The one thing I was never very excited about doing as a parent was potty training, but, like other perks of parenthood (like being up in the middle of the night to take care of nosebleeds in the nose of one who will not sit still, the joy of which I was reminded last night), it must be done.
But in the world of punk, DIY and getting turned on to subversive politics through punk, I felt more comfortable and excited to get my shit together as to help create positive change. A big part of me feeling like I had my shit together enough to parent a child is reflected in how I feel about children being raised in freedom; the conscience act of parenting a free child IS creating positive change. You know, 'Be the change you wish to see.'
HipMama interviews Jessica Mills, the author of My Mother Wears Combat Boots, about punk parenting.
I've mentioned before the book and accompanying blog called Packaging Girlhood, which examines the (often detrimental and dangerous) messages girls in our society are getting from product marketing and media. Now, the authors have begun a new project to look at the situation from the other point of view, called, predictably, Packaging Boyhood.
In the process of raising a daughter, I've definitely realized more than I ever had before about the assumptions and expectations our society unreasonably associates with being female - but it also opened my eyes to the baggage with which we saddle our boys. And, honestly, I don't think the issues of raising boys in gender-biased ways even get discussed with the same depth that issues with girls do. I know parents who would let their daughters play baseball or bulldoze with play trucks ten times over before they would let their sons play with dolls or toy kitchens. A girl who exhibits boy-like traits is a tomboy - a boy who takes on qualities generally associated with girls will be labeled with some derogatory version of "gay." Sometimes I think the box into which we've put boys' identities is more constricting and inflexible than the girls' - and all the more damaging because it's rarely talked about.
The Packaging Boyhood authors are asking for help in a variety of ways: emailed articles or stories about raising boys in our media-saturated culture, survey or responses, or participating in focus groups. Visit their website to find out more.
Yesterday, my daughter Elizabeth turned two years old. Although I pause and wonder at how big she is growing almost every day, birthdays obviously drive the point home. It also reveals to me a certain progression of change in my own thoughts and practices - namely, that the older my daughter gets, the more stringent a feminist I become.
Why? Oh, things like this article about mothers getting their 9- and 11-year-old daughters fake tans, leg waxes, and modeling gigs to become the next Kate Moss. Never too early to start on the self-esteem issues and drug habits, eh? Then there's the slut-tastic Bratz phenomenon, which brings in its wake stories of thongs for 7-year-olds and stripper poles being sold in toy aisles. And that doesn't even scratch the surface of all the movies, magazines and other media that already tortures young women's self-images into disorder and disease.
It is absolutely terrifying to think about what influences and pressures are going to face my daughter as she grows up. Earlier generations of progressive-thinking mothers worrying about their girls only learning cooking and household chores seems tame in comparison to things like this. How does a feminist mother fight? Sometimes it feels akin to attacking a tank with a plastic spoon. If you lock down your daughter's life according to your own fears and uncompromising values, you're not going to be raising a smart, independent-thinking woman capable of making her own choices. If you let popular culture have its way with her, however, you run the risk of her being saturated in ideas that literally turn your stomach and put her at risk of selling herself short, or serious harm.
What kills me, though, is how complicit some parents are in putting their daughters into these type of mindsets. In the first article I linked to, the mothers talking about their six-year-old's obsession with makeup and the attention a 14-year-old boy paid to her nine-year-old have a "what are you going to do" attitude. They say all their girls' friends are like that, they don't want them to be left out, and they let the girls "badger" them into doing what the girls want. It's not just the cold, hard corporate world feminist mothers of daughters have to fear. It's other mothers of daughters, the people we should be able to rely on the most for guidance and advice.
I've already learned that over-thinking parenting is not the way to go. You have to be flexible, adaptive, and open. So I know that there is no black-and-white solution I can come up with now. I do plan to try as hard as I can to provide my daughter with positive ideas to counterpoint the ones I disagree with, and letting her know I think she's smart and strong enough to make good choices. But I think there's another key aspect to it, which is insuring that I myself am living according to my values and potential. Kids learn much more from what you do than what you say. I think that if I work to be my daughter's first point of reference as a role model, that can continue to be her touchstone throughout her life.
Of course, parenting is where changes like these should start, but it hardly ends there. As a constant series of young, rich, troubled women parade through our news, the overall problem of taking care of our girls seems to be one society as a whole needs to address. It takes a village, and all that. Feminism's daughters and granddaughters are grown, and we haven't come close to solving the issues they took up arms against. Let's at least give the next generation some better weapons.
Yesterday, on Mother's Day, I took my daughter Elizabeth back home to visit my mother and sister. Since I have to work full-time, I take every opportunity possible to spend time with Elizabeth, and while I believe that I don't take a lot of that for granted, whenever it's just the two of us on an outing, I have a particularly clear understanding of how special she is to have. Maybe it's the reactions she gets from others - when we stopped at Wendy's for a snack, she walked in with her blue-polka-dot dress and sweater, clutching her baby doll, and everyone inside automatically smiled at her. How could you not feel lucky to have that?
My life has changed a lot since I had Elizabeth. Thank god. It wasn't what I planned at the time, but had I known anything about it, I should have. How great it is that life doesn't go exactly the way we plan it. Otherwise things that we're too scared or dense to realize would never come to fruition.
Probably one of the best things, in terms of my own growth, in being a mother is learning how to think beyond yourself. There are so many things you concern yourself with - your appearance, having new gadgets, or going out and getting drunk - that simply don't matter after you have a child. And it doesn't mean you don't take care of or have pride in yourself, not to mention have some fun occasionally. But it does mean you realize there are more important things to have in your life besides those. It means you strip away a lot of the unnecessary things and reveal the essence underneath.
Having the structure of working and caring for a child suits me perfectly. I'm free to get up as early as I like, go to a job consisting generally of what I would be sitting around home doing were I not working, and have enough money to be comfortable. Beyond stability, I also have the freedom to concentrate on long-term goals that weren't possible when I was just a struggling student. In short, this adult thing is working out pretty well. And the mom thing even better.
On our way home, I stopped to pick up some Starbucks, and the woman at the window waved and cooed at Elizabeth. As I pulled away, she said, "Oh, wait - Happy Mother's Day!" And it was.