broadsideblog

Baby As Tyrant? Zut Alors! Writer Says 'Perfect' Moms Need To Cut Themselves Some Serious Slack

In parenting, women on March 24, 2010 at 10:34 am
A woman feeds her baby on August 29, 2008 insi...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Provocative piece in The Times of London about a new best-selling book by French writer Elisabeth Badinter, a 66-year-old mother of three:

“The baby has become a tyrant despite himself,” she says. This to the joy of men, who are able to sit back and watch the football, unconcerned by the offspring-mother battle.

So what has driven women to accept this modern form of slavery? The economic crisis is one reason, she says, with motherhood suddenly looking like a better option than the uncertainty of the workplace.

The Green movement is another, with its back-to-nature beliefs in home-made food, mother’s milk and washable nappies — all obstacles on the road to emancipation in her eyes. “Between the protection of trees and the liberty of women, my choice is clear,” she says. “It may seem derisory but powdered milk, jars of baby food and disposable nappies were all stages in the liberation of women.”

A third explanation is the contemporary American feminist movement, which, she says, has made the mistake of trying to feminise the world in the hope of turning it into more a compassionate, tolerant and peaceful place.

“These new feminists say that we have hidden and undervalued the essence of women, which is motherhood.” Badinter dismisses the theory as wrong, because “men and women resemble each other enormously”, and dangerous because “it shuts the sexes in different circles”, leaving women closed off with their children.

American writer Judith Warner, a long-time blogger for The New York Times, covered the same territory in her 2005 book “Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety.”, reviewed (fairly scathingly) by the Times:

Warner has two points to make. The first is that, in affluent America, mothering has gone from an art to a cult, with devotees driving themselves to ever more baroque extremes to appease the goddess of perfect motherhood. Warner, who has two children, made this discovery upon her return from a stay in Paris, where, she says, mothers who benefit from state-subsidized support systems — child care, preschools, medical services — never dream of surrendering jobs or social lives to stay home 24/7 with their kids. In the absence of such calming assistance, however, American moms are turning themselves into physically and financially depleted drones….

This leads to Warner’s second point, which is more openly political than her first. Our neurotic quest to perfect the mechanics of mothering, she says, can be interpreted as an effort to do on an individual level what we’ve stopped trying to do on a society-wide one. In her view, it is the lack of family-friendly policies common in Europe that backs American mothers into the corner described above — policies that would promote ”flexible, affordable, locally available, high-quality” day care; mandate quality controls for that day care; require or enable businesses to give paid parental leave; make health insurance available for part-time workers; and so on.

Unfortunately, Warner doesn’t say how we might organize to get such policies passed in a rightward-drifting, Europe-hating America.

I don’t have kids so I watch the “mommy wars” from a safe, neutral distance. As someone who has lived in France — and seen how Frenchwomen remain, determinedly, still women after becoming a mother (no “mom” jeans there!) — I find two things about American motherhood bizarre.

If women spent one iota of their ranting, mommy-wars energy finding ways to make American motherhood more fun, healthy, relaxed and less insanely and individually competitive for all mothers, babies wouldn’t look like tyrants. But such collectivist thinking is often seen as something weird that other countries do.

The way women attack one another, focusing on individual choices as good or bad instead of getting the basic fact that employers here rule, that many other industrialized nations (yes, Canada) have paid maternity leave and those economies are doing just fine.

It’s not the babies. It’s the culture within which they are raised.

  1. I don’t know. I think babies are congenitally evil.

  2. Um, doug, you WERE one once.

    Or….maybe not?

  3. Wow. Cool.

    I’m in awe of parents. Children’s screaming makes me want to run as far and fast away as I possibly can. It takes tremendous patience.

  4. I’m sorry I missed this yesterday. Citifieddoug is wise (and made me laugh out loud): http://images.lamer.net/owned-baby.jpg

  5. It is mostly parenting (I would say 80% — but I’m not an expert) but I’ve met some babies that have amazing parents but come straight out of the womb making unreasonable, tyrannical demands :)

    Still, I’m all about her eschewing the culture that creates a separateness of the sexes in the way motherhood is sometimes practiced. It’s better for everyone if both partners are just as involved at home as they are at work. Then no one member of the family is stuck at home taking care of the tyrants.

    And, yeah, like most practices that are perceived to only help women (although that’s completely inaccurate — mat and paternity leave, day care, etc. help men and women equally) there’s a lack of force behind the movement. After all, we still don’t have an ERA in this country.

  6. “And, yeah, like most practices that are perceived to only help women (although that’s completely inaccurate — mat and paternity leave, day care, etc. help men and women equally) there’s a lack of force behind the movement.”

    This is the piece of American life/thinking I do not understand. You’ve got Tea Partiers and bricks being thrown through windows — to defend the potential loss of what people now have — and apparently (?) no collective political will to make changes for everyone.

    Is this one more proof that the rich have nannies — and the rest of you, too bad?

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