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I Am Mom Enough

In this first of a series, the author examines the intersection of hyper-parenting and feminism. Where do we go from here?

In another shocking example of poor journalistic judgment, the current Time magazine cover of an attractive mother breastfeeding her three year old son stoked intense debate among mothers across the nation just in time for Mother’s Day.

The cover, reading “Are you Mom enough?” invites the reader to learn about the unorthodox childcare advice administered by longtime parenting guru Dr. William Sears. Dr Sears, who recommends a technique called attachment parenting, advises a host of techniques designed to foster—he says—a safe and secure childrearing environment.

The attachment parenting mother breastfeeds on demand until the child self-weans, sometimes not until kindergarten. The mother wears the young baby in a sling—nearly all day, as far as I can tell—to maintain constant contact. The child sleeps in a family bed for as long as necessary.

As this cover slapped everyone in the face last week, I was in the midst of reading a book called “The Conflict” by French feminist, intellectual and professor of philosophy Elisabeth Badinter. In it, she describes how modern motherhood practices undermine the status of women in society because of the increasing demands of early childhood parenting. 

Prescient timing. While Badinter’s hard-line approach left me wondering if she has children of her own (she does—three, in fact), many of her arguments made sense to me, especially as they relate to Fairfield County’s competitive mom elite.

Dr Sears’ methods and other groups such as the La Leche League advocate for a style of extreme parenting that could only be accomplished by a full time stay at home mother. How many Americans live in two-income households? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 58.5 percent in 2011. Where does that leave them, or their hard working single mom counterparts? According to the Time cover, they’re not “mom enough.”

As mothers, we all want to see our children become happy, healthy, productive adults. How do we reconcile these extreme parenting advocates’ elitist demands with our hard-fought rights to a successful career and a happy marriage (never mind maintaining youthful good looks and a fun social life)? 

My personal view is that the greatest gift one can give a child is . I fail to see how teaching a child that he or she cannot eat, sleep or move without direct parental involvement achieves that goal. I also believe that these extreme parenting tactics reduce by design the involvement of the father and undermine the adults’ relationship, already in a tenuous state from little sleep, less money and zero free time.

Does this quest for parental “perfection” truly serve the needs of the child or does it serve the emotional needs of the mother, who perhaps struggles to reconcile years of schooling and hours of hard (professional) labor with the menial daily tasks of chopping food into little tiny bits, changing diapers and losing countless hours of sleep?  

Isn’t parenting difficult enough without experts telling us that in order to really be a “good mother” we need to stay home, breastfeed through preschool and endure a crowded family bed? Surely there are better common sense ways to raise confident, secure risk-takers!

I can’t imagine what those baby, toddler and preschool years would have been like without my husband’s hands-on, getting-really-dirty help and companionship. He is essential to our family, my best friend and an excellent father, and we work as a team.

I relied – and still rely -- on his help for meals, time away, intimacy and more. For every day in our early parenthood that was bliss, there was another that was hell, and we laughed and cried and argued and loved and did it all again, usually with no money. We still do, twenty years later.

I am grateful to our own mothers, who fought for our , workplace rights and more, and I worry that this attachment parenting trend divides women by playing on their deepest guilty fears. But my biggest concern is that the child-centered family misses out on what is really the center of life: the adult partnership of equal decision-makers that holds it all together. 

Years from now—if you did your job right—your child will move on and leave you behind. It won’t matter how long you breastfed. Don’t define yourself only by the years you spend actively parenting. Maintain your perspective and long term goals, and remember that as liberated women and equal partners, parenthood, from its proudest moments to its most intimate reflections, is but one part of a lifelong journey.

Mark Hallen May 16, 2012 at 09:50 AM
Enough with that Time magazine cover. It was only their Man-of-the-Year issue, wasn't it?
Kendall L Owott May 16, 2012 at 07:10 PM
To start, Ms. Bigelow’s writing is not rhetoric-free, frequently attempts to persuade, strays from conservative principles and is not always calm. She also sometimes overgeneralizes and tends to narcissism. The statement that the cover “slapped everyone in the face” is an overgeneralization and violent. Professor Badinter’s book and how it relates to “Fairfield County’s competitive mom elite” could have used more explanation. What did Professor Badinter say and what’s with this competitive mom elite? What conservative holds that anybody has a right to a successful career? There is certainly nothing in the Constitution about the right to a happy marriage, either, as desirable as a happy marriage is. Many would hold that the greatest gift one can give ,not to a child but to an adult, is the gift of independence. As children mature, parents can teach them the necessary skills to practice independence without harming others. Independence can be granted too early. Ms. Bigelow’s piece contains a link referring to a previous Bigelow essay touching on reproductive rights and today Ms. Bigelow worries about attachment parenting dividing women “by playing on their deepest guilty fears.” Women ARE divided on reproductive rights and “deepest guilty fears” are entirely appropriate. This subject is much more important than the self-oriented goals of “maintaining youthful good looks and a fun social life."

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