On Being A Good Mother, In Spite Of It All

November 9, 2010

Emilia 039Before Emilia was born, I had a very clear plan about what kind of mother I was going to be. I was going to carry her with me everywhere in designer slings, I was going to hand-blend my own organic baby food, I was going to shun pacifiers, I was going to teach her sign language before she was six months old, I was going to lose the baby weight before she was four months old, I was going to forbid any and all toys that were not hand-crafted by Swedish artisans from entering my house, I was going to swaddled her bottom only in cloth diapers hand-laundered in eco-friendly detergents, I was going breastfeed her until she was two, I was going to not let her watch television until she was three, I was going to clothe her only in garments woven from pure cotton by Tibetan monks or, at least, certified Disney-character free. I was going to be master of my maternal domain! I was going to be the very best mother ever, and nobody would be able to deny it!

Then Emilia was born. You know where this is going. There was a pacifier in her mouth before we wrapped her bottom in some Huggies Little Snugglers, bundled her in a Winnie-the-Pooh sleeper and took her home from the hospital.

She refused to be carried in slings or Bjorns or Ergos or anything, really, other than arms or strollers, and even arms were usually disdained in favor of moving-moving-always-moving. She self-weaned just shy of nine months. She wouldn’t nap or sleep unless she was left to fuss it out for a while, or unless she was put in a stroller and walked around the block eleventeen times. She was bouncing around in a hideous red-and-blue plastic Exersaucer by the time she was six months old, and she never learned sign language. I never did get around to making my own organic baby food, and almost five years later, I still have the baby weight.

I agonized over all of this – all of these failings, as I saw them – for a very long time. I wanted to do motherhood right. I had very clear ideas, most of them conflicting entirely with the others, about what was involved in doing motherhood right. I had read all the books, was reading all the magazines, had found all the blogs. Angelina carried her baby everywhere. So did Jennifer Garner. And Dr. Sears was adamant that I breastfeed as long as possible, and that if it hurt, I was doing it wrong. Harvey Karp told me that there was no reason why my child shouldn’t sleep on a reasonable schedule, if I handled her properly (what was it again? Swaddle-Soothe-Swing-Swagger-Swill-Something?), and Christy Turlington was on the cover of Cookie Magazine showing off what yoga had done for her mom-bod. And don’t even get me started on Gwyneth Paltrow. Gwyneth Paltrow, it seemed to me, had her shit down. Everyone else could be a good mother, dammit. Why couldn’t I?

I eventually found a way to let all of that go and accept – finally, and with difficulty – that not only did I not need to conform to somebody else’s idea of a good mother, there was no such thing as a perfectly, universalizably good mother. But that was – and, if I’m honest, sometimes still is – a hard road to travel. We’re so invested – as we must be – in doing this motherhood thing right that we forget – we overlook, we are misled about the fact – that there is no one universal ‘right,’ that there is only ‘right for us.’ In forgetting/overlooking/being misled about the absence of a universal ‘right,’ we are left open to anxiety, panic, fear about falling into the vast pit of universally wrong. If we do this wrong we will harm our babies! If we do this wrong we will destroy lives! THERE ARE WHOLE UNIVERSES BALANCED UPON THE TIP OF OUR DECISION WHETHER OR NOT TO BREASTFEED/CO-SLEEP/HOME-SCHOOL/SHUN-DORA!

It’s this, I think – this anxiety about being a good mother – that traps us and imprisons us, and not, as Erica Jong argued the other day in the Wall Street Journal, the dictates of specific styles of parenting (her specific strawman: attachment parenting.) Whether you attachment parent or Ferber-parent or Von Trapp-parent (you know, where you dress them in starched pinafores and make them sing at your parties), if you’re driven by anxiety to follow a style or adhere to a quote-unquote philosophy, and/or if you persist in following that style or philosophy regardless of whether it works for you and your child, you will be imprisoned. It will be hard. It will suck. Maybe not desperately so, but enough, and when it comes to parenting, even moderate suckage is too much suckage. Why must we be so hard on ourselves? Why is it so hard – why does it seem so hard – to just follow our instincts and experiment and allow ourselves to fail from time to time without beating ourselves up and to just, you know, simply do what works? Which, no, is never going to look exactly like what works for your neighbor or your sister-in-law or that mom who you’ve heard about who works full-time and has ten children and yet always has her hair perfectly blown out and her nails manicured, but whatever. You are not that mom. Repeat: YOU ARE NOT THAT MOM.

You are you. You will only and can only have your own style. What makes you a good mother is whatever it is that you bring to mothering your own children, whose needs and preferences are always and necessarily going to be different from the needs and preferences of other children. Emilia was independent from the get-go: attachment parenting didn’t work with her. Jasper was and is the opposite: he wants and needs to be fully attached. The strategies that I worked out for Emilia – for comforting her, for getting her to sleep, for boosting her confidence, for distracting her – simply did not and do not work for Jasper. I’ve adapted my style, and I’ve adapted my style to him. There is, I think, an underlying consistency (for lack of a better word) to my style, which was informed by my experience with Emilia and by my beliefs about parenting (yes, I do have some), but it is, let’s say, a flexible consistency, one that’s more akin to thread running through fabric than steel girding a building. And at the core of all this, there resides this one idea: that only determining factors in whether or not I am a ‘good’ mother are whether I meet their needs – their basic, general needs, and their unique, idiosyncratic ones – and love them well.

