Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Maiden Aunt

So, here I am, the third adult in a family household. It's an interesting dynamic, but it seems to be working for all of us. I can be an extra pair of hands when needed to mind the baby so mum can have a shower or run his bath, I contribute financially to a single-income family by paying rent, and I also help out by cooking and doing housework. Every family should have this 'Maiden Aunt' figure.

Of course the situation also works to my advantage. I'm living with a dear friend and getting to know her son, her partner, and his children. All this has made my transition to WA so much more bearable than it would otherwise have been. But that's not the point of this post. The point of this post is to rail against the ridiculous social construct that is the nuclear family.

How much more sensible to adhere to the old adage that 'it takes a village to raise a child', rather than putting the responsibility onto two people alone. Within this two-person dynamic the roles are generally quite clearly delineated, between bread-winner and carer. The bread-winner is usually the man - let's face it, their greater earning potential means that it just makes sense. The responsibilities for financially supporting an entire family falls to one person. The other person, meantime, is left with the care and responsibility for a growing child or children. This is hard work, and is generally not recognised as such. A greater share of domestic responsibility then falls on that person - as well as looking after the child/ren they are also often tasked with cooking, cleaning, the constant loads of laundry, and otherwise running a household.

It's here too that the finer dynamics between couples might come into play - if the woman is being financially supported by the man she may feel that her only contribution is in taking on those additional domestic responsibilities. But while the bread-winner can come home and put work behind them for the day, the carer's work is almost never-ending.

I know that this is just one way of doing things, and maybe describing this as the 'typical' situation means it doesn't really reflect the uniqueness of any situation. Obviously people switch things up and come to arangements that suit them as individuals, but geez it looks like hard work from the outside.

I like my small involvement in this family's life. I like sharing the day-to-day with them, and I love being able to help out my friend, and feel that overall I am helping to make life easier for everyone, rather than being an imposition or an unwelcome guest in their home. I'm not saying that I have suddenly swooped in and made everything so much easier all of a sudden - I'm no Mary Poppins. I am, after all, imposing on a family dynamic, and that comes with its own complexities. But all things considered, I think having more than two adults taking responsibility for a household and a family does make things easier.

It seems that polygamy does actually make sense in this context, and in a way it's the shared blood ties that would provide the family lubricant and allow it to all come together. Similarly with the maiden aunt example. As they say, 'blood is thicker than water'. But I would question this. After all, my friend and I are not bonded by blood, but I don't need that to motivate me to help her out. And I in turn have another friend, a woman who has been in my life for many years, with no kids of her own, and she helps me out - as a friend, a mentor, maybe like a spiritual aunt, though there are no blood ties between us.

I think what our society needs is to look at broader ways of being. The sharing of responsibilities among many not only makes life easier but just makes sense. And really, the idea that you can only rely on family is redundant in this day and age of global communities. As for me, if I ever do breed, I hope I can have a maiden aunt of my own!


Anonymous said...

Thats a good muse! I remember having a similar conversation with my cousin a few years back who, at the time, was a single mother supporting her two kids (financially and emotionally etc ) and she said something along the lines of wishing there was some sort share housing opportunity for single parents so two families could live together and help each other out in terms of having a bigger place to live, two adults to share babysitting and de-brief to each other and so on. Of course you’d have to choose VERY CAREFULLY but you get the drift...

Dash said...

For me as a kid, I think it was fantastic that my parents made the effort to know the neighbours and that the neighbours also had kids at least in our age range. It meant sharing the load of 'caring', but also that there were supports in place for when you need out time as a parent.