As you’ll find out everywhere, today is Mother’s Day. Over the years, I’ve made it no secret that I personally dislike Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, that they seem to be based on blind parental reverence and appreciation, often painting them as without exception selfless saints serving their unappreciative children. And any suggestion that such a day be made for those sons and daughters, who also very often are the ones serving and caring for their parents (even as adults when they aren’t being forced to in any way), is met with derision (well, there is a Children’s Day, but it’s different and not really a thing in this country).
As youth rights supporters and theorists, the methods, power, and sometimes very institution of parenting comes into question a lot. The home can be the most oppressive place for a young person. We’re not content to merely sit back and assume parents always have good intentions. The “sanctity” of parental rights can and MUST be challenged.
That is not at all to say parenting isn’t EXTREMELY difficult. I’m not a parent, though many youth rights supporters are and thus are familiar with the millions of complicated little things about it. But with such an extremely difficult job, full of anxieties and uncertainties, there can be a tendency to stick to what’s “tried and true”, no matter how actually harmful the “tried and true” may be. But even with acknowledging it’s a near impossible job, due to the inherent nature of worrying for a cherished person as well as social and economic issues just adding to the challenges, it still must be said that certain kinds of treatment are just plain unacceptable, that the importance of certain “results” in raising children should be questioned, that the difficulty of a parent’s job doesn’t mean their children’s basic human rights can go right out the window.
So I’d like to make a couple of shout-outs here.
One… teenage mothers. In all the placing of mothers on pedestals today, we can probably assume it’s only mothers who became so at an age society feels comfortable with. As hard as motherhood is even in the best of circumstances, these young women must do so in the face of anti-youth hatred by those who see their motherhood as a social problem, a depravity, a “bad influence”. And the derision of them is usually defended under the excuse of “we shouldn’t encourage this kind of behavior, we must make young girls realize motherhood isn’t glamorous!” This behavior not only shames the young mothers but also points fingers at and judges their peers, assuming every teenage girl is on the verge at every moment of such “immorality”. And all this does is make the hardship of teen motherhood even harder. It erases the personhood of both her and her child, all because of judgmental ageist contempt. So, if today is truly about honoring ALL mothers, teen moms had better be included and the cute little “statistics” about them and their children and their future can be put away.
And the other mothers who get a shout-out? The pro-youth rights mothers, of course! I mentioned above the difficulty of parenting, along with social and economic pressures, which can contribute to an oppressive household for the kids. But there are parents who break the mold. There are parents who, against any pressures, for a few examples, will not use corporal punishment, will unschool their children, will allow their children their own opinions and beliefs, and much more. And these children are just fine. They are happy and healthy, perhaps moreso than the general population. But in a society that implicitly believes the strictest parents are the best ones, that children should be treated as amoral creatures who need to be beaten into submission in order to be productive and suitable for society, these parents stand up and say NO, that they will not treat their children that way, that society can deride them as lenient all they want, but their children will be treated as people, as autonomous individuals, with respect, with love, and without coercion. They are the living proof that it can be done and that it is good. They are an example of how parenting, despite the concerning power it can have over the basic rights of youth, can in a way be radical youth rights in action!
I would add to that the parents who support their teens in their various legal actions against schools and other entities that violate their rights. Parents who defy the pressure to say “well, you shouldn’t have written about your principal in such a way anyway” and instead are truly supportive in these important defenses of youth rights. The teens deserve most of the credit here, of course, but it is a sad fact that, had their parents been unsupportive, they could have easily stopped them, and important campaigns may never have gotten off the ground.
I could go on, and feel free to post in the comments more about parenthood (or motherhood where it’s specific to mothers, to fit the day) and its relationship to youth rights.
So while mothers and motherhood in general is celebrated today with flowers and cards and crowded restaurants, let’s not forget the people whose mothers they are and how important the interests of both are for the health of that dynamic.
Motherhood is also a socially constructed relationship, and blind veneration ignores the diversity of mothers.