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Jul 27 2011

French Feminist: Natural Mommies Have Gone too Far

By at 2:50 pm

Think the “mommy wars” are the exclusive domain of America’s over-educated, suburbanites? Think again.

This week’s New Yorker profiles Elisabeth Badinter, a Jewish feminist with strong opinions about epidural-rejecting, cloth-diaper-embracing lactivists — and she doesn’t hail from Berkeley or Montclair. Badinter is French, and resides in Paris.

Stateside, where the policies that could have the greatest impact on the lives of mothers and children — paid parental leave and affordable childcare, among them — seem too politically cumbersome to tackle, it’s easy to understand how pain meds and diapers and bottle-feeding would become maternal diversions. It’s harder to understand in France. There, many of the major feminist battles, as they pertain to motherhood (if not to government representation and skirt-chasing spouses) have been won: Eighty percent of Frenchwomen work fulltime, paid maternity leave is mandatory, and daycare is heavily subsidized.

Still, France is apparently not immune to the mundane skirmishes that pit mother against mother. And Badinter’s tough assessment of her country’s recent parental preoccupations has made her an alternately esteemed and reviled figure.

In her latest book, Le Conflit: La Femme et la Mère, slated to be released in the U.S. in January, the self-described “ideologue” takes aim at “motherhood fundamentalism” — a movement, she said, “dressed in the guise of a modern, moral cause that worships all things natural.” She sees it as regression cloaked in ecology or, worse, in biology. (Badinter, a mother of three grown children, made a name for herself three decades ago by rebutting the idea that women are born with maternal instincts.)

“These young women, they’re being told to use cloth diapers; paper diapers aren’t ‘natural,’” she told The New Yorker. “For me, the epidural was a victory over pain. But they say no, they want to feel what it is to be a woman. Their idea is that if you’re not suffering, you have failed the experience of maternity.”

The profile’s writer, Jane Kramer, rightfully points out Badinter’s economic interest in writing Le Conflit. Her father — a Russian Jewish immigrant to France, who flew reconnaissance missions on behalf of the French Resistance — went on to become the founder of the global advertising and communications firm Publicis. Badinter is now the controlling shareholder for Publicis; and the firm represents the manufacturers of Pampers diapers and Nestlé baby formula.

Whatever Badinter’s motivation, and she says it’s not Publicis’ bottom line, her thesis, on one hand, provides a welcome counterpoint to the messages that have bombarded this nine-months pregnant Park Slope resident. On the other hand, despite Badinter’s insistence that all she wants is for women to exercise their choice when it comes to giving birth or feeding their babies, she comes off sounding as doctrinaire as the Brooklyn stroller mommies who equate epidurals and bottle-feeding with parental failure.

The Nanny Wars

By at 11:50 am

"If I spent every second of my life wearing a newborn like an albatross, it would eventually be two of us who would be incontinent, drooling and crying." Photo Flickr/dontcallmeikke

I went to a breastfeeding group for new moms the other day. It was arguably a poor decision: after all, I’m an “old” rather than “new” mom, and I’m anything but a zealot when it comes to breastfeeding. I feel that people who attend such things are generally either first-time moms or people who are much more staunch advocates of breastfeeding than I am.

“What is most important more than anything else,” the lactation consultant told the small group, “is that you take care of YOU. If Mommy isn’t happy, no one is happy.”

Well, that was certainly an idea I could get behind. But when one mother voiced the apparently-controversial opinion that an ounce or two of formula here or there wasn’t going to hurt her baby, and even had the support of her pediatrician, the lactation consultant all but tsk-tsked.

“You know what you should do? You should WEAR your baby,” she told the mom. “Wear your baby–carry her around all the time, be with her all the time, nurse her all the time. That is what your baby needs.”

Um…what about the Mommy happy thing from a few minutes ago?

Because I know myself, and I know that if I spent every second of my life wearing a newborn like an albatross, it would eventually be two of us who would be incontinent, drooling and crying. Three, if we count the albatross.

So much of mothering these days is rooted in self-righteousness. “Well, I only fed my baby breastmilk.” “Well, I never let my baby watch television.” “Well, I always hold my child any time he cries.” The emphasis on the “I” in such sentences carries with it the implicit, if unstated, rebuke of “and if YOU don’t do this, you SUCK as a mother, and possibly as a person as well.”

