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Posts Tagged ‘Parent’

You have/are an only child — selfish, lonely, spoiled. Really?

In aging, behavior, books, children, culture, domestic life, family, life, love, news, parenting, US, women on June 14, 2013 at 12:15 am

By Caitlin Kelly

If you really want to see, or provoke yet another hair-pulling catfight, write a book about any aspect of American motherhood.

I dare you!

Sibling!

Sibling! (Photo credit: Gus Dahlberg)

The latest entry in the spittle-flecked self-righteous-fest known as The Mommy Wars, (wouldn’t Mummy Wars be so much more…Egyptian? But I digress) is this new book, One and Only, about being an only child and choosing to have only one child.

(She also tosses in a fairly astonishing to me — and unattributed statement — that mothers are the women most likely to have an abortion.)

Here’s some thoughts from its author, Lauren Sandler:

If you only have one child, you’re inevitably asked, “Another one
coming soon?” Despite the overwhelming evidence that only children are
no different than those with siblings—not to mention it’s better
environmentally and fiscally—I’ve found that a lot of people only want
to have a second child for the sake of their first child. There’s a
notion that you’re not a good mother if you don’t give your child a
sibling. Why can we debate ad nauseam about tiny minuscule things like
diapers, schools, and organic T-shirts, but not about the number of kids
we have?

To me, U.S. family policy is a failure. We are one of the only
countries on earth that does not have structural family-support system.
This failure is due to our ideological individualism, our lack of a
labor movement addressing parents’ rights as workers’ rights, and the
fact that we’ve never had a population crisis. It’s completely different
in Europe and Asia. In Italy, you can’t even Google “family time”—the
term doesn’t exist. Instead they have an integrated way of living, with
parents and their children mingling with family and friends as a
community—and adults are actually allowed to focus on themselves.

Here’s a radio interview with her.

I grew up as an only child, so this is familiar territory. Onlies are told, all the goddamned time, how spoiled we are. How lonely we must be. How selfishly we behave — everywhere!

I call bullshit.

Here’s some of what was true for me, and still is, as someone raised as an only, (and now with no kids):

You often spend a lot more time around adults than kids with siblings. You get used to actually being listened to attentively, (a nice start in life for little girls, especially), and feeling at ease around people much older than you. You learn young it’s polite to refresh a guest’s drink or pass the hors d’oeuvres. These are valuable life skills, people!

Booooooored?  Deal with it. With no siblings to torture play with, we’re left to our own devices to amuse ourselves. Back in my youth, cave drawings filled up a slow Sunday. Kidding! But even without the Internet or apps, etc., I was fully able to have a lot of fun alone. Trolls, Legos, stuffed animals, books, drawing, sports. Who needed a sib?

— Less competition! Whether Christmas pressies or dessert or adult attention, it’s all yours, baby!

— No odious parental, relatives or teachers’ comparisons to your brothers or sisters. I never had to be “the smart one” (instead of the pretty one). I could just be me.

– Lots of travel. With only one kid to finance, your family can easily pick up and go somewhere, for the day or a month or even a few years. I knew from the very start how damn lucky I was to have visited England, France, Mexico and the Caribbean, all by the age of six.

– Decent social skills. If you have no sibs to hang out with or socialize you, you better figure it out, stat. Once you realize that the world is filled with cool, fun, interesting people to hang out with, you’re ahead of the kids still terrified to talk to anyone in authority post-college. Friends become your family, and often much nicer, too!

Of course, yes, there are downsides. Like:

— No one has your back when things get scary. I used to cower behind the living room curtains when my parents fought, which was often and loudly, before they divorced. I could really have used some back-up.

– In a split family, there’s just not enough of you to go around. Christmas was crazy — divided between my mother, maternal grandmother and father.

– It’s all on you to win the Nobel prize/MacArthur/Pulitzer/cure cancer/create world peace. People with siblings can fob off these absurd expectations/hopes onto someone else and go watch (some more) TV.

– When your parents get sick and old, it’s all on you. Serious issue. A smart, kind spouse or partner helps!

When you get sick and old (and God forbid, broke), and if you have no partner or very close friends, what happens? (Note terrified silence here.)

Are you an only?

How was it?

If you — as several Broadside followers did — had a bunch of kids, what kept you going past one?

No kids? You really don’t want kids?

In aging, behavior, children, culture, domestic life, family, life, love, women on October 4, 2012 at 12:19 am
scream and shout

scream and shout (Photo credit: mdanys)

Really.

