Is Attachment Parenting a Feminist Crutch? (My Response)

Written on April 30, 2012 by Suzanne Tucker, P.T., C.E.I.M. and M.O.M.

How we parent. It’s a hot topic, full of judgment as evident in the recent TIME Magazine cover article “Are You Mom Enough“. It would seem the media likes this thing called the mommy wars. The controversy sells magazines and books I suppose. But what does it do for us moms?

Below is my response to TIME and other’s in the media that wish to judge. How we are mom and WHAT is enough. Nobody gets to answer these questions for us. We, each of us, get to write our own mommy manual. And we don’t have to pick a camp when writing it.  (updated 05/10/2012)

Is attachment parenting a feminist crutch? This question was posed first by Martha in a blog post by the same name in which she reviewed an article written by Amanda Marcotte. 

When I read the post and then Amanda’s article, A French Feminist Fights the New Feminine Mystique, as a woman who values both female liberties and the philosophies on which attachment parenting is based, I felt compelled to take my thoughts further than the comment section below either would allow.

The following statement made by Amanda (and affirmed by Martha) caught my attention for the assumption it makes about attachment parenting:

I suppose it could be a coincidence that lengthy breast-feeding and attachment parenting that interferes heavily with maintaining a career came into style right as it became passé to pressure women to downplay their ambitions for the sake of men, but it just seems highly unlikely. One thing I do know is that the more conservative women of my acquaintance don’t feel the same pressure to breast-feed until their kids are talking or to keep their kids by their side at all times, even bedtime. It seems that if you live in social circles where it’s simply expected that you curtail your professional ambitions and do most of the domestic work so as to avoid emasculating your husband, the psychic need to create elaborate parenting theories to achieve the same result—woman at home, tied to the kitchen—simply vanishes.”

Where to begin? It must be said here that the reason women like Martha and Amanda are even talking about feminism and attachment parenting is because last week, the English version of French feminist Elisabeth Badinter’s book The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women was released. And so it is that my comments are not only in response to these two book reviews, but to the questions the book itself calls into being.

Let’s start with one rather large false assumption made in the quote above by Amanda, affirmed by Martha and the book she was reviewing:  that Attachment Parenting (AP) is an elaborate parenting theory created to achieve the same result as the conservative movement — i.e. to hold a woman at home, tied to the kitchen.

Sorry. You lost me at hello.

By all accounts, I am an AP mama (though I resist the label for the division it creates) but the above quote about a woman tied, seemingly oppressed by the AP lifestyle? Well, it just doesn’t describe me, and I dare to say, many other AP mamas out there.

I love the philosophies on which attachment parenting is based. I’m a big time baby wearer. I teach baby massage. I’ve nursed all four of our kids, the second until age three. I am currently nursing our 27-month-old twins (no, not as I’m typing this!!!) I love the freedom I’ve enjoyed to chose to work from home a few mornings a week OR NOT, depending on where I’ve been in life, in motherhood, etc. Our kids slept with us for the first few months in a cradle by our bed and then moved, each on their own time, into cribs in their own rooms. And though I love being home AND I love to cook… I am about as far away from the stay-at-home mom type of my parent’s day as one could be. My husband and I share in parenting. We share in household chores. This is my way on the path of motherhood. It works for me and my family in this moment. It is not a right way or a wrong way. It simply is. And it stands in contrast to the false assumption made above.

Being an AP parent AND valuing female freedoms/rights are not mutually exclusive.

There is no one right answer to the working mom/SAHM battle or which way is the best way to parent one either. Why do we insist on thinking this is a black and white issue? Hardly anything in this world truly is.

If you ask my husband on a bad day, he might tell you he WISHED I’d curtail my “professional ambitions and do most of the domestic work”, but that’s not what he signed up for when he married me and he knows it.

I’m just not down with the idea that AP infringes on my female rights. I celebrate the many freedoms I enjoy as a woman and a mother living in the present world. Could it improve? Yes. Is AP a step in the wrong direction for women’s lib? I don’t think so.

Amanda goes on to say:

No one should have expected the path to true domestic equality for women to be an easy one. The notion that being female means self-sacrifice and always putting someone else’s needs before your own isn’t going to be something we can shrug off in a generation after centuries of reinforcement.

