Once again I find myself wanting to yell at my computer screen. It’s as if the TIME cover set off a whole new wave of hysteria and outlandish and uneducated opinions about some of the practices of attachment parenting and I find myself getting more and more frustrated by the idiocy that parades around as journalism and feminist thought. Though lately the focus has gone off breastfeeding and taken aim at the battle over the stay-at-home vs. working mom. And it’s flat-out ridiculous.
Recently I was lead to a piece written by Katha Pollitt who claims that Attachment Parenting is bad not only for women, but for children too. Her evidence? Well, none. Her opinion? Based on the work of the French “feminist” (I must put this in quotations because rarely have I seen a woman do so much harm to women’s rights that I can’t bear to use the word for her, though perhaps that’s more in line with some of the notions of popular feminism these days) Elisabeth Badinter, Ms. Pollitt decides to share why she believes “intensive, obsessive mothering” is bad for everyone, and it all comes down to the idea that to follow attachment parenting means that “Baby is King; Mom is servant”. And of course because of that, the child will grow to believe the world revolves around him/her. Once again, attachment parents are portrayed as quacks who are dismantling all the hard work women have put in before us to get us a spot in the workforce. They are ruining the very fabric of our society.
Ruining the very fabric of American society you say? You know what I think? Good. In fact, great. Ms. Pollitt and I can agree on one thing and it’s that America is, as she puts it, “famously unfriendly to mothers”, but we disagree as to the reason. She believes it’s that there’s a belief a woman’s role is at home. Sorry, Katha, but if that were the case, you’d see far more policies in place to allow women to be at home – fair wages for whoever worked, proper health care, etc.. In fact, the idea of a woman at home is so disheartening to many Americans that it’s become a topic in the current US primaries as Mitt Romney’s wife got quite a bit of grief for being a stay-at-home mom. There are articles left and right about how women lose their independence and can’t support themselves when they choose to stay at home (because the thought of accepting a relationship in which people agree to stay together and accept dependence on another, just as the other depends on them is far too outlandish). No, there’s no support for mothers because American society views their place as being in the workforce. The American economy depends upon women working, with many working for horrible wages while they struggle to find someone else to care for their children. In my mind, anything that helps turn this backwards, screwed up society on its head is a good thing.
But this isn’t about the politics of feminism and staying-at-home (that’s an entire dissertation to be honest). It’s about the completely ridiculous and asinine notion that attachment parenting practices per se are antithetical to women working.
Often people (and specifically Ms. Pollitt) comment that you can’t be a working mom while breastfeeding your child to 3 years of age, sleep with them, and wear them as a baby. They act as if these practices are entirely new – how else can you justify calling them extreme or intense? Unfortunately all of these people need a bit of a history lesson because these practices are as old as human history and even more importantly, it is because of some of these practices that mothers have been able to continue to contribute to their family and tribe. After a period of rest and time to establish breastfeeding, women around the world and historically would then return to farm, hunt or gather, watch multiple children, and perform other “work”. Babywearing allowed them to keep their infant close and comforted while doing this work. Co-sleeping allowed baby to stay safe, but also allowed for mom to have enough sleep to be functional the next day; after all, breastfeeding and tending to a baby who rouses is generally much easier when the baby is at hand and one can nurse lying down, or even sleeping. Yes, mom might have to take breaks to feed her baby from the breast, but that provides baby with the nutrition baby expects to get, filled with antibodies, nutrients, and proteins that help the brain develop as it evolved to develop, and if mom is babywearing, she may not need the break at all as many moms have figured out how to nurse “on-the-go” with baby strapped to one’s chest.
Now I know many people will point out that us Westerners no longer live in this era, so all this is moot. I disagree.
Today, although there are jobs that would be ill-suited for a woman with a baby (as there are in hunter-gatherer or more primitive societies), most of our work is less physically taxing than it is elsewhere or historically. A woman sitting at a desk is fully capable of doing her work with a baby strapped to her. In fact, those early moths are ideally suited to taking your baby to work. If jobs allowed women to return with their children after an appropriate period of rest, I don’t think too many employers would be able to complain about efficiency or lack of productivity. There are a few considerations though:
Yes, a new mother would have to wear her baby or have a space to keep him/her close.
