Category Archives: feminist parenting

OK Parenting, OK?

I don’t try and manipulate my kids. No, not at all.

I really need to explain the piano metaphor of that last post, don’t I?

Contrary to how it appears, I’m not actually advocating hitting your kids over the head with a piano (although if you can lift a piano, kudos).

So here is a post I was convinced I’d posted yonks ago which would explain it nicely. Only I apparently left it in draft.

Belatedly, here it is. So do not blame piano-hitting-kids phenomenon on moi.

For all my blathering about parenting, I don’t write much about how I parent my kids, y’know, what kind of parent I am.

I’m not a very good one.

Which is to say, I’m OK, but far from fantastic.

And I’m OK with that.  Because I’m with Matt Ridley on this one.  And, ye gods, I hope Matt Ridley will forgive me for this mangling of his words, but in his book Nature via Nurture, he talks of studies done which suggest that whilst neglectful or abusive parenting may well alter gene expression (and personality) in your children, OK-ish parenting won’t.  There is no difference in terms of gene expression (and therefore personality) between OK parenting and super-dooper parenting.

Which is to say, whilst your child may not find out she’s a musical genius until adulthood because you didn’t give her private piano lessons from the age of three, unless you actively beat the kid over the head with a piano, she will still be a musical genius eventually.  That, naturally, is my own little example; can’t blame Ridley for that one.  Ridley actually says:

…truly terrible parenting can still warp somebody’s personality.  But it seems likely that…parenting is like vitamin C; as long as it is adequate, a little bit more or less has no discernible long-term effect.

Ridley’s book was published in 2003, so things may well have moved on.  But I am capable of nothing if not clinging to an idea when it suits me.

And it does suit me.  By letting myself off the hook of having to be ‘a perfect mother’, I can just get on with being the best mother I can be given all the circumstances.  Which is not to let abusive parents off the hook because underlying all those circumstances is an obligation not to be horrendous, of course.  But it does become a self-fulfilling prophesy; by allowing myself to relax and get on with it, mistakes and all, I am a much better mother than I would be if I spent my days chasing motherly perfection.

And the older my children grow, the more it suits me.  Because I realise more and more the limits – and the amazing power – of my influence on my children.  I am but one cog in the machinery of their lives, an important one for sure, but as long as I connect with all other cogs and don’t fuck up the whole machine by breaking down (or mis-cogging, or whatever the hell cogs do in a metaphor like this), I’m playing my part entirely satisfactorily.

Which is to say, OK parenting is actually OK.

So, seriously, you can stop beating yourself up about whatever you beat yourself up about doing wrong, OK? It’s not just me telling you this revolutionary stuff; it’s science. Not the kind of science that gets popular play in the Daily Male, of course. Not the ‘girls really do like to pick up dirty laundry more than boys – it’s genetic!’ type science.

But science nonetheless, and that’s good enough for me.

But then that’s the kind of person I am.


Gender your Children all You Want

Unlike gender, the piano is black and white.

Unlike gender, the piano is black and white.

And, just like when you tell them to stop writing on the table/using the sofa as Buzz lightyear’s landing space/kicking each other for fun, they will ignore you.

I love Pink is for Boys, a blog about how a family can rise magnificently to the challenge of parenting a kid who crosses gender boundaries with the alacrity of a chicken crossing the road. Talking about other gender-jumping kids:

‘I have so many people write to me privately from my blog, telling me their stories, some celebrating the luck of a new generation to be nurtured rather than shamed, others mourning their own painful childhoods.

‘Of the former boys who write me, some are gay, a few have transitioned, some are straight guys who like pink and nail polish.

‘Their parents’ responses to them did not affect who they turned out to be, only their sense of self-esteem, the amount of baggage they carry, and the length of their journey to healthy adulthood.’

This is what I was talking about.

You can hit your musical-genius kid over the head repeatedly with a piano and yes, you will succeed in stopping her from wanting to play it. Maybe even for a very long time. But eventually she will play the bloody piano.

And why would you want to stop her anyway?


How to Have Gender Non-Conforming Kids

Can I just point something out?

When I say ‘raising gender non-conforming kids is the frontline of feminist mothering‘, I mean that this is really what feminist parenting is.