If there’s a default expectation for women, it’s Becoming A Mom.

Surely every one of us wants kids. Don’t we?

No, some of us do not.

I don’t have kids and never wanted to. Neither do either of my younger half-brothers. So, sadly — as those of us without kids often enjoy time spent with them — there are no children anywhere in our extended family, no nieces or nephews, no grandkids.

There’s a reason some women don’t want kids, but one we rarely discuss publicly.

Like me, some childfree women were parentified at an early age, pressed into premature service as the adult, the responsible one, the person who reluctantly but efficiently dealt with doctors and teachers and bankers and realtors and lawyers far too young — often because their parent(s) was/were mentally ill, and/or alcoholic or drug users and they had no other family to turn to.

This tends to make for lousy parenting, as your caregivers are often physically or emotionally absent or careless. Worse, they’re often exhaustingly selfish, needy, demanding, immature and insatiable.

Just like a baby.

Except that babies gurgle and coo and smell delicious and are charming as well as exhausting. They grow up and their needs change.

These sorts of parents rarely do. We often spend our childhoods and teen years and early adult years — the ones falsely glorified as a time of totally selfish independence and freedom — dreading the latest email or phone call signaling the next crisis. We may spend savings we barely have to repeatedly rush out and rescue our parent(s), as their own friends and even relatives burn out, give up and turn away.

So, by the time society expects us to start cooing lovingly over our own kids — as well as everyone else’s — you’re simply worn out. The whole idea of starting another job being someone’s caregiver and protector feels, as it is, overwhelming.

Nor do these sorts of parents want to baby-sit for you. Nor might you even trust them to do so, so the sort of automatic family support and love many people assume is normal and take for granted — and which makes parenthood look a lot more affordable and appealing — is never going to happen for us.

We rarely say this publicly because:

It’s not cool. If your Mom gets cancer or your Dad has a stroke, sure. People will be kind because they can relate. There are no pink ribbons for those of us carrying the weight of an alkie or a parent who’s in and out of mental hospitals.

These burdens are ugly and painful, and often only end when that parent dies or ends up in others’ professional care.

Non-mothers are often dismissed as selfish, cold, unloving bitches. Nice!

Non-mothers are pitied, their infertility assumed. It’s almost never seen as a deliberate choice.

Non-mothers are considered people who want nothing to do with children. Wrong!  Kids are fine, and often fun. I just don’t want the lifelong responsibility for one, or several.

Here’s an excerpt from Jessica Valenti’s new book about women fed up after having had kids:

In 2008, Nebraska decriminalized child abandonment. The move was part of a “safe haven” law designed to address increased rates of infanticide in the state. Like other safe haven laws, parents in Nebraska who felt unprepared to care for their babies could drop them off at a designated location without fear of arrest and prosecution. But legislators made a major logistical error: They failed to implement an age limitation for dropped-off children.

Within just weeks of the law passing, parents started dropping off their kids. But here’s the rub: None of them were infants. A couple of months in, 36 children had been left in state hospitals and police stations. Twenty-two of the children were over 13 years old. A 51-year-old grandmother dropped off a 12-year-old boy. One father dropped off his entire family — nine children from ages one to 17. Others drove from neighboring states to drop off their children once they heard that they could abandon them without repercussion.

The Nebraska state government, realizing the tremendous mistake it had made, held a special session of the legislature to rewrite the law in order to add an age limitation. Governor Dave Heineman said the change would “put the focus back on the original intent of these laws, which is saving newborn babies and exempting a parent from prosecution for child abandonment. It should also prevent those outside the state from bringing their children to Nebraska in an attempt to secure services.”

One father dropped off his entire family.

On November 21, 2008, the last day that the safe haven law was in effect for children of all ages, a mother from Yolo County, California, drove over 1,200 miles to the Kimball County Hospital in Nebraska where she left her 14-year-old son.

What happened in Nebraska raises the question: If there were no consequences, how many of us would give up our kids?

How do you feel about having kids?

Do you feel pressured to become a parent?

How Dads help raise brave women

In aging, behavior, children, culture, domestic life, family, life, love, men, news, parenting, women on March 27, 2012 at 12:55 am
Sexism is a crime against humanity!

