Monday, January 31, 2011

The Age of Feminism. Marriage and Family: how to make it work

Misguided feminism is not good for marriage.

We recently celebrated our wedding anniversary which falls on "Australia Day".
Our newly married young niece asked me in wonder: how is it to be married for all this time? We won't get there,- we marry later in life these days.

That is true,- but is that the only reason?

Most of our friends (at least those who have survived), are still married to their original partners after half a century and more of marriage. In one case, after 66 years,- they were teenagers when they tied the knot!How many marriages last past the first 20 years, let alone longer these days?

We then had a heated discussion among us 'oldies',- who was better off,- those of us who did not expect our husbands to do all the things that modern young men do for their babies and families,- or today's families which seem to break up at an alarming rate?

The "LIFE" supplement of this week's Sunday Age had an article about "the marriage mystique" which described a new book by a writer who claimed that feminism is good for marriage. She asked, "who would want to go back to the old-style marriages",- i.e. where the women knew their place,- in the home and nothing else? She stated that feminism is good for marriage because it is based on equality and shared responsibilities.

I wrote in reply:
There is no “marriage mystique” (THE AGE,Sunday Life, 30/1/11). The institution of marriage,- good, bad and indifferent has been around forever.
I was a ‘women’s libber’ as a youthful wife, then a young working mother, a feminist activist and leader. Looking at the younger generation of married couples today, I can foresee whose marriages will last the distance of my generation and whose will not.
It is not about feminism but about the ‘me’ generation. It is about self-centredness not feminism on some young women’s part on the one hand, while on the other their young men are attempting to fulfil the ‘new-age’ man’s expectations as father and partner while pursuing full-time occupations to the level of exhaustion.
True feminism dictates that marriage should be about a relationship-based union between equals who work out how to manage their life together, not only about who has to help whom and do what when.
Home and family is our most important of institutions and it should not fail us,- for the sake of the welfare of our future generations. It has to be managed to the best advantage for all within it. If only the Government would recognise it like any business, then the working marriage-partners could manage to employ home help and enjoy best-practice family relationships,- with the required help as a tax deductible entity. Then the parents could give to each other and to their children quality time, even if not always quantity time,- without the guilt complex.

What I now see among my peer group who like me, are celebrating half a century and more of happy life partnerships, is that some are exhausted caring for the grandkids while their kids are exhausted and stressed parents,- who sadly, too often seem eventually to just walk away from their family responsibilities,- to obtain a bit of ‘freedom before it’s too late’ they say!

I call many of today’s young-marrieds not bad people, just bad managers of their family lives! The government could do more for the institution of “home and family” to help them out,- not only build more day-care centres but more assistance for ‘helpers in the home’ to ease the stress on everyone,- young and old.

How did we manage then?
Firstly, when new babies entered the family, we did not wake up our husbands to feed them because they needed to get up early to go to work.We who stayed home in the early days with a new baby,organized ourselves to take a nap during the day.
(Some grandmothers I knew even paid for a mothercraft nurse for a few weeks to help their daughters with their first babies!)

Eventually, I found part time work and employed a baby-sitter for a few hours,- more to give myself a break from domesticity than for the money, as there was none left over for me.

Later, I returned to my career and could earn enough for better home help. This person was my housekeeper,- not just a baby-sitter. She cleaned the house, picked up the children from the nearby school, fed them so that by the time we came home from work, my husband and I could spend some quality time with the children before putting them to bed. I always prepared our food the night before so that my housekeeper could put it in the oven if necessary and have it ready for us when we got home.She came in the afternoons for a few hours 2-3 times a week, other times we had rosters with friends and sometimes my mother.

My mother and father were our back-up helpers,- they were the grandkids' spoilers!
They could assist us a little financially when we were in trouble,- as most young people can be,- but I never expected them to take over the responsibilities I see grandparents taking on nowadays.

Eventually, I had to retire from full-time work as it became too demanding in my profession and I felt young teenagers needed parents more to supervise their activities.When they were old enough to be independent, then I undertook a full-time workload again,- in another field.

Throughout,my husband like most of his contemporaries was a terrific father and companion for his growing children. Both of us understood the limits of our ability to manage our work-life responsibilities and paid for whatever home-help we needed to ease our burden in the home.

What I always resented was the fact that none of the expenses incurred in making our home and family life more bearable, were included as tax-deductable items from my income. Only when I was a full-time "housekeeper", could the man-of-the-house deduct something from his income. This is the anomaly which was never corrected. The home-help was paid in cash which she never had to declare,- so much so that eventually she could afford investment properties,- while most of my salary went to her.

Did I want to be a "housewife"? No,- I was trained to be more than that and I wanted to use my qualifications as far as I could,- but eventually I had to give up because to me, my family's welfare came first. It was my decision,- nobody forced me to do anything,- it was my choice when I did what, for whom and how.

53 years on, we are still together and I am grateful to be spared to still enjoy our life together.But we still pursue individual interests,- "we married for better or worse, but never for lunch"! My advice to most young people,_ it's a 50:50 chance in the choice for a partner,- 50% in the person and 50% in the training,- of each other!


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