Tuesday, August 08, 2006


I was directed to this Daily Mail piece titled Sorry, But My Children Bore Me to Death! by Enbrethiliel at Sancta Sanctis, who found it at feminine- genius. I gave some thought to trying an essay of my own but ended up with a garden-variety fisk. What the heck, I've been doing "boring" stuff (heavy on the back-to-school prep and shopping) with my kids all weekend, and I've still got a section of floor to finish. Baby still schools at home, furthermore, and we need to get started. Literary style points can wait.

I don't recommend the essay for the easily incensed, but it is an edifying read, especially if playing social scientist is your thing. (Note to Molly R.: deep breathing required before reading.) The author, according to the Mail "argues provocatively that modern women must not be enslaved by their children." I can't say I'd argue with that "provocatively," but I think the term "enslaved" is a bit gratuitous (what to expect from the Mail?) The author seems to be of the opinion that the term covers basic care of one's children. I think her attitude owes as much to the modern distaste for inconveniencing onesself to any degree as to anything cultural; still, she seems like someone who would have been at home as one of those obnoxious upper-crust female characters in a Jane Austen or English Victorian society novel.

I fisk it thus:

Invitations to attend a child's birthday party or, worse, a singalong session were met with the same refrain: 'I would love to but I just can't spare the time.

Okay, point for the author (not that she can expect many from here.) A one-year-old's birthday party is as a rule not terribly interesting except to the immediate family, which is why they have not generally been celebrated outside the immediate family prior to this generation. So why go to toddler parties at all unless they are for someone you know well and really care about? By all means, make an excuse!

A toddler playgroup is usually formed with the intent not only of allowing toddlers to experience interacting with each other, but also to give mothers who might otherwise be at home by themselves a chance to interact with their peers. The conversation at these events does tend to run to baby talk, (I'd rather discuss developmental milestones and the physiology of teething than gossip and fashion, myself,) but it need not be limited to that. Start a book club! Start a debate society! Take turns lecturing each other on current topics in particle physics!

I was probably ogling the merchandise at Harvey Nichols or having my highlights done instead.

Serious intellectual pursuits to be sure. I can see why she was anxious to escape the moms' coffee klatch. Believe it or not, one can occasionally glean useful information from discussions of "teething and potty training." Of course, if the nanny's just going to do it all anyway, one probably doesn't feel any need to have that information.

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.

The looming question on all our minds is, whatever possessed her to have children? Most people who don't enjoy spending time with children, have access to contraception, and have no objection to its use just take steps not to beget any. It's common and acceptable in our culture. We have to assume she was under no compulsion to become a parent, and career-woman status gave her an excellent excuse not to.

[Disclaimer, submitted at the suggestion of D, who thinks I'm going to be ostracized by the Catholic blogosphere for this: I accept and follow church teaching on contraception. I did not make the above statement to endorse the practice. As much of the western world doesn't see or do things my way, however, I remain surprised that given her stated distaste for childish things our author opted to reproduce.]

What kind of mother hates reading bedtime stories? A bad mother, that's who, and a mother who is bored rigid by her children.

Well, she said it, I didn't.

few of those women will admit that they made a bad, or — worse — a boring career move to motherhood.

Wait--I know this sounds crazy, but--is it remotely possible that some of them find motherhood at least as interesting and rewarding as whatever they did before? There's no end of drudgery in office work, either.

And while we're on the boring theme again, I'd like to ask: This lady's a writer by profession. Does she own a thesaurus? Do her kids just have to be boring and tedious? Can't they occasionally be tiresome, noisome, wearisome, annoying, or a nuisance?

Am I a lazy, superficial person because I don't enjoy packing up their sports kit, or making their lunch, or sitting through coffee mornings with other mothers discussing how Mr Science (I can't remember most of the teachers' names) said such and such to Little Johnny and should we all complain to the headmaster.

On one of the blogs that directed me to this article, someone remarked surprise that an educated woman who seems to hold education in high esteem doesn't even take enough of an interest in what her sons are learning to know who their teachers are. I have to agree.

At this point in the conversation, my mind drifts to thoughts of my own lunch and which shoes I plan to wear with what skirt.

Hmmm...are we beginning to see a pattern here?

since when did masterminding 20 school runs a week become an accomplishment? Getting a First at college was an accomplishment.

I have to make some assumptions here, as I'm not familiar with the lexicon of the English education system. If we equate 'getting a First' with, say, graduating Summa Cum Laude or being valedictorian, I'd say it's an accomplishment...right up until somebody hires you. Then it's back to the bottom, none of it matters one whit, and you have to prove yourself all over again. All that signifies in the real world is, can you rise to the job you've been called upon to do? It doesn't make any difference whether that job is in a newsroom or a nursery. Both are pretty darn challenging, if you ask me. In neither do you get rewarded for resting on your laurels.

