Monday, 7 May 2012

Never Mind Feminism, Let's Challenge our Anti-Child Attitudes!

The discussion continues this week about feminist writer Elizabeth Badinter's book, The Conflict, which, amongst other things, is critical of the way attachment parenting 'tethers women to the home and family'. It doesn't really surprise me in the slightest that a style of parenting that often places the needs of children first and those of adults second is coming under fire, in a culture that acclaimed analyst Elizabeth Young-Bruehl has recently dubbed, 'childist'. Even the debates about Badinter's book and its implications for motherhood and feminism seem to be completely devoid of any mention of children's needs, rights or perspective.

Children in our world are frequently portrayed as 'difficult', 'naughty', 'trouble', an impediment to adult enjoyment and progress, destroyers of careers and social lives, even 'the enemies of good art'. As parents we are often encouraged to view our relationships with our children as a place of conflict, in which we must 'pick our battles' and keep the upper hand. But this is all 'made up stuff', and, once we realise this, we can either accept it, or reject it as just another attitude, concept or construct. We can wriggle out of its grasp and run free, liberated to see our children not as 'enemies', 'devils' or 'little monsters', but as fellow humans with whom we can have a rather wonderful time.

Here are a few of the more obvious 'anti-child' attitudes I have noticed; you might like to dispute them or even add your own in the comments below...

Are they a Good Baby?
New mothers hear this question all the time, and often wonder how they are supposed to answer, especially if, like most babies, their child is not 'good' in the sense that they cry, nurse often, and wake frequently at night. The question suggests that, right from the start, a child who vocalises their needs and disrupts the lives of adults is 'bad', and a problem that needs to be fixed. Enter the 'baby trainers' - a whole library of 'experts' who will advise you on all manner of methods designed to discourage your child from 'manipulating' you into twenty-four-hour responsiveness.

Are they sleeping through yet?
Research indicates that a baby or small child to sleep through the night is an entirely unrealistic expectation. And yet we continue to ask this question and perpetuate the myth that a baby should be able to do this from an early age and than one who isn't is problematic and needs training. Co-sleeping is often declared dangerous and discouraged, leaving a mother struggling to get up and down all night to attend to her baby. The focus of advice, (such as this one, the worst I've ever seen!) is most often on the adults discomfort at being woken several times each night. They are therefore usually advised to place the baby some distance away and become less responsive to their cries. This may or may not fix their sleeping 'problem', but what's in it for the baby?

A Rod for your Back...
Parenting choices that are child centred are often described as ways of 'making a rod for your back'. For example, responding to your child when they are distressed, saying yes if your child indicates that they would prefer not to sleep alone, nursing on demand...indeed any behaviour that indicates that the baby or child is being given a say in how they would like to be treated. Our culture discourages parents from meeting children's needs in this way, suggesting that this will only lead to the child dominating the parent. Fear of allowing a child to 'be in charge' or 'take over' often encourages parents to ignore both their own instincts and their child's requests, and move away from democracy towards dictatorship.

Getting your Life Back...
New mothers are bombarded with messages and imagery that suggest that their lives can and should return to 'normal' as soon as possible after the arrival of their baby. Nothing epitomises this better than the current trend for celebrities to hit the red carpet within weeks of giving birth, proudly displaying figures that are just as slim and toned as they were pre-baby. They are rarely seen to have their new baby with them; it is as if the child, and all evidence of them, has been erased. Women who are not celebrities are similarly encouraged to emulate them by losing weight, weaning early, and returning to social life / work as soon as they can. The child is quite literally invisible here - all the emphasis is on the wants and needs of the adult.

Happy Mother = Happy Baby
This phrase is often used to suggest that it is right and beneficial for a mother or parent to put their needs first. Everything from time away from your children, to leaving your baby to cry it out so that they sleep through the night, is justified and excused by the concept that anything that makes the mother happy will naturally have a beneficial impact on the child. The language of this little phrase betrays a world in which the needs of the adult are given full priority. Rarely, if ever, do we hear the words inverted: A happy child = a happy mother.

Time-Out on the Naughty Step...or worse...
As babies reach toddlerhood, the language of conflict and struggle only worsens. Often popular culture encourages us to feel that a battle of wills is underway, that we as the adults must win at all costs. We are pitched against our children, and if they defy us, or find that their young brain has trouble inhibiting their behaviours, we are told that we 'must not let them get away with it'. Techniques such as the 'naughty step' are used on very small children who have little or no concept or understanding of cause and effect, often isolating and humiliating a child at the very time they need love and guidance the most. Worse still, smacking / spanking is still considered by many to be an acceptable parenting approach.

