Month: February 2016

Any Mum Will Do: Communal Child Rearing

A great subtitle for this post would be Any Mum Will Do: And Don’t Think You’re Going to Get Away With Anything Ever Again Because One of Us Will See You. Maybe Not Today, Maybe Not Tomorrow, But Someday. And You Will Be Found Out. Welcome to the Tribe. Communal Child Raising 101.

My first tribe actually started when I found three kindred spirits at Chelsea House Preschool who did NOT talk about how smart their kids were, how early they walked, what their Apgar score was and what percentile they were in (for anything). The four of us have remained friends ever since and try to get together 2-3 times a year. We go for sushi at Zen at 7pm and sit in the little room until there’s no one left in the restaurant and we feel guilty and leave. Same restaurant. Same time. We’ve been through a lot collectively: three private schools (two co-ed, one boys only); French Immersion, public school, home-schooling, illness, jobs, going back to school, death, family stuff and a whole lot more. And to perfectly cap off the end of an era, Karis has seen all her preschool buddies recently—two at the Collingwood prom and one through a mutual friend. Everyone is all grown up now. How. Did. This. Happen.

Communal Child Rearing truly started in earnest in the early days at Mulgrave. When the kids started kindergarten the tribe started to form. We had the ‘new mums coffee events’ and of course we all went so our children would be socially accepted and make friends and that we would be part of the tribe. Shades of the Upper East Side (see previous blog post). Actually it wasn’t nearly such a tough crowd and I can happily say that I still count these ladies as my nearest and dearest. At first, we were a pretty big group, but over time it settled out to a more reasonable number with the occasional new member (with particular success from our UK ladies). Though there was that one mum though who would never join us because she was at the school to ‘ensure her children got a good education not make friends with the other parents.’ We took particular pleasure in inviting her to everything we did for years, just to hear her say that. And no, she wasn’t that busy..yep, she had a big family, but she had staff. She was a misplaced Park Avenue-type for sure. She probably thought we were all boozy slackers. Not that that is a bad thing. Or necessarily true…it all depends on your perception.

The kids in our tribe learned how to get along with each other when they realized they had little choice in belonging to this group which became known as the ‘Friend Family’ (thanks Jordan) to distinguish it from the lesser significance and proximity of a mere family friend. We saw each other almost every day. Being in the ‘Friend Family’ meant that you were party to various events whether you liked it or not. Camping trips. Pool parties. Festivals. Birthday parties. Beach outings. Friday afternoons with the mums. It meant that you had a whole bunch of other mothers that you likely didn’t want some of the time because it was impossible to get away with much of anything. If your mum didn’t catch you or find out about a specific transgression, one of us would and it was only a matter of time. On the other hand, there was always a sympathetic ear when your mum didn’t understand you or you needed a different perspective on life. The benefit of having a whole bunch of other mothers is that if you put us all together we were pretty much the prototype for a perfect mum 😉

Truthfully though, we operated well as a tribe and I like to think the kids had optimal care as we all worked to our strengths. We had driving mums. Cooking mums. Snack mums. Shopping mums. Dance mums. Fun mums. Cool mums. Music mums. Exercise mums. Sporty mums. Make-up mums. Stylish mums. Strict mums. Academic mums. Practical mums. Organizing mums. Advice-giving mums. Swimming mums. Trampoline mums. And I add those last two like they’re just as useful because that was me–the swimming and trampoline mum because I was happy to play in the pool and jump on the trampoline for hours. Which sounds useless but let me just give you a practical example. During one of our Mulgrave camping trips, we had left the campground at Bear Creek to recover at Manteo (a lovely resort in Kelowna) for a few days. That particular year, I went with two other mums and their kids. No dads. We renamed our family as the Dixon-Dawson-Beck family and we shared a condo at the resort. Now there are things that must be done, even on holiday, like food shopping (yuck), cooking (double yuk) and laundry; however, these things go much faster when the children are safely occupied elsewhere. Like with me in the pool. It’s much more efficient and I actually enjoyed hanging with the kids. Still do. So between all the pools and all the trampolines and all the late night chats, I’ve had some great times with those kids.

Our tribe had a few truly golden years together. The stock market was good. Most of us didn’t work or did so on our own time. The kids did a lot of the same activities so car-pooling was easy. We had yearly Vegas trips. We went camping together. Stayed at friend’s cabins. We went out for lunch to the Cactus Club twice weekly and out for dinner at least once weekly. We attended concerts, galas and charity events. We celebrated any and all birthdays. Everyone got gifts. Copious amounts of champagne was had by all. It was truly the best of times and I am eternally grateful that we were all able to share such an amazing era.

Of course, time marches on and things change. Kids move schools and grow up. Marriages end. People get jobs. We’ve been through divorce, death, illness and the many assorted and sundry heartaches that go hand-in-hand with raising children and teenagers. However, our tribe is strong. We still celebrate. Marriage. Jobs. Graduation. Pretty much anything. We visit. Hang out. Commiserate. We don’t get to see the kids that often as they have lives and can drive. Basically it’s easier for them to get away from us. Though no matter how old they get I still have huge space in my heart for my beautiful kids of the Friend Family. You know who you are. xox

Motherhood Report: Child R.O.I.

So I’m back at it again. I’ve had so much to write and so little time, mostly because I am
constantly ‘busy’ doing ‘stuff’ like cleaning or looking for work or driving the child instead of writing. Not that I expect to earn money from a blog, but it’s a great writing exercise and, as all pros know, doing anything well requires discipline and consistency. So I’m attempting a bit of both here. I’ve got lots to say, it’s just a matter of saying it.


