I had a conversation this summer with a mom friend about the challenges of working at home with the kids around. How difficult it is to concentrate. How hard to actually complete a task, let alone a thought or a sentence on the phone. She said ultimately, though, that despite all of that, the bottom line for her is that she just doesn’t want to be without her kids. She’d rather have them with her, even though it makes getting work done tough, than with a sitter or off in camp.
I am so not that mom.
And I feel kind of guilty about that. I often wish I could access more of a bottomless well of love, patience, and compassion for my children, and that my longing to be with them trumped other things. But the truth is, I LOVE time away from my kids. I need it. Time to get something done. Time to have a quiet thought. And physical space to myself, too, where no one is right on top of me, pulling on me, or yelling for me. I love my children — adore and am delighted by them — but I love my own physical and mental space, too. A lot.
Chrissy and I spent some time talking about that us/them, push/pull this weekend, when I think we were both feeling a little overwhelmed by the demands of family togetherness (thankfully, we had a sitter on Saturday night and got some time to ourselves to help balance things out.)
All of this was on my mind Sunday night when I received a note from my friend Maggie (a relatively new mom herself) about a recent piece she’d read by Erica Jong in the Wall Street Journal on parenting. The piece was called “Mother Madness” and, in it, Jong asserts that, given the expectations society and we have placed on ourselves, motherhood has essentially become a “prison for modern women.”
She points a persuasive finger of blame at William and Martha Sears, proponents of “attachment parenting,” where the baby’s needs become paramount, and at the idea that it does not take a village to raise a child — it takes only the parents, who should be able to complete all child-rearing tasks happily and easily. Other caregivers? Unnecessary and undesirable.
Furthering her case, Jong cites a recent bestselling book in France, soon to be published elsewhere, called “The Conflict: Woman and Mother,” by Elisabeth Badinter. Badinter questions attachment parenting and the suggestion that a woman must surrender herself to the demands of her baby, saying that such “supposedly benign” expectations victimize women and that, when combined with the pressure to be environmentally correct, too (use cloth diapers! make your own baby food!), “it’s a prison for mothers, and it represents as much of a backlash against women’s freedom as the right-to-life movement.”
Whoa. Extreme, and yet, I get it.
Read the article for yourself, mama. Jong has lots more to say than I will detail here — on “helicopter parenting,” how the demand for perfect children falls on the mother, and how our “obsession with parenting” is really just a way for us to attempt to control the uncontrollable. All extremely interesting.
And, as is probably pretty clear, I agree. I think some of the rules and expectations about mothering and how you have to “do it right” or risk screwing it up — it’s on you if something goes wrong! — are harmful and confining. Not to mention damaging to stress and guilt levels.
But what struck me the most about the article was the last couple of lines. Jong says: “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.”
(Photo by: i t z h a r)