This appeared on Facebook and I put it up on my wall with the caption: “Is this what parenthood does to a person! If so, I’m glad I escaped!”
While there weren’t many replies, one caught my interest and got me to thinking about what might lie behind the statement.
While it may have been meant innocently enough, the comment was “no this is not your normal situation and you did miss a lot.”
I took that, however meant, as a defensive lob, one meant to suggest that parenting is a great thing and I was much the poorer for having “missed” it.
Of course, beauty is always in the eye of the beholder.
I chalked it up as another of those, subtle or not so subtle put-downs by those with children of those of us without. The other one that I remembered vividly was a discussion about corporal punishment by parents (or caregivers) and the suggestion that I was unfit to comment, “since as I recall, you didn’t have children did you?”
I think I know where the defensiveness and consequent “I’m really better than you because you don’t have children” comes from
Dial back the time machine to the late 60’s when I graduated from high school. The sexes were still pretty much set in stone. I knew that a number of my classmates would probably be married within a year or so, but I was off to college. It was the beginning of that “sweet spot” in time–the convergence of the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the hippie movement, and the feminist movement. The Vietnam anti-war movement began in the mid-sixties and continued and escalated during the late 60’s and early 70’s. We marched on campuses, got tear-gassed, shut down campuses. Some campuses were more volatile than others, yet we all found ourselves involved in “teach-ins” (where I first learned of the play Lysistrata by Aristophanes).
Women were a big part of the movement but often relegated to second-class status behind the men. This mimicked that of the Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks did not suddenly pop up one day on a bus in Montgomery Alabama, but had long been a worker in the field. She was of course kept much in the background in terms of leadership as were other African-American women of the day.
The Hippie movement, also a product of the 60’s was most renowned for Haight-Asbury and Woodstock, but it signaled the advent of free-love, birth-control, and a defining break with the past and all it’s traditional values. The Hippies were also vehemently anti-war. The Beatles, most notably John Lennon became a major force for peace with “Imagine”.
Women in this movement two were pushed to the rear, often treated as secretaries and much needed lovers for the important work being done by the men in the “awakening”. Angela Davis and others fought back.
Women looked to each other during this period and Betty Freidan, Germaine Greer, Gloria Steinem, Kate Millet, Shirley Chisholm, and Bella Abzug were the emerging role models for women like myself who were just starting to look higher than the secretarial typewriter for our future. We read with relish The Feminine Mystique, and Sexual Politics. Later, immersed in the Church, I would cling to In Memory of Her and She Who Is, as the patriarchal stereotypes of the bible began to be dismantled by women of faith but also biblical expertise. Women like Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Elizabeth Johnson became household names.
I was in that first wave of women admitted in law school in large numbers. We leaned on each other, we learned, and we excelled. Because we were steeped in the injustices of the past, we were angry, defensive, and could spot a “sexist pig” at twenty paces. Offering to hold a door for us was likely to be met with a angry look, and a statement like, “I am more than capable of opening my own door, thank you.”
Plenty of men retreated before us “ball-busting bitches” and sought more traditional women to welcome them home at night and bear their children.
That is the world out of which I emerged into my late 20’s, a time when most women start to realize that if parenthood is on their agenda, one best get busy.
As a look back at the cadre of young women I worked along side of I can recall what we talked about and how we felt quite vividly. We were in our late twenties, still working more often with men than with other women. Most judges were still male, most prosecutors, most defense attorneys, most cops. We were not insignificant, but we were far from a majority. Mostly we were treated with fairness, although there was a lot of what today would be unacceptable sexual harassment. To us it was business as usual. We slipped the grasp of unwanted advances (mostly from judges who somehow thought that being a judge’s mistress must be our dream????), and commanded salaries the likes of which our hardworking fathers (mothers of course didn’t even come close) had never attained in their working lifetimes.
Among those of us who were single, (most of us) the issue of children inevitably comes up. And of course it came up more regularly for single women than married, since we were single mostly by choice. Men were wonderful, but unnecessary as a financial crutch so mostly we were looking to take our time. I don’t count myself as being usual in having had good half dozen serious affairs, and my share of brief flings. There was no reason not to.
As best I can tell, we split about 50-50 on the child thing. About half arranged by any number of methods to get pregnant and have a child with no intent to have the father play any significant role in the raising of the child. The other half, myself included, opted out.
I can say that during my now more than sixty-four years, I spent roughly eight months considering the idea seriously, but I have to say it probably had more to do with the man I was seeing at the time than on the biological clock ticking. I cannot say what was the key reason I chose not to have children, only that it was a combination of over-population around the globe, the desire not to have my own free-wheeling lifestyle disrupted, a serious question whether I would be a “good” parent–having no real role model, and some lack of “mothering” instincts, that I felt should be stronger than they were.
Looking back, I recognize that children bring a certain joy, apparently some sense of accomplishment (though again why escapes me pretty much), and I think some security? about the future that is perceived rather than necessarily experienced. It seems to feed some egos, though not all from what I have seen. I think children are marvelous creatures, and I think being good at parenting is a very hard thing, a thing most people take for granted and therefore don’t do a very good job at. I’m glad I didn’t do it, but I am in awe of some people I know who have.
I definitely think it ought to be way harder to qualify to be a parent. It’s amazing to me that so many people turn out as well as they do given their crummy experience with parents. I wonder how amazing this world might be if so many people didn’t have to spend so much time overcoming their poor upbringing.
At one time, we in the feminist movement disliked our sisters who chose the traditional roles. We thought they made it hard for those of us who wanted to be treated equally in jobs, advancement and pay. I think that time has long past. We, or at least I, recognize that the ultimate freedom is to chose the life you wish, and it is certainly an honorable and important choice to choose parenting.
The opposite is also true. To not choose parenting can be smart, noble, and a recognition that it is a special profession, one not suited to everyone, and not simple the thing “most everyone can do”. It is not an accomplishment, but a sacred responsibility one should take on with eyes wide open.
I think it all points to the fact, that while all of us may have had the same “historical” background, we responded to it differently. It imprinted on us quite dis similarly and we apparently made different judgements about it. That is what makes us human I suspect and why we thrive overall. If Aristotle was right that there is a set of absolute moral precepts, we will, it seems, go on arguing forever about just what they are.