Parenthood is not easy, people.
Feminist parenthood seems even trickier, as you enter a struggle of Children vs Beliefs.
See, it’s easy to have core beliefs before you have children: you will breastfeed, you will bottle feed, you will or won’t co-sleep, you’ll use a certain form of discipline or none at all. Before you have children you’d be ready to swear on those beliefs hand on heart, thinking all will go as planned.
Nothing (ok, maybe not nothing, but not much anyway) will go as planned. And the worst thing is that you keep making the same assumptions of Universal Knowledge and Core Beliefs as your child grows up: when they’re newborns you think you’ll handle tantrums in their toddler years in a certain way, when they’re toddlers, well when they’re toddlers you don’t really get time to think at all anyway as they’re forever trying to set fire to themselves, to the house, or both, and so on and so forth.
To be honest, I never thought parenting using a feminist lens would be easy, because being a feminist in itself is not easy: beyond the usual mockery and slander we have to endure when using the very word ‘feminist’, it has been my experience that nothing reinforces more sexist stereotypes and traditional gender roles than motherhood. Parenthood becomes the hardest space to enforce feminist ideas and practices and to reverse the stereotypes of the nurturing, ever patient sacrosanct mother vs the breadwinner, only-has-to-be-there-part-time father. It’s a whole job in itself to try and craft equal roles as parents between partners, to disentangle oneself from the web of prejudice and stereotypes we have internalized, to create an environment where the mother is not the only emotional referent to the child (in this, I know for example that my position contradicts the essentialist feminism current that emphasizes certain traits they deem inherent to women and encourage the so-called special bond between mother and child). To me each bond a child creates is ‘special’, be it with their father, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings or friends, and to sacralise the mother-child bond and to deem it superior to others is yet another way of reinforcing the idea that raising children is first and foremost the duty of the mother. The current maternity leave policies most countries of the world practice is a testament to this belief: of course mothers need time to heal and bond with their child, but partners also need this time, which is not recognized by current practices: as they stand, current laws reinforce the view that mothers need the time off to look after their children, are in no hurry to get back to work and that partners only need to make an appearance at the birth and hand out cigars. The solution is not a US style of absence of paid maternity leave policies that leave parents and families vulnerable to the whims of employers, but to realise a shift from paid maternity leave policies to paid parental leave where both parents can have time off to get to know their child. The view that the mother-child bond is somehow superior and more important than any other is also exclusive and heteronormative: if we consider that children can only thrive when they form a close bond with their biological mother, we exclude families of adopted children, homoparental and single parent families. Children thrive in all kinds of families, which is apparently a truth too shocking for conservatives.
There is also not one universal way of being a feminist (despite what dominant white feminism would have us believe) so becoming a mother has pushed me even more to try and define what feminism meant to me and what tools I can use and perhaps create to implement it. Even as a feminist activist I’m full of contradictions I have to struggle with on a daily basis: on the one hand, I aim at giving my children an upbringing free from gender stereotypes and to encourage them to love as many people as possible, and on the other hand, I find myself sometimes perpetuating traditional gender roles in our household by for example assuming the majority of domestic chores.
Another area where my feminist beliefs are seriously put to the test is on the subject of discipline. It seems the majority of child experts agree on one thing: children need boundaries and limits to be able to navigate the world. Not setting these boundaries would amount to neglect on the parents and caregivers’ side. Thing is, what do you do when you’re supposed to give children the means to navigate a racist, sexist, classist, homophobic and transphobic world? A world that is so ill equipped for people with physical disabilities that their wheels keep colliding with sidewalks, buses, stairs, everywhere and so unaccepting of mental differences that children with ASD get labelled as naughty and their parents judged? And how do you reconcile helping them navigate the world with helping them question and ultimately change that world?
Besides, how do you set these limits? What type of discipline should we use?
As a feminist parent, I would like to teach my children that their body is worthy of respect, so I aim for a no corporal punishment way of disciplining. I would also like to avoid using shaming language such as ‘bad girl’ and the likes. I’d like to validate their feelings, avoid yelling and keep the lines of communications as open as possible.
This is for how I envision it. I’m however unhappy to report that I have made every mistake in the book.Truth is, I hate the disciplining part of parenting (which is super convenient at the toddler stage when they’re testing you and all you do is discipline) because I’m yet to have found a disciplining technique I’m 100% comfortable with. I actually feel physically dirty when I yell or lose my temper at my toddler and agonize overnight over the shaming comment I gave her. I even spanked her on her diaper and felt the agony of guilt forever.
The only helpful method I’ve tried to deal with tantrums is ignoring them. I will let her scream and scream and thrash on the floor until she’s had enough. Now she stops quicker and quicker, comes to me for a hug and tt’s forgotten. This way she learns that yelling and crying doesn’t get her what she wants, but it doesn’t send her the message that she’s a bad child for being frustrated with the world (after all, don’t we all?).
For every victory I probably had a gazillion losses. I’m still figuring all of this parenting lark out, so please bear with me as I keep making every mistake there can ever be. The feminist way, naturally.