The inherent privilege of being a "slacker" mum

Updated Oct 12 2015
Offbeat Home & Life runs these advice questions as an opportunity for our readers to share personal experiences and anecdotes. Readers are responsible for doing their own research before following any advice given here... or anywhere else on the web, for that matter.
Photo by Michelle.
Michelle, the blogger at Crooked Fences recently spent some time pondering the idea of a "slacker" parent — in her definition, this is akin to free-range parenting. She observed that many parents espousing free-range ideas also tend to be white and middle-to-upper class… and that this is a problem:

For 'other' mothers, being perceived as 'slack' let alone shouting it from the rooftops, is a risk they might not be willing to take. In fact, they are more likely to have to work very hard to prove to the world (including their children's teachers, doctors, welfare authorities, courts) that they are a fit parent, let alone a 'good enough' one.

The risks come from many directions, including the real risk of coming under the surveillance of the state or even losing custody of your child, whether that be to the foster care system, the other parent (or grandparent/s) whose standing by virtue of gender/colour/wealth/age may be a real advantage in the family court. (I have personally watched a friend who suffered multiple disadvantages — race, class, disability, single parent — but whose daughter benefited from her extraordinary level of devotion and care lose her child in just this fashion.)

I can afford to be a slacker parent. When I walk into an emergency room with an injured child (as I have many times) I am given the benefit of the doubt by virtue of my class and skin colour. When my child fails to learn to read he is more likely to be diagnosed with a learning disability than be considered simply a lazy or disruptive student. When we run late for school on a regular basis we are viewed as disorganised, even slack, but nobody calls in the truant officer.

You can read the rest at Crooked Fences!

  1. I am on state benefits that help me pay for childcare, as my husband and I barely clear $20k a year combined. Every time I take my daughter to daycare, I am anxious that her clothes are clean, her nails trimmed, her hair washed, that she doesn't have the remnants of breakfast on her face…I am always concerned that the minor chaos that is normal of childhood will be read as neglect, simply because I'm poor.

    • I'm one of those white middle class slacker moms who sends her infant to school in pajamas and breakfast on her face and I never realized what a privilege it is that I can do so without any fear of real consequences. While I'm sure some of the other moms talk about me behind my back, I don't have to worry that someone will think I'm neglecting her. And when she went to school with a cut under her eye (from hitting herself in the face with an oh-so-wholesome wooden toy) no one was concerned.

      I never thought about how obnoxious it is for me to call myself a "slacker mom," knowing full well that my social status will keep anyone from actually picking up the phone to call CPS. I say it mostly to try to fight off the feelings of total inadequacy when I see the parents who do so much more for their kids than I do. I still feel like an asshole every time I line my jars of Gerber up with the other babies' tupperwares full of organic homemade baby food.

      Regardless, I see now that glibly calling myself a "slacker mom" is a huge sign of privilege, and I'm going to try to strike that one from my vocabulary. I can find a way to wallow in my own feelings of parenting inadequacy without putting down other parents.

      • I don't begrudge anyone calling themselves a "slacker mom." I'm in school, and I definitely have my moments where my daughter has to, ahem, have some independent play time so I can get homework done. So I have my slacker tendencies – putting yourself first some of the time is just healthier, both for you and your kid. Plus, I myself am privileged to be in school and be able to see a potential middle class future for my family. I have a car to drive my daughter to a good childcare center, and the tena

    • I know exactly how this feels. Add to being poor, I was a teen mom, so I felt a lot of anxiety about how my children looked and acted and how I acted with them in public. I am just NOW starting to let go of some of the hurtful, shame-making comments made by people and my older son is eighteen years old. Those comments added to my anxiety and the terrified feeling child services would take my children away for not having perfectly clean hands…because it read as neglect to someone else.

      Hugs to you, Laura. You're a wonderful mother. I know it.

  2. Not only in "free-range" parenting. People of color, who are poor, or who suffer from mental illness face pretty severe criticisms for attachment parenting.

      • I'm not sure what Stacy specifically meant, but co-sleeping is one thing that comes to my mind. White parents and parents with money have the privilege of others assuming they have the knowledge/education to co-sleep responsibly, while there's still a stereotype about people of color and low-income people drinking a lot and abusing drugs, which can make co-sleeping risky.

        There's also a snap judgment that comes into play: if a higher-income person tells her friends she's co-sleeping, that's deemed a parenting choice and people think she just likes attachment parenting. If a lower-income person says she's co-sleeping, people often assume it's because of lack of money/resources/room in the house and there's no better option (which may sometimes be true, but the assumption is that lower-income women aren't "really" attachment parenting because they're not using enough "choice").

        • Totally agree with this! I also think that there's a tribal element that plays into the racism, like assuming people of color who co-sleep are trying to hold on to "old" ways from their "home country" rather than civilized crib-sleeping espoused by years of White European society. Whereas, people see my decision, as a white woman, to co-sleep as an informed or even against-the-grain CHOICE.

