In her controversial Dispatch this week, Katie Allison Granju wonders if it may be time to re-stigmatize certain parenting behavior. She wonders, “if everyone is a “Bad Parent,” then where is the line between reasonable and unreasonable maternal imperfection?”
Most interestingly, she challenges the bad parent confessional on class lines: “The mostly-white, mostly-college-educated mothers (like me) who pen “momoirs” about things like letting their third grader navigate public transportation sans adult supervision get appearances on talk shows. However, a poor, minority or immigrant mother who made the same parenting choice would more likely get a visit from Child Protective Services.”
Of course, the concern (expressed by some commenters) that shame was not ever a good thing and should not be revived is reasonable too. Even the worst parent any of us knows may well be fighting uphill battles we don’t know. A little discernment and offers of support would probably go further to help a “bad parent’s” children in 99% of cases than a heavy dose of shame.
But like Katie, I sometimes wonder if the “Bad Parent” phenomenon has led us to such a relativist state that when we do admirable things for our children, we have to hide them, for fear we’re not “bad” enough. And the assumption that doing these admirable things is somehow a judgement against those who don’t do them is one of the main ways this problem shows itself.
Every mother who decides to breast feed for a year (or three) is not, per se, a “nipple nazi” judging mothers who use formula. (People who throw the term “nazi” around so lightly? Definitely deserve judgement.) A mother who makes her own baby food is not, per se,”smugly” judging mothers who feed out of jars. (Can we call a moratorium on the word “smug” for six months?) A mother who forbids television is not, per se, a “sanctimommy” judging families that spend snuggle time on the couch watching their favorite shows. (Whoever invented that fake word, is hardly mother-friendly.)
But lately, if you make any of the former choices, like as not you’ll feel the need to hide them, lest you be seen as having made your decisions over and against those of your fellow moms. Better you should just go ahead and get the new flatscreen to make sure no one accuses you of being judgemental.
Feed your kid McDonald’s all you want. The stuff will never pass my children’s lips under my watch (doubtless it will when my back is turned). But you cloth diaper and I’ll poison the planet (and possibly my children) with disposables. I can’t stand the thought of yet more laundry. I let videos “babysit” my kids for up to two hours a day, some days. But my kids eat less than a teaspoon of refined sugar per month.
The fact is, we all weigh what we value most, what we can let slide, what we can afford, what we need and what we enjoy — or at least don’t mind — doing and what we loathe doing. And we make our judgements–about how to live our own lives–accordingly.
My kids just do not react well to sugar. It literally changes my older daughter’s personality within minutes for very much the worse. In fact, I suspect if she ate a fairly normal amount of it (the amount that doesn’t harm most kids) she’d be eligible for an ADHD diagnosis. My younger child doesn’t share her extreme reaction, but she doesn’t get sugar either, because that wouldn’t be fair. If I bring my own snacks to a play date at your house, it doesn’t mean I think you’re evil for giving your kid cinnamon grahams. It means sugar doesn’t work for us.
I made all the baby food for both my kids. I found it easy–even fun–and my kids loved, loved, loved it. The savings helped us spend our money on other things–some “good” like organic groceries, some “bad” like cable television. And it was my call, having absolutely nothing to do with someone else’s desire not to spend an extra split second in the kitchen if she doesn’t have to. Just like my losing battle with laundry keeps me from cloth diapering.
In a way, I guess I agree with Katie here. When everyone’s a bad mother, no one is. Mostly though, I think that’s a good thing. There really are very few parents so bad that they deserve to lose their children. But I also agree with Katie that the whole “Bad Parent” thing may be overplayed. Especially when the good things we choose to do for our kids end up making us feel bad–or not bad enough, as the case may be.