Sarah’s note: I am excited to announce that this post by Niki Whiting is the first guest post at Reproductive Rites. Niki is a mother of a toddler, pregnant with number 2, and a PhD student in theology. She is considering starting her own feminist parenting blog, so please give her lots of constructive feedback – and I’ll be sure to post the link if and when she does start a blog of her own.
Natural parenting. Attachment parenting. Breast is best. I’m guessing that readers of this blog are fans of the above ideas. I am. And yet there is a whole host of privilege implied in these statements that is rarely ever unpacked. Without addressing the privileges associated with the above statements it is too easy to join in the blame-game that isolates parents, particularly women. Magazines and news headlines would have us believe that everything we do is some how not quite right, that we’re dooming our children to ignorance, obesity, and some yet-to-be-determined illness du jour.
There are so many false dichotomies out there:
- Stay-at-home-moms (SAHM) vs working mothers
- Breast vs bottle feeding
- Natural v cesarean births
- All-or-nothing attachment parenting v mainstream parenting
Just to name a few. So let’s unpack these. With the exception of birth (which is another post altogether), most parents don’t fall into the extremes of either/or. Most of the mothers and families I know, myself and mine included, fall into the both/and category. Sadly, the loudest voices on either side take up all the space and leave the majority of parents left to mutter quietly to themselves and opt out of the dialogue altogether. There are many, many voices and experiences that need to be heard.
SAHMs are always working mothers. Let’s not forget that running a household is work! The ‘second shift’ – household maintenance – is often taken on by women even if they do work outside the home. Many SAHMs also find paid work to do, either by watching other people’s children along with their own, or running in-house businesses. It is easier to practice many of the tenets of attachment parenting if one of the parents stays or works from home. That’s assuming there are two adults in the home; let’s not forget that many parents are single parents and don’t have the luxury to choose to stay home. Many families cannot afford to have one person stay home, the option isn’t available, or they don’t want to. For some having one parent stay home and provide child care is the most financially wise choice, given the costs of child care in many areas.
For those of us who are loud and proud advocates of breastfeeding we often forget that for many mothers this isn’t an option, whether due to lack of support (and boy breastfeeding takes support!), lack of physical ability, or the need to work outside the home, perhaps in a job that makes pumping nigh on impossible. When I was breastfeeding my son I had an incredibly supportive work environment and I still found pumping in corners or in the bathroom (despite it’s naturally lit and heated environment) isolating, immodest, and flat out stressful – I barely managed to pump one bottle’s worth a day, meaning that every day I worked required my son to get formula on those days. Demonizing women who choose – for whatever reason – to formula feed actually distracts us from the larger issues and supporting measures that encourage breastfeeding and actual family values: safe space for breastfeeding, acceptance of breastfeeding in public, laws that provide maternity and paternity leave, access to knowledgeable nurses and lactation consultants, access to affordable medical care, affordable quality day care – and I’m sure I’m leaving some things out!
The same goes for attachment parenting. According to well-known parenting ‘expert’ Dr. Sears, there are several practices in attachment parenting. The site also says that “AP is an approach, rather than a strict set of rules,” yet I have personally been put off by many attachment parenting forums for their almost rabid adherence to what seems like the Rules of AP. An informal survey of parents I know reveals that most parents practice a variety of forms of AP. Some parents formula feed and practice all the others points. Some found their babies hated being worn and some thrived when given more of a set schedule.
What all this boils down to is resources – and resources are a form of privilege. Do we have access to information? Have we had enough education to read and understand that information if we come across it? Do we have support – medical, family, financial, etc – for the forms of parenting we wish to practice? What other challenges might we be facing that impede forms of AP or breastfeeding (forms of abuse, partners working opposite shifts or two jobs, serious health issues or disabilities, etc)?
Let’s stop blaming each other
Everyone it seems has a story about lousy parents – parents who repeatedly put their kids last. But I believe the vast majority of parents are doing the best they can.
Recently there has been outrage over an Old Navy onesie that says “Formula powered” on it. I disagree that Old Navy needs to be boycotted over this. Let us put our efforts toward supporting parents and family/child-focused policies and resources rather than boycotting a harmless onesie that is actually kind of cute. Because some kids are formula powered. Let’s take apart the unspoken assumption of privilege – often heteronormative and middle class – that informs almost all of the parenting rhetoric out there. If we don’t do this other voices – poor and working class, disabled, non-traditional families, etc – will get lost or worse, stop speaking altogether due to alienation.
Women are constantly bombarded with You’re Doing It Wrong messages: we’re too fat, too lazy, too ambitious, too selfish, too subservient, too dominating, and on and on. We’re bad mothers if we formula feed or work outside of the home or put our kids in day care or vaccinate them or don’t vaccinate them. Let’s stop blaming and yelling at one another and start pushing back at assumptions, masked forms of privilege, and systems that don’t support parenting at all.