Gender Inequality in Children’s Literature

I was recently on a plane, chatting with the man sitting next to me.  He told me he had a little girl who loved to read, and mentioned several books she had devoured lately.  He said he said was always looking for new books for her, and asked me for recommendations.  I gave him several, and then asked about his son, who he had also mentioned to me earlier.  “Oh, he’s not so into books,” was the reply.  “The occasional comic book, but there aren’t many books he actually likes, much less finishes.”  I went to recommend a few books that might help his son enjoy reading a little more, and realized I had very few ideas for him.  I mentioned the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, the Boxcar Children series, and Choose-Your-Own Adventure books.  He was surprised I had any recommendations at all, and made notes of them in his phone.

For many years, there has been an overwhelmingly positive push for books for young girls.  It’s become a tremendous, commendable mass effort on the part of writers and publishers alike, and I love that when I walk into a bookstore, I see great titles and characters like Madeline, Amelia Bedelia, Olivia, Judy Moody, Imogene, etc.  And of course there are classics like Matilda, Little House on the Prairie, The American Girl books, Harriet the Spy, and so many others.  I remember reading so many books as a little girl and learning about social interaction, history and culture, vocabulary and creative language usage (Black Beauty is written from the 1st person perspective of a horse.  Nine-year-old me was BESIDE HERSELF.).  Books contain not only stories that drive imagination and wonder, but also developmental content that’s so important.  While we’ve achieved our goal of crafting uplifting and encouraging content for our young girls, we’ve created a problem.

When you Google, “Best Children’s Books for Girls,” this is the result:

googlegirlsbooks

When you Google, “Best Children’s Books for Boys,” this is the result:

googleboysbooks

This brings to light an interesting problem: in our focus on encouraging, educating, and uplifting girls, we’ve developed some tunnel vision and have forgotten about the boys.  I’m talking about books and stories specifically tailored for boys, not gender neutral books that can be enjoyed by all kids, like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or Diary of a Wimpy Kid (which, I might add, is about a boy protagonist who is not only “wimpy,” but generally a screw-up).  If we’re going to give girls the Disney Princess books, why don’t the Disney Princes get books?  There’s an absolute cavern of possibilities for “Disney Prince” books, because they don’t have backstories already established.  Why can’t we have a book series called “Wood Shop Wilson,” about a kid who solves problems through building awesome stuff, or “Undercover Andy,” a boy detective who solves neighborhood mysteries a la The Hardy Boys?  I believe the root of this problem is two-fold.

First, the fact of the matter is, writing for girls is cake.  It’s easy to write meaningful stories for girls, because girls have more interests to be creative with.  You can put a girl protagonist into almost any environment, and girls will think it’s really cool so long as the storyline is interesting enough.  You can make her royalty, or an astronaut, or a mermaid, or a schoolgirl in another time period, a cowgirl, a sharp-shooting Annie Oakley, or a high-flying Amelia Earhart.   You can essentially just spin the wheel, because there’s an infinite number of plot/protagonist/environment combinations that will capture and keep the interest of little girls.  Boys, however, require a different kind of interest and encouragement.  Frankly, it’s harder to keep them entertained, so it requires a different method of storytelling.  It requires a new, and more intentional way of story-crafting that no one seems willing to bother with.  Bob the Builder only cuts it for so long.  As they grow and develop, our boys need literature that will grow with them, and provide them with the same kind of lessons that we’ve poured so much heart and effort into for our girls.

