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The birds and the bees and…the bees?

By Artist not credited (Argument in an Off Key.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s a busy day and I don’t have time for my usual overthinking things.  Instead, I’m going to share a story from the summer that I can’t believe I’ve never posted.  It was the worst (best?) combination of MomFail and Proud Mommy Moment.  Warning: sex stuff.  And gay sex stuff.  Careful of your gag reflex.

When my son turned ten this summer, I did as I do every year and took him to the doctor for his well visit.  This story is not about that, though it factors in peripherally.  While dude was sitting there in his underwear waiting for the doctor to come in, he said,

“Mom, when are you going to tell me how babies get made?”

I gave a nervous glance at the door, sure the doctor would open it literally the moment I started to speak.  I took a deep breath and said, “After your appointment.  I want to have this conversation with you, but not right now because there won’t be time for us to really talk.”

Whew.  Not that I didn’t want to explain it to him, I just didn’t want to be interrupted in the middle.  Turns out that was a Very Good Thing Indeed.

After his appointment, we got back in the car and I asked if he was ready to talk.  He said he was.  I carefully and matter-of-factly explained the mechanics of straight sex to him.  He already knew about sperm and eggs, so there wasn’t much more to say other than how the parts fit together.  He understood it about as well as any ten-year-old, I suppose.

And then I learned that I should never, ever have these conversations while driving.

As soon as I’d finished explaining and he indicated he understood, he said, “So, when a boy has sex with another boy, he puts his penis in the other boy’s butt.”

We nearly got in an accident.

Once I had regained control of the car, I did what any good mother would do.  I calmly answered my kid, right?  Guess again.

I will admit this was not my finest parenting moment.  I said the first thing that came to mind: “Where did you learn that?!”  I was honest to god having visions of my kid clicking on a pop-up window while surfing the Internet and learning far too much about the naked human body.  For about ten heart-stopping seconds, I was in a full-on panic.

Then my son, who is nothing if not logical, said, “No one.  I just guessed.  Boys don’t have vaginas, so that was the only hole I could think of.”

I decided that a discussion about how some men do, in fact, have vaginas could wait.*  I replied, “Well, yes.  Some men have sex that way.”

And that was that.

We moved on.  I told him that the most important thing for him to know is that his body is his and no one has the right to touch it without his permission.  I told him the same thing applies to others, and that he should never, ever touch anyone without making sure it’s okay first.

His response?  “That makes sense, Mom.”

My work here is done.

______________________________

*We have since had that conversation, in case anyone was wondering.

 

Ruining our kids

I was already in an irritable mood after seeing Christianity Today refer to Rachel Held Evans as having a “meltdown” because she pointed out the flaw with The Nines conference’s lack of women.  It didn’t help that this awful post on parenting turned up in my newsfeed–more than once, I might add, and not because anyone was being critical.  Nope, everyone seemed to love it.

I can’t speak for other parents, but I’m very tired of people who think that yesteryear’s parenting was so much better than today’s.  It’s like all the other times people talk about wanting to return to “the good old days.”  While there may be some good things we’d like to keep–or reclaim–there’s also a whole lot of terrible things that, unfortunately, cannot be separated from the things we like.  (And there are relationships between them that we’d prefer not to see, as is the case with “1950s values” and racism.)

In this particular post, I was most disturbed by the way that she emphasized the result of what she sees as bad parenting (coddling, apparently) without mentioning a single word about the consequences of other parenting flaws.  For example, she’s concerned that her boys won’t be able to play shoot-the-bad-guys at school, but seems unconcerned that parents might not be adequately teaching their children who is or isn’t “bad.”

There were some specific things that bothered me about what she had to say: boys will be boys (what about girls who like that kind of play?  or boys who don’t?); bullies perpetrate physical violence but claims of emotional bullying are more or less just whining; people become suicidal as a result of a single nasty remark; and college students and new graduates are going home crying over every failure and quitting (as though this didn’t already happen with people born into extreme privilege).

Believe it or not, I don’t care what you let your kids do.  Buy them toy guns?  Whatever.  Don’t buy them?  Whatever.  The reason is that it’s not in the purchase or non-purchase of a particular toy that learning non-violence happens.  Kids are not better off because they are allowed  to play cops and robbers or because they are forbidden from playing.  Ms. Metz has it wrong–boys don’t somehow magically grow up better because they were allowed to play certain types of playground games.  Not only that, boys do not grow into better men because they played those games.  That’s part of a particular view of masculinity that says there are certain Normal Things Boys Do, and anyone outside that must either have freak parents who regulate their play or else there’s something unmanly about them.  Weirdly, she seems to be blaming parents for the lack of gun play at school, when it is, in fact, the rules of the school restricting play.  She’s conflating parenting with public education and really seems hung up on this gun thing throughout.

As for bullying, I’m super happy for Ms. Metz that she got over whatever things were said to her.  Perhaps she’s just very confident in herself.  I think it’s far more likely that she simply never experienced the kind of emotional, verbal, and sexualized bullying some of us did.  Maybe she doesn’t know what it’s like to go to school and wonder how many hurtful things will be said to you that day or whether the boy who sits behind you is going to grab your ass yet again while the teacher looks the other way.  She might not understand how it feels to walk into a room to a class full of kids calling you an elephant and making “boom” noises at you while you walk, every day.  She probably doesn’t know what it’s like to spend three years trying to find a lunch table where the other kids won’t slowly slide over while you’re eating until you end up on the floor, followed by laughter and fake apologies.  I’m just guessing here, though.

