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Archive for the ‘co-sleeping’ Category

This response from Eliza at tea plus oranges is such a considered response that it’s hard to imagine it was written with a sleeping baby on her chest… and reading it was a lovely opportunity to revisit those first early months of motherhood. All my love to new parents.

If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?

I’m interested to see how this will pan out. It’s something we’ve talked about a lot at various stages of our relationship, mainly in relation to balancing two careers. We met at uni as two ambitious law student types, and he fully supports the idea that I should be able to go forth professionally and do interesting, meaningful things in paid work, as well as being an available and attentive parent. However, there is an inevitable tension in trying to carve out an equal relationship in a non-equal society. “Lean in” feminism emphasises the need for a supportive partner; but the limits of individual action in working around structural problems also apply to the concerted actions of a couple. He wants to support my career, but doesn’t want to sacrifice his. That’s fair enough. Why should either of us have to? Why can’t employment conditions accommodate family life for both partners? Yet, they don’t. So we intend to find some way of realigning the division of labour once we’re through the early years of parenthood (in which I want to be at home with my babies). Watch this space.

He took four weeks’ leave when bubs was born, which was really really fantastic. I’m now passionate about the feminist importance of paternity leave. There was a revelation in that month – he “gets” household management now. Five years of living together, I’ve done more than half the domestic load, but since bubs arrived that has changed. All it took was four weeks in which I completely abdicated responsibility for everything other than breastfeeding… He’s back at work now, and while our relationship may look very traditional at the moment, in many ways it’s more equal than ever (we’re both exhausted). I’m really grateful to be able to spend a full year at home with bubs. In an ideal world, we’d have better maternity leave provisions, so that women’s ability to do this doesn’t depend on the work status of the father. In the meantime, I’m pretty glad to have a breadwinner spouse just now.

(You can find all the many other responses in this series here. If you’d like to respond to these questions yourself you can either email me your answers and I’ll put them on blue milk as a guest post or you can post them elsewhere and let me know and I’ll link to them).

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Comments received on an article I write for The Guardian in which I mention briefly that I am no longer with Bill, the father of my children:

“You might also consider giving the father custody or putting the children up for adoption with a home that is able to be more child oriented. Just a suggestion”.

“I wonder, for what whimsical and self-indulgent reason you chose ( these days it’s always the women who chose ), to split up with your children’s father”.

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The grief is long and deep. A good part of the grief involves worrying about one another’s grief. One evening my eight year old daughter, Lauca, is worn out and sad.. and I am too. We lie down on my bed together in tears. Cormac comes in, and while only four years old he none the less performs some kind of quintessential male ritual of discomfort with emotion for us.

Cheer up, cheer up you two, cheer up, he says.

Oh for godsake, I say, cuddling him up to me, it is ok to cry.

I am amused that I have to reassure him so. This is Cormac, he has a crying jag virtually every day of his life and he is quite happy to use them for something as routine as being required to take his plate back to the kitchen or to find his shoes.

When we are all quiet again together on my bed I tell them the fun of crying is over and everyone into the shower with me so I can supervise hair-washing.

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Me: Please don’t feed the kids chocolate at your house for breakfast. That’s real divorced not-even-trying dad behaviour.

Bill: Worried you can’t compete?

(We both laugh).

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A friend tells me that she lies in bed awake at night frightened for my future. I know she means it kindly but I am hurt by her sense of hopelessness for me. I am alright, I say, I really am. I decide I shouldn’t tell her about the nights when the children are staying with their father and I sometimes sigh with pleasure in my empty house. And then there are the nights when I do not even stay home in my empty house.

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Everything becomes adventurous and untested. I have a strange energy. One day I see a government policy announcement in the paper and I have mixed feelings about it. As I am leaving work that evening I write a quick pitch to the editor at The Guardian. On the way home I stop at the supermarket for dinner ingredients and then I go to a friend’s house to pick up my two children. As well as collecting my children from school and kindergarten she has bathed them with her own children. I am grateful to her for trimming half an hour from my evening’s tasks for me. At home I check my emails and see that the editor has accepted the pitch but that they want the piece tomorrow by start of business.

