The Madness of Motherhood

Today is Saturday. My day off! It’s really just half a day, but enough time for me to gloriate in my garden and bring the computer to my favorite coffee shop for some writing. I feel blessed!

Mid way through the next and last installment of the cast iron cookery series, I got up to get more water for my tea. At the counter I happened to look over the headlines of the Wall Street Journal, not a typical activity for my eyes. Up in the top corner, where they put the “human interest” spots, I saw

Erica Jong on The Madness of Motherhood

Hmmm…  How juicy. To which of the madnesses could she be referring? Haven’t I heard of her before? Rather than pay for a Wall Street Journal, I looked it up online.

Wowza. This chic packs a punch. After the first waves of rage passed, I found her article and my reaction to it fascinating. Thought provoking. I’ve always liked to read extremists, on any side. If you are feeling up for getting yelled at to relax about parenting, go check it out. There’s some really true stuff, bound up into an argument who’s spoken point I can agree with wholeheartedly, but who’s underlying passion and adjenda are everything I write against.

Very interesting.


15 thoughts on “The Madness of Motherhood

  1. Okay… maybe I need you to explain more. She sort of says some of the same things that you have — that we ask A LOT of modern moms, forget the fact that the “village” is no longer there, that kids should be allowed to be by themselves and figure things out for themselves, that kids are individuals and you can only nurture them so much. Isn’t this a lot of what you believe? What made you angry? Sorry if I missed the point of her article or your previous posts… Admittedly, I read her article pretty fast….

  2. Did you read her daughter’s piece? Pretty illustrative of Jong’s point of departure i.e. too busy being a famous writer and being terribly political to raise her own baby.

    She’s just wrong in so many places in this article. It’s not just her misogynist disrespect for traditional ‘women’s work’ (she’s all about the public and the political being the ‘rewarding’ work) but she demonises attachment parenting by declaring it’s a ‘perfect tool for the political right’! What utter tosh.

    Jong, with her insistence that deep nurturing is a myth (at this point I was really boiling) COMPLETELY misses the point that raising children YOURSELF (not passing them off to someone else while you get on with the ‘important work’), IS political.

    Every damn loaf of bread we bake ourselves, every piece of clothing we sew of fix rather than chuck and replace, every day we strap on a baby rather than go back to a corporate workplace – they are all political decisions.

    She’s an idiot.

    (P.S. Thanks for pointing me to the article.)

  3. Oh Please.
    And, um what?
    “I would have had to take my baby on lecture tours, in and out of airports, television stations and hotels. But that was impossible. Her schedule and mine could not have diverged more. So I hired nannies, left my daughter home and felt guilty for my own imperfect attachment. I can’t imagine having done it any other way. Even if every hotel and every airport had had a beautiful baby facility—which, of course, they didn’t—”
    I don’t actually get this part. Both my babes have been in and out of plenty of hotels and airports. I’m not sure exactly what kind of “facility” one would require???

  4. Oh & I have two questions.
    1) ms lottie – really??
    2) inner pickle – do you have a link to her daughter’s piece?

  5. I don’t really see what point she is trying to make. The overall impression I got though is that she seems quite bitter about something.
    I agree that there is a lot of pressure on parents now to raise the ‘perfect’ child as well as working, having the perfect home etc etc. but I think that a lot of mother’s make too many excuses. If you’re not prepared to sacrifice some things then why have children in the first place? If she really wanted to stay at home with her child then she could have found a job where she didn’t have to travel so much. And I don’t agree that you need a lot of people or a lot of money to raise decent kids. I come from a big family and my parents had very little help bringing us up and we had very little money. It was tough, but they managed.
    Being a parent is hard work, if you’re not prepared to do the time then don’t commit the crime!

  6. The first part of her article seemed pretty reactionary, and a clever and entertaining retort to the more bizarre elements of attachment parenting. I thought it was funny. Interestingly, her daughter’s article was a sort of “case study”–“proving” that her mum’s method worked well enough for raising her.

    The daughter’s focus on the individual case (the daughter) takes away from the rest of Erika’s article which was way more compelling. It wasn’t a fabulous dissection of structures of inequality and how attachment parenting fits within it, but it raised some questions (including, I think, the politics of a movement that fetichizes the bond between (usually) mother and infant, while paying little attention to other nurturing relationships).

    In the U.S. we pay so much attention to the individual, to the point of assuming we can affect a one-mother revolution in our own domestic sphere (and here I think I disagree with innerpickle: making a choice for my family is not the same as politics, or at least not the same kind of politics. politics is a lot harder, involves more people and involves thinking about “choices” in a radically different way). I think that Erica was gesturing (again, not very effectively, and I wish she hadn’t left it ’til the end) towards other political struggles–the chastising part of her article:

    “The first wave of feminists, in the 19th century, dreamed of communal kitchens and nurseries. A hundred years later, the closest we have come to those amenities are fast-food franchises that make our children obese and impoverished immigrant nannies who help to raise our kids while their own kids are left at home with grandparents. Our foremothers might be appalled by how little we have transformed the world of motherhood.”

    I agree with that last sentence, and it’s that thrust that I liked most about the article. But her closing sentence took us back to the individual: “We need someone to say: Do the best you can. There are no rules.” Shame. She needed to say more about how to realize the sorts of transformations that could benefit us all.

  7. I don’t think that Jong really ‘gets’ attachment parenting – but for people who find the AP ideas guilt-inducing or if they just don’t work for ya I say drop it and try something else, with haste! I liked “do the best you can. there are no rules.” I’m a at-home mama and I love it (most of the time!) & I really don’t feel oppressed by cooking for my family or spending time with my son – I’m just really f-ing grateful for it.

