Watching the winter Olympics is always a special joy for me. I grew up in lake-effect-snowbound northern New York State, and the winter games were a positive take on lasting mountains of snow - inspiring me to get out in it and play. The NBC coverage of the 2010 Winter Olympics, however, has convinced me to finally go TIVO.
I read that NBC was struggling to find advertisers for the Olympic coverage, and perhaps that explains some of the glaring absences in the sponsorship. One: lack of any promoters of healthy foods or sports products. Two: No depictions of any people living lives focused on anything besides the nuclear family. All advertising is hyper-focused on children and parenthood.
The juxtaposition of commercials - images of top athletes drinking Coca-cola and wolfing down McDonalds, interspersed with plugs for Ron Howard's new series Parenthood - seem surreal at times. In addition, the Parenthood clips showcase the worst cliches. For example, a young father is talking with an older man, possibly his brother or father. The younger man asks,"But, what if I don't bond with the baby?" (Good question!) The older man looks down his nose with a patronizing smile and says, "When it's yours, you will."
Judging by our forums, parents often confront childfree people with the same statement. And, the concern is valid! It is a carefully hidden fact of life in the current baby crazy media, but not everyone bonds with their children. My father is a case in point, openly admitting he didn't appreciate his kids until they were grown and out of the house.
Of course, portraying such complexities is not the goal of the Olympics or it's advertisers. Still, the advertising is notable for what is excluded, for example, any view of diversity in American lifestyles. In fact, several disturbing NBC news segments of interviews with male figure skaters show them desperately scrambling to align their sexuality firmly with the straight majority. To me, these news clips, in conjunction with ads juxtaposing gorgeous images of healthy athletes and lush Vancouver landscapes with junk food and the cloying Parenthood clips, add up to a truly ironic and dystopic vision of contemporary American values.
At Salon.com, Pamela Tsigdinos, author of Silent Sorority, laments the "neo-momminess" movement and and its zealous rejection of diversity. (1) Tsigdinos observes the strident tones in which women connected with this movement reject feminism and embrace stay-at-home motherhood as the only viable reality for a woman, and further suggests that the neo-moms are "protesting too much" in disparaging other choices.
Perhaps, dismayed by continuing disparities in the workplace these women ran back to the home and now find the stresses and strains of parenthood a little unsettling. Pushing for cultural conformity may be an effective means of denying their anxiety, insecurity and confusion about the role of women in society. In any movement pushing cultural conformity, the crusading group must view the word myopically. Hence, the trend of neo-moms to ignore, deride and marginalize those with opposing ideas.
And, clearly the intent of the Olympics advertisers is to tightly align the concept of parenthood with health - the aggressively robust and competitive healthiness of elite athletes - and through glaring omission and denial, to align any other lifestyle choice with pathology.
In reality, parenthood is not the key to ultimate mental and physical health. A study from Florida State and Vanderbilt University offers an entirely different point of view. The study, by professors Robin Simon and Ranae Evenson, found that over a lifetime parents have significantly higher levels of depression and anxiety than adults who do not have children - thoroughly debunking the idea that childbirth and parenthood are the keys to ideal happiness, health, and fulfillment. (2)
And, when Ron Howard (the ultimate childhood actor playing Opie in the 1960's Andy Griffith Show) pushes his Parenthood series, he should remember what made the wonderful Andy Griffith Show so endearing and enduring: a sense of community. There are plenty of kid characters on the show, but what is appealing is the depiction of a community coming together to support ALL its members: the quirky police officers, the town drunk, the unmarried childless aunt, the singles, the couples, the young, the elderly.
What is disturbing to me about shows like Parenthood, and the neo-moms movement, is not the focus on children and childhood, but on the nuclear family as an insular unit - isolated from any sense of larger community - and appearing smug about being solitary!
In the university study, the authors bemoan the isolationist tendencies of the American family stating, "It takes a village to raise a child, but in the United States, parents don't necessarily have community support or help from extended family. 'It's how we do parenting in this society,' Simon said. 'We do it in a very isolated way and the onus is on us as individuals to get it right. Our successes are our own, but so are our failures. It's emotionally draining.' "(2)
Ultimately, the ability to connect with community is healthy and necessary to our survival as a species. As new conservative movements like the neo-moms seek to reject feminism and other values connected with the 60's, I hope open-mindedness and the cooperative spirit of community don't get tossed out with the bathwater - to everyone's eventual detriment.
I also think it's time to give up one-upswomanship and snarky attempts to exclude childfree and childless people from the everyday pulse and beat of the culture by implying the lifestyle is unhealthy. And really, in times when human population is sky-rocketing, the earth is stressed to the point of crisis - war and hostility on the rise - choosing not to have kids is an un-selfish act and an exceedingly healthy choice.
1) Pamela Tsigdinos, "40 Years After Rossi, Mommies Propagate Prejudice"
2) Simon and Evenson, "Depression Might be a Lifelong Parent Trap"