In Defense of Bad Parenting

Morely is a graduate student in English specializing in writing, as well as a teacher in various capacities. This essay was published last year when it won first place in a writing contest.   Morely has had an eye out for a venue for her writing and we are happy to have her eye settle on Subversify.  We look forward to reading more.

By: Morley

I used to joke that I hadn’t used an alarm clock since the day I found out I was pregnant. My daughter had always been an early riser, from acrobatics in the womb to early toddlerhood attempts to crawl out of her crib. At fifteen months, however, she has become a bit of a night owl—staying up until and sometimes past the depths of nine p.m. A consequence of this choice is the fact that she sleeps in later and later and often is not awake when I leave at 7:30 AM to make it to my morning office hours at the university where I teach. I wish I could put her to bed earlier so we could go through the morning routine together—a diaper change, cup of milk and a bowl of cereal, a song of praise to daddy who faithfully did the dishes again. But at fifteen months old she’s already gotten into the independent decisions habit—her frequent use of the word “no” proves it! And I respect that—so it’s not night-night time until after nine.

Unfortunately, I often find that others don’t extend to me the same courtesy I offer my child of barely over a year. Although I choose to honor her independence with respect, my decision to seek promotion while working outside of the home is often disrespectfully questioned by those who see it as an indicator of bad parenting rather than an independent choice.

“Don’t you want to be at home with your baby,” pushed an acquaintance recently. Politely, I tried to answer this question without once using the term “sexist opponent of progress.” Instead, I simply said, “Of course I like to spend time with my child, but my extroverted, type “A” personality requires that I surround myself with a stimulating environment. My husband, on the other hand, is more of an introvert, which means that he is more psychologically suited to the home. As a politically active left-leaning moderate, I find that getting involved in a variety of charitable causes can help me grow both professionally and personally. So, I actually think it’s good that I’m not with her all of the time. According to the latest psychological research and a variety of Oprah shows, mothers who fulfill their own desires tend to perform better at general parenting tasks. And, I think my work pushes the boundaries of sociological family constructs by teaching her that we don’t just look out for our family, but it’s our responsibility to help as many people as we can.”

The reply? It’s often, “Oh, so you don’t want to be at home with your baby,” a statement that barely infers bad parenting, as it is so near to stating it outright. And this is the crux of the parental discrimination problem that I have experienced and that so greatly outrages me. My circle has become used to equal rights, to women in the workplace, and to women as the heads of corporations, nonprofits, and homes, but they have not become used to the fact that women can simultaneously seek success outside and inside the home—a woman can be an ambitious, exceptional professional and an exceptional mother at the same time. While there are numerous mothers in the workforce today, a mother who chooses to work ambitiously, seeking promotion, not necessarily for financial gain but because it is personally fulfilling for that woman’s devotion to a greater purpose—democracy, equality, pacifism, Catholicism, etc.—is still often seen as a bad parent or a neglectful mother. I have met bad parents of both genders, some of whom stay at home and some of who work long hours. I have also met good parents of both genders who work, stay at home, attend school, seek promotion, and have part time jobs. I can honestly say that bad parenting has absolutely no association with the number of promotions one seeks in one’s lifetime and the number of hours spent at work. Instead, I’ve noticed that bad parents typically tend to have bad attitudes.

But perhaps what most outrages me about the fact that I am so often asked, “Don’t you want to stay home with your baby?” is the fact that this question, spoken in the condescending tone that so often accompanies it, makes me, at least for a second, doubt myself, doubt my own rational decision. At fifteen months old, my daughter has realized that her ability to make independent decisions is what gives her an identity, a persona; this is what makes my daughter my daughter, and not just another number in the population ticker. Certainly, I made this realization long ago. So when someone—as blunt and rude as they may be—questions my decision, they also question my identity. And, really, isn’t that what feminism is all about—the fact that all people, regardless of how close their chromosomes are to the end of the alphabet, have the ability to be unique individuals, to pursue lifestyles that make them happy? That’s what I want for my daughter, and that’s why I’ve begun encouraging her differences, her independence, even at fifteen months. But until others encourage my own differences—or at least respect my choices—I will continue to fail in my pursuit of happiness.

8 Comments on “In Defense of Bad Parenting”

  1. Good for you, Morley! The fact that mothers are often berated by society for wanting to enjoy their career and their family makes me sad. Our children learn to become strong, independent adults with goals and choices when they have good role models to follow.