Me-Time
Parents, especially mothers, are often told that it's important to have time away from their children, to 'be themselves', or have 'me-time'. Whilst it's true that in all relationships it is healthy to follow your own interests, and maintain your own identity, the current emphasis on 'me-time' again perpetuates the idea that time spent with children is undesirable and that what every woman should really want is to lie on a beach alone drinking cocktails. Mothers who aren't so bothered about having 'me time' are accused of losing themselves and living their lives through their children. Worse still, the 'me-time' conversations often take place in the presence of the children themselves. How must they feel, to be talked about in this way, as if to get away from them is the pinnacle of their parent's ambitions?!


Women reading this might well know the answer to that final question, since in living memory it has been acceptable for a man to refer to his wife - 'ball and chain', 'her indoors' or 'trouble and strife' - in this way. In all our debates about modern feminism, let's not forget what it feels like to be a second class citizen, to be discriminated against, to be treated with disrespect and little regard for our needs. All struggles are mostly psychological. As soon as we change our mindset, the rest quickly follows. Let's change our attitude to children, and put an end to yet another 'conflict'.


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42 comments:

  1. Funnily enough I had a 'conversation' with my father about this sort of thing recently. He wondered if perhaps I was 'too focussed on motherhood to the exclusion of other things' The other things he was referring to were animals!!!!! He had noticed that I didn't seem to love the cat like I used to!!!! So children even come second to pets!
    He also added that he was worried about me being wasted at home and I needed to make sure I wasn't becoming lost in motherhood! Anyway he got a serve about our child hating society and how it is more socially acceptable to have your dog in bed with you rather than your child and no wonder everyone keeps talking about how screwed up and angry kids are today with the treatment they get from birth etc etc. I then lectured him for a few hours on the importance of mothers and the need for motherhood to be reclaimed. I was so angry! I don't think he will mention it again.... :)

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    1. Laughing out loud at your comment about the dog!
      I wish I had been there to hear your lecture x

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  2. HEAR HEAR! I think that all the points you bring up are fabulous and cannot wrap my brain around explaining in a coherent manner how much I love this awesomsauce post. So I will let it speak for itself and share with EVERYBODY.

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  3. This is my absolute favourite post you have ever done. I know I have said it before, but I admire your writing ability, and the issues you highlight are revolutionary (in mainstream terms anyway) and brave. It really is about time that children are seen as real people who deserve to have their needs met. Children don't ask to be born, they don't owe their parents anything. Being brought up properly shouldn't be seen as "new age" or a privilege - it is a right. This world has NEVER known a populace who were trusted and nurtured as children, and it scares me how ingrained these attitudes are, even amongst the most intelligent people. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this matter - I wholeheartedly agree with you.

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    1. Thank you very much for your lovely comment Alex and for your ongoing support of my writing, it is much appreciated. x

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  4. I am very lucky to have a very supportive loving mum. Her one piece of advice to me when I embarked on becoming a mother myself was. You can not spoil a baby. So very true. My little girl has thrived on all the love and attention that my husband and I give her. We adore her and have loved every minute of her being a baby.looking forward to watching her grow from a toddler to a child. I will remember reading this when ppl give me such advice like, making a rod for your back, put her into time out, you need some me time etc thanks for sharing your thoughts- nice to know other ppl are like minded.

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    1. And nice to know that you will be giving your child unlimited love, Anon! Enjoy! x

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  5. This was wonderful! At 25 weeks pregnant, I'm dreading the impending doom of arguments ahead. I hope when the time comes I'll be able to remain and calm, cool and collected as you have. And I'll be stealing that dog line from the commentor above! Priceless!

