The Fabric of the Family and How A Stitch in Time Saves Nothing

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Recently I’ve been knitting.

Yes, the heresy of it.

A former professional, a feminist, and erstwhile wearer of black denim jeans and black cotton long sleeve shirts has been knitting.

And I have realised just how challenging something like this is to our modern perception of what is worthwhile activity for a woman. It is pretty much on par with confessing that one uses doilies for the plate of biscuits, lavender pomade, warms one’s husband’s slippers before he arrives home from the office, and flounces around in an apron and with feather duster all day.

A few scarves down the line, a couple of booties, a few baby hats and two beautiful hotchpotch blankets for my children which I hope they will treasure in Peanut-like affection, I am something of a convert to the meditative qualities of repeatedly looping yarn around needles. Yet I have found it to be the most provocative and controversial things I have done for some time.

And I have been thinking about why that would be.

Why is it more shocking for a woman in her late 30s to decide that she wants to knit some stuff for her family than, say, get a tattoo? Why is it considered throwback and retrograde for a woman to embrace doing something really quite simple, meditative, creative and generous?

Because it’s pretty uncomfortable, isn’t it? In the age of employment and equality. The image of a woman sitting in a comfy chair, knitting, while her kids play around her. And doing this while others are working at jobs for money, doing ‘important stuff’, doing ‘productive stuff’, contributing to the economy, ‘doing the right thing’ and discharging their responsibilities to society.

Yes. Knitting has turned out to be one of the most rebellious things I have done for a long time. Forget falling down drunk on too many occasions. Conveniently forget that tongue piercing. Knitting is a reminder to myself and others that I am outside the daily grind. You can’t be tense and angry and stressed, rat racing, when you’re knitting – it’s impossible, folks. You are outside of GDP the moment you toil hours to create something, then gift it in love to someone to treasure. For free. You are not counted. You are deemed to be doing something ‘crafty’ or ‘pastime-y’. Not something productive and valuable in its own right.

And it is much like raising children.

Every day since my children were born we have stitched our lives and experience together. Those repetitive movements of love, nursing, cuddles; those occasional dropped stitches of yells and tantrums and parental fails; the days where the pattern is so vibrant and you wish the day could stand still.

So, to answer your question you must have been mulling: what the purl has knitting got to do with children, mothers and mothering?

It’s in the fabric. It takes hundreds of moments, hundreds of deliberate motions, hundreds of not-so-deliberate actions, but presence and dedication, to raise a family at home.

Yet, for all our society cares, we may as well grab a £5 acrylic jumper from Primark and take up that nursery place. The work and love that goes into raising our children full-time, the dedication and skill, and the presence and creativity are completely ignored. They are increasingly diminished. They are almost universally devalued. Mothers can’t be trusted, you see, to raise their own children – we cannot trust them to knit their own children. To choose their own yarn and select their own needles. No. Uniform, Ofsted-rated, professional staffed, primary-coloured plasticised, institutionalised Early Years Childcare is that much admired Primark jumper of child-rearing and that’s exactly what the State wants to see.

The notion that children can but only benefit from childcare is so prevalent, so insidious and so universally promoted – especially amongst politicians keen to promote full maternal employment as ONLY EVER A GOOD THING – that it is often incredibly difficult to engage on this topic without individual parents feeling attacked. That is not my intention. We are all adults – we can all make our own assessments of the merits.

But it would be a fallacy to suggest that every parent is in a position to make a choice. Especially now. I don’t think there is anything I can say about the recent budget which will add anything novel to the wealth of justified criticism already made. It’s truly Titanic in its ambition and effect: Women and Children First.

Many parents do not wish to use childcare and feel guilty for using it out of obligation because finances are increasingly tight and because the system increasingly promotes and encourages dual incomes for a chance of surviving financially. They should not have to be in that position. Those who are scrimping by to have a parent at home are struggling – and things will only get worse without a full re-think of the value of parental care and how our society and economic system can allow for family lives to thrive not just to survive.

To illustrate. A study suggests that a child raised at home has better speech but that the child cared for in a nursery has the better use of a pencil. Commentators then claim a draw! Speech is offset by the better use of a pencil. Without any critical analysis of what that might mean… Well, I would interpret that as the child at home has had one to one, face to face, loving touch and speech and responsiveness and the other has had time and space to master a pencil. Woo hoo. You know what they can do with that pencil.

It does rather suggest a greater premium placed on ‘academic’ rather than the ‘soft stuff’ like love. And that’s right where the issue is, rather.

There are billboards outside every nursery saying ‘THE PLACE TO GROW AND LEARN. Taking children from 2 months until 5; Professional staff; Stimulating environment; OFSTED RATED’. Well – they can shove that Ofsted rating up their stimulating environment.

We simply don’t get the repeated opposite case ‘Being at home is wonderful for children. The place to grow, be loved, to be kissed, to be cuddled, to be known. The place is home!’ plastered on our windows or repeated by politicians and media. The letters I and others in campaign circles received from MPs and candidates during the Election all trotted out the same stuff about how childcare is good for children – without any finer examination of which age, stage, which unique child, what childcare setting, which carer we are talking about.

So in all, it is reaching the stage where mothers have to prove that they are the right people for the job of caring for their own children in a society which sees no point. Just like we have no place knitting a hat for our children when we can pick up a mass produced beany from GAP for £7.

