Blog Posts

Seek Out Similarities

I’m studying intercultural communication for one of my university units this semester. Lately, we’ve been learning about two big theories relating to culture – essentialism and non-essentialism. Essentialism is the idea that our culture is defined by set rules, and that these set rules therefore define us as individuals. Apparently you can classify what specific culture I belong to by knowing where I was born and/or where I live and what language I speak. Further, my culture, once determined, is unchanging, and will always define my behaviour. If you want to know how to effectively communicate with me, you just need to know what culture I belong to.

I’m not sure how you feel about this idea, but something in me instinctively rejects this idea in favour of non-essentialism – which is essentially the opposite theory. Non-essentialism is the idea that our culture can never be easily defined, as it is based on so many variables. Non-essentialists believe that I can belong to several different cultures at once, depending on my viewpoint. I like the idea that culture is more about what I say, than it is about the language that I speak. Maybe I just don’t want to be pigeonholed into a stereotype. After all, I’m not stereotypical!

I was born in the UK, raised in Australia, lived long enough in NZ to become a citizen (because I love NZ!) and am currently living back in Australia (not forever). I speak English – but with a mix of accents both inherited from my parents and picked up in the course of my life, I don’t sound like your typical Australian. Lots of travel and customer service work means I seldom struggle with communicating with people from all different cultures.

I’ve understood for years that people come in all shapes, sizes and backgrounds. The one thing I like to think people tend to have in common is their inherent goodness. Yes, I do believe that there are people out there in the world who are “bad” people. Some are bad as a result of upbringing and circumstance, with a rare few who just seem to be born bad. However, I think the overwhelming majority of people are good people who are just trying to do the best they can. If you are sincerely willing to try, you can find common ground with almost anyone you meet – no matter what their background or culture. It’s mainly a matter of being interested in who they are!

Long before I heard of essentialism and non-essentialism, I started teaching this idea to my son. Children are so inherently innocent, that any concepts of stereotyping and prejudice are picked up from their parents (or other role models). My son is already great at understanding people, for all that he is only eight. I want him to judge people on their words and actions, rather than where they were born or the colour of their skin. It was some years ago now that I first dropped into conversation that all people are worthy of respect. We talked about how people in the past have treated others badly just because they are born somewhere else, or speak differently, or look different – and how awful that was. We are all people and we are all important. This is a theme we return to regularly.

We are all people and we are all important.

Othering is a concept that stems from essentialism. It is a viewpoint which focuses on the differences between people. If we believe someone is “Other” we effectively limit how much we identify with them, which seems to give us permission to treat them worse than we treat those we can identify with. History has some lessons for us about the horrendous things that people can do to someone else when they believe that someone is “Other”. No doubt you can immediately think of some examples!

I want my son to grow into a man who understands that it is not okay to hurt another person, unless in self-defence. I want him to seek out the similarities he shares with people, rather than the differences. With understanding, comes empathy, patience and kindness – qualities the 99.9% of us who are “good” people can all appreciate. I truly believe that if every parent did this, the world would be a significantly better place.

So… who’s with me???

Censorship in Australia

This post is a little off topic for me, but it’s focus is on a topic that should be close to the heart of any parent – freedom of speech. I recently watched an excellent documentary by Australian current affairs television program Four Corners. Called “Tremble and Obey”, it carefully compiled footage shot by ABC reporters in 1989 before, during and after the Tianamen Square Massacre, including recent interviews with people who were there. Much of this footage had been unreleased until recently.

Given 3 June was the 30 year anniversary of the Massacre, I guess they thought it was time to re-tell the story of what happened. I was a young teenager in 1989 and although I’d seen the famous “tankman” photo, I never really bothered to find out what had happened. Watching the footage shocked me. I still find it hard to understand how the Chinese government could open fire on it’s own people, most of whom where students, when they were engaged in peaceful protest to try and build a better country. The interviews show surviving students at the time were just as shocked as we would be if this happened today in Australia.

