exactly that

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So I didn’t have to read more than a paragraph or two of this to be annoyed.

I am not even sure that “annoyed” is the proper adjective (or past participle, wev) here.

These kinds of posts in feminist spaces make me want to toss in my feminist card and return my free toaster oven (it doesn’t work on the 220 volt anyway). The first thing that these kinds of posts do is set expectations that are too high. Whether or not these posts say it directly, and irrespective of later claims and clarifications in comments by the authors, they are expecting children to behave at an adult threshold. They are expecting children to comply with behavioral norms established by and for able-bodied adults. They are also putting the onus on able-bodied adults to “control” that behavior, only mildly admitting that children do not yet have the faculties to reach those thresholds.

The only nod I will give to this post by Jill, who has privilege coming out her nose here in this very U.S., East Coast centric post, is that she isn’t calling for parents and care-takers to hide indoors with the windows locked for 18+ years. Children do need to learn how to live in our world, and how to behave in public and interact with people who are not them and their parent or parents/caretakers. But here is a newsflash for the child-free crowd: part of socializing children is also about teaching them that they are not the center of the universe. That is why we take them to places that are not “kid friendly”. That is why we go to restaurants that “couldn’t advertise any harder that children will be bored out of their skulls“, because they need to learn that they need to live in the grown up world too. That is why we tote the big bags full of crayons and toys and snacks and enough stuff that makes it look as though we have moved in. That is why it takes some of us two hours to leave the house (the “we” that means whoever this includes, not necessarily me, even though I once fit into this, but this is a very privileged set of parents and caretakers) with youngins. We work over time to make sure that our kids behave. Most of us.

Another newsflash might be that “behave” isn’t synonymous with “control” because it seems to escape the attention of many a Feministe reader and commenter that children are people. You can’t control a child any more than you can control a 30-something grown woman who is a fully formed human being. They have feelings and needs and desires…the big difference here, and it’s a big one, is that they lack the capacity of communication that allows them to express these things clearly to the people in charge of satisfying these needs. And I don’ t know about you but that sounds like it is fucking irritating. I sometimes get sensory overload and just can’t communicate that, and I am an adult so people tend to listen to me more than they do to children (I am struggling for a Dumbledore quote here but it is escaping me, so I will have to watch Prisoner of Azkaban later). We as parents try to modify behavior. We try to communicate with children. We try to listen to them and validate them. What I find that most people who don’t have children mean by “control” is that they want us to grab a crying, frustrated child who is overloaded with feelings that they can’t express (an action that would get an adult punched by another adult, I am sure) and try to cover their mouths or even spank them. People assume that if they don’t see a parent physically engaging with a child or verbally (and sternly) having a dialogue with a child that they are taking a laissez-faire approach. We are lazy, the admonished “rather be friends” parent.

Again and again I see in comments that if such behavior in children was displayed by adults, such as a fight with a significant other in a restaurant, they would be expected to leave the public space for the sake of others. Well, of course they would. This equating of adult behavior that is inappropriate for public consumption to a child’s behavior is absurd, because you can not expect children to hit the same bar of behavior as adults. They are not adults. I don’t even expect 17-year olds to hit that same threshold, but I so see them as nigh adults, and expect a level of appropriate behavior. Because they are humans and individuals. Capable of behavior that is appropriate to them, and most of them surpass and exceed the threshold that even I set (which is higher than most, because of my weird notions that they are potential adults and all). We can not possibly expect them to behave like adults. They are not adults. This is a terrible straw argument. Plus, comparing typical child behavior to inappropriate behavior of adults (fighting, drunken conduct) is insulting to children. They are humans.

Also, I would like to note that any behavior that children might engage in that is outside of smiling demurely is not “misbehaving”. Children occasionally cry. They tend to be loud sometimes. Every now and then they want or need something and they don’t know how to tell you that, or they are bored, or they are tired, or any number of things we can’t predict from the Pandora’s box of their range of emotions, and they will find a way of communicating this. It happens, so far in my experience, all the way up until eight, and counting. This is not “misbehaving”. So far, it is behaving. I have seen this “misbehaving”, and a toddler dropping a crayon on the floor in a restaurant to see the response of a person picking it up. Again. And again. And again. Is not “misbehaving”. Read a baby development book for Ceiling Cat’s sake. That is typical development. They like reactions. In fact, if you ignore it, they usually stop.

