Monday, October 10, 2011

The Thing about Being a Kid and Being a Mom

The thing about being a kid and being a mom is they don't always mesh. When children are young, we make every effort we can to instill in them the values we wish we'd had instilled in us. The thing is, children grow up, and if we're lucky, they learn to look critically at the ideas we taught them and decide whether our values need to be their values.

This article on The Daily Mail, by Rebecca Walker, illustrates that point to me. Rebecca is the daughter of feminist/womanist icon, Alice Walker. Read the article for yourself, but Rebecca's argument is that her mother, in an effort to instill her own version of feminism on young Rebecca, ultimately neglected many of Rebecca's needs and refused to recognize Rebecca's own desires and personhood. Rebecca asserts that her radical mother didn't prepare her for the role of motherhood that Rebecca herself craved so desperately. And frankly, I think Rebecca is right. Alice Walker seems like the wrong kind of mother for a woman who wanted so badly to be a more traditional mother.

But what about women for whom the opposite is true? By that of course, I mean what about women like me? My own mother was very traditional. She stayed home, she indoctrinated my sister and I with the idea that a woman's place was in the home. Unfortunately, from a very early age, that was not that kind of person I was. So I could say that my mom's efforts to instill her values in me were ultimately damaging. My mom didn't seem to think doing well in school was that important for me and my sister. She'd never gone to college and was fine. If we wanted to go, that was fine, but ultimately, we should be looking for a man to take care of us and so college was mostly something to do until we met such a man. My mom didn't teach me about being independent and driven and passionate about career goals. Those were things I had to figure out for myself.

I guess what I'm getting around to saying is, for Rebecca Walker, the problem was feminism. For me, the problem was lack of feminism. And I guess that's what I'm getting around to saying. We're still not applying enough imagination when it comes to raising children. We look at them as either a burden and form of servitude or as the ultimate fulfilling object of womanhood. I think both do a disservice to children themselves.

The thing about children is they aren't interested in whether they're fulfilling you or not. They're interested in being loved and respected and acknowledged as individuals. My children are simultaneously one of the biggest points of anxiety for me (in that I'm by no means a traditional mother and feel like traditional motherhood would prevent me from attaining my personal goals) and one of my biggest sources of pride as they grow and become smart, loving and capable individuals.

I guess what I'm saying is, we can only expect so much from our children and, as we get older, we can only expect so much from our parents. My mom would have been a great mom for Rebecca Walker (based only of course, on the beefs she has in this article. Otherwise, I understand this is a gross over-generalization). Alice Walker would have been a kick-ass mom for me. As dearly as I love my children, I had them because I felt like I had to--not because I had always longed for a family. It would have been great to have a mom who told me that I didn't have to have kids. It would have been great to have a mom who enforced independence so entirely. Just as Rebecca didn't feel comfortable disturbing her mother from her writing career, I didn't feel comfortable expressing my career aspirations to my more traditional mother for fear of earning her disapproval.

And so I guess that brings me to my point:
We have got to stop telling women that they absolutely should or should not have children; we have got to stop making parenting about shaping children and more about recognizing individual children's propensities and interests; and finally, we have got to make parenting more village oriented--stop expecting so much from one woman.


G said...

very well said lessie. (hug)

JohnR said...

Thanks for sharing this. As liberals, I think it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that there's a generational progression of some kind, that each daughter will be more progressive than her mother.

An additional thought: in this post, the daughters' perspectives seem to be something that springs forth independently of their mothers' influence (and perhaps Rebecca portrayed hers similarly), rather than as something that develops in reaction to or tension with the mom's beliefs. I wonder how important the interaction, relationship, and a child's need to differentiate themselves from their parents are in determining their own opinions and approach to life?

Lessie said...

"The daughters' perspectives seem to be something that springs forth independently of their mothers' influence." That was the impression I got from reading the article. You didn't read the article, did you? :P

At any rate, I think you're right, what shapes a young woman's desires for her own life is probably a complex mixture of desire to differentiate and her perception of how her mother met her needs.

I suppose this another "how much of these things are nature of the child and how much are the way the child was nurtured (or not)?"

Which brings me back to my point at making parenting more about bringing out a child rather than bringing up a child.