  8. Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety by Judith Warner comes to mind. Have any of you heard of or read it?

    From The New Yorker:

    In this polemic about contemporary motherhood, Warner argues that the gains of feminism are no match for the frenzied perfectionism of American parenting. In the absence of any meaningful health, child-care, or educational provisions, martyrdom appears to be the only feasible model for successful maternity—with destructive consequences for both mothers and children. Comparing this situation with her experiences of child-rearing in France, Warner finds American “hyper-parenting”—pre-school violin and Ritalin on demand—”just plain crazy.” The trouble is a culture that, though it places enormous private value on children, neglects them in the arena of public policy. She is concerned less with sexual politics than with the more pervasive effects of the “winner takes all” mentality, and makes an urgent case for more socially integrated parenthood.

    excerpt from preface entitled “This Mess”, back cover:

  9. This article is offensive. The author equates the trend of attachment parenting with infanticide. Like many feminists, she thinks she can separate the social issues of child-rearing from female biology, as if it is nothing more than a coincidence–or perhaps a sexist plot–that the female carries the fetus, births it and then suckles it for its first years. (“As long as women remain the gender most responsible for children, we are the ones who have the most to lose by accepting the “noble savage” view of parenting.”)

    In truth, Song’s brand of feminism –that which ignores biological reality– is doomed to perpetuate this notion that women CAN and therefore should do it all. It is her philosophy, not attachment parenting, which says women never have to chose, or prioritize, or make sacrifices. It is a clearly ridiculous notion if applied to any recognized career (no one suggests you should be able to be a great CEO and a top-notch professional plumber at the same time simply because you like the idea of both those things) but the Jong-style feminists will happily make this case for career and parenting–“you can have both, and for the good of women’s rights, you should!”–then offload their baby on a nanny and their own conflicted guilt on women who are willing to wash their kids diapers.

    1. well put Erica! both points are really right on, and deserve much more delving. hope you don’t mind if i quote you in a future post!

  10. I’ve read both of these articles and, then, the comments on your blog. I’ll start off mentioning that I didn’t know anyone like either one of them when I was a young, married woman. Everyone I knew worked, either full or part-time, and I didn’t know anyone with a nanny.

    My own mother (and father) raised five children while working full time as an engineer and a high school teacher. Certainly, we had babysitters at times and sometimes went to neighbors houses after or before school, but I don’t remember their names while I do remember my mother reading aloud to us on car trips and my dad scrubbing the kitchen floor with me, both of us with a scrub brush so we “knew how to to do it ourselves.” I came out as a fully functional, human being able to take care of myself and not needing anyone else’s protection.

    I actually didn’t know anyone whose mother stayed home full time although many did work part time as teachers, bus drivers, or nurses.

    This is what I thought of when I thought of “feminism” as a young wife, mother and working professional. The right to work, full or part-time, in your chosen field and to not be thought less of (or earn less) because you are a woman or because I’d chosen to have children or get married.

    I have done almost all variations of parenting described in the Jong mere et fille articles but the point is that the choice is mine.

    And the choice is yours, too. If you want to expend that amount of time and control in child raising, good for you. I probably do not but as my children now range in age from 7 to 21, I’m comfortable with how they are turning out. And to me, that’s how feminism has impacted my child raising.

    I do think that Jong’s abrasive ideas about what entails attachment parenting are pretty out of date – the Sears book has been out for almost 20 years and this the first time she thought of critiquing it? But I also loved her daughter’s statement that her mother’s work as an author allowed her to decide to stay at home when her own family situation called for it.

    As an aside, I asked my own 18-yr old daughter – who is trying to bake bread in the next room – what feminism means to her and she told me that “feminism means that she can work the same job as a man, it means that she can have mental health care without being told that it’s because her uterus is out of whack and she should have a baby – oh, she could go on and on.”

    Quite frankly, I have never thought of Erica Jong as a parenting example and this article made me wonder whether she was putting out a new book and needed to get her name in the news again.

  11. Maybe Jong’s approach is too extreme for some, but I have to agree with her for the most part. I cann’t be the best mother if my focus revolves solely around my child. I cannot “submit” as CJ wrote in a previous article. I cannot ignore who I am in the process of raising my child. I need to maintain my interests, and to take time out for me. I am happier, more relaxed and more enthusiastic this way by letting go and stepping back sometimes. By maintaining my interests and hobbies and maintaining my career/skills in some form (part time work in my case), I feel I will also be a better role model to my daughter when she’s older.

  12. Thanks for the link!

    The Jong article is definitely all over the place. The Sears book is not the only book on attachment parenting. Agree with inner pickle that radical homemakers are political. Breast-feeding and making your own baby food (assuming you’re farmer’s marketing) keeps $s away from the food industrial system and to “eschew disposable diapers”, what’s the problem there? Diapers are gross, get ’em outta diapers ASAP.

    Hilarious point Erica! Infanticide, baby-farming, attachment parenting. What?? And why is wet-nursing in there? Paying someone, someone from a lower socioeconomic class of course, is the older child equivalent. To say nothing of the global impact of hiring out domestic labor.

    I do agree with Jong’s assertion that community is important, but again she ignores class. Perhaps the wealthy have placed child perfection over a community ideal. Those of us who can’t afford to do a date night unless the child care is a babysit exchange need community. Community happens because you need it to.

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