Sunday, September 02, 2007

Mommy wars..... It really does take a village...

Okay. Logical question: Why is a woman who has never had children sticking her nose into a question like this?

Well, I'm sticking my nose in because I live on the same planet, I am interested in the lives of women and I'm interested in culture. And I care about children.

That established.... :)

I read an exchange this morning, directed by a few different blogs I've read so far, and was startled by the anger, the judgment and the snarkiness. It was a cat fight. It's not the first cat fight I've read on this particular topic. A few things came to mind as I read it. While the exchange addressed one of the symptoms of a greater disease, I wanted to take a look at what I see as the larger, more global, issue.

My understanding of feminism is that it is supposed to allow women choices we didn't have in the past. Somewhere along the line, there are those who took that to mean that we have the right to make choices, but only choices that are approved by other women.

So it was a switch from one set of no choices to another set of no choices.

I have my own opinions about child raising, even though I chose to not raise children myself. From a strictly social point of view, I prefer the idea of women staying home with their children. I'm a rather typical social conservative in that regard.

At the same time, I've lived long enough to know that life is often complex and messy. Not all women have the choice to stay home, even though they might prefer it.

And there are some who don't prefer to stay home and make decisions accordingly.

In a culture where the group dynamic is primarily individualistic, women who make the latter choice are at a disadvantage. Rather than being able to depend on their community, they are often alone, having to balance choices that satisfy both their own desires and the best interests of their children.

Others don't have a choice at all. They can't stay home. Economics being the usual reason. Welfare doesn't pay enough to make that a viable option for those women and it often won't award based simply because a woman wants to raise her children herself.

Yesterday during a quick trip to Target, I saw this for myself. A young woman, probably no older than 20, sat in the food court next to her child, police present. She was wearing the Target uniform. She didn't have anyone to take care of her child and she had to work. She left the little girl in the food court with a cheeseburger and a coloring book.

I overheard enough of the conversation with the police to know that her unpardonable crime of being poor will cause her problems in the future, perhaps even the loss of her child. There were comments made about Child Protective Services and Target's obligation to call the police, having seen the child alone.

These are the realities, the day-to-day life of many mothers. It's not about "choice". It's about necessity.

The mountain of this entire argument is much larger than the molehills so many have discussed over the past 30 years. The truth is that there is often no village. There are individuals. There are individuals with children. And a culture that doesn't support them or value them. Personal desires are the pinnacle of the meaning of life. Personal fulfillment comes before family obligations. Extended families, the possibility of leaving children with Grandma, are nearly a thing of the past. Once living in small communities, extended families and friends are now spread across miles. Neighborhoods are no longer small communities. They are made up of strangers who happen to live near each other.

When it comes to having the interests of children as a priority, it seems to me that this needs to change. Sometimes choices are hard. Sometimes we don't always get to have everything we want. Sometimes we might have to stay put when we don't want to stay put. Sometimes we have to consider the well-being of the community before our personal dreams.

"It takes a village" has become a nice catchphrase, something to be said to express a warm fuzzy feeling, but I wonder how many actually examine the implications of that and the changes that would be necessary to create it. More importantly, how many would be willing to actualize those changes?

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31 comments:

flutter said...

Excellent question. I think it takes a person. When judgment fades, progress follows

slouching mom said...

I am just so tired of the snarkiness. What a waste of resources that could be put to much better use elsewhere.

Judging others. It should be one of the seven deadly sins.

Julie Pippert said...

Oh well put.

You know, I got to wondering after a reading a book recently...what happened to situational ethics?

Are we too big, too broad, too individualistic now for these?

And now...you point out the desperate young mother in Target being chewed out and threatened. I suppose, were I to follow the mores, I'd say BRAVO. But I can't quite. I don't know her, how she parents, anything. But I do know what happens in a job like that: you're too easily replaced, and then what? We harangue her for not earning a living, supporting her child.

Perhaps the police---community outreach yes?---should be helping her find services to support her better next time or direct her to an agency that could.

Perhaps the police---community outreach, yes?---instead of judging Target for not reporting this woman they know, and must support in some way for some good reason, should understand that they were trying to be a village, in the best way they could.

Tragic. All of it.

Great post.

Julie
Using My Words

Z said...

Good post and a good point. Many people are too quick to judge and condemn and don't consider that another point of view is valid and that none of us is perfect. And few of us do all that we can to help.

painted maypole said...

