18 November 2010

Yeah...We Are Going To Talk About That

I am sure that everyone knows about this: the Erica Jong op-ed piece that caused quite the dust-up.  I know lots of people have blogged about it, but I still want to talk about it.  I think the article did a great job of trying to articulate the problems with parenting in our culture, but due to that very culture of parenting, her message was probably lost.

Let me start by saying that I think she did her piece a major disservice by "going after" attachment parenting.  While the point of the article was not to specifically knock the technique, I can see how some could feel that way. I would argue that her use of AP was merely a familiar example for the point of discussion, but all many people heard was "AP may not the most perfect choice ever to walk the earth"...and cue the wank. Sadly, Jong's real, and insightful, points about modern parenting have been lost in the epic windfall of butthurt from readers who are now demanding with indignation "just who does Jong think she is to question MY choices." (The irony here is palpable, but I do digress.)

Assuming you can see past the alleged insult to certain parenting techniques, Jong makes three really important points that I think we would all do well to remember:
  1. Parenting Lip Service- We live in a culture that says parenting is the most important job on earth, yet does nothing to support parents in meeting the generally agreed upon "requirements" of being a good parent.  Society judges your parenting at every turn, but that same society doesn't want to hear it when you need time off from "real work" to parent.  Many of us are glad to have jobs let alone feel secure enough in said jobs to demand flex time, PTO for school volunteerism, breaks for pumping, on site childcare and so on.  The harsh reality is that most "real" jobs don't want to make room in the daily activities for kids, so if you work outside the home, meeting the high standards set for modern parenting can be tough.  Even those of us who are home full-time can't really be expected to do it all, our culture rarely provides the needed support, at home or out and about, to do this job perfectly 100% of the time.
  2. Woman's Work- The hyper focus on parenting, and more specifically mothering since that seems to be more of an issue, is the last bastion of ant-feminist rhetoric.  When all else fails women can always be put in their place by challenging their mothering, their plans to mother or their lack of desire to mother at all.  I have said before that men do not come under the same scrutiny for their parenting choices, or lack thereof, as often as women.  It is not mere coincidence that all of the hot button issue center around boobs and other tasks that are traditionally "girl stuff."   Classical feminism says you can do it all, reality says you just have to find the middle ground that works best for your little part of the world and run with it. Modern feminism means you have the choice to do whatever combination works best for your family, but modern society wants you to produce perfect little people churned out in homes that meet your child's every physical, emotional and education need 24/7 while claiming that being home is not "real work."  Of course you should be working as a "real" member of society showing everyone that women can do it all and do it better, but certainly not if it prevents you from washing cloth diapers and pureeing your own baby food. What is a gal to do?
  3. First-World Problems-Sitting around worrying about, and being judgmental about, parenting choices is merely the folly of affluent hipster parents who are lucky enough to even have a choice in the matter.  (I could learn a lot here since really, I should be damn grateful that being pissed about people who don't vaccinate is my biggest life concern.  Hot damn it could be so much worse.) Long story short, only those who can (by choice, chance or whatever) have someone home full time are worrying about these things.  All this feel-good parenting-first discourse doesn't change the fact that someone has to pay the bills and that someone(s) will have to give up some level of idealized parenting to make that happen.  Given the many ways in which people make up families in our society, we have to recognize that "perfect" won't be happening for many.  Lets face it, even those of us who are technically in the perfect situation to meet these rigorous standards may choose not to do so because the standards don't meet the needs of that family.  That is just real life vs. parenting books.
So there you have it,  Jong may have gone a little heavy on the AP bashing, but that doesn't mean she wasn't making some good points.  To really wrap up the discussion I would suggest reading the comments.  They perfectly illustrate how everyone is so wrapped up in the self-righteousness of their parenting choices that they failed to see the real point of the article.  As a follow-up piece Jong should just publish all the comments and say "See this?  Yup. All this. Just what I was talking about."   The point of the article is "hey, these standards are ridiculous so lets just all do our best and support each other as we try and do our best."  In sharp contrast, the current parenting mentality seems to be "the most important thing we can teach our children is contempt and disdain for anyone who make choices different from our own."  I will be getting T-shirts made with this slogan, let me know if you want one.

    8 comments:

    Alicen said...

    So I am the one who lives under a rock and actually hadn't heard about this article.

    I am with you and thought it had some very good, valid points. I actually enjoyed the article but then again I didn't get stuck on the specifics. I focused more on the article as a whole and the meaning as a whole.