The second factor will be a largely unpopular opinion, I imagine: the lack of decent literature for boys falls at least partially to the fault of the cultural emasculation of young boys.  While we never want young boys to embrace fighting, violence, or needless destruction, I find it a grave mistake to assume we can reprogram those tendencies out of our young men.  There is a significant difference between encouraging boys to develop good habits to control those tendencies, and encouraging boys to be more like girls in demeanor.  Boys need male role models that teach them it’s OK to be a boy, and to like dirt, explosions, speed, risks, etc.  But those same role models need to be the ones to show them the consequences of liking those things, and how to enjoy them in a moderated and safe manner.  I’d like to see a boy’s book where a young man dares his younger brother to jump off the roof, and the younger brother breaks his arm.  That book can still have a happy ending, and can wrap up with a lot of hugging, apologies, and forgiveness.  But it’s a valuable lesson in considering the safety of others, and the price of some kinds of fun.  These are the kinds of lessons boys need, and they’re the kind of stories that will hook boys from beginning to end.  Give a boy a book about survival on a long-term sea voyage – teach them about the importance of preparedness, and how adventures sometimes don’t go how you planned them.  Give a boy a book about asking someone to the school dance – teach them about polite and fun social interaction.  Give a boy about a book about trying out for the football team – teach them about rejection, and how to handle it gracefully.  Give a boy a book about how sometimes it’s OK to break the rules if it’s to take care of another person – teach them good judgment and independent thought.  Give boys books that cater to them, and the way they’re wired.

nonreaders

I’ve heard it said too often that if a young boy doesn’t like reading, it’s just because he’s lazy, or thinks books are boring, or doesn’t want to try.  It is my opinion that child has just not been given the right book.  As the parents, writers, and publishers of the world, why have we given up on them so quickly?  Why do we consider it their fault, when it is firmly our responsibility to guide and encourage?  Why are we not crafting literature they will love, and that will kick-start their literacy in the same way we’ve done for girls?  Why do we treat them as hopeless cases when we’ve only been giving them books that were likely written to entice and encourage girls?  Even when they get older, they’re faced with popular YA series like Hunger Games, Twilight, etc.  “Oh, but there’s politics in The Hunger Games! That’s interesting,” you say.  Sure, but the male characters in many of these books are essentially just romantic options for the female protagonists.  That sucks.  I wouldn’t want to read that either.  Emotions are being manipulated in very specific ways in many YA series, and boys a) are already uncomfortable with their emotions and don’t want to touch that with a ten-foot pole, and b) aren’t as heavily affected by the emotional drama that’s being manufactured (often poorly, in my opinion).  Don’t even get me started on The Fault in Our Stars.  If you break it down: those books are written in a style that is more interesting and effective for girls.

While there are some great books out there for boys, they are few and far between, and don’t get even half of the publicity and praise that girls’ books do.  I also believe many of them are classics, and it’s hard to get kids to read classics when they hate reading in the first place.  Not to mention, the younger boys, maybe ages 5-9, often aren’t developmentally at an appropriate level to read Narnia or Sherlock Holmes yet.  There needs to be a concentrated effort for our little guys.  They need books that work with their brains, and their interests, and their difficulties.  Writers and publishers, we have a new challenge.

 

 

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New Age Twaddle and a Swift Kick in the Pants

Coping mechanisms are strange, often costly things.  They serve a good purpose, but at times they can slip out of our control and mutate into things that we think we’re using to better and protect ourselves, when really they’re contributing to the damage.   I know a few people who are hurting, confused, unhappy, feeling entirely lost, and are coping by attempting to find the easy, unlocked door out of pain.  I get it – more than you might think I do. We all want concrete reasons for things.  These people are smart, and important to people, and loved, and supported regardless of any questionable decisions they’ve made.  But they are weak-minded.  Now, being weak-minded is a temporary illness, one which can be cured through an individual’s hard work and acceptance of reality.  And because we care, sometimes for people to regain sight of reality, they require a much-needed swift kick in the pants.

New Age systems and mindsets are a bubbling crock of plasticky nacho cheese dip.  You really think you want cheese dip, and it tastes sort of like cheese dip so you’ll probably keep eating it for a while.  But it will never be real cheese, it’s not good for you, and will never give you the fulfillment you’re looking for.  New Age methods and ideas make up theories about imaginary energy and power, and then convince people that they have control over things they do not.  One of my favorite examples is crystals.  Crystals don’t do shit. It doesn’t matter how much you power them up by the light of the blood moon. They are rocks. They sit there. They do nothing, and have no mysticism or power. They are affected only by a strong enough force which can change their location or composition: things like a strong wind, or erosion. They’re pretty, yes. But they’re still just stupid rocks.