I decide I can do this. So, I cook dinner, exchange accounts with the kids about the day, read bedtime stories, cuddle them to sleep, clean up the kitchen and then, begin writing. I give myself until midnight to finish it. In the morning I proofread my piece while we are all cleaning our teeth. I email it to the editor and then hurry up hurry up hurry up us out the front door to our various places – kindergarten, school and the train station for the commute to work. The article is published by the time I reach the office.

The piece happens to mention briefly that I am no longer with Bill, the father of my children. I receive some of the most hostile comments I have seen on an article of mine.

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a asleep

Cormac sleeps with his bow.

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After all that debate around whether attachment parenting is anti-feminist for mothers this is an interesting finding:

Results showed that feminists were more likely to support attachment parenting practices than non-feminists, and non-feminists were more likely to endorse strict schedules for children. These results suggest that attachment parenting is a type of parenting that is attractive to feminist women.

Interestingly, non-feminists, and mothers in particular, held misperceptions about the typical feminist who they saw as largely uninterested in the time-intensive and hands-on practices associated with attachment parenting. Non-feminists perceived feminists as less interested in attachment parenting than they were when, in fact, the feminists were more interested.

The study, which was mentioned in PSYPOST, is relatively small but the results are noteworthy. The findings make intuitive sense to me because, anecdotally, among the feminist mothers I follow on Twitter and at other blogs more of them seem to be into AP than not. But then you could reasonably argue that there is a significant amount of self-selection bias in my own sampling, too. This is not to say that I don’t also really dig my feminist parenting people who are not into AP. Just, these are interesting thoughts.

(Thanks to Dylan for the link).

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If you cannot afford separate master bedrooms in your house may I suggest co-sleeping and bed-hopping with your children as a suitable substitute for retaining this kind of ‘novelty’ feeling with your partner?

 

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There’s an Elisabeth Badinter triptych happening at Huffington Post at the moment that’s worth reading.

Here’s Badinter’s essay (she’s not all bad, in my books, some of her thinking has merit; for instance, there is an unnecessary preoccupation with perfectionism in contemporary motherhood):

Nature knows only one way to be a mother. This is not the case for women, who are endowed with consciousness, personal histories, desires and differing ambitions. What some do well and with pleasure, others do badly or out of duty. By failing to take account of women’s diversity, by imposing a single ideal of motherhood, by pursuing the notion of a perfect mother — one who has the exclusive responsibility of making or breaking her children — we fall into a trap. We neglect the other business of modern women: the unfinished assault on the glass ceiling, the fight to close the salary gap, the struggle for equality at home. We overlook women’s need for financial independence at a moment when one marriage in two ends in divorce.

We also 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.

And Badinter’s interview (I think Lisa Belkin narrows in on one of the weaker aspects of Badinter’s argument here):

I agree that women are at a disadvantage at work, and are not free to completely fulfill themselves in the workplace, if they follow the recommendations of doctors, such as breastfeeding exclusively for six months. But isn’t a better solution to change the workplace? Isn’t that where the problem lies?
Businesses certainly need to make improvements to help young mothers, particularly by setting up nurseries on the premises. But this problem can be solved. What is more difficult today is to get people to acknowledge that not all women want to breastfeed and no one has the right to pressure them to do so. You can be just as good a mother giving a bottle. But in some countries, this statement has become almost unspeakable.

And this from Melissa Fay Greene on how maternal desire ultimately trumps Badinter’s argument:

Most mothers are doing the best they can. They swing-shift, job-share, freelance, temp, telecommute, fill in, work part-time, babysit for others, substitute, carpool, invent and consult. Young American mothers today, to an incredible degree, are discovering how to generate income from home, online. Millions of women see the rearing of children as the richest, most meaningful work they will ever do. But even the Most Extreme Devotees of Mothering live in the real world; they, too, must buy groceries and gas, pay rent or a mortgage, and pay back student loans. Some will make do with the old car, the small house, the clothes from the consignment shop, if it will allow them to stay home with their children another year. Like everyone in this recession-hit world, most hope that someday, when they re-enter the job market, they will find work equivalent to their skills and talents.