Research tells us that mothers drink the most when they have young children. Is that because talking to anyone under the age of ten requires some sort of lobotomy?

Never heard that stat, and ceratinly never practiced it myself. But I'll let you in on a little secret: If you talk to children as if they are rational beings capable of understanding you, you raise rational beings capable of understanding many things, and of speaking intelligently. I personally have heard more sense from many a kid than I have from some adults.

'Bringing up children is among the most boring and exhausting things you can do,' she says.

Exhausting, yes. Boring, I would say not. BTW, can't she sing any other tune? I'm really getting that "lady doth protest too much" feeling. Personally, I'd be bored to tears at Harvey Nichols or sitting in a hairdresser's chair.

Her solution was to avoid subjugating her own life to that of her chil-dren's. 'I'm certainly not traipsing around museums or sitting on the floor doing Lego if that's what you mean by being at home,' she explains. 'I'm loving it, but my children fit into my life and not the other way around.

All right, I'll bite. Just what does she do at home all day? If it's eating bon-bons while watching soap operas, maybe leaving the job wasn't such a good idea.

I've always found kids a great excuse for slipping off to a musem for the afternoon, or for playing with Legos. At my age, I'd look silly doing it alone (the Legos, that is.)

Many of my friends — fortysomething, university-educated professionals who swore that they would be normal parents — make it a policy now that 'our kids go where we go'. They drag their three-year-olds to dinner parties where the youngsters end up in front of a video all night. (I have seen children having tantrums in front of guests, and rather than send the children to their rooms, the parents send their guests home.)

Okay, here we have the crux of the problem. On the one hand we have peple who want to reproduce, but not trouble themselves with such trivial pursuits as raising the resultant offspring, and on the other people who think raising children requires either making little emperors of them or pretending they are an accessory (or a pint-sized adult.) There is, surprise, surprise, a middle way.

Children, as they used to say at La Leche League, need quantities of quality time. They need you the parent, actively involved in their daily lives, taking an interest in the work and play that they do. That doesn't mean they have to have every single blessed minute of your time. It doesn't mean they have to be attached to you as with an umbilical cord. It doesn't mean they should dictate every hour of your schedule. It certainly doesn't mean they should be thrust into social interactions they can't handle, or allowed to be inconsiderate of others.

Part of being a parent is understanding what your children can handle, and what they can't. An adult dinner party is no place for a child. It is a very rare child who wouldn't be better off having take-out pizza and board games with an accomodating neighborhood teen. If an error in judgement leads to your taking your child to an event that is too much, you need to inconvenience yourself a little in order not to inconvenience everyone around you. It's happened to all of us.

'We live in an age when parenting is all about martyrdom.'

No. But it is a responsibility, and like any responsibility requires time and effort to do well. Therein lies the difference.

'When the current generation of mothers was young, children were simply appendages.

It's an odd sort of appendage that is completely detached from the main body. Our heroine then continues (quoting:)

'Our parents would never cancel an adult activity to get us to a soccer game. They would often not show up for our games or school plays, and, as a consequence, they never witnessed our great triumphs or were there to comfort us in our humiliations.'

It would seem that those "appendages" had but little connection to Mum or Dad. Did they see the outside of the nursery? Oh, yeah, that's what the nanny was there for.

Besides, in my view, making a child your career is a dangerous move because your marriage and sense of self can be sacrificed in the process.

Yep. It's risky. So's getting up in the morning, and walking out your door. So's taking on that new project, that new job, that new acquaintance. Living isn't for sissies, and neither is parenting.

'Women now feel great pressure to enjoy their children at all times,' she says. 'The truth is, a lot of it is plain tedium. It's very unlikely that a mother doesn't love her child, but it can be very dull. Still, it takes a brave woman to admit that.'

All right, put me on the record as admitting it: there are plenty of things I would rather do than change a messy diaper, sort and fold laundry, scrub the kitchen floor, or figure out what I can throw together for dinner when I haven't been grocery shopping all week. With the possible exception of the first item, however, all those occasions of drudgery are with me whether or not I have children--and if not with me, then with whatever poor soul I've contracted with to do the work. Not that she's likely to find it loads of fun.

The fact is, for the majority of us who can't afford a housekeeping staff, a certain amount of drudgery in life is inescapable. What the rest of us do with the spare time I'm not sure. I've heard Paris Hilton got into videography.

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.

Hope--or perhaps self-delusion--springs eternal. And again, the extreme case brought in to make benign neglect seem sensible by comparison.

This, of course, makes mothers like me — who love their children but refuse to cater to their every whim — feel vindicated.

