On freedom, parenting and prison.

The things you forget…

Here’s another thing I didn’t anticipate when I gave up work for six months.  After a while, you forget what Monday morning is like for everyone else.  You forget what weekends are for.  You forget how working for someone else, to their agenda, can grind you down.  All these things I used to know, but I’ve lost them in the gap between the rigid parental responsibilities I have, and the freedom to structure my day however I want.

I used to work in the Probation Service, and one of the functions of that organisation is to make people who have been convicted of a crime serve punishments in the community – community service work, or education classes, drug treatment courses, anger management courses, electronic tags etc.  Prison is the obvious alternative to this community-based punishment and there is a perennial argument about the relative merits of community based punishments versus incarceration.

One of the most seductive ideas I heard in relation to this was the fact that prison is easy to cope with, because it is a total paradigm shift.  Once you are over the initial shock of being locked up and deprived of your freedoms, you (as a highly adaptable animal) will cope.  The old stresses and routines of your outside life are completely removed, replaced with highly regimented routines into which you settle. Prison replaces your life totally.

But contrast this with a community-based punishment, which interrupts your life consistently, but does not replace it totally.  You have your daily life to lead, but with extra responsibilities – you have to spend 300 hours doing community work on your weekends, you have night-courses to attend, you might have to wear an electronic tag and be at certain places at certain times.  This is hard.  Its is a restriction of freedom which requires some resilience to cope with, whereas prison removes the concept of freedom from your life so totally that you don’t even need to worry about it.

Being a full time, stay at home parent is like being in prison in that the paradigm shift is total.  Being the working parent is like being given a community punishment – you have to fit in the child-rearing stuff around your normal life.

introducing a child in to the world also has an effect on your personal freedom. Now I’m in “prison” I’ve forgotten how hard it can feel to fit in the extra child-caring commitments in to a regular day.  My wife gets up and goes to work, and in just 8 weeks I’ve forgotten what that does to you.  Adjusting to being a full time parent is not without it’s challenges, but once your kid is past 3 months, the days aren’t hard at all.

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