethical to outsource that work to low paid providers? And, quite frankly, if all those providers were well-paid, we couldn’t afford to outsource in the first place! You said “… we all have to fight like hell so that we can all have the choice to do the jobs that we want to do and are best suited for.” That is a very privileged viewpoint. For most of the world (even relatively wealthy me) we cannot make those choices in this society – we’re all just trying to make ends meet the best way we can. Perhaps instead of finding ways to have others do the jobs you don’t want to do, what we need is a society that helps people take care of their own families needs themselves: i.e., better parental leave benefits, good (free) public schools, universal healthcare, inexpensive healthy food options. It would make doing the jobs a lot easier if we had support.

  15. Purdy Bird’s comment really resonates with me. The jobs seem to get in the way; I don’t see them as defining my relationships, but rather as a barrier.I am resentful of the drudgery of the tasks and jobs that make up my day as a SAHM and primary care-giver. I think I take this out on my husband and my 2 boys (4 yo & 21 months), so I’m certainly not relationship-building with them in the way I’d like.
    I’m primary caregiver, so by default I’m also primary disciplinarian and general moral guide. And even when my husband is around, he defers to me. So he gets to be “fun Daddy” who rolls around and has fun, while I worry about the boys cracking their heads open or getting on with the 3rd load of laundry.
    My parents also took on traditional roles, but with a side of benign neglect. Dad work crazy hours and was a weekend Dad, more often than not, but we did the fun stuff together. Today, our relationship is stronger than it is with my Mom.
    I guess all this tells me I should ditch some of the jobs for more fun. And get over the fact that no one’s going to tell me how much they appreciate me doing the laundry.

  16. Gina, I think you’re misreading me. By “fighting like hell” I’m advocating fighting for all the things you’re asking for, too. If we had all these things, then people could choose freely. I think EVERYONE should have the choice about how many jobs they do for their families.And I don’t think anyone who likes little kid-related jobs is confused or consoling themselves. But I think women who tell themselves that they have better relationships with their children–i.e. are Better Mothers–because they like those jobs, yes, they are consoling themselves. Because the fact is that some people build relationships through the jobs (it sounds like you’re one of them) and other do not, even when they do all the jobs. Just as some parents who outsource a lot of the jobs maintain a relationship while others don’t.
    It sounds like you’re thinking I’m saying that the jobs and relationship can’t coexist. That’s not at all what I’m saying. I’m saying the opposite–that the jobs are what you make them. The relationship is what you make it. They don’t automatically move in tandem with each other. It sounds like for you they do. That’s wonderful. It’s also wonderful that for others it’s different.

  17. Gina is correct that teasing out the effect of jobs on relationships and vice versa is very important. MJs mother and her reaction to MJ developing a relationship with her father (who did not do the jobs) resonates with me. In a similar manner, my father-in-law pretty much opted out of the jobs AND the relationship, choosing instead to have his kids one week out of the year and choosing to only sporadically pay child support. Now when he comes to vist and expects somehow to be treated as a revered elder of the tribe, I find my teeth grinding. He didn’t do the jobs. But then, he didn’t do any of it. Night wakings, like Gina says, offer potential for such wonderful, irreplaceable connection. I just worry that the mother who, by economic necessity (not desire) must work long hours be somehow viewed as not loving her children “as much” as the mother that is lucky enough to have all those precious hours. The mother who works 80 hours a week for an hourly wage, who is willing and able to put the work into the relationship, should and hopefully will be rewarded with a lasting and beautiful connection with her children, and it would be wrong for society to think she somehow doesn’t love her children as much as someone in a different class. I think–what I hear–Moxie’s point is, is that every woman builds a *relationship* with the child that is somehow distinct from the relationship built via the child-rearing jobs. This opens the door to all mothers (and fathers!) whether working for a wage or not, to embrace the idea that they can and will have a meaningful relationship with their children *regardless of their ability or desire to perform the daily jobs*. I must confess that for me, class issues and parenting and how we judge love and relationships–somehow hooking these things to our material status (He bought a huge diamond! Look how much he really loves her!)are eternally fascinating to me, so that’s what I hear in this conversation, liberation from having our love for our children be connected to our material assets.

  18. Rudy, yes. During those years in which I saw my kids for four awake hours of each of the three days a week that I had them and one of those hours was on the subway…well, yeah.

  19. The jobs/relationship paradigm was freeing for me in that it eliminated my up-to-now need to judge mothers who were doing the jobs differently than I was. I *was* telling myself a story where I was the hero because I was home, sacrificing our financial future, so that I could do the jobs and be here to gently swear in my children’s ear when they interrupted my time cruising the internet when the jobs were done.Instead, the jobs are just that: jobs. Tasks to be done. Up to me to decide what heart I do those jobs with, certainly. But jobs that must be done and that are my responsibility these days.
    The relationship is the thing I have in common with all mothers, no matter how the jobs are being done. And maybe what’s missing is the reminder that the relationship can not be perfect. Ever.
    I am fairly sure that there is not a soul on this earth who is certain they got Everything They Needed from their mother. Our deepest wounds, even the healthiest among us, are in the spot that was waiting for our mom to do something else, or more, or differently. And now we parent these sweet people and would do well to know that we will inevitably fail them. Hopefully, not in a tragic, life-wrecking way. But we won’t be enough. And they will spend their adulthoods figuring that out. Just like we do.
    So we do our best. We build the best relationships we know how to build. And some of us will leave bigger wounds behind than others. Some children will say “my mother worked four jobs but I was the most important thing to her” and some will say “my mother worked four jobs and never once thought about me” and that will have everything to do with that mother’s own wounds.
    That’s what I think, anyway.