That story about the woman in Target just breaks my heart. Because I can see how easily I could judge her. But also... I know that I pay my babysitters close to what she probably makes at Target. How could she afford one? If we truly took the "it takes a village" approach, she would be surrounded by trustworthy friends and family who could watch that child for her, even in a last minute pinch. But we've lost so much of that. We don't have friends we feel we can ask that of. Or we don't want to be beholden to someone. I imagine she was trying to make the best out of a bad situation. How horrible for her.

Emily said...

THis is an issue that continually eats at me. The upper middle class goed on and on about our choices and our freedoms without recognizing that so much of what we see as rights is actually privilege. What would I give to actualize those changes?

For starters -- I'd love to pay more taxes to fund a system of excellent, free daycares. And how about better access to birth control and abortion so that no one has to be 20 and supporting her kid at Target with no place to leave her? Tax me, baby.

I will share something with you here. I want very much to be a foster parent some day, but my husband is totally opposed. Completely. And, so, perhaps as my kids get older, it is time for me to start looking for other ways to volunteer my time. Perhaps we need to start setting up more babysitting exchanges, so one mom can help out with a few kids while the others work. I would love to know what others know about this kind of thing.

Catherine said...

The mommy wars are...intense. I hate it, its ridiculous, and fueled mainly I think by capitalism and marketing. I blogged about this once or twice. Its much worse as a mom than I ever dreamed beforehand...

BTW, I wanted to tell you that I read much more frequently than I comment. My computer doesn't love loading your page so sometimes I just read on my feedreader...but I am here!

Catherine said...

Emily - RIGHT ON on all points!! When can we swap babysitting? :)

Snoskred said...

Emily - can you look at homestay for overseas exchange students as an option rather than fostering? It's a bit less stressful and you get some bigger breaks in between - perhaps your hubby might not mind that. ;)

As far as the whole judgment of mothers, I was not happy to read that at silicon valley mothers but I was pleased to see Mrs Edwards response to it. I felt it was very mature of her.

Just sitting here waiting for the pool table movers to arrive, reading blogs and commenting while I wait.

Cat fights happen all the time and it's unpleasant and nasty and certainly makes me think less of the people flinging stones at others. What right does anyone have to judge - like I've said before, leave the judging to judge judy, she's good at it. ;)

As far as the woman at Target, that would be of concern just due to the amount of dodgy people who like to kidnap and abduct kids. Target or the shopping centre overall should be providing daycare as many companies do these days. They don't have to pay for it, they can write it off as a tax something. When you think it doesn't even cost them anything, the fact that they don't do it shows just how selfish they are.

I'm glad I don't have any kids but I was one of the lucky ones who made good choices and never found myself in a situation where I was pregnant. It could have happened to me.

It's not that I don't love kids, because I do have a big heart and I did adore my stepson and do still adore my nephews and I am willing to sit down and spend hours playing with them when I get to spend time with them. It's simply the whole judgment thing.

Of course not having kids does not make you immune to that, because people then judge you for NOT having them. But it starts the moment you get pregnant - God forbid you should be seen drinking alcohol or smoking a cigarette while noticeably pregnant - it continues once you give birth and Heaven forgive you if you can't breastfeed for whatever reasons because you will be set upon by a pack of rabid breast is best mothers like a pack of starving dogs surrounding an injured animal - and it never stops. Each choice you make is examined and discussed by women who think they have a right to judge other women. It entirely sucks. I hate to see it happen. Especially the breast is best bit. They make women feel so inadequate at a time when they are probably suffering from post natal depression and hormones going crazy.

Why the hell can't women support other women regardless of what their choices are?

Snoskred
http://www.snoskred.org/

jen said...

i think this is what i was getting at when i wrote my post on this topic. the snarkiness...ack. it's so ugly and childish and boring and i am sick of it. sick of wasting time tearing each other down instead of building each other up.

it does take a village. and yet in absence of that village, it's a daily struggle. and we need help.

i need help. which is why i want to help others too.

Christine said...

wonderful post!

the fights about home vs work have pushed me to the point of disgust. and fighting isn't worth my time.

i am lucky to have have found an established community of people who aid me in my decision to stay home. we actually DO help raise each others kids in many small ways--babysitting co-ops, nursing support, emotional support, post-partum help--the list goes on.

but i think the best thing we can do to really push the idea of "it takes a village." is to volunteer our time in our local communities

emily discussed this, too--good for you.

so many people go on and on about policy and change, yet so many do not get up and MOVE. obviously, many people don't have a choice as their time or abilities are constricted in various ways; but i have met plenty of people who are very able and yet do not even consider such things. heck, just walk over to your local nursing home! help a teacher out at the school. lend a hand at the local food shelf by donating, sorting cans, etc.

what we need is action.

image if all the able bodied people with an extra hour a week on their hands offered to help another person out. walk the elderly neighbor's dog. pick up trash. watch your friend's baby while she naps. helping out doesn't have to be huge and all encompassing. there are numerous small, but significant, ways that we can extend ourselves in this world.

ok--off my soap box now! ;-p

My Reflecting Pool said...

