One particularly interesting, troubling, and recurrent depiction of mental illness in pop culture comes up in the handling of of mentally ill or cognitively impaired parents, where the traditional parent/child roles are reversed to advance a storyline. It is notable that this often involves a mentally ill mother, to underscore the idea that the parent is somehow failing at social obligations as a result of mental illness—mothers are for mothering, not for being ill, after all.
So many works of pop culture include some variation of this storyline; mother slips with a knife in the kitchen, mother lies in bed and won't move, mother becomes irrational and erratic, sometimes, in an extreme case, mother succeeds at a suicide attempt or kills a child. Father carts her off to the hospital and there is much somber discussion before he returns, alone. Visits are promised but never occur. Sometimes mother is ushered offstage at this point, never to appear again. Sometimes she comes back after her time away, a fragile version of herself whom everyone must tiptoe around.
Abusive parents are a real problem in the real world. I know more than a few people who upon seeing this movie connected Goethel's behavior with that of their own parents, and took it as a cue to reassess their relationships. And because of that I think that this film, despite its flaws, has accomplished something good. It represented a real issue in a way that doesn't soft-pedal it, which is more than a lot of children's media dare to do. So hats off to Tangled, a fitting coda to an impressive media legacy.
As a childfree person, I feel like I often have to defend against the stereotype that childfree people hate children. Based on the comments from my last post about being a childfree person who actually likes kids, it's clear that this still surprises people, no matter how many nice intentionally childless folks they meet. Since I'm also vegan, I'm sort of used to people acting surprised when I say that no, I don't care what you eat, and no, I don't care if you have kids. I get that I'm making two non-normative choices, but I also get why both make people defensive: Because these sorts of choices in particular come with the implication, however incorrect, that my behavior alone casts subjective judgment on that of others. But why are some childfree people overtly nasty and others not? In my case, there's a story behind it.
Last week, Time published "Kid Crazy: Why We Exaggerate the Joys of Parenthood." This piece focuses on studies from the journal Psychological Science about parenting, and the take-away is the same as the New York article (so much so that it's mentioned in Time): childfree couples are happier, parents have it rough, and those who think they don't are sort of delusional. ("Delusional" is not my word, by the way; that's from the meta title Time chose for the article on their website and one tossed around in the article, based on the study findings.)
Some women I've written about before, celebs like Jennifer Aniston, sidestep the issue all the time instead of owning their ambivalence (or however they feel! Just own it!). Barbara Walters and Oprah talked about how it is a difficult thing. So why don't we hear more women talking about the flip side of having kids—or rather, why don't we have more proud childfree role models out there?
Oprah and Babs talk about how tough it is to have kids as a working woman—or in Oprah's case, the unambiguous lack of regret in regards to opting out. Skip to 7:30 in the video, where the discussion about having kids starts. Transcript after the jump.