  20. Reading all this is fascinating to me for a wide assortment of reasons. I’m sort of the flip of @Gina, above: much of it hasn’t spoken to me (so that’s not a flip) but in my case that’s because I’m the opposite of Gina … someone who doesn’t (particularly) like (many of) the jobs required to care for the 0-5 y.o. child and has been pleased to outsource them when possible. Moreover I am absolutely 100% clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is precisely this ability to outsource (and yes, clearly, that is a mark of privilege, to pick up on another of Gina’s points) that has made it possible for me to have a great relationship with my son, as when I am with him, I enjoy being with him and am able fully to engage with him (just to be clear this is for me far less a function of the “distastefulness” of many of the jobs — I’m good with dirty diapers, night wakings, vomit, whatever — and far more an issue of their constantness and their repetitiveness. And I attribute big parts of that, in turn, to my being an introvert, to needing to be away from people, or even of the possibility of people wanting to interact with me, to recharge).So that may seem more consistent with Moxie’s original distinction between the jobs and the relationship. But something else that seems to me to be largely missing from this conversation is any discussion of what relationships are and what good relationships require. Because for one thing, I think that for the ~under-25 set (yes, that’s one quarter of a century, no, it’s not a typo), there’s pretty significant variation across the years. I mean, you can have a relationship with a 2 year old or a 20 year old, but it won’t be, and shouldn’t be, the same relationship. And I suspect that the skills needed to have a good relationship with one age/developmental range aren’t necessarily those needed to have a good relationship with a different age/developmental age — not that they are necessarily negatively correlated, but neither that they are necessarily positively correlated. As one example, I see some posters above commenting on the joy of feeling “needed,” (arguably an especially intense requirement of small children) and that doesn’t particularly speak to me (isn’t particularly a joy for me).
    Somewhat relatedly, for most relationships I don’t think we imagine they need to endure, or to maintain a constantly positive quality, across a lifetime. No one says, “Well, my spouse and I do pretty well, considering that we didn’t even meet until we were 22.” Or that we went to graduate schools (after we met) on different coasts, or whatever. But there clearly is (and presumably generally should be) something different about the child-parent relationship, but how do we understand and articulate that?
    These thoughts are ill formed and perhaps ill expressed, for which I apologize, but I’m going to go ahead and post them, because I have to dash …

  21. Having a child definitely helped me see my parents in a new light – especially my mother and step-mother. Like both women who raised me, I’m now a happy working mom: happy to be working and happy to be a mom. End of story.

  22. I think this is an eye opener to how we treat other parents– our spouse, our friends and others.We have to understand that we each have a different definition of what is a job/annoyance to us and what is enjoyable to us. We each put value on different jobs of parenting. Sure it is nice if we can outsource the things we don’t like, but the point isn’t that some people can and some can’t, the point is some want to and some don’t.
    Only when we understand the divide betwen the job and relationship can we stop judging the people who make different choices about how they want to go about forging relationships with their children.
    If they want to work outside the home, if they want to make homemade birthday cakes, if they would rather tumble on the floor than clean the house this time, if they feel pride in having their kids in ironed special clothing…. These are jobs that they like and jobs that help them forge their relationships.
    Our choices are different, but we have the same goal: We want to have children who grow up feeling close to us and loved.

  23. Alexicographer, I think the definition of a good relationship is a completely different topic. And one that also can’t be defined by anyone (let alone me). I know it when I see it in my own life, but some stuff that other people think of as necessary or sufficient for a good relationship just makes no sense to me. But if it’s not my relationship, I don’t get to define it, you know?

  24. Enjoying the thoughts on jobs and relationships. I haven’t had a chance to read all the comments. 6 or 7 has been called “the age of reason.” (don’t laugh!) I think this age is easier for the adult mind to relate to (compared to babies and toddlers) and since many children at this age are in school and most are sleeping through the night, there are most often fewer jobs (not just different jobs) than when they are much younger. I think these are two reasons why there is less of a focus on jobs perhaps and more on relationship. Also, there has just been longer to build the relationship with a child of this age, longer to see the big picture and the ups and downs, to mellow, etc. I have a 2 year old and an almost 5 year old, btw, just to give context.

  25. @Moxie, I’ve really enjoyed these posts. There is a lot to think about in them, and in the comments. I may come back later when I have more time and respond to some of the comments here.But I wanted to say- yes, I also endorse the idea of splitting the jobs that you do not want to/cannot/will not outsource as equally as you can with your partner as you can. I have watched so many relationships founder on this, and I have watched so many women come to the conclusion that they have no choice but to quit a job they love because of this- it is so important.
    My husband and I don’t have a perfect relationship, and we don’t have the chores and parenting jobs things completely worked out. But we both think that there should be an equal split, and so we are at least working toward the same goal. And that makes a big difference, not just in our marriage, but in my ability to continue to pursue the career I want while I also being the kind of mother I want. If I were trying to do all of the jobs… well, I know myself well enough to know that I’d be resentful, too, and some of that resentment would leak through to the kids, and I would not be the kind of mother I want to be.

