Kateri’s approach is to start by deciding which member of the couple is the Bearer of the Banner of Righteousness and should therefore get to do things their way, and which one is the Jerk Who Is Just Plain Wrong and should therefore suck it up and deal with it. Having rapidly reached the conclusion that Valentina gets the banner (after all, she’s making the same parenting choices as Kateri, so she must be right), Kateri sees the problem here as being James’ annoying inability to grasp the fact that his is the latter of the two roles. Hence, her post centres on explaining exactly why James is wrong and Valentina (like Kateri) is right.
All of which somewhat misses the point.
Arguing about who’s Right and who’s Wrong in these matters gets nowhere, and that isn’t just because people do not, on the whole, respond to this sort of explanation of the error of their ways with "You know, now that you put it that way, I realise that I am a jerk, I am wrong, and I should just suck it up and deal with doing everything the way you want to do it. In fact, I feel our marriage is all the stronger now that you’ve made me see the light on that matter. You irresistible romantic fool, you!" It gets nowhere because the crux of this argument isn’t really whether co-sleeping, or any of the other issues at hand, are Right or Wrong. This sort of argument is not, ultimately, about what decisions get made. It’s about how the decisions get made.
Marriage is – or is theoretically meant to be – a partnership. I do not mean that word in the sense in which it is used by Aria, who apparently thinks it means ‘husband should take on an equal share of the work of taking care of the children but shouldn’t have the audacity to expect a say in how they’re taken care of, and should recognise and respond to his wife’s need for support but shouldn’t expect any support himself, seeing as he’s an adult who can just take care of himself, dammit’. I mean in the sense of "We clearly have a difference of opinion here, so let’s talk about it so that I can listen to your point of view on the matter as well as putting mine across, and we can figure out whether it’s possible to come to some kind of compromise that we can both live with." The problem with the "We’re doing things my way, live with it" approach is that it inevitably carries the subtext of "because I do not find you important enough to bother with taking your opinion on the matter into account".
(In case I am sounding too insufferably pompous at this point, I had probably better point out that 1. the reason I know this is because I have made this mistake myself more times than I could count, and 2. my original title for this post was going to be "The post that somebody had probably better remind me of at regular intervals for the rest of my life or Barry’s", and, even though I eventually decided that this one was snappier, the other one still holds true.)
Anyway – I suspect that both James and Valentina are making the mistake of taking this attitude, and that this is the real crux of their problems. But with only second-hand reports, it’s hard to say for sure (though lines like "This is war and I plan to win" don’t really bode all that well). What I did find worth commenting on is the fact that Kateri (along with most of the people commenting on her post) seems to find it completely appropriate for one partner in this marriage to take this attitude towards the other. As long as it’s the wife acting that way towards the husband, that is.
Partly this is because the needs of the children are more important than the opinions of either parent (except for the one she happens to agree with). The Needs Of The Children, in fact, trump everything. Including, it appears, any attempt to establish the extent to which they are needs, and not simply preferences (on the part of either the children or the wife). Will Jayla still need to be in the parents’ bedroom in another few months, or is it possible that she would in fact settle perfectly happily in her brother’s room by that time? Would the children – or even just the older one – have been quite all right with a known and trusted babysitter for an evening while James and Valentina took a night out? Would James III be just as happy on an earlier schedule that would allow his parents some child-free time together in the evenings?
I have no idea. And nor does Kateri. It’s not entirely clear whether James or Valentina do, either. But these things should be considered and not just assumed. ‘The needs of the children’ is not a handy catch-all excuse for getting to do everything exactly the way you want.
Kateri also feels that honouring women honours their children, and that a happy mother makes for happy children. She does not, apparently, believe that the same applies to fathers. Woman feels that sharing a bed with her children would make her feel happy and fulfilled? How dare anyone suggest that she should stop doing something that makes her feel that way! Man feels that sharing a bed with his wife would make him feel happy and fulfilled? How dare he be so selfish as to think only of himself instead of subsuming his own happiness to that of his wife and children!