This rock looks like the Earth! That means it will decrease the pollutants I breathe as long as it's in my pocket!

This rock looks like the Earth! That means it will decrease the pollutants I breathe as long as it’s in my pocket!

Someone has convinced these people that forcing life’s weirdness into neat little imaginary boxes will help you feel better, or that objects or fake energy manipulation will give you a leg up in solving life’s problems. That person is a misguided or mal-intentioned asshole. They are either delusional, or they want your money. Probably the latter. Oh? You already paid $2000 for a course in Finding Your Inner Goddess? Shit, well it looks like you’re out $2000, and gained nothing but a whole lot of made-up crap that manipulates your emotions to make you feel better about losing $2000.

There is a difference between spirituality and commercialized spirituality, and it’s time to learn the difference. Spirituality is when you find methods and ways of thinking that help you to be or become whoever you want. It can help you through difficult times, and help you maintain a positive attitude. Commercialized spirituality is when you find methods and ways of thinking from a self-help book, or an internet article, or some lady at a Renaissance Faire, or anyone who claims they’ve discovered something new about things you can’t see, or figured something out about life. They want attention, money, praise, and devotion. If their methods temporarily help you, then they will absorb your glowing reviews and continue to spew forth bullshit and unsubstantiated claims. If their methods do not help you, then you’re clearly not doing it correctly. You have a lot to learn. How about you purchase these weekly reiki sessions? That will surely clear the invisible wisps of bad energy they see floating around your head. Oh, you don’t see any wisps? That’s because you must not have the gift. Only they do, so you’ll just have to take their word for it.  I hope you’re seeing the issue here.  Hint: it’s not your wisps.

Say the money doesn’t matter at all though.  For the sake of argument, let’s say all the self-help books, blessed crystals, Inner Balance Retreats, Chakra readings, and tarot cards are all free of charge for life. There’s something I want to say about all of them: I get why people think they’re cool. I understand the appeal. The idea that this gorgeous, shiny, multi-faceted crystal could hold unrealized powers is an AWESOME concept.  The idea that there’s another realm, or plane, that’s full of unknown energy that we could discover and harness for ourselves is COOL.  It’s a combination of beauty, an unexpected object, and an impossible benefit to the possessor, which is fascinating.  This recipe has done insanely well in literature and movies of the last 100 years for a good reason. The Philosopher’s Stone, Draconite, The Necklace of Harmonia, The Flying Dutchman, Pandora’s Box, The Book of Thoth, Lembas bread, Mead of Poetry, the list is endless. It’s a concept that’s been used since storytelling first began, since the first myths were spoken, and since humans first wanted to try and rationalize things that happened to them. They are beautiful descriptions and fantastic stories. But they are not real. Objects do not have inexplicable power. Magic does not exist, no matter if you call it astrology, reiki, meditation, healing stones, or raindances. I wish it did, because the world would be far more interesting, but it doesn’t.

So what’s the problem?  If people like those ideas, then why not just let them have it?  Are they hurting anyone?  The answer is yes, they actually are – they’re hurting themselves, and by proxy, their relationships.  They have taken these mythical concepts and twisted them together with their own unhappiness and pain as a coping mechanism. And they’ve convinced themselves that it was a good idea. Somewhere deep down they know it was an awful idea, and it’s all just a waste of time.  They’re stuck in a cycle of trying one new trend or system or ritual after another, and it’s all a bunch of lunchmeat that distracts from the real problem: themselves.  They are ignoring the causes of their pain and the root of their problems, and are trying to smear a magical salve over it by rearranging their furniture or carrying the right stone around their neck.  They are avoiding putting in the work to process how they’re feeling, fix relationships, acknowledge their own mistakes, and talk about the things that hurt in order to truly start healing.  It’s not that their energy flow isn’t right, it’s that they are complacent.   It’s time to come back to the reality of being a human, which is that you’re going to get hurt sometimes (sometimes by ourselves), and it’s awful, but you process and you grieve and you get over it – that is the way to “inner peace” and “balance” and mental and emotional health. You will not achieve those things by burying yourself in empty promises and mystical cards.

