This isn’t going to have much to do with raisins the fruit, natures candies though they are. There are very few ways you can make a raisin dangerous. Maybe jamming loads of them into someone’s mouth while they sleep, but then it’s probably you that’s dangerous, not the raisins. Nor is it going to be a blog about currant affairs (HA! HAHAHAHA! (oh god daddy please take me away from here)). No, prepare yourself instead for a poorly researched, badly referenced collection of musings and instincts on the topic of how capitalism makes us shit at dealing with relationship breakdown, and why it’s fucked up that we cling so deeply and with such pride to a damaging and essentially neoliberal Christian ideal of the family. Prepare to liberate yourself from these shackles using my handy psycho drama toolkit – your reward for reading to the end.
It’s a very common tendency (I think due to our zero philosophical training in schools – why teach kids how to question and think, when you could be teaching them to follow the rules of spelling, punctuation and grammar?) to drift towards a kind of badly thought out moral relativism which sits completely at odds with our natural love of (and passionate desire for) truth. We take our subjectivity to be a leftish acceptance of others, a route to accept our own difference, even a kind of anarchic regicide. But all the while we tend to feel we are right about some stuff, and (occasionally) to accept we are wrong about some other stuff.
This bloody tension hit me quite fiercely when talking to a friend recently about relationships and relationship breakdown. This had echoes of the same conversation had with many good friends and exes, over the years. It goes along the lines of its being “different for everyone” (wholly agree) and that what’s right for some people might not be for others (tend to broadly agree in context) and that for the friend / ex, family is what’s important (and therefore “right for them”) – that means the family unit, living together, ideally with parents romantically entwined. This is all very well as a statement of what is important to that individual: it’s undeniably and uncontraversially what the individual wants. There is the further (parenthetical) step though – a commonly trod step with desire, a natural tendency to suppose the desired thing must be the “right thing”, and from there – the thing that’s in everyone’s best interests.
It just so happens (OR DOES IT?) that this particular finally-stepped-to-view (or there-all-along-unquestioned-background-assumption) is hugely supported by the establishment. In the media, relationship breakdown is always portrayed as negative, particularly where children are involved. HMRC are currently advertising marriage and civil partnership on Facebook. The savage butchery of the benefits system and systematic deregulation of capital over the last 20 years means that the majority of children whose parents break up will experience a decline in living standards and 2 in 5 will be living below the poverty line (reference to follow – believe). These are just a tiny little handful of the ways in which as a society we perpetuate the idolisation of the Christian family unit.
And what are the alternatives? Seeing the kids 2-4 days less than you want to? Shunting them from A to B every week? Forcing them to be separated from their primal maternal bond? Admitting failure, and the opening the door to the fear this brings down on you from your well-intentioned worried love ones? Being lonely, the half week or more that you’re on your own? Being lonely, the half week or more that your on your own with the kids, in your sealed off house, giving them all the love they need? Whilst all the time wondering, where is your love? WHERE IS YOUR LOVE? WHERE? IS? YOUR? LOVE? And can you give them everything they need? Always the background doubt – you’ve messed things up for them, you should have made it work, this is a broken home now and they’ll be broken too? Lurching into some “alternative model” touted by your well-intentioned friends that you know, you just KNOW just isn’t right, for you?
(Interestingly it very often seems to be that the daddy downers amongst us, those who assume fathers will drift away from their kids, leaving a hole in their lives and an unwanted feeling, are the same who believe in and promote this primacy of the maternal bond. Perpetuating the myth that kids need their mums more than their dads after a break up is just one of the ways that, as a society, we enable men to fulfil this caricature of patriarchal abandonment or absence or limitations.)
I find all this hugely insulting. At the back of it there has to be an assumption that anything other than the Christian Unit Model (we’ll call it CUM for short) will make one somehow worse off. In believing this, we create a self-fulfilling prophesy. We assume isolation in our Broken Unit Model (yep, BUM) as willingly we act out the alienated psycho drama that was expected and made unavoidable of us. At worst this is a denial of humanity, and of love. It undermines the capacity of a community to help raise its children. It chips away at the connectedness of people. It assumes a selfishness in those that love you, outside your nuclear family. It assumes dangerous reasons.