Erica Jong is right that we trap ourselves and imprison ourselves with unnecessarily rigid ideas about parenting. But it’s not, as I said, the style of the parenting that necessarily forces that rigidity: it’s our attitudes toward those styles, and the spirit in which we adopt them. Attachment parenting is only restrictive if it doesn’t work for the parent or child being attached; for some it works, for some it doesn’t, and there’s no right or wrong about it, except inasmuch as we try to impose the beliefs gleaned from our own experiences onto others, which is what gets us into trouble in the first place. Erica Jong and that too-French-to-be-believed French woman who wrote that book on le conflit! de la femme et le mere! (merde!) recoil at the idea of carrying around babies and giving up coffee and what have you; that’s their prerogative. As Jong herself states, there’s no one right way to do parenting that’s been handed down through the ages and shared across cultures. Which means that – apart from obvious cases involving abuse and neglect and the withholding of love – there’s also no wrong way. Attachment parenting is only wrong (or restrictive or oppressive or whatever negative term one wants to apply) for those for whom it is wrong. That might be you. That might be me. It is not for anyone other than you or me to say. It is certainly not for Erica Jong to say.

As I’ve said before, that we even debate and dither over these things is a marker of our privilege, and something that we shouldn’t take for granted. We do, many of us, have the luxury of choosing, of surveying the parenting landscape spread before us and debating and deliberating over which roads to take, of wandering down one path and then veering off to another if the first is too rocky or too steep, or of forging our own paths in between the established roads. Parenting, for most people in most of the world, throughout most of human history, has only ever just been parenting, with no qualifying adverb – just whatever works, whatever is necessary, whatever is possible for best ensuring the survival (and, in the best case, thriving) of child and family. We are fortunate to have choices – those of us who actually do have such choices (it is important to remember that not all of us, even in the so-called developed world, do) – and those of us who would condemn any of these choices – regardless of whether we are condemning on the basis of what we think is good for mother or what we think is good for child or what we think is best for feminism or whatever – are doing all of us a grave disservice. We are the lucky ones, we who get to define the terms of our own motherhood. Why on earth would we – do we – get in each others’ way, try to prevent each other from doing so?

The answer is obvious, of course, and obvious even in Jong’s own argument: because this motherhood thing is so loaded, and we are so anxious about it, we get sensitive about it. We are afraid of doing it wrong, and so we look to each other, constantly, asking ourselves – sometimes asking each other – is she doing it wrong? Is SHE doing it wrong? Is SHE? Or is SHE doing it right? If she’s doing it right, and it’s different from how I am doing it, does that make me wrong? I MUST ASSERT MY WAY AS RIGHT. Jong herself admits, quietly, to worrying over her choices. “I hired nannies,” she says, “left my daughter home and felt guilty for my own imperfect attachment.” But, she adds,  “I can’t imagine having done it any other way.” So why could she not leave it at that, admit that she did it the only way that she could, that she did the best she could, and sure, maybe she made some mistakes along the way – one cannot mother without making some mistakes along the way – and maybe she wished that there had been other alternatives for her, but end of the day: she did her best, full stop. Isn’t that what we should all aim for? Isn’t that what ‘good’ motherhood should be about? Not about how or why or what are the socio-cultural-politico-economic implications of how everyone else is doing it – just about how you are doing it, and whether it is serving you, and your children. FULL STOP.

That’s what I’m aiming for. As best I can, anyway.

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    Must Be Motherhood November 9, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    Standing Ovation.

    I read the WSJ piece this weekend and wondered why the hell I was finding Jong’s argument so convincing, when attachment-parenting has *mostly* worked for me. Through your points, I now realize I was agreeing with her final realization that being forced to believe in one “correct” mothering style is an impossibility. You’ve improved her argument. Kudos.

    Catherine November 10, 2010 at 11:13 am

    @Must Be Motherhood, ‘improved her argument’ – thanks for putting it that way. Because I don’t disagree with many of her general points – I just disagree with pointing the finger specifically at one ‘style’ of parenting. The larger argument about the oppressiveness of trying to conform to ‘styles’ – that’s the real issue here.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..A Word Cloud Is Worth 49 Words =-.

    Ellie Di November 9, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    As someone who has no children and wants them someday (soon), this is something I think about ALL THE TIME. I worry that I won’t be a “good mother” to my eventual babies because I’m not “doing it right” somehow. I try to remember that all mommas are different and I can only be the best one that I’m able to. That means that I’m not going to be Gwyneth Paltrow or even you. I’ll just be Ellie-Mamma.
    .-= Ellie Di´s last blog ..State of the Ellie- November =-.

    lisa November 10, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    @Ellie Di,
    that’s right. you are not a mother and therefore you have no right to comment. so shut up. (and let me tell you something all mothers know but apparently no one has told you yet, no mothers EVER listen to ANYTHING non mothers have to say about parenting. so again, shut up.

    Her Bad Mother November 10, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Doooood. Why so harsh? And why shouldn’t a non-mom be able to share her thoughts on motherhood? NOT COOL.

    Ellie Di was being thoughtful, and her comment was full respectful of the experience of moms. She deserves respect in return.

    preconceptionist November 11, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    @Her Bad Mother, I agree. Women who want kids and don’t have them yet should be welcomed into the motherhood circle. It’s never too early to start dreaming and learning. I am now pregnant with my first and so inspired/relieved by this post.
    .-= preconceptionist´s last blog ..Pregnant Pillow Talk =-.

    Catherine November 11, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    @preconceptionist, exactly. EXACTLY. (so glad that this inspired/relieved you ;) )
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..On Being A Good Mother- In Spite Of It All =-.

    Motherhood Uncensored November 9, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    I think, at least for me anyway, is that we want the best for our kids. And somehow, we believe that the only way for our kids to get the best is for us to do the best.

