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 clichéd 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.