Wednesday, November 17, 2010

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One Reaction to the Erica Jong Op-Ed Piece

My reaction to the Erica Jong op-ed piece was not as angry or insulted as many in the cloth diapering community have communicated.  It gave me pause as I thought about the choices I make as a mother: how I arrive at those choices, what my motivations are behind my choices, what I believe those choices can and cannot influence and how I feel about others who choose differently.  My take-away from the piece was an agreement that society, advocacy groups and even other mothers tend to put pressure, place blame and pass judgment on how we are mothering our children.  Her criticism seemed less about the actual parenting practices she mentions and more about the misperception that if we do not follow these practices we are bad mothers.  Admittedly, she gives her opinion about certain parenting styles that she did not find appropriate or workable in her lifestyle, just as anyone of us has opinions about parenting styles that we choose not to practice.  My opinion was that she stopped short of attacking, making precisely the point that we are all too quick to attack and judge one another as mothers and parents.

I wholeheartedly agree that there is inherent societal pressure on mothers.  In today’s world of evolving families, fathers are indeed more active and equally as important, but I believe there is an incomparable standard for mothers and by mothers, much more so than with fathers.  However, taking away the judgment of anyone else, we are still faced with the enormous task of guiding, nurturing and molding another human being from infancy, essentially into adulthood.  It is almost impossible to escape our own feelings of guilt as we try with all of our might to make the right choices for these little beings in our care.   No parent, therefore, should have to feel any additional pressure or guilt from the outside world.  The clich├ęd battles of the working mom vs. the stay at home mom, breastfeeding vs. formula, co-sleeping vs. a crib should not exist among those of us simply doing our best, with the resources we’re given, to love and parent our children.  And yet they do.  What Ms. Jong is saying, along with a few personal opinions of her own, is that there is no one way, no perfect solution to parent a child and the idea that a mother should feel guilty or inadequate is detrimental to all involved. 

I do not want to be made to feel unloving, selfish or guilty for how I am raising my children.  Furthermore, I would be saddened to think that my choices could make someone else feel a lesser parent.  Certainly, when we make a choice, we are actively choosing to NOT do it another way.  Our opinion, obviously, is that our choice is the better choice.  However, to stop these battles and comparisons, that thought needs to be finished with the words “for me and my family.”  Cloth diapers are the better choice…for me and my family; making my own babyfood is the right choice…for me and my family; breastfeeding was the right choice for me and my daughter, yet formula was the right choice for me and my other daughter.  That which separates us from all other creatures is the ability to perceive and judge, and that is a beautiful quality, until that perception is used to feel superior or make someone else feel inadequate.  It is our responsibility, when we make a perception and consequently a choice, not to judge others who chose differently.  There is no perfect way to raise a perfect person and what a boring world that would be if there were.

I would hesitate to place labels on myself as a person, and even more so as a mother.  My parenting style changes, reacts and evolves as my children do the same.  My decisions as a mother, along with all of the other mothers out there, are motivated by the health, happiness and safety of my children.  Period.  Personally, I rely heavily on my own good old-fashioned instinct, sprinkled with bits of information gleaned from the experience of my mother, doctors, clinical studies, teachers and my peers, among others.  That being said I believe in some of the practices that Ms. Jong mentions in her article and in reading it, never once felt the need to defend my choices.   Rather, I felt a bit relieved and humbled.  I agree with her in that “nothing is more malleable than motherhood,” meaning there is nothing so guaranteed, nothing so fixed that tells us there is a right way and a wrong way to raise our children at any given time.  I would never be so bold as to believe I have all of the answers and my children will be perfect as a result of my parenting.  Furthermore, I would be remiss to think that my neighbor’s choices will subject her children to a life of failure, insecurity or ill-health.  We can’t control “society’s” judgment on what we are doing, but we can make an effort to fight it by agreeing not to do it to each other as mothers.  As challenging as it might be, I strive to live guilt-free as I navigate this ever-changing, challenging, yet beautiful task of raising my children, at the same time remaining judgment-free as all other mothers do the same.