When I read the Vogue profile of Sarah Jessica Parker quoting her as patting herself on the back that she didn’t have a live-in nanny, I thought, “Girlfriend? PLEASE.” [See Mayim Bialik's take on the same article here.]

“We don’t have any live-in help. We’re pretty hands-on parents. That’s something that’s important to both of us, and we don’t shirk it, because what’s the point in having a family if you’re not going to really participate in it, you know?” Parker said to her Vogue interviewer over breakfast in a West Village restaurant.

Now, I could be bitchy and point out that she could have had breakfast in her home if she wanted to always “really participate” in her family…but that would go completely against the point I want to make, which is that of COURSE she has help, because no woman who has her own career does it entirely on her own without help, whether from a live-in caregiver or a day care center or a relative or what have you. And none of that, by the way, means that the parent in question is in any way inadequate. Read the rest of this entry →

May 16 2011

I Shave My Armpits But I Use a Sling. Who Am I?

By at 1:38 pm

“Parenting” is a new-aged noun that every person who has the joy of procreating in the 21st century will redefine on a daily basis.  There are so many polarizing conversations centered around this topic it’s hard to believe a fully assimilated child will ever evolve from our efforts to become a contributing member of society. What with all the damage we do to them by bottle feeding, vaccinating, not vaccinating, breastfeeding too long, cosleeping/not cosleeping, starting solids too early, over scheduling them, oh and crushing their legs with a rear-facing car seat.  But Kveller blogger Carla was right in that there is no one way to parent because there are no two children exactly alike. I think that how we talk about “parenting” is the problem and not the actual motions we go through in the privacy of our own homes to love and raise our children to the best of our abilities.

I have been thinking a lot about how I relate to other parents and after reading this post, I could not agree more.  I never identified as granola, crunchy or alternative. I shave my pits and let my family consume produce from Wal-Mart (the horror!) but after my son was born there were certain things that just felt right for us. I breastfeed, we coslept, I make all my own babyfood and I wear him everywhere I go. Those things didn’t make me a better Mama, if anything they make me cheap and lazy.  I didn’t want to mess with the cost or hassle of bottles, I didn’t want to get out of bed to feed him, he was less fussy when he stayed close to my chest and I’m not going to shell out $1 per jar of pureed squash that I can blend up for a fraction of the price.

But my parenting strategies didn’t all of a sudden make me a hippie either. I’m still me, granted a sleep-deprived, overprotective version with a child strapped to my chest. But I’m not going to compost or deny the advances of modern medicine to go it alone with an acupuncturist and a deck of tarot cards anytime soon.

I realized that much of my “parenting” aligned with the Dr. Sears model of “attachment parenting” and while I do identify with this movement, I also feel  like I have to hide the fact that we don’t cloth diaper, the amber necklace I bought did jack for teething, and we no longer co sleep. Actually, after about six months my son wouldn’t sleep in bed with me for five minutes if I paid him in chocolate breastmilk popsicles. So, off to his crib he went to sleep soundly through the night and never look back. My baby played quietly in the exersaucer while I cooked for close to five months until he outgrew it and then we assembled the playyard (I shred the directions after reading that the contraption “is great for pets, too!”) My child happily plays independently in a confined area and I get dinner on the table. And while I believe our birth experience was exactly as it should have been, I’m not going to pipe up and brag about my induction, epidural, and episiotomy. I don’t want a medal for the way in which my son came into this world, having him here is evidence enough that it was perfect.

The SNL video clip of Tina Fey in a birthing class in the post is all kinds of hilarious and not just because of the birthing-69-position. It demonstrates that they way we parent and talk about parenting may not be as well-suited for another family as it is to our own. I like to think that because of my own trial-and-error parenting I am more accepting of how other people raise their children and I love to learn new tricks along the way. It took me a while to feel confident as a Mama, but I am only confident that I am doing right by my son–and I have no clue about other kids.

So here’s to inclusive conversations that lead to better mothers, unlikely friends, and the hope that we manage to screw our kids up as little as possible along the way.

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