If you raise your kids by feminist principles, you will have gender non-conforming kids.

Yes, you will.

And, no, not because you have ‘indoctrinated’ the poor sods with all that feminazi stuff like, oh, equal pay and mutual respect, but simply because you didn’t put them in a box and hit them with the freak stick every time they slid a finger out to try and fashion a breathing hole.

My children are in fact remarkably gender conforming, all things considered.

And by ‘all things considered’ I mean of course the vast, encompassing influences brought to bear by society, by advertising, by snotty kids who do live in boxes at home but unfortunately also get let out to go to school with my kids.

By ‘all things considered’ I mean that I have managed in some small, tiny way, to keep the box lid open, just a crack.

Just a crack, but  – hopefully? – enough to let them breathe.


Gender My Arse: Part III

Largely disgusted by approximately 98.7% of content on the Internet, I restrict my internet viewing to stuff that I like.

Which means my Internet reading is essentially a couple of news sites, and various feminist blogs with the odd site about raising gender non-conforming kids thrown in, because, well, because those sites are where my passions for feminism and child rearing kind of come together.

Because make no mistake: raising gender non-conforming kids is the frontline of feminist mothering. Nothing will test you as a feminist mother more than watching your children try to swim in the real-life waters off the coast of your island of theories.

And nothing has illustrated this better lately than this clip of bullying from ABC’s What Would You Do. I call it bullying because, baby, that’s what it is.

What makes this bullying appear so much worse than normal – so much worse that it can be hard to even see it as bullying – is that depicts a small child being bullied by adults. And not only by his/her mother (who was of course only an actress), but by random strangers.

If these people came across this kid and started beating the crap out of him because he wasn’t ‘behaving right’, we’d see it more clearly. What we see instead are these adults beating the crap out of him psychologically. He/she is being bullied for not ‘behaving right’ – for not keeping within the confines of his or her gender.

The concerned/disgusted looks, the sotto voce remarks, the general view mum has to ‘stop it now’. All of this tell the child clearly that he/she is not acceptable. That they are not acceptable as they are. That they must change.

And people will do this to a child on Halloween, for crap’s sake; the one night of the year when we are supposed to be dressed as ‘something else’.

I didn’t see it as bullying at first either. What called it out to me was the appearance of the wonderful Sally at the end. That, and the fact that I almost cried when she appeared simply because, finally, somebody did see what was happening and immediately showed compassion to the child.

It should not bring tears to my eyes simply to watch an adult respect a child as a human being.

Yet another reason why gender can kiss my arse.


However You Do It, It’s Wrong*

Motherhood, that is.

There are still some countries where you’re considered a success as a mother if you manage to keep a majority of your babies alive till their fifth birthday. Success in less dangerous countries is considered to be a slightly more complex affair. So complex in fact, that’s it’s virtually impossible to succeed at it.

As far as I can figure it, you have to be really, really rich – but only by virtue of having a really, really rich husband (and yes, he has to be a ‘husband’) because otherwise you’re obviously a ‘career’ woman (points deducted for that). You then have to devote yourself to your children’s lives sufficiently that you’re not considered remote, but not so much so that you can’t organise fund raising ‘galas’ for worthwhile charities. So, yes, you can have a nanny, but must still gush to OK magazine that you ‘do everything’ for your children.

That seems to be about the only way to ‘succeed’. The really important fact, of course, is the really, really rich part. You have to be rich enough to not give a fuck what anyone says.

But, oh, for the rest of us!

Well, the rest of you anyways. I’m not that rich but I still don’t give a fuck what anybody says about how I raise my kids. Honestly. I’ve tried and tried and I just don’t.

I think it has something to do with being completely outside any ‘mainstream’ philosophy of mothering. Being a feminist mother can do that to you, you see. Nobody bothers writing polemics attacking us specifically because, statistically-speaking, we’re a blip of no significance. Sheesh, most people have never even heard of us, never mind figured out ways to make us feel bad. Sure, I get attacked as a feminist and I get attacked as a mother, but as a marriage of the two? Nope.

I can talk mothering with anybody from a corporate-cruching career mother to a bonded-on-with-superglue attachment mother and find enough uncommon ground around raising kids that if I wasn’t already perfectly happy being the-weirdo-in-the-corner, I’d take it personally. But I am, so I don’t.

