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We All Need Somebody to Lean (On Us)
Your stories of asking others to depend on you
I’ll be travelling next week to speak at the de Nicola Center’s Fall Conference. This year’s theme is “And It Was Very Good:” On Creation. My presentation is titled “Women-Annihilating Transhumanism” and draws heavily from my piece on tools for maternity in Comment (“Designing Women.”)
I’ve gotten a little behind on reader roundups, and I enjoyed getting to reread your comments on “Don’t Free Me from My Family.”
In a previous post, I recommended an essay by Eve Tushnet, which drew on her work in a crisis pregnancy center. She wrote:
[T]here is no way to talk about abortion in America without talking about the suffering, shame, and guilt caused by the belief that it’s wrong to have a baby when you’re poor. When do you have enough money and security to earn the right to have a child? You aren’t supposed to get married before you’re financially stable; you aren’t supposed to have a baby before you’re financially stable. Who, exactly, are poor people allowed to love?
In response to Eve and my own reflections, I asked you for your thoughts about how we can give people what they need to take on obligations to others, rather than try to free them from others.
I also asked: Outside of parenthood, what are the best ways to choose to be depended on? (Especially for someone in their teens or twenties).
Abby is looking for ways to be of service while in school:
I'm looking forward to reading these responses because I've struggled with feeling unable to articulate my desire to be depended on. I moved to a new city relatively recently for law school and find the stark lack of any network of care/dependency so isolating. I spend a lot of my time with my academic cohort, and my colleagues really prize self-sufficiency. I've asked friends and peers for help before, but haven't had many opportunities to have anyone need my help, despite a conscious effort to proactively offer it. The "freedom" to be completely in control of my own schedule and concerned about only myself feels more like a prison. I've become more conscious about organizing my days around prayer or the church calendar as a way of freeing myself from so much self-determination.
When I give talks on Other Feminisms themes, one piece of advice I give is for attendees to ask for help with something within the next week. Ideally, something you could manage on your own, but are choosing to ask for help with.
A small favor can open a path for a bigger ask. Once someone has helped you with a small thing, it may be easier to believe that you won’t despise them for asking for help with a bigger thing.
Erin saw some new options open with pandemic changes:
I've found the shift towards a hybrid or virtual work environment to be colossally useful in my/my family's ability to respond to people who need me. I can reshuffle my workload (or take it on the road) in case of things like a birth or death; as long as I meet my deadlines, nobody really cares when the work gets done. But that still only addresses being present or available or leaned-on in major times; I haven't really found a way to do that in minor ones, not lately and not in person.
In college I developed a reputation as the Mom Friend; I usually had a small first-aid kit on hand (very useful when everyone's favourite time to wield X-acto knives is 2am) and something to eat to offer. (Or at least coffee.) I was also a shoulder to lean or cry on if the girl you liked didn't like you back, or dumped you, or liked your friend, or so forth -- but this was all for my peers. The very structure of universities makes it difficult for undergrads to be part of the bigger society around them.
I’ve definitely benefited from more flexible work (which was also the thinking behind piecework as a way to support a family without having to work outside the home).
As a single man in my mid-twenties, I rejoice in being able to help my married friends by picking up their children from school when mom and dad both have to work, or serving as a sort of spiritual father-figure for kids whose biological father isn’t in the picture anymore. Conversely, because I live alone and am sometimes lonely, my married friends have given me a standing invitation to come over to their houses. They get help with the craziness of raising little kids, and I get companionship and a glimpse into family life which (God-willing) will one day make me a better father and husband than I would be without it.
(People had a lot of follow up questions about carseat management).
I think is particularly lovely to read from a man, since it’s much easier to be trusted with a child as a woman than a man. I’ve never hired a male babysitter or known of one to hire, though we have had guy friends babysit just to help us out.
Especially while I was single and while I was married but having repeated miscarriages, it meant so much to me to be invited into other people’s families for relationships with kids. I always make sure to ask visiting guy friends if they want to hold the baby, since I think they get to do it a lot less often.
I’ll give the final word to Stephen Sondheim and Raul Esparza. Sondheim’s musical Company is an exploration of marriage. Bobby, the protagonist, is a witness to his friends’ imperfect marriages, and often asks what, exactly the point of. At the close of the show, he rebuffs the offer of an affair that comes from an older, married friend. She tells him not to worry, “I’ll take care of you.”
“But who will I take care of?” he replies. Cue the closing number.