An important study was done recently, by some very intelligent and astute people. They realized there’s a problem in our society today: the quickly expanding production and acceptance of bullshit. The entire paper can be found here, and I encourage you to read it. But the concentrated point is that people are startlingly gullible, and easily convince themselves that there is higher meaning to be found in meaningless things. An example from analysis of literature:

“As noted by philosophers studying the topic, the bullshitter oft has the intention of implying greater meaning than is literally contained in the message, though the nature of the intent can vary. For example, the literary critic Empson (1947) describes the use of ambiguity in literature, including a type of intentional ambiguity used by poets in which a passage ‘says nothing, by tautology, by contradiction, or by irrelevant statements; so that the reader is forced to invent statements of his own . . . ‘”

If you are highly susceptible to bullshit, my friend, it does not mean that you are stupid.  It just means that you fell into a hole, and you need someone to turn on the light and help you throw away the plasticky cheese dip.  People who have not thrown it away sooner have held onto their newfound beliefs and rituals because they are scared – understandably so. But the hatred and judgment they believe they are feeling, or will feel from those who love them, is manufactured by their own fear. They are afraid of being wrong, and being ridiculed for admitting it.  Perhaps most nerve-wracking of all: they are afraid of being loved and accepted, because that opens the door for them to soften, become vulnerable, and reciprocate.

Cheese Dip Friends, we will not shun you, we will not insult you, we will not berate you.  But we see that you’re clearly struggling.  Everyone does except you.  It is your job to take a sledgehammer to your own walls.  Those walls are not for us to try and climb over, because you will make them increasingly higher the closer we get to reaching you.  It is your job to self-regulate, accept yourself as a fallible human, and accept our support of you in the dark times that you’re in.

It is terrifying to announce to people that you no longer believe in the thing you preached so hard about.

It is terrifying to embrace the idea that the only thing that can better your life is you alone, with no magic, no prophetical cards, no crystals, and no books to tell you how you should course-correct.

It is terrifying to release the death-grip you have on your pride, because your pride is the shield you use to keep people at a distance that’s comfortable.

It’s terrifying to let go of all the reasons and meaning that you’ve created and believed, and to realize that there aren’t any reasons for things sometimes.

But all of those things aren’t nearly as scary as the possibility of living in a dark, disquieted state just because you believed a bunch of new age lies.  Throw away the self-help books, bury the crystals in the dirt, and throw the tarot cards into the fire.  They will never help you, but the people who care about you will.

 

The Evitable Holiday Stressageddon

I love the holiday season. I love putting my Christmas tree up immediately after Thanksgiving is over, I love when the temperatures plummet and I can build a fire, I love the food, and I love how stupid my cats look when they chomp on the branches of my fake tree. This time of year is all about an assortment of cozy, intangible things: giving, togetherness, charity, etc. Everyone talks the talk – but Christ on a cracker, people get intensely stressed out. It amazes me how common it is to squeeze past the point of The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

There will always be those people (you know them – don’t lie) who just can’t pull their heads out of the snow and appreciate this time of year. They have to complain and be bitter. Their lives depend on it, I think, otherwise they may deflate. There are others of us who want to savor the season, and we make an effort to every year. We try to make the sugar cookies look perfect, the lights over the garage taut and straight, our kids happy and entertained, and have the perfect, stylish centerpieces for Christmas dinner. None of those are bad things to want, or to have. But when the pressure becomes all-consuming, not only does the purpose of the holidays get crushed, but so does your sanity.

Below, you will find a list of things that will lighten your load this holiday season. These are not life hacks. They are not 3-ingredient recipes that will still wow your guests, nor never-before-seen ways of curling a ribbon. They are changes that are hard, and at times unpleasant to start. But they are long-term, and if you are serious about implementing them, they will drastically lower your stress level during this most joyous time of year.