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    1. Good luck with your birth and new baby E.A.H. I hope it all goes well for you and have no doubt that you will be a fab mother! And yes, if all else fails, you can't go far wrong with that dog line! x

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  6. I love it when the same people that winced when I would attend, hug, kiss and nurture my baby remark on how happy, brave, strong and fearless he is. Now I'm expecting #2 very soon, and I bought him a baby doll to prepare for the new arrival. It makes my heart GLOW that he immediately held the baby softly, petted her head, rocked her gently and hugged her close. Even though my kid is as rough and tumble as they come, he has learned that babies are to be treated in a soft and loving way. :O)

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    1. That is nice Anon!
      It's funny though how many commenters are talking about how they have to defend 'being loving to their kids'. That depresses me slightly, but also make me glad I wrote this post! x

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  7. Time to myself is very important. And I'm not asking for days, sometimes 15 min to decompress is all I need. And I REFUSE to be made to feel bad about that. I love my kids and I'm extremely devoted to them. But I am my own person, and if I don't take care of myself, no one will.

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    1. I completely agree Anon and I hope I didn't make you feel bad! As I said, we all need to be our own person and pursue our own interests. I simply dislike the attitude of constantly talking about 'me time', in particular in the presence of young children. As you say, for most mothers, me time is a pretty unrealistic goal in the sense that we are not going to get a Spa Day, and are often lucky if we just get to shave our legs in peace! But I do think it's worth examining why there is a constant emphasis on Me Time. Personally, I have found that seeing this as a construct has liberated me to enjoy my time with my children more and drop the frustration. There will be plenty of Me Time in years to come, and I expect I will miss the chaos and lack of privacy immensely.

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    2. Hi! I'm sorry but though I think you write well Mule, I can't agree entirely with your way of thinking. You did make me feel bad. You are saying that wanting a break is akin to wanting to throw my kids into full time day care, we don't have to live by extremes and can have a happy medium. I think 'me time' as an expression has been taken up because many mum's do need 'me time'. While you may be able to look to the years ahead sometimes I need to look to the evening/night/weekend ahead because as wonderful as my kids are they need sleep and I need a few hours to chill out.
      Try to be more supportive rather than disparaging.

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    3. Well I'm mainly trying to be supportive of children in this post Anon.
      Young-Bruehl, whose new book Childism I cite in this post, points out that child advocates are often accused of subverting parental rights. I find this often when I write something about children's rights, I often get quite disgruntled or even angry comments from people who feel that rather than being Pro Child, I am being Anti Adult. It's a hard one to win, I guess.
      Please see my comment further down in response to Jessica for further explanations of what I was trying to say.
      Meanwhile, I'm not sure how you arrived at 'You are saying that wanting a break is akin to wanting to throw my kids into full time day care' - you must surely see that this is your inference from my words, not something I have actually said, and that therefore it possibly says more about you than it does about me?
      Best for now x

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  8. If you want to read a FAB blog by a Mummy totally sold on Attachment Parenting, have a read of: http://lulastic.wordpress.com/

    Lulastic is definitely worth a delve into her back catalogue of posts....Her baby girl was nappy free at 17 months, and the co-sleep. Very good read...

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    1. Ah thanks Mrs G, for a mo I thought you were a spammer, but I have checked out her blog and it does indeed look lovely! So thank you for that tip! x

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  9. It is so weird when people act like you should hate my kids. I like my kids. They are probably my favourite people in all the world. I'm bemused by the idea I shouldn't feel like that. Of course I occasionally crave moments of time to myself and to my own exclusive interests, but mostly I wish I was with them. All the time.

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    1. That's lovely L. I definately prefer 'Favourite People Time' to 'Me Time', too! x

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  10. I love how you put things. I think of these things, also, and I write about them, but I fear that I'm sitting here growling and snarling as I write 'cause things like this make me mad. Just like this...when I read this it made me sad: "They are rarely seen to have their new baby with them; it is as if the child, and all evidence of them, has been erased." The fact that we live in a world where women aren't just totally in love with the new woman they've become as a mother...why there are ladies out there who are more proud to parade around withOUT their baby than with them...ugh...it makes me sad and mad.

    I have had to "fight" for time with my kids every time I've had a baby. Well-meaning lady friends have always tried to get me to go on nights out without the baby...but would never understand me or even hear me when I would insist that being AWAY from my baby for more than 2 hours HURTS me. It makes me feel icky. I don't like it. They really always treated me like I was brainwashed or something and just needed to put that kid with a sitter, leave some bottles, and head out for the night or even weekend! Ugh! We treat kids like they're an intrusion into our lives and then wonder why our teens shut us out and don't want anything to do with us and "rebel". I bet back in "the day" men thought women were "rebelling" too, but, we were just fighting for respect...

