« Happy Plague Day to You | Main | Running Up That Hill »

November 08, 2010


Excellent analysis. I freaked out when my maternity leave was over at a comparatively luxurious three months. My Swedish friend got ONE YEAR PAID maternity leave. She said it was standard. It's paid for by high taxes and the fact she had worked previously. Her maternity pay was a percentage of her last salary (like 70%). I'd take that over what most Moms get here (4-6 weeks and NADA).

Thanks, Jo! You summed up nicely why I had so much trouble finding anything to say about the article other than, "Whaaaaa? BULLSHIT!" - it's so all over the map that it's hard to respond coherently. You did a wonderful job - can't wait to read the other responses.

The big takeaway vibe I get from the piece is that Jong made decisions about how to parent that for whatever reason make her feel really defensive now so she tries to disparage those who choose differently. I say this as a breastfeeding/pumping, cosleeping, babywearing working-outside-the-home mom, who just tries to do her best because it's what works for my family. I fully accept other styles of parenting as valid and good. I try to leave both judgement and defensiveness at the door and I wish Jong would too. Just because those choices weren't for her doesn't mean they are not good and valid choices for others. UGH.

I agree she's sloppy about who/what she's actually criticizing. But this is valuable:

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'm also fascinated by her point that the zeitgeist right now about the best way to parent has a conservative effect on the larger culture, even when it's talked about as a progressive approach.

I don't have the time or the patience to read the whole article. That said, what a load of BS.

First you are so right about her complete misunderstanding about attachment parenting. The core of it may state that mother is the most important care giver, and if you breastfeed well duh. But, I also know that is speaks about taking care in finding trusting and loving caregivers for your child as well whether it's another parent, relative or paid help. Her assumption that AP says a baby can ONLY be cared for by mother is flatly false.

Two, her assumption that AP cannot be accomplished by a WOHM is also false (see above). I work out of the home, but I choose to parent with the AP principles in mind when I am home, and ensure her care provider (my husband) also parents in that way.

Three, just ugh! I HATE how Jong (and other writers) write about a subject like attachment parenting, green parenting (not the same thing Jong!), breastfeeding, natural and/or home birth as if those of us doing these things are constantly in the face of those who don't. These subjects or often (usually) in the minority. This is a straw women argument.

Most mothers are not doing these things and they are not challenged at every turn for embracing the mainstream choice. It is those outside the mainstream who are often challenged. Either way, what's that saying about no one can make you feel guilty, you do it to yourself.

One thing that I think people miss when criticizing attachment parenting is that, after dreaming of being a parent for however long (9 mos, 5 years, whatever) -- once the kid arrives, one finds oneself wanting to actually DO some parenting. And newborns/infants, while often overwhelming, are simultaneously a little boring. I found myself wanting to feel like I was Actively Parenting more than feeding, cuddling, and changing. So I started making my own food, and using cloth diapers, reading books on parenting theories. It was just something my ADD brain could find to occupy itself.

I don't know if I'm explaining it well. But I do think there's something about the fact that one imagines parenting as reading to the kid and trips to the zoo and romps through the park -- and then the child is born and caring for them doesn't mesh with your vision of Parenting so you look for extra ways to have impact Today. I think something like that is a motivator for some people, an extra thing to point to and find fulfillment. A way of comforting oneself.

Also, the number one thing I hated about parenting from shortly after my oldest was born was how competitive it made me feel. It was one thing when I compared myself to others and found myself lacking -- but when I compared my parenting to others and found it lacking, it meant I was ruining my itty bitty beloved's life FOREVER. And that is a crappy feeling to have, the kind of crappy feeling that would (mistakenly) inspire you to start a 'mommy war' just to avoid feeling it again, ie "But, but, I'm doing [whatever], so my kid will be happy and whole!" There's a little part of you that wants a guarantee of their future happiness, and that part meets up with little bit of insanity that hopes [home-made food] and [organic everything] matched with the [best car seat] and [?????] will bring that guarantee.

I haven't read the article but I'm going to shoot off my mouth for a minute anyway, 'kay? I wonder if some women from the second-wave era don't realize that they've bought into something false: the idea that mothering deserves to be low-status work. What you're saying reminds me of Linda Hirshman's writing too -- free to be you and me, baby, as long as you don't want to do anything wacky like enjoy being with your babies.

You get it. Jong doesn't. That about covers it.

I also found it disjointed.

But I think attachment parenting has the same trap as any other parenting system, namely that this is the RIGHT WAY to do things. But I never much like people telling me how I should be raising my children, and how I should feel* about them while I'm doing it. Of course, I don't actually feel guilty about the parenting choices I make, so I think that must mean that I'm doing it right.