Being older now, and having heard more about the existing Chinese censorship which still makes the news regularly, I wasn’t quite as shocked to find that punishments following the Tianamen Massacre were so effective that many young Chinese today are either unaware it happened, are unwilling to talk about it, or have been conditioned to approve of it. That’s just awful, right?? Talk about censorship. You can watch the documentary below (it’s riveting viewing) or read their article here and form your own opinion.

Living in Australia, the “lucky country”, we’ve not really had to worry about censorship. But we do now! The day after Tremble and Obey aired, News Corp Australia journalist Annika Smethurst had her home raided. You see, over a year ago, a confidential source had leaked information to Annika which showed that the Australian government had secret plans to spy on its own citizens. Annika published the story, embarrassing a few officials. They did eventually change the laws around secrecy provisions and nothing else happened. Until the raid on 4 June. They’re trying to find Annika’s source, the whistleblower who revealed government misconduct, so they can prosecute and jail them.

Then yesterday, they raided the offices of the ABC, essentially Australia’s version of the BBC. This time they were looking to find the source of documents leaked in 2017, which talked about Australian special forces committing possible war crimes in Afghanistan. Obviously this one was a bit more embarrassing than secret plots to spy on citizens…. although it was two years ago.

John Lyons, the ABC’s Executive Editor and ABC News’ Head of Investigative Journalism live tweeted the raid. It was really interesting to “watch” it unfolding through my Twitter feed. Ah, technology! The search warrant covered thousands of files, and astoundingly gave the federal police permission to “add, copy, delete or alter” the ABC’s files. Seriously?? Yes… Read more here, here and here. There are way more articles out there if you want to search.

This is so worrying, on so many levels. Waiting for so long following publication of these articles before raiding the journalists responsible gives the lie to the claim that the federal police are acting on matters of national security. I am actually embarrassed on behalf of our country. Now we are known globally as the “world’s most secret democracy”. If we’re going to make a habit of jailing whistle-blowers, where will it end? Historical incidents such as the Tianamen Massacre remind us that we need to keep a check on our governments, if we want to retain the freedom of speech we value. I’m pleased to see that so many people are speaking up in outrage about Australian attempts at censorship, and I wanted to add my small part to the chorus.

What else should we do to ensure that our governments support democracy and freedom of speech?

No Wonder I’m Always Tired

I’ve been a single parent for 8 years now. They’ve been some of the best years of my life – and also some of the worst. My son is so full of energy that he often literally bounces instead of walking. Meanwhile, I feel progressively older, slower and more tired as the years go by. Did he steal all that energy from me? I’m thrilled that he’s got so much… but can’t he return just a little? With just a spark of that exuberant energy glowing inside me it would be so much easier to get through the never-ending lists of work, study and chores that I need to do.

It may shock you, but I’ve only recently realised that I spend a significant amount of time each week doing unpaid work. As the only adult in this family, I am solely responsible for household chores, gardening, and child care, not to mention entertainment and education – while also being on call 24/7.

I’ve not got the time (or energy!) to record how long I spend on these activities each week. I’ve been trying to find some stats online, but haven’t found anything definitive enough to satisfy me yet. The closest I can get are some 2006 statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which indicate that the average of unpaid work then was 25.23 hours per week. These details are here.

I am confident that I actually spend longer then 5.6 hours each week cooking and cleaning up meals – I mean, there’s breakfast, lunch and dinner every day and dishes for these too. I’m also confident I spend longer than 4.13 hours on child care – my son has learning difficulties and we probably spend this long just on homework. But, 25 hours of unpaid work per week is an okay estimate to work with.

It explains why I’m so tired. As a single parent, I’m also responsible for earning enough money to meet our needs. I receive social security benefits, but these aren’t enough to live comfortably on. For most people, these payments are enough to cover rent and food, but little else. I’m lucky enough to have cheaper rent than most, but they still don’t pay all our living expenses.