Sexism is a crime against humanity! (Photo credit: ЯAFIK ♋ BERLIN)

Loved this recent piece in Time magazine, written by two men, fathers of two daughters:

 The need for fathers to help empower daughters is clear, since we still live in a world where some powerful men throw sexual slurs at adult women and girls are being sexualized and objectified at a younger and younger age. As dads of a combined 4 daughters (ranging in age from 1 to 21,) these recent events have made us pause and reflect on how to best encourage our daughters to combat these tendencies in our society.

But how do we do this as fathers? One of the most important ways is to break down the old stereotypes that men are rational and logical while women are emotional. We can free our daughters from the burden of that myth by expressing our own feelings and by respecting the intelligence, decisions, and leadership abilities of women. When they see us opening up and talking, they learn to do the same and to not remain silent when something doesn’t feel right. A father’s influence can help a girl find her own strong voice. We also need to listen to our daughters more instead of trying to always impart a lesson. Listening paves the way for girls to discover what they want to say and the inner strength to say it.

The other big thing dads can do is treat women the way we would want a partner to treat our daughters. We wish that it went without saying that daughters need their fathers to reject treating women as objects through sexist jokes, stares and comments on the street, and pornography….

The need for fathers to help empower daughters is clear, since we still live in a world where some powerful men throw sexual slurs at adult women and girls are being sexualized and objectified at a younger and younger age. As dads of a combined 4 daughters (ranging in age from 1 to 21,) these recent events have made us pause and reflect on how to best encourage our daughters to combat these tendencies in our society.

It’s a hopeless task — and completely unfair — to ask only girls and women to defend themselves from the culturally toxic stew in which they’re raised.

Especially in the United States, where being thin/pretty/blond/materialist/popular/wealthy/famous is held up as the ultimate goal. And when legislators are ruthlessly determined to strip women of every possible reproductive right, whether access to abortion, birth control or a safe, private pregnancy; 39 states (!) have recently passed or are considering passing such laws.

It is a really lousy time to be female in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”, as “America the Beautiful” so romantically opines. If there was ever a time for young women to be reminded how much their voices matter to their political and economic future, that time is now.

A seminal study was done in the 1970s of women who later went on to significant success in the corporate world. The key? Their Dads played sports with them when they were teenagers.

Seems pretty simple, but as someone who also had this experience, it’s not.

When your father very clearly values your company and you’re a young woman, he is teaching you an important lesson. His focus on your brain and your heart, your character — not just your perky figure — teaches you that these matter.

When you spend a day together skating or skiing or hiking or fishing, you learn to share skills and enjoyment with a man who’s enjoying your company, not your sexual allure.

When he consistently values your intelligence, competitiveness, physical strength, agility and stamina — just some of the attributes needed for most sports — you’re more likely to emerge from the potential hell of female adolescence, if you’re lucky, with a solid base of self-confidence.

What greater gift can a Dad can give you?

If you’re a father, how did you help your daughter(s) become self-confident?

If your Dad did a terrific job — (or a poor one) — of helping you feel great about yourself, how does that play out for you today?

Nice Girls Finish Last — Financially

In behavior, business, Health, Money, news, parenting, women, work on November 18, 2010 at 1:06 pm
My Grandfather (†); photo from January 17.JPG

Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a cheery reminder from a Globe and Mail story — Canada’s national daily — that women are screwed financially in old age if they devote their midlife time and resources, as many now do, to caregiving.

I’ve spent much of my workdays, (which is my only source of income as a freelancer), on the phone and email so far this week dealing with social workers, nurses and lawyers to discuss what happens next to my mother (divorced, few friends) who lives a six-hour flight away in Canada and who is now in the hospital.

It remains to be determined whether she will be able to return to living alone in her home.

As her only child, I can’t turn to anyone but my partner for help. We’re lucky she gets as much free government-supplied help and health care as she already does.

Another friend my age, a woman who is also a writer, devotes many hours every week cooking and caring for her in-laws. Her two sons, looking for work, are back at home.

We’re both very fortunate in having husbands and partners who earn a decent wage and, while our labor is necessary to the family income, it is not the primary or exclusive one.

(This lowered family income does not come without conflict. I could certainly earn more and spend less if I ignored my mother’s complicated needs.)

Every hour and dollar spent, lovingly or not, devoted to the care and needs of others is wage-earning (or re-charging) time lost to oneself or one’s other current and future financial needs.

The less money women earn (and we out-live men, statistically which means we need to earn, save and invest even more than men while typically working fewer years and earning less), the poorer our old age will be.

Caregiving often means financial disaster for the person giving it.

