So have you heard about the big dust-up caused by the Wall Street Journal essay written by Erica Jong in which she castigates what she calls “motherphilia?” I’m sure you know exactly what she means, but let’s let her spell it out:
Unless you’ve been living on another planet, you know that we have endured an orgy of motherphilia for at least the last two decades. Movie stars proudly display their baby bumps, and the shiny magazines at the checkout counter never tire of describing the joys of celebrity parenthood. Bearing and rearing children has come to be seen as life’s greatest good. Never mind that there are now enough abandoned children on the planet to make breeding unnecessary. Professional narcissists like Angelina Jolie and Madonna want their own little replicas in addition to the African and Asian children that they collect to advertise their open-mindedness. Nannies are seldom photographed in these carefully arranged family scenes. We are to assume that all this baby-minding is painless, easy and cheap.
Ms Jong, she of “the zipless f*ck fame” then goes on to talk about the new mommy bible, “The Baby Book” that advocates attachment parenting. Not just a clever phrase: Your baby is your life. Back to Jong (we love her, by the way):
You wear your baby, sleep with her and attune yourself totally to her needs. How you do this and also earn the money to keep her is rarely discussed. You are just assumed to be rich enough. At one point, the [authors of the book] suggest that you borrow money so that you can bend your life to the baby’s needs. If there are other caregivers, they are invisible. Mother and father are presumed to be able to do this alone—without the village it takes to raise any child. 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.
All of which reminded me of a thank-you note I received from the daughter of a friend for a baby gift of green baby stuff that noted, just slightly sardonically, exactly that: you not only have the obligation to be a good parent these days, but you have to be environmentally conscious while you’re at it. Whew. Another ideal to live up to and other way for women to be judged. But that’s beside the point.
You can surely predict the fallout to Jong’s essay. Over on the Motherlode, the responses were hot, heavy and not at all surprising. This came in, an essay cowritten by Katie Allison Granju, the author of “Attachment Parenting”, and mommy blogger Jillian St. Charles:
Jong’s stock in trade as a writer and a cultural observer has always been to provoke outrage via the outrageous. These days, however, her ability to shock via suggestions of sexual boundary-pushing have become more than a little passe. Thus, she’s apparently now decided to attempt to stir the pot by singing the praises of some sort of detached, Jongian-style “zipless parenting,” in which — as she says — “there are no rules.” It’s a convenient position from which she can throw bombs at any target that doesn’t reflect her own choices.
Okay, point taken. As for the “no rules” part, wait for the punch line. But what made me cringe was this:
I do not sleep with my baby because some “guru” told me I should. In fact, lots of experts continue to tell women that we absolutely should NOT do this very thing. No, I sleep with my baby because after a day spent away from her at work, I enjoy feeling her snuggled next to us at night. And while I feel guilty about a whole lot of things as a mother — as Jong admits she also does in her essay — I don’t feel one iota of guilt about my decision to breastfeed or spend plenty of time with my kids. I am not imprisoned by my parenting. I enjoy it, most of the time.
Sleep with my baby? After a day spent away from her at work? That’s what made me think. Is all this trophy parenting, this uber-attachment, this need to spend every sleeping moment with your baby, the inability to spend any time away from your child when you get home from work, a reaction to the fact that our culture, our policies, our work-life structures have not evolved to the point that there’s time for both work and life over the course of daily life? That mom is still the one doing it all and doing it obsessively? And where the hell is dad?
All of which led me back to a “big think” interview with the glorious Gloria Steinem a few weeks ago, where she said, as always, a lot of smart stuff. But check what she says related to this issue, specifically:
For instance, we’ve demonstrated in this and other modern countries or industrialized countries that women can do what men can do, but we have not demonstrated that men can do what women can do therefore children are still mostly raised, hugely mostly raised by women and women in industrialized modern countries end up having two jobs one outside the home and one inside the home. And more seriously than that children grow up believing that only women can be loving and nurturing, which is a libel on men, and that only men can be powerful in the world outside the home, which is a libel on women. So that’s huge step we haven’t taken yet.
Right? Don’t get me wrong. I loved having kids, and (ahem, fishing here), I think I did a fairly decent job of it. One reason may have been that I also gave myself permission to have a life that was attached to neither work or parenting. But back to where we started. Let’s give Erica the last word:
In the oscillations of feminism, theories of child-rearing have played a major part. As long as women remain the gender most responsible for children, we are the ones who have the most to lose by accepting the “noble savage” view of parenting, with its ideals of attachment and naturalness. We need to be released from guilt about our children, not further bound by it. We need someone to say: Do the best you can. There are no rules.
Amen, sister. I’ll be happy to say it. Do the best you can. There are no rules. And that, dear readers, goes for everything. Not just parenting.