Centrelink (Australian social services) require single parents with a child over 8 to work or study a minimum of 15 hours a week in exchange for these inadequate funds. If you’re not working or studying, they ensure you attend regular appointments with them and look for work by threatening to cut off your payments. They can even force you into unpaid work experience if you are not “meeting your obligations”. It’s stressful and sometimes demeaning.

I live in a regional area. I’m lucky to have 2 days of part time work that fit around the need for me to take my son to and fro from school, but I haven’t found more work than that. With limited child care, school holidays can be… troublesome for work. So I’m also studying part time, to build myself a better future. More on that another day.

So… each week I do:

  • 25 hours of unpaid work
  • 8 to 10 hours of paid work
  • 16 to 20 hours of study

Yes, I’m busy for 49 to 55 hours every week, just to get all my study and chores done during the week and earn a small income to meet living costs. Essentially, I’m working 6 days a week to earn half the income I used to earn in 5 days a week. Even when I get uni holidays, I fill them with extra chores and work that need doing. It wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s going to be like this week after week after week (etc) for the next 8 years or so. It’s pretty depressing when you look at it like that. But it does explain… no wonder I’m always tired!

I’d like to leave you with a quote from the inspiring Professor Marilyn Waring – feminist economist, Nobel Prize nominee, former politician (the youngest ever politician in NZ parliament), author and currently Professor of Public Policy at Auckland University of Technology:

“Men won’t easily give up a system in which half the world’s population works for next to nothing”

Professor Marilyn Waring

Being permanently tired and constantly feeling unappreciated is turning me into an activist! Professor Waring also notes that in Australia, women undertake 72% of all unpaid work, with the bulk of this being childcare. And unpaid childcare is the single largest sector of Australia’s economy. Read the original article here. I also stumbled upon this 1995 documentary on this exact topic, which suggests that not a lot has changed in the last 25 years:

Who’s Counting? Marilyn Waring on Sex, Lies and Global Economics
Waring maps out an alternative vision, based on the idea of time as the new currency.

It’s obvious to me that we’re overdue for change! What do you think? Do you know how much time you spend on unpaid work each week?

Self Care Sundays

We all know that self care is absolutely critical when you’re a sole parent. After all, there’s no one else to take care of you. And if you run yourself into the ground then you can get sick or depressed, and of course this impacts negatively on your child and anyone else in your life. It’s not good for anybody.

I’ve always tried to make sure that at least some of each Sunday is given over to self care. It doesn’t always work! But when it does work, it can both make up for a hard week and prepare me for the week ahead. I think it’s been an instinctive part of my life for years, even in my carefree younger days. I just didn’t realise that it is a “thing”, until I found link on Pinterest to this great post:

57 Ideas for your Self Care Sunday Routine” by Rhiannon Day

Rhiannon’s post lists so many things that I already do on my Sundays! Even if I just fit one or two of these things in, like:

  • sleeping late
  • breakfasting in bed
  • walking the dog
  • yoga
  • meditation
  • gardening
  • diffusing essential oils

… it makes a difference to my life. On those rare days when I fit lots of these things in, it makes a HUGE difference to my life! Rhiannon also lists things I haven’t done, particularly one that my son would LOVE for me to do with him, “build the epic blanket fort of your dreams”. This will have to happen sometime soon!

In future posts I’ll be talking more about how I practice self care on a tight financial budget, and with little time to spare. But I’m not one for re-inventing the wheel, so for now I’m just going to refer you to Rhiannon’s post. It lists a lot of things which are actually easily achievable for single parents like me.

Do you practice self care Sundays – and if so, what are your favourite ways to spend them?

How I Taught my Son to let me Sleep Late on Weekends

I’ve always been a night person, not a morning person. It’s easier for me to stay up all night and watch the sun rising, than it is for me to go to bed early and leap out of bed in the morning. When my son was smaller I’d spend all day with him and then start working when he went to sleep at night, even if “working” was just doing household chores. As a single parent, it’s hard to get everything done in daytime hours when you’ve got a small child following you around demanding your constant attention.

