27 April 2016

The Problem with Parenting Magazines

When I was pregnant a friend gave me some advice: Never read parenting magazines. “You’ll get put on the mailing list,” she said. “’With our complements,’ the card will tell you. Take the time to throw out the magazines and remove yourself from their mailing list. I promise this is one of the best things you can do as a parent.”

For the most part I followed that advice. I even threw out What to Expect by the time Muffin was three months old because she wasn’t following any of the directions the handbook gave and it stressed me out. Recently, though, I saw this headline, “Am I Supposed to Be My Child’s Playmate?”, from Parenting magazine. The mother of all magazines I try to avoid.

I am no expert in parenting, other than keeping my own child relatively happy and healthy for the last five years, but like most parents, regardless of my feelings on the topic, I’m going to click on a lot of parenting articles. Personally, I think it’s fine to find a balance between playing with children and giving them time and space to play on their own.

The very first paragraph made me uneasy. The author’s mother would make dinner for the family on the one night a week she wasn’t home for dinner because she had a graduate school class. Okay, that’s fine. But her father would throw away the pot roast, hiding it deep in the garbage can, order pizza, and hide the boxes in a neighbor’s garbage so that the mother would never find out. “It was our little secret,” the author says.

That is a terrible secret. Her parents were so held down by traditional parenting roles that her mother could not say to her father, “You are responsible for dinner this one night a week.” Nor could the father say, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of dinner this one night a week.” She felt the need to make a dinner that her family would throw away. (Why throw it away? Why not carve it up for sandwiches or save it for another night?) I would be pissed if I found out my spouse and child were doing this after the trouble I went through to make the meal.

I realized as I read that this article taps into the insecurity many mothers feel about being Mean Mommy versus Fun Dad. I haunt parenting groups to see what other parents are up to and I see the Mean Mommy issues brought up by women all the time. Mothers are meant to nurture and be caregivers for their families. Fathers are meant to be playmates.

I call shenanigans.

Both parents are parents. Fathers are not playmates or baby-sitters. (More men are professional chefs but more women are still expected to cook for their families? Don’t even get me started on that… Maybe a future blog post.) Both parents can play to their strengths, of course, but at some time they are going to have to step up to both roles.

That is, if both parents are present and if they are a heterosexual couple.

There’s no reason why, if both parents are present, then they can’t share the nurturing and the playmate parts. Single parents have to do both. Same-sex parents take on both roles. There’s absolutely no need for it to be gender divided, or divided at all. So many parenting articles reinforce these gender roles without taking into account that families are not as nuclear as they were a generation or two ago, nor with taking into account the different personalities and strengths that different parents have. They continue to reinforce the image of the ideal superwoman who can keep a perfect household and hold down a career or further her education while dad occasionally baby-sits.

Families aren’t like that anymore and many media outlets continue to subversively keep that out-dated model alive.

And that's why I don't read parenting magazines. Really, I don't.

1 comment:

Wendy said...

Absolutely, 100% totally agree. In my home, my husband and I flipped roles: I was the breadwinner and he was the stay-at-home parent. Which led to plenty of problems for OTHER reasons, but there was never any question that we both were capable of fulfilling our daughters' needs. For fun, for food, for discipline, for guidance. And really, isn't that what parenting is supposed to be about? Finding and using your strengths to raise the best adult you can?

I call shenanigans too. Media encouragement of the stereotypes and out-of-date roles have to stop in order to let us all move on and find ways to support one another.