    Anyway...I'm glad you write what you do because I think what you write about really matters and you do it so well... <3

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    1. Well, I growl and snarl a bit too, Dara, trust me!
      Thank you for your lovely comment.
      I really wish I wasn't hearing so many people say this week about how they get criticised for wanting to hang out with their children, for giving preference or priority to them over all others. That makes me sad, but also makes me want to explore the ideas in this post further.
      Thanks again for your thoughts x

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  11. My parenting has improved quite a lot over the years, and I think it shows the most with my toddler. I recently overheard a conversation between two first-time mums about using the naughty step and getting a two year old to "do what I tell you".... and it was a familiar situation. I remember feeling like I had to lay down the law with my eldest and I also remember the feeling of butting heads with a toddler. Blech.

    I now look at my fourth child - my youngest - who is nearly 2. She is stubborn and she doesn't always listen when I ask her to do something. Meh. I really don't worry about it at all, and in fact I try to work with her needs and desires to achieve the end goal. For instance, she is potty training and doing quite well, but if I ask her all the time if she needs the toilet she gets annoyed and won't go. But if I casually announce to the room that *I* need the toilet, she suddenly realises she needs a pee and races me to the toilet so she can use it first. Mwahahaha! She is in charge of her own bladder, and I don't have to clean up any puddles.

    When I show my children respect for their own autonomy, they are much happier people.

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    1. Yes, someone asked me today, What do you do when your daughter refuses to do something? I realised - it's complicated! Firstly, she doesn't refuse to do things very often...second, if and when she does, it all depends on what the thing is, what her reasons are, how important it is that she does it, whether she is tired or hungry, whether I am tired or hungry, etc etc etc! It's all about being creative, and adaptive (I'm not saying I get this right all the time by the way!), and listening to your child with respect, rather than starting a war over everything.
      Thanks very much for your comment anyway x

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  12. Always Striving for Better.10 May 2012 at 02:30

    Very good post! I love reading things that make me think and challenge what I've been told before. (As if it is the only way.) I was just wondering who all this people are that tell you not to show too much love and affection to your kids, is there even such a thing as too much love??? I have never come in to contact with these people, thankfully! My mom also used to say...'you can not spoil a baby!' I have 2 children and dont think I could ever show them ENOUGH love and attention, never mind 'too much' Thanks again for the great read.

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    1. Thanks for your lovely comment, and I love your 'name' by the way!
      I think you are very lucky that you have had so much support for your choices, especially from your mother, which matters so much. If you read some of the comments above you will hear different stories from people who have felt that they have to justify showing, as you put it, 'too much love'. A lot of people DO worry about spoiling, and even, as one delightful Health Visitor (that is a dreadful British thing by the way) put it to my friend, being 'too attached to your children'.
      Thanks for your comment and how lovely to think of you out there somewhere showering your children with love! x

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  13. While I agree with your article I'm not really getting what feminism has to do with it. Feminism isn't about hating children, it's not about abandoning your kids with a baby sitter everyweekend to go get drunk at the bar and party like you did prebaby... I really don't get why you felt the need to say "Forget Feminism"

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    1. Sorry, I think my title has confused you Anon. I'm not saying to 'forget feminism', I'm just calling for a shift in focus from women's rights to children's rights... I just used the current Badinter debate as a starting point for the post so I'm sorry if that threw you off the scent. I certainly never said that feminism has any connection with hating children or indeed any anti child thinking or behaviour! There is no connection between the two, that is definitely not the point that this post is trying to make! Again, sorry for your confusion. x

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  14. I agree with you on most of your points. I do feel that showing my children love, safety and security is number one. That includes responding to their needs, comforting them, nursing, co-sleeping, redirecting and natural consequences. I did hear a lot of the things you mentioned especially after my first child. My first child was a dream baby, she was "good" on most accounts, but she didn't sleep through the night. She nursed at least once a night. But I still considered her good. She needed me, so I took care of her. My second child has been a bit more demanding, and a bit more attached, so I've adapted to her needs but I still consider her "good."

    But the one area that I disagree with you on is the "Me" time because I was one who took it too far. Parenting is the most important job I have. Being a mom is #1, but if it is at the expense of my health and sanity, I need to step back and remember to take care of myself. I have now learned to do that and I feel it makes me a better parent. So I get up 1/2 hour early to have my morning cup of tea and wake up so I can wake my daughters up with a smile. I stay up a little bit after they go to bed and straighten up and then take some down time for myself to read, do puzzles, or do something that enriches me. I take advantage of the times we are apart (when they are visiting other family members outside the home or have a play date) to do something good for myself. Do I take away from their time with me? I try not to, but I try to maximize the time that I have as "free" time when I can so that I can stay spiritually, emotionally and physically the most positive parent that I can be. This avoids building resentment that I am always the Mom and never a woman.

