Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Does parenthood change the way you see news?

I will miss work. I'll still read the paper every day, as I have since at least high school, and I will certainly miss my colleagues. But it's definitely time for me to stop.

Last night, we had a discussion over whether to use a rather graphic image of an emaciated, naked African child at a hospital, to illustrate a story about famine. The worst thing is that it's basically a man-fueled famine. According to The NYT, an Islamist group is blocking starving people from fleeing Somalia, as well as forcing out Western aid organizations trying to bring in food.

The majority sentiment at work was that we should not pull our punches if we're going to report bad news -- famine happens; this is what it really looks like; and our job is to choose the most impactful presentation to force people to think outside their complacent daily lives.

A few of us balked briefly at the image, though nobody suggested pulling it outright. The division was not along lines of background, age or gender -- but along parental lines. The one person who said something is a parent. As for me, I'm an expectant mother. (But I didn't say much since I wasn't on page 1 duty and it wasn't my call to make).

Warning: The image below is probably not one you want to look at over your morning Corn Flakes.  I kept the file small on purpose. (Click to enlarge)

I wonder if there is something to Gweipo's comment below, that becoming a parent makes you look at tragedy in a different way. That's not to say that those who are not parents are  heartless or numb to the news -- all of us are rightfully upset when we see something terrible. But maybe going home to your own children every night makes you look at other people's children differently.

I had a strange experience last night. My right hand was on the mouse, clicking through images of other people's starving babies on my computer screen, while my left hand rested on my belly, where I could feel my own baby, healthy and moving and kicking. Half of my mind was on the technicalities of getting the paper out, and the other half was thinking about the fact that, within a few weeks, I would be feeding and loving my own child, who would have a far better life than the one I was looking at.

For all my love of work, it is definitely time to go. I need rest and more hours dedicated to sleeping, eating healthy food, stretching and gentle exercise. I need to do something about this edema. I have to prepare for a big physical challenge  -- hopefully, natural birth. Sorry to go all New Age-y on you, but it's a problem of both body and mind. There's no way anyone can look at the news all day and not be affected or stressed. I need to clear that away and focus on my new life as a mother. Starting tomorrow...

Do you think parenthood changes the way you look at the news?

It might be interesting hearing from the many moms and dads who make their living as reporters, editors and journalists. Or from mothers and fathers in general.


  1. It depends on what kind of person you were before you became a parent, I rather think. If you'd already thought things through and determined your stance on important issues, then I'd say the answer was 'no'.

  2. Well, since I became a parent. I would pay attention to news topic that I wouldn't be interested before, basically anything that relate to a child, e.g. child psychology, child health, child development, or the bad things like accidents involve children. For me, news story are information. I wouldn't drill on the emotional aspect too much, but rather extract what would be useful references for my own use.

    Yes, there are millions of Afghan, Iraqi and other places that children are suffering. There are also more than hundred thousands of children locally are living below poverty line. However, besides making some donations every now and then, with my hectic life and everything, it is sometimes just too much to ask to care other poor children and follow up with actions that could make a difference...maybe I'm wrong...but struggling to allocate time/resource to taking care our own children is already hard enough.

  3. Perhaps. But as a married man Ullie, I'm sure you won't deny the impact of hormones on women. And once you have kids for some reason they are irretrievably changed. I was NEVER a weeper. I could sit cold and dry eyed through any movie, news cast etc. But after kids I can't bare to watch anything sad or tragic. it makes me cry. And I can't engage that switch I used to have that distanced it all.

  4. I've always cried during movies. It's marvellous - in the past I was considered a wimp but now everyone thinks I'm a caring Alpha male in touch with his feelings.

  5. Yes, I think parenthood does change your perspective. You are suddenly vested in the state of your city, country and the world.

  6. Gweipo, I think (hope) we all become more compassionate as parents, hence the weeping.

    Btw, I thought the photos accompanying the article were appropriate It is what famine looks like. When I looked at the NYT that first photo made my heart ache and brought me to tears. And I showed it to my children.