The impression I've had until now is that she refuses to cater to anything at all, unless it's her own self-absorbed life. That's a different thing entirely. To parphrase the wise Mrs. Sowerby in The Secret Garden, " The two worst things for a child are when it always gets its way, and when it never does."

Frankly, as long as you've fed them, sheltered them and told them they are loved, children will be fine.

Not quite. Telling them you love them doesn't amount to much if the evidence of same isn't there.

Mine are — at the risk of sounding smug — well-adjusted, creative children who respect the concept of work. They also accept my limitations.

They stopped asking me to take them to the park (how tedious) years ago. But now when I try to entertain them and say: 'Why don't we get out the Monopoly board?' they simply look at me woefully and sigh: 'Don't bother, Mum, you'll just get bored.'

How to take this bit of wisdom from our confident author? For starters, that last sentence doesn't sound like kids who "accept limitations;" it sounds like kids who have long ago resigned themselves to the fact that Mum couldn't give a darn about their needs. Unlike the ever-hopeful Charlie Brown, they aren't about to go for that football yet again. Why bother? The park, the board game, just like everything else germane to the life of a child is, to her, "tedious." No matter that to the kids, it's anything but.

The author strikes me as phenomenally lucky. Her boys might have become vindictive or whiny. They are, we assume, free of serious problems or disabilities. I can't imagine how with her attitude, she would have dealt with a child with, say, autism or learning problems, or a physical handicap.

You haven't seen tedium till you've done the OT exercises for the hundredth time with no apparent improvement and no crystal ball to clue you in that the next time just might bring some small glimmer of progress. You haven't known boredom until you've sat through a few dozen IEP meetings with your kids' teachers. You think college was an accomplishment? Try getting a kid who's in his own little world most of the time to play a couple of quarters of a soccer game or respond to a friendly overture. Try getting one who can't decipher letters to read a book or get his spelling list down pat. Try getting one with a neurological condition to pick up the bow and try that violin piece one more time--not just so you can show off her accomplishments to your friends, but because the process of learning to control her movements is one of the keys to her future independence in that adult world that may otherwise be as intimidating to her as it is exhilarating to you.

It is noteworthy that the boys in question are ten and twelve years old. At those tender ages, they have not even begun to be one iota of the trouble they could be. While Mum is off trolling through the garment racks at her favorite department store, arranging her wardrobe, having her hair done, and perhaps having the time in her busy schedule to follow some of those much-vaunted intellectual pursuits the adult world has to offer, those boys with a few more years on them could be getting into stuff that would curl her hair, no beautician needed. She doesn't have the time to find out who their teachers are or who's dropping by this weekend to play; why assume she's going to know what they're up to at school or elsewhere, or who they're hanging out with--until the headmaster, or the police officer, or the girlfriend's father calls up with the bombshell? She may well find, half a dozen years up the road, that what she took for "adjustment" was merely a talent for concealment, helped along by her own inattention.

If they manage to avoid the pitfalls and grow up to be reasonably decent, productive human beings, hurray for them! But the author shouldn't be too quick to claim the glory as by all indications in her article, she had but little to do with that miracle. And she still might find, years later, that the sons who wouldn't trouble her to play with them have concluded that in their own busy lives, it's too much trouble to visit Mum at the Old Folks' Home.

UPDATE: I stopped briefly by feminine-genius after posting, and learned that Milady has evidently been fisked up one side of the Internet and down the other since the publication of her opinion piece--so much for any pretenses at originality I might have entertained. [NOTE: Following is a correction of the original.] I also learned that this Independent article she wrote about a year before trashes just about every nanny who has ever had the care of her boys; God help those kids. It seems Milady isn't easily satisfied.

I think in lieu of taking the nanny article for another round of fisking, I'll just pour myself a tall glass of iced tea, lean back according to good lazy Southern modus operandi (perhaps cueing up the blues harmonica tape first,) and watch her dig her own hole.



Blogger Askinstoo said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:51 PM  
Blogger Enbrethiliel said...


Great fisk! I had to either chuckle or snort as you pointed out all her recurring "themes." ;)

9:11 PM  
Blogger MrsDarwin said...

I've avoided reading this article because it sounds too tiresome (I feel about it as the woman seems to feel about her children -- why should I waste my time>) but you've slapped it around so thoroughly I might just have to go and check it out.

One wonders if Milady's children read her piece?

8:15 AM  
Blogger CMinor said...

Thank you two for dropping in!

Enbrethiliel: I hope this made the original article a little easier to take. While I feel sad for her kids, it's hard not to laugh at this woman's posturing!

Mrs. D.: After reading her nanny article, I began to wonder if her kids could read it! My advice to my sister-in-law stands: take some deep breaths first, and of course engage the sense of humor!

8:43 PM  

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