Of course you don’t want to shuffle off on your own to a poky flat. Of course you can’t give your kids everything they need. Of course you want to see them every day and yes, they might want that too. Crushing loneliness accompanied by feelings of failure, vs an unhappy relationship, is a false choice however. Not only that but it’s a choice that’s forced onto us by an incredibly oppressive, Christian, capitalist myth. The myth is extremely helpful to the establishment. It creates isolation and alienation within a bearable CUM environment, cutting people off from wider community and thus undermining their potential for solidarity and political movement as a body. Even more so if they’ve gone down the house purchasing route, in an understandable bid for some kind of security. Now landowners with something to lose, statistically less likely to be in a union, and more prone to obedience in the workplace (promise I can reference all this stuff dad), the fear of what it means “breaking up” increases – there’s more to break, won’t the bedrock beneath us all be torn asunder by a split?
Experimenting with alternatives to this that essentially deny the false choice is not a hippy-dippy-not-for-you move. It’s a political step towards unity. It takes incredible trust, in the love of your friends and the love of your community and its ability to give and receive from you, but it’s a trust we have to find if we’re to move away from the damaging (far more for children than the simple fact of having parents who don’t want to be romantically involved anymore) concept of a broken home. A home begins slowly to break the as incrementally it becomes more isolated from community.
“Open the windows and the doors, she shouted, cook some meat and fish, buy the largest turtles around, let strangers come in and spread their mats in the corners and urinate in the rose bushes and sit down to eat as many times as they want, and belch and rant and muddy everything with their boots, and let them do whatever they want to us, because that’s the only way to drive off ruin.”
OH YEAH THE TOOLKIT!
It’s more just some thoughts to consider. I’m no love expert but I have been through it, and my son’s father thanks me for doing what didn’t feel right for him at the time, and we live happily in Family Unity not Unit (FUN-U!).
Are you actually way happier than you think you are in your relationship?
You don’t need to be in a position to choose the whole future, it’s enough to decide what feels right for now sometimes. In no other context do we assume we should be able to know what we want for the whole rest of our lives, and make a decision on this basis.
Sometimes we can forget that we are making a conscious choice to stay in a relationship for good reasons. This is especially the case if we don’t think we have an…
Feeling like you couldn’t leave if you wanted to is a sure fire way to cloud your judgement about whether or not you want the thing. Imagine you’re backed up against a wall having raisins shoved into your mouth while someone shouts “FOR GODS SAKE DO IT FOR THE CHILDREN”. No better way to put you off raisins. You might want them, you might need them, you just can’t tell. “Just eat the fucking raisins” you think, “it’s the only way”, while inside you die a little.
Jointly or privately planning an escape route can be hard because it feels disloyal to the relationship, it can seem like the beginning of the end. But actually it might be a key way to reinstating feelings of autonomy and a recognition of the unconscious choices we make every day not to use the escape route. Knowing you can say no to the raisins will make you see them for what they are. You may just reinstate the power of raison (oh YEAH).
What might this “escape route” look like? Here are 4 limited thoughts.
Well now. When my ex-partner and I split up, I looked at moving into a shared house (proper grown-up one like) with two rooms, one for me and one for my 4 year old son. I “knew” it had to be me who left, because I was doing the leaving (sometimes it is better to prioritise harmony over justice, in the long run). I also looked at 1 and 2 bed flats we could live alone.
But in the end I took a house that was bigger than our needs and had lodgers. This wasn’t without its difficulties at times, but it’s a period we both (my son and I) look back on with great fondness. Child psychology (ha, I realise this is a very broad reference but remember, references to follow) is big on the idea of more adults being involved in a kid’s life, particularly as they grow up. It meant I was in control as the main tenant and subletting to lodgers, I could choose who they were and (when things went really wrong) I could make new arrangements. That’s a whole nother blog though. We were fairly central and people were always dropping round, the house felt good. And in the meantimes we would have this peace between us, but not lonely as an adult, because of the nearby presence of another adult.