  26. I’m spotting this in discussions at work about different cultures, where in other (not USian) cultures, family obligations may interfere with work without anyone blinking. It is the jobs of the relationship that are Not Outsourced (dad’s in the hospital, I will go make dinner and take it to him and read the newspaper to him). Americans tend to do relationship tending (call, send flowers, visit during visiting hours) and not the JOB part for our parents, unless we become ‘caregivers’ officially somehow. Different. Interesting.For me, thinking through this shows how the teen years are truly different for me. The jobs are about coaching, not teaching. Being a sounding board, but just one voice, and not being The Guide. Not being necessary, but useful. Putting myself out there and thinking hard about what he wants and needs so that he will come back around and ask me stuff. It’s the smaller efforts of what might *almost* be an adult-to-adult relationship, not quite in the zone of adult-to-adult, and so still has plenty of ‘job’ to go with ‘relationship’.
    My relationship with Mr G was intensely close before his brother was born, and wow did that ding the relationship when there was someone else there. The jobs got done, but we struggled to reforge a new relationship around, through, and next to me doing jobs for two kids, not just him. It wasn’t bad by most measures, but it wasn’t what it had been.
    Now, the relationship is going from ‘holding steady at around what it was at 4.5 years old’ to growing, rapidly. It’s almost a giddy experience, to have him bump shoulders with me, or relax in next to me, or just laugh with me, instead of because of something. The relationship, wow, that’s the important part. Jobs work into it, but the relationship is really cool. (and for anyone who has iffy relationship with younger child, even when clear love and affection is there, have hope! Because this ROCKS! 15 is challenging and the jobs are crazy hard for me because they’re all new, but wow, yeah. cool.).
    This also clarifies some other things about my parenting/parenthood.
    I don’t much like the jobs of infancy. Bathing, feeding, blah, yuck. I like the play of infancy, though, a ton. And I like the relationship, plenty. All new and shiny and awesome.
    The jobs of 2-5 year olds, much more fun for me. Yeah, laundry and dressing suck, but food is more interesting (and not mine to control, just guide), and bathing can be entertaining. I am good with the 2-3 year old play, but 4-5-6 play eats my brain. I don’t want to play house, or dolls, or tea party, or even family of sharks. AHHHHHH! NOOOOO! Relationship, not my strong suit in this time, either – I struggle to let go enough fast enough, and come back in enough fast enough, for the yo-yo emotional needs.
    7, hate the jobs, hate the play, relationship is still yo-yo, this explains why 7 and I are not friends.
    EIGHT ROCKS. I like the jobs a lot more, I like the helping attitude, and working together and independence and astuteness and observation. The play starts making sense and having rules I understand, so it gets more tolerable (not my best, still, play is not something I’m great at). And the relationship gets steadier, and rolls a bit more, and is easier to repair when it is dinged (for me). Yeah, breathing muuuuuch easier as the girls head into 8.
    9-10-11-12 (for the boys, anyway), so far, really like. Like the jobs well enough (even though epeepunk still does the majority, and I don’t like laundry even though I do it a lot). Like the play. Like the relationship.
    13-14 (also boy), liked for the same reasons.
    15, HOLY WOW, the jobs suddenly got hard again, but they’re interesting. Scary, but interesting. And the play, much more my style (at least with this child). Add in relationship shooting into entirely new and fabulous territory? Yeah, liking 15. High risk, high return on this zone. Kind of like where my job went over the last year, into suddenly being responsible for bringing in and handling issues in multiple projects, where a mistake on my part can mean someone doesn’t get work here and has to find a new place to live, and global meetings and all that stuff… scary cool and learning a ton and I really like all of that, strangely enough.
    I didn’t think I’d like the teen part, but as I was talking through the first big scary issue of high school with parent friends, I found myself suddenly grinning like a fool, because it’s a problem I can get my teeth into, a job I can work and finesse and tune and probably not utterly F up even though the stakes are really high, and maybe I *can* actually climb up to the next level, maybe a bit scraped up and shaken but yeah, next level! I like that kind of job.
    This job/relationship distinction also explains some of the ouch I have from the health issues my kids have. My mom built relationship with me strongly through food jobs. I can still remember her feeding me with a spoon when I was just learning to eat solids (yes, I remember it), the food squishing back out of my mouth, and her scooping it back up and returning it to my mouth with a smooth gentle swipe. There was no question in my child mind that I could feel the love in the gesture. The catch and return of food was love incarnate, hands and feet of love, love expressed, and her and me, her giving, me accepting and asking for more. Likewise with her teaching me about spices, and cooking, and her standing to one side of me to watch me make my first dish (an omelet), all were how we built the relationship. Cleaning didn’t build it, and clothing absolutely not, and homework forget it. Gardening and cooking were it, for jobs that built the relationship between me and her.
    But my kids have dietary issues. The joy of cooking something interesting, discovering flavors and tastes under my guidance, the excitement of being able to tell what was missing from a dish and add it? the tandem cooking, working together to make something yummy and new and interesting? yeah, no. Learning recipes I loved, and figuring out how to make something ‘like mom does’? Really not the same. What do we have? Plain rice, plain rice or corn pasta, plain meat, a few plain vegetables. No onion, or garlic, or leeks or artichokes or yellow potatoes or mushrooms or … I couldn’t type all that without crying. It SUCKS not to get that place to build the relationship (*the way it was built with me*). That part mattered to me. We get a little in, where we can, but it isn’t the big complex rich thing I had with my mom. *sniffle* I guess that’s for me, then, not them. Some things you don’t get to pass on.
    So. I have their gardens, and gardening. That works. It’s something that I can ‘pass down’ in terms of jobs that build the relationships. And if I didn’t have either, then I’m sure I’d find other ways, as I have for a lot of other spaces. I was never into nail polish much, but the girls are (actually all the kids are), and so this is something we do for fun, together. Not job, but something else to build on. Certainly, my mom didn’t have relationship of any sort with her parents (abusive and ASD in combo), and the jobs were treated as badly and done as poorly as they could get away with, too, so … yeah, my mom invented that relationship-through-job thing with me. I can invent my own version, just like she did.
    Hmm. Actually, cleaning is probably a job I can use for relationship building, when I was really hating it because it is a job job job job. Maybe I can make it into a gateway job, a job that builds relationship, something fun enough and together enough to make more out of it. Miss R likes to do cleaning, too. Hmm. Yeah, I might be able to use that.
    Hey, Moxie, when you split these up so clearly, it is way easier to put them together usefully, too. 🙂 It unsticks the binding between relationship and job. So that should also help people separate out the ‘my mom stayed home and she loved me and so I really feel guilty about wanting to do something different because it’s like I don’t appreciate either her jobs or the relationship she built alongside those jobs’ – separate things is astonishing again! Job, relationship for her, job, relationship for me, and they don’t have to be identical for me to honor the fact that my my mom loved me. (hypothetically – for me, it was more ‘mom worked and went to school full time with a double major and pulled a 4.0 with five kids at home’ … just as glad I don’t have to do all that to have a relationship with my kids!).
    This is a really great new frame through which to view this stuff, Moxie. Fabo fabo fabo.

