How to Have an Opinion

English: Dictionary indents. Français : Marque...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

I’ve learnt an awful lot, in the way of facts and vocabulary, since I entered the world of parenthood.

Who knew a pregnant woman’s blood volume increases by around 40 per cent? Heavens! Among the contraptions I didn’t know existed are breastfeeding pillows (highly recommended) and bowls that suction to the table-top (ditto – though SBJ is stronger than the suction now, sadly).

And I’d never noticed the ‘Mummy Wars.’ Parents – in fact, most adults – have always had strong opinions about how to raise children, but not until recently has Western society developed such a kaleidoscope of divergent philosophies. And now we get to argue about things not just with our mothers and playgroup parents but also with the whole internet.

Most of us will have read blog comments full of surprising nastiness. It’s not news that anonymity seems to encourage poor behaviour online.

So, the Mummy or Mommy Wars. Even among people who are polite and civil in their online dialogue, it turns out it’s really, distressingly common for parents (yes, mostly mothers, but not exclusively by any means) to imply or even just say that their way is the only right way to raise children. Oh, and if you’re doing something different (breastfeeding, bottle-feeding, working, not working, smacking, time-outing, pretty much anything) then probably your child will turn out to be a psychopath and it will be your fault. And I mean that in a spirit of helpfulness.

Presumably we’re all just so worried at how difficult and overwhelming the task of caring for children is that we have to fight off criticism with whatever sharp stick is lying around handy.

I won’t encourage anyone by giving examples or linking to the kinds of places where parenting conversations turn bitter. There are plenty of places, like here, I hope, where they don’t. We aim here for civility and generosity in our disagreements and differences, and so far, I think we’re doing swimmingly. But it’s not easy, even here.

Little Housewife

Little Housewife, 1854, Johann Georg Meyer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As well as general advice to just be a nice person online, I thought this article from the always brilliant blue milk gave another excellent reason not to criticise other people’s parenting.

They’re doing a hard job. And they’re not being paid.

Since I read the article, excerpted below, I’ve found that bearing this in mind has softened my (naturally self-righteous) attitude a number of times.

If feminism, in approaching the unresolved question of mothers, does not recognise that motherhood is messy and emotional and diverse and political then it has missed the mark. It is important not to try to over-simplify mothers, not to stereotype them and not to ignore that their tasks are real work. Again and again in my writing I try to emphasize that last point, because I suspect much of the hostility towards mothers, including between mothers, would fade if we just understood that mothers are people trying to do a job and it’s consuming and tiring. It is difficult to imagine we would be bothered with The Mummy Wars if we were mobilising around the exploitation of unpaid care in our economy instead.

Because how ludicrous, how shameful, how utterly trivial our judgements of a teenage mother suddenly become with this one acknowledgement – that she is working, that it is hard work and it is for no pay and no recognition. Or our judgements of a mother with a disabled child having an outburst in public; or a mother breastfeeding her toddler; or a mother trying to help her teenage child with their drug addictions; or even, a mother blogging. (Oh, you want to tell me how I should do my unpaid work more to your liking? Fabulous, do tell). It sometimes helps to remember that even the most privileged mother is occasionally woken in the middle of the night by her sick toddler and sits bolt upright in bed, bleary-eyed and shivering in the dark, to catch vomit or shit in her bare hands. It may take some of the sting out of her, apparently, selfish lifestyle.

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0 comments on “How to Have an Opinion”

  1. AHLondon (@AHLondon_Tex) Reply

    Love Blue Milk, but find it odd that I didn’t get to this post through her. No significance, just odd for me. On substanance, yes the parenting debates are hot, and FYI the Mommy Wars are much hotter than the Mummy Wars. Contending with that was the worst reverse culture shock I had when we moved back to the US. But I don’t think it has much to do with lack of respect for unpaid work, or at least not the way BM argues. Lack of respect for anything domestic–women are taught to do more with themselves–means that we don’t have much experience with anything domestic by the time we become mothers. As good feminists we aren’t even supposed to do anything domestic, but we the young have pushed back hard on motherhood. It was far more compelling and time consuming that we were led to believe.
    The upshot of all of this is that we are insecure and defensive about motherhood. So we want others to do it our way because if we are all doing X then we must be doing it right. We seek endorsement through consensus.

    • Angela Reply

      “Lack of respect for anything domestic–women are taught to do more with themselves–means that we don’t have much experience with anything domestic by the time we become mothers.”

      Yes I went to am all girls school where academic achievement and future professions were HIGHLY rated. How strange that in an environment where, I don’t know, 90% of us were going to become mothers, not once, not anywhere did anyone ever talk with us about pregnancy, motherhood, managing small children, juggling career plans with families, changing nappies, feeding a family. Not an even for 1 measly hour at the end of 6th form when noone has anything to do. The whole topic was completely ignored. I’m sounding resentful. I think I am. Not only does it leave me less prepared for motherhood, it also makes what I do now feel completely un-valued by the school.

  2. Angela Reply

    I wish we were in a place where we could all talk about our different ways of doing things, and even question each others decisions, simply to learn more for ourselves and to hone our own skills or find new ways of doing things. But we can’t seem to do this without the criticism alarm bells ringing.

  3. Pingback: A Patchwork Parenting Manifesto « sacraparental

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