American Culture vs. Parenting

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Stephanie H. Murray writes:

There is a cultural weight dangling from the yoke of modern American parenthood — one that is probably beyond the government to alleviate. The very same logic of self-sufficiency that rationalizes our anemic family policies — “Don’t have kids if you can’t afford them” — underpins our social expectations for children, and by extension, parents. It echoes in the grumbling about unruly kids disturbing the tranquility of public life and the censure of incompetent parents unwilling or unable to manage them.

Children are a personal choice and therefore a personal problem, many people seem to believe. Have as many as you want — just make sure they don’t bother the rest of us.

The problem is that this credo is totally out of step with reality. All babies cry. Even the best-raised toddlers have poor motor control and still-developing emotional regulation. They talk a little too loud and ask a million questions and occasionally lose their minds when they bump up against a boundary and find it doesn’t move out of the way for them. A world full of perfect parents is not a world without tears and temper tantrums. Pretending otherwise sets completely unrealistic expectations for those navigating life with little children in tow.

In this sense, parenting is an inherently social occupation. Trying to cram it into an individualist framework, where the costs and consequences of children fall on parents and no one else, distorts the whole endeavor.

Gracy Olmstead writes:

The longer I inhabit life as a parent, the more I see caring for bodies as the most important thing I do. The life-and-death, dire responsibilities of my life are those which have to do with caring for tiny humans: changing diapers, filling hungry stomachs, and bandaging scraped knees. If we structure our economy and culture around ideas that disdain or devalue those forms of labor, seeing them as degrading, or as distractions from “real” work or “real” living, for instance, we incentivize a dangerous apathy toward the needs of society’s most vulnerable humans—as well as toward our own holistic wellbeing.

Valuing embodied, embedded human beings means valuing the work of our hands: seeing our housework, maintenance, and care work as dignified and worth doing, not just as drudgery.

It means valuing others’ care and maintenance: supporting day care workers, construction workers, and house cleaners, and making sure they’re compensated fairly for their work.

And it means valuing the subjects of care: tiny babies, individuals with special needs, or elderly humans, for instance, who are unable to “contribute” to society through work, but whose lives depend on the work of caregiving.