On feminist parenting

I recently read an article about what feminist mothers do differently (I want to read the article about feminist fathers too by the way) and it got me thinking about how hard feminist parenting is. Basically there’s a lot of panicking involved (as with all parenting, or maybe that’s just me) and so I just kind of panic all the time. After all, the thought that you’re laying the ground for your child self-perception and self confidence is a pretty panicking one. One day a relative remarked that I rarely told my child she was beautiful and emphasized other qualities. I do tell her she’s beautiful, but when I do it’s also true that I automatically add: and clever and kind and resourceful, and a badass, because she’s all these things too and i dread that she will only define her worth by her appearance as society tells women to. I try and dress her in all kinds of outfits, not because there is something essentially and inherently wrong with pink or dresses, but because I would like to chip away at the sexist stereotype that girls have to wear pink and dresses in order to be allowed to be identified as girls and boys can only wear trousers and that the world will stop if a boy wants to wear a skirt. It’s also way more practical to create mayhem and explore the world while wearing pants, and I just want her to be comfortable to do so. 
It’s hard to be a feminist parent because you’re battling, as always, capitalism and sexism, not to mention racism that families of colour have to endure (I still remember all the snide remarks I used to get from children and parents alike because my hair and my clothes didn’t match everyone else’s: being the daughter of a Lebanese family in small town France was not always a breeze).

Industries and people sensitivities are extremely gendered when it comes to children: While it might be seen in certain circumstances as permissible, even fashionable, to play around with gender roles and codes as an adult, I have come to discover that it is nothing short of blasphemy when it comes to children, and being a feminist parent will require constant vigilance and a serious spine to defend your choices. And to be honest, my daughter is only two and pretty much doesn’t give a shit what she plays with as long as she can break it or the colour of what she’s wearing as long as she can smear paint, play doh and chocolate on it. I am however dreading the school years, where there seems to be an absolute obligation to be a princess ( If I see one more fucking Frozen item I will set myself on fire) and where being beautiful seems to be the only thing that matters, to the point where the ultimate insult used by school girls is ‘ugly’. How will I cope then? How will I teach her to fight and what would the alternatives be? See, panic. Being the feminist parent of a toddler seems way easier than being the feminist parent of a school aged child, and then of a teenager, where she will have to come to the painful realization that we live in a world where violence against women is the norm, where slut shaming and victim blaming is the very little challenged statu quo and where social inequalities and racism are rife. Hopefully by that time she’d be old enough to fight all of that. 
Constant vigilance, as Mad Eye Moody would say (do you think my child will be screwed by growing up with a Harry Potter nerd?).
When my daughter falls, and if I see that she’s ok, I tell her to get up and get moving, because that’s life and because I want to send her the message that she is perfectly capable of picking herself up and carry on. Building her self confidence also involves respecting the fact that she sometimes doesn’t want to hug or kiss anyone, and that’s her prerogative because that’s her body (consent 101), but I also try to teach her to respect others bodies and individualities. That of course means no hitting or biting, but also understanding that her parents and others, while always available for a hug and a cuddle, are their own persons with their own lives and are not at her constant service, which means I am not a martyr to the motherhood cause and she is not my tyrant. I still try and make my own choices and remain my own person: it’s not because I have children that automatically the whole focus of my life is them and only them. Sometimes I work sometimes I study and sometimes I just want a glass of wine with my friends. I’ve come to realise that as a mother everything I do will be picked and torn apart by so called parenting experts and society, so I might as well make the choices I’m comfortable with and hope I don’t screw my child up too much. Hopefully she won’t take away from that I was an unfit, selfish mother to her but that you can have children and still have your own life that is a Peppa Pig, finger paint-free zone.  

