Saturday, February 16, 2013

The inherent privilege of being a 'slacker' mum

There is a degree of privilege involved in being a self-avowed 'slacker mum' or free range parent. The mothers I know who espouse these approaches are white, well-educated and middle to upper class (including Lenore Skenazy, spokesperson for the free range parenting movement). I include myself in this category, and went so far as to declare myself a 'slacker mum' as far back as 2000, before free range referred to anything more interesting than a carton of happily produced eggs.

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.



23 comments:

  1. Thank you Michelle. While I also read Jane Caro, enjoyed it and had a bit of a laugh, I also shook my head in frustration. I have also had moments of just not getting it done, slacker Mum or Free Ranging it, whatever you want to call it, but I am a single parent of a child with Down syndrome and a Teenager who is gay. Advocacy is my FIRST name! Your description of the Public School system here in Australia makes me feel like you have stalked me somewhat over the last year; and the area in which we live due to my socio-economic status as a single parent, is not Kansas Toto! (Can't afford the Ruby red slippers). And while my first name is Advocacy, I often feel like my middle name is "THAT PARENT". Thank you again for so eloquently putting forward my view, as I said, you must have been stalking me LOL :-)

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    1. Thanks so much Sandra. Or should I say Advocacy ;-) Parents of special needs kids need to be heard. I think we add much needed perspective to many of the discussions about parenting and what it means to be successful (among other things). Your boys are clearly v lucky to have you,
      Michelle

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  2. Yes yes yes!! Very well said. This eloquently sums up many if the concerns I've had regarding parenting and class. You're so right; society others one group of mothers, so that what is tolerated and regarded with benign amusement in one group, is regarded as neglect in another. As a white, educated woman I largely escape the censure, even while Im probably regarded with some suspicion otoh for being a poor single mother and student. But as you said Im regarded as simply disorganised for running late for school dropoff (more days than not it must be said) rather than having DHS called if I were to be less white and less educated :/ Anyway... I'm rambling (exam study addled brain!) but thanks for the brilliant post x

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    1. LOL. If only I had you to wave to each day as we snuck in late. And is gratifying to hear from you who has a foot in each camp that this piece resonated.
      Michelle x

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  3. Only have time today to say this is written so well, thank you, and is so important - simply because all of us writing about the helicopter and free range parenting, the tiger mothers and the rest are as you say, in incredible positions of privilege.

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    1. Thanks Yvette. I often wonder if we spent as much time worrying about (and working to fix)inequality and poverty as we do talking about how we parent if the end result would be a better one for all kids. I know that is overly simplistic because as your wonderful website shows all parents and their children benefit when we become more aware parents.
      M x

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  4. ..(fathers seem strangely absent from these discussions)". You need to be aware of something in case you are not. Men/fathers are not allowed to join in these discussions. They are simply censored. Try it for yourself. Give an opposing opinion as a man on Mamamia or the like. See it for yourself! No discourse allowed. No differing opinions allowed. No mens's input allowed. And we give up. Many don't even bother anymore. I suggest that with no discourse, all you are left with is ignorant cackling hens, all reinforcing each other's rubbish. No differing opinions allowed. You need to wake up to it. All you end up with is zero credibility. It's laughable.

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  5. You are absolutely right about walking into emergency. When my 2nd son was 2 years old he fell off a 2 metre platform on the monkey bars in a playground. I rushed to emergency as any mother would. I didn't have anyone other than doctors talk to me.

    My SIL who lives in Blacktown, phoned an ambulance when her toddler fell out of the highchair, she had helicopters flying over her house, cops at the door trying to ascertain what happened to the child, it was crazy.

    Now statistically maybe you could argue that out in Blacktown more children are being hurt by the hand of their parents; I don't know this for certain, I'm only speculating. So maybe the cops are doing their job considering the area but my SIL was under far more scrutiny than I was simply because of the respective areas we live in.

    Love & stuff
    Mrs M

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    1. What an example to illustrate the point I was trying to make! Helicopters. Oh lord.
      Michelle

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  6. To my surprise you publish my comment. Bravo and thank you. It is a rarity. And I will take the opportunity to retract the cackling hen part. A bit unnecessary. I hope you can understand that when you take time to comment and it never appears, it can be very frustrating. And I am careful not to be rude or abusive when discussing. I don't think you're cackling hens. I love you muffins. Please be aware that men's opinions are often censored, and if you are ever discussing with a man on a site and he suddenly doesn't respond, that's more than likely him being censored. Ok. Take care.

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  8. Nothing infuriates me more than the slacker parent thing in relation to schools. There is nothing slacker about sending your kid to a public school in Mosman. I can't believe that people think it's the same decision as the one I need to make when I send my kids to a high school in a very socio economically and otherwise disadvantaged school. I think I'm going to do it anyway and put my trust in the system and my kids, but bloody hell it's a bit terrifying. I actually want some of the public school advocates from upper middle class areas who are so free range etc to come and check out my options. I'd bet all the money I have that their kids would be in private schools in.a.flash.

    Anyway, that's my rant. And see, I do comment on blogs once or twice a year (and read every one of yours!)
    Kirsten x

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    1. Kirsten, This comment says everything! And I so admire you for the tough decisions you have made and your honesty about how conflicted you are about them. My kids have mostly been in public schools too but the socio-economics of the neighbourhoods made these incredibly easy decisions.
      Michelle x

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  9. Amazing post Michelle. I wish I had something profound to add to that (because I hate leaving comments that are just 'great post'!) but I have nothing :)

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    1. Thanks Kelly. I very often feel the same way on reading a post I really like. Appreciate that you took the time to let me know. x

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  10. Excellent points. I taught in a disadvantaged neighborhood and am now raising kids in a very advantaged suburb. The schools - even though both are public - might as well be on different planets and the parenting experiences are too. I think we forget that for many people, being a "slacker" parent is their only option.

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    1. Yes, difference between schools depending on geography/socio-economics is huge. It shouldn't be so but that is the reality I have seen too. Makes me think about Finland where the focus of the educational system is very much on equality over anything else - and they get excellent results across all kids.
      Michelle

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  15. I have to admit, I don't really find 'slacker' to be a cute descriptor for ANY mom, regardless of her background, neighborhood, etc. For me, slacker sort of evokes an image of simply keeping the kids clothed and fed and not much else... I don't see why any mother would be proud of that, regardless of her income.

    I suppose I do get how it is 'safer' for a more well-off parent to refer to themselves as a slacker, but I hope most people realize that resources aren't everything. I distinctly remember one self-described slacker mom who blogged about not buying organic food despite being able to afford it. That one made me cringe hard, when so many non-slacker parents with less resources (myself included) are trying so hard to do the best with what they have.

    So, I agree that there is privilege involved in being able to call oneself a slacker... but I also don't see why anyone would want to. In a world where so many people parent out of convenience, I'm not a fan of this "mom enough" culture in general.

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