Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Kids Aren't For Everyone

Continuing with the subject of having kids...

Unless you're absolutely wild about the idea, you probably shouldn't. I must say I admire those who do, but you better be clear about what you're getting into.

7 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone is ever clear about what they're getting into when they had children. I was a nanny to twins when I was young, and, aside from getting used to the raging river of baby poop, I was *quite* surprised at when I got into after the best  and I spawned.

I'm genetically hardwired to love my children, and to consider them to be the cutest things in the world, but intellectually? If I was a writer, I'd probably be turning out short essays like Neil Pollack does, except with more of an emphasis on the wide swath of urban desolation that my children are capable of generating on a moments notice. 

Posted by David Parsons

Anonymous said...

There were just so many things about this article that bugged me. Mostly, it was Pollack's utter lack of sympathy for the other children being assaulted by his child, the other was me trying to figure out why they'd decided to have a kid thousands of miles away from their families (who could help ease some of the burden) if both of them work out of their home.

Two people raising a child alone isn't an ideal situation. It's takes a village, and a part of me feels terribly sorry for them; another part wonders why the hell they signed up for the task if there was any other way to do it (live nearer relatives if possible, hire help, local sitters, anything).

Mostly, though, I just get the impression from the way Pollack writes that neither of them were or are very wild about kids, and spending everyday with a difficult kid is just killing them both.

It's a bad situation, and even worse because they're so caught up in it that they're not even considering the bodily integrity of the other kids forced to be around theirs. I'm sorry, but if your kid was assaulting other kids - drawing blood, no less - wouldn't you find an alternative or figure out the discipline thing?

And I love Pollack's excuse, that his son must just have a crush on "Sophie," so that's why he's biting the shit out of her. Well, if it's "just a crush" all is forgiven?

He sounds like the sort of father who'd excuse his kid from beating up on another one because they wore a funny shirt, or raped a woman because "she was just one of those women at those sorts of parties. We all know those women!" and then he'd leer and wink at the camera.

Just really irritated me.  

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...


Can't totally go with you on this one. True, Pollack and his wife are light-years from an "ideal" situation for child-raising, but this still puts them at a level that could also be called substatially above-average for couples in modern American society (the work at home thing, for example). It sucks that we live in a style that typically prevents extended child-raising situations, but to criticize an individual for the demands of the larger society to me seems almost beside the point. You can demand that someone move 1,000 miles to have children near their parents I suppose, but if those are the only acceptable child-raising conditions you're asking for self-abnegation as the standard almost.

Also, for what it's worth, I think you mischaracterize Pollack. To say that he'd excuse rape because he's a protective father...that's very tough. A 3 year old biting and a person past the age of reason acting as a rapist are clearly different things which I think he realizes as well since half the point of his article is how difficult it is to demand adult standards of behavior from pre-schoolers.

Assertions like that are part of why being a feminist man can be so difficult- is everything to be abstracted to the level of rape? Is this post defending him on the level of rape? To me, it seems he is a father who feels the system is aligned against his son, and naturally he's over-protective in response to that. Consequences of child-raising, I'd say- there's an intrinsic situational myopia. He feels he's his son's only advocate, and as such he likely feels almost forced to consider only his son's ends, since no one else seems inclined to.

Also, I think it's just glib to say that he needs to "figure out the discipline thing". According to the article, people who've been disciplining kids professionally for 25 years are worn out by this child. Parents can do what they can to discipline their children and do what they can to create the ideal extended-family situation, but on a society-wide level it's unrealistic to demand perfection of every couple who want to have children unless your goal is Japan's birthrate. I don't think parenthood confers enlightenment about what constitutes proper disciplinary methods. All you can do is your best.

If anything, to me the article points to the need as a society to provide meaningful infrastructure to people looking to have children, a substantial collection of child-care opportunities with standards that accept that not every child is going to be a perfect example of "the discipline thing". The time when grandma could be expected to fill that role for the majority of families is long past, and we're at the point now where we can either blame families for having the temerity to reproduce, or we can see what has to be done to allow them to do so in a responsible and socially integrative manner.

I agree that really wanting kids and being willing to accept responsibility for them ought to be a prerequisite to parenthood. But that's a different standard than perfection or the idea that families must go it alone without societal help. 

Posted by Brendan

Anonymous said...

Brendan, a lot of what got me about this article, as said, was Pollack's disregard for the other children in his son's pre-school class. When your kid is assaulting others - biting, kicking, punching, etc. you've really gotta owe up to the fact that the problem may not be the child care provideres - it might be your kid.