I have to be honest here, there has been the situation here and there where I had to be at work or my husband did and the kids were not in camp, or school and there was no sitter, so they came with us for an hour or two while we finished up what we were obligated to do. NO ONE at either of our jobs had an issue. I think because of the socioeconimic standing of the employee, she was being judged where they had no business. It wasn't the best place, but the other employees certainly could have been looking out for this kid. I think what i'm saying is you are right and it is an absolute shame. I stayed at home as long as I could with out going insane. I work only part time because of my family's situation. If I HAD to work full time, and I had NO help, I would be screwed.

meno said...

Stay at home vs. working.
Breast feeding vs. bottle.
Daycare vs. homecare.
Cloth vs. plastic.
Children vs. childfree.

Blah blah blah.

Why do we have such a need to divide ourselves into groups and then "prove" the other half wrong? It sickens me.

mitzh said...

Why do we pull each other down and tear each other apart just to prove something from ourselves.

It saddens me that it will always be the issue that will always cause fire.

Hel said...

I am becoming more and more aware that this insane need we have for well defined answers and rules is what is causing a lot of our problems.

Because what is true for x is not necessary going to work for y.

Cecilieaux said...

I purposely did not go to the catfight, to respond free of prejudices.

The income and poverty data released last week by the Census Bureau (see http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/poverty06.html) amply explain why the phenomenon Chani refers to is occurring. Household income has risen, but individual incomes have declines, meaning that more people work for less -- in the case of women for 23 percent less than men. Add to that the "to work" aspect of welfare reform, in which the psychosocial function of early childhood mothering has been entirely forgotten and dismissed out of hand. Working outside the home, instead of working at home, should be a choice not a compulsion.

Gwen said...

A friend of mine sent me a NYT article recently that reiterated what Cecilieaux said above: the whole idea of choice for many many women just doesn't exist. The mommy wars are between women of "privilege." They don't address the struggles of that young mother at Target. But they do serve to divert attention from the more immediate needs of the desperate.

thailandchani said...

Flutter, in this current context, I agree. It does require an individual choice.

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SM, I couldn't agree more. Factionalism is such a waste of energy.

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Julie, I think too many people began to confuse situational ethics with moral relativism. Once that happened, it became a prime target for the religious right.

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Z, a lot of people might not know what to do to help. That's a core issue, too. How do people find out where and how they can help?

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Maypole, exactly. The rugged indivualism again, don't be a burden, do it all for ourselves. It's a faulty concept with devastating results.

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Emily, you're right. It is an argument for the privileged. Most working people don't have the privilege of debating it.

I'm with you. If I was going to be staying in this country, I'd be more than willing to pay extra taxes. Or perhaps.. here's a heretical thought.. perhaps the government could use the funds already available for something more useful than spreading its wretched foreign policies all over the world.

But, no, that ain't gonna happen. :)

Babysitting exchanges is a perfect place to begin.

~*

Catherine, I agree with you, too. I've noticed the media coverage on this is periodic, the lead story on all the morning shows, almost aiming to stir it back up. Then, isn't it interesting, they manage to come up with some solution that will cost parents more money!

Sometimes I think Lenin was right. :)

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Snos, if I had the answer to that, I'd be in a far better position. :) Why women can't support each other.

Here's my thumbnail theory: Factionalism is necessary in a consumer culture. It is absolutely necessary to keep people at each other's throats.. because if people actually trusted each other enough to discuss the real issues, to work together for solutions, consumer culture would die of its own necrosis.

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Jen, I'm with you... 100%. It is childish, boring, and even worse, completely destructive.

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Christine, something perhaps to look at here: Most men and women spend the majority of their time at full-time jobs. That includes commuting, doing the maintenance chores necessary to keep that gerbil wheel running. They have to buy groceries, take care of their kids, maintain their house, pay the bills, do the laundry.

There's not much time for them to "move".

While I agree with the essence of what you are saying, I think there are variables that need to be considered.

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Reflecting, I think most working mothers are screwed.. particularly when, as you say, they are working class and do not have the resources to hire help. And low-income jobs are not going to provide those benefits. Heck, most of them don't even provide health care benefits.

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Meno, it sickens me, too. But then most of the group dynamics in consumer capitalist culture sicken me.