I suppose because Ms. Metz doesn’t understand that kind of harassment, she’s more likely to also misunderstand being suicidal.  I do not know any person who has felt suicidal or attempted suicide or has succeeded who did it simply because some random girl called her a bitch one day.  If a single episode of name-calling sends one to such a dark place, then it wasn’t just because of the mean word–that was just the proverbial straw.  I find Ms. Metz’s words hateful, hurtful, and inappropriate.  They lack any sort of empathy.  I have no idea where she got her information that this is all it takes to make teenage girls commit suicide, either–apparently, she also doesn’t read all the way through stories about bullying and suicide enough to get the whole picture.

On the other hand, college students with helicopter parents are a real issue, so I’ll give Ms. Metz credit for spotting that one.  The way she presents it, though, makes it sound like she’s saying this is happening in dire proportions compared to the number of students enrolled in college.  She’s making blanket statements about “today’s parenting” being responsible for this.  Oh, really?  Because that wasn’t happening before.  Spoiled, bratty kids going to college is totally a new thing, right?

My biggest problem with this post is that it’s so vague.  She never actually says what she thinks is the bad parenting responsible for selfish, needy kids.  She hints that it has to do with “catering” to them, but what does that even mean?  How, exactly, is it “catering” to kids to have a philosophy of not buying toy guns or allowing shooting play?  And how are her kids better off for being allowed to do those things?  In what way does stopping verbal bullying prevent people from being emotionally healthy?  She gets at it a little with her comment about not giving in to them unless they use manners.  But if what she meant is that kids have no manners, why didn’t she just write a post about that?  She says her boys will be emotionally hurt but that she’ll cushion it as much as a mother can.  Isn’t that catering to them?  How will they learn to deal with things if she’s “cushioning” them?

Like the post about how “marriage isn’t for you,” this just smacks of self-righteousness.  The big FAIL for me is that she never once suggests that the best way to help our kids grow up to be responsible, respectful people is to teach them how to treat others.  I didn’t see even one reference to, say, the Golden Rule.  I saw nothing in there about teaching our kids about kind words, respecting personal boundaries, or helping people who need it.  There wasn’t a single word about making things right when we’ve hurt other people.

Ms. Metz claims that she “respects” others’ right to parent how they see fit.  I’m not that nice.  I think if you’re abusing your child, you are a sorry excuse for a parent, and I do not respect your “right” to harm your child.  Beyond that, I’m just not that concerned with what you do.  As for me, I’m going to worry less about whether I’m “overprotective” and more about whether I’m teaching my kids that all people have value.  That strikes me as far more important than whatever vague badness Ms. Metz is suggesting I avoid.

Stay-at-home moms don’t need a defense

A Day in the Life of a Wartime Housewife. By Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

All day yesterday, I kept seeing this post cropping up.  It’s essentially yet another defense of stay-at-home motherhood, complete with elevating the role of Wife and Mother to a status nearly equal to the heavenly host.  There is nothing more guaranteed to make my blood boil than some misguided person thinking the answer to disparaging stay-at-home moms is to do just the opposite.

Before I get to what’s wrong here, I do want to point out what Matt Walsh got right.  I could die happy if I never again had to hear either of these phrases:

What do you DO all day?

and

I would be SO BORED!

I’ve heard them before.  A lot.  And yes, it does make me feel small.  Unappreciated.  Undervalued.  It makes me think those people either didn’t put in much effort when they were home or like they think I lie on the sofa eating bonbons and watching The View (gross; as if) because I have nothing better to do with my time.  Yes, I do want desperately to tell every single person who has ever said those things to me to go fuck off.  I don’t (usually), but I’d like to.

You know what’s just as bad, though?

Telling women that they’re not spending enough time with their kids.  Telling women that being a WifeMommy is the most important thing she’ll ever do.  Telling women they need husbands and children to be happy, fulfilled, and productive.  Telling professional women that they are so expendable that no one will miss them at work if they leave.

Here are some of the things Matt Walsh got wrong:

1. Staying home is super hard work.

Unless your spouse thinks it’s the at-home parent’s job to do 100% of the housework, yard work, and childcare–24/7–there are definitely moments of down time.  When my kids were tiny, nap time was my best friend.  That’s not to say parenting and chores aren’t hard, just that it’s not some endless parade of labor.  Matt Walsh did comment that there’s some down time, as there is in many other jobs.  However, he also spend a fair number of paragraphs ranting about how “hard” staying home is.  Parenting and caring for the household do involve a lot of work, but there’s no need to go overboard and act like I’m doing heavy construction all day.

2. Parenting isn’t a “job.”

I need to vent for a moment about “words mean things.”  I could write an entire blog post–maybe even a series–on this craptastic view.  Words have the meaning we attach to them–not some platonic ideal meaning.  We use the word “job” in all sorts of ways.  “I have a job to do!” doesn’t necessarily mean for pay.  “That’s not my job!” doesn’t have anything to do with getting paid either.  So stop insisting that stay-at-home moms do not have  a “job” to do.  We do.  So do moms who work outside the home.  So do dads.  It’s just another way to make sure we separate people into the categories where we think they belong.  It’s another way to disparage both at-home parents and work-outside-the-home parents.

3. At-home moms belong on a pedestal.

We are not special.  We are not better.  I’m not interested in being elevated above anyone else.  It puts me in some untouchable place where I can’t have a shitty day when I don’t even have the energy to take a shower and I feed my child Ritz crackers and string cheese for lunch so I don’t have to cook.  Up on that pedestal is a magical fairy land where sick moms push through the pain to make sure that the laundry is done and the house sparkles and the kids look like glossies in a magazine.  In that land, the awesome craft project on page 9 of Family Fun always turns out just like the picture, and I sew my kids’ Halloween costumes by hand.  I don’t know about other stay-at-home moms, but I sure as hell don’t live in that place.