His disregard for the other kids, the excuses he made for his son, made me think of what other sorts of excuses he may make if his son assaulted others in the future; rape was one example, but so's beating up other kids, bullying, etc. Assaults are pretty linked in my mind: they are different kinds of violence, but violence nontheless, and parents already blaming victims and school officials at such a young age worry me. They remind me of frat boy parents who say it was the fault of the dork who got beat up or the woman who wore the skimpy dress to the party instead of their kids. I'm looking forward, not at what the kid may do (he'll likely do just fine), but what sorts of parents these might be.

So the link I was making between now and what could be wasn't specifically about rape, but about how Pollack could justify the actions of his son in the future if he has absolutely no sympathy for the kids who've been bitten repeatedly by his son to the point of drawing blood.  

Posted by Kameron Hurley

jeff said...

Brendan says:
"Assertions like that are part of why being a feminist man can be so difficult- is everything to be abstracted to the level of rape?"

I suspect that one of the difficulties of being a feminist man in this case is having to understand that there is a relationship between the violence that happens when a kid bites another kid and the violence that happens when somebody rapes somebody else -- of course the two things aren't equivalent , but Kameron never said they were; rather, she pointed out the possible relationship between the two. She wasn't 'abstracting' anything to the level of rape; rather, she was pointing out two points along a continuum of violence.

The sooner that men (and others) start recognizing the connections between types of violence, the sooner that people like Kameron can refrain from pointing it out. 

Posted by jpjeffrey

Anonymous said...

I'm filtering Neal Pollack's article through what I've read by him in the past. Most of what I read has been the other-the-top "Neal Pollack, SUPERSTAR!!!" character, and there are certainly reflections of this character in this story. How much of it is true and how much of it has been emphasised to make it a "better" story?

When the pedestrians of the apocolypse went through their biting phases, it took several months to convince them that they should stop (one would think that after one of them bit his darling father(tm) and was promptly dropped that this would have been a clue that biting is a bad idea, but, no, it took many more weeks to coerce them into a minimum level of civility.) I didn't read that Neal Pollack was simply making excuses, but that his family was trying to civilize the tiny barbarian and not being very successful at it.

J and I have been extraordinarily lucky that we've traditionally made enough money (and have had relatively flexible careers) to afford to have one of us staying home so we didn't have to play the daycare or death of our career game. If we were both marginally successful artists, it would be pretty hard to just mothball one of our careers and hope that the surviving career would stay healthy enough to keep us out of the poorhouse (I don't know much about writing, since I had to surrender my competency in the english language when I started programming, but I've known a lot of other artists who started young, spent many many years working nonstop at growing a circle of supporters, and only climbed out of abject poverty in their 40s or 50s.) Many of the discussions I've seen over this article have eventually ended up with the commentators all-but-demanding that either (a) Neal gives up his frivolous job as a writer and go to work in the mill/coal mine/insurance business, and/or (b) Neal's wife give up her job as an artist and become a stay at home mom. Neither of these seem like they'd be a win; it would replace a pair of stressed neurotic parents with a pair of _depressed_ stressed neurotic parents, which doesn't seem like a recipe for domestic bliss.

I don't know if living near relatives would have made that much difference; the tiny engines of destruction will remain tiny engines of destruction whether or not they can be foisted off on their grandparents. The big difference in the Pollack version of Chateau Chaos is that he was foolish enough to write about it (in Salon, even, which has become the last gathering place of the great American navel-gazing liberal) instead of waiting 4-5 years and then mentioning, as an aside, that teod Pollack went through a biting stage which drove his parents to distraction, but went away after they convinced him that it's not civilized. 

Posted by David Parsons

Anonymous said...

The thing that bothered me most about Pollack's essay was his apparent sense of entitlement. It all seemed to be about him and how inconvenient and horrible the situation is for him (well, and a little about his wife, too) -- but not about poor little Sophie, not about the school or teachers, who seem to have really and truly tried their best to deal with his toddler's serious behavioral problems, and certainly not about his little son, who could be just a very active kid going through a normal phase, or could be acting out because he doesn't get enough one-on-one attention. I don't think it's necessary to fully know what you're "getting into" before having kids, but it's a good idea to realize it will no longer be all about you.

Toddlers don't have good impulse control, and they do get frustrated and angry, particularly when they know they don't have your full attention. My toddler went through a biting phase (he'd come up to me while I was on the computer or fixing dinner or whatever and whine a bit, then bite if I didn't respond immediately. I was dismayed by how many other moms advised me to bite back, and I noticed a lot of people had that advice for Pollack. Sadly, there really aren't that many quick fixes for disciplining kids, and a quick bite back or a spanking or handing a difficult child over to someone else to handle doesn't usually have the effect that consistent and patient parenting has.  

Posted by Allison