When my son was little, say 3 years old, he started waking really early. Okay, I know “really early” means different things to different people. To me, it is like… 5:30am. I was not happy to have to crawl out of bed to supervise my son from this hour. Often it meant I’d only had 4 to 5 hours sleep. Not enough!! So I bought him a sleep training clock.

The one we settled on is a friendly looking elephant called “Mumbo” which makes calming ambient jungle sounds at the set wake-up time, instead of a loud beeping alarm sound. When you set it at night, it closes it’s eyes. When it’s time to wake up, it opens it’s eyes and makes it’s jungle noises. I simply set it for 7:00am and told him he had to stay in bed until Mumbo’s eyes are open. It took him a while to get used to it, of course.

To start with, he’d just get up whenever he felt like it. I had my own alarm set for 7:00am too. So if he was up and about too early, I’d just send him back to his bedroom. I told him that I didn’t mind if he played quietly in there, but that he had to stay in bed until Mumbo woke up. When he did stay in his room till 7:00am, I’d shower him with praise. It took months to work consistently, but work it did! For the past 5 years he’s slept until a respectable hour and not bothered me on the rare occasions he does wake up early. Mumbo saved my sanity!

In the last year or so, as he’s become more sensible and responsible, I’ve taken it a step further. When it was school holidays or the weekend and I knew I wanted to sleep late, I’d tell him I was tired and ask him to please let me sleep later, so that I wouldn’t be grumpy. I hate being grumpy with my child, but no doubt you know it’s hard not to be when running on little sleep. And when he did let me sleep late, I’d reward him with praise and treats like pancakes for breakfast or organising a friend to visit. Success!

I think it was the bribery that worked the best. Now I could sleep late most weekends if I want to. Of course, because weekends can still be busy we’re often up early anyway, getting ready to go somewhere or do something. But on those rare occasions when we have nothing planned, I love staying snuggled in bed and catching up on some of that sleep I missed during the week.

When I occasionally tell friends and family that I slept in until 10:00am, they are always astonished. Apparently this is not something that most parents of 8 year olds, single or otherwise, get to do very often. It wasn’t all smooth sailing. Plenty of times he let me sleep in, while making a massive mess of the kitchen or lounge room. But, in the end, it’s been worth it.

Do you ever get to sleep in? Please share any advice you have on how you get your child to cooperate.

Photo by Nikldn on Unsplash at https://unsplash.com/photos/qp7WA8AV2x0

The Internet is a Single Parent’s Friend

I’m so thrilled that I live in the internet age. There are so many things that I don’t know how to do! A good search engine has saved me many a time. Quick example…

Went for a quick walk yesterday with my boy and our dog. My boy took his bike along, as he so often does. He just loves racing around on that thing! Unfortunately, this time the chain came loose. I’m not really a bike person. I had no idea how to fix it on again. It wasn’t the end of the world, but neither of us wanted to walk the bike the 10 minutes home again. Luckily, I had my mobile in my pocket for emergencies just like this one.

A quick internet search found me multiple sources of instructions for how to quickly repair loose bike chains. I’m so rubbish at practical things like this that I couldn’t follow the first set I found. So I found a set with pictures. A few minutes later we were back on the road again (with my grease stained fingers). Hooray!

I’ve never been one of those useful people who knows all about practical things like bike chains and home repairs. I’m a reader and a dreamer, not a handyman. Now that I’m living on a tight budget with a curious child, I’m learning all sorts of new skills. I’ve repaired flyscreens, doors and cupboards. I even bought an electric drill a while back! I’ve only used it to install a doorstop and fix a powerboard to a cupboard so far, but I’m still proud of myself.

My son, of course, takes it for granted that I can do these sorts of things. No doubt he assumes that all mothers can. He has no idea how terrified I am about getting them wrong, especially when I have to learn how to do them on the fly. Thank you, internet, for helping me solve our problems myself and teaching me to be the best parent (and person) I can be. You’re awesome!

Has the internet saved you lately? If so, I’d love to hear about it! Please leave me a comment and share the details.

Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash at https://unsplash.com/photos/lQuWIesgs5Q