Am I mistaken, or did Erica Jong just tell me I *can’t* actually bring home the bacon and also fry it up in a pan? Jong’s article, The Madness of Motherhood, posits that attentive parenting, the kind involving breastfeeding, making my own babyfood, and environmental awareness, keeps mothers like me “imprisoned.”
Jong comes down especially hard on attachment parenting, popularized by Doctors William and Martha Sears. With all due respect to Jong, who is an accomplished author and feminist icon, I wonder if she has actually read the Sears’ parenting books. Attachment parenting is not, as Jong implies, the all-consuming sacrifice of a parent’s life for the sake of the center-of-the-universe child. It is simply parenting that is sensitive to and available to the child’s needs.
I’m a fan of the Sears’ philosophy. I responded when the baby cried, carried him quite a lot, and nursed him for over a year (at which point we were both ready to stop.) As a nursing mother, I found it easier for him to sleep in my bed for the first few months. And yes, I made my own baby food, not exclusively, but most of the time. (Making baby food is not rocket science. Take a ripe pear or banana, mash. Or overcook some of the noodles you are having for dinner, and serve.)
I didn’t go on whirlwind book tours, but I certainly didn’t feel imprisoned. As a matter of fact, I studied law during this time, at a top-tier law school. I graduated and passed the bar in two different states. I made choices about what was best for my baby and for the environment, but by no means did I find it necessary to sacrifice everything.
Rather, I chose attachment parenting partly because I think parents are not paying sufficient attention to their child’s needs. In spite of a mountain of evidence connecting excessive television to distinct harm to children, parents disregard the AAP’s recommendation of limiting viewing time. Frequently, the reason given is that we have too much to do and need the TV to keep the kids busy (and I’ve been guilty of that myself.) Child development researchers are becoming concerned about the amount of time parents spend on the internet or looking at their Blackberry during interactions with their children.
Helicopter parenting is actually another, albeit less obvious, example of ignoring a child’s needs, not being hyper-attentive to them as Jong suggests. Helicopter parenting is the micromanagement of a child’s entire life well into young adulthood. It often leaves a child incapable of managing her own life. Inadvertently, the helicopter parent puts her own need for control and connection, her need to be needed, over the child’s need for independence and autonomy.
Not so long ago, feminists argued that motherhood and professional accomplishment should not be mutually exclusive, and they fought for affordable childcare, equal pay, and other advances that would make it possible for women to be both provider and parent. Some of us do both, and put a great deal of effort into achieving a balance between the two. There are also women who want to be a mother first and foremost. There are women who do not want to be mothers at all. Jong forgets that these are all valid choices, and our mutual adversaries are those who limit women’s choices by telling us what we must or must not do.
Being a mother should not restrict me from being a professional, but the opposite is also true. Not all of us have a famous literary career to compete with our child-rearing time, and some of us view child-rearing as work that is as valuable as any other, including writing. While attachment parenting may not suit Jong, some women, including me, feel creative and empowered by the work we do raising our kids.
I agree with Jong’s ultimate conclusion, that motherhood is malleable. As parenting blogger Liz Gumbinner of Mom101 said, quoting her mother, “Every decision you make as a parent is right, and every decision you make as a parent is wrong.” In reality, doing the best we can is enough. As Jong points out, there are too many messages about what a mother must always or must never do.
But oddly, I think Jong is contributing to that with her combative essay pitting engaged parenting against self-actualization for women. It is almost as if she is suggesting that it is not possible for me to be an attentive parent and environmentally conscious if I expect to achieve anything outside of my role as a mother. My law degree, my attachment-parented child, and I beg to differ.
(Check out this vintage commercial for another woman who can “bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan.”)