Is she talking about motherhood here or PARENTHOOD?! I know my husband would say he’s also entitled to stand up and be counted when it comes to self-sacrifice and valuing the needs of our little people.

What parent does not experience a shift towards selflessness post bringing a child into the world?

I’m not suggesting in parenthood that we are to give until there is nothing left, but an inclination towards selflessness? Yes. This is not a crutch. It is actually one of the greatest things about being a parent. The intensely selfless sort of love that comes over you the moment you experience your child fully in your heart, be it in pregnancy… seconds after birth or days/months after they are born into this world. A self-less love for this little tiny being that can hardly even blink. This is one facet of the love of being a parent. There is nothing wrong with selfless love in and of itself. It is a gift to be held high.

But this I will give you. Self-love and self-less love are truly a delicate balance.

Balance. This is something I’ve wrestled with and have witnessed other mother’s struggle with as well. Working moms and stay at home moms. Neither one has the corner on balancing the self and the selflessness of parenting.

Within self-described AP parents and non-AP parents alike you are going to find moms AND dads that feel they’ve lost themselves after having kids. Or maybe they know who they are, but feel they lost their relationship with their partner as a result of the extra balls parenting added to the juggling act of life. This happens. But selflessness and balance are not AP issues, they are human ones, pulling for our attention in and outside of parenthood, men and women alike. One’s self need not vanish when parenting from a place that values connection and attachment.

I value introspection and for me, that’s the thing of value Amanda’s article called forth from me (and I expect, the book she was reviewing though it is still next on my nightstand.) Not to be offended, but to look within.

For me, all the controversy has stirred up a few worthy questions. Why do we parent the way we parent? What drives us into different “camps”? What causes all the judgement and defensiveness? The mommy-wars?

If given the opportunity, I would invite the author and Badinter herself to explore the rights of women and the implications various parenting styles have in a different light. Instead of looking at AP parenting or ANY type of parenting as right or wrong, as women, let’s examine this:

There is a lot of guilt involved in parenting. In motherhood.

Yes. A lot of guilt. And not only because we judge each other, but because we judge ourselves, which I think hurts worst of all.

Motherhood is a dance unique to each of us, unique even unto itself as each of our children ask for different things of us. I know my four have. Coming at motherhood from an AP approach supports me. But just because I am pleased with how various attachment principles live for me and my family does not mean the practices I am choosing in motherhood are necessarily right or wrong FOR YOU. Isn’t freedom, truly the permission to follow our bliss both at home and in the workplace?

I am a woman passionate about her place in the world, both in and outside the home. This is not based on whether or not I work or what parenting camp I place myself (or am placed in) so much as if I am listening to spirit in my life. Am I tuning in and trusting the still small voice that lives within me to guide my thoughts and actions? Questions like how do I manage THIS situation with my kids?!! Do I take on more at my kids school or not? Do I help my husband with this project or not? Do I make time to write, to exercise, to see friends or not?

There is no book on parenting or motherhood in which we’ll find the “right” answers. I do not get to tell you how to mother and you do not get to tell me. We each get to ask, listen and follow. (Or not.) This is a freedom worth creating for and with one another. Sure we can share what is working for us and what’s not along the way… but in the end, it is for each of us to discern our way.

As women and mothers that stand in support of female liberties, let’s shift the discussion from, “Is AP a feminist crutch?” to “How am I led to mother… and do I experience freedom and support from the world around me in this?”

Whether you are a parent that adheres to attachment parenting principles or not, I think on this one piece of advice we can all agree.

Never be so selfless in parenting as to lose your self. May you find your way on the path of motherhood filled with freedom AND support.

——-

For more discussion on Badinter’s “The Conflict” visit PhDinParenting. Annie does a great job taking on the false assumption that parenting is a mother’s domain. She has a great list of links to other posts that flesh out the many false assumptions Badinter is putting out there (in this book AND others) which I’ve paste here as well:

Related Articles:

How to Lose the Mommy Guilt

How to Be Enough

How to Stop Should-ing on Yourself

Suzanne Tucker  P.T., C.E.I.M. and M.O.M. to twins plus two (by far her greatest degree.) To keep the lights on, Suzanne runs a holistic health center in St. Louis, Missouri with her husband Shawn.  Learn more about Suzanne