I think I’ve mentioned my deep and abiding loathing for checklists before, usually in the context of the “mommy wars” crap: “I babywear and EC and homebirth and no-vax, and (only) if you do all those things I can be friends with you”, etc. Hate. It. I mean, I could rattle off a checklist that would win me most crunchy/AP pissing contests, but really, what does that tell you about who I am, or even how I parent? Almost nothing. I know a lot of women who wouldn’t fair near so well on such a checklist comparison, but are definitely better, more patient parents than I am.
The topic of checklists came up for me again today, in the context of how much we want our kids to be like us when they grow up. And I thought about my conflicts with my own mother over some choices I’ve made in my life, different choices than she would have made, and the conflicts almost inevitably came up when we were focusing on the specifics — the checklist — rather than on the underlying values that the choices reflect. When we did look past the specifics down to what made me make the choices in the first place, we inevitably found common ground that had gotten obscured by the superficial differences.
And that’s the thing: I loathe checklists, I find them close to or worse than useless in discovering any truths about another person, but that isn’t the same as saying that what we do doesn’t matter. What we do, the choices we make, do matter, but I care far more about the process of how decisions are made and the values they reflect than I do about the end specifics. Processes and values are only so, so loosely reflected in checklists, which are all about the end specifics; they are shadows only, if that, especially when there are so many forces outside of our control acting to limit and shape and constrain and dictate what choices we even have available to us.
But I can’t just say that our choices don’t matter, because I do care about the values: I find that I’m going to get along best with other parents who care about attachment with their children, and who care about the environment, and want to teach equality and empathy to their children, and who try to live both authentically and joyfully. And I want the Boychick to grow up valuing justice and social responsibility and simple living and creativity. I think attachment parenting/biologically appropriate parenting and environmentalism and feminism/anti-kyriarchy are inherently good things, things I am passionate about, things I will promote and defend and that I think are worth investing in, and I’m not going to write them off in the name of being “tolerant”, or “unjudgmental”, or what-have-you.
But there are so many ways that those values can be reflected in one’s life, and so many ways life can interfere with their enactment, that a checklist is of so little value in figuring out what a person’s actual beliefs are. And even when there are differences in the beliefs, there is almost always some commonality that can be found once we stop going down our checklists and start actually seeing the person in front of us.
I find it’s hard to remember that sometimes, because the end result, the specifics, are what we outwardly present to the world, and it’s so tempting to use them as short hand, both with our friends and our kids: “she breastfeeds, check, he made it into a good college, check, they use a baby bucket, fail, she wants to be a cheerleader, fail.” No. The real stories will usually surprise those who rely on the external checklists, and they will always be more interesting and revealing. If you want to really know a person, know whether they might be a good friend for you, whether you should be proud of this person you helped raise, toss out the checklists and prepare to spend some time actually listening.
Of course, the kyriarchy doesn’t want us to do that. No, patriarchy and consumerism and racism train us and encourage us and try to force us to focus only on the superficialities: the color of skin, the bits between our legs, the cars we (don’t) drive and products we (don’t) buy. They create the checklists, and make us create our own checklists, and try to ensure we never go beyond them, never dig deeper, never make real connections with other real people.
So destroy the kyriarchy: throw out the checklists. Take the time to look past them. It’ll be worth it. And it’ll be revolutionary.