Why Caregiving Doesn’t Always Require Consumerism

The author of The Moms Are Not Alright, which looks at how the pandemic transformed parenting, gives us a peek inside her home life.

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For the coming school year, my partner and I have committed to doing after-school care for our friends’ two boys—ages 5 and 8—twice a week. We don’t have kids (purposefully) and are both our own bosses. We’ve become accustomed, more or less, to our schedules wholly being our own: always malleable, always under our control. It’s been interesting, then, to figure out the sort of things that many parents and caregivers have been doing for years: how to block a calendar, how to communicate unavailability, how to then underline that unavailability when people think, like most things in our calendars, that it’s actually negotiable. We’ve also been figuring out how to outfit our house, for lack of a better phrase, in a way that prepares it for caregiving. We hang out with these friends and their kids all the time, but we spend most of that time at their place, simply out of kid convenience. We have a few toys here (a microscope, a bunch of Play-Doh, and of course our dogs, who are a source of endless amusement) but I feel compelled to buy a bunch of shit; basics like the colored pencils and tracing paper and Glu-Sticks they have at their house, but also stuff that makes us even more of the cool Auntie and Uncle. I find myself wanting to be the source of all the Slime, all the glitter, the new games and books and stuff that will make them love it here. Earlier this week, I asked for suggestions for more cool shit in this vein to accumulate, and got a ton of replies. But my friend Virginia Sole-Smith made a vital point: these kids are coming to our house directly after school, where they’ve been under constant stimulation (and the need to perform, in whatever capacity) for hours. Sometimes they’ll want to play Connect Four, or make Slime, or build a spaceship out of old cardboard. But a lot of the time, they’re just going to want to do exactly what I wanted to do when I came home from elementary school: eat some Bagel Bites, talk to no one, and either plow through another Babysitters Club book or watch the latest syndicated episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation

It’s a good reminder, I think. We spend a lot of time conceiving of caregiving, and even self-care, as buying shit. But sometimes it’s just making the space for ourselves and others to find rest, in whatever form, without judgment. I love that I can be the person to run around in circles with these kids when and if they need it. And I love, too, that I can be the person who sits across the room, silently, as we both spend some time hanging out in our own minds.


Anne Helen Petersen’s latest title, The Moms Are Not Alright, is available exclusively at Scribd Originals.  

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