And as ‘feminist mothering’ is my over-riding thing about mothering, all the rest – breast or bottle, disposable or cloth, sling or pram, SAHM or working – is just so much background noise to me. I just don’t care that much because I don’t think it matters that much, at least not in terms of whether they make me a ‘bad mother’. Kids will grow regardless and will be, more or less, OK. It’s a cliche, but as long as you make your kids feel loved – and there are many different ways to achieve that – the rest is just gravy.

And I know that some will argue that all those ‘versus’ debates are as much a part of a feminist mothering philosophy as any other mothering philosophy, and I’d say that’s true. In a way. What, for example, could be more feminist than the debate around SAHM v. working mother? But I’m less concerned about the fact of whether I – or others – stay at home or work, and more concerned that my kids grow up with an understanding of why we have that debate – and why we don’t have a similar one about ‘working dads’ – and why it shouldn’t even be a debate.

My feminist mothering is more centred on a state of mind than anything else. You may say I’m wrong but – as you may guess – I don’t really care.

In short, I’m way more concerned about what goes on in their heads than what goes in their mouths or on their bottoms. And about how they understand why I do what I do, rather than what I actually do.

And I know that attachment mothers will tell me that their parenting is about their kids’ minds, too, fostering, they argue, emotional security. To which I say, yes, you might be right. And I know that critics of attachment parenting will tell me that such parenting is about creating over-dependent kids who can’t grow up. To which I say, yes, you might be right.

See how that works? Because I don’t really care, I can be that bloody blasé, but more importantly, I don’t know who’s right. Do you? Is it even possible to measure ‘right’ in such a way? For every person telling us they were kept in a sling till they were 12 and they’re perfectly fine, I’ll find you another telling us they never had a conversation with their career-mad mother till they were 17 and they’re perfectly fine, too. And vice versa, of course because people love to blame their parents for stuff, don’t they? That’s how Oprah made her millions, after all.

Seems to me it’s all a crapshoot, so you may as well just pay yer money and take yer choice. Because one thing’s for sure: we’re all making choices we think are right. And to me, that’s the best we can do. And, on a personal level, choices are ‘right’ if they for work for you and your family, even though politically such choices may have undesired ramifications.

Now before you think I’m getting all up myself without a stick, I don’t know if my feminist mothering will turn out to be right, either. Who knows, maybe Boogie will grow up to be a Page 3 ‘girl’ and L’il Boo will grow up to be Jeremy Clarkson. And then, oh, how we’ll all laugh!

But I do it because I think it’s right and I don’t give a flying fuck what anybody else thinks because they’re not going to be sitting beside me on the Jeremy Kyle show in 15 years time while my daughter tearfully recounts her Barbie-free childhood and the audience throws rotten tomatoes at me. Nope, that be just me in the single seat of shame watching L’il Boo hold his sister’s hand as he nods sagely before telling the story of the day he wanted to wear a dress and I let him.

*My apologies for this post which seems to swerve off in multiple directions in a distinctly direction-less fashion. It started out as a piece on attachment parenting and the current debate about it following the publication of Badinter’s ‘The Conflict’ and Pollitt’s piece about it on Alternet. But sometimes I just can’t stop myself from rambling streams of consciousness. You know how it is. I’ll focus eventually. Probably. Oh, and you should know that I’m not particularly happy with this post because it kinda says what I mean, but it kinda doesn’t. Live with it.

Interesting random fact about attachment parenting: the first time I ever heard of it was years ago when I caught a documentary on TV about it. The longest segment of the programme featured a group of attachment parents sitting around while their offspring gathered around tables in the middle of them undertaking an activity which seemed fairly untypical for toddlers. Had you asked me afterwards what attachment parenting seemed to be about, I would have replied, ‘Apparently, it’s about teaching small children to play with sharp knives.’ Because that’s what they were doing; cutting fruit and veg with kitchen knives. Actually, I understood even then that this was a fairly small part of the philosophy, but from the length of the segment – and the astonished-but-concerned tone of the commentary – you’d have thought it was the mainstay of the movement. Clearly, we were supposed to laugh at these weirdo parents with their zany and child-harming ways. I did laugh, but only at the producers for being such a bunch of morons.