4. Moms are irreplaceable.

Well, okay, we’re not easily replaced.  But working outside the home is not the same thing as having a mother die or abandon her family.  What a horrid comparison.  I know lots and lots of women who have paid, outside-the-home jobs.  They are amazing moms!  They haven’t been “replaced” by anyone.  The other problem here is that it erases stay-at-home dads.  Please, tell me again how only mommy can take care of the kids.  I think I must have forgotten that daddies are just glorified babysitters.  Never mind families that have two daddies.  Or is this the universe where one of them must be pretending to be “the girl” in that relationship?

5. Someone, somewhere, has said it’s “ideal” for moms to spend less time with their kids.

I have never heard even one person say this.  Sure, I’ve heard the aforementioned comments about being home.  But no one has suggested that the world would be a better place if women just got off their asses and went to the office for a few hours a day.

My biggest problem with the whole post can be summed up with this quote:

Yes, she is just a mother. Which is sort of like looking at the sky and saying, “hey, it’s just the sun.”

What is implied here is that mothers, like the sun, are the center of everything.  A woman’s value becomes tied to her status as WifeMommy, the person around whom the entire family solar system revolves.  It ignores real women and real life in favor of an ideal, an image of the perfect family.  Central to this view is the belief that a true family looks a lot like a 1950s television show.  If WifeMommy is the Sun, then there isn’t any room for stay-at-home dads or same-sex couples or single parents or couples without children or unpartnered people without children or grandparents raising their grandkids.  Those family situations and structures fall outside the boundaries of what is good and right, and we can therefore justify denying help, care, or solutions when the need arises.

It’s time we stopped trying to make a case for a return to a rose-tinted view of a by-gone era.  This is the way individuals and families live in 2013.  It’s like going out in the rain without an umbrella and demanding that it stop raining because you’re getting wet.  Are there issues that can come up because of the changes in family structure?  Sure.  Not because those changes are bad but because they are different.  “Different” doesn’t require fixing; it requires new strategies.  Instead of arguing over who’s more deserving of a pedestal, let’s sit down together and figure out how we can do this thing called life together.

She may call you up tonight

By Mike DelGaudio (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Time for a cute story about my ten-year-old.  For those of you who know him in person, this probably won’t come as much of a shock.

Yesterday, as usual on days when he has band, I picked him up from school.  Once we were in the car and buckled, just as I was starting the engine, he said, “I have a Post-It note.”

“Oh?” I inquired.  He often has Post-Its; I wasn’t terribly interested.

“Yeah.  And guess what’s on it?”

At that point, I was a little wary.  I wondered if it was something from his teacher.  “Um.  I don’t know.  What’s on it?”

“Sydney’s phone number!” he announced proudly.

“And who is Sydney?”

“A girl in my class.  She likes me.”

This is the fourth girl’s phone number that he’s gotten since last spring.  He has exactly one boy’s phone number, and the only reason he has it is that the boy’s mom gave it to me.

I’m going to blame my son’s former dance teachers for this, mostly because they’re not here to defend themselves and also because they don’t read this blog anyway.  They are all responsible for teaching my kid how to treat women and girls, especially ones he likes.  Didn’t they know that girls appreciate boys who know how to show respect and like them for who they are?  I mean, sheesh.

As cute as this story is, it makes me a little sad, too.  Oh, not because my precious boo-bear is growing up.  I’m really enjoying watching both my kids blossom.  No, it makes me sad because I know that if it were my daughter collecting boys’ numbers (or my son collecting phone numbers of boys saying they liked him, for that matter) very few people would see it as cute or sweet.  (On a side note, no one would bat an eye at this age if my daughter had a handful of girls’ numbers–that’s culturally expected, and most people would say it didn’t mean anything.)

Funny thing is, I have a few friends whose daughters have magnetic personalities and who like to hang out with boys.  I (and most of their parents) do, in fact, think it’s cute.  But there’s still that little nagging thought that it’s not something to share in public because people may judge those girls or their parents.  After all, those are the girls who, in a few years, are going to be posting braless selfies, right?

I don’t really care whether my kids prefer to hang out with boys or girls.  What I care about is having them respect themselves and others.  I see these opposite-sex friendships as having several benefits.  What better way for the kids to learn about each other and themselves?  They’re finding out what they like.

My first question to my son after he said this girl likes him was, “What do you like about her?”

“Well,” he said, “she’s writing this really cool story.”

“Ah, so she likes to write.  That’s something you enjoy, too.”

“Yeah!  Maybe we’ll write something together.”

“You know what?  That sounds like a great idea.  I’m glad you have a friend like Sydney.”

“Me too, Mom.”

 

6 reasons not to waste your money…

…because your daughter is just going to stay home and have babies anyway.

Little Housewife, Johan Georg Meyer (via Wikimedia)

Last week, several friends were kind enough to bring to my attention this awful piece on why parents shouldn’t send their daughters to college.  Go ahead and read it if you’d like some rage with your coffee this morning.  In case you prefer not to, here’s the list in brief:

  • Your poor daughter will end up with a–gasp–educated man.  No, wait, she’s just going to end up being the hard-working, intelligent wife with a lazy loser for a husband (kinda like all those sitcoms).
  • She’s going to have the opportunity to have sex.  Maybe a lot of sex.  Probably with lazy losers.  Once that happens, she’s not going to notice that her guy is bad for her because sex hormones.
  • She’s going to end up with a career, dammit.  She probably won’t want to play house anymore.  Maybe she won’t even want babies!
  • Since she’s just going to be a good wife and mommy, she won’t enjoy having the career that would have paid for her college education.  Also, it’s a total waste of money to go to college and then stay home, thus forcing your husband to pay for your loans with his money.
  • There is obviously only one way to be a feminist, and that is by going to college and having a career (which is dictated by your college education, of course) and not being a wife and mommy.  It’s a slippery slope, thinking she has to prove she’s a feminist by doing all this.  We can’t have that.
  • In order to pay for college, parents might plan ahead and not have all the babies God wants them to.  They might use birth control!  No worries that sending sons to college might make parents sin by preventing pregnancy, though.
  • Those young women are going to regret it someday when they are stuck in a cube somewhere wishing they could just stay home and luxuriate, eating bonbons and watching daytime television like the rest of us stay-at-home moms.
  • They won’t be able to go to seminary (at least, not a Catholic one) if they have debt.  Fine, that one might be real, especially since no woman called to vocational ministry ever knows that before she stupidly and blindly goes off to college to get a degree in chemical engineering first.