    Problem is, the best for one kid is not the best for the other. The best for one mom is not the best for the other.

    And worse, there are no books, no websites, no classes, no nothing that tell us how to be the best mom for our kids.

    It’s all trial and error and messing up and that’s just really really damn hard.

    Catherine November 10, 2010 at 11:16 am

    @Motherhood Uncensored, and it’s because it is, in reality, so very hard, that we so often cling so desperately to the hope that there might be – might be! – some secret formula, some magic incantation – ACCIO BEHAVE! ACCIO SLEEP! ACCIO EAT YOUR VEGGIES! **ACCIO GOOD MOTHER** – that will save the day. And that when we do find something that works (however temporarily) we clutch it and worship it and insist that it IS magic! That it is BEST.

    And then we get barfed on/shat on/kept up all night AGAIN and we realize, yeah, NO.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..A Word Cloud Is Worth 49 Words =-.

    Backpacking Dad November 9, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    I’m doing it wrong. I didn’t breastfeed either of my kids.
    .-= Backpacking Dad´s last blog ..NaBloPoMo- Failure =-.

    Catherine November 10, 2010 at 11:16 am

    @Backpacking Dad, what’s wrong with you? FAIL.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..A Word Cloud Is Worth 49 Words =-.

    Mama Bub November 9, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    THIS is the response to that article that I’ve been waiting for. The truth is though, that finding our own way is hard. Like Kristen said, the best parent for one child isn’t the same parent for another. And when those two children are both your own children, now what do we do?

    Catherine November 10, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    @Mama Bub, we just fumble through.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..On Being A Good Mother- In Spite Of It All =-.

    Alicia November 9, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    Amazing. Full stop.
    .-= Alicia´s last blog ..It’s no use crying over spilled milk =-.

    Emsxiety November 9, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    You may not be the perfect mother but this is definitly a perfect post. When we stop comparing ourselves and our kids to everyone else, life goes much better.
    .-= Emsxiety´s last blog ..Post eight of thirty in November =-.

    Erin November 9, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Very well said. Thank you. I wrote a post on my blog about being That Kind of Mom, the kind I planned to be. It was kind of a report card on my mothering according to plan. I realized that I couldn’t do all the things I wanted to (organic baby food, etc.), all the time because I didn’t have time with twins, especially after I went back to work (we are blessed here in with a year long maternity leave).

    This post has really made me think about labeling myself and other mother’s with types. I haven’t read the Jong piece yet, but I will. It seems to me like you have summed it up, parent the way that feels right and don’t judge yourself or the choices that others make.
    .-= Erin ´s last blog ..Unconditional Parenting =-.

    Catherine November 10, 2010 at 11:45 am

    @Erin, I think that any mom of twins gets an extra special get-out-of-guilt free card. Twins! HOW DO YOU GUYS DO IT?

    One at a time has nearly killed me, so.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..A Word Cloud Is Worth 49 Words =-.

    Adventures In Babywearing November 9, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    I haven’t read the article yet, but wanted to comment first. Having multiple children I have experienced all sorts of “styles” and attachment parenting definitely is the best for us. Probably my favorite thing about the term is that it makes me feel like I have a category other than: she can’t be away from her children and she sleeps with them.

    And at the same time, my kids drive me crazy! I wish I had my own bed to sleep in with no kids, but this is what works for us as a whole, right now. And I can compare how I parented my first two and the last two and this way currently is definitely what my heart needs most of all. It’s what gets me through the day to the next day.

    I know good and well I have some of my own issues that need dealing with that makes me not want to be apart from my children more than just that I think it is what is best for THEM. I’m a ___ mother in that I am selfish, and confused, a lot of the time. And I just hope I don’t mess my kids up along the way. :)

    .-= Adventures In Babywearing´s last blog ..my fingers the bow and pencils word arrows =-.

    Her Bad Mother November 9, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    We really should be able to say to each other, more frequently, MY KIDS DRIVE ME CRAZY. I know that wasn’t your central point, but when I read those words I actually felt my shoulders relax.

    Me too, lady. Me too.

    kelly @kellynaturally November 9, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Yeah, no. She couldn’t leave it at that. Because to do so means not to be able to foist the guilt upon someone other than herself. Guilt which, I will say, belongs only to, and is created only by, mothers, and should be shunned by mothers, because its completely unnecessary and unhelpful!!!!!

    So she has guilt? Well fine, welcome to motherhood. Now face it, get rid of it, and move on. Don’t put it on something or someone else (like Dr. Sears) which has helped many, many women, working women, myself included, through breastfeeding and parenting colicky children who didn’t want to be put down or stopped moving, ever, ever.

    I work. I have worked up to the hours before my water broke. I worked as soon as I came home from the hospital. I have brought my children to work, worked with them on my lap, had a nanny, used childcare, grandmother care, had them run around the warehouse while we did our jobs. Because we all have a variety of jobs in this life paid and unpaid, appreciated or not. Mine happen to be owning a business with my husband, raising my children, writing, cleaning, chauffering, meal making, entertaining, playing, and on and on. I like working. I wouldn’t not do it. Does it make me a better mother? Sometimes. Sometimes not. Does it make me feel guilty. Sometimes. Sometimes not. But its no one elses’s fault than mine.

    But the guilt in the long run just doesn’t matter because I do a good job (and I did breastfeed, and I didn’t make my own baby food, and I did give them pizza crusts at 6 months, and I didn’t use cloth diapers, and I did try pacifiers, and I did let them sleep in their carseat buckets and I work). So? Those were my freaking choices. Not societies. Not Dr. Searses.