  2. Great piece. This is a difficult issue for so many families. But who knows what’s best for our family? Those in it or those who have no idea about it? When people outside of our family start judging us for our decisions we make for our family I just want to fire back with a reality check for them. Looking forward to reading more of your contributions.

  3. Reading this article reminds me why I resolve to never have kids – they’re just too much hastle and society loves sticking its nose in the business of raising them…

  4. My mother was a working-mom, back of a time when nearly no one did that, and when an actually career for women was confined to teaching elementary school.

    Mom, it turned out, was a charge-nurse in the ICU of our local community-hospital. She was six feet tall, and while she was a kind and good mother, she didn’t take nonsense from morons – least of all, people who hadn’t the first clue about what they were speaking.

    She lumped the ‘women-should-stay-home’ crowd with these people. As soon as I was old enough to understand, I agreed.

    Mom did a lot for my sister and me, growing up. Among other things, she stitched up my left forearm after I’d fallen on the glass stump of a milk-bottle (growing up in the rural hinterlands of western Oregon, many things, including basic first-aid, were a ‘do-it-yourself-or-die’ affair).

    No, Mom wasn’t a good cook. She was a decent housekeeper – you could eat off the floors in either kitchen or bathroom (guess all that microbiology training did some good) — and she genuinely cared for both of us.

    Bad parent? Never.

    Nearly a hundred people came to her funeral. I counted people with whom she’d worked, served in the Army (before I was born), and even patients.

    I’ll submit that the final chapter isn’t written until then – – it’s not what the gossips and morons say; it’s how you’re remembered….

    -W

  5. What I have learned is weather you go to work or stay at home there will be people who sling stones at you. A lot of this has to do with other people’s vision, pain and inabiltiy to reconcile themselves with where they are at.

    However I am a little taken aback by your last line: “But until others encourage my own differences—or at least respect my choices—I will continue to fail in my pursuit of happiness.” How on earth does your pursuit of happiness depend on small minded people?

    As a mother who is “stay at home” I can tell you that I don’t escape the angry comments and the assumptions other mothers from all walks make about what they immagine my life should be. When I find it bothering me in anyway I have to ask myself why, because as I see it, what other people thing shouldn’t matter and if it does, then I need to find out why and if it is something I should confront.

  6. If there is one field where everyone has more expertise than the person committed to the job, it’s got to be in parenting. The teachers know more, the counselors know more, the neighbors know more; even that uncle who never had any kids of his own knows better about how mom (or dad) should raise the children. This has always amazed me a little because so far, no babies have been born with detailed instructions on how to raise them clutched in their chubby little hands.

    I would venture to say, if it wasn’t a radical assumption, that there hasn’t been a formula designed yet for pumping out perfect children. It’s amazing how they sometimes turn out. I’ve seen kids who were given all the best options; fine homes, no lack in health care or nutrition, the best schools, a hand up into solid social positions, who turned into murderers and rapists. I’ve also seen kids whose parents were not able to provide a SUV to take the kids to football practice every Saturday, whose best summer vacation was a Fourth of July picnic, who were more interested in rock and roll concerts than parent/ teacher conferences raise very likable, gentle children.

    I think all to often the measurement used to define successfully raised children concentrates on a list of superficial values; high academic scores, athletic prowess, a high income bracket job, a winner mentality, without a great deal of concentration on kindness, tolerance and fair play. A loving child who pushes hamburgers each night at McDonald’s, visits the elderly and voluntarily helps out the handicapped leaving the grocery store, to me, is far more valuable than a CEO sociopath.

  7. First off I wanted to say that I think its great that you state how you feel knowing that people might disagree with you. I totally know what you mean about people judging you because you work and you have a family. This didn’t happen to me but to my older sister. When her daughter became about 18 months old she went out to get a job. She was tired of being stuck at home and she wanted to be someone. Like any parent when spending an enormous time with a child could be emotionally frustrating. I think its great that your daughter has learned how to become independent and is starting to make her personality. Just like you said I believe also that if you were with your daughter all the time then she would be as independent.

    Also I agree with the comment that no matter what you would be judged,even if you stayed home. Back to my sister, people were always asking “why aren’t you working?” And it always seemed like no one was ever satisfied with what she wanted to do.

    But I just wanted to say that it was nice to read about what others go through on a daily basis that I didn’t realize was going on so frequently. I think its great that you stand up for what you believe in.

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