Archive for the ‘attachment parenting – problematic?’ Category

I think this article, “‘Not Rescuing’ Our Kids Shouldn’t Mean Letting Them Flounder” by Catherine Newman in The New York Times is making such an important point. (Thanks to Lara for the link). In spite of my love of all things Montessori and independence, generally, I am still very skeptical of independence as an end goal. Independence, as a goal needs to be combined with compassion or it is nothing.

That is not an unreasonable approach to shepherding your children into the pasture of responsibility, and we’ve certainly practiced various forms of it over the years with our own children. No, you can’t spend our money on Cheez-Its from the school vending machine because you left your peanut-butter rice cake at home.

But if you’re cold on the hike that I begged you to take with me, yes, I will give you my jacket. Not because I’m the depressed and obscene giving tree. But because you’re my darling. Because you’re so lovely to take this walk with me. Because your father, just yesterday, put his sweatshirt around my chilly shoulders at a bar.

I understand why so many of the smartest women I know are proudly carrying the no-rescue flag. Mothers have been the coddlers, historically speaking: the bringers of forgotten things, the tenders of the beleaguered. “I am sick of doing everything for everybody,” we may be saying. “And I don’t want my kids to be hapless dependents.” Fair enough. Except, not to sound like a bad capitalist, independence may not be such a great goal either. Everyone taking good care of themselves, efficiently separated from the needs of others — is that the best possible world we can live in?

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Darkness, within the intimate confines of a bed, leveled social distinctions despite differences in gender and status,” Ekirch says. “Most individuals did not readily fall sleep but conversed freely. In the absence of light, bedmates coveted that hour when, frequently, formality and etiquette perished by the bedside.”

We sleep together not because it’s fiscally responsible, but because we are affectionate beings. Our minds need rest, but our minds also need camaraderie and intimacy and whispering.

From Jon Methven’s “Why we sleep together” in The Atlantic.

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My latest article is here – I was so damn excited to interview Antonella Gambotto-Burke, who I’ve admired right back since Lunch of Blood:

What would a celebrated writer known for tackling themes as dark and intriguing as suicide, addiction, sexuality and celebrity culture make of something as supposedly tame and ordinary as motherhood? Antonella Gambotto-Burke’s latest book, Mama: Dispatches from the Frontline of Love is part advice for new parents, part a call to arms for change and part memoir.

As you may expect from Gambotto-Burke, while the book includes a banana cake recipe it is far more interested in discussing the bewildering and consuming aspects of motherhood. Such as, how motherhood shatters the myth of independence core to modern womanhood, the unexpected passion of maternal love and the dizzying introspection mothering stirs in oneself.

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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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I have to come clean about something – not only have I read this book but I am now recommending it all over the place so I think I really should share it here with you. Don’t judge. Yes, it is a relationship advice book. Yes, I am single and reading a relationship advice book.

I have a huge interest in attachment theory*. That theory has been a key influence on my parenting and the only framework that ever consistently made sense to me in terms of my own instincts and experiences as a mother. Given all of that, it should surprise me not at all that I would also love an attachment theory book on intimate adult relationships. Yet somehow I overlooked this area of writing until now.

Coincidentally, since reading this book I have found myself in conversation with a bunch of friends experiencing various forms of emotional pain that either directly or indirectly involves relationship pain. Listening to them I have been continually reminded of this book and have wondered am I just becoming an evangelist or is this book really so timely that everyone should be reading it. And then I can hold it in no longer and I finally have to confess to these people that I read a relationship advice book and I think they are going to love it. The book is Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. You’ll love it.

Attached has been useful for me in two ways that might help make the case to you. Firstly, if you have ever found yourself in a relationship with a person with avoidant attachment tendencies, even briefly, then you may have found that to be a painful and confusing experience. This is not how you do relationship, you might have thought while with this person. Attached will explain what happened and what was going on in that person’s head, which is great because I am a big fan of resolution and understanding and a person like that will never be able to provide you with it themselves so this book helps you digest what the fuck.