Constant vigilance: you soon realise that while what you do has an impact, the environment you raise your children has an even greater impact. You need to pay attention to what cartoon you let them watch on TV: is the mother’s character always stuck in the kitchen cooking? Is the father depicted as doing his share of the housework? Do cartoons showing all kinds of families, with two fathers, two mothers, one parent, or any other setting even exist? You have to fight the assault of capitalism: when they do watch TV, how do you fight the 2356 ads for (extremely gendered) toys they’re bombarded with? For now the solution has been very limited TV, lots of outside play and activities and an emphasis on creative activities like painting, drawing, coloring, play doh, reading books daily. If only she could stop using the couch as a canvas we’d be very, very happy. I also recognize that I am extremely privileged: I have a flexible job that allows for ‘family friendly’ hours, I have access to a nice daycare, I have a support system, I live somewhere where my child can play outside safely. This is far from being the case for everyone and families that are struggling to make ends meet, have little or no support, have it a million times harder to figure out, and this is why the other part of the solution to raise kids as a feminist is to fight for progressive change in collective and global policies. Because us parents (and particularly mothers) get blamed enough on just about everything that we do, parents are being guilt tripped and pushed into ‘the mommy wars’ (have you seriously heard a more belittling expression? As if we were running at each others with our aprons and knives to tear each others’ hair over parenting choices because of course women are mean to one another and that’s what we do). It’s high time we stop letting capitalism and patriarchy divide us and emphasize our individual roles in raising children: we are not raising them in a vacuum, most of us do what we can given the environment and circumstances we’re given. It starts with universal, comprehensive access to health, and it continues with progressive parental (parental and not exclusively maternal) leave policies, fair wages people can actually live on, creation and implementation of respectful maternal health care and breastfeeding policies, access to free education, availability of good quality, accessible, affordable and acceptable day care options and laws, policies and practices that respect all kinds of families. And one thing is for certain: we’re not going to get them by watching governments cut health and education budgets and spend billions on defense and security.
Critical thinking and teaching children to refuse and oppose unfair situations is also part of feminist parenting, and that’s actually something that might come back to bite you in the ass because one day, YOU will be the evil establishment imposing unfair rules on the masses. It is called The Teenage Years.

I hardly can wait. 

Blame The Mother

Scrolling down your Facebook feed should begin with a trigger warning: cringe worthy comments ahead, enter at your own risk.

Or at least this is what I’ve been feeling lately. Indeed, it seems that not a day can pass without criminal sociopaths deciding that they simply cannot stand to live another single day sharing the same planet as other people and proceeding to kill them.

Which is in itself, I’m sure you’ll agree, kind of an issue. However, I’ve been seeing puzzling captions and comments on social media with regards to  these news: captions wondering what kind of mothers produced offspring like the perpetrators of killings, how can mothers stand to see their sons parading with guns, how mothers should publicly condemn their children’s behaviour, how mothers’ hearts around the world are bleeding for the victims.

Which prompts me to beg the following questions: why is it always the mother’s fault? Why do mothers have to justify and support or reject everything that their children do? Why is it a knee jerk reaction to turn to the mothers and their assumed faults whenever someone turns out to be a maniac? And why would a mother’s heart bleed more strongly over loss and despair? Aren’t we all able to mourn losses, regardless of our maternal status?

Since becoming a mother myself, I’ve been reflecting a lot on a woman’s sense of individuality once she decides to have children: it seems that as soon as that bump is showing, society deems it its business to put you back into your rightful place of child incubator and Sacralised Mother, Keeper of the Home. You’re expected to reign over a realm of domesticity under the motto: I Shall Sacrifice Myself for My Family. Welcome to the motherhood, it’s definitely anther hood, where you’re apparently not your own person any more. Don’t believe me? Then have a little detour in that great place called the internet, where you’ll be pretty sure to stumble upon articles blaming mothers for their children’s behaviour, with so called scientific studies to back them up.

Any desire for yourself, any show of will to accomplish and fulfil yourself is perceived as selfishness, dismissing you as a ‘bad mother’, the kind of parent that makes criminals. Because surely, if these people would have had good mothers, they’d be crocheting scarves for the poor and not going around on killing sprees.

The sheer amount of such reactions I’ve seen on my timeline, posted by mostly youngish people (is 30 still young? Am I still a young person?) reveals that patriarchal beliefs and attitudes are alive and well, feeding into the news to extend further blame on women (are you surprised?).

