The slacker parenting rhetoric holds great appeal as an antidote to the ridiculous expectations that are placed on parents - specifically mothers - to measure up to a variety of external, ill-defined and ever shifting standards, and it is this aspect of Jane Caro's piece in today's Sydney Morning Herald that I enjoyed and agree with; but while celebrating this aspect of the movement, there is a tone that seeps through much of the rhetoric that I find smug and unhelpful.
Rather than being empowering, mothers (fathers seem strangely absent from these discussions) are lampooned as being driven by irrational and neurotic fears (hello Freud); and discussions take for granted a degree of privilege without which the free range approach to your children's welfare is not possible. At the most basic level, allowing your child the freedom to roam is dependent on living in a neighbourhood that functions at some level as a community, has a reasonable level of pedestrian safety and is not riven by crime, including drugs, gang and gun violence (the latter being a real issue in the United States).
It is easy to be relaxed about your child's education when you live in a community where the local schools are brimming with children who walk through the gates with an enormous bank of social, educational and economic capital. It is much harder to take such an approach when your local school is populated by children with multiple disadvantages. You may still send your child to the local school - by choice or necessity - but your concerns are completely valid.
It is easy to not spend a lot of time worrying about your child when your child does not give you a whole lot to worry about, to take the attitude that no matter the kids are going to be alright. But some children are simply more difficult to raise than others by virtue of temperament, difference and/or disability. Worrying about such children is not a sign of neurosis.
In fact, if you have a child with a disability and you wish to access services for that child in many places your child will not have a hope unless you become the polar opposite of the slacker mum, and instead become a loud and pushy advocate, using every resource - including any privileges you are fortunate enough to carry - to further your child's cause. And there is a good chance that, despite the rhetoric of education for all, the public school system will not adequately accommodate your child no matter how much you wish to stay within the system. (Somewhat surprisingly, I have found the US public education system much more accommodating, responsive and well resourced for children with disabilities than Australia's public education system).
|Read from the bottom up|
The most distressing element of the lazy/slacker/free range parenting talk for me is the profound lack of awareness of the inherent privilege of being able to declare yourself a lazy or slacker mum (I tweeted about this today).
For 'other' mothers, being perceived as 'slack' let alone shouting it from the rooftops, is a risk they might not be willing to take. In fact, they are more likely to have to work very hard to prove to the world (including their children's teachers, doctors, welfare authorities, courts) that they are a fit parent, let alone a 'good enough' one.
The risks come from many directions, including the real risk of coming under the surveillance of the state or even losing custody of your child, whether that be to the foster care system, the other parent (or grandparent/s) whose standing by virtue of gender/colour/wealth/age may be a real advantage in the family court. (I have personally watched a friend who suffered multiple disadvantages - race, class, disability, single parent - but whose daughter benefited from her extraordinary level of devotion and care lose her child in just this fashion.)
I can afford to be a slacker parent. When I walk into an emergency room with an injured child (as I have many times) I am given the benefit of the doubt by virtue of my class and skin colour. When my child fails to learn to read he is more likely to be diagnosed with a learning disability than be considered simply a lazy or disruptive student. When we run late for school on a regular basis we are viewed as disorganised, even slack, but nobody calls in the truant officer.
I understand that it is a function of my privilege, that the assumption is made that I am good enough parent even when that may not always be entirely true. And of course, the flip side of this is that a mother who is marginalised by virtue of her class/race/age cannot afford the luxury of declaring herself to be a lazy or slacker mum as the chances are high that this is exactly what others have already prejudged her to be.