***This is a guest post written by my sister, Chrissie Dhanagom.***
I had a lot of plans for today. Sleeping, for instance. I had planned to sleep for at least eight of the past twenty-four hours. I had planned on a long shopping trip in the morning, followed by a quiet afternoon with a cup of tea and some reading and writing while the toddler and four month old napped. I have a cold that’s on its way out and I need some decent rest to completely kick it.
If you’re a parent, or have much experience with kids, you’re probably already laughing at me. I’m still a little new at this.
The baby needed to nurse frequently during the night. The toddler woke up two hours earlier than usual, and declined to take a nap in the afternoon. This, of course, meant that she was fussy, over-tired, needy and clingy all day.
I slept about six hours last night, made a frazzled dash through the store this morning, lay in the bedroom with both of them while singing a lullaby through my hoarse, cracked voice, gave up after forty-five minutes and drove around town in a last ditch attempt at naptime, sat in a parking lot nursing the baby while older sister slept in the car seat, and finally dragged myself into the kitchen at 4:30 to start dinner. My cold is back with a vengeance.
Ah, the best laid plans.
In my experience, one of the greatest challenges of parenting is letting go of the expectation that my time, my resources, and my body are mine to dispose of. It’s not an easy mental adjustment, particularly in the midst of a pervasive cultural mantra which says that I have a right to these things that no one may interfere with.
And as a woman, so I am told, I must above all, first and foremost, protect the sole and absolute claim I have on my body. There is no pledge I can make of my body that I should not be able to take back.
So say the legions of feminists who have protested, leafleted, marched, written and spoken on my behalf.
The problem is, my children seemed to have missed the cultural memo.
My two daughters’ need for my body did not stop when I gave birth to them. They need to be fed, clothed, cuddled, taught, and constantly supervised. This fulfillment involves, on my part, the giving of my body, and at times the denial of my bodily needs. And if anyone has a right to anything, children, I believe, have a right to the fulfillment of those needs.
My children have a claim on my body that is as real as my own. Parental love is utterly premised upon this.
Please note what I am not saying here. I am not saying “parents should run themselves to the ground, completely ignore their own needs, and wreak havoc on their physical well-being in order to attend to their children’s every demand.” We need to take care of ourselves as well, for many reasons, not least of which is that we can hardly take care of others if we don’t take care of ourselves.
Providentially, my need to take care of myself at the expense, sometimes, of distress on my children’s part actually coincides with their needs. I happen to think it’s good for children to experience some deprivation. The older they get, the more crucial this becomes to their character formation, and to their ability to make that all important distinction between “I want” and “I need.” They certainly will not be equipped to be good parents themselves, or virtuous adults in any capacity, if they do not learn this.
My hope, though, is to do everything in my power and at any personal cost to myself, in order to provide my children with everything they truly need. And by “need,” I mean those things that are indispensable to their happiness. I am a weak and selfish human being, and so I anticipate failing in this, perhaps often. But that is what I strive for. I think that is, in fact, what most parents strive for, which is one of many reasons why radical feminism was obsolete from the day it was born.
I can choose, of course, to deny my body to my children. I can abandon them. What I cannot do, however, is abandon my children and still be happy. That is a choice that is not open to me. I could no more do that than choose to fly.
I am a mother, and, like being married, being a mother means having my happiness wrapped up in the happiness of another person. Show me a person who has abandoned their children and I will show you an unhappy person. The giving of my body and, at times, the denial of my bodily needs is a prerequisite to my own happiness.
This is true, of course, not just for parents and spouses but for all of us. Meaningful relationships of any kind involve self-sacrifice. Because we are bodily persons, this will usually involve some form of physical self-denial. No one, I think, can truly be satisfied with a life that does not involve the giving of one’s body. And it would seem that human nature ultimately drives us to give it in the kind of irrevocable form that marriage and parenthood embody.
Maybe that’s why by far the majority of women today reject the label “feminist.” We kind of like being happy.
You can contact Chrissie here: firstname.lastname@example.org