This article was written in April and republished from the June-August issue of Code Red Magazine
Whenever I hear a mother say that her life revolves around serving her husband and children, I feel uncomfortable. My guts tell me that the mother is being OA or expressing a false and self-serving kind of martyrdom in order to impress others or she has absolutely no sense of self-worth. It makes better sense for a mother to say that her life revolves around serving her family because “family” necessarily includes her.
The mother is often referred to as the person who holds the family’s purse strings. While it may conjure an image of power and authority, it is actually just one big headache. You have a finite budget and who gets what, and the order by which they are given, is your problem. It was a common source of disagreements between my husband and me because we defined priorities differently.
The incessant arguments went on until, finally, we reached an impasse. Since we had separate sources of income anyway, we decided to split the expenses. That way, buying certain items — and when — was within the discretion of one person alone. Only major expenses needed mutual decisions. Neither one was deprived of authority nor unnecessarily burdened.
Food in the house is traditionally the mother’s domain. I have expensive and esoteric taste in food, which does not suit my husband’s budget. The kids have their own preferences. How do we manage? My husband and I have long ago divided the food-shopping chore. He buys the meat, fish and chicken; I buy the rest — from cereals to dressings to condiments to seasonings. The kids give each of us a list of what they want and, budget permitting, we oblige.
Moreover, who cooks determines what we’d have for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I cook during the weekdays, so I decide. My husband cooks on Sundays and he decides. During the summer break, the girls each cooked two dinners every week and they decided what to cook. I only made suggestions when asked.
Kids deciding what the family should eat? Why not? But how much freedom should they have in making decisions that affect the family in such a way that they handle freedom responsibly? For me, it all begins with recognizing and respecting the individuality of every member of the family. Put another way, it is about re-assessing the meaning of “discipline” and “parental authority” and applying them even in ordinary everyday situations.
Eating out used to give rise to heated arguments. My husband defines a good restaurant as something where the serving is substantial and the price is low. He doesn’t care much for physical comfort. 14-year-old (15 now) Sam is a burger and Japanese food addict. I hate fast food and love Chinese food. 13-year-old Alex loves fries and Japanese food but won’t balk at eating Chinese.
Japanese restaurants are relatively more expensive that others so my husband will always find some excuse not to go Japanese — unless his wallet is loaded. Chinese seems to be the middle ground but Sam does not like Chinese food. Sam and Alex would be happy with burger and fries but I hate fast food junk. What do we do — flip a coin? No, we take turns in making decisions. One weekend, it’s Sam’s choice; the next weekend, it’s Alex’s; then it’s mine and then my husband’s.
It’s not as though conflicts have been totally eradicated in our family. We still have arguments. For instance, Sam is into digital photography. She has a 4-megapixel point-and-shoot camera but she’s whining for a DSLR — quite an expensive piece of gadget. Her father would say, “You’re too young. I didn’t have my own digital camera until I was 45.” To which Sam would retort, “But they hadn’t invented digital cameras when you were 14!” Great point, as far as I’m concerned.
But we have seen Sam’s photos. I’ve published some of them on my blog and they have earned praises even from professional photographers. She is good, she knows it and she wants to become a professional photographer. She is even reading books on photography. Should she be deprived of the opportunity to hone her talent because of traditional beliefs? Oh, some on. Sp, what happened with her father’s insistence that she is too young for a DSLR camera? He agreed to buy a DSLR that the three of them can share. No kidding.
We have come a long way, really, considering that when we got married, my husband and I were quite ready to accept the traditional roles of husband, wife, father and mother. In many ways, the change came with having children and learning from them. When we open our minds and our hearts, and stop asserting that we are always right because we are the parents, listening to youthful arguments can be a humbling experience. In their innocence, children have a way of telling us to our face how illogical we can be at times and how we justify so many things with reasons that start and end with “because I am your parent and because I say so.”
People will always have different standards for successfully raising a family. For me, it begins with the acknowledgment that we are all unique individuals. Balance and harmony follow when we respect uniqueness and differences, and do away with traditional notions that parenthood is a status of power and authority. It isn’t — it is an enjoyable role, a responsibility and a life-long learning process. It is not a matter of compromise but, rather, a conscious decision not to impose our beliefs and a willingness to re-asses them whenever the need arises.