*I thought maternity leave was like depression: getting anything done took a huge amount of energy, showering didn't seem worth the effort, I never got out of the house, I was tired and bored. So I was happy going back to work, although I did miss the baby.

You know what pisses me off the most about these types of articles (and this is hardly the first one I've read) is that I wind up feeling attacked for my parenting choices. You know, the ones she's so concerned that I not be attacked for.

I used cloth diapers because I didn't like the idea of all those disposables going into the landfill. I figured out a pretty simply way to do it, and along the way I found there were some advantages, like no blowouts and kids that were both potty trained by 2 1/2. So yeah, I DO tell people that their misconceptions don't match up with my experience.

I made my own baby food, too (inasmuch as you can call putting dry oats in a blender and tossing halved squash on a cookie sheet for a half hour "making baby food") and again, found I preferred it that way and that it saved a LOT of money. And, actually, I like batch-cooking, so it was a process I enjoyed.

None of this matters. The argument, I'm sure, is that I only THINK I wanted to do these things. I'm ACTUALLY just falling prey to the unrealistic expectations placed on me by a misogynistic society that wants to imprison me in my home.

Never mind that I spent the 15 years before I had children earning a living, supporting a household, and biding my time waiting for the right moment to do what I wanted: to immerse myself in parenting. The "feminists" know better.

*insert eye roll here*

well said. i work outside the home. i practise attachment parenting. i frankly found it way easier to get stuff done with the bambino on my back and breastfeeding made it easier to get around, and less work sterilizing bottles etc.

there's a link in jong's article to a nicey-nice article by her daughter saying basically, "all in all i think she was a fine mum" that neatly avoids all of her drinking/drugging/eating disorders/other difficulties. all i can think is, that's great that molly was able to get past her difficult childhood and forgive, but it does not make erica jong a good mother and certainly she has no right to criticize the choices of others especially when she can't even get her parenting theories straight.

Well said ! I agree, baby wearing as a trend irks me.I started "babywearing" as a teenager, when I finally got the baby sister I had long been hoping for: because of some parenting philosophy I was bent on ? Because of some trend ? Nope; because it just made sense to snuggle that baby I was so excited to have around, and it made her happy and me able to do some chores.
Attachment parenting as a trend or psuedo-religion bothers me too. It makes it seem that things that should be normal for all babies are just some part of a particular philosophy, and it seems that alternately some people just use it as a parenting crutch (any child raising philosophy) to not actually take the time to consider the individual needs of the child or family; but just to say," I am an attachment parent." Labeling ourselves and conforming to what we think that label means, which defies my idea of the most valuable point of AP: conscious parenting, where we actually take the time to consider the cause and effect relationship of how we raise children.
Anyhow, I am also glad to hear someone stand up for women that WANT to be home raising families. I feel like I've spent my kidsi whole lives having to defend the idea that this is what I want to be doing, something I consciously decided to do, as opposed to what I am doing in the meantime, before I actually start doing something worthwhile with my life.

Really enjoyed your post. While reading the article I was so irritated but couldn't put my finger on what was really bothering me. I think you articulated it perfectly.

Yeah, caro, I agree that's a valuable point -- I wish she'd gone with that instead zinging off in every direction. Although she does seem to lay the blame for our fast food nation and immigrant nannies (which is the rich-lady version; other people are stuck with terrifyingly crappy day care centers) at the feet of mothers -- instead of with the infinitely corrupt system that makes it cheaper to feed your kids processed corn and a better economic bet to pay someone else a pittance to watch your child while you go back to work.

I feel compelled to point out that the last point is very different from saying women should HAVE to stay home -- rather, we should have access to good quality affordable childcare for ALL those who need it.

@Meira: I really liked your comment. I think it's a very compassionate, empathic take on WHY mothers tend to get into "Mommy Wars" in the first place. I always think that 99% of people's behavior makes sense if you take the time to really understand what the person's experience is like...

I haven't read the Jong article. I figure, journalists are caught in a system of having to find "trendy" or provocative things to write about, and I understand that, but I also have found, too many times, that their articles add nothing to my life--nothing positive, anyway...

Thanks for the mention! I surely was confused why there were actually people reading my blog 2 days after I wrote something! Ha!

I think it's really interesting to read Jong's piece, then read her daughter's, and then go back and read Jong's again. Try it! Tell me what you think!

Great post, Jo.