  27. @Moxie sure, but that’s really actually my point. Person A may really value relationships in which s/he is needed whereas Person B may really value relationships in which each person is fully independent and they come together and interact only by mutual agreement. And the point isn’t that one relationship (style) is better than the other nor is it that one single person (Person C!) might not value both types of relationships. But to the extent that Person A and Person B really do value principally each of those 2 types … that is going to affect the quality of their relationships (their ability to have/enjoy good relationships) with children (if they seek to do so, e.g. as parents to those children) at different developmental stages.I see this in my own extended family, where I can name 2 women each of whom loves, loves, loves the baby stage, basically I think because she does so love feeling needed, and from there on, bluntly, it’s pretty much downhill (in terms of relationship quality) as neither has and/or has developed the ability to enjoy other sorts of relationships to the same extent as they enjoy the deep dependence of an infant. Which on the one hand is fine — I’m not saying I think there’s anything wrong with valuing/enjoying that sort of relationship above others. But speaking as someone who’s of the “save the best for last” school of life, as a parent I personally am grateful that many of the attributes I enjoy most in most relationships are more those that are (more readily) attained in relationships between adults. It’s true (for me) that this complicates the process of my having a (good) relationship with my son at his current age, but I can live with that in part because I do find/believe that the trend is in the right direction.

  28. @Alexicographer and Moxie, interesting part of the discussion, also.I put the ‘being needed’ as a separate thing from ‘the relationship’, more as a personal need, and the relationship is about recognizing and respecting and finding ways to meet the needs of the other person, even if one can’t meet them oneself directly (making sure the other person gets the time and situations to fill those other personal needs is part of it).
    Kids don’t do that. It’s not part of how the relationship works, because it is still growing.
    This discussion also clarifies for me (following my ‘ah-ha, that explains my reactions at different ages’) what WE can do about different stages that we don’t get along with, relationship-wise, or that don’t meet our needs (which Ames and Ilg do a good job of spotting, in some ways). If I need space and alone time to be internal and contemplate, and I’m relating with a baby in a fussy stage (who needs to be on me 24/7), I have to develop skills to handle the relationship while meeting my needs. Sometimes that’s going to be postponing my needs out of consideration for the child, but other times it will be sorting through my needs to find the ones that can be met, and hunkering into those. Respecting the child’s needs and working to satisfy those while outsourcing the jobs that I don’t enjoy as much as possible so my energy can be toward the relationship in a more difficult time for the relationship… so it becomes about respecting the other, and accepting that they’re in a relationship state that isn’t my preference, and … oh, wait, that’s the last filter (which is, by the way, expressly about relationships). Acceptant/Loving/Faithful. Kind of ‘accepting that the child has not developed into a stage (or has developed out of a stage) that I click with’ and ‘acting in a loving manner by choice even if I don’t actually love how this stage works’ and ‘having faith that eventually if all goes well we will be two adults who can make intentional choices about being in relationship and work from an even footing (assuming USian culture/values where parent/child are eventually effectively equal)’.
    Maybe there’s more there, though. Still thinking this through.
    I work from Acceptant/Loving/Faithful a lot, and I forget to, a lot. Looking over it, I can see where separating the job from the relationship (and the play) clarifies where meeting the needs of the other AND meeting my own needs becomes my job for myself (or other parent’s job to spot when a need is unfilled).
    Parenthood is an imbalanced relationship, in a lot of ways. The kids start out with a pretty limited ‘job’ set, and the jobs are assigned externally, not by the nature of being in the relationship. It’s more Safe/Respectful/Kind with the internal jobs being ‘grow/be healthy/learn’ or something similar. So the work is automatically out of balance, and one-way. We work on them, and they work on them, and we all work on the space we live in. Not a whole lot of upflow.
    The love also doesn’t flow equally between parent and child – it flows downhill. We love them crazy lots, and they love like we loved before we had kids. And when they have kids, they don’t switch to loving us more, though if we’re lucky they may appreciate us more. Instead, they love their kids crazy lots, and their kids love them like they loved before they had kids. And so on. In all of that, we have to find ways to meet our needs, and develop the relationship *through* the stages it goes through, over the span.
    Watching my mom do this, some of the ‘how’ has to do with gratitude, and some with doing the jobs to at least a basic level across, plus some of them really well (the ones that work for her and the individual child – she didn’t cook with all of us), and recognizing that the relationship doesn’t tend itself. She was always really good at finding a place to connect, a ‘good moment’ every day, even when we were at our most opposite of how she functions, when she couldn’t ‘get’ us at all. If she could go to bed with one good moment in an otherwise rough day, then she could move into the next day with some peace of mind that we’d get up and try again and carry on, and eventually we’d sort it out or grow through it.