Yes, a new mother would have to take breaks to feed said baby (though with babywearing it can be quite simple).
Yes, sometimes the baby would cry and mom would need to tend to the infant.
BUT… I’ve worked in offices and have seen:
Workers checking out the Internet for celebrity gossip or to play online games.
Workers making personal phone calls.
Workers gossiping with each other.
Workers taking coffee breaks.
Workers taking smoke breaks.
Frankly, most new moms I know would probably be at least as efficient with their baby strapped to them than the average office worker. Case in point is Ms. Licia Ronzulli, the Italian European MP who has famously brought her daughter to government sessions as a baby and most recently at 18-months of age. Ms. Ronzulli has been fully able to take part in what we probably consider to be important work which requires focus and attention with her daughter strapped to her chest, and later sitting in her lap. Notably, she’s the first person to do this in the European Parliament, but hopefully more follow suit. Unfortunately, as news of this hit North America, most comments were along the ilk of why she can’t find proper babysitting or hasn’t she heard of daycare. These comments ignore the very real fact that, for the most part, a child does better with a family member than in daycare, especially at younger ages, and although that may not be for every parent, too many parents would prefer to have their babies with them for more than a few waking hours. Once again, we seem to be putting what is best for business ahead of what we know to be best for babies, and in this case, also many mothers (I say “many” because there are obviously moms who would choose not to bring their children to work).
Some people would argue that as the child gets older, it would become harder and harder to get work done. I agree and historically children of a certain age are looked after by a group of women also getting their work done. Once kids are mobile on their own, having them stay put is hard. They don’t sleep all day and want to play. The thing is that they’re usually quite content on their own to play – especially if they haven’t been raised with a million loud toys during their infant years. A small play area for kids with mom close by would be all a younger child would need. Yes, that’s space, but a spot in mom’s office (if she has one) would be enough. Our modern alternative is on-site daycare for older infants/children which gives parents the chance to visit with their kids at any point during the day and to be there when their children need them and would also provide the children lots of contact with other kids.
Before people get up in arms and argue that this is all impossible, let’s look at some of the companies that at least offer on-site daycare to parents in Canada (where mothers get a full year’s maternity leave so these children are typically entering daycare when their child is older than a year):
Simon Fraser University
Hamilton Health Sciences Corporation
N.B. Power Holding Corporation
University Health Network (and this is 24-hour daycare)
George Brown College
B.C. Public Service
These are all huge companies (minimum 1,000 employees but up to over 8,000). They are profitable companies. They are competitive companies. And by the looks of things, they haven’t suffered from having kids close to their parents. In fact, some companies report saving up to a quarter million a year in operating expenses by having on-site daycare given that child care issues cause the bulk of problems with days cut short because of child-care problems.
People sometimes complain that bring your kid to work and on-site daycare doesn’t help blue-collar jobs, and they’re probably right to a certain extent. The top 10 professions for women in the United States are as follows:
Elementary/Middle School Teacher
Nursing, Psychiatric, and Home Health Aides
Supervisor/Manager of Retail Sales Worker
Maids and Housekeeping Cleaners
Customer Service Representatives
Bringing your baby could be a problem for nurses, health aids, and waiters (potentially housekeeping cleaners, depending on the environment being cleaned, but women clean at home with a baby all the time, so I don’t think it’s too impossible). The other six or seven occupations are all doable with a baby. As for on-site daycare, retail, restaurants, and multiple site housekeeping cleaners would be the hardest places to implement this. However, health care workers can have on-site daycare given the large nature of the places they tend to work, and I would argue that jobs in which we’re promoting care of others (nursing, health aides, teaching) really should be promoting more family-friendly and caring initiatives.
What’s this rather long rant really trying to say? Basically that parenting techniques like babywearing, breastfeeding, and co-sleeping have evolved not because they allow baby to rule the roost, but because they allow families – primarily women – to continue with their lives. Somehow we’ve lost that in today’s culture where we separate parents from children and work from family. I firmly believe it doesn’t have to be that way. Some women want to stay home with their children, but not all. Some women want to get back to work, but that doesn’t mean they want to be fully separate from their child for 8-10 hours a day. If companies could see the overall benefits to keeping families close, I would hope most would adopt the practice; we just have to help them see things this way.