Which brings me to my next point.

When a child is having what I call a “melt down”, the best tactic is not to pay it attention. You need to validate that the child is having feelings (the specific ones if you can), and allow them to work through it. If you can get them to a quiet private place, sure, like a bedroom, but sometimes their desired goal is interrupting your meal or nice time, and leaving the room with them gives them your undivided attention. You are feeding the behavior by leaving. Sometimes, EGADS! we have to parent in public, and you, the child-free as you like to call it, are going to have to see that just like sometimes I have to sit on a bench outside and breathe second-hand smoke. Or listen to 20-somethings drunkenly go on about whatever. Sometimes I can leave my kid who is having a tantrum in the store standing in the aisle and walk away while she cries, and the tantrum stops. But sometimes I have to sit and ignore her in a restaurant and eat my meal, uncomfortably aware that people around me are pissed off because of her. I was once applauded at a restaurant when I left because of the crying fit she had when I changed her diaper in the restroom on the changing table provided. We can’t win even when we are in places that provide child friendly services.

All of this is, of course, considering that we are able-bodied parents who are capable of moving around freely with our children. Because I noticed that the conversation at Feministe treated disability and child-rearing, again, as if they were mutually exclusively issues (I am not even going to touch this comment, because… o__0 ). Inserting A into situation B as a comparison isn’t the best way to make a point.

People with disabilities have children and are parenting, and doing smashing brilliant jobs at it all the time. They are also doing so in public, and your suggestion that a parent just up and run out of the room with their crying child to assuage your comfort level might not be the easiest of tasks. The comment thread over there was dripping with privilege. And I am certain that I am just seeing the least vile of it (though, not surprisingly some of the worst comes from the likes of Amanda Marcotte, whom I have not lost love over). Obviously we should just sterilize all PWDs so that we don’t accidentally breed and therefore not be able to “control” (where control=beat the everlivinghelloutta, because that seems to be the only acceptable form of punishment…let me tell you that if I ever see a person hit my child…) our children for the comfort of the poor citizens of over crowded Mount Olympus New York… Fuck you.

We live in Seoul. Seoul has a population density that is bigger than NYC’s by more than half (almost double). It is crowded here. Homes are stacked on top of homes and high rises are the thing. You don’t live in apartments, you live in ville, and “the view” is the other high rises. We have public transportation and you only drive somewhere if you are going there and back. It is like New York in the sense that you bump into each other, but it is assumed and no one gets grumpy about it. People are actually nice about it. People don’t make eye contact, sure, but people are not going to cuss you out if you bump into them getting on and off the subway, because it is expected. I don’t see parents making demands for stroller space on the subway, you just know you can’t do it (it isn’t really a friendly environment that way, you have to wear your kid, really). People are serious about the disabled seating (except for the foreigners, which is amusing to me, where amusing = pisses me off because of the racism I see from the U.S.-ian people who live here as a privilege). My point is all that crap that Jill paints about how New Yorkers are entitled to their space and privacy is bullshit because I see it so much better handled here. The thing is that people in the U.S. are pampered and privileged whingers and whiners about such shit. Ever since coming to ROK people have been wonderful to the Kid. They offer her seats, they are nice to her in restaurants, and I don’t have to watch her closely. This society takes the “it takes a village” thing seriously. And it isn’t just our Kid.

