Nora, the Prison Guard
In case you missed it, in The Wall Street Journal ‘s “Saturday Essay” last weekend, Jong wrote about the evils of attachment and green parenting:
You wear your baby, sleep with her and attune yourself totally to her needs. […] Add to this the dictates of “green” parenting—homemade baby food, cloth diapers, a cocoon of clockless, unscheduled time—and you have our new ideal. Anything less is bad for baby. Parents be damned.
She doesn’t mince words, either, stating that
[a]ttachment parenting, especially when combined with environmental correctness, has encouraged female victimization. Women feel not only that they must be ever-present for their children but also that they must breast-feed, make their own baby food and eschew disposable diapers. It’s a prison for mothers, and it represents as much of a backlash against women’s freedom as the right-to-life movement.
She even mentions Elisabeth Badinter’s book Le Conflit: La Femme and La Mere, which says “such supposedly benign expectations victimize women far more than men have ever done.”
Wow. When I read that Monday, I didn’t know what to think; in the days following there has been much discussion sweeping through the world of parenting blogs (WSJ’s The Juggle and Motherload, for example), and I still find myself struggling with the fact that a woman who fought for women’s rights doesn’t like it that some women choose to stay home; that some women find fulfillment at home. Isn’t women’s liberation all about the ability to choose work or family or both?
Apparently not. Apparently, I have been brainwashed into thinking that cloth diapering, baby wearing, breast-feeding, and staying at home are the only way to parent, and Jong believes I am naively deluded into thinking this is fulfilling…or something.
But here’s the problem I have with that: my mother (whom I love very much) worked full-time, as did my husband’s mother (who is, in fact, a small business owner). If anything, my parenting and lifestyle is quite opposite from those in which my husband and I were raised, and while I don’t doubt the existence of mothers who snub those with parenting philosophies conflicting with their own, I haven’t felt any pressure (and I do have many friends who attachment parent to a greater degree than I).
I knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home mother before I had kids. Before I was married, even. By the time I was a freshman in college, before I had heard about the benefits of breast-feeding, natural childbirth, or sustainable living and eating, I could have told you that was what I wanted to do with my life:
I knew that, because I had watched my own mother struggle with working and raising children, and I knew I didn’t want to be in the same situation (nor did I want my kids to be in the same situation). This feeling is common to many women of my generation (and those 10 or so years older) – I’ve written about this “opting-out revolution” before. Interestingly, this feeling is also mirrored in Jong’s own daughter, Molly Jong-Fast, now a stay-at-home mother, who wrote a follow up piece defending her mother’s “ambivalent” parenting…if you can call this a defense:
This is where I say what’s true: that my mother was as good a mother as she could possibly be. I am slightly in awe of how much my mother did. I could never have raised kids and made money. My mother did a lot of things right as a parent. With help from my father, she sent me to many private schools and a whole menagerie of therapists, bought me a pony and generally gave me a far more luxurious life than any of my forebears ever had. […] Famous people, who are often intensely driven workaholics, are typically not focused on their children. We saw each other, but my mother was filled with the fear of slipping into domestic life and sabotaging her own career.
I have a hard time believing that all of these women, children of working and traveling and professional mothers are opting for a more child-centered parenting relationship because they feel pressured to do so. If anything, I believe we are choosing to focus on our children because we have experienced the incompatibility of a full-time, high-powered career and a healthy family life – especially with a brand new baby.
If the U.S. had more family-friendly maternity leave policies (like the rest of the developed world), attachment parenting wouldn’t be so incompatible with a career. Jong is right on one front, our corporate-driven culture makes an attachment-like parenting style difficult; but an attachment-like parenting style can also make a corporate-driven lifestyle more bearable. It was through breastfeeding and co-sleeping and taking Nora with me on business trips that I could feel okay with working when it was what I had to do (but didn’t want to do) for my family. If I hadn’t had those things, I would have had a hard time convincing myself she thought I was any different from the babysitter. As for cloth diapering and making my own baby food, these are things that mirror the way Chris and I live in all facets, not just parenting. Simple living is something we value. I don’t eat processed food, why would I feed it to my baby? We try to have as little trash as possible, why would we create diaper trash when there is a perfectly reasonable reusable option? And since I’m being honest, it’s also about the huge amount of savings financially – I’ve bought maybe 5 jars of baby food EVER, we bought (mostly used) cloth diapers for a one-time price, and we don’t even buy baby wipes. Forget imprisonment; not having $25-35 extra on our weekly grocery bill is freeing.
The thing I find most strange about these “mothering guilt” articles is that they are usually written by someone from the majority who thinks she is being bullied/oppressed by the minority. Yes, breast-feeders are a minority, especially once the baby is 6 months or a year old or two years old. In its most recent report, the CDC cites home births as representing only 0.59% of all births in the U.S.; epidural use is as high as 80-90% in some hospitals, meaning natural birth occurs less than 20% of the time. Cloth diaperers are just as rare, and more US mothers work than those who stay home. Yet, somehow, this minority of women is creating oppresive standards for all women?
Jong isn’t the only one who thinks the average mother feels guilty for not following these trends, Kathryn Blundell made the same argument when she wrote an article about her decision to formula feed for Mother and Baby magazine. But I don’t buy into the notion that a minority of mothers who choose these parenting paths are to blame for the guilty feelings of those who don’t choose them. As a parent, you have to be confident that you are doing the right thing for your family and, as LLL says, that you know your baby better than anyone else. If you aren’t confident in any decision, then you better think twice. There will always be parents who parent differently from me; if I’m certain in my parenting choices then those differences won’t matter. If I start to feel guilty about the choices I’ve made, it’s because some part of me knows I ought to feel guilty. In parenting, as in life, you choose your own guilt.