Good evening, Persephoneers. The Caregiving Parenting Saga is ready to continue, fuelled by a cup of green tea and cranberry.
There has been one thought in particular that keeps coming back to me when I think of the Caregiving Parenting Saga. And that is the imbalance that occurs when there is a situation that warrants caregiving to be a part of it. All too often I fear that this imbalance is perceived as an imbalance of power, when it is in fact an imbalance of capability.
What, I at least, mean by an imbalance of capability is that Mr. Juniper and I both know how to parent, but that I am more able to parent than he is. Mr. Juniper’s illness affects his daily life and parenting is a part of that. In the very first Caregiving article, I mentioned that I have to take on the lion’s share within our family. This presents itself in different ways, and during different periods of Mr. Juniper’s illness, have meant different things for me.
When Juniper Junior came into the world, this meant doing a lot myself. By that, I don’t mean alone. Mr. Juniper was at a point where he was still being introduced, as it were, to proper psychiatric care. This meant an introduction to proper medication. While this helped him, the medications at those times meant he was often needing a lot of sleep.
Nights are something that, as a result of co-sleeping, we’ve fared relatively well with. But Mr. Juniper’s sleep needs meant that in the mornings it was just Juniper Junior and I. Feeding wasn’t the easiest experience for us, but it was something I could only, in a sense, do myself. What Mr. Juniper wasn’t able to do, though, he made up for in support. He would listen to me endlessly.
There was one aspect of having a baby that Mr. Juniper actively struggled with. Nappies. For what context it may add, we used washable nappies. These did, in fact, prove to be helpful not only due to the baby/cost/environment factors, but to my stress factor. When there was so much else to think of, I never had the worry of running out of nappies. But yes, I have gone off on a tangent. The point about nappies: Mr. Juniper couldn’t handle doing nappies. This wasn’t due to a problem with the contents of those nappies, not in the slightest. It wasn’t a power imbalance either ““ it wasn’t that he saw it as a woman’s job. It was that it was an overwhelming process to him.
To break it down: wriggling child; removing old nappy; cleaning up with flannels; getting fresh nappy in position; securing the fresh nappy to aforementioned wriggling (potentially bawling) child. There are times when a simple task involving two steps flummoxes Mr. Juniper. To change a nappy was simply too much. He could cope with putting the nappies into the washing machine, putting in the laundry powder and setting the right programme. But to change a nappy was too much. I can appreciate that some people would be up in arms about my acceptance of that, but to challenge my acceptance is to in turn challenge my ability as Mr. Juniper’s caregiver to gauge (and so too, to accept) what he and is not capable of doing.
One of the bigger points was simply day-to-day parenting. Whatever needed doing, I would have Juniper Junior with me. Before Juniper Junior was three, a significant factor in this was Juniper Junior’s lack of independence and that he was also still in nappies. Juniper Junior has always been a relatively relaxed child, but the toddler years were still full of, “BE CAREFUL!” and everything that went with that. In other words, the years of constant supervision and intervention. Once Juniper Junior was around three-and-a-half, things began to change. There were two causes of change: simply that Juniper Junior was beginning to leave the chaos of toddler years behind, and that Mr. Juniper was now used to psychiatric care, participating in therapy and on a cocktail of medication that was something close to being liveable with.
This change meant that I could leave Juniper Junior and Mr. Juniper together on their own for short periods of time. There wasn’t the stress of doing feeds or nappies, and Mr. Juniper was more confident in his ability to cope. Those short periods of time were short, though. I was out for an hour at most, and even then, only ten minutes away. One of the important points here is that they were both at home. And Mr. Juniper can cope with home. Home is safe. He knows where everything is at home. There’s nothing strange at home. There aren’t environmental factors to deal with like he would have to deal with outside of the home. Mr. Juniper’s confidence at home has only increased, though with a little guidance at times. I’m a great lover of Toddler Taming by Christopher Green, and it was of great help to Mr. Juniper. His background wasn’t good, so whilst he knew very much what not to do, knowing what to do was something of a mystery to him ““ he had only experienced a fraction of what “good” was.
A rather useful resource turned out to be his therapy. The type of therapy Mr. Juniper does is a form of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. I have seen this called “therapy for stupid people” before now. I’m not quite sure what to make of this. Another phrase I’ve seen used to describe DBT is “emotional kindergarten.” The latter is, I think, a concept that makes the “therapy for stupid people” comment lose ground. DBT is far from being for stupid people, it is (take this with a big dose of generalisation) tailored for people who have endured traumas and detrimental experiences, especially in their early years. The therapy may appear “stupid” to some, and a “no-brainer,” but those who call it stupid would do well to remember that trauma in the early years has a different impact than trauma at other times in life, just as trauma in later years has a different impact compared to trauma in the early years. And therapy is not a one size fits all experience; it needs to be tailored to the person, to the trauma itself, and to the impact of that trauma, too.
Anyway, the point I was going to make related to the “emotional kindergarten” idea. When Mr. Juniper has struggled with Juniper Junior, I have had to point out that his DBT is helping him, and the methods involved can help him with Juniper Junior, too. One of the methods that has become important has been to acknowledge behaviour and feelings, whilst bearing in mind that acknowledging is not the same as accepting. Anyone familiar with toddlers will be familiar with the concept of an emotional outburst. In short: the outcry of, “My balloon has burst! The world has ended! Nothing will ever be nice again!” Though toddlers tend to encapsulate this thought thusly: “Waaaaaaaaah!” Therapy comes into this by reminding Mr. Juniper to acknowledge Juniper Junior’s distress until the latter realises the former has acknowledged it. And from there to see what can be done about the situation while offering reassurance. Or, if all is lost, the Toddler Taming methods works well on both children and husbands: “I’ll talk to you when you’ve calmed down, otherwise, it’s the bottom step of the stairs. Buh-bye!” Or if it is actually genuine distress, (i.e. the acquiring of a boo-boo), “We can talk after a hug.”
The result of therapy and Toddler Taming is that Juniper Junior is an emotionally wise child. He’ll come to us now and say he’s sad, happy, or otherwise. He’ll try and take a moment to calm down if he isn’t able to articulate what the issue is, and from there, talk.
You know what? There is a lot that Mr. Juniper hasn’t done, particularly in Juniper Junior’s early years. And that is something we have both had to accept. There is, however, one very, very important point to remember in all this: Mr. Juniper has always acknowledged that I have done the lion’s share. When people talk about the nappy changing, the night feeds, the appointments, Mr. Juniper has always pointed out that it was me who has been done most of the physical parenting, while we have shared the rest of the parenting responsibilities. In short: whatever the imbalance in capability, there has never been an imbalance of power, there has, instead, been love and respect.