Newsflash alert: no, it is not their mothers’ behaviour that leads criminals to act the way they do. There, isn’t it simple? You can stop wondering now.

Now that we have liberated space to have some serious discussions, perhaps we could focus on environmental causes, on socio-economic causes, on psychological causes if you must, on actual material causes that explain behaviours. We are all a product of our societal environment. Of course our education and family (a social unit) matter, but it doesn’t follow that everything terrible that happens in this world derives from the time your mom was late to pick you up from school.

So why this constant blame of the mother? Well, the myth of the ‘perfect mother’, as in, the Mother with a capital M, the woman whose identity is only defined through her children, the woman who sacrifices herself for her children (the notion of sacrifice in the patriarchal ideal of the mother is very important), the woman who is willing to suffer sometimes unnecessary suffering for her children is still ever present and pervasive, with constant pressure over women to fulfil that ideal. So alive and well that it teams up with capitalism to create new so-called ‘parenting trends’ that sell millions of books to tell mothers whatever they’re doing they’re doing it wrong, and that there is always a better way to be mothers. Of course, if you don’t follow all these ever changing rules, your child will become a sociopath and people will share articles about them on Facebook, blaming you for everything you’ve done wrong. Needless to say, the father is very rarely mentioned, as of course he did his part inseminating you and showing up from time to time, and of course everyone knows the essence of a woman is to be a mother while the very essence of a man is to go hunting and retreat to his man cave.

It seems women in general can’t win, and so can’t mothers.

You know what I’d love to see next time someone goes bat shit crazy and starts killing everything and everyone in sight? I’d like to see meaningful conversations about gun control policies, about systemic social inequalities disenfranchising people and making them vulnerable to becoming criminals, about unchecked privilege teaming up with rampant impunity and corruption, leading certain people to believe that life doesn’t matter except theirs, about growing militarism, the banalization of violence and lack of accountability from governments. I’d like to see more conversations about the root causes leading to such actions, and less about it all being the mother’s fault. Us women have been carrying the stigma of the original sin for long enough, and are made to feel guilty about everything enough without the whole world blaming us for the actions of our adult children.

Things I’d Like My Child to Know

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Dear beloved daughter of mine,

Below you will find a couple of things I would like to pass on to you. Call it advice, call it pesky mother trying to smother you, call it what you want, for now you are almost nine months and I am your world, but when you’ll be old enough to read and understand what I’m trying to convey to you below you’ll probably want to rebel and do the exact opposite.

That is, if your dad and I did our job well.

So here goes

Friends

Have as many different friends as you possibly can. I mean it, have friends of every shape and size and colour and social class and sexual orientation and, to a certain extent, opinion. I say to a certain extent, because I arbitrarily draw the line at racist, classist, and homophobic friends. Yes, I’m your mother and I take arbitrary decisions and don’t you forget it (I think I’m getting a little high on Mother Power here) Expand and widen your horizon as much as you can, don’t get stuck in a certain milieu or a certain circle. Know that our home will be your friends’ home, that they will always be welcome, and that there will always be a plate for them on our table.

Girlfriends

Among your friends, have girlfriends. Take it from me, having girlfriends is not a cherry on the cake kind of thing, it’s a survival necessity. Have girlfriends to roll on the floor from laughter with, and when you’re older, to drink wine and talk about the world until the wee hours of the morning. They add sweetness to life, girlfriends, they are a balm to your wounds, a beam of sunshine in your life.

Listen

Be like a sponge. Listen to people, to their stories, to what they have to say. Everyone has something interesting to say, everyone is a walking story. Take your time to listen.

Love

And I’m not only talking here about romantic love. Love all kinds of people in all kinds of different loves, love with all your being, to the point of crying, let love fill and uplift you. There’s nothing greater and better than sheer love, nothing more glorious than to feel your heart swell and expand to make room for more and more people and places to love.

