You see the world from your own perspective – of course you do. What can be harder to recognise is that not everyone else does. When you’re a child, most of the people in your world are focused on you most of the time. When you’re two, for example, you can scream when you’re hungry and someone will produce food for you. But that’s not going to work when you’re 20. Okay, so you’re thinking “No shit Sherlock”. But there are other ways in which we can all too easily assume that the world is focused on us when in fact no one is giving us a thought. Parenting is the mother of all imagined theatrical stages. We picture ourselves centre-stage, with all eyes on *our* performance.
Either we think people are “breastfeeding at us”, or a scientific study is a conspiracy to make us feel bad, or someone pointing out the risks of circumcision is spoiling for a fight with us. Such self-centrism is an easy trap to fall into. Yet part of growing up is recognising that other people might not have us in mind at all, and that is normal. After all, we aren’t thinking of everyone who may possibly be affected every time we make a decision or comment.
So who is causing all the butthurt? Answer: Those people who passionately advocate a certain breed of parenting (be them attachment parents, lactivists, intactivists, babywearers). Those bastards with their statistics, their science, their comments and their critiques. How very DARE they! I’m not talking about the folk who simply make parenting choices, be them breastfeeding or whatever, in the quiet of their own homes. Rather, I’m referring to those people who passionately advocate a particular style of parenting. They extensively research the topic, engage in debate, network to a standard that would shame Mark Zuckerberg, even stage protests. They have a zest that rivals feminism. Yet their behaviour angers and upsets many. You may ponder: if they aren’t aiming this behaviour at you personally, then what are they doing?
I’ll tell you what they’re doing, being one of them I am in a stellar position to explain. The majority of advocates I have had the pleasure to liaise with have a thinking outside the box mentality. They are problem-centered rather than ego-centered. They see the issue of parenting on a macro level rather than a micro level. These people feel inclined to inform themselves so that they can ask educated questions. They recognise a pertinent truth: no other ‘authority’ – be it commercial companies, friends, health professionals, even the government – will be remotely as committed or as motivated to protect children’s well-being as parents are. It’s as if parental thinking creates a distinct worldview, and a set of values, arising from the daily work of caregiving. As a parent, they bring these little people into the world, and they deeply feel that they must make it a good place for them to live.
This attitude is nothing new, anyone who’s attended elementary school will know that modern history is littered with examples of women who have channelled energies arising from their own domestic sense of responsibility into a much broader commitment for social reform. Did you know, for example, since women got the vote, mothers have became more reliable voters, registering and turning out in greater proportions than childless women (Deprez 2012). We need to carry on this long and honoured tradition whereby mothers are making the personal political and, in doing so, extending a commitment to their own families’ welfare to the world at large.
For advocates, parenting is a topic they conceptualise as going far beyond themselves. Many are dismayed at the all-too-common suggestion that they should only care about what happens to their own children. They think the welfare of children is everyone’s business. They feel kinship and connection, as if all people were members of a single family. They are interested in social reform. In concepts like social responsibility.
Indeed, contrary to the knackered stereotype that women narrow their world view and passively retreat into the home once they have babies, motherhood has been known to energize and even radicalise women. Forgive me folks, as I patronise you with some science for a moment: In 1998, at the ripe old age of eighty-six, pioneering neuroscientist Paul MacLean wrote an essay titled “Women: A More Balanced Brain?” In it, he described this phenomenon in evolutionary terms. After decades of research he believed that human maternal behaviour has evolved to enlist the relatively newer part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) allowing “a concern for the future welfare of the immediate family to generalize to other members of the species, a psychological development that amounts to an evolution from a sense of responsibility to what we call conscience”. In other words: as a species, we’re just not designed to mind our own business. Motherhood comes with, (or should come with), a heightened sense of empathy with the defenceless, an ability to see dangers from the point of view of a potential victim (infants).
On the whole, advocates see the topic – be it breastfeeding, circumcision, birth rights, vaccination, whatever – as nonpersonal, concerned rather with the good of humanity in general, rather than the feelings of a select few. This is progressive thinking. Philosophical and ethical questions are at the forefront of their minds. These people live in the widest possible frame of reference. They prefer never to get so close to the trees that they fail to see the forest. For instance, rather than focusing their energies on the minute percentage of women who are physically incapable of breastfeeding, they focus on the majority who can. They work within a framework of values that are broad and not petty, universal and not local, and in terms of the century rather than the moment. To them, anecdotes are worthless red herrings.
To sum it up: If you get into the groove of looking for the personal, you can always find it. But parenting is political – it’s not all about *you*.