    We raise our children the best way we know how. the most comfortable way for me, and my husband and my kids. That’s all that matters.

    And now, soapbox off.
    .-= kelly @kellynaturally´s last blog ..Natural Parenting- Following Our Instincts- and Keeping Our Son Intact =-.

    Laura November 9, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    “Which means that – apart from obvious cases involving abuse and neglect and the withholding of love – there’s also no wrong way [to parent].”

    I disagree with that statement. I work for a children’s charity, and I have a lot of exposure to “bad” parenting. It’s not necessarily “bad” as in criminal (although it can be), and it’s definitely not “bad” as in mommy missing the soccer game to have some bubbly in the bathtub, but it’s real, and it’s not so obvious. One of the reasons I work where I do is because I had a bad mother growing up. I feel I know of what I speak.

    Of course there are many, many “good” ways to parent, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t also bad ways. There are.

    Celebrate the diversity of mothering out there, but please don’t valorize motherhood to the exclusion of any real discussion about parenting.

    Her Bad Mother November 9, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Okay, then – accounting for the broad category of exceptions that I allowed (abusive, neglectful, emotionally damaging), what WOULD constitute bad parenting?

    I’m not valorizing motherhood – I’m valorizing *mindful* motherhood. Of course there are many ways of doing it wrong (which I would prefer to call harmfully, to put the focus on the effect rather than on some idea of intrinsic badness or wrongness) but I am arguing here that there is no one style or approach or philosophy that comes at it wrong, or that can wholesale be labeled ‘wrong’. Part of my point is that there is always somebody who is going to think (or want to think) that you’ve doing it wrong, no matter what you do, and that apart from the measurement of the well-being of your own children (which is to say, unless the way that you are parenting can be shown to have some ongoing harmful effect upon your children), no such assessment can be made. When I made the exceptions that I did, I didn’t specify that they only refer to criminal abuse or criminal neglect – the broad exception was to harm. Not breastfeeding doesn’t fall into this category. Nor does not-feeding-your-kid-organic-food. Nor does not-staying-at-home. Nor does hiring a nanny. Nor does co-sleeping. Nor does NOT co-sleeping. Nor does Montessori schooling, or home schooling, or letting your kids have an occasional Happy Meal. I’m talking about general debates about parenting styles and choices. If this were about, is it or is it not potentially harmful to my child if I abuse drugs, or even, is it or is it not harmful to my children if I never speak to them/always yell at them/tell them that they’re stupid… well, DUH.

    So I think that this actually opens up real discussion, rather than closes it. Because unless we can shake off our fear of judgment, our anxiety about always being at risk of doing it wrong – that is, to separate out the issue of what is actually, truly, consistently harmful and deconstruct the binary of good mom/bad mom – we’re not able to discuss this at all.

    Laura November 10, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    @Her Bad Mother, okay, let’s call it harmful parenting. I think some examples might come from:
    - parents who are deeply ambivalent about their own parenthood
    - parents who abdicate responsibility and claim “it takes a village”
    - parents who turn mindfulness into (figurative, of course) smothering
    - parents who treat their partners disrespectfully (I’m not talking about out-and-out abuse)

    Grey area stuff.

    But of course it all depends — on so many things, including a child’s resilience.

    We can go around congratulating or judging ourselves and others all we want, but the people in the best position to evaluate our work as parents are the people on the receiving end of that parenting.

    Catherine November 10, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    @Laura, none of those things are failings (if you will) of any particular style of parenting. And I wouldn’t even call them failings, I’d call them vulnerabilities, challenges – difficulties that any parent can fall into. Difficulties that we should absolutely be on the lookout for, but that we should NOT agonize over. (Also? show me a parent who hasn’t had moments of ambivalence and I’ll show you an amoeba. And even then…)

    My point isn’t that there aren’t things that we do that can be understood as potentially problematic, it’s that we are too quick to race toward these things, state that they’re endemic to a particular model of parenting and then label that BAD.

    (Your concluding point, though? SPOT ON. TOTALLY agree.)
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..On Being A Good Mother- In Spite Of It All =-.

    Katherine November 9, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    With my first I bought cloth diapers, made homemade baby food, tried desperately not to introduce a soother (which she got and LOVED at 2months), breast fed, shunned fast food and felt righteous about doing the best I could. The cloth diapers only lasted briefly, as my Mother always brought disposables when she came to visit and I felt bad about letting them go to waste. Before I knew it they were covered in dust and pushed to the far corner of her room. My second child came along and hated homemade food, discovered McDonalds by 6 months, refused the soother that I had come to relegate to God status with #1, and fought me at breast feeding for months! Baaahhhhh! We all survived though and I am slowly realizing that my children are their own little people and they kinda like me just the way I am.
    .-= Katherine´s last blog ..The Voice of Africa =-.

    Rusti November 9, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    perfect post. love this.
    .-= Rusti´s last blog ..knowledge is power =-.

    CS November 9, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    Yes! Thank you. Who are we to say someone is doing it wrong (as long as all the “bad” stuff is mute)? And if we truly believe that, then who are we to question ourselves? Don’t we owe ourselves the same consideration we show others? The best gift I gave myself as a parent is trusting my instincts. They’re not always right, but they’re rarely wrong-mostly some gray area of whatever.

    Elizabeth @claritychaos November 9, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    I’m not a regular reader, but I always enjoy your blog when I do visit. But today, I just read Jong’s article and then came straight here, assuming (hoping) you’d have written something in response. I really appreciate the way you articulate your perspective.

