The way we approach parenting in our society—as a wholly individualistic enterprise, each family left to figure out their own path—means that only parents with financial resources are realistically able to parent the way they want to. Telling parents “If you don’t like it, do something about it” only perpetuates the issue.
Every time I express an opinion about the weirdness of parenting in the modern world—the difficulty of finding clothes that aren’t heavily gendered, for instance, or my desire for baby food that will introduce my kid to the world of flavors beyond “sweet-ish mush”—some kind soul helpfully explains to me that I should just solve the problem single-handedly. “If you want gender-neutral clothing options, make them yourself!” “If you want flavorful, organic baby food, make it yourself!”
This attitude seems reasonable enough on the surface; after all, if it weren’t for people getting fed up by a lack of options, cool new things would never be created. But by putting all the impetus to change stagnant or harmful norms on individual parents, we shirk any sense of collective, societal accountability for our children. The obsession with DIY parenting means that parents with access to resources get to parent in accordance with their ideals, but those without have to take what they can get, regardless of what would be best for their kids.
I am a totally crunchy, hippie parent. I co-sleep, cloth diaper, attachment parent, and only plan to become more insufferable as my daughter gets older. It’s important to me that my parenting reflect my values of sustainability, feminism, and creativity. But I’m not fooling myself: Being able to parent this way is a privilege, and it’s not a privilege that everyone, or even most people, have. Cloth diapers are cheaper than disposables in the long run, but they require a larger up-front investment, so they’re not available to families that can’t shell out several hundred dollars up front. Organic vegetables can be difficult to justify on a tight budget, especially if you’re planning to feed them to a baby who’s just starting on solid foods and will probably end up wearing more of them than she ingests.
While eco-friendly parenting is a great thing to strive for, many parents face barriers that make it difficult or impossible to achieve. Does that mean that lower-income parents don’t care about the environment, or about their children’s health? Of course not. But the way we approach parenting in our society—as a wholly individualistic enterprise, each family left to figure out their own path—means that only parents with financial resources are realistically able to parent the way they want to. Telling parents “If you don’t like it, do something about it” only perpetuates the issue. Every mother and father should not be responsible for creating an entire micro-society from nothing just to raise their child in the way that lines up with their ideals.
Parenting and raising children is a challenge that requires societal support and widespread solutions. If we as a society care about children (and in theory we do, given all the “but what about the vulnerable children?!” pearl-clutching when it comes to same-sex marriage or trans people in public restrooms) we need to recognize parents can’t—and shouldn’t have to—do everything themselves.
When a new mom says she resents having restrictive gender roles forced on her children before they’re even born, the proper response is not “Well, why don’t you just make your own gender-neutral clothes?” Even if that particular parent has the time, materials, and sewing skills to do so—and what new parent ever has time to take on an extra task?—that only solves the problem for one family. What we need is a collective approach.
As parents and as people with a stake in the future of our world, we can disagree about what our priorities should be. We can disagree about the best way to raise thoughtful, healthy, curious, compassionate human beings who will make the world better. We can disagree about what a better world would even look like. But whatever you envision when I say “a better world,” it’s not going to come into being as a result of individuals working with singular focus to improve the situation for their families. Change takes collective work, and that requires collective awareness. Not every parent has the resources to create new systems, new norms, new approaches. But every parent has the ability to say, in one way or another, “This is a problem and we need to be paying attention and working to fix it.” Asking for help is powerful. It creates connections. It reminds us of our shared responsibility.
Don’t shame parents for voicing a problem without being able to fix it. Overworked, underpaid, stretched-too-thin parents have just as much right to express frustration with flawed systems as anyone else. Having children and raising them the way you want should not be a privilege reserved for people with resources, money, and the ability to survive on three hours of sleep. I know that’s not the world we live in yet, but it’s a goal worth striving for—not by doing it ourselves, but by doing it together.
Lindsay King-Miller is a queer femme who does not have an indoor voice. Her writing has appeared in Bitch Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, Buzzfeed, The Hairpin, and numerous other publications. She lives in Denver with her partner, a really cute baby, and two very spoiled cats. She is the author of Ask A Queer Chick (Plume, 2016).