  

Be Helpful

Yes, you’re overwhelmed. Yes, the possibility of assisting others seems insurmountable right now. But it’s important to make a concerted effort to remember others.  The concept of “the village” is valuable, although it’s been largely tossed aside these days. We were meant to help each other – and not only when it’s convenient for us. If you know someone who is overwhelmed, offer a spare afternoon to help them clean before their out-of-town guests arrive. If you know someone who is strapped for cash, offer to help them with some small gifts for their kids, or even offer to give them some of your childrens’ lightly used things. Offer to bake a pie or a casserole for someone you know isn’t the best cook. Offer to take someone’s kids for a drive through the neighborhoods with the prettiest Christmas lights to give them time. Offer to pick up someone’s family members from the airport. There are endless possibilities here, but the most important element of all of them is the offer itself. Do not wait to be asked. If someone turns down your offer, that’s ok. They probably have their reasons. But offer, extend the kindness first, and be glad to do it.

The village mentality dictates that these people will do the same for you when they’re in the more comfortable position. That’s how it works. It’s not a system of “you owe me,” but rather of “I’d like to return the kindness you gave when I was in need.” This is a practice that has been lost for too long, even though it’s foundational to our communities. The old-timey idea of neighbors running over a cup of flour because you were short for a recipe, or children helping older neighbors shovel snow from the driveway is not a pipe dream, nor a marketing scheme. It used to be reality, and can become so again as long as enough people participate. 

Be Helpful to Yourself

You cannot be Santa Claus. Nor can you be Super Parents, nor The Best Husband/Wife Ever, nor The Most Thoughtful Child, nor any other interpretation of perfection. You can’t be those things because they don’t exist (except Santa, obviously). Doing it all, being it all, achieving it all, affording it all – you can’t do it. Not because you aren’t an exceptional human being, but because chasing all those things will make you a lesser human being. 

I’m about to say something unpleasant. Maybe sit down first. Ready? You have to ask for help. You have to. You. Have. To. You are imperfect, and that is ok, and that is the way it will always be, so you might as well learn to be accepting of yourself. It is wholly, and entirely acceptable to ask for help from your family and dear friends. Once you’ve come to terms with the fact that you are not flawless and omnipotent, follow these two steps: Prep, and Delegate. 

-Prep your kids by explaining to them that December is going to be a lot of fun, but it’s also very busy, and you’re going to need their help more than ever. This gives them a concrete reason to be more participatory. Prep your spouse by discussing the things you’re most anxious about, and be sure you’re on the same page about holiday plans, budgets, parenting choices, and anything else that’s important to you. Prep your friends who get upset if you don’t attend every holiday party, and explain to them that you have other time commitments.

-Delegate age-appropriate, helpful tasks to your kids. Not tasks to keep them busy – tasks that help. Invoke the words of the prep when they whine, and use consequences when necessary. Your kids are capable beings that can take care of the piddly stuff that muddles up your day and ends up in the Latent Stress Pile. Delegating to your spouse is very different than delegating to your kids. Coming up with a game plan of who is responsible for what is an equitable system. You also must trust your spouse to do the things they have agreed to be responsible for (Stop hyperventilating. Seriously, you’re going to pass out). Do not micromanage. You will perish under the weight of your own nitpicking. Delegating to your family can include things across a vast spectrum, from “Aunt Genevieve, please bring the turducken,” or “Grandpa Joe, please make sure Grandma Ethel does not get blitzed from putting Frangelico in her coffee.”

Save Time for Traditions

Traditions are not only a great way to bond and make memories with your family, but they’re a great reason to slow down and pace yourself. A few breathers during the holiday season are very helpful to put things back into scope. If you find yourself wanting to cancel or skip traditions, you’re too busy. Cut some of your expectations, or delegate to other people. Spending time with your family or friends is far more important than vacuuming Goldfish crackers from under the couch cushions or knitting brand new stockings for each family member. 

If you don’t have any, or it’s not really your thing, I would recommend asking around or researching things out there. Not all of them are kitschy like the Elf on the Shelf, or involve too much time/money like going ice skating every year. You can go as a family to decide on one new ornament for the tree, or new candles for the Menorah. You could have a traditional “Christmas-time” food or meal. For example, my Dad used to make ice cream out of snow for us when we were little, and I still make it to this day. You can take an afternoon to put up decorations together, or celebrate St. Nicholas Day on the 6th (a mostly-German tradition that involves little gifts found in your shoes, or a big boot). There are thousands of options, or you can make one up that would be fun for your family. Regardless of what it is, it’s worth carving out the time to purposefully be together.

