Archive for the tag 'media'

What’s missing in the ‘mummy wars’

NS March 29th, 2010

This article appeared in yesterday’s Observer magazine, about the so-called ‘mummy wars’ and why women are so critical of each others’ parenting choices. The journalist, Lucy Cavendish, makes the majority of us out to be guilt-ridden, shame-inducing, competitive bitches who stab each other in the back at any given opportunity in attempts at gross one-upmanship.

Mothers are each other’s nemeses, bickering among ourselves about our own particular style. Parenthood has become a fractured and fractious scene. Working mothers can’t stand stay-at-home mothers; older ones think their younger versions are too overindulgent. Those who choose not to have children are militant about those who end up having four or more. Hothousing mothers with their endless Kumon maths classes look down on the more laid-back ones who think children should do what they want, when they want.

Really? I can honestly say I’ve not seen this exhibited on a large scale. Sure, you get the odd control freak who has her kids enrolled in every class and activity under the sun and who loves to boast about their accomplishments, but I (and most of the other parents I know) just shrug it off as that mother’s particular brand of neurosis; after all, we all have one. Unless one’s self-confidence is so wrecked as to require the constant approval of every parent one comes into contact with, most mums just do the best we can and try to keep our noses out of other people’s business. Yes, there’s the odd twinge that says ‘Gee, am I doing it right?’ but that’s pressure we put on ourselves, not something that other mums made us feel. Can there really be that many women who feel like this?

Consequently, there’s a war out there. You may not see it, it may not kill you, but if you are a woman with children, you’ve had shots fired across your bows. I bet, like me, you’ve been questioned, taken apart, broken down, demoralised and criticised until you feel like crying.

If any ‘shots’ have been fired I either caught them and threw them right back at the offending person  so quickly that the dagger never pierced my armour of indifference or I’ve missed out on this ‘battlefield’ I’m meant to be dodging every day. I hate to break it to you Lucy, but using hunting references and telling us we’ve all been these predators’ prey won’t make it any more true for me. And the war clichés? Yawn. If I see one more bottle being wielded like a weapon by a woman wearing army fatigues, I may be induced to bash the unimaginative and collectively absurd media over the head with a weapon of my own choosing, though I suspect it will hurt a lot more than a rubber nipple would, and leave a much redder mark.

Justine Roberts, co-founder of Mumsnet (always held up as some magical portal into the ‘real world’ of parenting) is quoted extensively throughout the article and at one point she says:

“We are all trying to be ‘good mothers’ but sometimes we don’t feel we are doing very well at it. There is not a working mother alive who doesn’t feel pangs of guilt about leaving her children. There are probably very few stay-at-home mothers who don’t feel frustrated sometimes that they are not fulfilling themselves. It’s a culture of ‘having it all’ and yet very few of us can do this, which is why we get defensive about how we are seen as mothers.”

And then later, Lucy writes:

Every time I talk to another mother, they seem to be doing a better job of parenting. Their children play more sports than mine, they are academically more competent, they read books all the time, they are constantly on playdates, they are popular, witty, funny. Their mothers cook food from scratch, have coffee mornings with other mothers, help read in school, enrol them for extra tuition. I do none of this and it makes me feel useless.

At this point I would just like to say: Grow a pair! Stop feeling judged and just live your lives! It’s not that difficult to find judgment in every thing you do if you’re looking for it. Being hypersensitive to these slights and using them to ‘prove’ just how horrid and exclusive the other mummies are while you — dear, poor you! —  innocently attempt to peacefully co-exist with these pieces of work reeks a little of attention-seeking manipulation. Perhaps a big, fancy war in which two types of soldier (those on a mission to seek and destroy, and those there as peacekeepers) battle it out for the top accolade of Perfect Mum is a great way to keep one feeling important, hmm? Perhaps? Have a drink and think about it.

Finally, this nugget of information is imparted to us:

Why do we do this? Why do we criticise each other all the time? As Kate Figes points out: “When it comes to work-life balance, little has changed in 10 years. While the fact that many mothers want and need to continue working may be more accepted and talked about, practical support is thin on the ground. Few families can manage now without both parents earning a living. But it is the mothers who bear the brunt of this stress. Most would not want to have it any other way. They love being mothers to their children. But their expectations are still shaped by stereotypical notions of how ‘good’ mothers ought to behave and they strive to be perfect in both roles (as worker and mother), which in turn takes its toll on their sense of self and well-being.”

What kind of crap reporting is THAT? No follow-up, no further probing, not even a cursory investigation into why it might be that women have all this stress to be so ‘perfect’ and to ‘have it all’; no mention of the children’s fathers, social expectations, traditional gender roles or the capitalistic system that requires two incomes but few accommodations for childrearing. Absolutely no anger that, 40 years after the previous generation fought to get us some basic rights, we are still stuck at an infuriatingly unfulfilling crossroads of Self and Mother, where the only choices go off on divergent paths at right angles to one another instead of following a curve that can change and stretch and grow alongside our lives.

