Judith Warner has a weekly column in the New York Times. Most of her columns are about parenting. It’s a reflection of the fascination our culture has with parenting that the New York Times has a weekly column covering this issue. I’ve looked through the archives of NY Times articles on motherhood for an article I was researching. What I found from the late 1800′s and early 1900′s was quite interesting.
My favorite piece was titled, “The Artificial Mother.” It was an editorial suggesting that machines could do quite as good a job as women in raising children. The changing of diapers, feeding and dressing could be satisfactorily managed by mechanics. I’m guessing that the article was written as a critique that women really weren’t doing a very good job. The machine could also be designed to give a smack on the bottom thus handling behavioral and discipline issues as well. Of course, this wouldn’t fly today.
Warner’s article focused on the emotional enmeshment she feels with her daughters. This is something she wrote a book about a few years ago. In Perfect Madness, Warner decries the practice of parents not being able to separate from their children and conduct their own adult life. And I think she’s right that many parents do become overly involved with their children. As a stay at home mother, I see that temptation daily, but don’t always manage to avoid it.
If we place The Artificial Mother up against the emotional enmeshment of our time, we come to a curious polarity. Many of us were raised in an authoritarian household. As a kid, you didn’t ask questions, didn’t assert your opinion into conversation and wouldn’t dare utter an outright refusal if your parents told you to do something. [Sneaking around and lying have always occurred, but that's for another post.] In the sixties, our culture underwent a shift and questioning authority became more acceptable. Parents attempted to befriend their children. The permissive parenting style was born.
Things seem to be swinging back to a more balanced place. Not over the top authoritarian, but not parents as BFF’s either. Of course, the speed at which things change with kids means that, as parents, we get caught unprepared and can wander from our well-intentioned firm and loving hand.
Why is it that Izzy won’t stop asking for a Facebook account all of the sudden? When did that become so important? I’ve got good, well thought out reasons for saying no, so why am I waffling? She’s a little older and maybe it is time to reconsider, but I don’t want to make this decision because I’ve been worn down by her pressuring me.
One tool I’ve picked up over the years is to delay decision making. To both girls I’ve said, “If I decide now, the answer will be no. Let me think about it.” It works. They don’t always like it, but it works. Delayed gratification isn’t high on the list of things kids appreciate. It’s one of those lessons you appreciate more at a distance.
I enjoyed Warner’s article because I need reminders to keep looking clearly and honestly at my parenting. After all, The Artificial Mother could make a resurgence at any time and no one wants to be out of a job in this economy.