Devon Corneal is an attorney and a writer. Her essay "Can You Hear Me Now? Why Parents Can't Get Kids to Listen" was published online by The Huffington Post (Nov. 3). In it, Corneal carps about her children not listening to her. She identifies the three children in question as "a son, a stepson, and the man-child I married." She refers to them as "boys."
For years I've said that the most sexist nonjoke is told by women who when asked how many children they have include their husbands in the count.
I guarantee that women of two-plus generations ago did not speak in such terms about their husbands. I propose that what has changed is the anxiety women now bring to the parenting process. Not so long ago, women approached the raising of children with confidence in their authority. They tended, therefore, to be calmer and less prone to cerebral meltdown than are today's hyper-stressed moms.
Another huge difference between then and now: Whereas the mom of 1957 read virtually nothing on "parenting," today's mom reads as much as she can. She allows what I call "psychological boogeymen" into her head. These boogeymen scream at her constantly to watch her every child-rearing step lest she commit some egregious and apocalyptic parenting faux pas that will certainly doom her child to a life spent sleeping under overpasses, or worse, not going to Harvard.
The boogeymen cause her to believe, furthermore, that any misbehavior on the part of her kids is indication that she has either done something wrong or failed to do something she should have done. For better or worse, it all comes back to her - or so she thinks. If her child gets into the gifted program at school, she gets all puffed up and manages to slip it into nearly every conversation. If he fails his spelling test, she is pursued by the hounds of guilt and tells no one.
Stress and anxiety turn normally rational people into raving micromanagers. Indeed, today's all-too-typical mom is a Magnificent Maternal Micromanager. She does it all not because her husband will not take any parenting initiative but because she does not trust him to do it right. She even tells him as much on a regular basis. He learns, therefore, to stand aside and do only what he is told to do. In the process, he begins to look like one of the kids - in need of just as much correction as they are.
And so, like many women, Corneal feels she's married to a "boy," a "man-child." Actually, this nonjoke reveals more about her than it does her husband, and it's not the least bit funny.