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    1. I completely agree with you Jessica and it's lovely to hear your perspective. I think my comment about Me Time has been a bit misinterpreted. I, too, love having time to myself and I like to read or write in the evenings after my kids are asleep. This enriches me too and I am not suggesting that all mothers / parents should spend all their time with their children or feel bad if they crave a bit of peace and quiet! I just take issue with the way the phrase has almost become a marketed concept, and, as I said, I particularly wince when I hear it being glorified in the presence of the children themselves, I find this disrespectful. We might say that in a healthy marriage / relationship, we need time apart from our adult partners to pursue our own interests or have a girls night out etc. This is perfectly reasonable and healthy. But if you heard your friend persistently rolling her eyes and saying how much she needed a break and some Me Time in front of her husband, what would you make of that?
      Thanks again for your thoughts x

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  15. I have to take issue with your interpretation of "Happy Mother = Happy Baby." I don't think that language "betrays a world in which the needs of the adult are given full priority." I think it betrays a world in which it is illegitimate for a mother to value her own happiness unless she can justify it by reference to a benefit to her child.

    If the mother's happiness were *actually* prioritized, it wouldn't have to be said. How often have you heard the phrase "Happy Father = Happy Baby"? I'm guessing rarely or never.

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    1. Hi Jessica. Thanks for your comment. It is nice to hear a different interpretation and perspective.
      I find that the comment Happy Mother = Happy Baby is most often used in the context of justifying adult centred choices on behalf of the mother. I have never heard it used in the context you describe.
      I take your excellent point about Happy Fathers, although I'm not sure that is the issue that this post is trying to address.
      Thanks again for your thoughts x

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    2. Thanks for your response. I agree with you that it is most often used in the context of justifying adult-centered choices on behalf of the mother. But that's no different from the context I'm describing. What I'm getting at is this: why do women feel the need to justify all of their choices in that way?

      You list "Happy Mother = Happy Baby" as an example of an anti-child attitude, but I don't think it is. If someone truly did not think the child's happiness was their responsibility, they wouldn't say that; they'd just do whatever they were going to do--like dads do. It's only when someone thinks that the responsibility for the child's happiness falls on them that they feel the need to say this sort of thing.

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  16. I cannot tell you how much I love and how much I feel the perspective of your last paragraph is needed. Children are people, just as much as women and men are. Thank you.

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  17. I love this post (and this blog!)

    Really like the reversal of the phrase 'happy mother = happy child" to be 'happy child = happy mother".

    True!

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  18. great post here. However, I am also a big believer in having some time to "recharge your batteries". I'm not talking hours or anything, but that's why I blog when the kids are in bed, or pop on to check my emails for 10 minutes or so while they play. I think it's actually good for them too to have the parent elsewhere for a little bit, it probably makes it a bit easier to separate from the parent once they go to school. I think having some time to feel good hugely impacts my mood for the day (whether I like that or not) and having some time to recharge alone definitely puts a whole new positive spin on my day and therefore makes for a happier mum and happier children. Like with anything though, you have to have balance and not be neglecting. I see "me time" (I hate that phrase) as being beneficial to the whole family...it really does make for a happier home here! it's probably different for each person/family though...some people tend to get stressed, depressed and exhausted much more quickly than others, as much as they adore their children.

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  19. I see that this is an older post but I wanted to let you know that every last word resonated with me. Yes, yes, and more yes. As a mom who is perfectly happy with her wonderful daughter, as a former CPS caseworker, and as a human being I thank you for this.

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    1. Thank you, and thank you to all the other wonderful commenters above! x

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  20. So true! We live in a funny world where giving too much to a child is frowned upon. Thank you for raising this issue! It's actually something I've also blogged about as a result of similar conversations to those you've listed. Hopefully these attitudes will change one day....

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  21. I agree...its great to see childist attitudes labelled. I always referred to children as "apprenticing adults" just to draw attention that their feelings and needs are the same, but they are dependent as they try to meet those needs. I have always found the cry it out approach abusive.

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