    You know, when I was in my first couple-few years of motherhood, building my confidence, settling into my style and my groove that worked for my family, this stuff (from Jong’s article) really got me riled. Seven years in, I just don’t have the energy for it anymore. But I think my laziness and refusal to address or acknowledge the issues because I don’t feel personally like I have anything to defend, don’t feel personally threatened by Jong’s remarks, doesn’t help empower or bolster the women who are where I was a few years ago. I think it’s important to have responses like yours out there being read alongside the sensational and, frankly, antagonistic pieces like Jong’s.
    .-= Elizabeth @claritychaos´s last blog ..a reminder to myself on this- Nov 3 2010 =-.

    Catherine November 11, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    @Elizabeth @claritychaos, I used to get more riled, too. I think that I lost my mind a zillion times over early Mommy Wars stuff, because I would just take it so personally.

    I still take it personally, sort of, but I’m now so tired and – yes – lazy that I’m able to sit back and go hmmm and think it through more thoroughly. It’s all about the tired/lazy, really ;)
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..On Being A Good Mother- In Spite Of It All =-.

    frugan amy November 9, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    I agree with every single word. Down with unhelpful comparisons, down with feeling imprisoned by expectations, down with the always-potentially-present guilt. Up with individuality (baby’s and mama’s), flexibility, giving each other the benefit of the doubt, survival, and love.

    Issa November 9, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    I love this. I also loved what Kristen said too. I was shocked as hell, when I realized I’d need to re-think everything, yet again, with the second kid. And the third.

    We want perfection for them. We crave that for them. Sadly, we find out very early on that it doesn’t exist. So we do the best we can and some days we can’t even manage that. What happens though, for most of us, is we manage to find the way that works best for us. For our family. For our kids. I laugh at what I thought my life would look like now, when I was pregnant the first time. I had no clue.

    It angers me to see the way some people judge others for their so called short comings. God forbid someone should make different choice. I’ll tell you a little secret though…my oldest is nearly nine years old. After a point, like say, when she went to kindergarten? People stopped telling me what to do with her. They stopped judging me and telling me how to raise her. Of course I still get it with my son. But it is interesting how it stopped after a point with my daughters.
    .-= Issa´s last blog ..Picture Postcard Memories 8 =-.

    Amy November 9, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    I love it when someone publishes a one-sided article on parenting in some big newspaper that fuels the fire and all the mommy-bloggers nave new fodder for excellent, thoughtful posts on motherhood. And then there are all these wonderful comments too!

    JustMom420zaks November 9, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    We’re supposed to have a STYLE to doing this?
    I lose.
    Massive. Parenting. Fail.
    .-= JustMom420zaks´s last blog ..You Just Broke the Butterfly! =-.

    Catherine November 11, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    @JustMom420zaks, yes! and FLAIR, too!
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..On Being A Good Mother- In Spite Of It All =-.

    JustMom420zaks November 12, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    @Catherine, Well then, I’m screwed, and my children apparently are too.
    The most style and flair I have is putting FLAVORED creamer in my coffee, and maybe making it out of my pajamas by noon.
    .-= JustMom420zaks´s last blog ..Time to Play- 20 Confessions! =-.

    Mrs. Wilson November 9, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    I’m pregnant with my third and have been contemplating this exact topic for months. I think you hit it better than I could even imagine.

    “except inasmuch as we try to impose the beliefs gleaned from our own experiences onto others, which is what gets us into trouble in the first place”


    Thank you for writing this.
    .-= Mrs. Wilson´s last blog ..the one with the hippocampus and the amygdala =-.

    The Domestic Goddess November 9, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    You mean, it’s OK TO FIND OUR OWN WAY and figure out WHAT’S BEST FOR OUR FAMILY? Why hasn’t someone told me this before?

    Fuck the mommy wars.
    .-= The Domestic Goddess´s last blog ..I Have No Words Today Sorta =-.

    Her Bad Mother November 9, 2010 at 9:22 pm


    SmittySmiles November 9, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    Amen. Well written Catherine.

    Lisa November 9, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    Old neighbors introduced us to the wonderful concept of Good Enough Parenting. That’s what we strive for. Some days we can’t manage that and are merely Better Than Nothing parents, but so be it. It’s incredibly freeing.

    Catherine November 11, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    @Lisa, “Better Than Nothing Parenting,” I love that. I’m going to quote that ;)
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..On Being A Good Mother- In Spite Of It All =-.

    Lisa November 11, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    Oooh, you know what’s even better? “Better Than Wolves Parenting.” LOL

    JustMom420zaks November 12, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    @Lisa, The only problem I have with this… is some days, I seriously think my kids would be better off with the wolves!
    .-= JustMom420zaks´s last blog ..Time to Play- 20 Confessions! =-.

    Adventures In Babywearing November 9, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    I have read Jong’s article now and I feel so flip floppy. Number 1, many people will be surprised to know I am not a Dr. Sears fan and have never read one of their books! Yet, of all the parenting styles, I guess I practice (and probably get more wrong than right)(but who is doing the grading?) attachment parenting.

    Number 2, funny thing is that I found this parenting style through life experience and learning from “the village” around me. So much of my life is indeed from being filled up by the women in my life, as well as my family and elderly grandparents. We make our own villages. So, to some, just themselves or their partner is all they need. For me, I like the huge commune idea.

    .-= Adventures In Babywearing´s last blog ..my fingers the bow and pencils word arrows =-.

    Her Bad Mother November 9, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    I think that it’s part of the tyranny of these sorts of analyses – the one that Jong sets forward – that it sets out parenting styles in what seem to be more or less strict categories, which has the effect of reinforcing this idea that we have to ‘pick’ or identify with a particular style. Rather than, you know, just do our own thing and call it PARENTING.

