Monday, October 29, 2012

Review: The Conflict

The Conflict, written by Elisabeth Badinter tells about the cross-section of feminism and attachment parenting, making the case that the attachment parenting movement is a retrenchment from the feminist movement of the 1970's and 1980's. The book is not subtle about its main argument: Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women.

I'll be honest, I was dreading reading this book because its very common for books written about me (because I am one of those "modern mothers" she is writing about) to be offensive in their characterizations of their subjects. Not surprisingly, I was right. The author writes about AP mothers, relying on research and prior journalism to make her case, rather than actually interviewing any women who were examples of the mothers of whom she was writing. In doing so, she fails to go to the source to understand modern mothers' motives and decision-making.

In describing the historical arch of women adapting to culture and society amidst the changes of the last 60 years, Badinter paints a picture of mothers today responding with dissatisfaction to the way they were parented by their mothers 20-30 years ago.  On that, she does indeed accurately capture my experience. I am the daughter of a "liberated" woman and after seeing the gender roles she lived, I decided I wanted a different kind of life for myself when I became a mother.

My mother who was a teenager in the late 60's, worked my whole childhood. Unlike her childhood, I was not cared for by grandmothers while my mother worked. My grandmother was a real anomaly of the early 50's. Influenced by the entry of women into the work force during WWII, she took my mother to work for her early months. After that point, my mother was cared for by grandmothers until she entered kindergarten.

Both my mother and grandmother were lucky to be able to bring their babies to work for the first few months, but after that point, I was in childcare from 9 months on and I remember spending a large portion of my childhood in after school child care, at my mother's office, and with my bipolar father, while my mother was cared for by her grandmothers. Throughout my childhood, I often found myself reaching out to my mother but feeling guilty that I was interrupting her work to do so.

Because of my experience, I quickly realized that I would be able to be more available to my children by staying home to care for them. At the same time though, I was educated and found that the pace of staying at home with a baby was a hard adjustment intellectually. My graduate program and thesis was just the outlet I needed.

Because of my education in child development, I easily incorporated the research regarding attachment parenting into my parenting philosophy. Scientifically, breastfeeding makes sense, co-sleeping makes sense, homebirthing/out-of-hospital/unmedicated birth with midwives makes sense. Politically and philosophically, homeschooling makes sense.Though Badinter does a good job describing the research regarding the benefits to mothers and babies to the name parenting behaviors, her tone remains snide toward mothers who seek to be guided by the research promoting healthy development in little humans.

Contrary to what Badinter portrays in The Conflict, attachment parenting is not mutually exclusive to women working. Instead of attacking an employment/economic system that compels people to live to work, she attacks mothers for choosing the path they feel brings them the most happiness in the face of such a inhospitable and family un-friendly system. It seems evident to me that Badinter is not familiar with some of my favorite books on the topic of family friendly, worker-friendly emplyoment policies, namely: Equally Shared ParentingRadical Homemakers, The War on Moms, and The Motherhood Manifesto. Though she had nothing but disdain for the choices I--and my peers--are making in regards to making motherhood and womanhood work, I find a good deal of satisfaction in envisioning and engendering a part-time worker/part-time parenting team with my husband. I do believe that the longer we are at it, the easier it will become; in part, because we will get better as we go along and because cultural and policy changes will occur to be more respectful of workers' desires to work to live and then to life fully outside of work.

The greatest failing of The Conflict was the author's inability to take into account the ocean in which women are swimming. The author appears to blame children and parenthood for why women and men cannot compete in the marketplace of professionalism, without taking thought on the ways that professionalism is a cultural construct that did not develop in a way to promote the natural state of procreation and parenthood that ensure the survival of the species. The history of employment is built on the twin pillars of slavery and exploitation--the big boss man taking advantage of all that a serf/laborer/employee will give him, and then twist his arm to take some more. At some point, a generation is going to turn the employment structure around to value the workers are the basis for the success of companies so that workers, of whom 80-95% are parents, make a living wage and are present and involved as the primary caregivers to their children. Badinter appears to throw her hands up in defeat towards any efforts to alter attitude towards workers' family lives without taking the next step saying that its just a matter of time before culture progresses in such a way that employment respects and values the contribution parents make towards an equal and balanced society.

In the end, the author concludes with a point that I can wholeheartedly agree, "insisting that the mother sacrifice the woman delays her decision to have a child and possibly discourages her from having one at all." if only that had been the framing used for this book, instead of an attack on parenting in general. 

1 comment:

violet said...

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