• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Longing for Grandma’s Wisdom

Too many warnings.

June 7, 2017

I read with interest in the New York TimesHow to Raise a Feminist Son.” It advised parents to allow boys to express their feelings, including letting them cry, providing them with role models, and accepting them for who they are. The author included studies that indicate that boys who watch women who are employed outside the home have more egalitarian views about gender. Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie may have inspired the column. The book offers advice on how to raise feminist daughters, including that one should teach their daughters to love books and not see marriage as her goal in life. Mothers should also treat themselves well and not try to do it all. 

I know this advice is just trying to be helpful, and the reason I read it in the first place is because I certainly share their view of wanting both my son and my daughters to be feminists. However, if I take this advice on top of all the other tips, advice, and warnings I’ve seen this year, I become overwhelmed.

This year I was warned that my math anxiety combined with my desire to help them with their homework, might actually be backfiring and preventing them from being good at math. Of course, I can imagine the importance of encouraging strong self esteem in children, but a piece in the New York Times reminded me to avoid body shaming because even parents, apparently, body shame their children and make them feel bad about their weight, which could have lasting negative effects. Yet there is constant talk about avoiding obesity in children, and one study indicates that one-third of parents don’t think they are doing a good job feeding their children. Then again, CNN reported another study indicating that parents who think that their children are overweight may result in them gaining weight. Though the study didn’t prove why this may happen, some reasons offered in the news report include that body shaming may result in children secretly eating and avoiding activity.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to keep infants in the same room as you (but not in your bed!) for at least the first six months of their life and preferably for the first year. I know from experience that I never would have gotten any sleep at all that way. Then, just this past Monday, a new study indicated that babies older than four months likely would get better sleep in their own room. Parents now must decide between what is clearly contradicting advice. Finally, in trying to help balance work and family life, many feminists advise that women should model working for their children, yet a newer study suggests that many millennials desire a household where one person stays at home. This might indicate that the modeling we’ve been doing is not demonstrating the success of both partners working, but instead, how difficult it is.

Trying to be a feminist mom, to me, is a stressful experience filled with constantly sorting through media reports and “experts” that offer contradictory advice. I’m supposed to help my child avoid obesity but not body shame. Yet, even thinking they are overweight might hurt my chances for success there. I’m supposed to model to my children my own working outside the home to eschew traditional roles, but in doing this, I have to also pretend that everything is easy so that they don’t decide that “having-it-all” (which also I’m not supposed to strive for, apparently) is just not worth it.

Now, it’s possible (likely, even) that if I go back to each of these individual studies, I’d interpret them differently than the media does, but the reality is that I don’t have time to do this. As a scholar who craves information, research, and studies and who is teaching my children to think the same way, the easy and constant access to information is both liberating and frightening. I’m almost beginning to long for the days prior to the Internet, when you just had the family doctor, your parents and in-laws, and your neighbors to tell you what were doing right or wrong. Are others discovering worry and guilt within the constant barrage of new information and advice? What studies have you found the most interesting or alarming?


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