Today I reached my parenting research breaking point. It started out this morning, when I witnessed an extremely cruel attack on a mom who was talking about her struggles as working mama. A stay-at-home-mom wrote a lengthy response criticizing her choice and telling her she should feel guilty and bad about her decisions. Literally. Those words were used.
Then by this afternoon the newest research study on working vs. stay-at-home moms came out. The headline proclaimed that working moms had the advantage in raising the best kids around.
And that’s when it happened. I said loud and proud to the little screen in my hand “NOPE. DONE.”
All in all it was just your typical day on Facebook, at least as a mother. An article about parenting styles – this one has been proven to have better results than this other one. An article claiming it knows the exact number of hours you should spend per day engaged with your child for the best outcomes. An article on how to prevent peanut allergies based on when you introduce the food. An article stating that age ___ to ____ is THE MOST CRITICAL time frame in your child’s development.
These articles are targeted at mothers. Moms are the ones sharing them. Maybe its just me and my group of acquaintance,s but I don’t often see a load of parenting articles shared by fathers.
These articles are guaranteed to get a big reaction from fellow mothers. As they should. They bring a big reaction out of me, but not because of the advice and “knowledge” they are spreading. For the message that is not so subtly hidden beneath all of the above:
Everything your child becomes, is your fault, moms. Dads, as far as I can tell, you are not engaging in this parenting research/sharing of parenting knowledge, at least not publicly. So moms, this is on you. Why? Because we are the ones paying attention, eagerly eating it up, or viewed another way, desperately searching for guidance and validation. Because we are the ones whose lives are expected to completely change when a child is born. Because we are the ones with the biological mandate of carrying and often times feeding a child. Because we are the ones who the expectation to parent, the burden of being solely responsible for the way our children “turn out” falls on. Because men for whatever reason are not engaging and we for whatever reason can’t look away.
Men have the convenience, the choice, the social support, the privilege of not having to pay attention. Obviously there are fantastic fathers out there, ones who take seriously their roles of raising children, but there simply does not exist the social pressure for the role of being a father to rule a man’s life. Society is approximately one million percent more accepting of a distant/career-driven father who is around for bedtime and weekends and leaves the discipline and parenting “style” choices up to the mother than of a distant/career-driven mother who is around for bedtime and weekends and leaves the discipline and parenting “style” choices up to the father. Where are the highly publicized research articles on whether it is better for a child’s wellbeing if men stay home or work? Where is the social commentary shaming men for not enjoying every single second of fatherhood? Why aren’t we asking better questions?
Is your child impatient? Mean? Throws fits? Allergic to dogs? Has asthma? Behind the rest of his class? Shy? Impulsive? Well mom, that’s on you.
And this is why I am done reading parenting “research.”
Because I have yet to know anyone who made their parenting decisions based on research. Instead, they use research to justify their own decisions. Or research serves the purpose of showing the “other” parents that they are doing it wrong.
Some of us don’t get to make the choice. Is it helpful to tell a mom who has no choice but to work that kids are better off if you stay home? How about to a mom who has no choice but to stay home? To tell her that her kids will forever be “less than” those kids whose parents worked?
The only things I can think this research serves is to make policy decisions that help parents. Even so, the results are often so biased, of such poor research design, or flawed with the inevitable variance that occurs when you are studying real life and not a true randomized double blind research experiment. Social sciences are often at the mercy of these factors.
For every mother a piece of research lifts up, another is brought down, told her choices (or non-choices, but rather facts of life) are less than.
I am disturbed by the focus on woman as the sole bearer of her child’s outcome, frustrated with the intense focus of individual women as the responsible party. Not the fathers. Not the society that demands us to choose our identity as working or SAHM. Not the society that doesn’t mandate paid maternity leave, that doesn’t value women workers but instead tells them they are “lucky” to be put up with in all of their needs to also care for their children.
We need to ask better questions. Until then, research tells us we can’t win. There’s a “right” amount and type of time to spend with our children. Are you watching closely? Pay attention because in a couple years it will change again.
So, I’m out. I’m done, I’m opting out. I’m not interested in shoving research down others’ throats to validate my own experience. I’m not interested in engaging in the cultural debate of which type of parenting is best.
I plan on spending the resulting free time from not reading the most recent parenting research headlines in giving zero actual f***s of what researchers or academics or social scientists or my great aunt Mildred or my one acquaintance from college or that girl who I see on Wednesdays or my Facebook friend from Nebraska think of my parenting. The resolution lives on.