Kateri’s solution for dealing with the inconvenient habit men have of wanting a bit of happiness and fulfilment of their own is to write them out of family life altogether. I wondered whether this solution might have been suggested tongue-in-cheek, but, since she appears to be serious about it, I’ll discuss it seriously. Kateri’s ideal family would consist of three or four women living together, not letting men in on the act at all unless they felt like it. "We could each work a little, stay home a little, do a little housework and childcare… Our lives would not be tied to men."
Why, how idyllic. Until, of course, the day when one of your wives decides that she wants child-free time in the evenings, and thinks the children should go to bed earlier than you think they should. Or until some other dispute about childcare crops up. Or until somebody gets PO’d because they think they’re getting lumbered with more than their fair share of the housework. Or until one of the women turns out to be a bitch or a drama queen.
I’m not sure whether Kateri’s obliviousness to these inevitabilities is because she’s seeing this as Evil Men Who Don’t Understand Women Vs. Nurturant Women Who Would Live Together In Peace, Harmony And Sisterhood, or if it’s just that any imaginary relationship is inevitably better than one that has the disadvantage of being real. But I do know that any time a group of adults are trying to mingle their day-to-day lives this closely, friction and disagreements and resentment are sometimes going to occur.
This is not a gender-specific thing, no matter how tempting it is to resort to the age-old solution of Find A Group To Scapegoat. The problem isn’t that the other person involved in a marriage is a man, but that he’s a person. As opposed to, for example, a programmed robot. A woman would display just the same annoying tendency to have her own opinions on how day-to-day life should be instead of conveniently falling in with yours all the time, and having more women around, while being useful from the point of view of spreading the labour, would also increase the number of people to have disagreements with.
There is also another issue here, and it’s one I’m finding more disturbing the more I think about it. Although Kateri’s Utopian family doesn’t include any official role for men beyond penises that can be either used for sex or ignored as each woman wishes, it does include children. So, unless she’s planning on setting up a cloning facility, men are going to have to enter the equation at some point. In Kateri’s ideal family, therefore, the children would have parents somewhere out there who were considered completely dispensable, who weren’t even considered worthy of mention as part of the family.
Which is deeply, bitterly ironic. Because Kateri is – for want of a better term – a birthmother.
Eight years ago, Kateri gave up her first daughter for adoption. Since then, she’s lived with the deep, complex, wrenching pain of knowing that she has a child in the world to whom she is not allowed to be a parent, whom she is not even allowed to see or contact without permission from the child’s other parents. She used to spend quite a lot of time on adoption forums, so I think it’s a fair bet that she’s also read plenty of accounts of the third side of the story – the adoptees who grow up with a gaping hole where their genetic heritage should be, with the subtle or overt message that the parents who conceived you are annoying irrelevancies and that everyone (well, everyone important) is better off with them out of your life.
And she has no problem at all with the thought of putting more parents and children in these sorts of situations. Not as long as the parents in question are men, anyway.
Amended, after reading Kateri’s latest comment – it seems her plan for the ideal family would allow for more visitation than was suggested by her original description. And I don’t know where she stands on legal parental rights for fathers, in this scenario – maybe her Utopia includes those as well, and her idea of a father’s role in all this is more akin to the current situation for divorced fathers than to the current situation for first mothers. (Of course, if she seriously thinks that that’s going to be compatible with avoiding ties to men and ignoring them as much as she sees fit then I think she might possibly need to give just a smidgen more thought to the finer details here.)
But none of that really changes the basic issue here, does it? If you’re a parent who is forced to live apart from your children and have little or no say in the day-to-day running of the majority of their lives, then improved visitation may make it easier, but it doesn’t make it all right. Not for you, and not for your child. And yet Kateri, despite her own experiences of the pain of being an absent parent, blithely advocates such a situation as her ideal setup. After all, why bother taking the feelings of fathers into consideration when planning how to run a society? They’re only men, after all, and so their happiness, fulfilment, and parenting values can be ignored.