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photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/35168673@N03/3412147922″>Knitted rainbow</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

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14 thoughts on “The Fabric of the Family and How A Stitch in Time Saves Nothing

  1. Absolutely. The World Health Organisation States “In addition to food, sanitation and access to health facilities children require adequate care at home for survival and optimal development. Responsiveness, a mother’s/caregiver’s prompt, contingent and appropriate interaction with the child, is a vital parenting tool with wide-ranging benefits for the child, from better cognitive and psychosocial development to protection from disease and mortality”.
    That’s mothers at home not underpaid nursery workers with three small children to look after, boxes to tick and no hope of noticing let alone responding to all their cues.

    I may even learn to knit.

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  2. I’ve been thinking a lot of similar thoughts too. I’m a feminist. I crochet. I want to be present for my kids, particularly when they are little. And I agree that it feels more radical than ever to try to combine these three elements of my life as I choose to step out of the many systems and corporations controlling our lives.

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  3. Brilliantly said. I have chosen to be a stay at home mother, and it seems like a radical choice. Stepping out of the system and, surprising to many it seems, actually wanting to spend time with my children.

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  4. My husband who spends alot of time with the children still does not pick up on my childrens cues, not as much as I do, being a stay at home mum. How can a nursery nurse pick up on any cues from 3 children she can not understand. Given that personality traits of children are like their parents personalities so nursery workers are less likely to be able to emphasise with the children than the parents.
    Where is the sensitivity of the children taken into account in the policy making. My children would have suffered terribly had they been sent to nursery, if I’d continued with my 30k job. They would have been heart broken. Watch this space but I have a feeling that my childrens generation will suffer many more psychological problems with less ability to emphasise with each other and with other adults. This is a terrible forecast for society. What a pity that parents are too happy to leave their children with teenagers they don’t even know.

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  5. Yes, this is very well said. But, as a woman who works and has done all her life and has had three beautiful children, I have been penalised for doing so. There is always an implicit message that I am somehow neglecting my home, my children, that I must not care for something so wholly outside of me and so unrelated to me even when it makes me happy and better able to give of my best to my home and family. To me, the ideal situation for a child to grow up in is a community or an extended family where they learn that there are a variety of ways to approach a situation – that is what inculcates in the next generation, a tolerance for other people ‘s ways. In our modern world, the nursery is a better place to provide this sort of experience than a parent and the nuclear family alone. It is as close as we can get to an extended family/ community situation in the 21st century in the West. In my experience, most of the young women who looked after my children were warm caring and sensitive to their needs. I would not wish to denigrate their talents – nor would I wish to say that I would have always been the best person alone to care for my children. Caring for a child is best done cooperatively by adults who have their well-being at heart.

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    1. It’s tough being a parent. I don’t have the option to be a stay at home parent. As a single mum I’m damned if I do work, damned if I don’t!

      I work to provide for my children. I would love to be able to have stayed home and be there to collect from school so they can bring friends home for dinner. I get told I missed so much of my daughter’s life because she had to go to nursery, I didn’t. I was there for her first steps/first words, to toilet train her etc. We have a very close relationship but she also developed strong relationship with her key worker. I used to watch them play together when I collected. Due to varying hours I would collect at different times each day, and I was able to see them playing every time I arrived.

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  6. Being a feminist I see it as my right to choose. I stay at home with my children, I have been knitting for many years their little blankets and scarves, which they still use and my oldest 2 are in their teens 🙂 I refuse to take the male politicians view of every child in care so they can turn around tax money to line their own pockets, instead I grow food with my children teach them how to fish, show them how to stitch up their clothes instead of throwing it in the bin. I have 3 boys. I am teaching them that a woman as much as any man can choose how they wish to live and love. My husband is the full time working parent, but he too has a responsibility in the home to provide a caring and loving environment. Financially it is difficult, but I can not put a price on the care of my children, nor a price on the love I give them so for us e staying at home is the best option. Well said 🙂

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  7. Perhaps having had my children in my mid thirties gave me the confidence to march to the beat of my own drum. I had an opportunity to meet the intellectual, social and emotional challenges of a good career before I had children, so,I Was less apt to care what “society” thought about me raising my own children. After I had my children, I recognized it as far too important a job to contract out to a child care facility. From birth to the ages 13 and 16, I still play a key role in their day to day lives and have influence in helping them shape their opinions. During each age through their development peiod, my husaband and myself have been their newscasters and the spin interpreters for discissing current events. I would much rather conduct these conversations between parent and students who will someday have similar opinions.. These similar values will also shine through in their priorities into adulthood. Perhaps they will have learnned to treasure the families vintage values possessions over mass marketed goods. To incorportate the families beliefs into their own as the grow independent. And of course, homemade knitwear is one of the forms that we use to stitch our lives together socially, emotionally or intelectually and spiritualy.

    I was raised in much a similar manner by my parents and grandparents, so this feels completely natural to me. I hope it feels natural to them, when it comes their turn. I hope they still like it

    in NH where time seems to move a little slower than in other places.

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  8. This is so true i feel sad when I listen to parents who have been taken in by society/govement wishes and think their tiny baby needs to be in a ofsted setting to ‘grow and learn’. Having worked in many of theses settings ive witness much good and bad practice but often under paid over worked staff are just doing the best they can and children are not getting what they really need.
    Dont get me wrong I do think there should be choice and some parent either have to work or are just not made for the stay at home thing. All I can say is think very carefully who looks after you child, look beyond the clean floors, ofsted reports and society wishes. Work out whats best for your family. You may not believe it now but children grow very,very quickly and once gone you can not get the years back.

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  9. Beautifully said!! I used to hate hearing “You’re so lucky, you get to stay home and raise your kids.” Like we have all the money in the world. Luck had nothing to do with it, it was a choice. I didn’t miss anything and got plenty of knitting done. The kids are almost grown and the knitting continues.

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