Don’t Pretend to Be Happy

It’s so tempting.  But do not prescribe to the ill-guided belief that people should be happy 98% of the time, and that all life’s challenges should be like water off a duck’s back. That’s falsified contentment, and it’s a steaming pile of road apples. It will turn you into an unhappy, stiff-grinned exoskeleton of the person you used to be. It is not important to be happy all the time. It is important to acknowledge your feelings, whatever they may be, and react appropriately. You are allowed to be tired. You are allowed to be stressed. You are allowed to be overwhelmed. No one thinks you are weak, or lazy, or in any way lesser. I swear.

The Childless Choice

“Your biological clock is ticking…”

Yes, thanks.  I’m nearing 30, and there’s no possible way I could have ever been told that before.  The choice to have children is a discussion that I believe is far more complicated than simply, “she doesn’t want children” or “she can’t have children,” which seem to be the only two avenues society can conceive for the milestone of procreation.  I can only speak about the former, because I don’t pretend to have any expertise or view for the kind of emotional wracking that wanting children, but not being able to conceive your own, must bring.  Have you ever considered, perhaps, that it is permissible for a woman to not know if she wants children?  No one seems to be willing to consider the major factors and consequences into that choice, instead condensing the argument into a variety of blister-packed judgments.  The inevitable: “Oh, you’ll change your mind some day.”  The threat: “You’ll regret it.”  The pushiness-disguised-as-encouragement: “But you’d be such a great Mom!”

Here’s the thing: I am not the only thing standing in my way.  Men have to — not “should,” not “it would be nice if,” not “as long as they pay child support” — have to have equal stock in the parenting game.  The largest concern that many single women have these days is not whether or not they will have children, but whether or not they will be able to find a man who will support them in that endeavor.  So before you ask me again if I’m ever going to have children, or why I don’t want them, or what makes me hate them so much, or suggest that I’m just scared of the pain of childbirth — consider these factors first.

 

The Example

I need a man who is supportive and committed to me, first, in order to prove that he will be a good father.  It would not be difficult for me to find a man who has the proper equipment required to make a child.  But it requires a much more particular process to find someone who would cherish me first, and then our children.  In the dating world, I have come across absolute hordes of men who say they’re excited to have children one day, and that they like kids, and will teach them to fish, and camp, and scrutinize the game of football.  And yet, these men are unable to make plans farther than 6 hours out from the present moment.  Some of them make a habit of showing up to dinner 45 minutes late, just as I’m gathering my things to leave.  Some of them are fine with being punctual, but have such drastic emotional insecurity that they’re unable to have a conversation about anything that’s not video games, or the shelves of Star Wars memorabilia that adorn their bachelor pads.  Some of that emotional insecurity throws them into a pit of people-pleasing behavior, or into child-like tantrums, or sometimes they just shut down entirely.  Some of them are perfectly confident, and funny, and wonderful — but require any plans to be at the mercy of their work schedule, causing 4 out of 6 dates to be “rain checked.”  I just recently went on a few dates with a man who is very kind and intelligent, but extremely aloof in conversation, causing me to have to “manufacture” any fun that was had for the both of us.  He would laugh at my jokes and stories, and then the table would go silent until I either came up with another funny something to say, or a conversation topic he was comfortable with.  If we can’t even have a normal conversation in a quiet restaurant, how could we have a normal conversation with a child shouting Barney songs at the dinner table?

