Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Where Erica Jong Went Wrong

I know I wasn't the only woman left jaw-on the floor by Erica Jong's piece, Mother Madness, in The Wall Street Journal November 6th. If I were to adhere to her assertions, I'd believe my current lifestyle is my prison. Wearing my baby, breastfeeding, cloth diapering, are all repressing me as a woman worse than any man ever could. In reality, right-wrong positions such as Ms. Jong's imprison women everywhere from believing they can know what is best for them personally- whether they be single, wife, mother or any combination of the above.

Here is what I believe the feminist movement should do: Empower women to make their own choices. Here's what the feminist movement should not do: Embarrass or belittle women that make their own choices. The latter is effectively what Ms. Jong's piece has done to millions of women the world over who choose attachment parenting. It's shameful and if anything, degrades her own efforts.

My mother stayed at home most of my youth. She was a farmer's daughter and brought up with a skill-set most don't get exposed to anymore. Canning, cooking, baking, sewing, gardening, were all things she learned while growing up. My mother also graduated high school and went to college. She had a successful job in the corporate world when she got pregnant and did not plan on staying home after she had me. When her maternity leave was over and the day rolled around that she'd return to work, she was surprised to find herself rooted to the rocking chair with me in her arms. She did not want to return to her corporate job.

Was this wrong of my mother? Were her desires to make baby food, breastfeed, garden and can making her a victim? According to Ms. Jong, yes. Why on Earth would a woman choose to be thus imprisoned and tortured, held in bondage even because of her children?
My mother and I, August of '82.

Before delving into my personal choices as a woman, let me establish that I firmly believe there is no wrong or right when it comes to staying home or working. There is only what is right for each individual and their right to choose accordingly. Also, shout out to the men that have chosen to stay home with their children!

As a young girl I pretended to be a mother, school teacher, doctor, pilot, chef, artist and architect. My parents told me I could be anything I wanted! I climbed trees, scraped knees, read books and went fishing. My family spent time at my grandparents' farm, on skiing trips, no-reason-other-than-to-get-out-of-town trips, trips to large cities and small towns. As a teenager and young adult I traveled to 9 different countries. Bought my first home at 19, my second at 22. I had a corporate job with limitless, longterm career potential. Do you see where I'm going with this?

I am an independent, educated woman. And I chose to stay home. Furthermore, I choose to wear my baby, make my own baby food, breastfeed, cloth diaper, can and garden. No one told me to do these things. In fact, my mother is probably laughing as she reads this at the thought of anyone telling me to do something. These choices were made as I tried and tested different options over the past 4 years, adjusting as I went what I wanted to do for myself and my family. And I give myself leave to continue to adjust as needed!
My husband taking a turn wearing our son while on vacation.

Babywearing: I don't wear my babies full time. It's not something I want to do full time, I need space. But it is useful when my child needs comfort but I need to complete a task. Or, when we go on vacation, to parks, to the mall, to the zoo, etc. it also comes in handy. I once nursed my son while walking across the mall parking lot! You can't beat the one-handed, two-seconds-to-breast that takes! I also find it relaxing when a baby sleeps on my chest. Better than yoga or meditation.

Baby food: I didn't make my own with my daughter. I was intimidated. With my son I decided to give it a try and found it easy, cheap and rewarding. It was immensely satisfying to watch him gobble up homegrown beet puree. Once in a while I buy store food for backup.

Breastfeeding: I nursed my daughter for 3 months and decided to stop for various reasons. I wasn't really happy with that choice and decided to try again with my son. Thanks to additional information  garnered, we were able to establish an excellent breastfeeding relationship and continue to nurse at 11 months. There are not adequate words to describe what it feels like to watch my baby growing, healthy, knowing it is from my milk. To watch him sleep contentedly in my arms. We will breastfeed until he or I want to stop.

Cloth Diapering: I love it. Their tushes are so blasted cute in cloth! I started out interested in cloth for environmental and then financial reasons. We continue because I still believe in it for environmental, financial and now health reasons.
My son in a cloth diaper.

