The joy and agony of parenting: Readers respond to "Gods and Monsters" and "Will She Be My Daughter?"

By Salon Staff
Published July 15, 2003 8:22PM (EDT)

[Read "Gods and Monsters," by Marion Winik.]

Marion, thank you! I have a beautiful daughter, 18, who's going off to college (not a moment too soon, she's just too superior), a stepson, 16, who's handsome and charming and sneaky and obnoxious, and a 4-year-old, who, although she is absolutely the light of my life, has been a very difficult child.

Most of the women I know either had their children when they were young, or didn't have any at all. None of my close friends understand how tough it is to switch from teenager to toddler mode, or stay in both, for hours at a time. (Now that it's summer and everyone's home for extended periods, it's much worse.) I had begun to think that it was just me, that I had no coping skills, that I was not trying hard enough, etc. Thanks for documenting the difficulties of surviving different age groups in one family of children.

-- Brenda Kyzer

I can't believe how moved I was by Marion Winik's essay on her experience of raising multiple generations of children simultaneously.

I have such clear memories of my own efforts to shrug off my parents' love, as if it were a dirty sweatshirt. And suddenly, as Marion predicts, I turned a corner and found a lovely and warm relationship with Mom and Dad.

I'm now at the stage of hoping for my own children. Right now my vision doesn't extend much past the potential of pregnancy and the "terrible twos." Marion's essay was a beautiful and frightening vision of what may be to come.

Thank you.

-- Elizabeth Gray Quan

Thank you for the fantastic article by Marion Winik. As a 30-year-old man, it is understandably difficult for me to imagine either the joy or the vulnerability of motherhood. Winik helped me to see both, and the juxtaposition in her own life is a very compelling read.

More than that, it offers one of those rare instances where the mind's door opens, and an entirely different perspective can be seen for the first time.

-- Greg

Great story from Marion Winik. She perfectly captures the unique angst that comes from mothering a teenager. It's a lonely club and very seldom are you lucky enough to meet a mother of a teenager who will tell the truth about what it's like when you are in the trenches. I found that everyone was more than generous to share potty-training tips and how to get into preschool advice. But somewhere from the age of 13-18, there's a void of helpful information. The passing down of advice ceases with How to Teach Your Teen to Drive. It reminds me of childbirth and how women would smile at my questions and say, "Don't worry, you forget about the pain." As if.

The difference between us and our mothers is that we take it all so personally. Our mothers took neither credit nor blame for our behavior. I think they were on to something! Kudos to Winik for spilling the painful truth and giving such a personal look into her life. Good thing there is a forum like Salon where you can read essays like this one. A woman's magazine would never publish such painful truths.

-- Carolyn Mason

Marion Winik is a lovely and moving writer, but I don't think "Fuck you, dirty bitch," is normal. I really don't. I'm sure I was mean to my parents. I know I was. But if I had ever said "Fuck you, dirty bitch" to my mother I would have seen my life flash before my eyes. I'm sure we all would have recovered to the happy place that Winik ruminates over in the final paragraphs of her touching piece. But there would have been no mumbled apologies. There would have been payment -- never of the flesh, not ever -- but I would have known what I'd done. I would have known. Her son needs to know.

-- Sarah Cavill

As a monther of a 3-month-old son, my first, I know the incredible joy of falling in love with your baby. But what I can't understand is why the author tolerates her teenage sons' treatment of her. I know that teenagers are pretty much guaranteed to be sullen, withdrawn and mortified by their parents. I was. But I would never have called my mother names like that. There was a boundary there and I did not cross it. My parents were not punitive, but I knew that they weren't doormats and that I ultimately depended on them. I think you can love your kids and give them room to individuate, to battle their adolescent demons, but still demand and receive a basic level of respect from them. Just because your teenagers want to treat you like crap doesn't mean it's important to their development that you let them.

-- M. Walker

[Read "Will She Be My Daughter?" by Jon Lowry.]

Please, please, please keep us posted on what happens with Gina. I hope it's a happy ending. I'm sure I speak for many Salon readers when I say that our thoughts are with you and your family. Best of luck, and keep adoring that little girl!

-- Amy

Thanks to Jon Lowry for his heartfelt piece on Gina. As a social worker, I was gratified to read an article that depicts an understanding of the untenable bind that the law often places child welfare professionals in. Too often we are depicted as monsters, willfully removing children on the basis of shaky evidence or, more often, failing to remove children from horribly abusive or negligent parents, and then thoughtlessly re-placing them with the parents who abused them initially. The real culprit is the law, and a relentlessly conservative Congress that, in the name of "pro-family" values, has so constricted the meaning of the term "family" that it often takes a near-death experience for the child before termination of parental rights will even be considered.

I hope that Mr. Lowry will write Salon and let readers know how this situation was resolved for Gina and the respective families involved.

-- Alice Lieberman

This story is painful and heartbreaking when it shouldn't be. Gina has (foster) parents who love her and want to guide her through life in a happy home, which is something her birth mother has not demonstrated she can do. I am appalled by the courts' preference to return a child to his or her biological family even when they have been proven to be dangerous to the child. This foster family has everything to give Gina, which is primarily a solid family life, but the courts are leaning toward keeping her with her abusive mother. Why? How many chances should this woman get? Why favor the abuser over the victim? Gina is 4 years old and deserves to be with people who love and nurture her. Who cares if they're biological or not? This family is ideal for her and could raise her as the loved daughter she never was with her own mother. Why make it any more complicated than that? These people are healthy, loving parents whom she obviously loves back. Who needs to know more?

Case closed.

-- Angela Schaffner

Fortunately for my family, my son's birth mom's parental rights were just about terminated before he came to live with us. He was with us for a month when a short hearing was held. Birth mom did not show up, nor anyone from her family. The whole matter took less than 10 minutes. The ruling was immediate and final. She was no longer his parent.

When he was 2 and a half, my son's birth mom dropped him off with a friend and never came back. The friend took care of him for a few days and then called authorities. She never called, came to a hearing or gave any indication at all that she was interested in parenting him.

When I tell people this, they are shocked that her behavior could be so decisive. But that was the best decision she made. Our family is not struggling with issues of "will she be able to parent, will she not" This allowed my son to fly through the foster care system and into my arms forever.

I have nothing but love for her. She gave me the greatest gift, my son. And I can only imagine the struggles she is enduring. From what my son's records indicate, she was dealing with a crippling drug addiction and was living on the streets. I don't even know if she is still alive. I thank her every day for making a good decision by leaving my son with a responsible friend and by making the difficult decision to stay out of his life forever. In so doing, she started him on a path he would have never encountered any other way.

I am deeply touched by this article. I do believe that people are capable of permanent, positive change, but that can take a while, sometimes many years. You can't ask kids, who can't even imagine when next Christmas will come, to wait years for their parents to get it together. Kids don't have that kind of time. Kids like Gina need it now.

-- Maryanne

Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------