Monday, November 29, 2010

Erica Jong and Parenting Politics

People are getting all bent outta shape, it seems, at Erica Jong's recent article in the NY Times, which is critical of the institutionalization of particular uber-child focussed forms of parenting, such as attachment parenting and green parenting because of the immense social, emotional and political pressures these currently reigning philosophies, particularly in combination, puts on mothers.  So let me just say this.  I mostly agree with her.  I've thought these same things many times.  And, I feel it's worth noting that when I read attachment parenting gospel by William Sears, I frequently found myself wondering exactly how much of the attachment parenting he espouses is actually, you know, done by him.  Was he busily typing up his attachment parenting credos with babes in slings snuggled down against his naked chest, kangaroo-care-style, in between boiling and pureeing fresh organic foods and changing zillions of cloth dipes?   It seems to me this isn't too bloody likely (though I'm sure he's a lovely parent and am not trying to say otherwise.  Never met the guy).  But like Jong, I find the more strident end of the expectations  of attachment parenting particularly onerous (and sometimes downright annoying). 

However, I also balk at a perspective, feminist or otherwise (ahem Erica Jong), that tells mothers they're being oppressed by their own choices.   (Because you see, we are being duped by ye old patriarchy).  I balk at this because, many times over, I have felt accused by various feminist critiques of parenting of being a dupe to conservative political ends.  Now - I'm not saying patriarchal BS doesn't play into the formation and espousing of particular parenting philosophies - of course it does, 'cause that's the particular teapot we're steeped in.  But the converse assumption that lurks in Jong's perspective is that those attachment, green, cloth diapering,babywearin',  food-making, helicopter parenting, co-sleeping, livin-for-kiddie's-needs-above-all-else folks are doing it wrong.   In this way, Jong's perspective is no less onerous on mothers than that of Sears - both might tell us we are somehow parenting wrong.  Sears would say "think of the chldren!" and Jong would say "think of yourself!" but really, they're both kinda telling us what to do (and what not to do).  This push-pull of philosophies only adds to the exhaustion (and pressure) on parents to do "the right thing," whatever that amorphous thing might be.   In August, I posted a blog railing about the very thing, called "The Professionalisation of Parenting."

I think adhering to particular parenting philosophies (any of them) is ridiculous.  A great blogger response to Jong's article and the backlash to it can be found over at parent dish on Katherine Stone's cleverly titled blog "If Mama Ain't Happy."  (  Stone argues, much the same as I did in August, that the expectation to somehow adhere to some perfect parenting philosophy, no matter what that philosophy is, creates undue anxiety and pressure on parents. 

We need to stop reading the parenting books.  Stop.  Put 'em down.  Or at the very least, we need to learn how to take the opinions therein (as well as the opinions of well, or not so well,-meaning others) and take with us what works for us and then throw away the rest.   We need to stop comparing ourselves to others parenting styles (who baby-wore the best, breast-fed the longest, whose babies slept the est and when and how, who co-slept or didn't, home-schooled or didn't, fed their kids organic snacks or didn't, let their kids 'free range' or didn't, made their own playdough or didn't, blah, blah, blah etc. etc. etc.)  Take what's useful, what feels right for you, and just let the rest go with a resounding BUH-BYE.  The best parenting advice anyone ever gave me, was to throw all the advice I got right out the window and follow my heart.  It seems to be working alright so far.

So - going right back to Erica Jong's article.  I will choose to 'take' the parts with me than I like - the critique of parenting philosphies that put undue pressure on women to be picture-perfect parents - and I will choose to say Buh-Bye to the part that insinuates some of the choices I have made (which are along attachment-y lines) are wrong and dupey.  Cause I'm a pretty thoughtful person, and a pretty thoughtful mama and a pretty fierce feminist to boot.  

Jong finishes her article proclaiming: " We need someone to say: 'Do the best you can. There are no rules'."  And I couldn't agree more.  I'm just not 100% certain that Jong's entire article (which I will again stress that I mostly agreed with) espouses that excellent closing sentiment.


  1. Here here! As a pretty fierce feminist myself, I have often wondered at our ability to back ourselves into new corners that are just as restrictive. The reaction to traditional imposed norms ought not be the imposition of new norms. For me, it's about choice. We all need a reminder sometimes to do our best and follow our hearts. Thanks T!

  2. Interesting post.

    I love reading Erica Jong, who I sometimes agree with and sometimes not. She rattles the cage and gets us talking, which is a good thing!

    And the final sentiment, do your best and there are no rules, is a great one!