Monday, November 15, 2010

Scapegoats: first breastfeeding, now attachment parenting

So, I am a little late to this party but I’ve been out of town and with limited internet access.  Last Sunday, an article written by Erica Jong ran in the Wallstreet Journal titled Mother Madness.  Jong claims that attachment parenting has begun a prison for the modern mother.

I am struck by the similarities to Hanna Rosin's The Case Against Breastfeeding than ran in The Atlantic in spring of 2009.  You can check out that article, a couple of blog responses, as well as my podcast with (Over)Thinking Mom about it over at (Over)Thinking Mom.

Jong writes about attachment and green parenting which certainly includes breastfeeding though it is not the core of her argument.  What is the core of her argument is a misunderstanding of what attachment parenting really is and a lack of clarity of the issues at hand.  Much of what Jong talks about are issues, but they are not a result of the philosophy of attachment parenting and the movement of parents who look beyond their square of the world to consider the impact of their living on the world and the impact of the world upon them, or green parenting. 

Much like Rosin made her comments about "the urban moms in their tight jeans and oversize sunglasses size each other up using a whole range of signifiers," Jong makes sweeping generalizations about those who “[treat] babies like expensive accessories” and try to keep up with the images of celebrity parenting.  When Rosin said it, we remarked that it had to do with so much more than breastfeeding and with Jong it’s the same deal.  Celebrity parenting and wearing your baby as an accessory are not the marks of attachment parenting, but instead a culture that is using motherhood as a status symbol, as a way to establish new trends, and let’s face it, sell more stuff.  It’s comical that Jong would think they go together as what she describes is as anti-attachment parenting as it gets.  We have another case of an attack on an upper-middle class culture of status and motherhood, while uneducatedly dragging something practically unrelated through the mud.  Just as Rosin’s argument in the end seemed to have little to do with breastfeeding as she lamented the shackles of motherhood (though she claimed it was that of the boob) and the unequal parenting in her own marriage, Jong is attacking a culture of perfectionism and an obsession with grooming children that is not found in real attachment parenting.

So maybe it’s time we talk about what attachment parenting and green parenting are or are not.  The following statements Jong puts forth as indicative of attachment parenting philosophy.  While the statements themselves might be true for our culture today, it is not the voice of attachment parenting saying these things, and the very ideas are at odds with those of attachment parenting.

“Moms and dads are advised to cater to their children.”

Attachment parents do not cater to their children but promote the awareness of and response to a child’s needs, establishing boundaries as developmentally appropriate.  Catering conjures up the image of Viola from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as she screams “I want an oompa loompa daddy, and I want it NOOOOW!”

“Mothers and fathers run themselves ragged trying to mold exceptional children. It's a highly competitive race."
As attachment parents focus on meeting the needs of their children, the drive to succeed and schedule your child takes a backseat.  These parents promote alternative learning environments that are not status driven and focus on creative and free play.  I can tell you that my son does a lot less worksheets and knows a lot less of his letters some kids his age, but that will all come in time. 

“It certainly serves to keep mothers and fathers out of the political process. If you are busy raising children without societal help and trying to earn a living during a recession, you don't have much time to question and change the world that you and your children inhabit.”Green and attachment parents are some of the most politically minded I know.  They are striving to improve their communities and the world for the sake of the future generations.  Breastfeeding mothers have to stand up for their rights on a daily basis when it comes to nursing in public, pumping at work, and so much more.  Green parents are supporting research and legislature that create healthy work and play environments for communities.  Educated parents who choose not to vaccinate have to be aware of their rights and advocate for those rights regularly.  Attachment parents establish a strong foundation at home so that it easier to orient oneself outwards to the world, advocating for change.  Furthermore, as a result of attachment parents deep respect for children as people with rights, they continually fight for justice in the world on their behalf.  And finally attachment parents band together in community as a result of their need to find like-minded individuals as they parent against societal norms.  They draw on support and fellowship from these groups.  Attachment and green parents are also supportive of parenting co-ops and multiple family living arrangements where they can be support each other and be the village it takes to raise a child.