How Feminism can Ruin Your Viewing Pleasure

Boogie can read. This has proven to be a mixed blessing; on the one hand, I don’t have to constantly read stuff for her, on the other, I can no longer tell her that the sign on buses of a wine bottle with a red line through it is a humorous way of telling passengers that no whining is allowed (wine, whine; see, hilarious, right Boogs?! Now quit it before the driver throws us off).

She can now, obviously, read adverts which means that even if we turn off the TV and go for a walk, she still gets ‘the wants’. Bummer, eh?

It’s a particular bummer when it comes to adverts for kids’ films, none of which, basically, I have any intention of actively letting her watch. I tell you, feminism sucks like a brand new Dyson.

Having weathered The Pirates phase, we’re now into the Top Cat phase.

Now, I have very fond memories of Top Cat. It was, as a child, one of my faves. Oh, the stupidity of Officer Dibble! The cutesy dimness of Benny! The wiley cunning of that loveable Top Cat!

Notice anything?

All male. Every frickin’ member of ‘the gang’ was male. The police officer was male. From memory, even the peripheral characters – butcher, shopkeeper – were all male.

Again from memory, females only made an appearance as ‘sexy’ cats, simpering and blushing and acting all come hither while Top Cat and the gang – tongues a’ hangin’ – wolf whistled at them.

What’s the betting that particular problem hasn’t been fixed in the new movie?

My hopes are not high.

So I should say: I did have very fond memories of Top Cat. Before I was reminded this week that it was just another shitload of patriarchal indoctrination designed to keep me in my fucking place.

Feminism doesn’t just ruin your life. It retroactively ruins your life. That’s some deep shit right there.

No, she ain’t watching it.

Postscript: Having skimmed this, it seems the film features the standard one, single, solitary female character allowable under patriarchal laws applying to kids’ films and she’s (yawn), the ‘love interest’. Radical, huh?


Shattered

I have been offline for almost three weeks and I wish I could say it was because I took a conscious decision to free myself from the chains of the constant stream of Internet information, but I didn’t. My period offline was forced on me by the total and utter ineptitude of a certain other (who shall not be named) and I still haven’t got over the shock.

But I’m back (I know! wow, how much you’ve missed my rancid pearls of ranty wisdom). And having been suffering severe information-deprivation, I’m now suffering from information-overload as my news feed flashes manically before melting under the weight of 3 trillion unread items.

Ah, I love the Internet.

One of the nice things about being cut off from the Internet is you remember that some pieces of information come in things called books. These pieces tend to be quite long, but often, the effort of reading to the end is well rewarded. Not something that can often be said for the Internet.

I’ve just finished reading Shattered: Modern Motherhood and the Illusion of Equality, by Rebecca Asher.

Before I go any further, I’ll just say this: Rebecca, when you step into someone’s head and steal their exact thoughts then write them down and sell them, at least give a credit, eh?

This woman has clearly been living in my head for long enough to acquire matching towel sets and a bowl of pot pourri.

Then I’ll say this: if you’re a mother, read it. If you’re nearly a mother, read it. If you’re ever thinking of becoming a mother, read it. If you’re a fully-paid up bride of christ, read it. Oh, and if you’re a man, read it.

Got that? Yes, that does mean you. Well, actually, that means you if you’re heterosexual and (generally) partnered. Though I’d suggest gay parents peruse it as well, just to make sure they don’t fall for the same shit we do. As for single mothers, if you’ve managed to actually carve out enough time to read a book for pleasure, you’re more incredible than I thought, so you can do what you please. If you share the care of your children in any way with the father, I’d still suggest you read it, but hey, if you’d prefer to spend a couple of hours reclining with a cat licking your toes instead, feel free.

I’m not suggesting it’s a ground-breaking book. Actually, it seems to me it was a doddle to write. The bulk of the book is made up of quotes from mothers, all saying, essentially, ‘I love my kids, but “motherhood” sure sucks like a big sucky lollipop.’ And how hard could they have been to find? And then Asher finishes off by saying motherhood shouldn’t suck and here’s how we make that happen.

It’s genius in its simplicity and yes, I certainly do wish I’d thought of writing it first.

