The Mommy Myth

by Harry on March 19, 2004

Great post by Laura about The Mommy Myth. The book is apparently about the sense of guilt mothers have about not spending 24/7 with their children. Laura says this:

What is the source of this more demanding style of parenting? The authors blame a vast right wing conspiracy, which they intelligently call the Committee for Retrograde Antifeminist Propaganda or CRAP. (Call me an academic snob, but I was really irritated by this. Also, trying to be cute, they call the former Soviet Union, those pesky Russkies. Finger nails on a blackboard.)

Laura disagrees, and instead blames the vast conspriacy of parenting experts

Unless the Sears are in league with CRAP, I think that the new style of parenting has other sources. Child development experts, safety experts, and parents themselves have brought about these changes.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Sears books, they are the ones that tell you that you should be enslaved to every whim of your baby/toddler, and that if the baby ever cries its your fault because you are not in skin-toskin physical contact with them As the parent of two children who spent every waking hour of the first five months screaming their heads off, no matter what we did, I always thought they were in league with the devil myself.

Anyway, go read the whole post. One thing I hate about these sorts of post is that they frequently make me buy the book in question and not infrequently make me read it.

{ 16 comments }

1

Chris Bertram 03.19.04 at 4:06 pm

From an “18th-century baby-care manual”:http://projects.ilt.columbia.edu/pedagogies/rousseau/index.html

Children’s first tears are prayers; if you are not careful they soon become commands. They begin by asking for help, they end by making themselves served. Thus from his own weakness, the source of his first sentiment of dependence, springs the later idea of empire and domination.

2

emjaybee 03.19.04 at 4:20 pm

heh. We had a false alarm last year and I rushed out and bought a Sears book. After we know there was no baby on the way, I started looking at the book more carefully, and realizing, I was a little disconcerted that these two had *eight* children (!) and didn’t seem to see that as unusual. Not that it’s bad or anything, but it made it much harder, I would think, for your average parent to relate to.

There was also nearly zippo discussion of how to balance child with work, or that you might be more terrified than thrilled that you were about to be a parent.

Then there was the little anecdote about Mrs. Sears giving Mr. Sears a Christmas present one year of a positive pregnancy test stick—I couldn’t help thinking “ew–throw that thing away!” And also, “c’mon, lady, just tell him like a normal person.”

But maybe that’s me.

3

mj 03.19.04 at 4:25 pm

The Sears are not so far from CRAP as you might think (and ooh, as someone who suffered reading their highly prescriptive The Baby Book during my own pregnancy, I loved writing that sentence. Did you read the part where they describe how you can breastfeed in a speeding car — with someone else driving, of course — while both staying safely tethered? It requires strong thighs. They have a drawing of a woman in one of those ruffly high-collared “church” dresses, to demonstrate.) But I digress. The Sears identify themselves as Christians and their ideology is not too far from the surface.

I would make a strong distinction between different sorts of “attachment parenting.” I am an advocate of Penelope Leach‘s empathetic, pro-child stance. The difference is that she grounds her parenting advice in a clear politic of children’s rights. The Sears, on the other hand, although they advocate a form of attachment parenting, seem to sublimate any rights of the child to the goal of a strong — and traditional — nuclear family.

4

Rv. Agnos 03.19.04 at 4:42 pm

I have discovered there are two main schools of parenting. The first is Attachment Parenting, which can be summarized as “If you ever put your child down when she cries, she will be scarred forever.” The second is the Ferber Method, which can be summarized as “If you ever pick your child up when she cries, she will be scarred forever.”

The rest of the books are just footnotes.

They are both crap, but no one wants to buy a book that says, “Do whatever you think is best.”

5

PG 03.19.04 at 5:46 pm

no one wants to buy a book that says, “Do whatever you think is best.”

Dr. Spock began his book with “Trust yourself, you know more than you think you do,” and the book has become the world’s best-selling nonfiction publication after the Bible, with over 50 million copies in print.

6

jonquil 03.19.04 at 5:50 pm

That’s a remarkably unfair characterization of Ferber. Ferber specifically says (A) that babies under a certain age generally won’t sleep through the night and shouldn’t be forced to do so and (B) that you do not let a child scream unattended for hours.