There is a lot to be learned if you look outside your privileged box. And as one commenter at Feministe points out, one thing about having a parent’s PoV is that we were once the child-free. We can remember what it was like to be those people w/o kids. I remember thinking I knew better than everyone else how to tell parents to raise their kids. The thing is, if you haven’t been there, if you aren’t a caretaker of a child (if you haven’t reached that milestone with that particular child yet) then these conversations shouldn’t involve you. You don’t get to tell parents how and where they get to parent their kids (unless that child is in danger). You basically get to back the fuck out, especially when you spend eight or so long paragraphs waxing poetic about how the pampered upper class mommies are making it great for other pampered mommies. Cuz I can tell you, that even for someone like me, who has a ton of privilege, there is a huge difference between upper class and middle class, and the rest of people who are left out. Even I can’t enjoy going to the gym with all of the fitness shaming on the post here (even if I had the able body to go all the time) because there is no day care available for my child when I need to go. I can’t afford a nanny (and who is taking care of her kids?) like the Embassy workers or Officer’s wives. There is privilege to unpack everywhere, because at least there are facilities available to me. But I don’t see those mommies making anything easier for me or for their nannies while the whole base is sending out bulletin after bulletin about how I should be in shape because of all the programs available for me to use for free…

2200 words later I am out of steam and my hands are done. I can’t keep this conversation up. I have some parenting to do, and I might do it in public. You might not like how I do it, but I think I am doing a smashing job. Butt the fuck out.

Parenting is a feminist issue. Spanking, and why the fuck it is OK is a feminist issue. Parenting with a disability and parenting disabled children is a feminist issue. Why we have to keep defending the right to defend our children’s rights in public is beyond me. Half of feminism these days is beyond me.

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Comments on: "If only they wouldn’t act like KIDS…" (6)

  1. Mother of a child who stutters said:

    When I saw your comment over there, I sought out your blog, and sure enough, you don’t disappoint! This is exactly the 2200 words I would have written (except about Korea, since I don’t live there). I especially thought the paragraph about “controlling” kids was perfect. And the point about people thinking that parents are being laissez-faire if you can’t actually see them *punishing* the child for existing. So perfect. So entirely perfect. I’m sorry that your hands are done, but I love the words that came out.

  2. Miriam Heddy said:

    Would it be incredibly lazy of me to just say, “Word!” ?

    Because yeah, what you said.

  3. I don’t know if it will make you feel any better, but feminism is what has turned me from one of those “I know how you SHOULD be parenting your child” childless people into someone who pointedly turns away or smiles at the parents in my vicinity who are dealing with their children in whatever way because I realize that it doesn’t, ultimately, effect me at all – before I had even decided that I would like to be a parent myself someday. Because I read blogs like yours and realize that the vast majority of mothers (because really, we are talking about mothers when we talk about these kinds of things) are doing the very best that they can.

    Also, I thought the whole “New Yorkers need and deserve privacy” thing was bulls**t because I read that right after staying in the crowded heart of Chicago. There were children everywhere, and the percentage of those children who were even misbehaving was stunning because it was nearly zero – which says to me that their parents had already done everything in their power to make sure that their child knew how to, and could, behave properly in public. (The ONLY child that I heard making a lot of noise was doing so in a fancy, crowded – with loud adults – restaurant. And no one cared.) If Chicagoans can do it, New Yorkers can do it too.

  4. Lyndsay said:

    Fantastic post. I’m not a parent and don’t want to be unless I can do the kind of parenting you describe. Just because a person is young, doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings and desire agency and appropriate choices.
    My parents mainly ignored my sister if she was whining or throwing a tantrum or they got her to go to bed or eat if they thought that was the reason she was grumpy. She was grumpy a lot. She did not turn into one of those obnoxious people people on that thread would predict she would have. She was annoying to me but my parents kept their cool. Kids are not perfect and adults break down and cry sometimes too. We’re just socialized to do it in private because we’ve learned to be concerned about what people think.

  5. Oh hells yeah.

    And the thing is? Most of the time it’s not the [young] child’s fault! They’re tired, they’re hungry, they’re hyper – I get cranky when I’m like that, too. You don’t hear Feministe complaining about old people who are cranky and shouty or smelly, do you?

    Effing ridiculous.

  6. […] there, and they exist in our world, and like That Thread of Angry Making at Feministe (most of you should know the one) that went on and on to prove that we as feminists, womanists, and social justice activists (and […]

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