Motherhood: Is It Holding Mothers Back?

by Miriam Katz on April 27, 2012

Share Button

“The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women,” is the latest release of self-effacing mom lit, by prominent French intellectual Elisabeth Badinter. From her recent piece in the Huffington Post:

Today’s ideal of motherhood requires that we give birth in pain, without benefit of an epidural, since this robs us of our first act as a mother. We are enjoined to nurse for six months, a year, or longer, day and night, whenever our child wishes, regardless of the mother’s situation. We are advised to practice co-sleeping, at the risk of sending numerous fathers to the sofa. The good mother who wants the best for her child is urged to forswear processed baby food, which is eyed as a health hazard, and to avoid daycare as injurious to her child’s healthy development. With all of its demands, the naturalist ideal of the 21st century means that it takes a woman as much time and energy to raise two children as our grandmothers spent raising four.

We’ve heard these types of arguments before from Erica Jong and countless mothers before her. Frankly, I’m tired of it. Prescriptive parenting, whether pro- or anti-naturalism, is at the heart of the issue. As Badinter herself agrees, when we look to gurus, whose opinions change with the mood of the times, we lose our way. Believing that there is a right way to parent, especially when that way contradicts with your own instincts, is the real prison modern mamas are facing.

Badinter continues: “Daughters have reacted against the feminism of their mothers. Most of all, we have seen the return of a naturalist ideology not much different from that of Rousseau, which kept women at home for almost two centuries. Its message was simple: ‘Ladies, your duty and your great achievement is to make the adults of tomorrow. You need only look to the teachings of nature and devote your days and nights to the task.’”

I’m concerned by this idea that modern or attached motherhood is setting back the feminist movement. For me, and for many of my generation, the lasting gift of feminism is the right to choose what we do with our lives: the right to self-determination. Not the right to sit in a cubicle all day, then pick up our child from day care and call ourselves liberated. Not the right to hate your life as you wash cloth diapers and puree baby food because someone told you that’s what “good” mothers do. For me, feminism means choosing how we navigate motherhood, whether we dress Junior in cloth diapers, disposables or none at all. In other words, if it’s not for you, just skip it!

Now to the valid issue Badinter raises about mothers whose lives revolve entirely around mothering. “We …fail to remember that raising a child doesn’t last forever, that when children grow up we have thirty or forty years left to live. To make a child the alpha and omega of a woman’s life deals a terrible blow to women’s autonomy and to the equality of the sexes.”

I’ll start by pointing out that this issue – identifying so completely with a particular role, always has the potential to leave our worlds completely rocked. A close relative recently told me about the best job she had. She loved it – the work, the people, everything about it. And she was there for a long time. But then one day she was let go. And she swore to never again identify with a job so completely. Work is work, she said, and that’s all it is.

So maybe identifying so completely with one role, to the exclusion of others, isn’t just a pitfall of motherhood. It’s a danger of completely identifying ourselves with what we do, rather than who we are. The danger is identifying as anything but our true selves, whatever that means to each of us. As long as we stand in our own truth, we’ll make the best decisions possible – for ourselves, for our families and for our careers. And if the highlights of our lives change suddenly or over time, we’ll be equipped to ride it out.

Share Button
Miriam Katz (18 Posts)

A Boston-based WAHM who sees parenting as the most challenging career path she's ever chosen. In her spare time, Miriam is co-author of The Other Baby Book and works as a career and life coach to GenX women and moms.


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

kim April 28, 2012 at 7:28 am

Brilliant! I agree with you 100%

Reply

Rita April 30, 2012 at 1:22 am

Well said! It’s only human nature to judge one another, but if we are able to rise above that tendency, that is another place of peace and freedom. It ties in to what you’re saying — that feminism gives us the freedom to choose! Women are only holding themselves back if they don’t allow others to make different choices than them without judgment. We all deserve peace in our lives.

Reply

cat May 3, 2012 at 5:02 am

Puuu-lease. Let’s place the term “French intellectual” in parentheses.

Reply

Janine @ Alternative Housewife May 5, 2012 at 12:54 am

I think that the biggest downfall is the idea that women can “have it all.” Do we really need it all? If you don’t want to be a committed mother – don’t want to dedicate yourself to breastfeeding or making your kids balanced meals or being fully there for them – you absolutely have the choice NOT to have kids. It isn’t fair to bring kids into the world and half-ass their upbringing in the name of feminism. I’m not saying that you can’t make motherhood work for you your way but it seems like the ‘modern woman’ believes that kids don’t even have to be your priority, which I find to be a shame. As the author points out, raising small children is only a few years out of a woman’s entire life – If you can’t be bothered to devote that bit of time to making them your priority, perhaps that commitment just isn’t for you? I feel like society treats having children as something you are entitled to regardless of your lifestyle, even if you have such a full plate that the same people would advise against even bringing home a new puppy.

I absolutely agree with most of this post, and that motherhood shouldn’t be anyone’s entire identity… but do modern moms really need to have some from every column, even at the expense of their children?

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: