The XX Factor

Parenting Hate-Reads: When Will They End?

Don’t start!

“This makes me want to never have children.”

That was the IM I got from a fellow Slate contributor after she saw the New York Times’ latest “Room for Debate” on—what else?—parenting, titled, “When Parents Hover, Kids Don’t Grow Up.” Like my IM friend, I can barely bring myself to click on the various pieces within. The headlines give enough away: There’s the “Let Them Stumble And Learn To Get Back Up” essay, the “Worry More About Under-Involved Parents” argument, the “Spoiling My Kids Just Right” take, and a meditation on how we’re teaching our kids to be too dependent, by the author of Mean Moms Rule.

What is it about parenting writing these days that makes everything such a hate-read? In between work and picking up your kids from this place and dropping them off at that place and shoving food in your mouth and sitting in doctor’s office waiting rooms and trying to talk your toddler down from a massive freakout over that sandwich you cut on the diagonal, you idiot, and turning off the TV and turning on the iPad and packing a change of clothes in case the sprinklers are on at the playground and unpacking uneaten lunches and putting on that helmet and taking off that helmet and washing bottle parts and washing body parts and getting fooled every single night into thinking that your kid is actually going to go to sleep after one more book, why are we hate-reading the Internet to figure out what kind of parent to be? And why are there so many kinds?

When I first moved to New York after college, my style was wholly dependent on who I saw on the sidewalk that day. Cool hippie girl coming out of the subway? Wonder what I’d look like in a maxi dress. Stiletto-heeled executive in midtown? Time to buy a pencil skirt! This wasn’t just about clothes, but about a young twentysomething trying on personalities. And you know who is counting on that identity shuffle? Stores that sell clothes.

You know who is counting on parents to perpetually struggle to find the right technique or “parenting philosophy”? People who write books called Mean Moms Rule, or, say, Motherland, which is the new novel by Amy Sohn, who, whaddya know, just last week wrote one hell of a hate-read all about what it’s like to be a fortysomething parent in Brooklyn (a.k.a. motherland). According to Sohn, for women, it’s all about sexting with random guys. And for men it’s all about getting stoned before dragging yourself back to the tyranny of the family bed that your wife has forced on you. The pose of the piece is that parents these days are regressing, caring less about their kiddos than party hopping and coke-snorting in Park Slope.  

We’re masturbating excessively, cheating on good people, doing coke in newly price-inflated townhouses, and sexting compulsively—though rarely with our partners. Our children now school-aged, our marriages entering their second decade, we are avoiding the big questions—Should I quit my job? Have another child? Divorce?—by behaving like a bunch of crazy twentysomething hipsters. Call us the Regressives.

This is, of course, all totally made up. Sohn’s write-up of fortysomething parenthood in Brooklyn is not only NOT what it’s like to be a fortysomething parent in Brooklyn, but it’s also, I would guess, not what it’s like to be Amy Sohn. But, hey, someone needs to feed the Bad Mother market, just as the Times needs to feed the Good Mother one. Yes, as a parent, you have a buffet of identities to choose from: You can be one of those “cool moms” who’s always saying she drank too much last night, or you can be a helicopter parent, over-worrying and over-bearing. You can attach, or you can be “free-range.” You can run your house like a dictatorship, or like a democracy. Or you can be like most parents, which is, a little of all of the above, depending on the day, your mood, your kid’s mood.  

My answer to my IM friend, who says these stories make her never want to have kids? Have kids if you want them, just don’t read.