Feminism and Parenting: A Perfect Match

(written by Storiteller)

Feminism believes that we should equally respect women and men, as well as trust women’s ability to make their own decisions. As becoming a parent (or not) is one of the biggest decisions in life, it isn’t surprising that feminism has a lot to teach both individuals and society about parenting. If patriarchy hurts everyone, then feminism is good for the whole family – mothers, fathers, and children.

Feminism teaches us that being a mother is an important job – but far from the only important job.

At first glance, American society appears to valorize mothers. But that image only goes so far. In reality, society uses it as an excuse to control women and corporations exploit it to sell products. Feminism offers true respect for mothering, including support for paid family leave (to take care of children or aging parents), job protection for pregnant women, universal health care, and financial assistance for poor women. Feminism also recognizes that unpaid work can be worth just as much if not more than paid work.

But simultaneously, feminism acknowledges that women have many important roles that have nothing to do with children. In addition to allowing women expanded opportunities, I think this recognition also helps women with children be better parents. If women aren’t forced to shove all of their ambitions into a box labeled “mother,” they’re more likely to respect their children’s own interests and less likely to smother them with unfulfilled dreams.

Feminism teaches us to respect non-mother caregivers.

Parenting extends beyond being a mother and people other than parents can be excellent caregivers. Assuming otherwise gives everyone short-shrift. This attitude severely restricts mothers’ career choices, either out of straight-up prejudice or societal shame. It also denigrates fathers, grandparents, and non-related caregivers. It denies them the opportunity to take the caregiver role, even if they’re the one best suited for it in the family. I can personally say that both my husband and I have benefitted from feminism’s advances in this area. My husband is a stay at home dad by choice and I’m glad that we have the societal privilege to have this arrangement. Lastly, the “mother is the best” completely erases male gay couples with children.

In addition, a recognition that caregiving extends beyond mothers is better for children. It allows for a greater variety of role models of varying genders and ages. In addition, because it doesn’t assume that “anything but mommy” is second-best, it creates a higher baseline for quality daycare.

Feminism teaches us to respect women’s choices about their bodies, including if and when to get pregnant, how to give birth, and whether or not to breastfeed.

Obviously, it’s the best for everyone for all children to be wanted, joyful additions to their parents’ lives. But the societal judgments – and in some places, legal limits – about women’s choices don’t stop once the child is born. The parenting world, from books to blogs, is full of judgment for all sorts of women’s choices. In contrast, feminism emphasizes policies and attitudes that increase women’s choices rather than restrict them. Carrying this respect for a variety of choices into parenting would be better for women and their children than side-whispers and snarky comments on message boards.

Feminism teaches us that we should value and respect those less powerful than us.

I’ve recently started reading How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, a classic of the Positive Parenthood movement. Reading it, I realized how many of the ways sexists devalue women are also how adults devalue children. In both cases, the more powerful party tells the less powerful person that their emotions aren’t valid, generalizes a single mistake into a judgement of their character, explains why they are illogical, and gives lip service to the other’s problems instead of listening. I would never say that children have the same ability to make choices as adult women, but their thoughts and feelings still deserve respect. When the kyriarchy teaches children that they are not important because they are less powerful than adults, I believe they grow up to be more likely to be racist, sexist, and classist. In contrast, if adults show children respect, they are more likely to carry that respect towards everyone out into the world as adults.

Feminism teaches us that we are stronger and better in community than alone.

Community is essential for new parents. It’s important for new moms to catch the signs of post-natal depression and alleviate plain-old post-natal isolation. (I personally have never felt so lonely as being alone with my baby when he was crying and not knowing what to do.) Beyond the parents’ mental health, I also believe in the “it takes a village” philosophy of child raising. It’s essential for children to interact with people of different ages, genders, races, sexualities, experiences, and viewpoints. It helps them become better, more empathetic citizens who can see outside of their small household.

Needless to say, I’m a feminist and I hope to bring up my little boy to be one too.

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3 thoughts on “Feminism and Parenting: A Perfect Match

  1. […] I posted a blog post on what feminism can teach us about being a good parent – go over and check it […]

  2. Lonespark February 20, 2014 at 8:05 am

    I am glad this is here!

    I think it would be awesome if we added our own things about intersections between feminism and parenting, but I’m having a hard time articulating ideas that don’t sound like they’re copying yours.

    Feminism teaches us that sex and/or gender need not proscribe or confine the expression of who we are, as children, or as parents.

    Also this post is inspiring fond memories of Free To Be You and Me. And Growing Up Free: Raising Your Child in the 80s, which I think my parents kind of used as a parenting bible, and which I really enjoyed reading when I was older… except that it’s kind of depressing how little has changed in many areas…

  3. storiteller February 20, 2014 at 11:28 am

    Thanks! The sex / gender point is a really good one, so I’m glad you brought it up. I definitely welcome any other additions. I’ve been reading a ton about different parenting philosophies, trying to sort through what’s useful and what’s nonsense, so I welcome any thoughts on the intersections in this area.

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