  29. I definitely think one of the reasons that primary caregivers tend to conflate the relationship with the jobs is that the jobs can take up a lot of the space if you’re a primary caregiver, especially if you also work outside the house. For example, I’m alone with my kids for roughly half the year, which means I do the dressing, toileting, diapers, breakfast, lunch-making, dish-washing, laundry, dinner, dish washing, hour long bed time regime completely on my own. Guess how much time is in there to spend any time with my kids? Like fifteen minutes in the morning and slightly longer in the evening, depending on the day. When we went on vacation this year, it was the first time my eldest (4) seemed to ‘get’ that vacation time is different than real time, that he had me all to himself, every day; he just drank it in, he was glued to me the entire trip. It was deeply meaningful, but also made me sad that it can be such a struggle to give him the time and attention he wants when I’m stretched so thin. All of that was compounded by struggling with some depression, which made coping with all the logistical noise of each day a real challenge.As @hedra talked about, we try to integrate the kids with the jobs as much as possible. They love to help, esp the 4 y.o. Sometimes he helps me, sometimes he helps his little brother (he’s perfect capable of getting his little brother dressed in the morning). They help me empty the dish washer and take the garbage/recycling out. He loves to “fold” laundry and to clean (I give them a spray bottle of water and some sponges), to wash the car and clear the table and swiffer the floor and bake. So when we can do it together, that’s really nice, that’s perfect in my world. It occurred to me that way back in the day, the majority of people worked backbreakingly hard days all day, and their children worked alongside them. There were no mommy and me gymboree classes in the 19th century frontier. (Think of Laura Ingalls)
    I followed a recommendation from @hedra a couple of weeks ago to take that “mothering style” personalty test (which you can get free online by googling it, btw). I took the extended version and found it extremely useful, because here’s what it came up with, my “type”: The Responsibility Mother (ISTJ). I looked at all the types and this definitely seemed like the Worst, dull and not warm and not playful. But it made me think more deeply about my parenting, because I know I’m warm and loving and playful. My kids bring me an intense level of joy; I love to be with them. yet the test pointed to aspects of my parenting that I *don’t* think about, that are so second nature I’m not even conscious of them – specifically, how important the JOBS are to my concept of parenting, even though I don’t enjoy them. I’m into providing them with structure and order (I’m such a Montessorian; we need a calm orderly environment!). Here’s a tidbit on the ISTJ mother: “In carrying out her commitment to her responsibilities, the ISTJ mother is organized, industrious, and detail-oriented. Because her focus is the day-to-day realities of life, her children are likely to feel secure and well provided for” (Struggles: exhaustion, expecting too much of herself. BINGO). Anyway, my point is that the exercise made me realize how important the jobs are to me, to my sense of the parent I want to be, to my children’s well being, that even though they exhaust me, they are part of what I’m offering them. I guess I see the *value* in my type of parenting in ways I never did before. (And I don’t worry about the other stuff, because like I said, I know I have these other aspects to my parenting that are really important too, I listen, hug, throw them in the air, take them on adventures, etc.) I think that’s one of the reason we struggle with the jobs – they’re exhausting and not fun, but we can’t always see how important they are to our kids.

  30. Since the jobs vs. relationships thing ties so closely with choice one makes about working outside the home, and since maternity leave ends in a few more weeks for me I’ve already been thinking about this.I didn’t, and don’t, have a close relationship with my mom. I often wonder if this is because she worked full time for my entire childhood. Thinking back now she did a great job on outsourcing the jobs – we had excellent caregivers growing up. It was the relationship she sucked at. I don’t know if it was being in a crappy marriage for 25 years, or my sister who had severe emotional problems, or what – but I don’t remember doing much as a family growing up.
    This has really helped me understand that it wasn’t the working, it was her, and that I don’t need to feel guilty about someone else doing the jobs while I’m working as long as I put enough effort into the relationship during the time I am with my kids.
    Thanks for this Moxie.

  31. My mother-in-law’s mother (my husband’s grandmother) was a stay-at-home mother. This was in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. Despite the Depression they were wealthy, and she had a full-time nanny and a full-time housekeeper.Before I had children (when I knew everything about childrearing, right? ), I wondered, what did DH’s grandmother DO all day? Well, now I have kids, and now I know what she was doing all day — the fun stuff! She outsourced the jobs she didn’t want to do, and did the things with kids that were fun.
    The most interesting thing to me is how my mother-in-law speaks of her mother with great fondness and tenderness. My MIL was not close with her mother because their personalities were very different (MIL is a real intellectual, GMIL was smart but not intellectual). But the nanny did not interfere with the mother-child relationship at all.
    This is a story about great privilege, of course. But for me it’s also another data point, that outsourcing jobs relating to childrearing, if you can, won’t necessarily affect your relationship with your children negatively.

  32. Awesome, Bird: “This has really helped me understand that it wasn’t the working, it was her, and that I don’t need to feel guilty about someone else doing the jobs while I’m working as long as I put enough effort into the relationship during the time I am with my kids.” This is exactly what I heard from Moxie’s message, thanks for putting it so succinctly! (Also, I’m happy for you, and good luck with returning to wage work.)

  33. (It’s Lorraine, I don’t know where the screen name came from.) Moxie and others, how about the idea of a relationship (motherhood or any social relationship) as a *feeling* that one has that plays out minute by minute than a series of transactions motivated by rewards?Ideally IMO one commits to parenting and the emotions don’t flop around like a dying fish. I don’t love my husband less when I’m angry at him or disappointed in him; I don’t love my kids differently depending on how I feel about the childcare tasks I’m doing. It’s about integrating the whole picture. Feelings *can* change with a husband with enough provocation (my husband hasn’t given me the provocation), but shouldn’t with children, IMO.
    Your relationship happens/develops in every second of interaction. If you change diapers lovingly, resentfully, focused only on yourself, distractedly, etc., that becomes part of the relationship — but it’s the feeling, the emotional tone, not the task. If you’re not doing childcare tasks, your relationship will form in other ways. I’ve known disabled women who couldn’t do basically any of the parenting “jobs,” and still formed deep connections with their babies. Of course. (As, I gather, your husband did.)
    Re your 1: If your spouse/SO isn’t pulling his/her weight, that’s a beef you have with your spouse (and IMO it’s a good beef to have if you feel exploited). It has nothing, repeat, nothing to do with your relationship with the child or your spouse’s relationship with the child. It’s between the adults; keep the kids out of it.
    Re your 2: The “number of times” are easy for me: Never. Not once. I don’t think any sane person should parent (and esp not infants) for the positive feedback in any simple sense. I loved my children passionately from the get-go. When I changed a diaper, I wouldn’t think, “I just did a great job at that!” — it’s not all about me. I’d think, “My baby’s more comfortable,” and that would make me happy — because I loved my baby … (I’m not saying that people who do it differently don’t love their kids; I’m saying the love, and the feelings it gave me, were all the “positive feedback” I needed — all taking place within me, no externals involved.)
    Advice-givers on the street never bothered me and I find mommyblogs to miss the point for the same reason: How well my kid is doing is the only criterion for me, and Melissa in Portland can’t know that. I can. I don’t buy any “You are the best parent for your child” hogwash (there are scads of terrible parents out there), but I am uniquely positioned to get to know my child — but it takes time and attention.
    I think some of this is what Jessica Valenti was getting at. It’s a relationship, not a job. I’m astounded that some women (me) find this blindingly obvious, and some find it a blinding insight.