To whom does your duty lie?

What if your parent(s) were neglectful or abusive? Made lousy choices financially and with their health, and now, as a result of those choices, need (your) help to survive?

Too many of us are struggling in a terrible economy, with little or no leeway for our own needs, now and in the future.

What’s the answer?

Turn your back on your aging parents and/or your needy adult children?

Just say no?

As Mother's Day Draws Near, Remember The 'Other Mothers'

In behavior, women on May 6, 2010 at 4:03 pm
A poster with twelve flowers of different fami...

Image via Wikipedia

There are, even though we’re in a small minority — about 20 percent of American women — those of us who never bear or adopt and raise children.

For a variety of reasons, we did not become parents and have stayed outside the margins of life as most of you know it, or will know it, from that first sonogram to teething to colic to kindergarten and on down the line. We wonder who will plan or attend our funeral, choose a place to scatter our ashes, what to do with (if we have any left) our possessions and assets.

It’s an odd choice not to have kids, and many people assume we must hate kids (no) or be hideously materialistic and selfish (we do tend to have more disposable income as kids, as you know, cost money) or inflexible and OCD about our white linen sofas.

In fact, there are millions of women who give enormously to the world and yet, I think unfairly and sadly, who won’t be getting a card or flowers or breakfast in bed this weekend. They may be nuns or social workers or NGO workers or nurses or teachers whose love, compassion, skills and energy have nourished and touched hundreds, maybe thousands of other people’s children.

There are also young men, and women, whose own mothers didn’t do what most people expect them to — cherish and nurture their kids. They may be: addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, distracted by mental or chronic illness and repeated hospitalizations, or mired in a life of lousy choices and thereby emotionally and/or physically unavailable to their offspring.

If these youngsters are very lucky, they find — at 4 or 7 or 17 or 28 or 43 — what I call an “other mother”, someone with the time and energy and kindness, even if they have kids of their own, to envelop them in some of the love (and discipline) they lacked and needed to mature and to thrive. That might be a foster mother or a camp counselor or a minister or a neighbor or an aunt or a family friend, anyone who loved these kids and wanted them to succeed.

As we head into the frenzy of celebrating biological and adoptive mothers, I light a candle and say a thank-you to these OMs. We all benefit from their generosity.

Baby As Tyrant? Zut Alors! Writer Says 'Perfect' Moms Need To Cut Themselves Some Serious Slack

In parenting, women on March 24, 2010 at 10:34 am
A woman feeds her baby on August 29, 2008 insi...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Provocative piece in The Times of London about a new best-selling book by French writer Elisabeth Badinter, a 66-year-old mother of three:

“The baby has become a tyrant despite himself,” she says. This to the joy of men, who are able to sit back and watch the football, unconcerned by the offspring-mother battle.

So what has driven women to accept this modern form of slavery? The economic crisis is one reason, she says, with motherhood suddenly looking like a better option than the uncertainty of the workplace.

The Green movement is another, with its back-to-nature beliefs in home-made food, mother’s milk and washable nappies — all obstacles on the road to emancipation in her eyes. “Between the protection of trees and the liberty of women, my choice is clear,” she says. “It may seem derisory but powdered milk, jars of baby food and disposable nappies were all stages in the liberation of women.”

A third explanation is the contemporary American feminist movement, which, she says, has made the mistake of trying to feminise the world in the hope of turning it into more a compassionate, tolerant and peaceful place.

“These new feminists say that we have hidden and undervalued the essence of women, which is motherhood.” Badinter dismisses the theory as wrong, because “men and women resemble each other enormously”, and dangerous because “it shuts the sexes in different circles”, leaving women closed off with their children.

American writer Judith Warner, a long-time blogger for The New York Times, covered the same territory in her 2005 book “Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety.”, reviewed (fairly scathingly) by the Times:

Warner has two points to make. The first is that, in affluent America, mothering has gone from an art to a cult, with devotees driving themselves to ever more baroque extremes to appease the goddess of perfect motherhood. Warner, who has two children, made this discovery upon her return from a stay in Paris, where, she says, mothers who benefit from state-subsidized support systems — child care, preschools, medical services — never dream of surrendering jobs or social lives to stay home 24/7 with their kids. In the absence of such calming assistance, however, American moms are turning themselves into physically and financially depleted drones….