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that I’m informed now.  It’s only about ten more years til I have to think about sending my own daughter off to college, and I sure as heck don’t want her to end up with a degree that keeps her from her duties as wife and mom.  Who cares if she’s ambitious and has talked for the better part of two years about wanting a career working with animals?  She should just squash those dreams right now before they get out of hand.

Meanwhile, I guess I’d better figure out a way to pay my husband back for using “his” money (that he worked super hard for!) to pay off my loans from undergraduate and graduate school.  After all, I’m just playing 1950s-television-style housewife here and not contributing financially.  On second though, never mind.  I’m just gonna go watch some television to alleviate my regrets.

The baby question, part 3

By Elnaz6 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve spent the last couple of days talking about the appropriateness of questioning people’s choice to parent or not parent.  You can read the previous entries by clicking the link on the Blog Series menu to the right.  There are so many off-shoots of this, and I could spend many more days going through the rest of them.  Today, though, I want to talk about men.

I’m not a guy, so I don’t know what men really think about this.  My husband assures me that “So, when are you going to have kids?” is not a typical staff room conversation among men.  I’m not sure that he was never asked that question before we had children, but he doesn’t recall anyone prying that way.  Probably some men have to field those queries, but my guess is that it’s far less common.  Someone else can set the record straight on that for me if I’m wrong.

Anyway, while I’m not a big fan of “what about the men,” I think we sometimes get confused about what that means.  It definitely doesn’t mean that men have no stake in important conversations about roles and expectations.  I can’t understand why more men aren’t horrified at the way they’re portrayed, particularly when it comes to love, sex, marriage, and family.  Why the heck aren’t you guys out there protesting having media and the church imply that you’re crazed animals or cavemen who can’t control yourselves?  That would seriously piss me off.

A similar bad stereotype is that men don’t actually want kids–they have to be forced into it by their wives.  And if they don’t have wives, so much the worse for them, because then they will obviously never, ever want to have kids.  Apparently, men are too self-unaware (or self-absorbed, maybe? I dunno) to know whether they want to be dads.

This is genuinely a thing I remember being told by other Christian women.  I first heard it in college, which makes very little sense to me.  I mean, no kidding that an eighteen-year-old college student doesn’t want kids right then and doesn’t know if he ever wants them.  I don’t think I knew at that age, despite the fact that I’m supposed to be in possession of a biological time-bomb clock.  I heard it again after I was married, and I distinctly recall finding out that some women purposefully did things to mess up their birth control so they’d get “accidentally” pregnant and their men would have to learn to be dads.

Yeah.

Of course, this totally makes sense, because men can’t be nurturing the way women can, right?  It’s God’s design!  Women obviously all want to have babies and are natural caregivers (whoever wrote that has never met me).  Without us, men would have no clue at all what to do with a baby.  Left to their own devices, they would diaper the wrong end or feed the kids Jell-o and ice cream for dinner or ignore them while they hit each other in the head with sticks.  That’s why when we women go out and leave the kids home, it’s perfectly okay to refer to our husbands as “babysitters” for our kids.  They’re not really parenting, they’re just watching the kids.  If we left them to it for too long, they would revert to being irresponsible people who let the children run wild.  We must be sure to keep a close eye on things.

Maybe this is what people worry about if two men are parenting together.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen this happen.  When I’m out at rehearsal, I come home to a clean house and two sleeping children (and sometimes a sleeping husband).  Guess what?  He actually knows how to take care of things because he’s an adult.  Shocking, I know, but it’s true.  I don’t feel like I’m leaving the kids with a babysitter; I feel like I’m leaving them with their other parent–probably because I am.

I understand the issues involved when there’s an unintended pregnancy or a divorce/break-up in which a man needs to take responsibility for the child or children he’s fathered.  But that’s not what I’m talking about here.  I mean the knowledge, before there are any children involved at all, that a man does or does not want to have any.

Men really do know.  Those who do want to be dads may not feel ready yet or may have their own set of anxieties about fatherhood, some of which are similar and some of which are different from women’s feelings.  Those who don’t want to parent are just as clear as women who don’t want children.  They have their own reasons, and it’s not as simple as “I’d rather have a career” any more than women’s reasons can be reduced to a single factor.

Think about it.  If it were really just about men who didn’t want to “grow up” (as though being a parent magically makes one an adult), would you honestly want to have a baby with someone like that?  Or adopt a child?  I know I wouldn’t.

Not being a man, I don’t know that there’s more I can say about this other than wishing culture wouldn’t portray child-free men as immature or self-centered.  I guess the only other piece of advice I have is that if you don’t want to be a dad, then make sure you’re having that conversation with potential partners–not only to find out if you’re on the same page but to actively take steps to prevent parenthood (if you’re straight-cis, that is).  If there is any chance that you and your spouse/partner could get pregnant, don’t just leave it up to her to do all the preventive measures.  Oh, and make sure you’re using the condoms correctly, folks.  User error is the largest cause of failure–when used right, they’re one of the most effective methods of birth control available.  (The myths spread by the Abstinence Police make me ragey.)