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Mitzh, the fire is encouraged by the surrounding media. That's really one of the issues, too.

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Hel, exactly. So it's back to recognizing situational ethics.

As for the rules part.. I liked the Buddha's approach. Don't create a rule until something becomes a problem.

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Cecilieaux, right on!!!

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Gwen, very true. I can see where it would be used as a diversionary tactic. It's really just a cut-out.

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Peace,

~Chani

Julie Pippert said...

Sigh. Chani, that's exactly what I feared, and is a reason why I want to tackle values in this week's Hump Day Hmmm.

Christine said...

chani--i completely agree. that is why i noted that all able bodied people with an hour of extra time would be those who should heed this call to action. i fully realize that not all people can volunteer, help the community, or their neighbors. i just know from experience that there are LOTS of people out there who do have those extra few hours, are physically able to do more, and who simply chose not to. i guess this discussion is actually getting away from the topic at hand, sorry. just wanted to clarify.

Jenn said...

It's hard to envision a village as such when there is so much arguing over what the streets should be named.

I don't understand the phenomenon of putting others down. We're all trying our hardest; and honestly, that is the best we can do.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I read this post last night and felt so bad for the young woman in Target, after first cringing in horror for her child, that I decided to come back later.

I grew up in a prosperous home with a stay-at-home mom, but became a single mother of three living below the poverty line. My family "village" could easily have helped my children and me, but didn't.

I think there are many women in the same position, desperate to keep and raise their children but unable to afford acceptable arrangements for them while working.

The holier-than-thou mothers who criticize others living in dreadful and often dangerous situations could better use that energy by opening their homes and backyards to the children of less fortunate women, and in so doing, teach their own children the real meaning of charity.

crazymumma said...

ach...I just cannot get the picture of the young mom out of my head.

Just imagine.

Blog Antagonist said...

SIGH. Judgementalism and snarkiness are the result of feelings of envy and insecurity. We lash out at others when we feel this way, and of course, there's always mob mentality to exacerbate things.

We do ourselves a great injustice with these kinds of behaviors.

Women could be absolutely invinceable if we would work together instead of against one another.

Open Grove Claudia said...

I think it's very hard, on so many levels, to feel connected to others let alone act as if we are. I think it starts with all the driving we do alone in our cars... but that's just me.

Carla said...

The situation of that woman in Target just breaks my heart. How sad that there isn't an in-store daycare for employees. How sad that in trying to provide for her child she had to worry that someone will report her as neglecting the child and placing that child in danger. How sad that society doesn't recognize that she is not paid enough to provide food and shelter for that child AND pay for daycare or a babysitter. How sad that our countries have had to bear witness to the loss of community.

Mary said...

The young woman in Target saddened me. I can't imagine the grief I would have felt doing the same thing to my daughter when I was young...

It's sad there is a loss of "community" these days. Neighbors are strangers and families live separated around the nation. Mothers do what they have to do but don't you think Target and like companies would offer day care - or at least in this case, offer her some help for one day?

There are communities that stick together through thick and thin - take the military, for instance. A military community is more passionate towards its members than biological families are sometimes.

liv said...

I think we have to make community where we can. Sometimes the idea of a village seems unachievable, but in small pieces seems easier to imagine.

thailandchani said...

Julie, I am looking forward to seeing how people parse that out tomorrow. It's such a huge subject!

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Christine, I get you. :)

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Jenn, I love the way you worded that. You captured it so well.

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Susan, that would be too logical.. and not competitive enough. Cooperation seems to be a no-no in US culture.

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CM, I was tempted to walk right into the middle of that situation and offer to sit there and watch the child myself! If they would give me 15 minutes to go buy a book, I think I would have!

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BA, I agree. As a community, we'd be invincible without the judgment and the competition.

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OGC, I think you're on to something. When I was in Thailand, I noticed that people tended to do things together.. even using public transportation. Even the motorbikes usually held more than one person. It's just a different way of existing in the world.

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Carla.. very true. Every word.

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Mary, I know military families are like that. It has somethng to do with facing hardship together. Thats the only cause I can imagine.

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Liv, small chunks is good, too. Small chunks become big chunks and ultimately become cultural values.

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Peace,

~Chani

KC said...

Our society doesn't make the village easily managed. But, that woman at Target is not following her personal dreams. Food on the table, shelter, clothing. Quality low-cost childcare- we need to provide this.

Deb said...

Just a thought but POC ) Point of care) provides childcare for under paid families, there are other options for daycare besides sticking your child at a table while you work. It is OK to ask for help and not get pity!