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This is an interesting way to think about household dynamics and how we approach the problems, conflicts, and solutions we encounter in everyday living.

 

 

“Imagine the household model as a system of pulleys and ropes. Those ropes are tightened (creating tension) or loosened (creating slack) based on material inputs, changes in life direction or needs, and other factors. If you get hung up on the specificity of pulleys, then just think of the household as an abstract system of interrelated slacks and tensions. The goal isn’t to accumulate slack and avoid tension; it’s to find a balance between surplus and utilisation for the whole system. We’ve learned that a household that can hold itself in balance and is prepared to sustain periods of imbalance is a healthy household. What you want to do is hold this balance and make the flows of resources something you can control.

One element of household design is managing the flows. Everyone possesses a hierarchy of slacks and tensions, and we bring those into our households. We can venture this maxim: Households run best when they are organised around the hierarchy of slacks and tensions of people in the household. No household looks the same as any other because each values things differently, but every household runs better when everyone in it shares the same sense of what’s important. In our case, we currently need a lot of slack in order to care for children, which requires more time and emotional energy, and we agree about working a bit less than full-time to get it.

When our older son turned 18 months and finally started sleeping through the night, Misty asked Michael when he would be ready to think about a second child. We can’t, he said. It would take all the remaining slack out of our system, and then some. No functioning system can operate without slack (in other words, at full tension) for very long. That’s one way to describe actual poverty: grinding stresses and the absence of any surpluses. That’s why it damages people, marriages, dreams. But the tension created by having a child is partly a function of how old they are. A needy infant makes you sleepless and fretty for weeks, stretched to the breaking point – until your baby smiles at you. As they grow up, the system gets more slack: the end of diapers and car seats, self-feeding, full-time school, independent playdates and sleepovers. One day you wake up and find that the rope has been let out in small enough increments that you didn’t notice along the way, but now there’s discernible looseness.

This piece from Aeon Magazine written by Misty-Mclaughlin and Michael Erard has a definite middle class sensibility and expectations around it, but I think it may be a useful heuristic model to think about.

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