Be curious

Ask questions, challenge people and things and ideas, get to the bottom of things. Explore the world with your curiosity, don’t be afraid to dive into subjects you know nothing about but are interested in. Travelling is a great way to satisfy your curiosity, and if you are able, pack a bag and go (it’s taking me every ounce of self control and selfless love to write those words, as my natural inclination would be to add: travel, yes, but nowhere too dangerous, and be careful, and blablabla. Given the fact that your first travel was to Lebanon, I think the caution ship might have already sailed)

Dance

One of the greatest joys in life is to feel the music pound in your veins and move your body to the rhythm. Dance makes you feel more alive, you become aware of every part of your being, as the warmth of music and joy start to fill you. Also, there’s nothing more liberating that turning on the music really loud in the privacy of your room and dance until you’re out of breath.

Read

Read. Even if it’s the back of your cereal box, read. Anything and everything. There is magic in the written word.

Get angry

There’s nothing wrong in getting angry. Angry at the corrupt ways of the world, angry at oppression and injustice and violations. I strongly advise you to get angry at these things, and to channel your anger into changing them.

And finally, never be ashamed of who you are. Or of your body, your hair, your personality the life you decide to live. Rest confident in the knowledge that there are and always will be two people whose job description is basically to love and love and love unconditionally the extraordinary person you already are.

Safely tucked in that love, the world is yours.

Qamar

Here in the dead of time, buried deep into the falling night, I sit with the moon.
When all is quiet and peaceful at last, when fluffy dreams enter you mind, making your beautiful eyes flutter, I sit by the moon, her half orb shining upon my words and guarding your angel sleep.

The moon and I, we’re neighbors, or so says the song. Regardless of where I’m sitting, it’s the same moon that my people can see, the same moon that guards children’s dreams.

And nightmares.

You see, while our night is peaceful, only disturbed by the whisper of the wind softly caressing the lush leaves of the surrounding trees, while I sit here, the smoke of my cigarette drawing arabesques above me, others can not find enough peace to sleep, or finally exhale at the end of a long day.

But they, they are children of the moon, like you and me, and they deserve the same oblivion that we take for granted. When sleep eludes them, while we sit comfortably in a never ending dialogue with the sky, they keep hearing the sound of screams, the sound of death pounding at their door.

And it isn’t fair, and it isn’t pretty, and while the moon orbits around us, we stay silent to their plea, as guilty as the culprits bringing deaths and destruction at their doors.

Everyone deserves solace and comfort, not just you and me, but a guilty conscience or appeals to the heavens have never brought anyone any respite.

And so we close our eyes for these blissful hours, rendering our hearts and souls to the stars, but while we do so, let us not forget to fight.

For those who are stranded on the verge of humanity never give up on themselves. And they teach us a lesson.
The biggest there is, the lesson of life.

And so let us kiss the moon, let us keep our eyes open to the children of the moon, and fight, as they do, fight for a moon that shines above children’s dreams.

And stops the nightmare.

We dance

And so we dance, you and I, in the dead of night, when everything outside our window is nothing but a pitch black blend of sleepiness, when the leaves themselves do not dare move.
We dance, your tiny little hands
hugging me in an embrace I wish could be never ending, your long eyelashes fluttering to the rhythm of your sweet angel dreams.
We dance, and the love I thought I had for you when I was carrying you pales in comparison to the love I feel for you now, now that I know you, now that your big eyes stare at me with the seriousness only children can have, your stare an endless question I’m yet to answer, your eyes like two magnifying glasses peering into my very soul, leaving no place for pretence and lies, making room for honesty, forcing me into bearing my essence and presenting it to you. You, the only person that literally knows me inside and out.
We dance, and the world seems to stand still, to suspend its whirlwind of madness and violence, to hold its breath for one moment, one short moment, the moment of a dance between a mother and her child, the moment of a dance between any two people bound by love.
We dance, and as I rock you back to sleep, I feel the roots of unconditional love wrapping their stems around my wrists, forever binding me to you. And I kiss your beautiful face, softly, oh so softly to stop me from waking you from your deep slumber, and I will life to be good and kind to you, to spare you hardships and heartbreaks, feeling dizzy at the thought that no matter what I do, there will be things that I won’t be able to shield you from.
But for now, we dance, you and I, living in that moment of absolute tenderness. We dance, and with each step, we help carve the universal, never ending story of humanity.
The story of love.