  34. Lorraine, still not getting that, either. Feelings are not relationships.I can feel love toward an abusive ahole, and that doesn’t make it a relationship the way we mean here.
    Feelings over time are also not relationships, IMHO. I can love over time, develop greater love over time, resonate to every interaction, put myself out there in response to those feelings, but the other person could not reciprocate. That’s stalking, not a relationship.
    Relationship is transactional because it has two or more parties both engaged in it actively over time.
    ‘Series of feelings’ is one person’s experience, which ultimately confounds the ‘it isn’t about me’ statement. It then IS about you, about the emotions you feel as a proxy for the other person, but not about the other person necessarily, especially if you misread their needs or wants or your successfulness in meeting those.
    Take another relationship that has a power differential – manager to staff.
    Manager may really thrive on doing well by their staff. It may drive them and feed them to do things to make the job and workplace good for the staff. It may be an underlying constant passion, which the boss uses as an internal yardstick for whether they are doing a good job, and a way to fend off outside commentary as irrelevant. … But until the staff are engaged in the transaction, it is not a relationship, it’s just a job. Until the boss and the staff are communicating about what they each need, how they best feel respected, how they work and what works for them, not just what the boss perceives works for the staff, it isn’t a relationship.
    80% of bosses think they are great bosses. 15% of staff think their bosses are great bosses. That internal yardstick, not so great on the measuring. (Which isn’t to say that yours is busted, either – but I think you have much more transaction going on than you are aware of… having had the insta-love start to parenthood, the transaction on the other side may just not be very obvious. I don’t bond until around 8-9 weeks along, so I have to rely on other things to read what’s going on and how to respond. It creates a different set of skills and a different awareness of the micro-transactions going on constantly between even an infant and caregiver, well before we learn to read these consciously.)
    Relationship is the conversation, the exchange of understanding, the listening, the transaction waiting for an answer, the process of first I say I think you may want this, and you say YES, you’ve GOT it, that’s exactly what I need, and I say wow, I’m so glad to be able to understand it right, let’s figure out how to make it work, followed by engagement and interaction to work it to a conclusion. Or first I say this is what I think you need, and you say NO, that’s not it, it’s this other thing, and I say ‘oh wow, I missed that, let me try again’ and you say yeah, you missed it, but I’m glad you want to try again, and … carry on.
    Often messy, and utterly transaction and feedback, transaction and feedback, transaction and feedback. Not emotions. Emotions are just the flag up, flag down, missed it, hit it, success response. And input, if you have a passion for the role or industry or technology.
    But that’s not the same as relationship equals series of feelings. Maybe relationship is a series of interactions that use positive feelings (and negative ones) as signposts to tuning the interactions towards increased positive outcomes (including more and better positive feelings)? Assuming a drive toward a good relationship.
    But jobs don’t also have to have relationships. And not all relationships are jobs. Play relationships exist, too. And duty relationships (blood relations). etc.
    Hmm. Not sure if I’m being clear.
    Here’s a story of where I think relationship ‘lives’ for me. Mr B slept in a sidecarred crib. So he was always next to me, but had his own space. He liked to hold my hand, and I liked to hold his, especially in the early morning before I got up at gawdawful AM to get ready for (wage) work.
    One morning, when he was maybe 6 or so months old, I was holding his hand, running my thumb over the squishy soft chub on the back of his hand, and then kissing his knuckles one by one. I realized at some point he was awake and watching me. I stopped, and just looked in his eyes. His eyes flicked to his hand (still in mine), and he nudged it toward me. Took me a second to grasp what he meant, and then I kissed his knuckles again, one by one, pinkie to index. Then stopped. Eyes locked again, and then his eyes went thoughtful. He nudged his hand toward me again. I kissed his knuckles again. His eyes got super focused and big and a look of wonder came over him. He nudged his hand toward me again, and I repeated it. The conversation was suddenly a loop for him, he asked, I responded, I waited for what he wanted, he asked, I responded…
    Did I feel a rush of awe and love? Yep. Feeback! WOOT! We communicated an ask, and a response, in circuit. But what was the relationship, the feeling? or the interaction? I vote interaction. Interaction flavored with patience and wonder and willingness and the quiet peacefulness of the early morning, sure. But the relationship itself was in the transaction, not the love. That is was ‘good’ relationship is that the ‘flavor’ was positive. That it was relationship at all was transaction between two individuals, both engaged in the interaction to some degree.
    The jobs can flavor the relationship, definitely. Resentful hate-the-job-GAH flavor in the jobs will mess a bit with the relationship if one isn’t very careful about ‘job’ vs. ‘person for whom I am doing the job’. Metamessages flow through about the jobs, and can taint the relationship. But I can also do SUCKY jobs that are hard on the relationship (forcing a child to take essential medication, say, or holding a child still for blood to be drawn) but that in the end are not harmful to the relationship, even if they are traumatic. Or I can do the jobs thoroughly and with satisfaction and no harm done at all, but without engagement, and have no relationship out of that at all.
    So yeah, I’m still with how Moxie described it – job is tasks, relationship is relationship. You can use one to build the other (jobs to build the relationship), or you can opt not to use the jobs to build the relationship (other interactions, like play), or you can do some jobs and not others. Or you can do all jobs and neglect relationship entirely, even through the jobs. As long as you end up with ‘relationship’ the jobs part is not essential. If you beat the relationship with the jobs, then the relationship is not going to come out healthy, so that’s not so worky, right? 🙂 But if you opt out of jobs you’d beat the relationship with, and in on jobs you enjoy, or find ways to accept/deal with the ick jobs for the sake of the rest of the package, does it matter which? So long as you aren’t leaking resentment and anger and frustration and guilt into the relationship constantly (regardless of if that is by doing the jobs, or by outsourcing them), the relationship can be built just fine. Jobs or no jobs.