You know, I remember reading Erica Jong back in the day and feeling incredibly liberated by the women characters she described. I haven't read the novels in years, but my own parenting life is vastly different from what I recall of the lives of the parents depicted there.

And that's okay. That's not what I wanted for myself as a parent. Nor was I particularly interested in attachment parenting--and because my early days of parenting were spent in Park Slope, there was a lot of pressure of be *that* kind of parent.

So, while I agree that Jong has generalized and conflated and confused, I also think she makes a valid point. Sometimes, we (okay, I) make it harder than it has to be.

hmmm... that's not exactly what I took away from Jong's article.

What I thought she was saying was that our western culture and context has laid all responsibility for raising a child upon a parent, usually the mother - and that many mothers feel insane pressure to live up to the high standards that our society (media, politics) have placed on parents.

There is very little support for parents in community - and parents are not encouraged to look beyond themselves for support, guidance or nurture for their children.

It is a bit of a self sufficiency myth, perhaps brought on by a heightened focus on the individual over the community. By placing all responsibility for a child upon a mother, she is isolated and left to her own resources - as well as forced to absent herself from the public forum.

Did I read it wrong?

melody, I feel like that's what Jong *almost* said -- but then went and did the same thing herself (laid responsibility at the feet of the mothers).

FoxyKate, I did that -- and read that way, Molly's column is haunting. It bespeaks a sort of buried grief that isn't cultural, just very personal. Anybody who's had that much therapy is probably very aware of said grief, so I'm guessing it's being deliberately glossed ovre.

And then Erica's piece reads all nasty and attack-y.

I haven't read all the comments here but I'll just say that I AM a feminist, with a women's studies degree, and I think Erica Jong comes across as a bitter hag who is full of regret for the lack of choices she had when she was a parent. (Or for the choices she made, whichever way you look at it.)

I chose to attachment parent my 2 kids in the beginning because it was the easiest, most natural thing for my family. Choice. That was mine. Yes, it was hard. But worth every minute of it, especially now that they are 8 and 5 and happy and independent and those days of cuddling and loving my babies are gone. I did it also because of the staggering amount of research that shows that attachment early on leads to more independent and well adjusted teenagers/adults... hence removing the need for me to "helicopter parent" as she says. (She totally misses the mark on that one.

And have you seen this article written by Jong's daughter... it paints what Jong wrote in a new light. Especially the part about Jong immediately hiring a baby nurse. Only a woman of privilege can do that, and then 40 years later write a book about how hard parenting is. She has no credibility in my eyes regarding parenting, let alone any other benchmark of what modern women are all about.


Just wanted to add here, in a response to this article, I discovered this article written by Alice Walker's daughter. Just an interesting insight on a clear generational gap between the original feminist hard-liners and their own daughters who have managed to successfully combine careers and motherhood.


Re: Alice Walker: well, they don't call it the Daily Fail for nothing. While Alice Walker was in many ways kind of a...let's say a non-invested mother (okay, awful), it's misguided of Rebecca to blame that on feminism. I think a lot of it had to do with Walker herself.

And then her daughter's response is more of the same. It's all getting shoved in the "feminism" box where it really doesn't belong.

Anon, I'm sorry, that was rude of me to just launch right into the Walker thing. YES, I do agree with you that it is a generational thing, and everything else you said (bitter hag, choices, etc.) I just launched into the Walker thing because some years back, Rebecca was interviewed on Fresh Air (I think) and, whoa. Harrowing.

I'm reacting not to your post, but to the flurry of columns by Michelle Malkin and crew. :)

I think Alice's issues (and therefore Rebecca's) go WAY beyond feminism.

I just found the piece so mean-spirited -- attacking individual moms for choosing attachment parenting, blaming moms for their parenting choices while entirely ignoring dads' roles, etc. -- that I wasn't interested in her central point (did she really have one?) A few of her thoughts ring true, but as a whole the column just made me shake my head.

I don't care HOW you parent, parenting takes TIME, especially when your kids are small. Some of us hire help so we can work, some of us stay home and do it ourselves, some of us have family nearby who help out, but there's no getting around the fact that kids need care. As you say, it's a basic fact of biology and infant development. A lot of the things I do are to keep my kids healthy and happy for my own convenience - including breastfeeding. So sue me.

It seems her true gripe is that today's parents are not a unified group directly attacking the things *she* sees as problems - ie: environmental carcinogens, nuclear war - and instead are spending all our time browsing organic apples at the farmer's market. If we would all just focus our energy on the big problems instead of this stupid eco-attachment parenting thing, we'd have no worries, right? Yeah. Well, someone still has to buy the Pampers, mix the formula, and pick the kids up before 6pm.