Please don’t feel obligated, but I would love to hear from some men on this topic.  As a rule, I think men are pretty awesome (especially my husband), and I like learning about how men think about these things.  You don’t have to share your personal story, but I’m definitely interested in your thoughts about the cultural view of men, particularly when it comes to relationships and family.

Hey, thanks for coming along for the ride during this series.  Tomorrow, I’m rounding up my favorite (and not-so-favorite) posts of the week.  If you’ve read something interesting or want to have yours included, shoot me a message through my contact form or leave me a comment.

The baby question, part 2

By Elnaz6 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday, I wrote about how obnoxious it is for people to question why others don’t have children.  Today I’m going to address turning that question around.  I have a lot more personal experience with this one, so please forgive me that my response to this is somewhat more passionate than yesterday.  Being asked why I had kids is one of the reasons I really hate when people ask why others don’t have kids, so I hope you read this with that in mind.

Parenting is not always like the cover of a magazine.  I know that comes as a complete shock to everyone, since you all obviously thought that airbrushed models and perfect cakes and craft projects came with the package.  Reality is closer to “Where the hell is my coffee?” said as one stumbles bleary-eyed over scattered toys while trying to convince the 10-year-old to stop reading a book naked in his room and the 8-year-old to stop singing at the top of her voice.

Even so, I love being a mom.  I can’t really speak for my husband, but signs indicate he loves being a dad.  Some days are easier than others.  A lot of the time I’m glad my son goes to school and both kids have activities.  Every night, I’m thankful I get to be with these kids, and I’m honored to watch them grow up.

I do not like being asked why I had kids.

The thing is, there’s no clear answer to that.  And it always seems to be asked at my absolute worst parenting moments–when my daughter is simultaneously rubbing her head on my legs and covering her ears because she needs tactile stimulation but the auditory stimulation is too much.  I snap at her to stop, and someone gets horrified that I would dare act like my kid is annoying me.

When you ask me at my vulnerable moments why I had kids, all I hear is, “YOU SAID KIDS ARE A BLESSING! YOU ARE NOT ACTING LIKE YOUR KIDS ARE A BLESSING!  YOU SHOULD TREAT THEM LIKE STARS 24/7 OR ELSE YOU ARE A BIG, FAT LIAR!”  It makes me not trust you (even if you have kids yourself, but especially if you don’t) with my shortcomings.  It makes me feel like I have to tuck that part away and always show myself to be the best parent so you’ll believe me when I say I love it.

When you see people who are having a hard time, that’s not the moment to think, “People like that shouldn’t have kids.”  You don’t know what kind of day those parents had or whether they are struggling with kids who have multiple issues.  I completely understand that we’d like to just crush the reproductive organs of child abusers, but you can’t tell just by seeing someone for five minutes in Walmart.  You also can’t tell sometimes even when it’s your friend who seems like the perfect parent.

Less-than-stellar parenting moments are only one time when no one should ever be asked why they had kids.  I mean, sometimes, I’d like to just snap, “I don’t fucking know.  Why don’t you take them for a while?”  Some other times not to ask:

  • When you have in mind a “correct” answer.  You want to ask the question?  Then get ready to accept any answer given.  Period.  Just like people need to accept any answer for not having kids.
  • When a woman has a lot of children.  Women get asked this all the time, as though they didn’t really want that many or are just really weird or overly religious.  Guess what?  You don’t know, so lay off.
  • White women to women of color.  Yeah, I went there.  When I worked as a school nurse, we had a family with several children.  When the third oldest, who had special needs, transferred to our school, there were wisecracks about how many different fathers there were and why this woman was continuing to “breed” (she had just had a baby).  We had exactly one other non-white employee in the entire building, and she and I both told the others they were out of line with their comments.  Guess who got labeled as “finding racism everywhere”?  There’s a lot of underlying racism in grilling women of color about why they had kids.  Just don’t ask.
  • When a woman is in a lower socioeconomic bracket than you are.  Again, there are assumptions made about whether or not “those people” should be “breeding.”  When my husband and I had just had our first, I was told we shouldn’t have more than two because we only have three bedrooms in our house and couldn’t afford to move.  I could already feel the questions building up should we have decided to have a third one.  And we were by no means struggling–I was already a stay-at-home mom by that point and we were comfortable on one income, even if it wasn’t high.  No one wants to feel like she’s being evaluated on whether she can handle (financially or otherwise) the children she wants or has.
  • When a parent of a special needs child has one or more younger children.  It implies she should be concentrating her efforts on caring for the child with the diagnosis.  Actually, even if she only has the one or the special needs child is the youngest, it shouldn’t be asked.  It’s insensitive to the fact that this wasn’t likely the life she imagined when she was pregnant and to the challenges she now has.  It also comes across as suggesting children with disabilities are better off never having been born.
  • When you don’t know someone.  You don’t know their circumstances.  Maybe a woman wasn’t planning on motherhood but got pregnant anyhow and chose to parent instead of another option.  Questioning her may feel like a judgment, especially if she didn’t want to have kids in the first place–like a “how could you be so stupid” thing.

See, for me, asking a woman after the fact why she had kids is pointless.  She already has them.  What if she regrets it?  All that does is fuel her guilt over wishing she hadn’t.  So what if she didn’t realize she had other options at the time?  There’s nothing to be gained by making her feel pressured to provide some answer she can’t give.