Quite frankly, the relationship/marriage comes first, both chronologically and in priority.  If a man is not able to communicate with me, respect me, have fun with me, and maintain a healthy emotional state for himself, what kind of message is he going to send impressionable children?  I don’t want my children growing up with constant disappointment because “Daddy can’t make it to your dance recital/baseball game…again.”  Or, “Daddy doesn’t really mean to yell and call people names — why don’t you go play in your room for a while?”  Or, “Daddy isn’t ignoring everyone else, he’s just a little shy.”  The other kicker about having children with a man who isn’t stable is that I am automatically everyone’s Mom/therapist.  I am forced to “have conversations” or “nag” or any other tactic to try and get the father of my children to set a good example.  That, on top of trying to explain my husband’s behavior to my children in a tactful way that doesn’t include the actual truth.  No thanks.  “Having children” isn’t the real question for many women who are getting older and haven’t taken the plunge yet.  It’s “mutual parenting” that becomes the larger worry.  I will not agree to have children unless I marry a man who I trust to fully respect and care for me first, who is able to care for our children when I’m not around, and will fill in the holes in their development that I can’t.  I’ve been told by many to just “give him a chance,” or assured that he’ll grow up or change, as though the Menopause Train is bearing down on me and I should really just get on with it, lest I be run over.  Really?  Is that a gamble you would make with your children?

 Kids Kind of Suck

My best friend has two kids.  They’re awesome, loving, funny little people.  But they’re gross, and needy, and socially tactless, too.  All children kind of suck in a lot of ways, and I require a partner who is going to jump into the fray, and tired-laugh with me as we clean poop off the walls.  I have not yet found a man who I believe would be willing to launder vomit-covered bedsheets so I could take a shower and get the barf out of my hair after caring for a sick child.  I have not yet found a man who I believe would walk up and down the hallway with a screaming infant for 4 hours, without being prompted or begged, so that his wife could have a break or a nap.  I also find that many men begrudge having to spend time alone with their children, and go so far as to consider it “babysitting.”

You want to have kids?  Great.  Then you are signing up for the ride of a lifetime, and your contract states that you do not get to hide in your mancave when Little Timmy has the runs.  Too bad.

 The Ultimate Label of “Mom”

Next time you see a Mom, ask her when was the last time she got to do something for herself.  Her response will probably be something like, “Oh, I got to have a cup of tea last Wednesday — it was lovely.”  It will be said playfully, but for many women, there’s a deep amount of pain attached to those jokes.  I fully realize that having children is a massive sacrifice, but many women find themselves in a situation where it becomes a sacrifice of who they are as a person, an individual.  Many women go years without a break, without a weekend, without even an afternoon to themselves to do whatever they want.  They feel they no longer have that kind of intangible “permission” to have hobbies, and to want to see new things.  Women are not good at saying, “I would like to go do this for myself.”  We need a partner who is going to recognize when we need a break, and offer it to us willingly, without making us wait until we’re at the breaking point of our sanity.  Many women carry an intense, crippling level of guilt when it comes to asking for things they know are necessary for their own health.  I don’t know why, but we do.  And without a husband who will pay a little attention to our state of mind, and remember who we were before the kids came into play, it’s a slippery slope that will lead many women directly into a bog of depression and complete depletion of self-worth.  We become consumed by the label of “Mom.”  We’re no longer “Laura, ” or “Charlotte,” or “the woman who double majored in biochem and engineering,” or “the woman who loved to go to Sunday brunch once a month,” or “the woman who really hates restaurants that allow you to throw peanut shells on the floor,” or “the woman who’s actually an incredible dancer,” or “the woman who hopped 5 countries in two weeks, ” or “the woman who fell in love with you.”  We are the mother of our children, and are seen as nothing else, and we allow it because we feel guilty.

Some of us are terrified of the idea of having children, yes — but not because we don’t think we’d be good mothers or because we’re scared the pain and nausea.  We’re scared of not having a support system, having to beg our husbands for help because we haven’t slept in two days, being looked at differently by our husbands because our bodies are no longer as attractive as they once were.  We are terrified of becoming just another frumpy Mom who gave her soul for the sake of her children, whose past accomplishments now mean nothing, and whose future accomplishments will be saving enough money to send the kids to college.  And we know that without support from our husbands, that’s exactly what we will become as we slowly forget who we once were.

