Monday, April 30, 2012

The Mommy Conflict


 My Monday's Musings today seem to center around women's issues.  I had a long phone conversation this morning with my mother, in which we marveled over the regressive attacks on access to birth control and women's rights that are going on all over the country.   Then I read this piece in Slate magazine about the new book The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women.  As I'm currently reading Reading Women: how the great books of feminism changed my life, it's a bit of a perfect storm in my intellectual life.

All of the politics around birth-control have got my ire up on an issue that I was pretty neutral about before.  It just, honestly, felt like the issue was null to me.  Who cared about abortion anymore?  I thought it should be legal, but I also felt emotionally that I personally could never have one.  And with the new excellence of birth-control, I remember saying to my mother a few years back "it's so easy to not get pregnant, that I don't see the big need for abortion services".  That younger me really felt like we were heading into a Post-Abortion world in much the same way that it felt like we were living in a Post-Feminism world.

It's not feeling like that anymore.  Suddenly, it actually feels like women are in danger of losing the ability to prevent themselves from becoming mothers.  And, quite frankly, all of this is bringing out my inner raging feminist.  I'm pissed.

And I'm not just mad about the attacks on reproductive choice.  I'm not thrilled about seeing a re-post on Facebook that says that wearing babies facing forward is "cruel".  If you are carrying your baby about with you, do you really need to be told that there is only one right way to do it?  I was never a very good attachment parent, but now I'm being told more and more often that the things I did when my children were young were "cruel", "damaging", "unnatural", and even "abusive".

You won't be able to not have a baby, and once you do have a baby you are going to be totally taken over with this labor-intensive, time-consuming, "best" way to take care of that baby.

And the thing is, I used to like attachment parenting.  I think attachment parenting is a great idea - up to a point.  But sometimes we make compromises, sometimes we can't do it perfectly, and I think it's become a bit extreme to tell anyone that those compromises are abusive or cruel.

Frankly, I'm starting to have more sympathy with the argument that this intensive modern-mothering is anti-feminist.  And up until recently I would have been passionately arguing the opposite!  But that was before many of the less-than-perfect choices I made when my son was an infant (letting him cry, daycare, expressing milk but having him fed from a bottle) were described as abusive and cruel. With those criteria then I just really couldn't have gone to grad school and had a baby at the same time.

Let me get this straight - we will not be able to choose if we want to be a mother or not, and then once we're a mother we really can't do anything else except be a mother.  I'm mad about this!  And I love being a mother and being home with my kids!  And it's real work, and there is no need to do anything else with your life if being a mother is what you like best!  But I'm still mad about this!  Mad enough to wade into more controversy than I usually take on on this blog.

If you attachment parent, I am not saying anything bad about you.  Like I said, I love attachment parenting.  I just think moms sometimes need to take the baby out of the sling, hand them to someone else, and have an identity outside of "mom" for a bit of time.  But I'm not saying you aren't a great mom if you follow the methods to the letter.  That's great, you're doing great, and please don't let anyone make you feel bad about yourself.

But I'm not going to feel bad about myself either (well, I'm going to try not to feel bad about myself, but boy that is hard sometimes).

And I hope the woman who has put her children in full-time daycare doesn't feel bad about herself.

And I hope the tired young mother who lets her baby cry itself to sleep so that she can get her homework done for college (been there, my dear) doesn't feel bad about herself either.

And the woman who didn't want to be a mother and had an abortion shouldn't feel bad about herself either.

And all the other people out there trying to be good parents and good people and still honor their own needs at the same time, I hope none of them feel bad about themselves either.


  1. I am glad you left this post up. I think these things need to be said.

    Our political rhetoric frustrates me. Clearly our world is too messy for anything one thing to be right, especially with parenting. And just because I am a woman doesn't mean my life should defined in terms of motherhood unless that's my will. Mothers are not public goods. They should not be subject to this scrutiny! Human beings survived millenia doing things imperfect, the word "cruel" applied to this circumstances is completely inappropriate.

    I trust you made all of the right choices for your and your children. And I appreciate that you wrote out on this issue. Gives the not-yet-mothers among us some hope. Or at least it gave me hope.