On the Shelf: parenting advice from Louisa May Alcott

Man, I love Little Women.  Ok, that’s an obvious statement, rather like saying ‘I enjoy breathing.’  I have yet to meet someone who’s read Little Women and not absolutely loved it.  Even Joey loves it:

What’s so great about the book is not only are the characters completely endearing, but the titular women in the story are way ahead of their time.  Ok, Meg, Jo, and Amy all end up with a guy, but their choices are theirs, and often unconventional.  Meg could have married Ned Moffatt and become a rich man’s wife, but she goes for John Brooke instead.  And one of the best moves in literature is Jo turning down Laurie.

I always loved the chapter ‘On the Shelf’, and it resonates even truer now that I am a parent.  In it, Meg is fretting over her twins playing mother-martyr and ignoring her husband, who looks for company (of a very platonic kind) elsewhere.  Meg eventually starts to miss him and get resentful, and Marmee tells her that John should have a hand in raising the kids too.  So Meg turns bedtime, which has heretofore been a struggle, over to her husband.  There is a battle of wills, but she wisely stays out of it, and ultimately Demi (their son) learns to go the f*ck to sleep, John gets more involved and stays at home more, and Meg is a hell of a lot less strung out..

We have a very skewed view of dads today.  They’re treated as secondary parents.  On sitcoms, even the progressive Modern Family, they’re the buffoons of the family who can’t do anything right (to be fair, I didn’t come up with that–I read it in an article once).  Then there are products like this:

Har har, Dad is so dumb he can’t do anything right!  He doesn’t know anything about childrearing.  You’re drunk, Dad.  Go play golf.

Except this becomes problematic for everyone.  Dads are marginalised in the family unit, and that’s a bad idea in general and especially when both parents work.  It leaves the mother playing the martyr role, taking on too much and trying to be superhuman when she is clearly a very regular human. (For the record, I absolutely see single moms as being superhuman because they have to play both roles.) Meanwhile, the kid never gets to feel the benefit of having both parents around and the family doesn’t come together as well.  I’m not sure why we treat dads as inept, but it’s a dumb idea which is seriously impairing the quality of family life and the equality of the sexes.  It implies that only women can rear children, and that’s problematic for a whole host of reasons.

Turns out, good ol’ Louisa May had the answer 150 years ago.  Let Dad help–he knows what to do.  It may not be exactly what Mom does, but it’ll get the job done, and just as well.  Then you can be a parenting team and make some serious strides for equality to boot, instead of being a martyr.  And being a martyr sucks because you work your butt off but no one thanks you for it anyway.

 

Postscript: For the record, MR is much more a John Brooke kind of dad.  He’s very involved, and it makes my life a lot more awesome.  Plus it’s super cute to see the Feliciraptor bond with him.  When his relatives comment in surprise about how involved he is, I stare at them in bemusement.  Of course he’s involved.  He’s her dad.

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Source: Shelf

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