If it sounds like a rambling rant and looks like a rambling rant, it probably IS a rambling rant.
Now that you've been warned...
Chris and I are learning how our kink life and our family life fit together again. In April, he took a new job 350 miles from home, and went off to carve a new niche for us. A new home. Meanwhile, the princess and I stayed behind for awhile. It was crunch time for me professionally. The princess was in school and happy there. We had to get our house ready to put on the real estate market (yes, great timing, huh?). For 3 1/2 months we were together as a family only intermittently, and several of those times were in the midst of family gatherines, while traveling, and in less than optimal or normal circumstances.
In mid-July we packed up my car, the dog, Chris's truck, two car seats, ten boxes of toys and various other essentials and headed off. Our house is still for sale (surprise, surprise) so Chris had rented a condo for us that was big enough, but with no extra space. We had, like all couples just starting out or just starting over, a lot of catching up to do - and a lot of adjusting to do. All four of us - but especially Chris and I - have had to re-assess how and why we do what we do.
It’s been fantastic – but not necessarily easy.
One of the dichotomies I noticed especially soon after we were together again is that I feel different when I am with Chris and the princess than I do when I am just with Chris. When I'm just with Chris, we are very very good together. We both like a certain amount of space and quiet, sometimes with quiet music, sometimes in chatrooms or gaming or altogether in our own worlds while we read, write, blog, or goof off. We share agreeable – if not identical – taste in food and politics, keep each other updated on the important news of the day, our jobs and the general state of the universe. When the three of us are together, it is easy for me to ‘tune out’ the little voice at my side, drawn to intellectual conversation with my spouse. And as we’ve probably been apart most of the day, Chris is eager, too, to tell his grown-up news and tidbits of his day. The princess severely disapproves of these tendencies on our part and – for good reasons – insists on being the center of not just our world but also of our conversation (with her, not about her), our imagination, our energy and our plans.
When I’m with Chris, my primary (only) role is that of his submissive wife. When I’m with Chris and the princess, I must put aside that natural inclination and be (first and foremost) Mama.
Little things people say or that I read bring it up in my mind, over and over, as well as a gradual realization by both of us that some of the rules and hopes we had at the beginning of our new life in a new house aren't really going to be practical and have had to be adjusted.
At Under His Hand, kaya wrote recently about the sometimes contradicting roles of parent and wife/slave. Now, I know I'm not in an M/s marriage (and really, Chris and I wouldn't be suited to it) but the “kink vs. family” issue is definitely relevant. She described it as a pendulum swinging back and forth, and wrote:
"Things were so intense and held at such a high level that "surfacing" in order to function normally was difficult. It was like swimming through mud so it was easier and better and more comfortable to stay where I was inside. But I was failing as a mother. I wasn't *there*. The kids breezed in and out, not really breaking through the fog I was living in. It had to change. The pendulum had swung too far."
At the other end of the pendulum, she wrote:
"I am not where I was two years ago. I am not foggy or muddled or "sunk" in anything. I am, essentially, playing in traffic. Flapping in the breeze. Standing up. Way the fuck up. The pendulum has swung back the other way... too far the other way. He's beginning the search for the middle ground ..."
Before the princess and I joined Chris here, she had spent three weeks with Grandma & Grandpa, and I (too) had spent a week in the maternally-dominated home of my mother. Being around her always brings out the worst of my manipulative and controlling streak, as it seems perfectly natural in her world. And as might have been expected, after a week or two there I did need to find my own center – my own focal point – again. And by that I mean that I needed to return to a routine and a relationship where I experienced both love and limits – and where I wanted both love and limits.
A couple of days later Chris and I spent two hours texting / instant messaging, and the primary theme was about getting my life back under control (mine or his, at that point any control would have been an improvement) and what we, mutually and individually, needed from our impending reunion as a couple and as a family. I told Chris that all I wanted was for things to be 'normal'. I wanted to fix dinner in the evenings, have bathtime and bedtime and curl up on the sofa with him and watch a movie. A lot of that has happened. Some of it has not.
