I have decided to jump on the blog themed day bandwagon and use Monday for the Delphic Maxims. Here’s today’s:
Help your friends.
This doesn’t sound like spiritual advice to me. It sounds like standard human behaviour. Help your friends. Of course. But at its core this is what community is about, and community, in my mind, is a spiritual value. As the parent of two young children (4 and 19 months) and as a stay at home mom, I see the priceless value in helping and being helped.
I try to keep politics off this blog, but as I am a woman, everything I do, say and think is political. (Which gives you some ideas as to my politics.) As a parent I also feel politicized. Allow me a little wiggle room to wax political; it relates to today’s maxim.
The nuclear family is a myth and a lie. So is the ‘family values’ movement (particularly here in the US). Nothing about our lifestyles and society actually supports families, and may all the gods help you if you are disabled, care for some one with special needs, are middle class or ‘lower’, are a single parent, queer parent, non-traditional parent (polyamorous or perhaps grandparents raising children), not white, have limited English, etc. The mainstream model of a family is a unit that owns a house, at least one parent works and the (usually) mother stays home, or both parents work and make enough to afford a house and daycare. What it does is alienate people from avenues of support: mainly other people.
I am so very grateful that my family has been able to configure our life as we have. Adam works from home and I run the household: I plan and cook all the meals, do all the laundry, do 90% of the cleaning, and 80% of the childcare. It’s an even trade. I’m very happy. But I also get adult conversation throughout the day. We all eat lunch together and talk about what we’ve been thinking about or working on. We own one car and that allows me to get out with the kids. But for all of that, it’s still isolating and often boring. Profoundly boring. I used to be a professional! I was a PhD student! And now I read ‘Where is the green sheep?’ three times in a row, wipe butts, and get told I’m stinky because I won’t let the boy watch ANOTHER cartoon.
I’m not alone in this. There are many trials and tribulations in parenting, and we willingly take them on. But I get a sense that this is not the way humans have been parenting for the vast majority of existence. (Ok, I know for a fact, since I read some books, but I can’t remember the details nor the books to cite, so I’m just leaving it alone for now.) I don’t think every parent of small children is supposed to be a preschool teacher. I think kids need a lot of stimulation and movement, snuggles and interaction – but not all from one person. I really think that communal living is what is supposed to happen.
So when a friend asks me for a small and easy favor, something she needs to care for her family, of course I say yes. I help my friend. I want to help my friend. I’m in a good place right now, I don’t need much in the way of help, but I have in the past, I probably will again. It’s absolutely enlightened self-interest; it’s also putting my spiritual values into action – it’s walking my talk. It’s helping my friends. It’s creating the community I want to live in.
In addition to being fed the myth of the nuclear family we are told not to ask for help. That it’s weak. That you need to do it all yourself. Don’t rely on others. And that is the biggest lie of them all. OF COURSE WE NEED OTHERS. Sometimes I need help when we move. Sometimes my partner has an important project and I need someone to watch the kids while I go to an appointment. Sometimes I just want a friend to listen. Sometimes I want some one else to cook.
So we help each other. We listen, we love, we laugh together. I loan my neighbor all the cloth diapers I don’t need for her soon-to-be-arriving newborn. I host a weekly dinner with another family, when her husband works late. It’s doing a better job at organizing play dates so the kids and my fellow parents can betogether. It’s donating to charities. It’s picking up a friend’s kids from preschool when she’s running late. It’s helping my friends. It’s being in community.