It’s also a question less frequently asked of men, same-sex couples, and adoptive parents.  It’s assumed those people didn’t just have kids because they thought they were supposed to, whereas women who have been pregnant might not really have wanted kids but thought God wanted them to or something.  That happens less often than you’d think, actually.  Even if someone says she had kids to experience blessings or because it’s just what people do, that doesn’t mean she didn’t want to be a mom–it just means she didn’t need to think long and hard about it.  Of course, it’s entirely possible she didn’t really want kids and didn’t believe she had another choice, in which case she may be trying to cover that or convince herself because she already has the kids and can’t do anything to change that.

On the other hand, there are times when asking why people had kids can be appropriate.  It can even be used as a weapon in a healthy way:

  • When you genuinely want to know the pros and cons of parenting because you’re not sure yet whether you want to parent.  Just be honest about it so that it doesn’t feel pressuring or judgmental, and be willing to accept any answer given.  If the answer doesn’t apply to you, just don’t put it in your “yes” column.
  • When some jerk has just asked you why you don’t have kids.  Like a stick to the eye.
  • Within community.  It does come up in parenting groups, believe it or not.
  • Before a woman actually has kids, especially if she’s expressing that she’s unsure but thinks she has to.  It’s never bad to let women know we have options and that tradition, the church, and men’s beliefs don’t need to dictate our futures.

Only you know if you have friends who won’t be offended by the question.  Only you know what your motivation for asking is.  I don’t think one needs to tread quite as carefully with this question as the previous one, but it’s still best kept to oneself in most circumstances.

Tomorrow I want to talk about how we see men who don’t (and some who do) want kids.  Hope you’ll join me!

The baby question, part 1

By Elnaz6 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

This seems to come up every time there’s something in the media about women and reproductive rights.  While it’s not the big news of the moment today, this is something I’ve been thinking about.  Invariably, some (possibly) well-meaning person will write a (not) well-meaning blog post or op-ed about how awesome babies are and what a blessing they are.  I like to hope (sort of) that these writings are just not coming across the way they were intended, but I doubt it.  Anyway, today, I want to explain why you should probably (okay, definitely) not ask/pressure your child-free friends regarding their status as non-parents.  Bear with me, I’m going to use a somewhat silly analogy, but I hope you’ll get my point.

I happen to like burritos.  Specifically, I like Taco Bell 7-layer burritos.  They are like a $2 bit of joy in my mouth.  It’s kind of weird, as I usually dislike beans, and Taco Bell burritos are full of ‘em.  If you ever come out to lunch at Taco Bell with me, and you happen not to like burritos at all, I promise our conversation will never look like this:

Me: Ooh!  Burrito!  Want one?

You: No, thanks.  I really only like the tacos.

Me: But…but…burritos!  They are super awesome!  Don’t you want to experience the awesome?

You: Not really.  I’m sure I just want a taco.

Yet that’s exactly how a lot of these conversations go when someone who is a parent can’t fathom why anyone would not want to have kids.  There is always someone who finds it necessary to say, “But…but…babies!  They’re so cuuuuute!  And they’re little blessings from heaven!”  Okay, maybe not quite like that, but you get the picture.  Not only that, but there’s this belief that the reason people don’t want kids is because they just haven’t tried it yet–like they couldn’t possibly know what they do or don’t want.

I have some news for you.  Your friends who have chosen not to have kids (or have chosen not to have biological kids) have probably given a lot more thought to it than, say, whether or not they like burritos.  Unless they are very weird, like me, and spend time thinking up odd analogies for their blogs–in which case they might think deeply about burritos.  I mean, eating the burrito or the taco (or skipping both and eating somewhere else) is a momentary decision based on current taste preference.  Whether or not to parent is a pretty big decision.  Sometimes it’s made for us by circumstances, but when it isn’t, it’s not really something people come to lightly.

The other thing you should know is that it’s not really okay to ask strangers on the Internet or friends in your offline life or people you meet at parties why they don’t have kids.  You don’t know their story.  It might be by choice, but it might not.  You probably wouldn’t grill your friends and acquaintances about why they don’t like burritos.  If you wouldn’t pressure them about something that innocuous, why do it about big things that clearly require more thought and attention and come with a lot deeper feelings?

See, here’s the deal.  It’s not about you.  Someone choosing not to have kids isn’t about thinking kids are awful or parenting sucks in a general sense applied to all people for all time; it’s about not wanting those things for oneself.  Someone who cannot have children doesn’t need your “magic” advice about how to make it happen.  Pretty much you should just lay off the judgment, and you certainly are not invited to ask nosy, personal questions about someone else’s life.

It’s also not okay to suggest that a person might not know what he or she wants or how to achieve that.  It’s not okay to tie a person’s worth to the children he or she has (yes, I know this happens more with women, but I’ve seen it happen to men–why, hello there, “children are like arrows; blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them”).   It is never okay to believe that your personal preference or lifestyle is best for everyone.

Not only that, but even if you’re right–even if someone might later on change her mind–it’s not up to you to push that to happen or even decide that it will.  Sometimes people change their minds; sometimes they don’t, even about big things like children or career or where to live.  It’s true that someone who really doesn’t want children at one time might decide later on that she does.  But similarly, someone who always thought she wanted to be a mom might discover that she doesn’t want to after all.  Among my offline friends, I’ve seen both things.  I’ve also seen people who desperately wanted to parent and couldn’t and people who didn’t intend to have children suddenly finding themselves doing so.  Life is life, and it happens.

Because I have kids, I don’t really know how it feels to have made a choice not to parent or to be unable to have children.  I have, however, been asked why we stopped at two (which is also a rude question that shouldn’t be asked).  People seem to think that if one baby is cute, two are cuter, and more are cuter still.  Yes.  Babies are totally adorable and special.  That might be a good enough reason for people who are not me, but I was done after the second one.  I did not want more then, I don’t want more now, and I don’t see myself wanting more in the future.