    Angela@beggingtheanswer November 9, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for publishing this post. I hadn’t read Erica Jong’s article until I saw your website. For what it’s worth, her words held very little meaning to me. I didn’t attachment parent, nor do I feel guilty for not attachment parenting. But I am burdened with guilt about whether I’m a good enough mother – that is, if 25 years down the road they find themselves on the therapist’s bench, will it be because of me?
    .-= Angela@beggingtheanswer´s last blog ..Need a Little Patience- Yeah =-.

    Catherine November 11, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    @Angela@beggingtheanswer, eh, they might think that it’s because of you. but all kids do. you could be perfection personified and your kid could still end up on the couch telling some bad-smelling analyst that it ALL ABOUT HER MOTHER.

    Blame Freud.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..On Being A Good Mother- In Spite Of It All =-.

    Jamie November 9, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    I’m an always-reader, never-commenter, but I had to say something here. You are thoughtful, as usual. Your mention of privilege really speaks to me. I read a lot of mom blogs, and hope to become a mom in the next few years. People are SO judgmental about parenting decisions, particularly when it comes to staying at home v. going back to work. And nobody ever seems to realize that it’s a huge privilege to even have that choice/to weigh those factors/to make that decision.

    My mom worked because she HAD to. So did my grandmother. So do all of my aunts. I don’t come from a place where people make enough money for an able-bodied adult to stay at home, even if she is doing great work caring for and nurturing her children. It’s just not an option. Not. So when I read about all of this agonizing (which, I guarantee, I will probably engage in myself in a few years because I am in a different place financially from the rest of my family due to lots of schooling and also luck)…it just makes me a little tired. There were no “mommy wars” for my mom, because she had to work to have money for, y’know, rent and food and stuff. That’s just reality for a LOT of people. It makes it even sillier to act as if there are clear RIGHT and WRONG choices once you realize a not insubstantial number of families only have ONE choice.

    bea November 9, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    By all means, let’s agree that there are many good ways to parent, and that each family must work out the way that works for them. But I think that much of what Jong is saying needed to be said. She’s not attacking mothers for choosing to co-sleep or breastfeed – she’s examining the feminist implications of the whole industry of baby-care guides and parenting magazines. And it’s long overdue. People who write and speak about motherhood have a responsibility for the burden their words create for women at a time when they are very vulnerable. The fear-mongering, the manipulative rhetoric – it’s not exclusive to the attachment parenting approach, but plenty of other people have taken on Baby Wise – if someone wants to bash Dr. Sears around a bit, I’m not going to protest.
    .-= bea´s last blog ..Good Writer- Bad Person =-.

    Catherine November 9, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    @bea, I absolutely agree that it’s worth examining the feminist (and socio-economic, and cultural) implications of various modes of parenting, and I think that she has some excellent general points. But as you say, these have been argued to apply in more or less equal measure to other models of parenting as well, and end of the day, it all seems to lead to a sort of damned-if-we-do-damned-if-don’t conclusion. We’re good mothers and bad feminists if we stay home and attach; we’re bad mothers and good feminists if we go to work and use our degrees and leave our children in daycare (these arguments can vary depending upon the degree to which one’s feminism slants Marxist.)

    I admit, when I first read her piece, I was a teeny bit glad that she was taking attachment parenting to task as oppressive in any degree – it’s worth pointing out, always, just how difficult it can be, and how much it requires in the way of resources. But I was frustrated at the (at times) sweeping suggestion that because she views it as difficult and oppressive, every woman should.

    I found attachment parenting with Jasper more liberating, in some ways, than I did the strict schedules and no-carrying protocols that Emilia demanded – I felt freer to move about in the world, and to do things according to my own schedule, and to assert and enjoy my motherhood publicly by having him with me always. The women that I met in Lesotho take it as a matter of course that their babies are just always on their backs and go with them everywhere and sleep with them and nurse round the clock, etc, etc, and the cultural acceptance of this is simply necessary for a variety of social and economic reasons. That this can be prohibitive for women in our culture is due more, I think, to our own cultural biases about this kind of parenting (not least, that it should be private) rather than to an oppressiveness to that ‘style’ of parenting in itself.

    ANYWAY. You got me talking more than I’d expected. And here I thought that I was all out of words. ;)
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..A Word Cloud Is Worth 49 Words =-.

    Moosilaneous November 11, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    @bea, so right.
    I loved Catherine’s post for its take-away message ( I, too want to hand it out at baby showers) but you nailed it on the go-forward approach:

    “People who write and speak about motherhood have a responsibility for the burden their words create for women at a time when they are very vulnerable.”


    Nerida November 9, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    Thanks for a great post. I also really enjoyed reading your links to your blog entries back when Emilia was a baby.

    Her Bad Mother November 9, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    Those were A MILLION YEARS AGO. It was really strange revisiting them.

    Liz November 9, 2010 at 11:08 pm

    I’ve been watching this unfold in the bloposphere with much dismay. I think you’ve nailed it (I was going to write “this is the best response” but that might be too much like “the best parenting style” – I’m all about relativism today.) Anyway, what you said – and plus, yep, fuck the mommy wars.

    Carlie November 9, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    We live in a climate of fear and status anxiety and nowhere is this more apparent than in today’s expectations of motherhood…I too felt like I had failed when my firstborn didn’t take to attachment parenting principles but I was baby-led…that is my only edict and I think it is the edict of most mums/dads, you follow the lead and do what’s best and easiest for your babies and this differs greatly from child to child.

