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.