When you Ferberize a kid (which is something you do ONLY to solve sleep problems; it doesn’t apply to temper tantrums, eating, or anything else), you tuck the child into bed and do your nighttime ritual. Then you leave. If the child cries, you come back after ten minutes, comfort the child, and leave. Lather, rinse, repeat. The point is that you reassure the child that you’re still there without repeating the bedtime ritual. You don’t abandon the child.

Me, I went off Penelope Leach when I read her warning that the nursing rocker shouldn’t have arms lest you bump the baby’s head on them. Nursing babies (at least mine) are heavy and I needed an armrest.

7

maurinsky 03.19.04 at 6:32 pm

I think other parents are a source of the problem, as well. I joined an e-mail group of women when I was pregnant, we were all due during the same month.

After the babies were born, we had these occasional flare-ups over parenting issues: one mother posted something about how allowing your child to drink from a bottle was the moral equivalence of beating your child. Other mothers who were dead set on breastfeeding their children until they started kindergarten would fire back. We had these issues over Ferber, Ezzo, whether you carried your child in a sling or coldly transported them via stroller, etc. At every flare-up, we would lose the moms who couldn’t bear to talk to people who didn’t believe exactly as they believed when it came to parenting.

We still have a core group of 110 moms on the list, although there are probably only 40 or so who still post regularly.

I only made it through 2 baby books: The Hip Mama’s Survival Guide and The Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy, only because the other books suffered from being too cute, too precious, or too boring. And I still wouldn’t parent by the book.

And I’m most definitely not the greatest parent in the world, but I do have the greatest kids, so I lucked out.

8

mc 03.19.04 at 6:54 pm

You know what I find funny is that, in most parts of the world people do not even dream of reading books about how to raise their kids; they just do it.

They are both crap, but no one wants to buy a book that says, “Do whatever you think is best.”

Well, more like, no publisher would ever bother to sell a book that says that. Thats what it’s all about.

9

mc 03.19.04 at 7:04 pm

from Laura’s post:

How much worse is it for a women who picks up her kids from daycare at 6:00, makes dinner from scratch, cleans up the kitchen, sorts the mail, reads stories, gives baths, brushes teeth, and puts the kids to sleep? She puts the kids in front of the TV to make the dinner and while she gets ready for work in the morning. She knows that her kids haven’t gotten this high maintenance parenting at daycare, and there’s no way she can do much in that hour or two that they are home together. She’s too exhausted from work to engage in stimulating chatter with the kids; maybe even loses her temper too often. It’s tough.

Anyone ever think about what the kids themselves – not the parents, mommy or daddy – really want? I think the situation Laura describes as “tough” is actually the ideal solution for kids. I mean, they do not want stimulating chatter with mommy. They want to play with other kids.

It’s only good if children spend as much time as possible away from their parents. As long as emotional support and basic rules are given, there is really no need to be physically present all the time. Kids need to socialize… they need to detach themselves from the family as early as possible.

Parenting should really be about the kids’ needs, not the parents’ ones. Parents can be much more self-obsessed that tantrum-throwing babies, sometimes.

10

mj 03.19.04 at 9:40 pm

Kids need to socialize… they need to detach themselves from the family as early as possible.

Kids are not homogeneous. Nor do they need the same things throughout their infancy and childhood. We should take our cues from them, I think.

11

pw 03.19.04 at 10:25 pm

A friend who is currently on small monster #2 characterizes the message of all of these books as YBMD: Your Baby Might Die. And for the most part, thanks to smaller families, better birth control, ever-more isolated nuclear families and segregated living for young adults — all of which minimize people’s exposure to infants and young children before they acquire some of their own — YBMD books have a ready market.

The Backlash Against Uppity Women (darn, that doesn’t spell anything good) helps place the sense of blame on the shoulders of mothers so afflicted, but ultimately it’s the culture that encourages both sexes to act like 1950s men that that leads to such an enormous gap in what should be considered basic human knowledge. (For some reason, I’m reminded of the explosion in perinatal mortality when educated professional doctors managed to supplant all those smelly ignorant midwives.)

12

ucblockhead 03.19.04 at 10:29 pm

As a father, I’m convinced that having parents that are around is better for a kid than having parents who are working long hours. I’m just not particularly clear on why this is considered an issue for mothers and not fathers. I suspect that if feminists want to complain about something, that might be a better target then vast ideological conspiracies.