Perhaps that’s why I can understand why being grilled and pressured is so hurtful.  Or maybe it’s because I was so certain that I did want to be a mom that I can completely understand the certainty of not wanting to be one.  It might be because we went through the challenges of diagnosing fertility problems, and I know just a fraction of the sense of loss.  Whatever the reason, it’s why I don’t assume I know anything about a person and her own choice.  I don’t question it.

There are, of course, times when it’s okay to ask people why they don’t have children, but unless you meet the criteria, you just shouldn’t ask.  If your friend is close with you, chances are good you’ve had the conversation.  Hopefully, you were a decent friend and just listened without making assumptions.  Here are some examples of when it’s acceptable or even expected:

  • When you are in an intimate relationship with someone.  Naturally, you’ll talk about these things.  If you don’t want kids, and you’re two cis-het people, you need to have that conversation and you both need to agree on what you’re going to do about it.
  • Within a community.  If you’re part of an online or in-person group for people who don’t have children (for whatever reason), you and others will likely have shared your stories.  Of course, that’s not all you’ve shared, I’m sure, but most groups built on a specific premise do tend to discuss it.
  • If you’re unsure what you want to do and are looking for a mentor/advice.  It has to be done carefully and in such a way that the person understands your reasoning, but I don’t think it’s unfair for someone who isn’t sure to seek out others who have made decisions.  In that case, it may be a matter of framing the question so that it doesn’t come off as judgmental.  It also helps to be transparent about your objective.  You must be prepared to accept any and all answers given–even if they surprise you or confuse you.  They don’t have to be your reasons, but they are someone’s reasons and are therefore valid for those people.

So there you have it.  I hope that next time you’re at Taco Bell (or wherever) ordering your next burrito (or whatever) you’ll consider what I’ve said here.  All people deserve care and respect, and I hope that what I’ve said helps foster that.

I’ll be visiting this topic in other ways this week, including reversing the question and how we view men who don’t want children.  Stick around and share your thoughts.  I’d love to hear from some of you on how you handled these nosy questions, if you feel like sharing, and what other advice you would give to inappropriately curious people.

FYI (if you’re a mom of teenage boys)

Dear moms,

I have some information that might interest you. Last night, as I sometimes do, I sat on my couch and looked at social media on my phone.

I’ve been on vacation, so naturally there are quite a few blog posts and news articles to wade through. Wow – the Internet sure has been busy with the slut-shaming this summer!  Some of my friends brought this to my attention, because as Christians and/or feminists, we notice shit like that.

I noticed other things, too. For one, it appears that I’ve been on the wrong path when it comes to raising my own son.

I get it – you’ve seen all those shameless hussies putting their pictures up on Facebook how our culture exploits women’s bodies, right? I can’t help thinking that maybe I’ve failed by trying to raise a son who respects women regardless of how they’re dressed.  Clearly, I should have been protecting his eyes.  I should remedy that.

So, here’s the bit that I think is important for you to realize.  If you are the parent of a teenage son, you should definitely make sure he never, ever sees a half-dressed girl.  Half-dressed boys are okay, though, because naturally, none of your sons are gay or bisexual.  Posting half-naked pictures of your own sons flexing on the beach is also totally fine, since no one ever equates strength and virility.  We all know that unless we see a penis, it’s not sexual anyway.  Besides, it’s not at all exploitative to parade their bodies on the Internet for your own gain; everyone knows that’s much better than making one’s own choices about what to post.

Please understand this also: you are not responsible for making sure your sons know that regardless of what a girl is wearing, she deserves respect.  All you need to do is assure they don’t see those pictures.  After all, if they don’t see them, then you can relax in the knowledge that your sons do not know what girls’ bodies look like or that they won’t satisfy their curiosity by looking at the Internet at a friend’s house.

Not to mention that those “sexy” selfies your sons’ friends are posting don’t reflect who they are clearly demonstrate that they are temptresses who want to cause your sons to fall into sin.  You need to be sure to remind them often so that you can keep your sons from acting like animals protect your sons.

And now – thank God – you have a good excuse to select who your sons are friends with. You can also have awkward family dinners during which you remind them that masturbation is a sin teenage girls are sluts they should probably not see a female-bodied person in her nightgown until they are married.

I know you’re concerned that these girls’ parents would be disappointed if they knew their daughters were causing your poor, defenseless sons to get hard think impure things when looking at them on the Internet. Obviously, you know that once a boy sees a girl in a state of undress, he turns from a respectable, nice kid into a raging, hormonal beast.  You don’t want your sons to only think of girls in this “sexual” way, do you?

Of course not.

You’re also probably aware that girls don’t fantasize about boys’ bodies, so you’re free to put as many objectifying pictures of them up on your blog as you like.  No worries–you won’t be causing any teenage girls to lust.  That’s because girls don’t really have any sexual feelings unless they are a)married or b)they weren’t properly guarding their hearts.  Naturally, they never masturbate or look at naked men on the Internet.  And they’re not ever lesbians, either.

Good thing you’ve resolved not to give any of these teen temptresses a second chance to corrupt your innocent little men. I’m sure you’ve also installed nanny software and have a firewall so good no one could ever hack it.  You’ve probably made sure that your sons’ friends have these things too.  Don’t forget that awkward conversation you had with all their dads to find out if any of them had a stray magazine or several that you needed to confiscate before you allowed your sons into their homes.