To choose — whether for weeks, months, or years — l’idéologie du naturalisme, attachment parenting, is not to forgo all ambition. It is not to create a retro scene that, as Badinter writes, “sexist men can celebrate” nor is it to grimly and with a sense of biological destiny take up a life of “masochism and sacrifice.” It is to enter into the world of the baby and young child with passion and creativity for as long as a mother finds it enriching and necessary and for as long as she and her partner, if she has one, can afford it. The high energy and joy of my early years of mothering were highlights of my life. It wasn’t a trade-off. I wasn’t choosing the rearing of happy children over the desire for a career. I always wanted both.

More of my views on Badinter’s ideas here: Oppressed by breastfeeding, The mediocre mother, The split, How did the patriarchy influence parenting and what problems did it cause?, Feminism and attachment parenting and why they’ve more in common than in conflict, Why attachment parenting needs feminism, Can attachment parenting be saved?, and The accidental attachment parent.

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Here is a very interesting critique of Elisabeth Badinter’s arguments on motherhood from Anne Manne in The Monthly. (I’m not sure for how long they provide free access to the article so read it sooner than later). I find some of the analysis a little muddled, but in essence I think Manne and I are in agreement, we both have concerns over the scapegoating of babies in the tensions women experience between motherhood and the patriarchy.

Whenever a cultural flashpoint occurs – and Badinter has clearly struck a chord – it is worth travelling upstream to find the head of the river. If the history of parenthood is a history of ambivalence, then where do we sit in the continuum? Ambivalence towards children is mounting. Last year Jennifer Senior caused a stir with a story in New York magazine, ‘All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting’. It backed surveys showing that parents were less happy than their childless counterparts, a contention that Badinter also brandishes. Parents, Senior argued, might love their kids but they hated their lives. Life shrank to the size of a teacup. Everything turned to shit. Senior herself arrived home only to be pelted in the head with wooden blocks. She based her article on a Texan study which showed working mothers were happier doing almost anything other than childcare, even housework.

Recently I was interviewed by a feminist writer about my thoughts on where the resurgence in attachment parenting fits with feminism. I raised a number of challenges but I also higlighted what I see as harmonies between feminism and this style of parenting. There are two significant areas of overlap in my opinion. The first is that attachment parenting, at least in theory, is a style of parenting allowing women to perform parenting within their everyday lives. When babies are breastfed, co-sleeping and carried they’re potentially very portable. You can be caring for your baby while also getting shit done. In practice this isn’t always the case. The workplace, and public space in general, can be pretty child unfriendly and not every mother decides this is how she wants to live her life. But in theory it should be possible – women should be able to be full participants in life without being marginalised by their gender. And that’s feminism.

Secondly, attachment parenting is also supposed to be about attending to, listening to, and encouraging reciprocal communication with a child. It is about respecting the full humanity of a person regardless of their abilities, age and status. And that’s feminism, too.

I think Manne believes the same to be true.

What is going on here? We all know of the women’s movement as one of the most important and compelling social movements of the 1960s. Less recognised is that another movement, one championing the humane treatment of children, was born in the ’60s. Like feminism, it has fearless and profound thinkers, passionate advocates as well as the usual crackpots. Unlike women, however, children cannot speak for themselves. As a consequence, the discourse bringing greater sensitivity and a new ethic of care towards children has emerged hesitantly, uncertainly, through the last century. It has run parallel to but is often overshadowed by the struggles over gender. Like feminism, it has at its core something deep and humane. It depends upon the same kind of ‘putting one’s self in the shoes of another’, of overcoming a sense of difference to extend our empathy, imagination and capacity for identification.

At its best, feminism is about justice. It calls us to a certain kind of attentiveness. So, too, is the movement for better treatment of children. Here lies ‘the conflict’. At the very same moment when we are offering women long-overdue opportunities, we also expect them to enact the new ethic of care, but with minimal help. One consequence of this conflict has been the revival of deeply flawed arguments about what is ‘natural’.

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