Domestic Bliss Report

Motherhood is hard work. If we don't stick together, we'll all fall apart.

Monday, July 14, 2008

From the "Water is Wet" file

Gee. Who'd-a-thunk that if girls feel expected to do things they're not ready for, they'd feel stressed?

Another homeschool mom said at our recent park day, "My kids are innocent. And I want them to stay that way for as long as possible." They're 6 and 8 or so.
I agree. My dad didn't want us getting outside jobs until as late as possible. He felt we were going to spend our whole lives worrying about money; why start any earlier than we had to? They'll spend their whole adult lives dealing with this stuff. Why should they start when they're still children?

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At 11:06 AM, Blogger Melanie B said...

What struck me about the article is that it kept talking about the girls feeling pressure to "grow up" but the examples of "grown up" behavior offered--wearing alluring clothing, dealing with sexual advances, etc.-- strike me as not being all that healthy as focuses for adults either. Now I'm not saying women shouldn't try to look nice or to ignore the opposite sex; but I don't think that being alluring is really what defines being an adult, either. I do think it would be healthier if girls were given better models for what it means to be an adult: responsibility and motherhood being two items prominent by their absence in the article.

What I took away was not so much that it's bad that they are being pressured to grow up and be women too soon as that girls are being given very distorted images of what it means to be a woman. No wonder they are getting depressed and acting out in bizarre ways.

I'm not sure I've done a very good job of articulating just what I mean, though.

At 6:05 AM, Blogger Heather said...

Could it be the article confuses the difference between looking "sexy" and looking "grown-up"?
The presumtion in the article is that the two are the same thing, when (I think you'll agree) they aren't.
Yes, dressing one's age is a good thing. Being clean, hair combed, teeth brushed is also a good thing. Looking sexy isn't necessarily part of that picture.

Did I catch your meaning?

At 7:51 AM, Blogger Melanie B said...

Heather, that's definitely a part of it. I think we both agree that being an adult does not necessitate buying into the hyper-sexualized culture. One can look quite "grown up" and be very modest at the same time. Unfortunately I think the message most young women get is that in order to be treated as adults they need to be sexy. I think that is the root of so much anxiety.

What does it mean to be an adult? To me it means to be mature and responsible, to be reliable and to be able to act independently, to make good choices and to not need constant supervision in order to do the right thing. I think that such maturity happens when young people are given reasonable responsibilities. But in our society we withhold such responsibilities from young people because they are not mature enough to handle them-- not realizing that if we were to give them the responsibility they would rise to the occasion and discover within themselves the maturity to handle it.

I suppose my response to that is (or, rather will be when we reach that point) to start giving reasonable responsibilities to older children along with reasonable freedoms so that they are able to feel like they are being treated more like adults. I think as they reach the teenage years children really do want to be treated differently even while they are not ready to be sexualized.

It seems to me we've got it exactly backwards. We don't give them increasing responsibilities to go with their increasing abilities to be responsible. And they-- quite properly, I think-- resent this and feel that they are being treated like children. In return the only way they can express their longing to be treated like adults is to act out in these ways that are not at all healthy. Alcohol and drug use are attractive because they belong to the adult world. Likewise sexual activity. Heck, many adults seem to be stuck in prolonged childhood, refusing the responsibility that comes with a family, and acting as if their sexuality and substance abuse made them adults.

The article gets it exactly backwards. The problem is not that these girls are being forced to grow up too soon, it's that they are being infantalized. Their way of fighting back against a world that continues to treat them like children instead of allowing them to grow up and be mature, responsible members of society, is to act like what they think adults are like.

The best response is not to let them continue to be kids longer but to give them healthy role models of mature adulthood and to allow them to begin to emulate those role models by doing real, meaningful work and contributing to the family and to society at large.

I've been amazed at how mature my nephews are (now 15 and 13). They are both polite, responsible young men who help with housework and with their younger siblings. It is precisely because their parents give them duties and expect them to act their age. Several years ago we went to babysit for my in-laws and we hardly had to do a thing. My nephews, 12 and 10 at the time put the younger kids into pajamas, brushed their teeth, said prayers and read bedtime stories and put them to bed while I just sat back and watched. There was really no reason for us to be there except as backup in case of emergency. And frankly, I think these boys could have handled almost any emergency that could arise.

A hundred years ago boys of 14 were treated like men and could handle it. Girls of 14 or 16 were able to manage the running of large households while their parents were away. Just think of Farmer Boy when the parents go away and leave the children to themselves. I don't think the oldest sister can be more than 16, if that. Frequently girls were married at 16 or 18. My grandmother was. Why then do we have 25 and 30 years olds who still act like teenagers? I think it is not because they were forced to grow up too soon but because they were never made to grow up at all.


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