Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Mothering as slavery to kids?

PAIL book club! I only read the first chunk of The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women, so sorry gang.  Someday I'll get there.  In the meantime, what I think on the subject.

And I'd like to say that as the product of an in-name-mostly feminist household, as someone who went to a variety of feminist camps and workshops and even women's college, feminism is a word I claim as mine.  I'd say my view is very largely shaped by a book on a similar topic called The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? that I read at the same time as the La Leche League book before the kid was born.  The latter made me feel lousy for opting not to stay home because in our relationship, I am not the lovey-dovey nurturing person while the former really pointed out the lie we're sold about how awful "having to work" really is.  It isn't all awful but if you have a job that doesn't pay much and is awful, you'd rather be at home (duh. Having worked awful jobs, I'd have preferred to be anywhere else and doing anything else).

This is an interesting series of articles/blog posts/whatever about a book I'll probably get to reading in its entirety eventually.  I've read some of Elisabeth Badinter's stuff (as I recall, that was some time ago) but not this book.  The short version of what the book is about is how feminism got derailed by a move to "ecological parenting" where mothers are expected and shamed into breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and attachment parenting babies OR ELSE.

My take: yep, demanding that women do the perfect parent thing no matter what else is happening in their lives or what else they might want to do with their lives undermines feminism.  However, it's bigger than simply demanding perfect parenting from moms.  It cuts the other parent out of parenting to expect that mom is the baby's sole provider of perfect parenting.  There's also the issue of helicopter parenting, which I actually think is the pressure undermining feminism and not the pressure to eco-parent or whatever nonsense we're calling it (because that pressure only exists for a slim margin of women with enough money/status to get that set of choices).

In my book, the biggest and most feminist thing anyone can do is to co-parent equally.  Why? Well, it values things that are traditionally women's work even if a man does them.  It demonstrates that raising children is important to everyone, not just moms.  I think it's bad of feminism to say that to be equal, women must be able to do all the things men can do and stop there.  I think we need to go as far as to say that men must be able to do all the (non-biologically based) things women can do, because that's when we're really equal.

On the helicopter parenting front, I think what's happened is that with women being allowed to do what men did traditionally (have a job outside the home, even a career, an education), women who weren't interested in doing those things needed a new way to prove they were "more" than "just" moms, so they'd do a really great job being moms!  Extra developmental activities!  Structured learning at ever-younger ages!  Toilet trained by 18 months or younger!  My kid never had a skinned knee!  This pressure is bigger than just attachment parenting and getting up 14 times a night with your baby until he starts kindergarten.

The extent to which moms have decided to be solely moms and nothing else is unhealthy I think.  Yes, be mom if you choose to be a parent.  But you also need to be a friend and a partner and an adult with interests beyond having the perfect child(ren).

So I guess overall I'd say I'm frustrated that feminism is (still) obsessing about women and parenting and ignoring men in the family equation.  At least in my family, the pressure to do any "eco parenting" came from me and the spouse ourselves because we considered our options, picked cheap ones that suited us and gave us the most sleep, and ran with it.  But we didn't read parenting books because I felt very elbowed to be the perfect kid by parents who worshiped parenting books and fretted about milestones and paid no attention to who I was or wanted to be.  I vetoed the spouse reading any parenting books and being a softie, the spouse went with it.

I think that women don't need to be told how to be good parents, or that being a good parent requires any set of things beyond "don't neglect your kid, feed them well, take care of yourself and trust your instincts on the kid's needs" with the definition of neglect being something like the legal one rather than the "how dare you leave a kid alone for a second?" school of thought.

I also think that generally as a culture we do spend too much time fussing about the needs of kids and not enough considering the needs of parents.  It kind of extends from the "children aren't small adults" movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries (yes, that was good).  Again I think we went too far and ignored that adults remain people once they become parents.  So yeah, I suppose I side with Badinter.  And for further support of the extreme pressure we put on women (well, some women) to breastfeed, check out this lovely blog post and the comments over at Rage Against The Minivan.


  1. I agree! I tried to make many of the same points myself, although not as eloquently.

  2. What an interesting point that helicopter parenting is probably a product of SAHMs trying to prove their worth. Then, of course, us working moms want to prove we're just as good as SAHMs and voila, a viscous cycle is born.

    I think you're right also, to focus on the role of fathers, but I've found myself a little frustrated by that. In my own life, I have a supportive husband, but he's never going to prioritize folding laundry (when he lived alone, he just kept his clothes in heaps) and he doesn't feel guilty the same way that I do when I leave the house and leave the baby behind. That guilt is all my own, not because someone told me I should feel that way, and all the husbandly help in the world won't change that. I know quite a few stay-at-home dads, and that's great, but I feel as bad when people say I should have a perfectly equal marriage or I'm doing something wrong as when they say all the trappings of attachment parenting are necessary or my baby will grow up to be a serial killer.

    1. Doesn't some of that guilt about not getting the laundry folded come from someone besides you? Maybe I'm too much a fan of systems, but I feel like guilt is almost never something I made myself. I'm guilty because someone showed me or told me I ought to be, or I notice I'm markedly different from other people. I also think that how we measure "perfectly equal" depends on the relationship. In our house, nobody folds laundry most of the time (oops), I do the dishes and the spouse pays the bills. I assume things are equal, but they probably aren't unless we do some fancy accounting of how things are valued. We try and we try to model the process of negotiating who does what as an important part of a relationship for the kid. Progress not perfection, all that jazz. I know the spouse was guilty going back to work with the tiny kid at home, and that in the end, knowing it was necessary dulled the guilt. I just don't get why we insist moms feel guilty for choosing to support their family with a paycheck rather than support the family by raising children without pay (or the other way around). In the end, can't we all just play nice and accept that we're picking what's best for our families without the pressure, guilt, or feeling it is necessary to rationalize our choices?

  3. Oh, I love this post! I've never read your blog before and so glad to be introduced to it. :)
    Love you talking about men and women doing things equally. My husband just finished school and is job hunting, I am working part time and partly because my husband hasn't found a full-time job yet we are definitely sharing the work. And I'm proud of that fact, and how good he is with the kids and how attached he and they are to each other. (He's also doing all the cooking and half the laundry, which has been so nice.) It will change a bit when he goes back to work, but I am very lucky to have someone so involved in co-parenting with me.
    Also agree that there is pressure to be MOM and nothing else once you have kids and that kind of sucks. I want to spend most of my time with my kids, but I also think my marriage, and my relationships with my family, and friendships, and me going to yoga etc. are important and shouldn't just go away now that I am a mom. My relationship with my husband especially...I think that's so important.
    Thanks again for this post. :)