Secondly, Attached has described exactly what mutuality looks like in a relationship and it is something I value very, very highly so just having a clear picture of that is terribly helpful. The book allows you to assess very quickly whether mutuality exists in your relationship and to feel very sure about questioning/ditching it if it does not. And that is surely very good for making more feminist relationships. Better explaining mutuality (or secure attachment behaviour) is particularly important in Western culture where independence is a highly regarded trait but the principles behind it are so poorly understood. Without an awareness of attachment theory many miss the link between secure attachments and genuine, naturally evolving independence. We see this all the time in parenting models, but until reading this book I didn’t realise how much we also make this mistake with relationship models. Because of our arse-about view on independence, we tend to mistake insecure behaviour in the form of avoidant tendencies for independence and to be critical of so called dependent behaviour when really it is often a secure reaction to a threatening situation.

Downsides to the book, there are some. I would have loved Attached to go into even more of the research. I love research. But I realise that that wouldn’t appeal to all readers and a happy medium has to be found to sell books. Having said that, the authors do provide a good overview of attachment theory and a quick glimpse of the studies that support these conclusions. (Most of the studies will be familiar to you if you’ve read attachment theory for parenting). Attached is accessible, one might even say a teensy bit pop psychology in tone and there is a personality quiz in there, but then you are dying to know which type you are so, make peace.  And don’t be deterred, this is not that over-played Myers-Briggs test stuff. The book passes my feminist test in that it debunks sexist stereotypes and doesn’t encourage women to see relationship work as their sole responsibility (though a bigger representation of queer relationships in the case studies would have been beneficial), and it happily provides an absolutely scathing take-down of the Rules of Dating approach to relationship advice.

One final thing. A friend I recommended the book to happens to have avoidant attachment tendencies and I think he found it a valuable but difficult read because avoidants really aren’t seen as the fun types to be involved with in this book. So, I guess this might be a tough read if you’re coming from that direction.. but then the potential rewards to you are great.

* The best book by far on attachment theory and parenting is Becoming Attached by Robert Karen.

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On the flip side, there’s a small pocket of men out there that can’t stand me. Here’s a sampling of some of the private messages and comments I received from them after I posted this picture:

– “He probably rented those kids. They don’t even look like him.”

– “I would bet anything that you’re a deadbeat.”

– “OK buddy, cute picture. Now why don’t you hand the children back to their mom so you can go back to selling drugs or your bootleg rap CDs?”

– “So do you do this for all of your illegitimate kids?”

You get the idea.

From Doyin Richards at the Huffington Post.

(Thanks to Judith for the link).

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This is one of the strangest anti-breastfeeding articles I have ever read.. and let me tell you, there have been a few.

Breastfeeding is a burden, but it’s also a power trip. Breastfeeding sets up the breastfeeder as the expert, the authority and the primary parent in the life of the breastfed baby.

I like how the author decides there is this one little area of advantage to women in the world and it is the bonding advantage of gestation and lactation, and so the author decides to level things out for feminism, and volunteers to forgo breastfeeding when they have another baby. That’s the problem with gender equity, oh yeah, too many advantages for women.

This piece is also a wonderful example of where we find a conflict between paid work and nurturing work and we decide that, of course, the conflict should be resolved by the baby and not the workplace/economy/household etc.

(I’ve written a lot about this topic previously 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).

*Also, I stole the idea for the title of the post from Zoe.

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“Feminism and the terrifying dependency of children” by Cristy Clark over at Larvatus Prodeo. Cristy and I have long been expressing our increasing frustration to one another with the dominance of liberal feminism over motherhood and I’m so pleased she wrote this post about it. This post of Cristy’s should be essential reading for any feminist writer before she dips her toe into motherhood topics.