    I guess there are some benefits to not getting caught up in the parenting trends or what's cool right now. You don't get easily offended when someone offers AP (or anything else for that matter) as an example. I do what works for us or what I feel is necessary and don't care about much else. My children seem to be doing just fine and are generally happy so to me that's all that matters.

    Honestly I didn't feel she bashed AP as much as what I expected after reading your post. That was the main focus but I think she was just using it as an example (and it's an easy one to prove her points). She also used some other things although I may be so oblivious to the actual "guidelines" of AP that I think they are separate (like cloth diapering, homemade baby food, etc).

    I am glad someone wrote an article like that, everyone just likes to think we (mothers) are suppose to put ourselves absolutely last in the scheme of everything in order to raise our child in the optimal environment. No one seems to care about us or our well being. The funny thing is that there is so much conflicting advice on what that environment should be. One would drive themselves crazy trying to read everything and follow all "advice" from all the various "experts".

    Oh and the comments, holy cow!! They do do a fabulous job at proving her point. I also found it funny that the only ones who were negative (in the dozen or so I read) were the people that practice AP. Even more funny to me was the fact that the majority of them worked full time! Sure I could probably be hardcore AP if it was only ever for 2 hours at night and the weekends!!!

    We as mothers/caregivers do need to do a better job at supporting each other. Does it really matter whether you cloth diaper or not? Or does it matter more that your kid is happy? There is so much pressure on us already we certainly don't need the added pressure of the evil eyes at the playground.

    Alexis said...

    @Alicen

    I think AP has gotten a "bad rap" because, as with all movements that take on religious fervor, the extremists take it on a personal crusade for superiority. Honestly if you look at the guidelines for AP, link at the end of the comment, they are quite realistic and have nothing to do with how you diaper, or if you BF or any of that crap. Ironically it was a movement meant to create a loving child-guided environment for kids but somehow it has turned into some kind of witch hunt for anyone who bottle-feeds, doesn't co-sleep, uses a stroller, buys disposable diapers or whatever the wank du jour may be. My point here is that when Jong used it as her example, she was actually just reinforcing her point by showing how warped this idea has become when it became a tool for building sanctimommies.

    Anyway, I am not sure that babble was constructive, but here is the AP link: http://www.attachmentparenting.org/principles/principles.php and hey what do ya know, as it turns out, we are APing and did not even know it (maybe less the sleep training thing...)!

    Alicen said...

    @Alexis

    Actually that babble was helpful. I guess most of my knowledge of attachment parenting (which was little to begin with) came from all those who use it to feel superior. I didn't think the cloth diapering, etc were part of it although I know many who AP also cloth diaper etc. I will definitely check out that link and see what really constitutes as attachment parenting.

    Also I think we both probably follow a little bit of everything out there. We do what works for us and don't care if it fits into a category.

    Kathleen (amomen2think) said...

    Yes, I would very much like a t-shirt!

    This post was great, really great. It says so many things that I feel like I beat my head against a wall about on a regular basis.

    The lack of support that mothers have for each other and the prevalence of that self-righteous attitude is absolutely insane.

    Anyway, great post.

    Ginger said...

    You know, I didn't really like the tone of the article, but agreed with a lot of the points.

    And then you come along and lay out why. I totally agree with you.

    Alexis said...

    @Ginger
    The tone of the article was horrible. Sure, we all may have wanted to be that "mean" about it at some point, but for a piece meant to bring us all together, her demeanor did seem pretty harsh. It is worth mentioning that Jong's derision of AP was also an example of her exact point, but I think that so many great pro-woman/ pro-mom/pro-proactive parenting/pro-harmony between philosophies discourses are getting lost behind the veil of competitiveness that seems to dominate parenting today.

    Lisa Sunbury said...

    I'd like a t-shirt please!

    Thanks for a well written post. I was feeling pretty alone in my opinions regarding Erica Jong's article, so I was happy to read a post by someone with a point of view similar to my own.

    Which is not to say I liked it just because I happen to agree, but because I feel you brought a voice of reason and balanced perspective to counter the din created by the AP parenting camp.

    corrie said...

    I'm one of those people who had a really hard time getting beyond her critique of AP, a philosophy I don't think she portrayed accurately at all. She was so snide about it, it was pretty hard to take her seriously when she moved on to parents hating on each other (by that point I was feeling pretty hated on myself).

    I thought her closing words were lovely. I just wish that the rest of the article wasn't basically saying, "but if you're doing this, this, and this you're probably doing it wrong."

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