This leads to Warner’s second point, which is more openly political than her first. Our neurotic quest to perfect the mechanics of mothering, she says, can be interpreted as an effort to do on an individual level what we’ve stopped trying to do on a society-wide one. In her view, it is the lack of family-friendly policies common in Europe that backs American mothers into the corner described above — policies that would promote ”flexible, affordable, locally available, high-quality” day care; mandate quality controls for that day care; require or enable businesses to give paid parental leave; make health insurance available for part-time workers; and so on.

Unfortunately, Warner doesn’t say how we might organize to get such policies passed in a rightward-drifting, Europe-hating America.

I don’t have kids so I watch the “mommy wars” from a safe, neutral distance. As someone who has lived in France — and seen how Frenchwomen remain, determinedly, still women after becoming a mother (no “mom” jeans there!) — I find two things about American motherhood bizarre.

If women spent one iota of their ranting, mommy-wars energy finding ways to make American motherhood more fun, healthy, relaxed and less insanely and individually competitive for all mothers, babies wouldn’t look like tyrants. But such collectivist thinking is often seen as something weird that other countries do.

The way women attack one another, focusing on individual choices as good or bad instead of getting the basic fact that employers here rule, that many other industrialized nations (yes, Canada) have paid maternity leave and those economies are doing just fine.

It’s not the babies. It’s the culture within which they are raised.

No Kids? No Problem

In parenting, women on November 4, 2009 at 9:34 am
Family portrait with mother, father, two small...

Can you be a real family with no kids in it? Image by Powerhouse Museum Collection via Flickr

Any woman who chooses never to have kids — and doesn’t inherit any as a stepmother — ends up looking like a freak. All women want kids! Where’s your maternal instinct? Babies are so cute! There’s a loud, powerful, unavoidable litany. Not to mention the parade of celebs with their baby bumps, their babies, their toddlers, their kids, somehow suggesting it’s the coolest choice imaginable.

It’s a choice, as Laura. S. Scott discusses in her new book, “Two Is Enough”, the result of interviews with 171 people who chose not to have kids, experts and parents. She debunks a pile ‘o myths — parenthood makes you a better person, it’s different when they’re yours, parenting is the path to maturity.

As someone who never wanted kids, I know what people think of us. We’re weird, cold, unloving, selfish. Whatever. Here are a few things to think about should you feel the need to judge someone who didn’t procreate:

1) There may be serious medical issues, from cancers to mental illness, we don’t want to risk in having offspring who may be born with them. We know the costs, financial, emotional and psychological. We’ve made that calculation.

2) We may have had crazy childhoods, with parents who were mentally or physically ill, substance abusers or worse. Surviving our own childhoods was tough enough. Many of us were “parentified”, forced into taking charge of the adults who chose to bear us, taking care of them when we were way too young to handle it. We’re worn out. Parenting our own kids looks like another few decades of more wearying work.

3) Parenting, well, is really, really hard work. We’re not dumb! Sure, it’s deeply rewarding. So are many other activities.

4) Depending on your career choice or ambitions, handling the additionally relentless time, money and emotional needs of those utterly dependent on you is unmanageable. We want to do our work, or our avocations, really well, perhaps even obsessively, and we know something has to give — motherhood, or fatherhood, is it. We see the anger, resentment and fatigue of many women trying to juggle 12 kinds of excellence at once.

5) The choice carries consequences, of which we’re fully aware: people with kids may exclude you from their lives, we get asked to pick up the slack at work for parents’ needs, we have to think a little harder about what the future looks like. It’s not a predictable sequence of pediatricians/school/SATs/college/weddings/grandkids. It’s not predictable at all.

6) It’s just the two of us. Thanksgiving choices aren’t obvious. Neither is Christmas. With no distractions of kids and their needs, it’s all up to us to decide how to express our deepest values. Maybe it’s work, travel, volunteer work, mentoring. It forces many thoughtful conversations.

7) How and where can we connect with kids? I love talking to kids and hanging out with them, but with no nieces or nephews, it’s tough and a little lonely. I was a Big Sister for a while, but that’s a whole different story. This is something I’m still thinking through.

What’s our legacy? Big word, that. But parents take it for granted. They’ve had kids! There’s visible proof of their commitment to the future. For us, it’s deciding how or where we’ll handle our later lives. Who will receive the money and assets from our estates when we die? A charity, foundation, our alma mater? Knowing there will be no physical continuation of us, mortality feels very real indeed.

One of my few bookmarked women’s blogs is BitchPhd; here’s a poignant recent post on the exhausting challenge of single parenting.

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