Liberal feminism has failed to adequately respond to the realities of motherhood, because it has primarily focused on helping women to overcome their historic status as second-class citizens by becoming independent. This vision of equality has led to the struggle for a range of positive measures for women, including:

  • the rights to education, to work and to receive equal pay;
  • the right own property;
  • the right to participate in public life by voting and running for political office; and
  • the right to bodily autonomy, including the right to refuse to consent to sex and to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

All of these rights are important prerequisites to equality and all of them have historically been denied to women, particularly after marriage. The struggle for these rights is also an ongoing one, as they continue to be denied to the majority of women across the globe and remain under threat even where they have been achieved. Nonetheless, this vision of equality falls down when the reality of dependency enters the picture. For women who are, or become, dependent on partners, families or the State, liberal feminism’s vision of equality through independence becomes unattainable.

The right to education, to work, or to participate in public life is of limited value, for example, when participation requires that you disencumber yourself from dependents of your own.

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In spite of being a hardcore feminist who breastfed her son until he was over three years old, I am not immune to the discomfort of the judgementalism one receives in public for this, so hats off to the gay hockey dad who is breastfeeding his two year old.

(Trevor is seriously an amazing breastfeeding activist).

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The absent baby in such discussions is matched by an equally absent mother in other public commentary. Feminist writer and ethicist Leslie Cannold is a case in point. She is a key public advocate promoting the removal of references to ‘maternity’ in discussions of family leave. In an article for the Melbourne Age entitled ‘Baby leave is not a women’s issue’– and in other interventions on this topic – Cannold argues that, in the interests of gender equity, the maternal should, once and for all, be written out of the leave equation.

Cannold promotes a conservative and conventional model of the contemporary family as dual-income and dual-carer that fits in perfectly with today’s workplaces. One parent is encouraged to take leave and look after the baby, so that the other can swiftly return to work. At first glance, this seems ideal – an important step towards emancipating women from an unequal care burden. Few would argue against the social, family and personal benefits of men accessing leave to better contribute to the care of their children. Dramatic shifts in conditions around employment and care are well overdue.

There are, however, problems with the model. It presents care as a transferable and marketable commodity, further marginalising questions about the impact different forms may have on those who depend on care the most (in this case, babies). It also fails to challenge work-practices that demand impossibly long working hours, and measurements of performance that ultimately devalue children and caring responsibilities.

Moreover, as an example of a dominant strand of feminism in Australia, the gender-equity paradigm is paradoxically de-gendered. Indeed, Cannold argues for ‘the parenthood conundrum’ to be ‘articulated in gender-neutral ways’. This, however, taps into a productivist ethos entirely consistent with the demands of the neoliberal marketplace, with caregivers replaceable or interchangeable in much the same way as employees in workplaces. In addition, a feminism promoting gender neutrality (in the name of equality) denies the bodily experience of women after they have given birth. Though a boon to the productive workplace, the breast pump may not necessarily protect the emotional needs of women and babies. To deny that baby leave is a women’s issue, to decouple ‘maternity’ from ‘leave’, is also to conceal human vulnerability and dependence. It reproduces what Iris Young has called ‘the normalising but impossible ideal’ that we are autonomous, unencumbered self-sufficient individuals, somehow beyond human dependency.

While researching an article I am writing I came across this and so am only now catching up on a 2010 article by Australian academic, Julie Stephens, “The Industrialised Breast” at Overland. (My use of bold in the above). I recently properly discovered Stephens’ work – I think we met briefly at a conference once – and I am thoroughly enjoying her writing. I agree with Stephens’ scepticism about certain aspects of gender-neutral parenting.

These two ways of feminism approaching issues of maternity leave and mothers working outside the home more broadly, reflect a deeper split in feminism in coming to terms with motherhood. It’s no surprise this division is deep – it’s decades old. I’ve talked about that here before with “How to explain desire”, “The split”“Let’s get something straight about maternity leave” and “Feminists, a little perspective please”.


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