    This post was awesome and funny…I hope next time round I don’t feel the same aching failure I felt with O in the beginning, why can’t we give ourselves a break?
    .-= Carlie´s last blog ..Self publishing with blurb =-.

    Nadia November 9, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    I read the article and had mixed feelings for many reasons. I think she wrote in an angry tone advocating what she feels is “correct parenting” when in fact, different styles work for different mothers.

    I am an attachment parenting, breastfeeding, baby wearing, baby food making, homeschooling, make everything from scratch because of my daughter’s allergies kind of mom. It works for our kids and for our family, but you know what? I feel guilty about so many different things every single day. I feel guilty for not spending enough time, for working too much, for getting upset when I shouldn’t, etc, etc.

    My kids drive me nuts, I feel like I’m going to lose my mind most days and no I don’t have it all together. There are days when I don’t know how I’m going to do it all or how we are going to get through the next day, but we do.
    .-= Nadia´s last blog ..Burberry Launches Their Mini-Me Prorsum A-W 2010 Collection For Matching Kids And Parents =-.

    Nadia November 10, 2010 at 12:07 am

    All mothers have to start giving themselves a break and relax into parenting. Easier said than done though.
    .-= Nadia´s last blog ..Burberry Launches Their Mini-Me Prorsum A-W 2010 Collection For Matching Kids And Parents =-.

    Dr. Becky November 10, 2010 at 2:18 am

    All I can say is “AMEN,” and I am an atheist. This post makes me feel horrible that I’ve ever given any one of my friends or relatives mothering advice about “what worked for me.” Sheesh. This needed to be said. You hit the nail on the head with emphasizing the (white, class) privilege that allows us to torture ourselves over choosing the “wrong” options.

    Susana S P November 10, 2010 at 6:02 am

    What you said. All of it.

    Although I don’t think I would have said it so calmly (people calling other people’s desire for a baby “wanting their own little replicas” really, really gets to me – Erica Jong is famous too, should I start dishing out similar libels on her choices?).

    But yes, there is no style. Ideal isn’t ever real, except for the baby, who is ideal and crazy-making all at once. And liberating and oppressive can look really different depending on where you’re standing: the baby sling freed tiny hundred-pound me from trying to haul a buggy up and down stairs and over hills, and around cars parked on sidewalks, saved me from colic hell, gave arms to hug and work with, co-sleeping in a floor bed stopped the cry-as-soon-as-bottom-hits-crib-tyranny of the first year, then crying it out released me (and her) from the wake-to-nurse-every-five-minutes-and-nobody-gets-any-rest business. Is it all wrong? Possibly. It’s the best I can do. I think that’s what mothers do: the best, the hardest, job (that includes leaving your baby to work, too – man, is that ever hard).
    You know what’s (almost) always oppressive: people telling you there is one right way. I would have thought Ms. Jong would be on to that by now.
    And people dissing on powerful women just because they’re easy targets, that’s pretty oppressive too.

    Ami November 10, 2010 at 9:34 am

    I think so many of us mothers need to learn that the answer to what is the best way to parent isn’t multiple choice answer A or answer B or answer C but rather is answer D-all of the above. We are so conditioned to there being one right answer for things that it is difficult to change our mindset. We can be “right” and the lady down the street who does things completely different can be “right” also.

    The thought that liberated me from the guilt and nearly constant comparing myself to other mothers or the billboard advertisements and commercials was this: Why should I compare my very flawed and struggling inside with someone else’s impeccably coiffed and airbrushed outside? Under the make-up, posturing, and the false front we use for others, we are all imperfect and a work in progress. Some of us just hide it better.

    ~j. November 10, 2010 at 10:22 am

    Bravo, Catherine. The minute we’ve got our ‘method’ figured out & labeled, that’s when our child grows and their needs change. Or, as you mentioned, another child whose needs are different enters the mix. Our children, not other mothers, are those to whom we look to find out The Right Way to be a mother.

    I’m thinking of trying the Von Trapp method.
    .-= ~j.´s last blog ..on funerals- music- and growth =-.

    Josette at Halushki November 10, 2010 at 11:58 am

    Have you read Mother Nature by Sarah Hrdy?

    Good stuff.

    The fact is, there is no control study for any one life, and bad parenting has raised some pretty good human beings, and vice versa. This is not just one person’s free will asserting itself over a lump.

    On top of that, the definition of “good parent” could require re-defining for each child and during each age and stage.

    The most you can offer is to not intentionally try to cause harm and to hope that what you are doing works as a sort of insurance policy to fall back on. As my kids get older, I honestly think that as much as nutritious food, exercise, the right sleeping arrangement, blah, blah, blah is that good parenting is simply being there or providing someone to be there to model daily how to be a good adult. Specifically, how to work hard and be as kind as possible to others.

    The rest is just gravy.
    .-= Josette at Halushki´s last blog ..Odds- Ends- Scherenschnitte =-.

    Catherine November 12, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    @Josette at Halushki, I haven’t, but I’m definitely going to look it up!
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..The Larks- Still Bravely Singing- Fly =-.

    Kait November 10, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    I believe wholeheartedly in aiming low with parenting. Are they fed? Clothed? Did we at some point snuggle, giggle, play and read today? Have they been bathed in the past 48 hours? Are all appendages still attached? Have I told them I love them?

    If all answers are yes, then we’re doing just fine. The rest is details.

    I agree so wholeheartedly with you – there is absolutely no one size fits all answer to parenting. Most of it is making it up as you go along and feeding off what your child has demonstrated that they need.