        • We people of color are often given slack by our own community for attachment parenting. They say we are acting bougie. They say we are "trying to act white" We are seen as "uppity" and pushy by others while it is behavior hat is simply expected of a white middle class mother

  3. I tried to write something about this, but it never came out quite right. This peice is great.

    The other facet of this "movement" that bothers me is that the founder claims that the world is safer now. This is not true. Numbers don't support this at all.

    There was also an Op Ed in the NYT last year that said that if child safety numbers are seemingly better now, it's because of higher awareness to abuse, and fewer parents who let their kids roam free. There aren't fewer "Bad people". There is more awareness of the signs, from parents and kids alike.

    • If there's more awareness of the signs, wouldn't that mean less incidents would go unreported and statistics would artificially increase, not decrease?

      • I was speaking along the lines of preventative measures. For example, parents at the park notice a man hanging around small children and showing signs of predatory behavior, and instead of ignoring it, reporting it. Or another example, teaching children to be wary of strangers instead of to trust all adults.

        • Something like 90% of child sex abuse comes from somebody known to, and trusted by, the family. (Family member, teacher, clergy, friend, doctor, etc.) Children should be taught to be aware that anybody – including their own parents sometimes, sadly – might not have their best interests at heart. Teaching them to be afraid particularly of strangers is potentially destructive. The child learns that if Mummy and Daddy trust this person, then I must as well.
          If you teach kids to respect their own instincts about people, then they will be the ones reporting – and staying away from – that creepy guy in the park. On the other hand what the kids might already know before you do, is that's Jack and Emma's Daddy.

          • This whole thing is very nuanced, because with every specific situation we could bring up, we could also find another anecdote to support the opposite.

            The piece that I still cannot find mentioned that the rates started to go down when parents started to be more aware of the dangers. They were draing connections between higher awareness, like the advent of abuse prevention programs in schools, and lower abduction/violence/abuse rates. So, as parents became more paranoid, and supervised more, the rates went down. I find that connection compelling.

            I agree with what you have to say about teaching kids to not be wary of all strangers and to trust their instincts.

          • So I looked up the actual statistics: 93% of sexual assaults against children under 12 are by non-strangers, 34.2% of those by family members. Abuse by non-strangers was vastly under-reported for decades, and probably still is, so that percentage actually could be higher – although that's only speculation.
            Putting the focus on strangers is a bit like trying to safely cross the road by only watching out for trucks, most people are hit by cars.

    • There is a great book called Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids written by an economics professor at George Mason University. One of his chapters looks at data from 50+ years and he says that even though we hear more about child endangerment, thanks to the 24 hours news cycle and the internet, statistically kids are safer now than they have ever been. The book is a great read and really easy to read, especially since it is written by an economist. You should check it out!

  4. I don't necessarily see "slacker" and "free-range" as synonymous terms. One conjures visions of only doing the minimum expectations of parenting while the other seems like it is a conscious decision to give kids independence and freedom. My parents certainly raised me pretty much free-range, but I'd never call them slackers nor have they called themselves such.

  5. wonderful piece!

    as a foster parent, i sometimes think about this when a particular aspect of my parenting is either less than ideal or perfectly good but unusual: their mother would get hell for this, because she's already under the microscope, but at worst i might get a small judgmental look or an eye-roll. and more often than not it's more positive, like a laugh or sympathetic smile or even some commentary on how more parents should _____ like us (usually either a comment on the positive qualities of being more lax or more strict, because we are definitely both).

  6. Free range parenting is NOT the same as being a slacker. It's about giving kids responsibility and independence based on their age and maturity and not living in constant fear of some nebulous threat.

    To the person who said that the numbers don't support the idea that the world is safer now, I encourage you to go to the Free Range Kids website and click on the "Reassuring crime statistics" link on the right side of the page. There's a lot of good information there.

    • I have read that website, and have seen statistics that support the exact opposite of what she's trying to say. I have tried and tried to find that op ed that had statistics to support the opposite of the Free Range author, and can't find it again. Which drives me insane, because all I'm trying to say is that statistics are useless in the end because what's true for you can be supported by some numbers, and what's true for me can be supported by others. We all just have to parent the best way we can, "free range" or "slacker" or whatever.

    • I think people who choose the term "slacker parenting" are using it as a direct attack on the idea that being a parent, and especially a mother, should be your primary identity, and that which your efforts are primarily focused toward, i.e. it's a rejection of the ideal of the "supermom", not a declaration that "I do only the bare minimum for my kids."

      In effect, while it's not synonymous with being free-range (you could, in theory, be a "slacker parent" without being a "free range parent" and vice versa), I would say that there's a large percentage of overlap between the two groups.

      • The phrase I remember my mum – who worked with CPS, and is/was a parenting teacher – using admiringly when my daughter was younger was "benign neglect." (Of course, that has That Word.) In other words, I'd make sure she was safe and then let her get on with it.
        Which is not what I'd equate with being a "slacker" (although sometimes…) Making sure your child is dressed before he leaves the house might involve a tutu and wellies because he picked his own clothes, it doesn't mean wearing the same thing they've been wearing since yesterday because mum didn't do laundry (although sometimes…)

  7. A couple of thoughts, the first being that while I have never heard the term 'slacker' parenting before I could not equate that with Free Range. Slacker seems to suggest that you aren't doing things you should be doing – a slacker student, a slacker worker – it all conjures up visions of someone who can do more, but can't be arsed to do so.

