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Moms Talk: Parenting Assumptions

Not the ones you make. The ones other people make about you.

Since I started writing this column, many people seem to believe I’ve become Helen Lovejoy.

You remember her from the Simpsons, right? Let me remind you. “Won’t someone please think of the children?”

In the past year, since I started writing about parenting issues, I’ve ended up on several strange mailing lists. Many of these emails start with a phrase similar to “Since you’re a parent, I’m sure you’d be interested to know…” They then go on to tell me their position on something.

I’m rarely interested to know.

Playing to fears about kids is a rhetorical device that is supposed to stop the conversation. It’s why any group that puts the word “family” in their name can say what they’d like almost unquestioned. We, for some reason, assume that they speak for all families. And we want the voice of people speaking for children to be heard, since children seldom can speak for themselves in the public arena.

Well, please let me remind you that no one speaks for all families. Families are so different that no one set of beliefs is born every time a child is.

Do you think you know something important about me because you know that I have a child? 

You do. You know that I have a child. That’s important.

Do you know what you don’t know about me because you know that I have a child?

  • How—or even if—I’m going to vote in November
  • What I believe the state budget should prioritize
  • How I feel about pornography
  • Whether or not I’m appalled that there were babies at that tragic showing of Dark Knight Rises
  • How I feel about gay marriage
  • My thoughts regarding that Newsweek breastfeeding cover
  • How I feel about drug use and legalization
  • My beliefs about public education
  • My position on abortion
  • What TV shows I watch
  • What TV shows my child is allowed to watch
  • How I feel about piercings and tattoos
  • If I care about circumcision (especially given that my only child is a girl)
  • My level of comfort with corporal punishment
  • My position on vaccinations
  • The level of fear I have for my child’s safety

Gun control, illegal immigration, the proper amount of separation between church and state. The list could go on for days, and includes almost every controversial topic.

I’m not saying that you personally don’t know my thoughts. You might know me.  You might have read past columns where I touch on these topics. 

But you don’t know the answers simply because you know that I have a child. 

And you might think that you do.

This is what worries me. When people think simple thoughts about a non-homogenous group, then the whole group becomes simplified to those who are not part of it. When a childless couple in Seattle thinks about what parents on the Eastside are like, they make generalizations. I know it. I see it on their faces when my husband and I go into the city to visit friends.

Generalizations are normal. We, as humans, like to put things in nice neat boxes. But just as a bumper sticker on someone’s car doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about that person, neither does a child at his or her side.

Our children seldom simplify our lives or our choices. Remember that when someone demands that you “please think of the children."  

Beth Clow August 17, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Love this article. People make the same assumptions about me because I'm a mom, but then add that I'm an adoptive mother and they make even more assumptions. I've been told how I surely feel about abortion, adoptive parent's right, and birth parent rights. My views would surprise many people, if they actually started a conversation with me about these things, instead assumptions are made.
Tasha August 17, 2012 at 06:46 PM
I'm reminded of the "soccer mom" demographic back in the 90's. Because if you're a middle class working mother with school aged children, you must obviously feel THIS way about *insert topic here*
Denise Du Vernay August 17, 2012 at 11:13 PM
A friend of mine became pregnant her senior year of high school. Some people were surprised when they heard she was "keeping it." Several people said to her, "But you're pro-choice!" and she responded, "Exactly."

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