I read an article recently that has me quite upset. It's written by Erica Jong and was published in the Wall Street Journal. The article talks about how motherhood today has become overly burdensome due to expectations put forth by society.
I take issue with several points in this article. What I find most disheartening is that it never once mentions the joy of motherhood. To Jong, motherhood is simply a drudgery, a chore, an obligation. I pity her child! Children brought up under that view of parenting will have major psychological issues later in life.
But to be more specific, here are some of my objections to Ms. Jong's thoughts.
"You wear your baby, sleep with her and attune yourself totally to her needs... homemade baby food, cloth diapers, a cocoon of clockless, unscheduled time... Anything less is bad for baby. Parents be damned."
Such is her view of what society demands from parents. I know of parents who make their own baby food, only use cloth diapers (that they themselves wash), wear their babies everywhere and so on. But those who do so are doing it by choice, not because society has demanded it. I am raising four children. I don't make my own baby food, I don't use cloth diapers, I do wear my babies out of convenience ... such preferences have not made society view me as a failure in mothering. In fact, no one has ever belittled my decision to use plastic diapers! Plastic vs. cloth diapers, canned vs. homemade baby food, which device used to carry a baby ... such decisions are not the crux of parenting. These are preferences, not crucial parenting matters.
Jong writes of how parents experience guilt for not being perfect because of the demands society puts forth. I think perhaps Ms. Jong has done too much reading. If you take everything that everyone writes about parenting and try to implement it, you will feel a keen inability to measure up. However, parents doing the best they can to enjoy their children and give them what they need (which includes boundaries and consequences) rarely feel guilt. Parents should always be striving to improve, but should also take what they hear from others with a grain of salt. Not all advice is for all families. Not all families are the same. Not all families can have a stay-at-home mom. Not all children need the same type of education. Not all mothers feel hen-pecked by the "demands" of society.
Jong continues, "We also assume that "mother" and "father" are exclusive terms, though in other cultures, these terms are applied to a variety of aunts, uncles and other adults. Kinship is not exclusively biological, after all, and you need a brood to raise a brood."
I'm not sure about you, but I prefer that I am the only "mom" to my children. I'm thrilled that they have other adults in their lives who love them and who are well loved in return, but I would be offended if any of those adults tried to fill my role as Mother. Yes, children are enriched by having multiple relationships, but nothing can replace the role of parents in a child's life. A child will not fare better by having someone substitute as mom or dad at times. (Please hear me correctly, I do not advocate keeping children with parents who abuse or neglect, but in a healthy family, no one is better to fill the parent roll than the parents themselves.)
Dr. James Dobson writes in his book "Bringing up Girls" about two researchers named Dr. John Bowlby and Dr. Mary Ainsworth. These two were "the first to recognize that infants are highly vulnerable and easily wounded by anxiety, fear and confusion." One thing I have observed in my children is that their anxiety levels dramatically increase when they are passed from one adult to another without the comforting touch of Mom or Dad. Those with children know the incredible excitement of children upon seeing Mom and Dad after being absent from them. It's a small demonstration of children exclaiming through their actions, "These are my favorite people! No one can take their place."
Dobson continues, "It has been demonstrated further that the failure of mothers and babies to attach is linked directly to physical and mental illness of all types. The reason is apparent. If a child is regularly overwhelmed by negative feelings and stressful circumstances, her inability to cope in infancy becomes a life-long pattern. The link between maternal attachment and poor health is not merely theoretical. It is a reality."
Contrast this with Jong's declaration that such attachment with children is a "prison for mothers". She calls this a "'noble savage' view of parenting, with its ideals of attachment and naturalness."
Frankly, I find Ms. Jong's jaded view of parenthood selfish and disturbing. Whatever happened to delighting in your children? To investing in another life because it is an immense privilege with tremendous rewards, not because you HAVE to? I fear that if her view of parenting catches on we'll be left with a generation of children who feel unwanted and unloved. Children who are handed off to every other available adult just to avoid inconveniencing the parents who decided to have a child in the first place. Children who are taught from infancy that nothing matters more than keeping Number One happy and carefree. Children who grow up to view everything as more important than training the next generation.
Oh, what will our schools and homes look like then? I pray we never see that day.