An insider’s look at a very different life.

On the topic of mothering and being a mother, I read a fascinating novel/memoir/anthropological field study called ‘Primates of Park Avenue‘ by Wednesday Martin. The book is about that very particular group of New York mothers that inhabit the Upper East Side (UES), which is truly a very different world in terms of wealth, status, privilege, expectations and lifestyle. I have not been there myself, nor do I know anyone who lives there but I read a lot and am familiar with some of the social and societal peculiarities of these very wealthy families.
(On a side note, I also read a book about another group of the financial elite called ‘Crazy Rich Asians‘ by Kevin Kwan which is not about crazy Asians but about crazy rich Asians and is a fascinating look at reclusive and moneyed Singaporean families but not particularly about kids.)

Back to the Park Avenue stories. The anthropological commentary is an interesting adjunct to the story because it tells how we, as humans, have completely changed focus in our idea of ‘family’ in a number of ways.

CEO, Motherhood INC. or Killin’ it on Park Avenue

One of the first observations the author makes is that these mothers, who are themselves highly educated at elite universities and have held prestigious jobs—think hedge fund managers and lawyers—dedicate their entire being to raising successful children as stay-at-home mums. Their motivation is to ensure that their children get into the right preschool, leading to the right private school, then a top university (preferably Ivy League)  and that they are taking the right classes and cultivating the right hobbies whilst attending the right events with the right people and so on, until they are married off to a person of similar wealth and status thereby ensuring the survival of the lineage.

According to the author, who reports without judgement or malice even though she’s an outsider at first, the UES mothers are very adept and ruthless in managing every aspect of their offspring’s lives from toddler music appreciation and Mandarin lessons to organizing playdates with the right people. Mothers’ entire lives revolve around the success of their children and every dress they buy, event they attend, summer house they rent is done with an eye to providing the right environment for their offspring to thrive and succeed. Mothers are congratulated on the child’s achievements and blamed for their failures which is, I suppose, pretty much the case in most first world countries, but apparently it’s magnified to the Nth degree on the Upper East Side. This is helicopter parenting at its finest or most horrendous depending on how you look at it.

Assets: 9 Children, 3 Cows, 3 Pigs, 8 Sheep

The author also notes that historically, large families were seen as a type of wealth. Children were loved but were also currency for success. When children were raised communally, they were valued as future hunters/warriors and gatherers/nurturers necessary to ensure the survival of the tribe. Even when we evolved into nuclear family units, young children were responsible for basic chores, helping around the house and caring for the younger children.  A child’s net cost was food and clothing as there were no ballet classes or hockey practices, but the potential payoff was significant in terms of building the family wealth and/or status: Sons could work the land or work in the family business. Daughters could make advantageous marriages to expand and solidify land holdings or business success.

This is SO not the case now. Children are not ‘useful’ in modern civilization and represent a financial liability to their parents so large families (4+ kids) are pretty rare. Of course we view our children as assets in sentimental and emotional terms; however, they would correctly be labelled as liabilities, as an asset, by definition, produces income or has financial value. The expense of raising a child—in hard costs for food, clothing, education, lessons etc. and loss of potential income from a parent—is significant. Obviously, very few Park Avenue families would experience financial limitations, but are constrained by the time commitments necessary to produce a ‘successful’ child; even with a nanny, housekeeper and a driver, it is unlikely that even the most organized and dedicated UES mother could efficiently manage more than four children.

Child Status: The Light of My Life (AKA Centre-of-the-Universe)

The place and status of a child in the family has changed dramatically and is now based on sentiment rather than utility. We have evolved to the point where children are born and become the focus of the family with a significant portion of the family resources are devoted to their care. This was never the case historically as children were not overly useful for the first few years.

As a personal note about the ‘centre-of-the-universe’ idea of children in families, the only book (and I read them ALL) that helped me when Karis was an infant and would not sleep more than 2 hours during the night, believed that the baby should be welcomed as a new member of the tribe but certainly not the focus. The author advocated putting the baby on a schedule starting at 6am and waking her up every 90 minutes to feed with structured naptime based on the baby’s age and weight because YOU are the parents and YOU need to guide this helpless infant and help her learn to manage life on the planet (AKA parent-directed feeding). So anyway, I followed the schedule and the child slept through the night on the first day. Of course I didn’t sleep that first night because I kept checking on her, but she slept through the night from that day forwards. Coincidence? I don’t know. Anyway, I later found out the book was by a pseudo-Christian religious cult and has mixed reviews so I don’t tend to recommend it 😉

My Tribe: It Takes a Village

One final idea the author touches on is the idea of communal childcare. I won’t give away the ending of the novel, but suffice to say that the author does connect with the UES tribe and they rally round her in her time of need. I think we need more of that in our lives. Karis attended private school from K-5 and that’s where I met the ladies of my tribe. We spent a great deal of time together when the kids were young and, as a result, the kids did too. They weren’t all particular friends but they managed to get along together with a minimum of fuss as it was simply the way it was. They knew that they could be picked up by any number of mothers who would arrive with a snack and the necessary gear for ballet or soccer as the case may be. They knew that ‘any mum would do’ and became comfortable with all the mums in the tribe. Best of all, they knew that even if their mum didn’t know about or see a particular transgression, some mum did. And it was only a matter of time before you were found out. Any mum will do…stay tuned for Part 2.