    Free Range (or, what to be honest I consider common sense parenting – it just has a trendy name right now) parenting is making a conscious decision to educate your children and then to follow that learning with freedom and independence that allows them to explore by themselves with a base knowledge of what they need to know. It's giving them the tools to make their own smart decisions rather than hovering close at hand and making those decisions for them.

    That said, when I read the original article I think many of her comments have good points. I think there is a certain amount of privilege that allows me as a white, middle class, master degree holding, professional woman leeway in how I make those decisions. While much of what I think is important was shaped by how my parents chose to raise me – with freedom! – I can also talk about child development and educational philosophies alongside why I make those choices.

    I think the original author makes very good points regarding the constructs of community in the ability to be Free Range. This is part of the reason why walkable urban neighborhoods and neighborhoods that foster community rather than isolate are so hugely important in my opinion.

    I also agree that worrying about or being aware of difficulties your children have isn't neurosis. I dislike articles about parenting that treat it that way.

    Ultimately in our quest to keep children from neglect and abuse (a good thing) we have occasionally come to equate 'parenting different from how I would parent' as neglect and abuse. But all of these choices (as someone above pointed out with the attachment parenting) are more likely to be viewed as abusive if you are a parent who is living in a place of challenges whether linguistic, cultural, or socioeconomic and I do appreciate the idea that we should be aware of that particularly as it educates our conversations with and judgements of other mothers and as we hold discourse about and shape when and how the government gets involved in family life.

  8. Love this! Free range parenting is also a lot easier if you're neighborhood is generally safe and you can rely on police officers to protect, not harm, your children. Or, for poc living in a predominately white neighborhoods, you can trust that your neighbors will recognize your kid as a kid and not an intruder or threat.

    • Agreed! My neighborhood is over 50% composed of people from outside the United States, particularly China (we live in the US). Kids play outside all the time! When the weather is warm, there are always big groups of kids riding their bikes, running around, etc, and lots of grandmas (it seems to be almost exclusively the grandmas) keeping an eye on them. I would feel completely safe letting my daughter spend hours playing outside with the other kids in our neighborhood when she's old enough, mainly because the community views this as normal.

  9. Yesterday I let my son (14 months) eat some triscuits off the floor and play in our recycling box, because I consider myself a laid-back mama (maybe in-between slacker and free-range?) and just cannot monitor everything he does 24/7. I was cooking dinner and was just glad he ate a triscuit and not the dog's food. I keep an eye on him, but this article reminds me of what a privilege it is to have this attitude. If I had been trying to pass a homestudy would the social worker judge me for that parenting choice?

  10. This is true. I am white, but I'm a disabled single teen mom and I live in poverty (and on welfare, since I can't work right now…). Whenever someone comes over and the house isn't spotless (Not moldy and dangerous, but toddler-messy), I panic! I can't tell you how many times I've heard "Are you sure you can take care of yourself?". Likewise, when I go to the doctors, Caseworker, etc, I make sure we're impeccably dressed. The few times I've taken my son to the emergency room have been horribly nerve wracking!

    • Ugh, this is so horrible. I'm sorry. I'm on state benefits and, as I said above, I feel so anxious whenever my daughter goes to daycare looking less than perfect, or with a runny nose or something. If it's any consolation, EVERYONE'S house is messy when they have a toddler! You sound like you're doing your best, which is all any of us can do. Those us living at or below the poverty level need SUPPORT, not supervision!

    • I think it depends a lot on the child as well. Some kids, you can let them play outside and know that they won't go beyond set boundaries (for example) and other kids have to be watched more closely.

  11. Thanks for this! I 'am' a social worker, and like anyone, I'm a blend of my own background, education, choices, life experiences etc. And seeing something like this reminds me…and all of us…. to not look at everything from one narrow standard.

  12. I'm sorry but I have to say it. THANK GOD I DON'T LIVE IN THE US. Here in Mexico all those "slacker" attitudes are totally fine, that is the way most of our kids are raised and I have yet to know one that is not a good and happy kid.

    Most moms I know work and most kids are "dirty" but they eat their vegetables, they barely get sick and they get cuts and bruises as any kid. No one thinks anything of it.

    I'm also happy because I'm having a boy in june and I know he is going to be a little devil and I can't wait to see him play in the rain as I did when I was little and here I am, alive, healty and succesful enough 😀

    I hope it gets better there, kids deserve to be kids and parents deserve to be more than parents.

    • Unfortunately, it's a double edge sword here, based on the trends discussed further up the thread. Parents are forced to closely monitor their children constantly, because if god(s) forbid something happens, then you'll get cries of "but where were the parents??!!?1!" The flip side of course, is an increase in sedentary lifestyles.

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.