What people need to understand is that you can’t have it all. You can’t have a high flying, twelve hour a day career and be the world’s best parent at the same time. That’s true of both mothers and fathers.

Of course, you’re not going to be the world’s best parent anyway. But I think it’s a more general issue then a conspiracy of parenting experts. In our society, we’ve been taught that you can have it all, and that you are a failure if you do not. You can have that high powered career, the perfect family with shining teeth and the perfect gym manufactured body. Well, unless you are really damn lucky, you can’t. If you don’t realize that, you’re just going to screw everything up.

As far as the baby books go, well…we found that if we read a bunch, averaged them out we came up with something that sort of worked. Though I swear what this guy wrote comes far closer to what we actually experienced in the whole baby-raising process.

13

arthur 03.19.04 at 10:34 pm

Anyone looking for a “pick me up” on childrearing should read any book intended for adoptive parents. Since most adoptions take place after the first year, the authors are absolutely clear that no amount of neglect or mistreatment (including malnutrition!) in the first year makes the least bit of difference.

14

arthur 03.19.04 at 10:35 pm

Anyone looking for a “pick me up” on childrearing should read any book intended for adoptive parents. Since most adoptions take place after the first year, the authors are absolutely clear that no amount of neglect or mistreatment (including malnutrition!) in the first year makes the least bit of difference.

15

bryan 03.19.04 at 11:37 pm

‘Then there was the little anecdote about Mrs. Sears giving Mr. Sears a Christmas present one year of a positive pregnancy test stick—-I couldn’t help thinking “ew—throw that thing away!” And also, “c’mon, lady, just tell him like a normal person.”’
are you kidding? Those are great with vinegar.

16

mc 03.20.04 at 9:33 am

Kids are not homogeneous. Nor do they need the same things throughout their infancy and childhood. We should take our cues from them, I think.

mj – yes, exactly. You have to consider the children’s needs. Not the parent’s ones.

But it’s a fact that all kids need to be with other kids and other adults. Daycare and kindergarten serve that function. I find it somehow insulting that they should be seen as only “the poorer alternative” to some mythically perfect full-time 24/7 presence of parents, or as a way for parents to park their offspring somewhere while they work. The function of those places is a social one. Child-rearing has to include more than just the parents.

My point is that I think the entire framework of all this childrearing-parenting debate that produces so many books is flawed. It’s influenced by the interests in selling the books. The books are read by parents, not children. Parents want their ego stroked. They want to be told the “best” way to do this and that, when there’s no single best way. They want to be sure they’re the “best” parents there can be.

In all this, concern for the interests of the kids takes background place.

The whole idea of being the “best” should be thrown out the window, along with any books.

There’s no rule saying the mere fact of being around longer is better. How you are there, is what matters – not when, where, how long. You can be there 24/7, and be a lousy parent.

In fact, I think if you are around your kids *too much*, you tend to obsess about them, be possessive, and jealous. The more you keep them at home, the more there’s a chance they’ll have trouble integrating in class later when they go to school.

Whereas, you can be around only one or two hours a day, plus the weekends, and be a supportive loving parent; during the day, have your kids in kindergarten where they can be having fun playing with other kids and learning to interact, and the transition to school will be smoother, and children-parent relations healthier and less self-centered. The kids will have learnt that you’re still “there” for them emotionally, so they will likely accept and enjoy being with other people even if you’re not there. They’ll have learnt they can’t just cry mommy and get what they want. They’ll likely throw less of a stink when you drop them off to school. The parents on the other hand will have learnt and accepted that the kids are not their possession, that they need to start learning to go out into the world on their own little feet, little by little.

Of course I’m talking more of kids from 1-2 years onwards than babies. The ideal solution is a system that allows comfortable, long enough maternity and paternity leaves and grants support to parents for taking care of babies, and relies heavily also on public services for daycare and kindergarten and early schooling and such. Also, even for babies, I prefer the idea of an extended family support, where available, to the exclusively nuclear family model which can become suffocating.

Thing is, people need to keep in mind that child-rearing is not an exclusive task for parents. It’s a social matter. The more the larger society is involved, the better. Less possessiveness from parents, less spoiling children, more socialising from an early age. That’s what produces more self-confident children and, ultimately, adults.

Books for parents completely overturn this idea, they focus too much on the exclusivity of parent-child relation, they tend to cater to egotistical needs. Because they have to sell.

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