    So if the house is still standing at the end of the day, I’m going to consider it a job well done.
    .-= Kait´s last blog .. =-.

    Catherine November 12, 2010 at 5:54 pm


    “Are they fed? Clothed? Did we at some point snuggle, giggle, play and read today? Have they been bathed in the past 48 hours? Are all appendages still attached? Have I told them I love them?”

    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..The Larks- Still Bravely Singing- Fly =-.

    MLB November 10, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    Standing ovation! This is by far the best thing you have ever wrote and also by far the best thing I have read on this subject.

    MLB November 10, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    I meant, “you have ever written”. oops.

    MrsNurse November 10, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    …and this my dear, is why I read your blog.*applause* I just began – (i.e., just last week after MIL was pressuring me) – to grasp the idea that I AM doing the best I can at mothering/working/wifing and that that MUST be the best approach to take in order for me to begin to alleviate the guilt I had at what-the-hell-ever it was that I was not “measuring up to” on any given day….it’s a great feeling this “I’m Doing My Best” Approach. Very freeing. As a mother to 4 daughters who all have different requirements, it gets tough, but YOU HAVE to be adaptable. I cannot remember which famous psychologist came up with this but it is one that has stuck with me..something along the lines of the most intelligent are the ones that can ADAPT well to any and all situations. SO true.

    RevKerr November 10, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    I have 3 kids 4 and under. I have read my way through ZERO parenting books. I interpret “style” as meaning rockin’ the right sweater with those tapered jeans. And yet, my kids are SATURATED in love, hugs, kisses, stickers, and marker ink. So there.

    Catherine November 12, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    @RevKerr, and marker ink is only slightly less difficult to get out than love ;)
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..The Larks- Still Bravely Singing- Fly =-.

    Kim November 10, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    I needed this post today Catherine. Lately nothing is working to get my five month to sleep. I had quite a bit of criticsm when I suggested that I would have to eventually think about letting him cry it out (it was the only thing that worked with my first). People jumped all over me and even sent friends that normally don’t even read my blog over to criticize the post. I chickened out and took it down because I was too hurt by the comments. But then I wondered why I was allowing perfect strangers make me feel like I was wrong for thinking of what might work for us.
    .-= Kim´s last blog ..It sounds like Im complaining but Im not =-.

    Amy November 10, 2010 at 10:48 pm

    Catherine, I adore this post.

    Capitolmommy November 11, 2010 at 12:41 am

    So very well put!!!
    .-= Capitolmommy´s last blog ..Things I Sometimes Forget =-.

    janetlansbury November 11, 2010 at 1:47 am

    Brilliant! And couldn’t agree more. Thank you.
    .-= janetlansbury´s last blog ..RIE Parenting – A Culture Of Creativity =-.

    Miss Britt November 11, 2010 at 10:12 am

    I love this post. I’d like to give it away at all baby showers.
    .-= Miss Britt´s last blog ..Daily Photo- Savannah’s River Street =-.

    JenAHM November 11, 2010 at 11:03 am

    I’m pregnant with our first child and this is something that I really needed to read right about now. All of the parenting/baby magazines and sites are overwhelming me with the amount of advice they give and things they feature that you MUST buy if you are to be a good parent. I’ve always known that we just have to do what is right for our family at any given time, but it’s so easy to forget that and get caught up, even in this early stage, in what is “right” and “wrong”. Thank you so much for putting this so eloquently.
    Now, do you think it would be rude to print it out and give a copy of this to my mother-in-law?

    Catherine November 12, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    @JenAHM, mail it to her with a big stamp across it that says HA!
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..The Larks- Still Bravely Singing- Fly =-.

    Allyson November 12, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    I am an always reader, infrequent commenter, but had to comment today. I love this post and it speaks to my core. I chose to stay home with my kids and I won’t lie when I say sometimes I wish I chose differently. I love being with them, but it is so hard sometimes. I have struggled with if I am doing it right too, but now know that I am doing it my way. I have great kids, but being a good example by being a good human is what I think is the determining factor of their success, not if they were breastfed or eat homemade baby food. (Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it didn’t work for me.) The judgment of the other mothers who purport they are doing it right is where I get caught up. I would never deride anyone for their choices, because most of us are doing what we do out of our own necessity. Some moms work, some moms carry their babies on their backs, some moms stay home, but those choices are out of a necessity for that particular family. The one issue in our culture is that there has to be a choice one way or the other. If a mother works she can’t attachment parent the right way? It is because our culture states that babies can’t be in our offices, in our meccas of money. Mothers can’t get ahead if they are being called away for child centered reasons. You are considered less of an employee because you take your maternity leave. It is a problem with the bias against mothers in the business world in our country. I don’t have answers for it, but the issue has existed since our country’s inception. Does that make it a cultural issue? I don’t know, but what I do know is I think I am going to get on the floor right now and play trains with my son. That is my necessity right now. Thank you for another wonderful, thought provoking post. I emailed it the mother friends of mine that I knew would appreciate it as much as I do.

    Katherine November 12, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    Agreed. Full stop.

    Marcy November 12, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    Thank you. Seriously, THANK YOU. This was amazing and wonderful and I will now try to get every mother I know to read this post, because you speak SUCH TRUTH. I’ve been a mother for 2.5yrs now, am about to have my 2nd, and feel like I’m starting to get to that place where I don’t worry so much about what I “should” be doing or what others think of my parenting, but just to go with my gut and know that I don’t have to be, indeed cannot be, perfect. I *love* the idea of the Good Enough Mother, it is incredibly liberating.

    Again… thank you!

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