Stripping soon after bedtime has definitely been good for me, even if Chris has considerately sent me off to work after an amused smile and a gentle kiss. On the other hand, my mothering instinct will never allow me to remain comfortably in a submissive headspace. The princess would never allow me to remain in such a space for long. Her very-extroverted personality absolutely demands my energy and attention. It's not a conscious or selfish requirement from her - it just is. Plus, my parenting style and Chris's are not the same, but I'm protective and strong enough to object when Chris would tend to enforce his opinion.
To be truthful, when Chris and I are alone I would be content if he ordered my dinner at restaurants (no, he doesn’t do that), helped me pick out clothes when shopping, and generally took tender, loving care of me. But it’s hard for me to bite my tongue and let Chris make even small decisions about the princess without deferring to me. I need him to – I want him to – and the princess needs him to as well. But I also need to respect his role as her father and to allow their relationship with each other to develop without me consistently rattling it or directly framing it.
It's funny... and I think it's totally a personality type thing ... but I'm less interested in making her do the things and follow the procedures instituted by his parents and mine during our childhood, unless they have some reasonable purpose or further a certain goal. As a child I didn’t do what my parents wanted because I was supposed to be obedient – I did them to avoid confrontations with my mother. My dad – he didn’t get mad, just shook his head and started explaining something – never had to be an enforcer. But my mom – well, I just couldn’t emotionally handle the battles so I didn’t bother to wage the war. I imagine this was the case even at something close to 4, since she almost always described me as a stoic child who only rarely showed a temper. (Little did/does she know how opposite from stoic I actually am.)
Chris admits freely to believing in the chain of command. If a superior officer tells you to do something, you do it first and ask questions later. If Daddy says not to run in the parking lot then that’s what you do, period. No questions asked. If Daddy says we’re going to lunch, that means put on your shoes whether you are ready to go or not – he knows (but shouldn’t need to say) that the princess is grumpy because she’s hungry, and the fastest way to get her over the fussiness is to feed the child.
Mama, on the other hand, wants to have the safety conversation enough that you won’t even ask the question because you already know it’s safer to hold hands. And while obedience on the ‘going out’ question would be nice, Mama also wants to know why the princess isn’t ready. “Do you have to go potty?” “Did you want to watch the end of Little Einsteins?” “Are you waiting for the stars to come out?” “Does your head hurt where you bumped it earlier?” “Are you hungry and grumpy?”
Here's a recent exchange I overheard between Chris and the princess:
"But Daddy, I want my teddy bear to be cold."
"Princess, we do not put stuffed animals in the refrigerator."
"But why not?"
I nearly laughed. Now, I know why she wanted the TB (pseudonym for well-loved security toy to which she is attached at the hip) in the fridge. The apartment was hot, she was hot, the refrigerator was cool.
If TB was cold, then she could cuddle TB and it would feel good. She didn't tell me this. She didn't ask me if she could put TB in the fridge. I hadn't let her do it already. I just know because I know how she thinks because I spend 12 hours a day (at least) following her train of thought.
The funny thing was, even before Chris had finished saying, "We do not put..." I was mentally asking myself, "why not?" What harm would it do to anyone? Would it get TB dirty (dirtier)? Would it get the refrigerator dirty or make the food inedible? I know for sure that my mom would not have allowed such a thing, nor would have Chris's mother, and a refrigerator is meant for food and not toys, and we're well acquainted with the slippery slope and how the princess negotiates it to get what she wants.
I started to ask Chris... but he gave me such a look (maybe he didn't even realize) that I stopped. He said so, I told myself, and we'll do what he wants. I don't want to sound as if I am arguing, and she'll get over it soon enough. (I have a natural propensity to avoid confrontations anyway.) But why? my mind cried inside.
