I admit that I find a lot of the discussions of parenting in the feminist blogosphere — which only seem to pop up when a prominent woman has, oh, anything to say about her kids in print — sexist and condescending. Mythago has this bit covered well in the comments at Pandagon, language about how women “pop out” or “shit out” kids, people who think children are more of an economic dearth than a possible pleasure, and the refusal to recognize that “kid-friendly” isn’t the opposite of “adults-only.”
Fellow feminists, I fucking hate the term “breeders,” and I’ll be goddamned if somebody attempts to tell me that they don’t hear that term used freely and often from those who work for the betterment of women’s lives.*
My identity is not defined by my parenthood, but my life is. Without a child I wouldn’t feel as obligated to work as much as I do, to avoid such debt, to secure meaningful assets, or to better myself or the world. I’m naturally one selfish wench who would rather not be bothered by real world ephemera, and I recognize that having my little one in my life makes me a better person even if he isn’t the only thing I strive for. As for other adults in my world, I hope that they have the decency to well-wish my child even if they don’t care for or love him. My parenting theory does not obligate a random adult to a stranger’s child, just hopes that they recognize that children are indeed little people who haven’t yet grown up and thus continue to make bad decisions.**
Not that I’ve turned into a philanthrope, mind you. I reserve the right to hate stupid adults.
Parenthood is no Hallmark card even if it is about legacy. We pass down the legacies of our experiences, our failures and successes, our environment and circumstances, our idiosyncracies and our greatest dreams, all of it, to our children, and this happens whether we are earth-mother hippies, corporate go-getters, or SAH Christian moms. Whether our children are enhanced or pinned in by these legacies, I suspect, we won’t know until it’s too late to go back. Our kids have their own experiences, they build their own legacies. And as Roseanne said, we all screw our children up in our own special ways.
In a nutshell, my theory of parenting roles is as follows.
Children: Little people making bad decisions.
Adults: Helping little people make less bad decisions.
Parents: Obligated to help, to the best of their ability, their little people make the best decisions they can.
During my brief tenure as a CASA there were several things that the mothers training alongside me had a difficult time processing, the idea that in order to satisfy the law we couldn’t impose our values on the children we were to look after. I remember one woman who thought that not having a phone in the house was a serious offense and another who thought that living in a house with a dirt floor automatically constituted neglect. My favorite was the one who maintained that teen mothers were inherently incapable of raising good children — I was twenty years old then with a two-year-old. Middle-class poverty-shock values imposed on all people who didn’t fit this mold or that, all volunteers white, all volunteers with the assets and time banks to afford the training to volunteer in the first place, me included. A lesson, that one. (Lesson two as a CASA, learning how to walk into other people’s homes while holding back my own shock and middle-class white values, learning that I wasn’t as unprejudiced and pure of heart as I thought, learning to hold back judgement in order to do the best for the children with whom I was charged.) I judged those women for implicating me as a bad parent, and oh, they judged right back.
At the end of that circle: all mothers tried, sentenced, and hung. No real abuse or neglect necessary. In the meantime, you’ve got a lot of kids hated on for having the audacity to not have grown up yet. Net effect on the little people, not so good.
My little person is going to leave for a week’s vacation with my family tomorrow and, instead of snuggling into his bed and dreaming of lakeside beaches and cool summer nights, is tossing in bed and singing his ass off in his best imitation of an operatic soprano. Contrary to those who think children are quite annoying (and they certainly can be) I think singing oneself to sleep like Miss Piggy is pretty cool. Good decision.
I call a truce. No more mommy drive-bys. In the absence of real danger inflicted on our children, we’re doing what we can to make our sometimes-charming, sometimes-irritating little people into productive and engaged big people and don’t deserve the extra shame and misogyny heaped on us by others who don’t have any interest in our lifestyles anyway. To each their own. How we raise our children — and how we feel about it — is always ripe for discussion, but I won’t pretend this mommy knows best.
* This coming from Shocker Girl.
** Don’t push the Itsy Bitsy Spider button eighteen times in a row.