Outsourced parenting: Sexism, racism and classism

Crossposted from What Tami Said

It is probably heresy for the editor of a parenting blog to admit ambivalence about parenting, but here’s the deal: I’ve never had a strong desire to be a parent. I like children. I enjoy the wonder with which they view the world. I love their guilelessness and energy. I like to teach them things. I enjoy baby smell as much as the next person. And I love gratuitous cute kid pics. I just never had the want, the yearning to be a mother that I hear other women describe. I never played “mommy” with baby dolls. I don’t grab for the babies of colleagues and friends. I am not interested in pregnancy stories, poopy diaper stories or my-kid-the-soccer-star stories (but I listen to them politely and enthusiastically). If I had not met and married a wonderful man with two wonderful children, I would have been content to remain childless–a cool aunt to my nieces and nephews (And I am the coolest aunt.) I say all this to explain that I am the last person to criticize another woman for not embracing traditional notions of motherhood and womanhood, but “Project Runway” star Laura Bennett’s article on laissez faire parenting on Tina Brown’s new site, The Daily Beast, tripped my triggers, and I’m not sure whether the article is irresponsible and classist with an underlying acceptance of racial inequality, or whether I’m being done in by my own gender-bias.

Thank God for school. I never understand the mothers who get excited just before breaks, as if getting to sleep for thirty extra minutes in the morning is worth having to take care of your own kids all day. Sure, camp helps, but I have six children ages 20 years to 20 months, so there is no camp that can possibly accommodate them all. Besides, sleep-away camps don’t take toddlers. Not for three straight months, anyway.

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It was hard work, but as September rolled around, I excitedly got the kids ready for school. I secured the necessary color-coded folders and three-ring binders. I stocked up on reams of loose-leaf paper and dozens of mechanical pencils. I filled out all the necessary forms and artfully forged vaccination records so everything appeared up to date. I dug out backpacks with operating zippers, and rotated summer clothes, providing easy access to back-to-school wardrobes. I lined up nannies and mannies, reading tutors and homework helpers, because God knows New York City private school tuition is not enough to cover the actual cost of education. Now armed with the appropriate pharmaceuticals, I could sit back and watch my plan spring into action.

I have a genetic predisposition to laissez-faire parenting. The fact that I buy my children trampolines, go-carts and motorcycles so they stay out of my way on weekends is not my fault. I have a disease.

One month into school and I have successfully avoided stepping foot on campus. Not an easy feat, but between my husband, the afternoon nanny, and my oldest coming and going on his own, I have been able to rig it so that others have done the drop-offs and pick-ups. The problem is, today the nanny is sick; I have to pick up my first grader and don’t know where his classroom is. Or who his teachers are. I spotted a familiar face, the father of one of my son’s friends.

“Hi Dan.”

“Hi.”

“If I were to want to pick up a child in first grade, what floor would I be on?” I asked sheepishly.

“You don’t know where Pierson’s classroom is, do you?”

Busted.

Now, I know plenty of “good” fathers can’t be arsed to know the names of their children’s teachers or to suffer through the tedious, everyday aspects of parenting, but women who treat parenting similarly get labeled “bad mommies.” So, as I read Bennett’s article, the womanist (and the ambivalent parent) in me fought like hell not to judge. But there is something so entitled and imperious about the piece (…which I acknowlege must be a little tongue in cheek. No?). There is an icky subtext that says it’s okay to have children you have no interest in raising, because you can hire someone else to do the hard work for you. And here is the thing, in Bennett’s tony New York society, it is often black and brown women who do the child rearing for privileged white women. So, the writer’s blithe diregard for parenting evokes thoughts of mammies and wet nurses and the history of poor women and women of color employed to nurture and handle the details of parenting that bore and tire upper class, white women.

The end of slavery did not end the era of the Mammy image. By early 20th century, white working class households were beginning to employ black women. Yet this employment still abided by the rules of racial and gender segregation, marked by the stereotypes of who blacks and women were said to be. The racially segregated economy limited most blacks to menial jobs, with many black women being forced into domestic category to work as servants, maids and nurses (child care). Other types of jobs that were open to women were reserved for white women. Read
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Today, Bennett can appear on “Project Runway,” work part-time as an architect for Shelton, Mindel & Associates, be a contributing writer for The Daily Beast and be a mother of six; and her husband, Peter Shelton, can be an award-winning architect, founder of Shelton, Mindel & Associates and father/stepfather of six (He should carry equal responsibility for child-rearing.), because some less privileged woman of whatever race can be the “afternoon nanny,” paid far less than either parent to do what our society swears is “the most important job in the world.”

Am I being too hard on Laura Bennett, raised as I have been in a sexist society that puts all the responsibility for parenting on women and demonizes those who don’t fit a rigid maternal framework? Has Bennett written an article that reeks of white privilege? Or, are we both wrong?

Image courtesy of clairity on Flickr
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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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