It amazes me, it really does. This is why feminism is not dead and why it can’t be laid aside. Can so many women truly not see how we have been pitted against each other by a patriarchy-constructed and media-peddled diversion that keeps us from paying attention to all of the ways in which the system and society still fail us? Have we been distracted that easily, lured in by breast-or-bottle debates and plastic toys vs. wooden?

We’re at war all right, but not with each other. So take that grenade of criticism you thought you just saw lobbed at the school gate by the mum who parents differently to you and throw it back where it really came from.

I read it in the Daily Mail

NS March 28th, 2010

This video had made my weekend. Many thanks to Heather for sending me the link. The woman knows me well.

Children and media: overhyped or underestimated?

NS February 2nd, 2010

Is a lot of ‘screen time’ for kids really as horrific as people like to make out? Are children rotting their brains, giving themselves virtual lobotomies, by watching television, playing video games, working on computers and using hand-held music devices/e-readers/mobile phones? A recent report showed that children in the US spend nearly eight hours per day consuming media — nearly as long as the average adult spends at work. I’m sure statistics are similar for children in the UK. This has really freaked some people out. It used to freak me out. I felt (and still feel) guilty for the amount of time The Noble Child spends staring at a screen. But increasingly, I’m asking myself why children consuming media is considered such an atrocity and why we are so panicked about it.

Full disclosure: my three-year-old watches a couple hours of television a day. She knows how to play simple games aimed at pre-schoolers on the computer. She can take photos on our digital camera. She instinctively knew how to use an iPhone when first exposed to one, with little explanation or demonstration. She could double-click and click-and-drag by the time she was two years old. The girl is tech-savvy. But so are her parents. My husband’s career is in computers. We are both active members of online communities; he on his sports forums and I with the blogosphere and Twitter. We both have iPhones. We both like to watch films and a few select TV shows. We stream videos. We take photos and upload them. We read a lot of our news on the computer screen, not from a newspaper spread over the breakfast table (though I do buy a broadsheet a couple times a week — nothing beats the weekend papers in bed). We’re fully linked in, wired up and logged on. So why wouldn’t our daughter (and eventually our son, too) be?

If that’s ALL she did then, yes, it would undoubtedly be unhealthy. If she lacked imagination, social interaction, literacy and communication skills or physical energy then, yes, I would be concerned. But she doesn’t. She is unimaginably sociable, friendly, outgoing, polite, empathetic and energetic. She can watch Finding Nemo contentedly but then jump up (sometimes in the middle of it) and want to play Bears or Hot Lava or Horsey Ride. She’s plainly thriving and developing at a normal pace. So the more I hear and read about the hysteria and see chests being beaten and hair being torn out by guilt-inflicted parents and drama-loving media sources, the more I think we’re blowing this all out of proportion. We all know that “studies say” and “experts suggest” that children have limited screen time, but what is the impetus for all these studies being conducted? Why the money, time and resources spent on finding out whether something that is unavoidably a part of our lives, and our kids’ lives, should be kept away from them?

The first response is to say they are being done for legitimate scientific and social purposes, to ensure that consuming all this new media will not have detrimental effects on us (which is a legitimate concern, certainly), but I have to wonder if at least some of this concern stems from the fact that advances in technology and our lifestyles have changed so rapidly in the last 10-20 years, leaving us little time to grow accustomed to it gradually, that our heads are left spinning, unsure how to process all of the information, choices and consequences. I also wonder if it’s something every generation does, where those who were once young and hip all of a sudden realise that they have grown older and a new modernity has set in, one which vastly influences the way they, and particularly their children, live their lives and spend their time. Often, it is our children who are least scared of these changes and we are the ones left scratching our heads and muttering phrases like “Back in my day…” while fixing whatever newfangled invention is ‘taking over the youth’ with a suspicious stare.

Rock music used to be considered the devil incarnate. Then it was films and TV. Then it was rap music and racy ads. Then it was video games. Now it’s mobile phones and computers. Different decade, same ol’ worries. Old/familiar = good, virtuous; Young/new = scary, unknown.

I saw a poll recently (can’t remember where or I’d link) where parents were asked how much TV their kids actually watched versus how much they told other people their kids watched and the discrepancies were not marginal. More than three-quarters said they felt their children watched too much television but, when asked, most halved that time. So are kids consuming too much media or are we just making each other feel guilty about it by under-reporting and hiding it because we don’t fully understand it? Is this just one more way in which parents are blamed for not being perfect, or are the ‘experts’ right to caution us about the effects of the Age of Tech?

I haven’t fully made up my mind yet. I vacillate between beating myself up and trying to curtail media usage to embracing it and reminding myself that my children are well-rounded, loved and properly cared for, regardless of ‘screen time.’ After all, you wouldn’t be reading this post if it wasn’t for CBeebies. I get time to ponder and write (which makes me a better person and mother) and my children learn yoga poses from cute little animated figures, set to soothing music and chattering laughter.  Is that really so bad?

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