Thursday, July 3, 2008

On Judgements

I was watching "Grumpy Old Women" the other night and one of my pet peeves came up. Firstly, so much of the program was about kids - "Grumpy Old Men" seemed to be about the world in general, whereas this seemed to be about family. This reminded me that we are a couple, not a family - to be a family requires children. My second issue (and the pet peeve) was the whole "how can she know anything about children when she doesn't have any?" thing. 

This came up in relation to "Supernanny", who doesn't have children of her own but appears on TV telling other folk how to bring theirs up - and a very good job she does of it too, in my opinion, but clearly not in the opinions of some. She and I have a couple of things in common - neither of us have kids and we've dealt with more children in a few years than most people will encounter in a lifetime.

I sat down and worked it out. In the 12 years I've been teaching, I have taught around 250 children. Apart from the first class, who I only had for 6 months because I was covering long-term sick leave, I've taught each of these children for at least a year - about 110 of them, I taught for 2 years. That's a long time to spend 6 hours a day, 4.5 days a week with someone. I think I've got to know a lot of them very well. And since I've taught in the same school for 8 of the 12 years, mostly at the Primary 1/2 level, even though they leave my class I continue to see and chat to them till they leave the school. 

Do I know each individual child better than their parents know them? No - absolutely not! Do I know children in general better than many individual parents knows children in general? Hell, yes! I've had 250 examples of childhood behaviour and 250 opportunities to see what works. So I get really upset when people (especially people who know me) imply that I can't know about children because I don't have any. Interestingly, none of the parents of the children I've taught have made this implication - on the contrary, they sometimes ask me for advice on how to handle things that aren't even school-related! And when that happens, I feel deeply honoured. 

On the baby front, I have friends who, before they gave birth to their own child, hadn't even held a baby - never mind changed a nappy. I supplemented my pocket money from my early teens by babysitting. From the age of 16 till when I left home for Uni (and occasionally while back during the holidays) I babysat for a family with three wee girls. I changed nappies, gave night-time feeds, soothed crying babies. I have helped out with nephews and nieces and friends' babies since then. But again, I've had that same "you can't possibly know" thing - ironically, mostly from the same folk who hadn't had anything to do with babies till they had one themselves. 

Of course I don't know what it's like to be a parent - though I have probably spent more time imagining it (good and bad) than most. But I DO know about children. I think this is one of the things that makes me particularly sad that we have failed (so far) to have any. A couple of dear friends have commented on how unfair it is that I haven't been able to become a mum, because I want it so much and because they think I'd be a good one. I hope I would. I think I'd have as many hang-ups as the next person and I know I would make mistakes, but I think I would be a good enough mum - and CM would make a great dad too. And it does feel very unfair that we're not getting the chance.

Don't get me wrong - I am not anti-parent at all (if I was, why would I want to be one so much?) - but I am anti the kind of parent that thinks that simply by producing a child they have been endowed with some kind of instant wisdom and omniscience. There is a story in Jewish mythology that Adam had a wife before Eve. She was created in the same way as Adam - out of the earth - and her name was Lilith. One version of the myth is that on giving birth to a child, she believed that she had created life all by herself and demanded that she be worshipped for it. Remind you of anyone? 

This has been a very whiney post, I think. But if you can't whine on your own blog, where can you? Plus, I think this problem goes much further than me. I'm privileged to know a few women who are in the same situation - who have been trying and failing in the mum stakes for quite a while. What strikes me about them is that they have thought more about what it means to be a parent, how to be a good one and how they would parent if they got the chance than many actual parents I know. And they would make amazing mums. It's the one thing that gets me through the "maybe this is a judgement on me" worries about infertility and loss. I only have to look at these other women to know that if anyone's making judgements here, they're making the wrong ones!!

Interestingly, research seems to support this. The BBC reported that a study on surrogacy presented to the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in 2002 found that "mothers who had relied on another woman to carry their child tended to show more warmth towards their babies than mothers whose child was conceived naturally". No wonder - they'd probably tried just about everything to get there and had years to contemplate the role of a mother. Nothing would be taken for granted!