I had hoped that maybe we were moving into a new wave of feminism where the work of raising a family - the physical, brain-numbing, day-in-day-out routine of taking care of children - would be valued as much as anything else, but I guess not.

And the fact is, I LIKE my kids. I like spending time with them. I wouldn't have had them had I not anticipated that. Yes I work and they go to day care, but I have no desire to ship them off to a childcare commune as Jong seems to.

I don't know. I've read this now at least 3 times, and I STILL don't understand her point. I'm to do my own thing as a parent, as long as I don't do any sort of attachment parenting? I'm to make up my own rules, as long as I follow Jong's directions?

I say, fire this right back at her. Her obsession with parenting is keeping her from leading the rest of us in changing the world. She needs to do the best she can, and stop worrying about what other people say.

Is it really necessary to use such ugly terms as "hag" when we disagree? It really devalues one's arguments.

This business about Molly Jong-Fast's "painful childhood" is a lot of bunk, to my mind. Anyone whose childhood doesn't include pain care to raise their hand? People seem to be forgetting how different things were in the 1970's, and how few choices women had. The women that came before us had to make painful choices and break some pretty hard ground, and carping at them from the comparative luxury of the 21st century is pretty easy pickings.

Abigail, I don't see anyone here crapping on Jong's choices in and of themselves -- just pointing out that she is crapping on a lot of other mothers' choices! Jong is the aggressor here, not today's mothers. I doubt anyone would have given two shits about how Jong did things if she hadn't started taking ill-conceived potshots.

I would venture to say that all people have some pain in childhood, but there is something uniquely relevant about the pain Molly went through as a direct result of her mother's actions (not just the abandonment stuff, but the addictions and blackouts) when it comes to her take on parenting vs. her mother's.

Unless you're all privy to some Jong family gossip that I'm not, I don't see it. I do read this:

"She was incredibly kind to me and always made me feel loved. She supported me in whatever I did and was convinced that everything I produced was brilliant, even the lopsided coffee mug and the asymmetrical pillow. She never was competitive with me. She never said mean things to me, even when I had just wrecked yet another car. She was a million times better a mother to me than her mother had been to her."

And let's be honest, I bet Molly Jong-Fast doesn't have a penny of student loan debt and very nice teeth.

This entire thread seem to be about hurt feelings. If you're really going to bemoan the "Mommy Wars" then don't participate so gleefully and call people bitter hags. If it is really all a big buffet of choices, then celebrate Jong's to go full bore career woman. Good for her.

I thought Jong made some excellent points about how the isolation of parenting can be used politically against women, and about the super mom trope that is used to bash us. This seems particularly timely, and scary. All of us in isolation feeding our kids homegrown veggies isn't going to make a lick of difference under the Palin administration. Fiddling while Rome burns?

Abigail, did you actually read the comments here? Or are you talking about the comments in general? Because here, people are saying things like "I fully accept other styles of parenting as valid and good. I try to leave both judgement and defensiveness at the door and I wish Jong would too."

I've read over the comments here, again and again, and I don't see what you're talking about. Straw woman, much?

I was pretty clear Jo. The ugly assumptions about Jong's daughter, the term "bitter hag" - that is what I'm talking about.

And thanks for entirely ignoring my point that Jong raised her child in an entirely different century, when women didn't have the choices we have now.

What ugly assumptions? Jong-Fast herself has been very clear in the media about the nature of her childhood. I will agree that "bitter hag" is unnecessary (and admit to seconding it), but to fixate on that is to ignore the substance of the argument.

As I said above, the problem isn't that Jong chose to work or whatever it is you're getting at. (The fact that she blacked out from drug use while caring for her daughter, that's problematic, but not the central issue -- it doesn't exactly fall under "parenting choices".) It's that she's being snide and belittling the choices modern mothers are making today -- modern mothers including her daughter.

I would venture to point out that those of us charged with the majority of childrearing and homemaking tasks (which, let's face it, have a way of eating up the day) are engaged in politics whether we think about it or not -- and growing tomatoes in the garden can be a subversive act on a manageable scale.

I think we all know that competitive crunchy mothering can be taken way too far, becoming just another corporatized status symbol, but there are lots of parents, men and women, doing real work to change the status quo -- but it might not look the way Jong and others expect it to. Shopping the local economy and foodscape, making nontraditional childcare arrangements like having a stay-at-home dad (or, gasp, half of a same-sex couple!) -- these things are just as political as a march, know what I mean? To characterize this stuff as fiddling while Rome burns is missing a movement.

The comments to this entry are closed.