By Jennifer G.

We thank Jennifer for her wonderful contribution to our blog. The Cloth Diaper Whisperer does not take a stance on this issue but would like to offer our reader's one person's view point on this subject.

16 comments:

Ana B said...

I certainly agree, great post! I've had some trouble overcoming my judgmental tone when it comes to my blog, I'm really striving to inform and educate mothers and help them make the best decisions FOR THEIR FAMILY instead of just pushing my point of view on them. Thankfully I've actually had a mom (with similar parenting beliefs) approach me and tell me that she felt that my tone was belittling and judgmental, because of her openness I saw how I can change the way I write. :)

Annie Brainard said...

I think that judgment comes so easily for us as mothers because motherhood is such a defining role in our lives. We all do what we do and how we do it because we believe it to be the BEST way. So it's easy to look at another mom who does things differently and truly feel that it's not right. After all, so many other things in this world are definites--right or wrong in any situation.

But parenting IS different. So as moms, we have to be sensitive to that. We have to be able to hear that other moms do things differently without feeling like that means our way is threatened. And, more importantly, we have to be able to hear that other moms do things differently without feeling that judgment rise in our bones.

After all, we all can learn a little from each other. No matter what our parenting style.

Tara said...

Jennifer you did an amazing job writing this piece! I agree with so much you said!

Anonymous said...

Well said. I especially like that you respect that everyone has to make the choices that are right for their own family instead of making an attack on someone else's parenting. This is an extremely civilized and well-written article that does well to represent the views of many of us in the cloth diapering community.

Jamie R said...

A lot of people in my AP group were just quick to dismiss that article and judge her. I was taken aback by the criticism of the AP lifestyle, but I did agree with Jong that we need to embrace the "it takes a village" mentality. As mothers, we all need a support network. And I do believe that the support network should just be other mothers, regardless of mothering choices. I have made decisions for myself and my family and I don't care to hear people criticize them. However, I have evolved to the point where I know it is not right of me to be critical either. Motherhood has definitely defined me in so many ways, but that doesn't mean other people have had MY experiences, or have learned what I have learned. Everyone makes decisions based on the information and support they have at the time, and I can't judge people for that, because that is what I did also.

Crystal said...

I agree! Especially with my first child it was hard to not to measure my motherhood by what other moms were doing, leaving me stressed, guilty and very unsure of myself. As time has gone on I've learned that listen to my babies (and for me, listening to God) is WAY more important than listening to anything anyone else is saying. I'm less and less effected by the opinions of others and continually more free to enjoy my family and make decisions that work for us.

Stacey Ho said...

beautifully written.

Commenter Abbi said...

Thanks you for a very sane reaction to her piece. I feel that too many who read it got really offended and couldn't hear the message for what it was.

Sarah said...

I don't know the piece you're talking about, but I just have a personal/private blog, but I too try to be as non-judgmental as I possibly can! I truly do NOT care how my friends/family choose to parent and raise their children, yet at the same time...I cannot imagine NOT cloth diapering, breastfeeding, making my own baby food, and not having my son sleep in his own crib. But mothering comes with judgment and competition on some level, it's just ingrained in our DNA for some reason, we just have to try and keep tabs on it!

maebystyle said...

i have two children. one was formula fed (after struggling to breastfeed and ultimately losing my milk), diapered in disposables, and slept in a crib. the other is ebf, cloth diapered, and will be sharing a be with me until she's ready for her crib. i have had two very different experiences in parenting and i have dealt with the comments of each opposition. the one that probably hurt the most was in response to not being able to nurse my son. (sometimes it's not because a mother didn't try hard enough.)i also agreed with erica jong's editorial that we need to stop being so judgmental and discontinue speaking out against those who have a different method of parenting.

i also agree that it takes a village, but i think it's important that your village is at least supportive of how you want to raise your child.

stacythemagnificentmommy said...

