Back to School and Child Shaming

Back to School and Child Shaming September 5, 2017

It’s that time of the year again: Back to School. And with this season comes the inevitable deluge of parenting memes from mommy bloggers, parenting cartoonists, and confessional writers rejoicing that AT LONG LAST, exhausted parents can get a break from the kids as they go back to school.

But it’s not just this time of the year. All year round, parenting online/offline spaces are filled with little jabs here and there, jokes about how diaper blow outs are gross, how annoying toddler tantrums are, how obnoxious teenager can be, and they get shared and retweeted and pinned because they are RELATABLE. It connects vulnerably with real experiences of parents, but mostly mothers, because women still bear the disproportionate burden of childcare in society.

parenting memes


Because of this, our conversation on child liberation, extending equal human rights to children, fighting the oppression of childism, often ends up enmeshed with the conversation on feminism. Ensuring we meet the needs of children seems to conflict with the goals of liberation for women. After all, can the primary caretaker, most likely a woman, be responsible for breastfeeding, diaper changes, late night sleep needs, juggling multiple children, scheduling appointments, chauffeuring, shopping, cooking, cleaning, repeating the cycle day in and day out be expected to not make at least one cathartic joke about kids going back to school? Humor is a powerful act of self-care.

If you have made a joke(s) or shared a funny meme about how you’re more than ready for the kids to go back to school, it doesn’t mean you don’t love your kids. There is a collective knowing that all parents love their children. And it is this unilateral assumption that gives permission to let out a little steam, to laugh/cry together for self care, so we can better love the children with some restored sanity.

But children are people too.

There is a rule that to make good comedy is to punch up and not down. The question we need to be asking is whether the cathartic relief of parents sharing humor with one another one that is made at the expense of children. Does it disrespect the humanity of children and take advantage of their vulnerability. And they are vulnerable because they don’t get to give consent on whether you joke about them on Facebook. They may not be verbal enough to tell you how these jokes make them feel. They may not be literate yet to read the harmful words spoken about them. It’s the equivalent of making fun of someone in a language they don’t know—it is unkind.

The problem arises when advocating for the full humanity of children (in the form of asking parents to stop telling punch-down joke about kids) is seen as a threat to feminism. If the liberation of one group of people (women) requires that we oppress another group (children), then it’s not true liberation. Learning to extend equal regard to children is integrally bound to women’s liberation.

Practical theologian, Joyce Anne Mercer says this, “…advocacy for the full humanity of women cannot happen apart from advocacy for children.”

What does it look like practically? What is “okay” and “not okay” to joke about? This question is similar to people who critique art and satire—it’s subjective and much of it may lie in grey areas. Is sharing celebratory back-to-school memes considered an act of oppression to children? I would say one small rant in and of itself is not harmful or hurtful. But because of the share-able social media culture, with all the likes and retweets and the cathartic relief that come from collective resonance, the cumulative effect contributes to an anti-child culture. In that way, yes I do believe it is oppressive and extends less dignity to children rather than more.

But perhaps the more important question we should be asking rather than analyzing funny memes, is how do we advocate for women’s liberation in a way that also lifts up children? If women can share their emotional and physical labor equitably in the home, have adequate paid maternal leave, opportunities to pursue dreams and hobbies, access to affordable childcare—would there even be a need for catharsis through memes? And if not, then let’s not spend energy berating the sharing of the memes, which is merely the symptom of the problem, let’s tackle the inequities of patriarchy—men, women, genderqueer, and children.

Punch up with ferocity, so women and children can rise together.

Get a free download of a Christian parenting manifesto that helps us guide children into healthy spirituality + a guide on How to Raise a Feminist Son + the most helpful parenting resources with progressive values.

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