The recent conflict that Batinder has brought up with her new book makes for interesting discussions. The idea she promotes that homemaking is anti-feminist in nature because it takes away from a woman’s personal freedom bothers me on a few fronts. Although she brings up many valid points on the dedication required in order to parent in an emotionally intelligent manner, supporting children’s physical and psychological development under what is often referred to as ‘attachment parenting’, I feel that she misses the boat on the perceived ‘drawbacks’ of such a choice. I also feel that she herself has shown some anti-feminist opinions that limit a woman’s abilities and value. You don’t need to be a hardcore feminist to realise that women are consistently devalued in society and now that women themselves are doing so to each other baffles me completely.
The movement now towards full-time parenting, with women often stalling their education or careers temporarily to be with their children seems like a backlash against the now typical unfolding of family life where children are separated from parents early. The movement of ‘attachment parenting’ is not a modern concept, more like it is a return to intuitive parenting that has been previously overwhelmed by coercive parenting practices that sought to push children into dependence rather than let it unfold naturally exactly so that women can enter the workforce sooner. Those parenting practices supported what families wanted and valued at the time: independence from childcare. But now, with the publication of long-term studies on the effect this has on children’s psychological development, more and more parents are choosing to change their perspective on parenting from being an inconvenience to being a sacred calling. However, since this is not longer the norm, those that choose this route seem to gather the scorn of those who instead choose to focus on careers and wealth. It is often portrayed as an insult to all the work previous women have invested in opening the doors to the workforce to women specifically. Some even go as far as to take it personally that another women chooses to make the sacrifices necessary to her lifestyle in order to stay at home with her children, claiming that she is ‘holier than thou’ because of this, rather than because she may feel it is honoring her maternal instincts.
However, one of the main goals of many feminist agendas is fighting for the right for women to have the power to precisely CHOOSE the lives they wish to lead and be supported in that. I get the impression however from Badinter’s writing that choosing to consciously parent is inferior to pursuing personal interests. I feel that this belittles the work that women do lovingly maintaining their home environment and their family’s well-being as their full-time occupation. Why motherhood as a vocation is not considered to be a valid choice for women to make is beyond me. Regardless if women wish to do housework or not, or raise their children or not, someone needs to do it. If women choose to not do it themselves, they must pay someone else to do so for them. I know that personally I am not comfortable with trusting flawed institutions to raise my children in an empathic and developmentally appropriate manner. There is plenty of literature on this subject, with the writings of David Elkind and Alfie Kohn as excellent places to start for example. The daycare industry is also not as beneficial as some need to believe, with issues developing in social and emotional development because of a lack of continuity of care and caregiver to child ratios. This system has many flaws, which I am well aware of because of my experience in the field and attending college exactly for working in this industry. It is another area that needs positive change and more government support to be beneficial for those who choose to or need to use them, but I digress.
However, many women who need to return to work immediately after birthing their babies express the desire to remain at home with their children but financial issues prevent them from doing so, showing that the ability to parent one’s own children is important for many women. Many women WANT to mother but feel pressured by society’s modern expectations of women to not only WANT a career but to aggressively pursue it, to the detriment of other aspects of their lives. How is this liberating to women? Women in general now are expected to do everything: have an education and a full career, and also become dedicated mothers. It is a lot of expectations for a single person, especially all at once. Many women try to meet the image of super-woman and cause much unbalance in their lives, generating anxiety problems and much frustration. It isn’t to say that a woman cannot both be a mother and have a career, but unless the workforce changes to accommodate parents, having them both at the same time now requires sacrificing one’s needs for the other. Children adapt to this because they have to, but why is this necessary? Or even desired? I feel that Badinter does not address the reality of impersonal childcare and its consequences appropriately and the main focus seems to be on the mother’s wants at the expense of her family.
Much of the feminist literature for example emphasizes adopting pseudo-masculine behaviours in order to be accepted and successful in the workforce. This was necessary at the time for women to shed their stereotypical roles in order to be respected and taken seriously as it was a man’s world after all. But if you look closely today, not much has really changed. Women’s strengths, aptitudes, and biological needs are still not considered valuable enough to fully support. Simply looking to our maternity care systems, our financial and social aid programs, and our education systems you can see the disparity. Why, if feminism is not yet dead, should women shed their biological and instinctual roles in order to be considered valuable and liberated? Why does motherhood, and other roles that are distinctly feminine need to be abandoned in order to be considered having lived a worthy life?
Feminism for me, it isn’t about demanding to do like men in every aspect of society. Sure, women can do almost anything a man can, however as women and mothers, we have a unique contribution to make that is different from what a man can contribute (just as men and fathers have their own unique contributions that are different from women’s). That unique contribution should be valued and integrated into society without forcing women to reject their own biology. It makes no sense for children to suffer so that women can feel empowered in a society that devalues them at every turn. We need to realise that our value does not rest upon what formal education we have or what accolades we gather, nor does it rest on how our children ‘turn out’ either. We should feel that whatever choices we made in our lives were done consciously and supportively and to accept the unfolding of them.
Another consistent flaw to Batinder’s perspective towards motherhood is that the needs of the child are being ignored or dismissed completely. A mother’s interests outside of her relationship to her family are being elevated so high that her responsibility to the well-being of her family is being downplayed. She often puts the emphasis on a woman’s needs above that of the children she is responsible for and this approach to the parent-child relationship has its costs as well. When one’s person’s needs are put above the other, in any relationship, this causes dysfunction. In this case the children are the ones bearing the brunt of having to adapt to inappropriate expectations for their development so that their parents can pursue their own ambitions. How is this considered healthy? Especially since the most crucial time period for laying the foundations for healthy development in a child’s life is the first 3-5 years of their life, very little time in the grand scheme of things, to dedicate solely to meeting that child’s needs and prepare them for success in the world.
I can understand how mothering full-time does not appeal to everyone however. Women are still very much unsupported in child-rearing and it can be lonely if a community is not sought out. We also bring into parenthood all the issues we have from our own childhoods which are often brought back to the surface after having a baby, causing much anxiety if we do not put any effort into our own personal growth during this time. Parenting can be incredibly difficult because of this and some women are just not ready or interested in investing their time in this project. It is hard work being a mother and I understand the desire to escape home and deal with more mundane work-related issues that are more impersonal. I do not believe however that neglecting the needs of the family are necessary in having a fulfilling life and feeling ‘accomplished’. We definitely can have our cake and eat it too but some serious changes on a societal level need to be implemented. In reality, women need to be supported in integrating their family lives with work, if they are to be properly enmeshed and not cause dysfunction. Parenting cannot be seen as an isolated responsibility, a side-note to life. It should really be the main focus of our care systems, to ensure that the next generations are raised in a healthy manner and that parents are supported completely in meeting their family’s needs and pursue their interests.
I strongly believe that consciously choosing to raise your own children in a culture that no longer reveres motherhood is extremely feminist, as it makes the bold statement that MOTHERS matter and that CHILDREN matter. And that’s fabulous.