Sunday, May 23, 2010

Daddy Dearest

I’ve been accused more than once of being too politically correct. I have wondered if perhaps people are right; am I oversensitive? Do I have no sense of humor? Do jokes that we make about generalizations aimed at us ease our hurt feelings? Should I just lighten up?

I don’t think so – especially because I’m now a parent to a little girl with a very impressionable mind. I think humor like this is really damaging because our children absorb it as truth, and in our adult years we often find ourselves questioning the legitimacy of these generalizations.

The latest example I’d like to share has to do with a show on Disney that my daughter has become fond of, “Good Luck Charlie.” The premise of the show is that a couple who already have three older children unexpectedly have a new baby. The older sister makes videos to share with the baby, Charlie, when she gets older. Each video ends with the wish, “Good Luck, Charlie.”

In the episode in question, the mother is returning to work for the first time since the baby was born. She is a nurse and will be working nights, and the father will be responsible for the baby when the mother is at work in the evening. The teenage daughter has conflict with her mother because she wants to go study with a boy at the library that night, and the mother reminds her of the rule – all of the children must stay in the house to help the father take care of the baby. The father is not to be left to this responsibility himself.

Joke after joke roll off the tongues of the family members implying the father’s ineptitude. Years ago, my friend Cristi stopped watching “Everybody Loves Raymond” for this very reason, because what was being asserted was that the wife runs the household on her own. She is smart and competent, and this (Cristi, I’ll steal your words)“booger-eatin’-moron” to whom she is married wouldn’t be able to put his pants on without her direction, let alone be trusted to manage any parenting tasks. Well, he can make play-doh animals with his toddler sons, but you have to keep an eye on him to make sure he doesn’t try to eat the “doh” or stick it up his nose.

I took the opportunity to pause “Good Luck Charlie” to explain to Maddie what was wrong with the plot of the show. I told her that the people who made the show were trying to be funny, but they had failed, because what they created was a hurtful message, and one that is too easy to be accepted as “at least a little true” by too many people.

Why do we do this? Why do we think fathers are clueless buffoons who we just hope can manage with a child in the mother’s absence? Well, my guess is that it comes from that ages-old assumption that a woman is naturally a better parent. We perpetuate the problem of prescribed gender roles. These gender stereotypes we claim we want to change, but we are not taking the responsibility to move forward in this change.

How often do we see marital strain emerge after the birth of a child? In hearing these couples speak, we hear accusations from both sides – she says that she’s doing everything herself without substantial help from the child’s father. We hear him say that he’s backed off because every time he’s made an effort to participate in parenting, he’s scolded because he isn’t doing something right. She counters that if she doesn’t do something, it just isn’t going to get done…he takes no initiative in his parenting role and leaves things up to her. She argues that he doesn’t even wake up at night when the baby cries.

I read a study not long ago that when “allowed” to be an active parent, and man develops his own parenting instincts equally strong to the esteemed “maternal instinct.”

I’m not saying it’s our entire fault, ladies. This message has been engrained into the minds of men and women alike. I think it’s time to eradicate it, though. It might seem surprising to read a blog like this from me, as someone who has never experienced co-parenting. Most of you know I’ve been on my own with Maddie since day one, entirely. I think, however, that maybe I have become more prone to try to observe how the other half live! And of equal importance, I’ve watched some single fathers in action and have been very impressed. I’ve noticed how some fathers have more patience than I; some nurture their children as well or better than I. Mothers can be effective disciplinarians, good providers, killers of spiders and fixers of whatnots.

The short of this blog is this: We need to pay close attention to the messages our children receive in the books they read, games they play, and what they watch on television. We need to be on the lookout for more than sex and violence. Often damaging messages come in much more subtle form.

Posted by Jennifer

Thursday, May 20, 2010

This Blog is Complete

Recently, I went to a wedding. No, this blog is not about weddings, after all, what do I know about weddings? In the words of some wise woman, weddings are a whole nother story.
            At this particular wedding, the bride and groom made the choice to write and read their own vows to one another. Within one of these vows was the phrase “You complete me.” Awwww. I know, sentimental, isn’t it? But while I was sitting at said wedding next to my co-blogger, and these words were muttered, she and I immediately glanced at each other, and probably without even having to make the slightest facial twitch, we both knew what each other was thinking. Really? And then we both, for maybe just a fleeting moment, felt something that was very much unlike the initial “Aw” I earlier suggested.
            Perhaps we can once again blame Jerry Maguire for this one. Along with “You had me at ‘hello,’” and “Shoplifting the pootie,” “You complete me” is one of the phrases that has helped to immortalize this movie. But I cringe upon hearing it, because from the perspective of a single person, this phrase brings to mind many assumptions that I would like to explore.
            But first, I’d like to bring up another example related to this blog topic. Last semester I was in a class on the Modern Novel. One of our reading assignments was Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial. After an entire class period of discussing this novel, the professor asked the class if anyone had a reason for living. (These are the kinds of profound, intellectual questions professors ask when you study literature in grad school).  She asked this question for possibly many reasons. The novel is depressing, and one just might be inclined to commit suicide after reading it. Also, Kafka was considered by many to be a writer of characters with existential angst. We all have the freedom and responsibility to find or create our own meanings for our own lives. But enough about that. After she asked this, rather seriously, one student spoke up and said she had just gotten married, and then threw her hands into the air in a kind of post-touchdown victory dance fashion, as if she had just won. Again, I was sitting next to a girlfriend yet I resisted the urge to glance at her with that I-can’t-believe-she-just-said-that look that girlfriends can immediately recognize. Simply put, this woman’s reason for living is not only another person, but a man. Her spouse. A grown adult human being. And now that she has found him and married him, she is now complete and has a reason to continue living.
            And now back to the wedding. And to nicely tie these together. What is it about married people that makes them think they have won something? That they have found something giving their lives meaning or worth? And what does that say about how they might view single people? When I hear “You complete me,” I want to cringe, hang my head in a mixture of disbelief and sarcastic shame, and also, I want to take that person and shake them and say “Nooooo! Whyyyyy??!”
            Do married people (the ones who feel “complete” by having gotten married) think that single people are incomplete somehow? Do they think we are all just fragments of human beings, void of something meaningful in our lives? Are we just partial people walking around with some hollowness, some emptiness that we foolishly attempt to fill with booze and all the wrong men while they blissfully frolic through their lives feeling like full, completely complete individuals because they are married? Do they think we too should be looking for this elusive thing that they feel so proudly to have found? Do they pity us?
            Also, do they realize how ridiculous they sound? Do they realize that by announcing to the world that they have found someone who completes them, that they are inadvertently also announcing that they were once incomplete? Are they admitting that they actually were incomplete, hollow, empty? And what exactly made them feel this way, this incompletion that only another human being could correct?
            Of course, some people might not analyze something to the extent that I just have. Perhaps you might be thinking that telling someone “You complete me” is just a nice thing to say, a romantic thing to say, a compliment. If this is the person’s intention, I think something else may be more appropriate. What’s wrong with simply saying, “You complement me”? As in “We go well together.” You know, like peanut butter complements chocolate. Like a vanilla biscotti complements a cup of coffee. Like a nice glass of wine complements, well, anything really.
There is actually a lot I would allow someone else to complete for me. Complete my tax forms. Complete my sentences (if you dare). Hell, even complete this blog for me. But, please, don’t complete me. I am already whole and I am very certain of it.

Posted by: Missi