  7. Joycie, when you say Natural Birth are saying you are going to crawl behind a bush, drop out the sprog and gnaw through the umbilical cord with your teeth.

    The starving baby is always a powerful image that works even for non-parents. I can vaguely remember Bi-Afra where nobody really cared for a long time. Then came the images.

  8. Never mind news, I found myself blinking back tears while interviewing helpers yesterday and heard that one hadn't seen her children for 4 YEARS. Are you kidding me?

  9. Ulaca -- I agree with you. I haven't been through parenthood yet, but I can't imagine that having children will radically change one's political position -- say, from conservative to liberal, Democrat to Republican, pro-China to critical of China, etc.

    I was mostly wondering about the impact of images like the one above, particularly of children.

  10. Joel -- That seems to be a rather detached stance. Not that I am being critical -- I think it's quite common in Hong Kong, where people are very pragmatic, and not so interested in what happens outside of their immediate experience, particularly what happens in the developing world.

    Of course, we can't all save all the starving people -- none of us here are Bill & Melinda Gates. But surely you must feel something -- there must be some gut human reaction -- when you see an image like that or see a TV program about famine, regardless of whether you actively do anything about it personally.

  11. Gweipo -- I think every person, man and woman, are different. That's why I prefer terms like parenthood -- I've seen men become extremely overly protective and emotional over their children, while I work with some mothers who manage to stay hard-core news journalists.

    All through pregnancy I was told, "Oh, you just wait for those hormonal swings to kick in" and they never did. I not saying they won't, but it hasn't happened yet. Some women go through the baby blues or post-partum depression, and others don't. I think it depends on the individual.

    What worries me is when these things veer into stereotype. Women have enough of an uphill battle in many workplaces -- it would not be helpful if someone painted all of us with the same brush: That all moms are somehow emotionally weaker and less capable of dealing with difficult subjects.

  12. Ulaca -- I'm sure you make a fine emotionally-in-tune alpha male!

  13. Barry O -- I mean I don't want to give into the HK penchant for sending every woman for an expensive C-section -- regardless of the high physical and financial cost -- unless one is medically necessary.

    And that I will try to have birth without unnecessary medical intervention -- which is "sold" to expectant mothers here with all the zeal that real estate agents use to sell hot properties. (More on this topic later.)

    I've had "name brand" private doctors lie straight to my face about why I MUST book an expensive C-section with them, regardless of what makes sense medically. It's really a bad situation here.

    But to answer your question -- and, with you, Barry, I'm never sure exactly what you are asking -- no, I don't mean "natural birth" the way it is sometimes used in the States. I have no plan to give birth in a tub of water in my living room with no medication or doctor present.

  14. Fuji -- Welcome to Joyceyland! And thanks for your good comments.

    Maybe parenthood does make one feel more vested in the society in which you live. It's a bit of a different issue for me, because it's my paid job to be involved in the news.

    But I can imagine that, if you are a casual news-consumer, having kids will make you notice the world a bit more, more compassionately, or at least differently.

    I'm glad you gave an opinion on that photo. I'm always interested in what normal viewers / readers think. I'm also interested that you showed it to your children. There is a big debate over how much disturbing material one should show to kids.

    Just curious -- how old are your kids?

  15. And Gweipo again -- Four years without seeing your family is seriously awful. In HK, at least, I thought families were legally required to give their helpers at least a week a year to travel home, plus all public holidays, etc. Are the laws different in Singapore?

    In this case, I can see how being a parent yourself would make you feel more sympathetic to other parents -- because you can imagine being in their shoes.

  16. To be honest, photos of starving children (photos of emaciated children once dead don't have the same effect - interest weakens where no hope remains?) have the same effect on me now as 16 years ago before Natalie was born. It's horrendous, but I just cannot feel now - and could not feel then - what I would feel if my own child was in that situation. I'd have thought that was normal.

    PS I've never met what I would call a liberal yet. Every human being I've ever met is conservative. People just want to preserve different things, i.e. what is in their own interests. I consider this healthy, by the way, given the way people are and what they are capable of when they go into deception.