I get asked a lot of parenting questions these days and questions about being a single mother. I think this is partly because many of my friends and peers are having their first kids or raising toddlers, while my son is nearly grown—a brainy, wiseass musician entering college who is sweet enough to send me things like youtube videos of Mr. T singing “I pity the fool who don’t love his mother.” I also get asked about parenting because of the kind of writing I’ve been doing this last year, particularly So Much Pretty—which examines family and community life and the lives of children, looks at how these things are impacted by broader economic, and cultural issues.
I talk to friends about children. But I have never written about my child. This isn’t because he’s not a charming, interesting, well adjusted guy, but because until very recently, he was too young to consent to being a subject. And this may be the crux of any parenting philosophy I have. A concept that has more to do with the cultural landscape than the nursery. I have also never written about single parenting for the same reason. The fact is you can’t get informed consent from a child to write about his or her life. And there is an enormous conflict of interest in being the parent and the writer when it comes to these topics.
Chris Cleave, best known for his brilliant novel Little Bee, put it best in explaining why he would no longer be writing the popular “Down with the Kids” Column about his children for the Guardian. In discussing his son Cleave said:
“…his brilliant insights are becoming revelatory of him as an individual, rather than of the condition of infancy in its universality. This is a magical and a fragile time; it belongs to him alone and isn’t mine to redistill and reinterpret.”
I’m always shocked when I read the kind of intimate exposure to which parents who blog subject their children. And I would urge parents—especially mothers, many of whom have become a whole demographic of “mommy bloggers” to avoid entirely the aesthetics of this trend which exposes the personal lives of children and overrides their autonomy while failing to address the issues that directly and intimately impact the way we are able to care for them—like economics, health care and sexual politics.
The practice of blogging about children has also gone a long way to increase the sense of children as accessories to adult lives, stories to tell, mannequins for cute clothing and representation of financial or cultural status, vessels to be filled with life lessons, or contrawise precious little Buddhas that have taught us humility by throwing up on our Brooks Brothers jackets. The fact that many parenting and mommy blogs sell ads to diaper, food and toy companies has eroded the intimacy of family life, and particularly children’s lives making them vehicles for commerce; ways to sell the products of large corporations whose vested interests are rarely in line with creating a safe and acceptable future for children.
In March The New York Times did an excellent job looking into the trend of mommy blogging and the commodification of childhood in a piece titled “Honey, Don’t Bother Mommy. I’m too Busy Building my Brand” that can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/14/fashion/14moms.html
Cleave is right in saying that our children’s lives belong to them to interpret. And I would go a step further. We need to reclaim the private intellectual and emotional space of parenting. Contemplation, not continual outside affirmation and commentary is essential for real bonding with the people to whom we gave birth.
Loving your child is about being present, about being conscious of the things that will shape their lives inside and outside of the home. We live in a world where several million women and a smaller number of men are blogging about their children and that’s an amazing thing. But a majority of these blogs are really about the parent—the exasperated anecdotes that mask the unaddressed feelings of powerlessness and fear at the heart of being a new parent awash in emotions. The terror that you child might be hurt or that your child might hurt someone else is at the core of raising another human being. Exposing the intimate details of your child’s life to the world may allay some of that anxiety by elevating them to celebrity status—but it is ultimately counter intuitive.
So I am asking you—“mommy (and daddy) bloggers”—who are looking for community, affirmation and support, during the trying time of raising infants and toddlers, folks who want to show the world how much you love your children. Look to the concrete issues you can support that will make care and love manifest. And blog the hell out them.
Here are a few good resources:
National Center for Children in Poverty http://www.nccp.org/
Human Rights Watch http://www.hrw.org/
Convention on the Rights of the Child http://www.unicef.org/crc/
Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media http://www.seejane.org/
Union of Concerned Scientists (citizens and scientists for environmental solutions) http://www.ucsusa.org/
….and like I tell my friends, it can’t hurt to get rid of the television.