Where I Try to Speak to My Unborn Child. In a Letter.

Dearest unborn child,

You and I are in the final home stretch of our journey together as an entity of one. Or one and a half, if you look at my profile.

In about six weeks (or less, if you decide to show up before, which i don’t advise you to do, please keep baking, Mama is not equipped to see you in an incubator), you will hopefully, inshallah, please God (Mama is also superstitious and overly anxious, just so you know where you’re landing), show your little face to the world.

I hardly can believe it, yet can’t wait to meet you. In advance of your great debut as part of humanity, I’d like to apologize for all the throwing up and shaking you I did over these nine months, and while I’m at it, for all the anxiety and stress I put you through. I’m sure that can’t have been too enjoyable for you. Rest assured it wasn’t for me either, but what can you do? we are quite literally in the same boat.

I can’t wait to see what you’ll be like, can’t wait to get to know your character and your quirks and what annoys you and what will make you laugh. It really is as simple as that: somehow I am making a person and I’d really like to meet and greet that person. Your father is as impatient as me, he has a lot to teach you, apparently producing Trotsky Explained to Children books is high up next on his to do list, and I am under the impression that you’ll be the first (last? only?) child benefiting from that collection.

Darling child, Bringing you into this world doesn’t come without a dose of guilt, especially when I look at the current state of the world. We’re bringing you to a place that’s rife with conflict and heartbreak and displacement and violence and inequalities and hatred. Put this way, it seems rather unfair to bring yet another human being in such a mess. Perhaps We were being selfish when we decided to try and have you, but we rationalized it, thinking we might bring another Frida Kahlo or De Beauvoir to this world, or at the very least make the world a little nicer for your mere presence in it. And I truly believe this, although my opinion doesn’t really matter, after all I am your mother, of course my world is going to be brighter because you are in it. We also hoped that we would be able to show you all the glorious and gorgeous beauty in this world, all the solidarity, and courage, and love and friendship and music, smiles and laughters that world can hold.

Will you like me? I mean, you kind of have to like me at first, and your father as well, because we will be the ones caring for you so you won’t really have a choice, it’s either that or no milk, but as you grow up, will you like me, like us? Will you like the people we turned out to be?

There are so many things that I’d like to fight within me to make your life sweeter. I’d like to fight my continuous anxiety to enable you to explore the world with your own antennas, to form your own opinions, to be your own person,to give you enough confidence to know that no matter what, wherever i will be, the only true spot I’ll forever be rooted in is your heart, and that I’ll be safely tucked there as you’re tucked into mine. I’d like to participate in building your confidence in yourself and in others, to be open, and curious, and to questions situations, ideas, things, people. I’d love to help you get a sense of justice, and to teach you to fight for it, with the conscience of your own privileges, without smothering you, without shoving my ideas down your throat, without you feeling that I’m pushing ideas onto you that do not agree with your own conclusions.

Seriously, this parenting thing is a motherfucker. How does one do that?

I’d love for you to be proud of me. We always talk about parents being proud of their children, but honestly, think of how excruciating it would be to have your child look at you with disappointment. I could not hold that gaze. I’ll try my best to remain my own person, to contradict the messages you’ll no doubt hear and maybe pick up from the patriarchal society we live in. I vow to try and show you that a woman doesn’t need to be dependent on anyone, that she can hold her own, that she can dress as she pleases without anyone being entitled to say anything to her or aggravate her, that she is the mistress of her own mind and body, and that courage and strength are not masculine values. Don’t ever let anyone limit you because you’re a girl, or you’re young or whatever. Don’t let anyone limit you and your potential, period. And that includes me.

I hope I’ll be able to wrap you in a blanket of infinite and endless love, so that you’ll always have a place where you’ll feel safe.
I hope you never doubt that I’ve got your back, no matter what.
I hope to meet and greet you in six weeks and start off our journey together, your tiny fist already raised in protest.

Also, if you could be kind and not excruciatingly hurt me during labor, that’d be greatly appreciated.

With love,
Mama