sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

November 10, 2010

There Is a Third Way

Bitching… What else is a mom to do? Katie Allison Ganju and Jillian St. Charles wrote in New York Times:

And as for Jong’s assertion that mothers today don’t tell each other the truth about the difficult, challenging and even dark parts of the world’s toughest job, well she obviously hasn’t read any momblogs or any of the wave of “momoirs” that have been released in the last decade. In fact, I am proud to say that the current generation of mothers is perhaps the first in history to proactively openly  and freely discuss the fact that on some days, parenting our kids is demanding, exhausting, heartbreaking and even boring beyond belief.

So, yes, bitching is what we do.  It’s called “mommy wars”, and it constitutes a significant portion of mommy blogs.

I sympathize with Erica Jong in as much as she disses Attachment Parenting, but not with her conclusion that in parenting anything goes.  It’s not that there is no right and wrong in parenting.  Yes, it’s true that in some cultures infanticide is normal or normative, but it doesn’t mean that murdering an infant is the right thing to do.  Ever.  So there are parenting wrongs.  There is more then one right, true, and what works for one child will fail another.  Still, there are wrongs.

On the other extreme there are Dr. Sears and his faithful.  My experience with this cohort is that of bewilderment.  Sure, there are parents out there who do a little Baby Bjorn here, a little co-sleeping there, hopefully figuring out sooner rather then later how to get the baby out of master bedroom.  But the Sears faithful in the Bay Area are usually New Agish types (I hear there are also Christian attachment parents, but they are not found around here) many of whom had successful careers before embarking on the parenting adventure.  They approach motherhood as a profession, an assignment, and Sears gave them a checklist against which to work.  They do “green” parenting for a bonus, and high achievers always go for the bonus.  But motherhood is not a profession; it’s merely the most important job in the world.

Yes, there are rules in parenting, it’s just that they are not Dr. Sears’ rules.  After all, William Sears is the man who proclaimed that a mother must tie her baby around her neck or else the kid will grow up all crooked and stupid.  Seriously, he suggested that babies “worn” by their mothers are smarter then the stroller-raised cohort (observation based on what exactly? — watching the babies in his practice — LOL!) because they see things from an adult’s point of view.  Sure, if a mother wants to “wear” her baby, why not?  Just understand that her style of parenting is just that — a style.  Do it if you like it, leave it alone if you don’t.  But look at the New York Times essay: Ganju and St. Charles sound rather defensive, but they did managed to call all of us who don’t parent by The Baby Book “detached”.  Because we are wrong-wrong-wrong for not obeying the Sears’ guide to the baby minutia.

I mean, really, what is there to celebrate?

Never mind that sleeping with your child, “wearing” your child, making your own organic baby food, using cloth diapers and generally getting into your baby’s face 24/7 with baby signing and other “developmental” activities, and going at it alone is certainly burdensome.  And more then most mothers in this world do, just as Jong says.  And none of it is necessary.  I agree with Ganju and St. Charles, this observation is certainly not new (well, the green aspect of it is).  I disagree with Ganju and St. Charles — there is nothing outrageous about this observation.

I agree with Ganju and St. Charles — motherhood is political.  I’m going to teach my children what I know, and I hope they will carry on my believes and values.  This is what I wanted to do before I started my family.  What I find strange is this observation:

Jong says that our hyperfocusing on our parenting choices allows us to avoid facing our broader, outward-facing  duties as citizens of the country and the world. In fact, however, she’s got it backwards. Progressive politics begin at home, with the way we raise our children, and many women will tell you that becoming a mother was the most politically radicalizing experience of their lives. Suddenly, the personal really is political, in a very tangible way.

I didn’t become “radicaliz[ed]” when I became a mother.  If anything I mellowed out.  I understood that it’s absolutely necessary to get along with people who are not at all like me.  And believe me, very few people around here are like me. I see new challenges ahead.  I also see a new post.

Jong on one hand and Ganju and St. Charles on the other are fighting for the soul of the liberal mother.  Ganju and St. Charles again:

Perhaps the most irksome assertion that Jong makes in her essay is that we mothers today are so trapped and burdened by the way we’re choosing to parent our kids that we’ve become “perfect tools of the right” and thus, are prevented from working for progressive political change.

But women are trending Republican these days.  Which should not be construed as a threat to feminism, but a change in feminism.  Most women in this country, I’m sure, will abhor the Jong’s idea of do as you wilt motherhood.  But they will also find Sears’ by The Baby Book parenting ridiculous.  That’s OK.  There is a third way when it comes to parenting.  Many third ways, in fact.

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