It all started with a tweet on my timeline:
||“14 years of being a parent today without ever writing on parenting. Surely this counts as a small personal triumph.”
The reason I found this tweet intriguing was because the said tweeter had, till just over a year ago, written extensively on parenting on a rather popular news website. Yes, right from top ten tips for travelling with children to Baby Bores to teaching kids how to fail, or perils of calling your daughter pretty, men who don’t do diapers, co-sleeping, family rituals, the whole hog.
Why, then, was she denying it? Was it something she was not proud of?
She further qualified the tweet by saying:
“I don’t mean to sound snobbish. Just find writing about it dull. Writing is my escape.”
Yes, I know. In an ideal world, everyone would be writing about books. Which brings me to the larger point. Why is writing on parenting considered a lowly form of journalism as compared to say, writing on food or home décor or travel, which are equally mundane?
Is it because parenting writers by default, end up talking a lot about themselves, their children, and are therefore, narcissistic?
Is it dull because there’s no room for voyeurism as opposed to a single-in the-city column that talks about sex, lies and more sex?
Is it because ever since parenting and pregnancy have been in vogue, a lot of ‘not real journalists’ are writing about it, and to add to the peeve of the ‘real journalists’, are doing a great job, thereby taking a share of the writing pie?
Is it because parenting as a subject allows you to be naked about your emotions, a nudity that is a tad discomfiting?
Is it because parenting is perceived as mundane, as opposed to say elections or politics or Sachin Tendulkar or the judiciary?
It is because the personal essay doesn’t hold a place of merit in highly upheld genres of writing?
Or is it the notion that almost anyone can write about parenting (just like anyone can be a parent); it does not establish domain expertise or in-depth subject knowledge, nothing to make you believe that the writer is qualified to write it. As opposed to say, having gone to culinary school or film school?
So on one hand, we have become a nation of over-sharing and sentimentality and on the other, there’s an increased vilification of people who write on parenting. My fellow parenting writer Natasha felt there was a special sub-genre of hatred reserved for those who write loving, celebratory stuff. Women who make motherhood a part of their identity top it all. It’s as though if you must write on parenting, write about angst and resentment of all that’s wrong with modern day parents and children.
I think it is often assumed that now that you are writing about ‘softer’ stuff, you don’t necessarily have to write for a living, which means your credibility as a beat expert is somewhat diminished.
Or is it considered unworthy because it is feminine?
Surprisingly, the only Indian male voice on parenting that comes to my mind is Soumya Bhattacharya’s column Dad’s the word (now a book) , which I hugely enjoyed and looked forward to. This was six years ago. Since then, I haven’t read too many Indian men on parenting in mainstream media, although there are a few voices on the blogosphere. Although men writing about parenting is still considered cool (as long as they are also writing on other things of course)
I guess I did it all wrong. From someone who wrote on popular culture, the movies, gender, food, city, dating, travel, lifestyle, and some, I became the person who wrote a “mommy blog” and a column on parenting. I sealed it by writing a book on pregnancy and fully intend to follow it up with one on parenting.
When you write about books or travel or sport there’s an underlying implication that you enjoy it. But then, we don’t have the luxury of enjoying parenting, because what kind of loser enjoys the most dreary job in the whole world? Whose greatest side effect is that it allows the softer, feminine you to overtake the rational, masculine you. That it allows you to see the whole in broken bits and smile at frivolities.
A friend I met recently wanted to know if I was writing a book soon. I told him I just wrote one on pregnancy. “I mean a real book,” he said. Another friend accused me of using facts as crutches. He genuinely wants me to move from the first person narrative, as he believes I can do more. But I am not done yet, I told him.
It is like they are hoping you will soon be rid of this ‘writing on parenting’ bug and move on to writing other ‘real’ stuff. They look at you as if you have taken the easy way out, over-extending the shelf life of your maternal instincts. They thought I would use my new turf in a movie magazine to obliterate the reams of writing on motherhood that I had done. Some wait for a sizzling piece of fiction. Or a crime thriller. Or something. Anything other than soppy sentimentality.
We are all hit by a bus when we turn parents and we are all learning as we go. For some of us, writing is believing. Writing also helps dilute, embellish, smoothen, art-direct, edit, and make muffins sound better than the rocks they turn out to be sometimes. A lot of mothers and quite a few fathers live-tweet their children and some of them do it with great perspective. Although there is a thin line between honesty and calibrated honesty.
As we spend weeks, months and years with our kids, we start realizing that we need a new vocabulary. Some of us, who have always written, begin articulating our thoughts on parenting or motherhood, which sometimes results in things more cerebral than “Look, my daughter is into 12-word sentences!”
I never felt writing about parenting decimated the larger writer in me, but I can say for sure that it makes me look at every other genre of writing in a new way. And that cannot be a bad thing.
But every time women make observations about the sense of purpose and fulfillment they experience from being mothers, feminists somehow reach for the panic button. But then my question is, isn’t feminism about choice really? Why are we judged when we put ourselves out? When we neutralize rationality, when we feel the need to write about what we think and how we feel? Why is it more sanctimonious to write a distant, third person piece about gender issues but not okay to write about following the moon or chasing butterflies or watching the lilies bloom or baking banana and chocolate chip muffins ?