Friday, November 12, 2010

The Madness of Motherhood?

I've always been a fan of Erica Jong, ever since I read Fear of Flying as a breathless Catholic teenager.

I love a fiesty dame. Recently she wrote this New York Times article on modern motherhood, and her perspective, as always, made me think. Even when I don't agree with the content of a feminist rant, I will always support a womans right to get shouty. And I understand where these second-wave feminists struggle with the new breed; the bobo, bread-bakey, home-makey, earnest mamas of the current Western zeitgeist. (Guilty as charged.) Jong and her crew fought for women to have choices outside of the home. And here their daughters and grand-daughters are, embracing the kitchen that they emancipated us from.

I thank Jong and her sisterhood for giving me the choice to be at home with Ted and Ivy. I don't feel lessened or sidelined by that choice. But the modern world of parenting is a funny beast, and the opinions of strident women like her, and the French writer Elizebeth Badinter (whose theory 'give the baby a bottle and have a drink and a smoke too, if you feel like it', is sadly missing in the parenting books I've been reading) are important voices.

I think its is time for this examination of modern parenting mores. I worry about the give-me-attachment-or-give-me-death school of thought. Even though I agree with most of its precepts, it always seems to me that Mum comes last in this thinking. Can't you put the damn baby down? Can't you let it cry for ten minutes? Will it really be scarred for life? Really?

Trends in parenting theory will come and go, but what remains consistent is that the whole caper is hard work. Most of the mums I know these days struggle between twin poles of guilt: when I'm house-working, I should be playing with the kids, and when I'm playing, I should be cleaning the house. I am always reading little quotes and thoughts along the lines of 'The dust bunnies will still be there tomorrow. Don't feel guilty about using that precious time to build Lego castles...' Well, frankly, I don't. I congratulate myslef when I'm building the Lego castles. That's fine mothering, dammit! My guilt comes when I'm sacked out at the end of the day watching Wife Swap (I may have mentioned this before once or twice) and the laundry is piled, unfolded on the lounge.

Attachment, helicopter, free-range or unschooling parents are all still just people. Idiosyncratically flawed. That's why all families are different. Me, sometimes I am energetic, affectionate and creative. Sometimes I am buggered, moody and reliant on ABC2. Sometimes Keith is a brilliant mind of his generation. Sometimes he is a grumpy man watching football on the couch in his underpants. I'm not perfect, the kids aren't perfect and our parenting isn't either.

Do the best you can, says Jong at the end of her article. There are no rules.

Hooray for shouty feminists.


  1. "Most of the mums I know these days struggle between twin poles of guilt: when I'm house-working, I should be playing with the kids, and when I'm playing, I should be cleaning the house."

    You've summed it up so perfectly!

  2. LOVE IT!!! well written rachie. xx lisa

  3. Ahem.

    as a shouty dame I agree with what you said completely. Isn't feminism about giving us the choice to parent how we see fit? I CONSTANTLY battle with the part of myself that really does not love playing fairies, ponies, baby animals etc however if the little wants to draw or paint or stick or other craftiness i am all ears!

    Cleaning? I am crap at it- our house is not clean , but we are happy. We do the bare minimum.

    I reckon most of us do a heaps better job than we realise. really you just gotta love'em. The rest is just fluff.

  4. Good golly, I've been missing you, Mogantosh! Loved Erica Jong as a teenager, and agree wholeheartedly with her final statement, if nothing else.

  5. Equal parts ashamed and proud that housework comes last on my list of priorities. Whatever I can get done before school drop off gets done. The rest goes to hell in a handbasket!

    Am selfish like that :)

  6. "At the end of the day, ask yourself two questions: 1. Are my kids alive? 2. Do I know where they are? If the answer to both is 'yes', you've done your job."
    - Geoff Thornely (1935 - ) Cuddly Non-Shouty Non-Feminist.

  7. Great articulate post - all I can manage is a grunt and a nod right now!

    Thanks for entering my giveaway!! I must apologise: I listed the closing date as today when in fact I meant to leave it open for a week- it closes next thursday at midnight to be drawn on Friday.

    PS I have unfolded washing on the lounge RIGHT NOW! (and I don't think I will do anything about it today.)

  8. Thank you Mogantosh.

    No 'ism' has ever helped me deal with my four.

    Though I do seek help from ABC2 televism.

  9. Have read a few posts on this article this week and Jong has really annoyed me. I also love a shouty feminist, especially those that did stuff for us in the past.

    But I love being an AP style mumma. I work, at the office and a tiny business from home. I don't like to see my kids cry, or other peoples. They are babies for a very short time, how about fighting for more mat leave, paid and unpaid, or supporting women that decide to look after the kids for a few years, after all the research is out there, kids with strong parental support thrive compared to those with absent, over worked, over scheduled, worn out ones.

  10. Hurrah for shouty feminists and other reasoned voices like Rach. Have NO idea how I'm going to handle it when it comes along, but knowing there are very brilliant women who have done it first makes me feel much better. But I'm going to need some lego tutorials. My spatial perception is borderline at best.

  11. even the attachment research/experts/programs talk about not having to be "the perfect parent" and the idea of "good enough" parenting. Apparently this states children who are categorised as secure attachment have parents who only correctly read/respond to their cues 30-40% of the time. So we dont have to 'get it all right all the time' and our kids still turn out ok.
    Universally, in all countries and cultures apparently about 60 percent of us end up with secure attachment and 40 insecure so a lot of us have to be doing something ok/right. If anyone wants to know more about attachment see the Circle of Security website/parent ed program or google bert powell Circle of Security. Just did some training in this a few weeks back and it is awesome. Takes 50+ years of attachment research and makes sense of it at a parenting level. Best training I have ever done in over 20 years of working in the field of psychology/child development/parenting

  12. well said.

    thanks for reminding me that I am human - and not perfect. So easy to kick my own ass all day long.

    perhaps instead I kick back with a G&T??

    can't wait to dip deeper into your blog. happy days.

    xx Amy

  13. I've just started Ayelet Waldman's "Bad Mother". You should totally hunt it down and get into it. NOW!
    Have a happy weekend.

  14. You've probably received many of these ... and I know it's kind of like a chain letter, so I won't be offended if you choose it ignore it ... but i'm passing on the versatile blogger award to YOU lady. Kellie xx

  15. oh i love that last paragraph.. we are all just people!
    i just found your blog via dear olive :)

  16. Thanks so much for all your interesting comments here. I'll definitely check out Michele's site and Kate's book.

    I have to say that I think that Erica Jong is often quite the fruity fruity fruit bat. I often don't agree with her position.

    But I LOVE the fact that she is fighting the paradigm that puts pressure on mums to be so perfect,so selfless, so on top of every aspect of their children care. Who is this fabulous, I ask you? And it's only a short step from here to blaming the mum who is not so perfect.

    Lastly, big props must go to Shelly's dad for 'are they alive? do you know where they are?' I take this as my sign of a day well mummied from this day forward.

  17. Do the best you can - definitely words to mother by!


Thanks for talking to me. I don't got cooties. Oh, except for when I got cooties.