After last week’s post, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways that living in a society basically built around the sanctity of the nuclear family affects us. I’ve been thinking about how it affects me, and how we try to push back against it. I’ve been thinking about that post about being post nuclear in the single family home. And I’ve been feeling like a massive failure.
I’ve been feeling like a fraud.
The thing is, we may work very very hard at it. We may try to integrate ourselves and our family into our larger community. We may try to challenge nuclear ideals. But at the end of the day? Or rather not the end of the day, let’s not talk about the end of the day, let’s talk about 1pm on a Monday.
At 1pm on a Monday we are a nuclear family. We are two parents who are married to each other struggling to raise a child together in an isolated home. We are stuck in the same shitty paradigm as everybody else. At 1pm on a Monday, that is when I start texting my wife about how impossible my day feels. About how lonely I am.
Because the thing is? Living in a nuclear family, it is incredibly isolated. It cuts off meaningful connections and it leaves us alone. For me, it’s being alone with a baby all. the. damn. time. with hardly a break. For my wife, it’s hurrying home from work to jump into household chores and baby care because she knows damn well that by 5pm I’m barely hanging on by a thread. Parenting is hard, parenting is allowed to be hard, it’s maybe even supposed to be hard. Things that are worth doing are often hard, and helping tiny people grow is a big fucking deal, I get that. But the fact that by 5pm every single day I feel like I’m barely hanging on, barely holding it together, barely getting by? That’s not ok. That’s not parenting. I refuse to believe that that feeing of despair is just part of what parenting is. No, that’s nuclear family isolation.
This is not a happy post.
Every pressure imaginable is pushing us into isolated nuclear bubbles. Social pressures, economic pressures, cultural norms, even the way many of our laws are set up, they’re all geared towards this one set up, this one way of living. I’d love to be doing something else. Some days I’d love to be doing anything else. But getting there is difficult. We’ve actually talked with other families about other options. But it always comes down to the same thing in the end: “this is what’s best for my family right now.”
We lived collectively for a year, and for various reasons it didn’t work out. What’s “best for my family right now” is living in a tiny two bedroom apartment that we can barely afford, far from most of our friends in the city. Because we think of ourselves (the three of us) as one family, because my wife and I are committed to making decisions together but not equally committed to anyone else, because we are responsible for this one newish little life that we created, we find ourselves unwittingly making decisions that isolate us. Here we are, desperately tired, desperately trying, just desperate.
Enter the play dates.
I am not knocking play dates. Play dates are fine. Play dates can even be good, they can even be great. They’re just not enough. They’re no antidote. They’re no cure for this sickness. You bring your kid over or I’ll bring my kid over and for an hour or two we’ll smush our two isolated nuclear families together! The parents will try to have a conversation about how fucking tired we are while the kids play on the floor, only our conversation will be punctuated by the never ceasing “oh no don’t go for his eyes sweetie!” and “we are gentle with our friends” and “you don’t need to steal her toy, here you can have this toy!” After a short while the isolated nap schedules will kick in and someone will have to go home before someone has a complete meltdown. It will pale in comparison to the kinds of gatherings we had with friends before children, but we’re so starved for any connection, that it will momentarily feel oddly rejuvenating.
“Today was nice!” I will tell my spouse in the evening, “I feel like I’m going to be ok!”
But I’m fucking not going to be ok.
Play dates are like taking an aspirin every morning instead of asking why the hell you wake up every day with the same headache. They mask the symptoms instead of addressing the problems. And worst of all, they make it possible for us to pretend that the symptoms are just a normal part of having kids, of having a family.
There are whole empires made on talking about how difficult and impossible being a parent is. And I’m part of that, I write for some of those places, and I do think it’s nice to find humor in the impossibility of it all sometimes. But what if that wasn’t all there is? What if it didn’t have to be this hard? What if I didn’t have to e so lonesome I felt like I was going to have a breakdown every single day? What if we could meaningfully connect with our communities instead of living in isolation? What if we could do more than just play dates? Because it just is not enough.