Creative Destruction

August 10, 2006

“My Children Bore Me To Death!”

Filed under: Feminist Issues — Ampersand @ 5:18 pm

There’s a lot of negative response to this article in the blogosphere, mostly among Christian bloggers and some Mommybloggers. (And, of course, some Christian mommybloggers).

Sorry, but my children bore me to death!
by HELEN KIRWAN-TAYLOR, Daily Mail

[…]To be honest, I spent much of the early years of my children’s lives in a workaholic frenzy because the thought of spending time with them was more stressful than any journalistic assignment I could imagine.

Kids are supposed to be fulfilling, life-changing, life-enhancing fun: why was my attitude towards them so different?

While all my girlfriends were dropping important careers and occupying their afternoons with cake baking, I was begging the nanny to stay on, at least until she had read my two a bedtime story. What kind of mother hates reading bedtime stories? A bad mother, that’s who, and a mother who is bored rigid by her children.

I know this is one of the last taboos of modern society. To admit that you, a mother of the new millennium, don’t find your offspring thoroughly fascinating and enjoyable at all times is a state of affairs very few women are prepared to admit. We feel ashamed, and unfit to be mothers.

In a post at Princesses, Dogs, and Chaos, Jenn responds:

The moment I find my children boring, the moment I don’t take joy in watching their explorations and moments of learning, the moment I choose self-fulfillment over milestones in my child’s life, will be a sad, wasted day in my life.

Amazingly, Jenn wrote the above sentence in a post entitled “Balance is Key.” (By the way, I find these passage from Jenn’s self-description terrifying: “I am a saved-by-grace wife and mommy who strives to do things that will bring honor to both my family and to God. However, with my strong will and sassy mouth, I consistently fail to meet those goals.” With all due respect to Jenn, I’d hate to think God opposes women having strong wills and sassy mouths.)

It’s not just bloggers; The “Daily Mail,” which published the column, received hundreds of letters catigating “bored mommy.” “I’m the most vilified woman in Britain because I don’t find it interesting to change nappies,” Kirwan-Taylor later commented.

Although Kirwan-Taylor (at least as she describes herself in this article) is extreme, she’s also right: A lot of parents find hanging out with the kids boring. It’s a lot of fun to play “ghost” with Sydney the first few times, but Sydney is apt to want to play the game 20 or 30 times in a row. When I was a small child, someone who obviously hated my parents gave me a Parcheesi(tm) set; I wanted to play it all the time, even though Parcheesi(tm) has been proved by astrophysicists to be an immense black hole of galaxy-sucking dullness.

A parent’s obligation is to provide their children with a loving home, and to see that their physical and emotional needs are met. There’s no obligation not to have a life outside your children, however. That seems to be Kirwan-Taylor’s central point, and it’s one I entirely agree with:

Those of us who are not thoroughly ‘child-centric’, meaning we don’t put our children’s guitar practice before our own ambitions, are made to feel guilty. We’re not meant to have an adult life — at least, not one that doesn’t include them.

My primary criticism of Kirwan-Taylor is that she imagines that she’s got the formula for creating great kids, and criticizes those parents who don’t follow her formula:

All us bored mothers can take comfort from the fact that our children may yet turn out to be more balanced than those who are love-bombed from the day they are born.

Research increasingly shows that child-centred parenting is creating a generation of narcissistic children who cannot function independently.

‘Their demand for external support is enormous,’ says Kati St Clair. ‘They enter the real world totally ill-prepared. You damage a child just as much by giving them extreme attention as you do by ignoring them altogether. Both are forms of abuse.’

Blah, blah, blah. Experts never tire of trying to micro-manage how parents raise their children. Short of abuse, however, I’m not convinced that one style of parenting is better than another. Children who are well loved and well cared for are more likely to turn out well, but there is no One True Best Style of Parenting, nor is there any approach to parenting that will suit all families well.

Finally, it’s impossible to ignore the class issues bound up in all this. It’s all very well for Kirwan-Taylor to rely on nannies to relieve her of boredom (does Daddy do a share of the child-rearing, I wonder), but obviously most parents can’t afford nannies. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the criticism heaped on Kirwan-Taylor has focused on the nanny aspect.

Mythago makes this very interesting point (in the comments at Happy Feminist):

It’s not true that mothers are never supposed to pretend that childhood is boring. Moms complain to each other about having to read Green Eggs and Ham for the 9,295,284th time.

BUT–that’s not the case if you are in a social class and community where overachieving genius babies are de rigeur, and the mark of a good mother is how fast your kid rips through the milestones. You can’t be bored in that milieu, because boredom suggests that your kid is boring, and therefore isn’t a superbaby. It’s not “boring” when your child learns to read, or appreciates Mozart, or learns to walk early. “Boring” is when your kid does the same, non-super-intellectual thing over and over again. And to admit that is to admit that your child may not be ahead of all the others.

And, of course, the sexism aspect – that this sort of pressure to pretend that every minute spent with one’s child is happy happy joy joy is far more intensely felt by mothers than fathers – is almost too self-evident to be worth mentioning.

Curtsy to Elizabeth at Family Scholars.

1 Comment »

  1. I think Mythago’s analysis is spot on. I’ve yet to meet a mom who doesn’t admit to being bored with various aspects of child rearing – different aspects for different moms. I love reading to my kids, and have never complained of that – I pick the books to read and for some reason have a high tolerance for childhood favorites. I didn’t mind reading Sandra Boynton’s Doggies repeatedly to five different toddlers from the boredom perspective, although some nights it didn’t do my throat any good. Other moms hate that part and love things that bore me to tears.

    My problem with Kirwan-Taylor is not that she admits aspects of child rearing are boring – it’s that she seems to say that her perspective of boring is the only valid one. My kids and I have fairly similar tastes in movies, ranging from Appollo 13 to Pirates of the Carribbean to Everything is Illuminated, and we all like museums, too (although I usually let hubby handle the zoo beat), so I found it annoying to have these pastimes dismissed as boring.

    OTOH, I find the aimless shopping she apparently enjoys to be deadly dull, and would not like having my highlights done not only because it’s boring and irritating to have someone fussing with my hair (unless it’s hubby or kids brushing it, because they don’t insist I sit still for that), but because I don’t like all the chemical smells. I think Kirwan-Taylor’s life sounds as dull and irritating as she’d find mine.

    There’s also the fact that different kids thrive under different treatment – my kids are thriving in an environment that would make many kids insecure and unhappy, while the environment recommended by many experts would strike them as confining and frustrating. Loving parents will treat their children as individuals and try to find what works with that child – one of my problems with “the experts” is that they tend toward a “one size fits all” solution that may work well with most kids but can be a disaster with some. As you mention, Kirwan-Taylor falls into that trap.

    Comment by shiloh — August 16, 2006 @ 2:51 pm | Reply


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