  35. Hedra, I think you misread part of my post, and on part I think we just disagree. Moxie — and your husband, I think — said “But … it seems that women (in broad general terms) develop the relationship through the jobs. And there is resentment at dads who are developing the relationship without doing the ‘work’.” (Maybe your H said it and M agreed.) That’s certainly not separating the relationship from the “work.” The resentment is because someone (women?) think it should go together.I didn’t say “relationships are feelings.” I said that they a relationship is a feeling (plural is probably better)that plays out over time, and I still think that’s pretty good. Some of the ways love plays out for me are intense interest in the other person, being able to put them ahead of me, wanting to spend time with them, etc. “Plays out” for me generally means reciprocation, although, myself, I think not necessarily. I think you can have a relationship, though more limited than some, with the dying or disabled who are not able to “transact,” or an adult child whom you love deeply but who wants nothing to do with you and hasn’t spoken to you for several years. I think you can even have a relationship in absentia, although it’s a ghostly one: I talked just the other night to someone who said, “I never got to know my father,” and the statement was fraught. It’s not like my saying, “I never lived in Peoria.” Also, if you think people cannot have a relationship with an abuser, I think you are not seeing one of the fundamental pieces of the human psyche.
    I deliberately limited my relationships to social/familial ones; management/profession/commercial etc. tend to be far more transactional in the tit-for-tat sense, and that’s (for me, anyway) not what I’m talking about for motherhood. Recall that according to neuroscience, reward pathways (as they call them) and altrusitic pathways are mutually inhibitory, e.g., generally speaking, if you are working for a reward, you are not working altrusitically, and vice versa. (YES, altruism creates a nice neurochemical “reward” — those clever neuroscientists know that — but they had to come up with some terminology. The point is that to the human brain, *getting* something is fundamentally different from *giving* something, even if they can get mixed together in the same experience — and both can be extremely pleasurable.)
    Anyway, back to the point. Moxie was talking about “positive feedback” (such as a smile) and “tangible evidence.” I am saying that the transactional model — “I do this, I get a reward” — may, for many reasons, not be the ideal one to measure motherhood. Or to get personal, for me the altruistic pathway was enough; I liked making my baby comfortable, happy, etc. I mostly didn’t need an external or tangible reward.
    FWIW, I don’t think of my interactions with family and friends as transactions, especially if they are going smoothly. If things start to seem like transactions, IMO that’s a sign of trouble.

  36. 🙂 I don’t think of relatinships as transactions, but that doesn’t mean they’re not or that I can’t parse them that way if I look at it. And okay, my ASD probably plays a role in me being able to look at an otherwise smooth dynamic and pull out the instances of transaction involved. That’s also part of what I do for work, so it’s an occupational hazard. FWIW, I don’t talk like this in real life. ;)And yeah, I think I did misread you, and you me, too, partly because I think we’re defining ‘relationship’ differently at a fundamental level. Looking at it from how you’re defining it, you make sense. My definition is more ‘rectification of names’ in the Chinese Philosophy sense, in that ‘relationship’ equates to ‘positive relationship with mutuality’ for me and not what actually happens (often) which is ‘suck relationship’ or ‘one way positive, other way negative relationship’ or ‘abusive relationship’. Which for the discussion I wasn’t thinking of as ‘relationship’ so much as ‘jobs and stuff that happens with emotional hooks but not respect or bidirectional positive flow’. I need a bingo card for that statement, geek bingo.
    I also merged the intrinsic reward (internal ‘why I do it’) and external function (‘that I get a good relationship out of it’) which also don’t necessarily go together (which was my point, but apparently not yours! 🙂 ).
    Maybe clarifying on that: I can do a lot for the altruism and still pave a path to hell with my good intentions, relationship-wise. I think for me the ‘reward’ discussion isn’t about reward in the neurological feedback sense, so much as intuition calibration, in the sense of ‘I do the work, but am I doing it in a way that is actually what I want to achieve, or am I missing something because I’m so close in here that I can’t spot my own fails?’. Hence the job analogy. Because a lot of the time, we don’t spot what we don’t do well, even when it is for the best internal motivations.
    So Altruism isn’t the full basis for the relationship, necessarily, but it is a way to not have to measure the JOB part, because the JOB part is rewarded internally through altruism. Agreed on that.
    Starting there: I assume I’m doing well by my child as I am working from my understanding and doing it for the right reasons internally, and so I don’t care what someone else thinks is how to do the job. Unfortunately, the same mechanism also enables your noted ‘bad parents’ to blow off anyone who might nudge them toward more effective methods of the JOB part. How does one know the difference? By the transaction, the smile back, that says ‘that worked for me *the way you thought it would* work for me’, which is affirmation of the internal motivation, NOT a separate external reward. THAT is what I’m talking about in terms of ‘feedback’ on the transaction. It isn’t a treat. It’s validation that the internal motivation resulted in the right external action.
    Merging Moxie’s ‘getting the smile’ and your ‘internal motivation’ as really one thing, you end up with ‘I wanted to do it for the right internal reasons, to make baby happy/comfortable, baby indicated that happy/comfortable was actually the outcome, and so I can confirm my intuition that what I was doing was effective, yay, this works and I can not care what other people think!’ It’s not FOR the smile, but it is validated BY the smile. Does that make sense?
    Also, I forget sometimes that I do not work in a USian business culture. It’s not particularly tit-for-tat in my workplace. There are plenty of sucky managers, but it’s vastly more like familial relationships than a US company typically permits. So, my error there, since you wouldn’t have the point of reference at all. Yay collectivist cultural norms. 🙂
    Semantics translation issue on the ‘relationships are feelings playing out through time’, where I think we’re actually saying the same thing – the EXPRESSION (verb/process) from the feeling is what you’re talking about (interest in the other person, etc., those are expressed as actions rather than just felt as feelings). Which is exactly what I was trying to say, so yeah, we are in the same place there.
    We probably are not quite on the same overall plane, and given how often I’m told that I am atypical, I would not bet that my way of thinking of it is more common in the overall experience. But I think you’re actually much closer to Moxie’s position than you thought, too.
    Hoping that made sense, no time to edit.

