Glass Half Full

Written by Katy Read, the article “Glass Half Full” in the fall issue of Brain, Child magazine, explores the questions: “Have mothers complained too much, already … or not enough?” In it, she references a book I hadn’t yet heard of by Bryan Caplan, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent Is Less Work and More Fun Than You’d Think

…Caplan argues that parents make their own job unnecessarily difficult. If they’d cut themselves some slack, he insists, raising kids would be more enjoyable—so much so that couples should consider having more children than they’d planned.

At the same time, however, other observers contend that it’s still rare and socially risky for mothers to admit any discontent…

So which are we: A culture in which mothers hesitate to voice misgivings for fear of social reprisal? Or one so inundated with maternal kvetching that onlookers are understandably tired of it?…

Glass Half Full in Brain, Child magazine.

She later returns to Caplan’s ideas about nature vs. nurture (i.e. that nurture carries less weight than we often assume):

Why do moms “self-flagellate”? Because they’ve been taught that kids pay a long-term price for their parents’ ordinary mistakes. They don’t. Because they think they’re to blame for their children’s flaws. They aren’t.

But guess what. Admitting you can’t control phenomena that nevertheless significantly color your emotional well-being and day-to-day life is not necessarily a ticket to relaxation. Even armed with twins studies and mortality stats, I have not experienced parenting as the carefree romp that Caplan promises.

Sure, much of it has been wonderful. However, not to get all whiny mother on you, raising children remains an often complicated, frustrating, and stress-inducing enterprise, involving many kinds of challenges.

The best part of this article in my opinion, however, was the author’s postscript:

If I were the conspiracy-theory type, I might imagine a sinister plot behind efforts to keep mothers from complaining. After all, mothers perform the lion’s share of unpaid housework and child care—and pay a steep economic price for doing so, on average making less money than fathers or childless people and suffering from a higher rate of poverty. What better way to keep mothers from rebelling against those circumstances than to discourage them from voicing any objections? It’s ingenious: convince women through cultural conditioning that mothers are blissfully content—or ought to be, anyway—and penalize those who contradict that image by lashing back with criticism dripping with contempt.

Luckily, I’m not a conspiracy nut. So of course I don’t seriously think that the writers and publications I quoted in this piece, whom I respect, are in cahoots with opponents of reforms that would make mothers’ lives more manageable (universal health insurance that would make part-time work more feasible, for example). Still, it’s worth asking why the reaction is so swift and harsh—why the outrage? where’s the threat? what deep, dark fears are being tapped?—when a mother dares to mention the empty half of the glass. Glass Half Full in Brain, Child magazine.

As a side note, the same issue contains another interesting article called Inappropriate. This article includes a nude photo of a woman with a double mastectomy and notes that no print publication has ever published the photos, taken by photographer/artist David Jay in a project called SCAR (“Surviving Cancer. Absolute Reality.”). So, it was cool to extrapolate from that that Brain, Child was the first publication to have the guts to publish his work in a print magazine!

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