The real genius of the book, of course, is that it takes what you’re thinking and makes it universal. These mothers’ words – all of them – could quite happily have come straight from my own lips.

And it all just reminded me of a conversation I had a while ago with a friend of mine – a designer who has always worked independently from home – who was talking about how fortunate it was that she’d chosen a career which was compatible with having children. She then added something to the effect of: and girls need to be told that they also need to choose a career which is compatible with having children. Somewhat shocked, I replied that what we needed to do was change the fact that so many careers were incompatible in the first place, not lock out girls from such jobs.

Fortunately, I have nice, intelligent friends.

‘Of course we do,’ she said, but the situation isn’t going to change anytime soon. Meanwhile, we tell girls to aim high, enter into all these high-flying, intensive careers without bothering to tell them that they’ll be totally fucked over if they have kids. We’re lying to them and it should stop.’

After reading Shattered, I can only agree more than I did at the time. Asher talks at length about the cost to society as a whole (and yes, child-less people, that includes you) of highly educated women dropping out of the workforce only to re-enter it, if they do so at all, in jobs for which they are entirely over-qualified but which have become attractive to them simply because they’re compatible with their child care responsibilities. Society apart, the loss to these women of what they thought was equality with their male partners, is profound and tragic.

This is the problem when we pay lip service to female equality without backing it up with anything meaningful. It would be a brave person indeed who suggested that all careers advice to girls at school include a segment on which careers to avoid if they intend on having children (which could be a bullet point list or, more simply, consist of the statement ‘Any job which carries both prestige and a hefty wage packet’). That, we’d all agree would be regressive in the extreme, wouldn’t it?

But by not giving this advice to our daughters, we are lying to them. We are ignoring the great big trumpeting elephant in the room of their lives. They won’t realise it until they do actually have children; until that point, they will believe themselves to be – give or take the odd 13% or so – equal to the menfolk in their lives.

Then the baby will come along and they will drop out of their careers to care for it and they will understand from the moment they even think about going back to work – even if they go back to exactly the same job – that equality is a joke. They, not the baby’s father, will be asking for flexible working, will be going part-time, will be pushed off the promotion track, will suffer ‘working mother’ guilt, will be discriminated at work by disgruntled colleagues, will be taking days off to care for sick children, will be leaving early to do the school run, will be spending work time organising child care, dental appointments and other ‘home and child’ activities, will, in short, be taking on the whole burden of having children.

The father, meanwhile, as far as his working life goes, will barely notice he has kids.

I generalise somewhat of course. Fathers do sometimes share the care of their children. Families throughout the country cobble arrangements together which include fathers providing primary childcare. But as Asher’s interviewees make clear, even then, the division is never equal: overall responsibility for the fact of children remains with the mother. Hands up who’s ever heard of a (heterosexual, partnered) father noticing, without prompting, that his son needs new underpants and then, without prompting, actually taking time out of his day to buy some? And if such a creature exists, has he done all of that without expecting brownie points for doing so?

Currently, when she grows up, in addition to her desire to have babies, Boogie’s dream is to play football for a living. For Barcelona (what can I say? the girl aims high). And, yes, I have gently pointed out that the team she loves so much (‘it is absolutely the best team in the whole world’) is made up entirely of men. Whilst I have no wish to destroy a small child’s dreams, I felt that basic fact needed saying.

Where I haven’t gone, however, is what that really means for her. Barcelona probably has a women’s team; let’s assume for the minute it has. So she could play for Barcelona, in theory. But gone are the stadiums full of people, gone is the worldwide adulation of athletes at the top of their game; gone, more importantly, is the money. The career. As things stand, she will have to get a ‘proper’ job and one which allows her sufficient time to fit in enough training to be good enough in the first place to make the team. So no high-paying, long-hour job then. A ‘good enough’ job, so she can play football for love.

And the non-paying football will, my dear Boogie, be the first casualty of you having children, which you profess to want to do. Free time, especially for you, the mother, will become short to non-existent. The hours of dedicated training required to keep you at the top will disappear.

I’m not going to lie to her. But how do you tell a six year old that her future, on some very fundamental level, is going to suck?

I have this fucking problem all the time.


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