Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Media, Competitive Parenting and other stuff

If you were anywhere near a computer, television or magazine stand in the last two weeks, chances are you saw the deliberately provocative TIME magazine cover of a woman breastfeeding her almost 4-year-old son while he stood on a chair, looking scared out of his mind because he knew what he was in for when he turned 10 or so.  There are 2 things we all know: the internet is forever and children are relentless when it comes to making fun of others.  So he can thank his mother now for the ridicule and the therapy in the years to come. 

But it was an image that sparked 1000 discussions about a whole gamut of parenting issues.  The article itself was focused on Attachment Parenting of which breastfeeding as long as possible is one of the main tenets.  Articles and TV/Internet commentary that spun out of it also brought up the phenomenon of competitive parenting, feminism's new role in parenting, how parents do what best for them (not their kids) and on and on and on.  To be clear, there are very few things that hit a nerve like judging someone else's parenting choices.  But some people didn't take the article and ensuing controversy seriously at all as evidenced by the picture below.  This is my favorite spoof that I've seen so far: undeniably bad-ass and irreverent.

Artist:  Seivewright 
There you go. Alien Mother is definitely Mom Enough.  

I'll admit, I'm relatively new to parenting and I only have one child at this point so I am intrigued as a participant and a spectator about how easy it is to get swept up in the "parenting-as-a-competitive-sport" wave.  From another TIME article called "How Feminism Begat Intensive Mothering," there is one passage that stood out to me:
They [educated, affluent, older moms] want to make their sacrifices mean something. If they’re giving up so much to raise this new human, they’re going to make sure the kid is raised like a blue chip stock price.
That passage made me pause.  Is that me, I wondered?  I too left a lucrative career in hi-tech to have children in my late 30's and focus on the Groundhog's Day-like pattern of playdates, preschool and potty training.  My logistical expertise and project management instincts still yearn to fire up and what better focus than the progeny I watch over every day.   Despite my Asian heritage, I'm no Tiger-Mom though I'm not so loose as the Free Range Kids mom who let her 10-year-old traverse the NY subway alone.  But then I realize I have to give up long held assumptions about praise after reading the intuitively contrary Nurture Shock then cross reference our belief system (or rather non-belief) in the secular guide Parenting Beyond Belief.  With all this reading, it could be a college course, nay, a college degree.  Parenting as a major!  Wouldn't that be something?  Oh wait, did I just prove the author's point?

Anyway, my friend Sarah made a good point about moms/parents taking responsibility for what they accept from the media.  While media can be held accountable for causing part of the neurosis about "doing the right thing" or being a "good enough" parent, the other part of the equation is the parent or mother who internalizes it and is victim to it's suggestive and subversive message.  It's like the media wants to keep people uncertain, fearful and recriminating. What sells magazines, doesn't necessarily serve parents.  So thoughtful reflection and evolving consideration are needed for raising self-assured, independent, productive humans who can handle interpersonal relationships without the crutch of mom and dad.  It's totally natural to be unsure but it is ultimately up to you the parent to stand up and live it.

One thing I am struck by when my Mom and I compare parenting stories, is how often she says, "In those days we didn't know as much as you do now..."  Sounds like in the 70's, they didn't have all the issues and details we find commonplace in raising children--whether it be food, safety, interpersonal relations, self-esteem, schooling...whatever.  It's also sounds like they didn't worry so much and just did their best then let us sort out the rest.  Maybe it was because that generation of moms was really coming into their own with the rise of feminism/equality so they split focus to their own development & self-fulfillment.  Or maybe it's because they didn't live in a world so saturated with information, opinion and contempt for one another.  Or maybe subconsciously our generation feels a bit insecure in our parenting abilities so we over-compensate.  All I know is at no time in history did parents spend as much time with their children as now though I'm not sure if kids are better for it.  Liz Moyer at the Wall Street Journal thinks too much attention could produce a generation of control freaks--so there's always that. 

Finally, there's Kristen Howerton at the Huffington Post who says to skip all this competitive bullsh*t and self-examination purgatory about what you do or don't do as a parent because some kids don't even HAVE parents to worry about them.  Boom!  So yes, that has a way of putting this all in perspective, I guess.  I do take one exception to the "live and let live" parenting creed.  And that is vaccines.  I believe in science and doctors, scientists & the CDC.  So I have no sympathy for voluntarily non-vaccinated or alternative schedule folks.  Especially not with a whooping cough epidemic ripping through this area and certainly not when Washington State is the highest state in the nation for non-vaccinated or alt vaccinated kindergartners.  I cannot abide.  I simply cannot.  Unless that parent wants to home school and keep that child out of society forever.  But I digress.

So far as I can tell, being a parent is balancing confidence with humility and facts with faith (in one's self).   It wouldn't be such a hot button issue if we didn't care so much.  Propagation of the species is fundamental and one of the guiding instincts of our existence but it's not so simple as evidenced by all the noise...and the TIME magazine cover.

1 comment:

Shonda said...

LOVE this post, Kali!