The madness of motherhood

Tuesday, November 9, 2010 Leave a Comment

Last weekend, the Wall Street Journal had an essay by Erica Jong on the Madness of Motherhood, and it really resonated with me.

She says that the crazy high expectations placed on mothers today just creates a prison around women. We're expected to breastfeed on demand, wear our babies in slings, co-sleep, make our own organic baby food, stay home to raise them or, if we work and hire nannies, still be the one teaching them letters and numbers and Spanish with flashcards so that they'll test into the highly gifted and talented programs by kindergarten.


Citing the ever popular "The Baby Book" by William and Martha Sears, Jong argues that attachment parenting is a dangerous trend.

"Someday "attachment parenting" may be seen as quaint, but today it's assumed that we can perfect our babies by the way we nurture them. Few of us question the idea, and American mothers and fathers run themselves ragged trying to mold exceptional children. It's a highly competitive race. No parent wants to be told it all may be for naught, especially, say, a woman lawyer who has quit her firm to raise a child. She is assumed to be pursuing a higher goal, and hard work is supposed to pay off, whether in the office or at home. We dare not question these assumptions."

I admit, I'm a sucker for a well-written argument. I have those days when I'm thinking, "Why exactly did I give up my career? I'm not cut out for this." In fact, there are some women who are cut out for child-rearing, and chose it for a career. They're called nannies.

But then there are the days when I take my boys to the zoo, and while I'm holding my 1-year old in my arms, the mama orangutan gently takes her baby and holds it in her arms, just like I'm doing, and we share a moment -- animal and me -- and I know my boys are teaching me something just as valuable as anything I can teach them. This time is so fleeting, and while I may not do it perfectly, in the end it's all going to even out.

What did you think of Erica Jong's essay?


  • Anonymous said:  

    I hear you. I spend some portion of every.single.day wondering if I'm cut out for mothering. But I think what's mad about motherhood is the inability to express what we do everyday without oversimplifying it into some parental theory or "to do" list.

    I try to remember that ultimately motherhood is about me and my own, particular children. A list of dos/don'ts - or adhering to a fancy parental theory - these things don't make me a better mother. And they certainly don't automatically make my relationship with my kids better. After all, each kid is different. My first would have spent his entire babyhood in tears had it not been for the wrap I wore him in. My second? Hates the wrap - wants to spend as much time exploring as possible. I've noticed I'm a much better mother - and they are better kids - when I listen to them and not the experts.

    So, it's not difficult for me to ignore the experts. But it IS difficult to be a mother and it is difficult to explain what I do all day and it is difficult to express the complicated feelings that go along with it. And that, to me, is the maddening part.

  • Sara said:  

    I think the demands you feel as a mother depend on the kind of people you surround yourself with and how important it is to you to please all those people. I don't feel pressure to do any of those things that Jong writes about. I consider myself pretty much in the middle - I stay home, I breastfeed, I occasionally co-sleep, but I actually didn't really wear my baby that much and so far I've only made my own baby food once (and he hated it). I actually hadn't even heard of attachment parenting until after my son was born. So anything I've done that is considered attachment parenting is actually just me doing what works for us. I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with attachment parenting, as Jong seems to suggest. If a mother is doing it because that's what she feels is best and it's working for them, good for her. If she's doing it because her mother, sister, etc did it and she feels pressure from them and inside she only wants to scream, then I do feel sorry for that mother.

    No matter our parenting philosophy, I think as moms we have more in common than we do differences. We all love our children and want them to grow up to be happy, well adjusted adults. We should be building each other up, not judging someone for doing things differently or putting pressure on each other to conform to a certain set of rules.