This morning, the princess came into the kitchen with TB under her arm in a fit of being afraid over something on a Curious George cartoon, opened the refrigerator and found this little open space in the door, so she looked at me and said quite plainly, "TB is scared. She'll be safe here." She stuffed TB in, shut the door and ran back to watch the 'scary parts', then rescued TB fifteen minutes later.
So, while I may be submissive in the bedroom or as a spouse, I am not a surrendered wife, by any sense of the word. Someone (I'm sorry, I can't remember who) blogged about a story "Under the thumb" she had seen in the Australian news media about women living according to the book The Surrendered Wife by Laura Doyle. In the story, one of the mothers says this about how she is raising her daughter:
"We talk a lot about Jesse's, 'He's your daddy and you're supposed to obey your daddy and we want to honour him and we want to respect him'. And just talking about why we are cleaning. We want to have a clean house so that we can honour Daddy because Daddy likes the house to be clean. Put it right there. Do you know why we're making the fruit pizza? We're making it for Daddy. We want to please him. We want to do special things for him. Daddy's the king of our home, isn't he? ..."
I nearly vomited. The reporter said that the 2-year-old was 'in training' for living the same life and it sounds like a good description.
My feminist urges leapt up, alarm bells went off and everything in me went No, no, no. It's not right to teach girls from the time they are toddlers that someone deserves respect simply because they have a fucking penis (and I do mean, a penis that fucks). That girl's father should get his fruit pizza because Daddy works hard to take care of her, or because Daddy loves her very much and they do things for him because they love him, too, or because it feels good inside to make Daddy happy. And his daughter should respect him because he has integrity, or because he treats her respectfully, or because he sacrifices for them.
Teaching her that a man – even a father - deserves respect because Mama chooses to make Daddy the ultimate center of her world is absolutely not right.
If Mom wants to be a surrendered wife, so be it and she goes with my complete and utter blessing, of course. If she wants to be a surrendered mother that's okay, too. She can let Dad make the parenting decisions and she can help enforce them. But it is not okay to teach our children (our daughters) that this way of life is anything beyond our choice as an adult. Taking future choices away from any girl by teaching her that she doesn’t have future choices in education, religion, occupation or parenting devalues her intelligence, belittles her ability to choose with the same considerate thoughtfulness we did, and ignores the basic human rights we advocate for so many other oppressed women througout the world.
We're making fruit pizza for Daddy because Mama likes Daddy to be happy. We're cleaning the house because it makes Mommy and Daddy happy when the house is clean. Mommy doesn't have a job somewhere else because she wants to spend her days with you and Daddy.
When you grow up you can decide if you want to be plumber, a firefighter, a teacher, a writer or a doctor. Or maybe you'll decide that you want to stay home with a husband and babies. But that's a grown-up decision. You can think about it right now, and say what you think you might want to do when you're grown up and you can do it then or you can change your mind... After Mommy was grown up, Mommy decided she wanted most of all to stay home and take care of Daddy and you.
That's not to say that I don't appreciate the quality of obedience in children, especially mine. It's easier if they obey. I get my own way. I don't have to explain, argue, threaten or otherwise bribe. And I like to have my own way. I want to have my own way. I want to do everything the way I want to do it. And so does Daddy. And so does the princess - she either learned it or inherited it from two experts. So when she stomps her foot and says, "You haf to listen to me" I can hardly complain. My impatience has taught her that sentence.
So I need to not say, "Just listen and do what I want because I'm your mother. I don't want to explain for the 735th time since you learned to talk that you must have your hair brushed after your bath." But what then do I say? Certainly when I was a kid I had my hair brushed against my will nearly freaking every day, and I'm not of the mind to allow hers to tangle for days on end and then have to cut out the knots. She'd probably think it was cute cut up like that anyway.
I say all this with a degree of indignation and with a certain degree of sadness. I have an aunt who married and now has 5 daughters (and 2 sons). She and her husband have adopted a way of life that is definitely their own, and after hearing the repeated loud objections of many members in both of their families as to how these girls were being raised, they moved them to Alaska. These children are being explicitly taught that girls grow up to marry, have babies and husbands and stay at home (and that people who choose otherwise are sinners who shouldn't be associated with - never mind about evangelism).
