Zoe Williams The Madness of Modern Parenting
Are you not a parent, parent-to-be soon or have a big interest in babies and parenting? Then this book review might not be for you (well, you might want to give the book as a gift to (expecting)parent-friends). The title holds it all, this book is about the madness of parenting in todays’ world. A short and interesting, highly political book composed of three essays.
As a parent-to-be (it feels so damn grown-up to be able to say this. And scary), I feel like I have to read at least some books about the art of parenting. Of course I can ask the people around me, follow my instinct and go with the flow, but to broaden my perspective I always feel reading books helps a lot. This book definitely broadened my perspective. And as a big plus, it eased my mind. Parents and people involved in the parenting process should all just take five and review the way they are approaching babies, children and most of all, other parents, if Zoe Williams could have a say in it.
Williams talks about the judgements that parents who work, and like to work, especially mothers, have to deal with.
“If it’s become bizarrely taboo to admit that your parenting sometimes has to come second to earning a living, one thing has become even more unsayable: that you might want to go to work, even after you’ve had a baby, because you enjoy it. (…) There is no room (…) for the mother who doesn’t want her child to be in a big crowd twelve hours a day before it can even speak, but likewise doesn’t want to entirely relinquish her own place in the world. There’s no comprehension at all from politics that you might want to be with your children for the sheer thrill of being with them, but also get away from them because you did, after all, remain an adult, and you will still need adult pursuits.” (45-48)
This argument by the author is one which I find very important. It should not all be about the government facilitating women to get back to work to earn money, to support the economy, or because it is supposed to be good for the developing child to go to daycare. It should be perfectly fine to admit that you just like to work and get away from the baby for a while.
My nightmares come up when Zoe Williams starts on education. I mean, the way that is organized currently is, in my opinion, plain out horror. We put our children in a room full of other children with one seemingly random adult under great pressure to make sure all children fulfill their ‘full potential’. While being locked in a room with hardly any place for individual initiative or behavior. They can’t eat when they want to. They can’t go to the toilet without having to ask. They can’t take a walk around the block when they feel like it. Gosh, it’s like prison. And then came the following quote (which the author quotes from a piece by Peter Gray in Psychology Today):
Imagine a job in which you work every day is micro-managed by your boss. You are told exactly what to do, how to do it, and when to do i. You are required to stay in your seat until your boss says you can move. Each piece of work is evaluated and compared, every day, with the work done by your fellow employees. You are rarely trusted to make your own decisions. (p 76)
And that, dear reader, is the problem with our school system. Even worse, as Grey also points out. You can’t even quit. Children are forced to continue. And I’ve met some adults who really felt that way when they were children. They were truly unhappy attending school and no one could do anything about it. Because they were obliged to keep attending school. I desperately hope for a good alternative for my children. Maybe home schooling with some other kids from the neighborhood?
Zoe Williams talks about our risk-avoiding behavior when kids are concerned throughout the book. But in the final essay she says something worth remembering:
Ultimately, we’re back to risk-hazards that were once considered part of life are no longer acceptable, either for mothers-to-be, new mothers, old mothers, fathers or children. The landscape has come to be shaped by the avoidance of risk. I remember discussing this with Ellie Lee, sociologist at Kent University. She said that it’s what happens when politics ceases to be about progress; when history announces itself to have ended; when ideology is declared over: ‘If you’re not going anywhere, if you’re not headed towards something better, then you become preoccupied with maintaining the present. Not improving it, protecting it from threat.'( p 86-87)
That gives you some food for thought, right?
This book is worth a read when you are feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of becoming a parent, but I can imagine it to also be of interest for parents that are confronted daily with the topics discussed. Williams makes you look at the day to day business of parenting in a fundamental way. This might also be a practical guide for people eager to point fingers at those who ‘do it all wrong’. Please stop that! Williams fully understands and manages to balance her strong opinions with a tendency not to judge others. She also discusses difficulties for fathers. In my opinion, that is a strong suit of this book, since too often these types of books tend to focus more on mothers than fathers. Even though they too have to deal with certain pressures from outside. For example, the fact that they are being labeled less competent to parent than mothers (why? This is not biologically determined as far as I know).
However, I feel like there is a bit of a negative tone of voice throughout the book. This is not a bad thing per se, because I assume the purpose of this book is to spark discussion. But if you are looking for a book that you can read on a relaxing sunday afternoon to clear your mind, I recommend you pick another one.