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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

ABC's and PhD's: Online parenting advice
March 24, 2010 - 8:15am

A recent piece in The New York Times discusses a trend in parenting that they call the “Mommy Wars”: competitive, judgmental child rearing. Several contributors to this discussion suggest that the web is responsible for this trend - the anonymous and ever-present, often first source of information from parenting sites, comments, and blogs. As this article points out, many of mother-oriented sites come with a contentious, competitive edge – not helpful and friendly as one might expect parenting advice to be.

Another contributor to this NYT piece that caught my eye was the analysis of Meredith Small, an anthropologist at Cornell. Small suggests that Western culture has lost the traditions of motherhood – philosophies of parenting are not passed down to the next generation in the way that they used to be (for all sorts of reasons, including the increasing trend of individuals moving away from their extended families so that new parents often live far from their own parents, and smaller family sizes mean less experience with sibling babysitting as teens).

Small contends that this “loss of parenting traditions are based on belief systems passed down from mother to mother” means our culture is more fractionated, and makes us “used to rejecting the older generation and reinventing themselves as better educated and more in the know about everything, including parenting.” Hence, the “Mommy Wars” follow, with many contentious experts out there. I’ve been thinking about this hypothesis. I don’t know whether or not parents are more vitriolic than they used to be (certainly, there is a lot of that out there). But I do think that culture is evolving and information dispersal is changing. Take, for example, the balance of career and family, especially in the case of academic careers. The generation ahead of me, nay, even the decade ahead of me, has had an extremely different experience with this balancing act, as has the decade behind me; passing along static generational traditions just doesn’t apply. So it’s especially important to have a lateral exchange of information on this topic, and the web is of vital importance in developing ideas on this front as they evolve.

It’s equally important to be in the right arena for this type of exchange. There is, of course, a huge number of websites out there to navigate and it’s easy to find discussions that misunderstand the nuance of the topic, and thus can be remarkably discouraging. I found this the case in this recent article about graduate student parenting in The Washington Post, in which I was struck by how unsympathetic the comments were.

Maybe after we hash out the huge changes that are occurring in the work-parenting arena we will become more a culture in agreement, with less enmity and more traditions to pass down? Or maybe we can learn to be more tolerant. Or, maybe not.


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