Raising Children, or Lack Thereof

I’ve been thinking a lot about raising children. Not because I’m all that hot on having any, but because of this post over at Bitch Ph.D. and because of a comment one of my first readers made about a draft of the fantasy saga.

I’ve got a female-dominated matriarchy as one of my major countries, where men only make up about a third of the population at best. When my buddy asked, “So, where are all the children in Dhorin?” I prepared to explain that that’s why they had so many slaves. The slaves stayed home to take care of the kids, and women got raises and advancements depending on how many kids they had, and the social system was set up so they had this prime birthing window so they could take time off to nurse kids, and then…

And then…

The trouble with being stuck with the whole “women want to be equal” instead of “let’s revolutionize this society so it’s better for everybody,” is that you get stuck, again, with “male” being the norm. So instead of revolutionizing the workplace so we’ve got onsite childcare, or better, can have kids hanging out acting as interns at the workplace and functioning as members of society instead of subordinates, we just figure, hey, the parents will work and just hire somebody to take care of the kid, like a wife.

One of the big jokes between me and Jenn is that we’re both so busy that we need a wife to do things like change lightbulbs and pick up mayonnaise.

And I was reading about kids in Rome, how they were dressed like “little adults” and had to function as adults by the age of 10, and I was reminded of my great grandfather, who was orphaned at 10 and who supported himself shoe-shining by the time he was 13. Infantilizing kids in the Victorian age, I guess, just made it more acceptable for a woman to spend 20 years raising kids instead of five or ten, you know, until they could go out and function in society.

In Durban, the department secretary sometimes brought her child to work with her on those days she and her husband weren’t able to juggle childcare. The kid was maybe 2 or 3, and played quietly on a blanket, surrounded by toys, in the department office. Profs and grad students would come in to say hi, and the secretary could do her work at her desk and watch her kid. It didn’t hurt anybody at the department, and I’m sure it was good for the kid to get out and be around other people.

We had a paper presentation once where the presenter brought her baby with her. Unfortunatley, the baby was pretty whiny and upset at being up there; it sure would have been nice if the conference room had a cradle or something she could rock the baby in with her foot while she lectured.

Yea. I’m being serious.

What’s wrong with it? Shouldn’t children be fully integrated into society? Isn’t treating them second-class keeping them acting like “kids” far longer than they would otherwise? I know that the more people treated me like an idiot, the more I knew I was going to be able to get away with. In high school, if teachers treat you like you’re four, you’ll do just the amount of work they expect, and you’ll produce it like a four year old. Why should I work harder? It wasn’t like I was being treated like an adult.

And I realized I was doing that fantasy matriarchy all wrong. Why should they hide their kids at home? By the time the kid’s five or so, they can function in society. Kids were being sent off to knight training and Roman schools at that age. Why can’t we ask the same of modern children? Why can’t we tailor institutions so that we can integrate our desire to raise families with our desire/neccessity to work?

Kids in Dhorin would be shipped straight off to schools and jobs at 5 years old. The lucky ones would likely apprentice to their mothers or mothers’ friends and be ushered through the halls of the capital, running notes and errands and acting like “little adults” – and being treated that way.

If you want to change basic ideas about how society works, try altering assumptions about the place of children, and the separation of private and public life.

You might come up with something really different. Well, different to 21st century America, anyway.

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