Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Clearing some smoke from the Britney/K-Fed wars

While looking for something else entirely tonight, I came upon this site asking viewers/readers to vote as to whether Brit or her new ex should get custody of their two kids (despite the fact that very few kids go 100% to one parent or the other, which fact is surprisingly obscure in this country: Even I, while pregnant, thought that I was deciding between parenting with my son's father's help or without it - but it never occurred to me that I might have to deal with something in between). While reading the comments, I found several remarks that merit comments of my own in response. They subtly demonstrate, I think, the depth and breadth of the absorption of mistaken ideas about parenting that have deep negative consequences in our lives. And actually, there were only really three of them:

1. "Britney is the mother and she carried the kids for nine months, so she deserves the kids!" Um, why? It's not as though there's any other way that things could have come to pass (unless she used a surrogate). We need to stop buying into the idea that women are somehow inherently/biologically better at parenting than men - which all of the demonization of mothers and celebration of involved fathers these days seems to belie anyway and which doesn't jive with the contemporary realities of ultra-effective formula and the like either. If there's any scientific basis for mothers being better parents than fathers, it's impossible to separate it from the fact that mothers and fathers are SOCIALIZED to think so - thus likely making it a self-fulfilling prophecy - and/or that our society (sometimes combined with biology) simply FORCES mothers to do more parenting than fathers, which ultimately would still make mothers generally better at it simply due to their getting more practice.

But of course, in order to do that, we would also have to get away from our similarly misplaced notion that biological "parenthood" a better parent figure somehow makes. In this world, having a role in the split-second creation of a child - which act we ought to know by now has nothing to do with one's ability to be an appropriate parent - nevertheless makes one woman and one man the only people entitled to any rights to and responsibilities for a child unless and until a ridiculous standard of proof to the contrary is met. For a country that stands behind preemption, we sure don't apply it to child abuse. As another commenter wrote, "Hell, neither one of those crazy bleep dip sticks need those kids."

2. "No real man runs out on his pregnant wife for another woman." This perspective is just as problematic as the "welfare-reform" notions that involve coercing women into marrying or not divorcing their kids' fathers, even if those fathers are abusive, because either 1) the women have reached the imposed-from-outside limit of their temporary assistance or are otherwise being denied aid and can't survive without a second below-the-cost-of-living wage earner in the household, or 2) the government is going to deny them assistance UNLESS they do so. (It's easy to find sources to back me up on this issue, by the way. Try a Google search on "welfare" and "coerced marriage," for starters.) Why do we still have this bizarre notion that keeping families together (even when those families defy all of our idealisms as to what constitutes families) is the solution to the world's problems? Back when few had the opportunity to do anything else, the murder rate was higher than it is now. Why do you think that is? (Here's a hint: "THE DECLINE in marriage is having another unexpected effect on Western society - a decline in the murder rate as fewer husbands have fewer opportunities to kill fewer wives.")

3. And then we have the good ol' Selfish Mother myth:

"Aren't the nannies going to raise them anyway?? In typical Britney fashion where was she on Easter?? Well,she was shopping and going to the basketball game of course (without her kids) maybe dad had them.... isn't this [what] any good mother would do on Easter?? (sarcasm)... How selfish can you be grow up Brit and put your kids 1st instead of yourself."

Maybe they WERE with K-Fed. That's common among separated parents: One gets most of the "regular" time, the other gets most of the holidays - or they split them. And then what parent wants to hang out at home while her kids are gone? I had to take pains to distract myself while Alex, as a baby, was with his biological dad - especially because I had concerns about what kind of dad he could be.

But what if they weren't? Must everyone see Easter the same way? Must a "good mother" be with her kids all the time - even if that means that such constant proximity makes her lose her mind and act like a "bad mother"? Why do we continue to criticize mothers for being away from their kids when, with incredible and yet unremarked-upon consistency, it's the stay-at-home moms (or the ones who "only" work part-time) who end up making the big headlines for killing their kids? Is getting away sometimes - or even regularly - really 100% NOT in kids' best interests?

The other irony in that remark is that being rich is supposed to be the goal and the ideal in this country - especially if you're considering having kids (hence another comment that "she's definitely the better choice if for no other reason but her financial stability") - and yet it simultaneously assumes that the rich never raise their own kids and thus are "bad parents." In fact, in Britney's case, much the opposite has been evident. While she has made mistakes with her kids that have made major headlines (which have not always corresponded in magnitude with the magnitude of those mistakes), she's made them because she's been trying to take care of her kids herself, without a nanny doing it all for her. (I'm not the first one to make that point, by the way.)

Bottom line, as far as I'm concerned: Ain't nothin' cut-and-dried here - as is pretty much always the case, I would argue - so the appropriate court decision wouldn't be either. As one family court judge said while my own kid's custody case was on the docket for the day: His goal is to make sure that no one goes home happy. And isn't that a good thing? At least the kids will always know that both parents were willing to fight for them when it came right down to it. And so will mine.