I know that sounds harsh and old-school, but that’s just the way needs to be if you want to raise your sons right.  Blocking, banning, and shaming is so much more effective than merely having open conversations about how your sons treat women.  Remind yourself that you are raising men, while their female counterparts are mere girls.  That way, you can convince yourself that your sons are mature enough to make adult decisions while these girls are not–and apparently don’t have any parents to help them learn and grow the way you’re helping your sons.  Their parents will probably be grateful that you implied their daughters are tramps anyway.

Meanwhile, you should have in mind the kind of women you want your sons to marry.  Your gag reflex probably prevents you from realizing that they may be gay, which is why you need to imagine them with women.  It’s not creepy and weird at all that you are making these plans for them when they’re only halfway through high school.  It’s never too early to control your children’s future adulthood.  Besides, there’s no chance whatsoever that your sons will go behind your backs and date or have sex or whatever.  And did I mention that these “men of integrity” are totally not ever, ever masturbating?  Oh, I did?  Well, I said it again.

Moms, it’s not too late! If you think you’ve made a mistake in raising your sons (we all do – don’t fret – I’ve made some doozies), RUN to your boys’ social media pages and block every single one of their girl friends.  There are pictures of them that make it easy for your sons to imagine them naked, including that lovely senior portrait.  After all, girls don’t even need to be in a state of partial undress to tempt boys to lust after them–all it takes is their mere existence.

Will you trust me? Your boys are crying out for you to teach them that girls are the cause of all their adolescent hormone surges as well as any other behaviors they may exhibit.  Deep down, they are uncontrollable cavemen who cannot possibly learn how to respect and love women unless you protect them from the grasps of those alluring young things.  (And also, they are NOT gay, so you probably don’t need to worry about protecting them from other boys.)

You are raising MEN.

Teach them guilt, sexism, and blame.

I’m glad could have this talk.  Maybe we’ll talk again sometime about how we can raise our girls into women who feel ashamed of their bodies.

Mrs. Mitchell

Training ground

Isabelle et Gaston d’Orléans avec leur fils Pierre d’Alcantara
Karl Ernst Papf [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I wasn’t going to post about this.  I’m long past the stage of parenting little ones, and I had in mind to write about something else today.  I couldn’t hold back, though, especially after seeing this over at Naked Pastor.  It’s an excellent visual representation of what I think of the lousy belief that small children are sinful and manipulative.

Remember the online battle some weeks ago over teaching our children that they are “deeply broken”?  This is just a continuation of the same mentality.  It’s all part of the unhealthy teaching that we are born sinful and that there is nothing good in us apart from what God puts there when we believe.  What a disgusting view of humanity!  The worst part is that it’s not even “biblical.”

Sure, one could find some justification from a particular unnuanced reading of the New Testament.  It’s not what it says, though.  When God made people, God called us good–just like everything else God created.  The view that we are born bad and are in need of constant reminder is a gross misrepresentation of God’s view of us.

A huge part of why this angers me so much is that I have kids who don’t always behave in predictable ways.  I want to be as far from any of those teachings as possible.  Recently, I had a run-in with someone who tried to explain away my daughter’s behavior as being caused by being homeschooled–she apparently hasn’t been in enough social situations or hasn’t had to “discipline” herself to behave properly.  It was all I could do not to just let the woman have it.

It turned out that the problem was that something she was doing in a group setting at the beginning of the day was triggering her sensory issues.

I can’t imagine how it would have gone if I’d listened and decided this was a matter of needing to dig out her underlying “sin.”  Instead, I removed her from the activity in which she wasn’t participating and spent a good twenty minutes processing with her why she was struggling.  I was reminded that it’s these very situations that have pushed me to continue homeschooling her; I have no idea how she would manage all her sensory needs for a six hour day in a classroom.

Not all very young children have the same struggles as my children.  They do, however, have one thing in common:  They aren’t old enough to know how to handle situations like adults.  They may not be old enough to speak the words about their frustrations.  They certainly aren’t old enough to think through and identify what bothers them.  That’s why they need us–not to help them learn about their “sin” but to help them learn as they grow how to manage and express their feelings in healthy ways.  That means that they require the freedom to express themselves without being afraid of their own emotions or of adults’ reactions to their emotions.

Don’t misunderstand me–it’s not necessarily the method of parenting or disciplining that’s bad.  I’ve seen very loving parents do things vastly differently.  It’s the underlying motivation that isn’t right.  If you begin parenting with the basic assumption that your children were “born bad” or are “deeply broken” or have underlying “sin” causing their behavior; if you believe that babies learn to “manipulate” their parents by crying; if you think the healthiest thing you can do for your children is to break their wills or bend them to yours, then you are sorely mistaken about the aims of parenthood.

The goal of raising children isn’t to weed out all their sins so that they grow up to be mistake-free adults.  That assumes there’s such a thing as perfect people and that through parenting we can create them.  That’s a lie, and a damaging one at that.  By trying to shape children into perfect beings, we teach them that there is a state of sinlessness that they can achieve while simultaneously promoting the idea that they will never, ever reach that goal.  That’s a recipe for a lot of shame and guilt.

As I type this, my children are collecting their belongings for a trip out of town.  I know I can trust them to pack what they need not because I’ve taught them not to “sin” by disobeying my directions but because they are experienced travelers who have learned over time how to pack.  Most of the skills they have come from watching their dad and me, from talking it through, and from making their own mistakes and learning.  That doesn’t just apply to filling a suitcase; it’s in other things, too.

Do we get frustrated with them?  Of course.  I don’t always handle my anger very well, and I make all sorts of other mistakes as a parent.  I’m learning how to be a mom just like my kids are learning how to navigate their world.  What’s important is that we’re doing it together, without the layers of shame attached to their behavior.

I’m off for vacation tomorrow, and I’ll be gone for a week of unplugged bliss.  I’ll catch you all after the new school year starts!