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