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Permanent Childhood

Writing on The Atlantic’s site, Lori Gottlieb lays into Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of the magazine’s cover story lamenting that women these days can’t “have it all,” and society should change so they can remedy this injustice. Gottlieb:

I may get Slaughtered (pun intended) for this post, but somebody has to state two basic facts:

(1) Nobody, male or female, married or single, young or old, tall or short, educated or not, pretty or plain, wealthy or poor, with kids or without, can have it all — neither in the very narrow way Slaughter defines “it,” nor in the broader context of life.

(2) Recognizing this makes people happier! In fact, the people who accept this don’t lie awake at night wondering why they’ve been handed the keys to the palace but the gilded moldings just aren’t sparkly enough. They sleep soundly.

How does a smart woman like Slaughter still believe in the childlike notion that people (of either gender) can have whatever they want whenever they want it, regardless of life’s intrinsic constraints? Imagine if this article had been written by a kindergartner:

“But I want to go to my gymnastics class and I want to go Rosie’s birthday party and they’re both on Saturday morning!” rails the 5-year-old journalist. “Why can’t girls have it all? This is so unfair! Somebody has to make it possible for socially ambitious girls like me to be at gymnastics and Rosie’s party! The solution is to accommodate me by moving Rosie’s party or the time of my gymnastics class. I want justice, because no girl should ever have to feel trapped like this!”

Well, any reasonable adult would explain that the world does not revolve around one particular person; that the child can’t be two places at the same time; that she must choose one activity or the other; and that, in so choosing, she gains one opportunity but forfeits another.

This isn’t because the child is a girl. This isn’t a feminist issue. This is Life 101, something all people learn as kids — until they grow up to be a high-level government official who has to choose between one six-figure job near her kids and one far away, and can’t accept life’s inherent limitations.

Read the whole thing here. Gottlieb is dead-on when she adds:

Would a man be taken seriously if he wrote a 15,000-word article stating that he’s entitled to both marriage and the freedom to have sex with any woman he wants? Or would he be told to grow up and get real?

Exactly right. It takes a certain kind of privilege to think as Anne-Marie Slaughter does. If Elizabeth Kolbert’s article in the new New Yorker is right, a new generation of Americans is in for some seriously traumatic clashes with reality. Excerpts:

With the exception of the imperial offspring of the Ming dynasty and the dauphins of pre-Revolutionary France, contemporary American kids may represent the most indulged young people in the history of the world. It’s not just that they’ve been given unprecedented amounts of stuff—clothes, toys, cameras, skis, computers, televisions, cell phones, PlayStations, iPods. (The market for Burberry Baby and other forms of kiddie “couture” has reportedly been growing by ten per cent a year.) They’ve also been granted unprecedented authority. “Parents want their kids’ approval, a reversal of the past ideal of children striving for their parents’ approval,” Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, both professors of psychology, have written. In many middle-class families, children have one, two, sometimes three adults at their beck and call. This is a social experiment on a grand scale, and a growing number of adults fear that it isn’t working out so well: according to one poll, commissioned by Time and CNN, two-thirds of American parents think that their children are spoiled.

And:

Druckerman talked to a lot of French mothers, all of them svelte and most apparently well rested. She learned that the French believe ignoring children is good for them. “French parents don’t worry that they’re going to damage their kids by frustrating them,” she writes. “To the contrary, they think their kids will be damaged if they can’t cope with frustration.” One mother, Martine, tells Druckerman that she always waited five minutes before picking up her infant daughter when she cried. While Druckerman and Martine are talking, in Martine’s suburban home, the daughter, now three, is baking cupcakes by herself. Bean is roughly the same age, “but it wouldn’t have occurred to me to let her do a complicated task like this all on her own,” Druckerman observes. “I’d be supervising, and she’d be resisting my supervision.”

Also key, Druckerman discovered, is just saying non. In contrast to American parents, French parents, when they say it, actually mean it. They “view learning to cope with ‘no’ as a crucial step in a child’s evolution,” Druckerman writes. “It forces them to understand that there are other people in the world, with needs as powerful as their own.”

Whole thing, here, and worth looking at.

This puts me in mind of why I was so neurotic in dating in my twenties. I was scared to commit to anyone, because to commit would mean foreclosing on my options — something I was deeply reluctant to do. So I darted around, miserably. Similarly, I recall a high school friend who went to Yale in the 1980s. She came home for the summer telling me that the dating scene was horrible there. From what I recall, it sounded like there was so much riding on a simple date that almost nobody did it, fearing that committing to one person would require too much from one, particularly in terms of, yes, closing off one’s options. It sounded perfectly horrible, and childish — but I was doing it too, in my own way.

 

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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