“And it has led to 'helicopter parenting,' the smothering surveillance of a child's every experience and problem, often extending as far as college. “

Helicopter parenting is based in a distrust not only of the world but of your children.  It is embodied through an ignorance of your child’s needs for freedom, for the opportunity to attempt success and accept failures on their own.  It is not attachment parenting.  Attachment parenting creates a strong foundation from a very young age that in general creates more independent children because they are confident in that foundation.  When my 3 year old was still nursing, people would tell me how it’s not healthy for him to be so dependent on me, and yet when they met him they would see a vivacious child willing to attempt anything knowing that mom would be there to support him and help him whenever needed.  By following your child around and by constantly saying “be careful” “don’t do that”, you are not meeting your child’s needs, you are an impediment.  That is not attached parenting.

Jong has misplaced her issues with those jumping on the trend of 'green living' without educating themselves (which does little for the earth but only feeds greenwashing) and celebrity parenting ideals by choosing to attack attached, educated green parenting.

I understand the judgment that can be found by members of this community.  I was told by two rather uneducated and uninformed leaders of a popular group that supports mothers in one piece of attachment parenting philosophy that I was ineligible for leadership as a result of my having left my children in the loving care of their very involved grandmother for 3 nights while I went to a wedding in Las Vegas when my children were aged 6 months, and 2.5 years.  Grandmother tended to their every need, sharing her bed with them, feeding them both with the milk I had pumped for them (yes, I was still nursing them both), and I had a refreshing and rejuvenating few days with my husband and dear friends so that I could return to my children renewed and able to better mother them bringing 200 ounces of pumped milk with me, some of which I saved for future use with my own children, but a large part of which I donated to my sister and nephew who was struggling with pumping enough milk while working full-time. 

It takes a village.   It is women like those who told me I didn’t fit the values or standards of this organization (who I was later informed by their higher ups that they were misinformed) who fail to stay up to date on even the governing ideas and philosophies of their own organization who push women down who are doing their best to meet the many needs of their children.  The organization had moved to accept that women must form and keep this attachment to their children in different ways in this society which sometimes mean working full-time or short absences and that by ignoring this we are not helping women but pushing them away.  To institute such expectations and deem that anyone who fails to fulfill them is a bad mother or does not meet our high standards, we are pushing mothers down instead of supporting them and lifting them as they find the best way to meet their child’s needs in this culture.  There are women out there who imprison themselves and other women with their judgment.

So while some of what Jong describes as issues and threats to feminism are accurate issues, they have little to do with what authentic and green parenting truly promotes.  Of course, with anything, there are supposed ‘advocates’ of this style of parenting who are uneducated, ill-informed, and who are indeed building that prison.  I would encourage Jong to do a little more research into who real attachment parents are and see that what we are doing is a response to so many of the problems she stated.  Promoting legislature that supports the mother who needs or wants to work and meet the needs of her children and encouraging a culture where children are valued as much more than expensive accessories, as unique individuals to be respected and nurtured,  might be a better use of time then starting a new stage of battle in the already raging ‘mommy wars.’  If we continue to fight against each other, vilifying women, we will make no strides for feminism, womanhood, motherhood, or for our children.

Some other great responses to Jong's article:
Nancy Massotto, Executive Director of Holistic Moms Network responds.
This ain't no orgy Erica Jong - The Wellness Bitch


  1. you make some great points. I just want to say that I don't consider myself to have done "attachment parenting" when my kids were younger, but that I still share many of the same philosophies you put forth. There is judgement on both ends of the scale and in the end, there is no right way to parent - just what is right for you and your family. It would be nice if we could all support each other - parenting is tough enough.

  2. Absolutely Denise. It seems to be one of the problems with labels. We don't all fit in boxes, and then those boxes can be used as a source of judgment by those in and out of the box. Parenting is tough enough, and there are few parents out there who are not trying to do the best they can for their kids!


I want to hear from you! Leave your comments.

It may not show up immediately because I moderate comments due to spam. I promise I'll get to it as soon as possible and look forward to talking to you!