 He Doesn’t Want Kids…

…but I love him.  It’s fully possible that I might find a man who is my perfect match in every way, but who does not want children.  As mentioned before, the relationship and the marriage come first.  If we’re happy and it’s a conversation that we’ve had, I see no reason to kick him to the curb.  I realize that some women want children badly, and that’s great — that can be a very specific criterion in her dating life.  But I do not believe in hoping my prince will someday change his mind, and am open to the possibility of a very happy life that does not involve children.  It’s possible, I promise.  Oh, but you’ll regret not having children! they say.  Fine, maybe we will.  But do you regret not seeing the world’s wonders, lunching under the Eiffel Tower, walking through the tulip fields of Holland, seeing the Pyramids, or SCUBA diving in the Mediterranean with your husband?  Maybe you do.  Do you regret not joining a book club, or learning a new language or how to ski, having quiet nights next to a fireplace, or going on road trips with your husband?  Maybe you do.

 

So when a woman answers your questions about children with some trepidation or uncertainty — cool your jets.  We are not dumb.  We are not ignorant.  More than likely, the woman you’re interrogating is far smarter and more mature than you realize, and she is considering whether or not her world is a good one to bring children into.  We’re ok biding our time until the right situation presents itself to make a decision.  And until that happens, we’re not going to have an answer for you.

Don’t Want Yo’ Shit

Stop buying me stuff.  I don’t want your concert tickets, or some “stylish” piece of knitted cloth, or some piece of shiny metal with shinier rocks attached to it, or the latest tech gadgets that will be irrelevant in 6 months, or any other material object that does nothing for my SOUL.  Each time you offer me something or ask me what I want for Christmas, my heart breaks.  There is no value in these shallow offerings of tangible crap, and if you think I’ve been ignorant to your game, you are gravely mistaken.  The sad likelihood is that you don’t even notice or understand your own game, and will continue hunting for love and acceptance through something that lives in a bank account or was made in Taiwan.

You ask me what I want–the answer will always be, again and again, your time.  Don’t you dare get me something that fits in a box of specific dimension; I want your attention.  Your conversation, your eye contact, your engagement, and temporary, exclusive access to your Wernicke’s.

I realize that your “gifts” make it easy and painless to connect with another human being.  With a gift, the cognitive stress of listening and responding is eliminated.  With a gift, your most-important life remains basically unaltered, with the exception of the 9 minutes you wasted shopping online.  Gifts are a perfect, socially acceptable response to nearly every situation, so you can never be blamed for being inattentive.  They’re an ideal replacement for any messy apology, as well–you can mop up any indiscretion with the lick of an envelope or a click of the “Place Order” button on FTD.com.  If you’re feeling inadequate, a gift can easily express your message when words are too difficult to find.  Need a good distraction? A gift can easily divert from those silly little secrets in life that are best left unnoticed.

When it comes down to it, gifts are a lovely way to degrade and ignore someone.  When someone isn’t worth your time, effort, love or honesty: send a gift.  Send a teddy bear, or a card, or a check.  They come in all forms: everything from Tiffany’s boxes to “favors.”

But there’s another perk to gift-giving, isn’t there?  That heady element of control and obligation, the scot-free condescension, the unbridled power over those who are less wealthy.

I paid for dinner (you owe me).

Here, let me help you out of a bind (you owe me).

Surprise! I bought you that {item} you had your eye on (you owe me).

I support you financially (you owe me).

You somehow believe that gifts don’t always have to be free for the recipient, although you’ll never state the terms.  Maybe you’ll expect a direct payback, or perhaps you’ll just hold onto your emotional collateral for the future.  This method not only allows you an investment with high expected ROI whenever you wish it, but also allows for the immediate dismissal of the previously mentioned ignorance and degradation.  “How ungrateful! After everything I’ve done for you.”

Minimal effort to maintain relationships, the illusion of authority and a limitless Get Out Of Jail Free card? No wonder you’re so generous!

Call me an ingrate, call me ignorant, call me poor.  Call me benighted, call me ridiculous, call me rude.  Call me whatever you wish but know that without the depth and humanity of a real relationship, you will not continue to own the title of friend, companion, father, mother.  Your gifts do not excuse you from honest interaction.  Your gifts do not garner you automatic respect.  You gifts do not replace your presence in my life, and are unacceptable as such.