I read Jane Caro’s recent piece celebrating her ‘minimum of effort’ approach to motherhood, most of which I enjoyed, and then I read Andie Fox’s response, most of which I also agreed with. Some things about Caro’s piece annoyed me, or just didn’t sit right. Fox did a better job than I could of articulating some of that, but I’ve had a go.
Here are the things that bugged me about Caro’s piece. First, it starts off saying she ate soft cheese while pregnant. Given the highly publicised recent listeria outbreak which resulted in the deaths of three people as well as a woman miscarrying her baby, I thought it maybe wasn’t the best opener. Without being overly sensitive, I’m not sure it’s something to brag about – I’m such a relaxed mum I ate soft cheese! And my kids were fine! Oh, yours weren’t? Well…
Secondly, I think Fox’s point about the classism (academic way of saying ‘this is something rich people can laugh about’ which was my thought) inherent in the ‘slacker mum’ writing is a good one. Caro could afford to take (small) risks with her unborn babies, to mess up school projects, to serve cheese on toast for dinner, to throw books across the room. Why? Because she had access to the best antenatal care, knowing that any risk would be well managed by professionals. Because her children went to school and had educated parents, and were therefore likely to do fine no matter if the occasional project was a complete disaster. Because she had access to food other than cheese and bread, so the kids probably got fruit and vegies at least sometimes. Because they had books, and they read them. Caro’s advocating ‘slack’ parenting therefore seems to me more a reaction against the unrelenting expectations placed on parents these days, rather than anything even approaching a situation where her children wouldn’t thrive. No one is going to call DOCS or have a Today Tonight special on Caro’s version of slacker parenting. Instead, it’s giving other parents, similarly privileged, permission to feel ok with the days when toast for dinner will have to do. It’s funny, and endearing, and refreshing – at least for readers of the SMH. It’s a change to the usual articles presenting the latest research confirming we are ruining our children’s lives. But it doesn’t do much for parents who are not in such privileged situations – for whom toast for dinner is actually all that will fit into this week’s budget, or caring responsibilities, or family chaos. That’s not quite so funny.
Finally, like Fox I take issue with Caro’s implication that parents who aren’t slack like her are instead taking it too seriously, and need to be if not judged, then pitied or laughed at. Remember in high school how it was cool to be dumb, and definitely uncool to try hard? I remember hiding good marks, dumbing things down, so as not to stand out (which is very important in high school). Or the way magazines are full of instructions on how to look effortlessly perfect. Sometimes it feels like parenting is the same. You can’t show how much thought and effort you put into things, because that’s not very cool. A birth plan? Bah, just do what the doctor says. Reading about ways to help your baby sleep? Bah, they all figure out how to sleep eventually. A balanced meal? Bah, Weet-Bix never hurt anyone. Trying hard on a school project? Bah, what does Year 4 matter? And of course most kids turn out okay no matter what their parents do, but that doesn’t mean we can’t put a little effort the things that are important to us. That most days, trying to be a Good Enough parent, rather than a slack one, might be a worthy goal rather than a useless one.