But my ex was sad and living on his own in the old family house for a while. It might have been quite strange for our son to be going back there. He doesn’t think so now, 7 years later but “pain hath no memory” and all that. Then his dad moved into a shared house for a bit, which he hated really, not being a shared living kind of guy. Now HE lives in his own house, with a lodger! and the boy has never been happier, going there! It makes perfect sense that kids will feel happier, more relaxed etc. if there are more than one adult around. If the one adult is unhappy (as we all are sometimes), it’s so pervasive atmosphere wise – even if all they do is sit in depressed silence for prolonged periods. Man – oppressive! I genuinely think lodgers can be great for couples and kids too. They take away some of the intensity and provide additional input into the household. But you need a spare room.
Shared living generally
Shared living doesn’t have to be a bunch of yurts or a never-ending argument about the washing up. Actual real grown ups can do it, with kids too. But you might need a lot a lot of space, especially if you are one of those people who needs to get away from other people a lot. With renting, you can actually get far larger properties if you’re sharing with more people, bringing the cost down per head. I would consider shared living as a couple and / or a single person. You don’t have to have some kind of shared, mutual philosophy or approach, other than a recognition that it might be nice not to be all cut off from each other, and bearable to share your space with these particular humans. Likely to take some trial and error, as is life.
The concept of nesting seems to have pros and cons, but is generally felt to be a good interim solution for couples who are working out what they’re doing, maybe working things out, maybe not, but want to try and not live together for a while with minimal disruption to the kids. The premise is that the kids stay put and the parents come and go, either sharing another place where they will take it in turns to stay when not with the kids, or having their own place to go. Expensive, potentially. Perhaps difficult to feel you’ve moved on? Maybe weird for the kids to not be part of your other life, not very integrated? But then, less discombobulating maybe – for the kids, and keeping options open if you both feel you might want to stay living together…
Staying living together
SOME PEOPLE ACTUALLY BREAK UP AND STAY LIVING TOGETHER. I have little idea how this can work but for some people it really does. Maybe best for the quite rational among us and / or those who fall from love into friendship relatively painlessly and want to sustain this and raise the kids together. I would highly recommend being open about what’s going on and thinking about getting a lodger or a caravan.
Not trying to decide the whole future
We can get so hung up in thinking that the plan for what it might be like if things change is how we will be stuck living forever. That’s contrary to the whole spirit of flexibility I’m trying to imbibe in you right now. Think of the raisin, mushy little fellow that he is. Once, he was a grape. So different, so plump. Now a raisin, bursting with fruity flavour. Could have been a wine. There’s only so far I can take this analogy. It’s okay not to know what the future holds, all you have to agree on is the first step. And actually, you might have to abandon the idea you’ll get an agreement on anything. Maybe it’s possible to disagree in a mature way.
Try and remember that kids have ZERO preconceptions of break up on the whole, and will be hugely influenced by yours. Think about your wacky lingo. Don’t present them with a trauma framework to slot into. You can make it so much better or worse for your kids by presupposing or projecting your negativity. It is hard when you’re feeling really pretty negative yourself. It might help to remind yourself:
- You aren’t failing your kids. You are teaching them how to experiment and how not to put up with something that’s making them feel unhappy.
- You aren’t failing. You’re rejecting the patriarchy and perpetuation of CUM which was consciously imposed as a means of instilling obedience and establishment. In doing so you’re creating healthy, questioning minds in your kids
- You aren’t failing if you feel sad and blue. Change is hard.
- You aren’t failing if you thought you were going to split up and then you change your mind. Humans are fallible, ever changing mish-mashes.
- A FAMILY IS A FAMILY WHEREVER THEY LIVE. Love and family values aren’t dependent on CUM.
- Family is more than you, your kids and their other parent. It’s all the other fuckers around here who will be involved in raising them and doing it well.
- Parenting kids is all damage control anyway. You will give your kids some issues whatever you do. You can limit this by loving them and being there for them as much as possible, but don’t kids yourself into thinking if you are physically present for the majority of their waking lives they’ll be better for it. They’ll probably just be easily spooked and a bit high maintenance.
“My childhood, my family
My screwed up relationships
My girlfriend, my boyfriend
My suicide to come
The drugs hell, the drinks bill
Colombia, hotel rooms
I do believe I’m going to plan
What say we go the Isle of Man”