Friday, November 12, 2010

The Post In Which I More Rationally Respond To Erica Jong's Mother Madness

The other day, I briefly responded to Erica Jong's Wall Street Journal article Mother Madness, in which she equates modern motherhood (and attachment parenting in particular) with prison.  The piece has caused quite the stir in the world of social media, and in case you couldn't tell from my previous post, I didn't like it.

In her article, Jong reiterates the same basic controversial premise that has brought notoriety to writers like Hannah Rosin and Elisabeth Badinter: that nurturing our babies and children by responding to their needs is the wrong way to mother because it's making us miserable.

That motherhood itself, or more specifically a particular kind of motherhood -- the kind where we are willing to devote much of our time and energy to our children -- is what is holding women back.

Jong goes on the attack against attachment parenting from the beginning, calling out Bill and Martha Sears and their popular Baby Book as one of the primary reasons women become sacrificial lambs on the altar of motherhood (as I imagine she might put it). 

What is so frustrating about her article, though, is that she clearly doesn't understand attachment parenting, and confuses a responsive style of mothering with an obsessive desire to raise the "perfect" child. 

She clearly doesn't realize that you can parent by attachment while working outside the home, or that attachment parenting does leave room for caregivers other than mom or dad in a child's life.  She also seems to think that attachment parenting means making your own baby food and using cloth diapers, and while many attachment parents may do these things, one has nothing to do with the other. 

I for one did neither, and my style of parenting is fairly attachment-oriented.

Erica Jong's Mother Madness is perfectly defined by writer and attachment parenting guru Katie Allison Granju in her response on The New York Times Motherlode blog as a "messy amalgam of multiple parenting cliches."  Granju debunks many of the attachment parenting myths promoted in Jong's article, and articulates the flaws in Jong's irrational assertions far better than I can.

Granju's is an article worth reading.  

Erica Jong is apparently a long-time feminist activist, but she is clearly out of her element when it comes to writing about a style of motherhood that she never embraced.  Her own daughter, Molly Jong-Fast wrote a response piece, in which she describes her childhood and her relationship with her mother, and very astutely concludes that her mother worked hard so that she as the daughter could have choices. 

Her defense of her mother is touching, and I wholeheartedly agree that there are a million different ways to be a good mother to your child.  I may not agree with Jong's choices, and they clearly wouldn't work for me, but I'm not going to deride it and publish an essay in a national publication telling her how she's done everything wrong. 

That's Erica Jong's style.  Not mine.

Lost in the mish-mosh of Mother Madness are some valid points.  Jong is correct that the media focuses on images of smiling celebrities with their children, but never shows the nannies.  She is correct that there are parents who get so caught up in the desire to do everything "right" who are overly susceptible to ideas and theories of what constitutes "good" parenting.

While I practice many of the principles of attachment parenting, I have long been frustrated by the label, because I don't believe that parents or parenting styles need to be categorized.  I agree that it's dangerous to give new mothers the idea that "this is what you should be doing." 

In fact, I also agree with Ms. Jong on one other very important point:  that modern motherhood desperately needs to be redefined.

Modern mothers are struggling under the weight of tremendous pressure, but the pressure to be an excellent mother is no greater than the pressure to function in society (and more importantly in the work place) as if you weren't a mother.  Yes, there are women who stay home to raise children for the wrong reasons and probably feel imprisoned.  But there are also women who leave their children and go to work because it is what is expected of them or because they must to provide for their family, and feel just as imprisoned there.

Attachment parenting may be a convenient scapegoat, but we have far greater cultural problems than arguing about whether moms should make their own baby food.  We need longer maternity leaves and an increased acceptance of leave for fathers as well.  We need laws protecting women's rights to pump at work and breastfeed in public.  We need fellow mothers who are willing to accept that there are ways of raising children that are different from their own.  We need far more support, and far fewer critics.

Motherhood isn't holding us back. 

But so-called feminists who insist on blaming motherhood for the undone work of the women's movement instead of fighting for the social change that mothers deserve just might be.

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