  37. Here’s another side: I know three Moms who did all the “jobs” to perfection and have f’d up relationships with their kids: my grandmother, my mother and my mother-in-law.My grandmother cooked and baked and sewed and cleaned and gardened and helped with homework and picked up the children and all of it. She breastfed all four kids, made them delicious and nutritious home cooked meals. Her kids and her family always looked perfect, her garden won prizes, etc. She was a stay at home Mom for 25 years and did everything “right”. But, she was also controlling and critical. My Mom and her siblings recall the hikes and picnics she took them on with horror: grandmother wasn’t patient enough to go slow, take breaks, allow for distraction… so the hikes became hard slogs full of tears and yelling. My mother nearly died two weeks ago and is now in a in-patient physical rehab center for who knows how long; my grandmother and grandfather haven’t visited, because they feel like it wouldn’t help, that it would just be embarrassing for my mother to have them witness her in such a reduced state. In other words, my grandparents don’t know how to show love to their oldest child, even in the time of greatest crisis. That pretty much sums up that relationship.
    In turn, my mother who was a single Mom and had to work also focused on getting the jobs right: delicious nutritious meals, trips to go apple picking, pushing me to do well in school, etc. But she had no models for how to love her child; so she, too, was critical, controlling and distrustful. In her world, children are meant to emotionally serve the parents, not the other way around. From the outside, though, it looks like she was a great Mom– hardworking, raised me on her own and I have had great academic and personal success, so she must’ve done something right. Except that my Mom regularly lets loose on what a horrible, good for nothing, mean, crazy, ungrateful child I am for daring to have my own life (i.e. marry who I wanted, move where I wanted, go to graduate school when I wanted, name my kids what I wanted, etc.– all my life choices are a slap in the face to her). So, yeah, the jobs sure as hell don’t make the relationship.
    My husband’s mother is the World’s Most Selfless Woman (™). She slaves for her family and has no life of her own. She was a stay at home Mom and lived for her kids. Her kids do adore her. In fact, her 27 year old daughter is her best friend (she doesn’t have any others). My sister in law lives at home and my MIL still packs her lunches, does her laundry, cleans her room, etc.; my FIL stands ready to drive her anywhere, picks her up from the train after work every day and more or less treats her like she’s 12. Meanwhile, although my SIL has a job, she does not date and goes out with her best girlfriend only occasionally. She spends most of her free time at home with her elderly parents. Her parents want her to start her own life, get married, go to graduate school– but she knows living her own life will necessarily hollow out her parents world, because they still revolve all of their daily activities around her. Her parents have no friends except for their children. Also, her mother has done nothing but fill her head with horrific ideas about boys/dating/marriage (i.e. that one date = fast track to marriage and that marriage = giving up all your freedom forever). My SIL has been incredibly sheltered, so I don’t see her going to second base, much less allowing some dude to eventually do what needs to be done in order procreate–she remains steadfastly a-sexual, locked in the Disney princess world-view of a little girl. So, yeah, they did all the jobs, and perfectly, and they still do but that didn’t guarantee a healthy adult relationship by any stretch…I’d argue in fact that they overdid all the jobs and still do, thereby infantilizing their daughter in the extreme. (My husband got off easier because he’s a boy and he, very strategically, moved to a different country at age 29, which was pretty much the only way he could move out of the house.)
    Which all goes to say, yeah, the jobs and the relationship are separate. Yes, the daily jobs can bring you closer– when you’re the one that feeds and changes and washes, you do have an opportunity to turn those moments into bonding moments (as Moxie says, the jobs are what you make of them). But don’t ever believe for one second that doing all the jobs insulates you or protects you from dysfunction. Wiping your baby’s butt is not going to make them grateful and loyal as an adult. There are two reasons why:
    First, the kid-jobs are just the basics that every child is entitled to, not some kind of sacred rite imbued with specialness that transmits love energy from mom to child. As one person said on another blog I read, if it’s a job everyone on the planet is more or less qualified to do and most likely will do at some point, it’s not a job– it’s just a part of life. In other words, no one gets bonus points with their child or anyone else for changing diapers (or hiring someone else to change the diapers). Second, IMO, the *relationship* requires much, much more than just doing the jobs, and it is in the relationship– the exchange of respect, trust, kindness, loyalty and affection– that your child’s lasting love will be won. If you do all the jobs with respect, trust, kindness, loyalty and affection, you’ll get the relationship– but you’ll also get the relationship if you give those things to your child in other ways and hire someone else to make the macaroni and cheese. Absent respect, trust, kindness, loyalty and affection, you can make all the perfect Christmas decorations in the world, attend every PTA meeting, be early to pick up your child from school every day and give them perfect birthday cakes every year and they still won’t want you in their life when they’re 30. Trust me, I know.

  38. @hedra– Holy moly, that’s high praise coming from super-articulate and thoughtful you! I’m blushing @Charisse :o)I knew all this family dysfunction had to be good for something…

  39. Your original piece and this follow up are so much more useful than the recent Slaughter piece. You could do a book JUST on this, and *that* would be the final say in the Mommy Wars debate.

  40. Naoko Takahashi endorsement ASICS, also won the gold medal in the women’s marathon wearing Asics Running Shoes, enough practicable card. Followed by the support plate, but wearing now completely healed

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