They are home-schooled and are not permitted to associate with other children outside of a select few that have parents who have met Daddy's intolerably high standards. The girls expect Daddy will find them a husband (arranged marriages are not out of fashion, apparently), and even if we could convince my aunt and uncle that this is wrong, they are frankly already brain-washed. One of them said to my grandmother earlier this summer, "Grandma, Daddy says you're going to hell because you don't obey the Bible. The Bible says you have to wear long dresses and you wear pants."
[My grandmother managed a household of 4 boys (plus a 5th on the weekends) and 2 girls on her husband's salary less alimony. She has always been outspoken and taught by example that women were strong, informed, and quite able to make good decisions. Of her children, both girls have college degrees, but of the boys, only my dad has any college education. At this point, her primary goal regarding my cousins is to make certain they have someone and somewhere they believe they can go to safely should they ever come to their own conclusions that Daddy has been wrong all along - even if it takes years and years. Arguing with my aunt and uncle over child-rearing issues or disagreeing with them in front of the little ones endangers the tenuous contact my grandparents are still able to maintain.]
Perhaps if they were part of a Mennonite or Amish or known tradition, where they were being led by a long-standing, well-tested community of others who had made similar choices years ago, I wouldn't be so worried. But they're not. These children - these girls - are being raised in a vacuum devoid of a spiritually discerning, aware, faithful community. And Dad, with his high school diploma, a love of old books and a minister’s license he got by completely an online correspondence course on the Bible, tells them he is an expert on the Bible.
What does this have to do with spanking and punishment? Nothing. What does it have to do with feminism, defending human rights, and generally standing up for women? Everything.
If I wondered whether I was the only introverted submissive woman who battled the urge to isolate my children to satisfy my own cravings, then that question has now been answered. I will not – I refuse to – raise my daughter to be a replica of me. I will not seek to pass on my personality or lifestyle because it’s the one that makes me happy. For my cousins, that submissive introversion in my aunt’s personality has been tragically coupled with mis-guided religious practices that identify women as second-class citizens with few to no choices in life. Little Catherine in Australia is being taught that pleasing a man is the most important thing in life. And a princess in California is learning to mop the floor because it’s fun to push a button and watch the Swiffer cleaner spray out over the tile.
In any event, the princess won't allow me to isolate her too much or too often. She hounded me day and night for a 'new school' (it starts after Labor Day). She wants to visit every other day. She wants to talk to children on the playground, adults at the grocery store, and go to child care and Sunday School at church. She lights up like a sunbeam when she perceives an ‘adventure’ to be on the horizon and is bored and depressed – or focused on movies – when we stay home or when I do not directly interact with her on a minute-by-minute basis.
But I can sense the dangerous urge in me. Today, even! The princess wants to go swimming, to go play in the park. I want to stay home and write. Take a nap. Do some work. Play with Play-Doh. But I don't want to do any of it with other people.
I am submissive to Chris, but add the princess to the equation and all of that seems to hightail it out the window. I make the decisions, the arrangements, organize the routines, enforce a few rules and play the role of primary caretaker. I am the 'go to' girl, and the princess usually turns for me to direction when she's floundering or needs something, even if Daddy is convenient.
But those things push me out of a headspace I like, enjoy, and need to be in. Not constantly, but more often than I can right now.
I am not saying that I want Chris to take a more active role as a parent. He's fantastic at that, and generous, too. He’d probably do more – especially the bedtime stuff – if the princess would let him. And I am not saying that I can change, or even contemplating change. What I am doing is recognizing that push-and-pull and the differing dynamics between Chris-and-I, and between Chris-princess-I. What happens in one doesn't necessarily translate to the other, and yet a disruption in one of the relationships does trickle into the other whether we want it to or not.
So it's something I'm rambling about and still contemplating in my mind - not as a problem, but as part of our everyday reality.