The Parenting Panopticon

Mothers have long suffered under an oppressive culture that purports to make their lives simpler, easier, more fulfilling for them and their children (to be clear, this is just one of the many oppressive cultures smothering mothers). Disguised as “engaging” or “educational” or “edutainment” or “healthy” or “stimulating” or whatever, these preselected, prepackaged, preplanned activities and kits too often reinforce a person’s sense of failure because they encourage a model of mothering that many mothers don’t have the time or energy or resources to realize. It’s sort of the motherhood version of what too many women experience at the hands of the fashion industry: idolizing a fictional image of beauty. And like that fashion-industry inspired image of beauty, the image of the ideal mother is internalized and becomes of mechanism of self-policing.

In a twisted sense of equality, the parenting industry has begun to realize that it can exercise similar influence on today’s father. Fathering websites and magazines are springing up with increasing frequency. They prepackage, preselect, preplan activities, games, outings, and explain how much fun you will have doing these things with your kids. What counts as being a father and fathering is increasingly shaped by these sites and magazines. We see photos of fathers fashionably attired in stylishly decorated rooms sharing “ah-ha” moments with their child, or photos of fathers and children both outfitted in the finest of pseudo-rugged clothing bonding in idyllic settings.

Parents are like prisoners in Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon. Constantly on view and at risk of being judged, parents have internalized the norms and behaviors idealized on the pages of parenting magazines and websites. We are now all holding ourselves up to fictions and judging ourselves failures when we don’t attain them.

Welcome to the Parenting Panopticon.