Feminism and Mothering
When I tore up my Feminist card and exchanged it for a Babist card
I recently read an article by a famous feminist author that described attachment or “natural” parenting as primitive. She further described this attentiveness to Baby as likely a temporary fad, and so noxious to women that it must sometime be replaced by another style of mothering. She called for a release from guilt for women – there are no rules, therefore whatever you do and however you parent, is just fine.
So wrong I’m not sure where to start.
There are rules to caring for infants that make a difference in how they develop. Yes, it is America and there is the ability to ignore Baby Rules and assign Baby to inconsistent or institutional rearing in order to avoid inconvenience – but then the Adult is choosing to is to place his or her needs over the immature, fledgling baby needs.
Speaking of fledglings – what if the mother bird chose not to feed or keep the babies warm? They die. Feminist mothers certainly would not choose to deprive a child of bodily needs – but in the effort to escape guilt, they may choose to ignore the rules of attachment and deprive babies of important bonds upon which they base future development. It is life or death for some in the most extreme cases – see research on orphans kept fed and warm, but deprived of attachment (4).
What Does Feminism Miss?
I appreciate much of the first-wave feminist movement which secured voting rights, equal treatment and protection under the law and promoted equal pay for equal work. I question current-wave feminist voices who make their watch cry one of alleviating women from natural functions of child bearing and rearing and furthermore, alleviate women from men. And if a Baby comes to Feminist Mom and Mom chooses the no-rules and no-guilt method, she has also chosen to stay in abject ignorance of evidence-based truths of child development. Bowlby and Ainsworth (1 – 3) were studying infant attachment and publishing their finding before the feminist movement of the 1970’s. The need for infants to attach to mother was an established, evidence-based concept while the bras were burning.
I encounter many folks who, while well-meaning, just have not done their pre-baby homework. Others have done their homework, and opt out of substantial amounts of baby-raising-child-influencing activity – in other words they read the rules, did not like them, and reject them. While the main rule with the infancy stage is attachment formation and proximity seeking, these parents opt for their child to spend formative hours with caretakers who may or may not love them. That is what institutions are for. Feminist moms who choose to ignore Baby rules and leave the baby to the institution have that right. It does not mean others who sacrifice career and education for in-your-face-baby caring are wrong.
This leads me to why I tore up my feminist card.
Feminism has failed to provide me with a good answer to the question , “Who cares for Baby?” Feminism theory only talks about women and their opportunities to do all that men do and be treated like men. If everyone is running around seeking power in the workplace, there is no one left to take care of Baby.
So I signed up for the Babyist card. I lobby for Baby.
Follow Feminist Advice? – But Who Will Raise Baby?
Bearing and raising a child is a challenge. The feminist movement often advises women to avoid the challenge and turn the job over to…. Who? Someone is going to spend those hours with the child that was produced – who will it be? Where is the village? There is only a village if you pay people to act like the village – nannies, day care, etc.
While mom is powering to the top, using all of her advanced skills and education, is baby being taught by someone who has not even finished high school? The licensed care centers require less than one semester’s college work to care for and educate infants and preschoolers. I know, because I teach some of those classes. Preschool teachers are good people, but they are not the child’s parent. It has never made sense to me to clamor after advanced education and status just to place your treasure in hands with less education and less connection to the child. …unless you believe that child care truly is menial work for an unskilled labor force.
Some may have love for your child, but most will not – and some may not even like your child. If you turn over an infant at six weeks of age to an institution while you work full time, your baby will spend most of his or her waking hours outside of the presence of someone who loves them. That is against the rule of attachment and proximity with mother. Babies need to bask in the light of an adoring mother for the majority of their early years.
Excessive hours in day care creates stress in the infant and young child. The more hours away from the mother, the more secretion of cortisol, the stress hormone. Constant scanning of the environment, anxiety and seeking out their mother interferes with learning.
Without proper attachment, happiness is endangered through subsequent physical and psychological disorders emerging from anxiety than cannot be quite pinned down. unhealthy relationships, hyper-consumerism and other efforts to fill holes that should have been filled when they were babes in arms.
What Does a Babyist Want?
I want powerful women, secure in their gender and the abilities that come with it, to create homes and environments that yield attached babies who progress to healthy adults. Our world today is filled with people who engage in excessive consumerism and value vacuous celebrities. Children raised by parents who have not handed them off to institutions, but have remained attached, engaged and involved are blessed with strong sense of self and may find it easer to value relationships rather than constantly run after “things” to fill holes that weren’t filled in childhood.
Having children requires choices – and the first choice is to become educated as to their needs – or to choose to remain ignorant of their needs. Once a good measure of knowledge is obtained, the obligation to subjugate many of your needs, for a short time – becomes obvious.
Yes, I am speaking of sacrifice. Sacrifice of the ideal job, career track, perfect house, childless vacations, uninterrupted sleep. Children have needs that must be met if they are to reach their potential as secure, healthy adults. If parents choose to meet those needs, rather than find ways to avoid the responsibility, the child develops into a more pro-social creature – that is one who is attentive to the needs of others – be that individuals or society as a whole.
There are rules. Babies need mothers and not villages and institutions. Babies do not care about your self-fulfillment – they just care about your presence. Attachment and natural-type parenting moms are fantastically creative at times with finding ways to feed their creative urges during the intense baby-rearing years. I love the leadership of the strong women who seek to normalize attachment parenting, breastfeeding and natural childbirth in today’s society.
If society elevates motherhood, mothers find the profession more meaningful. I see groups of professional mothers taking this in hand and nurturing each other while providing education on how to excel at this profession. I also see career-bound mothers doing their best to make it all work. They really do love their children. The two groups can sometimes find themselves at odds during discussions – each defending their choices. It is OK to defend, but not to denigrate the other. Build up healthy attachment and engagement practices.
They will leave your bed eventually. They will not walk down the aisle in diapers or still breastfeeding. The struggles of the early years dissipate quickly with advancing development. Looking back, you will wonder why all the fuss – the years were so few.
It is OK to feel bad about missed opportunities for attachment and engagement. I certainly have my share. Here is where the “I did my best with the knowledge and circumstances I had at the time” talk comes in.
Perhaps a new terms should arise – perhaps I am a “Motherist” or a “Homemakerist” or a “Strong, in Charge, Womanist” – but certainly I am a “Babyist.”
1. Ainsworth MD (December 1969). “Object relations, dependency, and attachment: a theoretical review of the infant-mother relationship”. Child Development (Blackwell Publishing) 40 (4): 969–1025.
2. Bowlby J (1953). “Critical Phases in the Development of Social Responses in Man and Other Animals”. New Biology 14: 25–32.
3. Bowlby, J. (1960) ‘Separation Anxiety’ International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 41: 89-113
4. Spitz RA (1945). “Hospitalism: An Inquiry into the Genesis of Psychiatric Conditions in Early Childhood”. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 1: 53–74.