Canning and Gardening: It's a hobby. I enjoy being outside, working in the dirt and watching things grow. Even better when I can eat from it! Doubly so when I get a surplus to share or can for future use. Side benefits to me are that is it healthier, cost-effective and environmentally friendly. Oh, and it just tastes better, too.

Will these things work for you? Maybe. Maybe not. Will you feel the same way if you do these things? Maybe. Maybe not. Do I think my way is the only way? No. Not at all.

I also don't do this on my own. I have a supportive husband that sees no gender roles. He may work outside of the home during the day but that's where the 'traditional' setup ends. My husband cleans the house, bakes rolls, makes cheesecake and dinner, folds laundry, gardens, wears the baby and changes diapers. He does everything except breastfeed, which for obvious reasons, he cannot! At night, he wakes up with the baby to change our son's diaper while I nurse. My husband sleeps in the living room with our baby so that I can get more sleep.

We have family and friends that also help. It isn't unusual for a grandparent or two to show up and carry off our toddler for some time. We have weekly scheduled family meals that benefit everyone involved. I get a break, the family members get to enjoy the kids and foster relationships with them. The kids, well they get spoiled.

The point at which I no longer want to stay home, I won't. I'm still the same independent, educated woman that I was before I had children and chose my current role. As it stands I am passionate about my children and passionate about attachment parenting and so called 'environmental correctness.' No one else- regardless of what they might profess to have done for the women's movement- gets to decide for me what is and isn't of proper value in my life.

My suggestion to Ms. Jong is to take the last paragraph of Mother Madness and measure the rest of her piece against it:
In the oscillations of feminism, theories of child-rearing have played a major part. 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, with its ideals of attachment and naturalness. 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.
 - Erica Jong, Mother Madness, The Wall Street Journal  Nov. 6, 2010

To all women out there I say, truly, do the best you can. You don't have to cloth diaper to be a good mom. You don't have to stay home to be a good mom. You don't have to go back to work to be a woman of worth. Let go of any guilt you feel, stop comparing yourself to those around you. Ignore the Erica Jong's of the world that think they know what is best for you and your family. Trust in yourself to make the best decisions you can.


Beth @ Sand To Pearl said...

Well put! My mom really tried to push me towards working, but really, I've never found a job that I really enjoyed. I mean I had no problem working, gosh I still have 2 small jobs (besides staying at home) why do I have them? One is to help out family and one is for a cheap Y membership.
And we do most of the same stuff you do, only ours is to be self sufficient and to save money.
And I take the same approach on the whole Women's Movement and Homeschooling, I'm going to do what's right for me and my family, you can either support us, or BACK OFF! It's not their business!
Now, there are some situations where you can fully see that the kids are in danger or something and then it's everyone's business, but otherwise, really, it's no one else's business.

stacythemagnificentmommy said...

EXACTLY! Danger is one thing. Whether or not I cloth diaper or breastfeed, entirely different. And hardly cause to assert I'm in bondage bc of it. I should add, we do the same stuff to be self-sufficient, too. =) I just forgot about that aspect!
Thanks, Beth!

Julie said...

LOL! I totally know why this article infuriated so many...but I just thought it was funny! The reason is that she complains of judgment and imprisonment and being criticized as a mother...while doing the same thing to others that make choices that don't make sense to her!

The part that isn't funny...The poor woman clearly needs supportive and caring role models, friends, and fellow mothers to help her on the journey she feels so trapped in taking. I'm sorry that being a victim of all the negatives towards mothers, instead of fighting it, she joined in!

Now, your article, I truly enjoyed reading! It's great to know the back-story of why people do what they do...and how it works in their situations. That's the beauty of everyone doing different things: learning from each other! And, you gave me a lot to think about!

Well done, you amazing mother! :)

stacythemagnificentmommy said...

Thanks, Julie! Yes, the double standard thing was just amazing to me, too. On the one hand she's saying do what you want; on the other she's saying you're crazy to attempt attachment parenting or natural options. I forgot to link to her daughter's follow up. It really explained a lot to me.

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