Do you put the needs of your children at the forefront of your family? Always? Even when those needs conflict with your own needs or the needs of your spouse?
A new book contends that not putting a child's needs first is akin to prejudice against children in the same way that physically abusing a child is. The book, "Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children," written by the late psychoanalyst and scholar Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, takes a close look at how children are treated within the family unit from a historical perspective, and what this has meant for society as a whole.
According to Young-Bruehl, childism — or the widespread but unfounded belief in the inferiority of children — traces its roots to the 1960s, when parents began to see their children as unruly and in need of controlling. Young-Bruehl argues that as it has flourished, it has damaged generations of children who were raised to feel contempt and dislike from grownups. This childism then legitimates and rationalizes a myriad of acts and behaviors that are not “in the best interests of children.”
From the book: "It seems a very simple matter intellectually to distinguish between acts that harm children or fail to meet their basic needs and the attitudes, idea, or prejudices that rationalize such acts." The tenet of "Childism" is that fighting this prejudice against children is as important as fighting racism, sexism or homophobia.
Young-Bruehl's research is as comprehensive as it is confounding. Her historical analysis of the role of children within the family unit is fascinating. And woven into this history are case studies that make the case for listening to children — particularly those who might otherwise feel invisible.
Another good quote from the book: "A key realization to understanding childism has been missing: the idea that children worldwide are a target group. A target group is one whose members share characteristics and conditions that those prejudiced against them seize on and distort for their own purposes."
I understand the point that Young-Bruehl is making about child abuse and neglect stemming from a greater prejudice against children — viewing them as unworthy or inferior. But I have to admit that she lost me when she remarked that every time parents do not “make paramount or prioritize the needs of their children over their own needs — the needs of future adults over the needs of present adults,” they are being childist.
In Young-Bruehl's view, abusing a child is childist, but so is assigning too much homework or setting too strict of a curfew. A mother who pushes her child to do well in school is as guilty of childism as one who takes a moment for some "me-time" with friends.
It's worth noting that Young-Bruehl called the Tiger Mom a “full-scale obsessional-narcissistic” childist.
I see the point that Young-Bruehl is trying to make with this book. And I agree with her whole-heartedly that we, as a society, and even as individual parents, tend to be guilty of sweeping the needs of children under the rug when they conflict with our own. Yes, it's important to take a child's needs into account when making decisions, but why should a child's needs automatically trump everyone else's?
In my family, everybody gets a say in how things are done, but nobody gets to put their own needs in front of anyone else. Not me. Not my husband. And not my kids. That's just how we roll.
Am I a childist? You tell me.