I wrote a response, as well.
http://crazygreenmommy.blogspot.com/2010/11/where-erica-jong-went-wrong.html

I tried not to criticize her method of parenting- thought it interesting to read her daughter's response- but I hope I did respond in a firm manner that what she wrote was not ok. She effectively criticized women for making the best choices for their family because they didn't fit in to what she deemed a corporate lifestyle. I'd love to hear from a corp. mom that has successfully used some of these attachment and natural options.

kaitobin said...

As I read Erica Jong's article, I couldn't help but feel she had really misconstrued some of the intentions of Dr. Sears. That being said, though, I happen to agree with her that there is an inherent level of judgment that we as women put onto ourselves - and perhaps is put upon us by a greater society. I happen to think that it is the idea of "perfection" that is most to blame, and primary reason we are so akin to judge ourselves and others. In fact, I strive to accept that while I will undoubtedly be an imperfect mother, professional, wife, etc., I am operating with the best of intentions for my family and my self. The biggest challenge (by far) for me, is breaking down my own expectations. In this I don't blame Dr. Sears or attachment parent enthusiasts (heck, I'm one of them), but rather a greater societal attitude that seems to really devalue the importance of motherhood, putting us working mothers especially into impossible dual-roles.

Sara said...

I love this post. Thank you for posting it! I've had a terrible time breastfeeding my son and was left with a huge amount of guilt when I started using formula with him. Which is ridiculous, because I am happier and he is much happier... so where is the shame in that? Yet still, every time someone asks me if I'm breastfeeding I feel I have to explain myself (even though I am still pumping here and there, not a super great supply)...

Anywho, I could go on for days. Thank you so much for your very well written post... :)

Richain Herod said...

What a great response. Taking on the title of MOM is a big job and until you hold the position, it is difficult to understand. As a first time mom, it took a while to figure out how I was going to define the role. I started attending a support group at the hospital where I gave birth to my son. Many of those women are my closest friends now. In my close group of mommy friends we all share one belief: you take the advice and help you need and leave the stuff you dont need on the table (think like a buffet at a restaurant). There are so many different styles of parenting and opinions/debates about what is "right" and what is "wrong". Much like each child is different, each approach has to be as well. I was fortunate to find a group that did not pass judgment but offered true support until I was more secure in my role as MOM. I have found that those who toss the judgments out as parents tend to be insecure in their role as parents and are afraid of something different or new. I can remember those first few months...insecure and nervous that I was going to screw up my child. It was a fight to trust my instincts over the opinions of others. With success comes security in my ability to be a great MOM to my son. I am so thankful to have a group of moms who can offer each other the kind of support we need without the judgment.

Dreaming Mama said...

Great post Jennifer. I try to always state "for our family" also. Sometimes it is easiest to jump to attack mode, especially when I feel attacked. Being a mom (parenting) is hard enough.

kaitobin said...

@stacythemagnificentmommy - I consider myself an academic mom - Have a Ph.D. and returned to residency at only 8 weeks, I used a midwife and no pain meds in her birth, b-fed and exclusively pumped for a year, co-slept for 3mos, wore and held her frequently, didn't cry it out at all until she was 1 year, made all her food for the first year, cloth diapered from 9lbs, etc. There are a lot of details in how/why this all came to be, but the moral here is that we did what we needed to do as a family.

I think every mom has discrepancy in how they expect themselves to be and how they actually are. It is in our conversations and approach to each other that matters - I usually ask myself "Is how I'm inquiring here making this mom explain/defend herself?" I love to hear other mom's accounts of parenting, because I felt really lost in that first year, and actually suffered from PPD. Erica Jong is very right in embracing the "it takes a village" mentality, though, I personally felt very isolated. My family didn't understand the choices we were making, and I ended up defending more decisions than should ever have needed to.

Personally, I think Jong is right in her assertions, but her critical tone on AP comes off as judgmental. A little hypocritical in that she's telling her readers this judgement and criticism is the source of the problem!