Working Mom vs. SAHM Debate is Wack

A friend posted a link to a Marie Claire article about an upcoming book that tries to stir the pot on the Working Mom vs. Stay at Home Mom battle. It was hard enough to read the author, Elisabeth Badinter’s, comments so I know I won’t waste my time with her book, The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women.

Her argument is that women are putting their whole lives into their kids and ignoring all the modern advances that would allow these mothers to go back to work and get on with their lives without being so involved with their kids.

Here I will say that her point–that women need not give up their own goals and dreams while being a mother is a good one, but she didn’t make it well and she seems to believe these things can’t coexist.   True as well is her point that the marital relationship should be a priority.  Kids do need to see their parents loving each other and pursuing their own personal interests.  But Ms. Batinter’s position is extreme in that she thinks these things can’t coexist with a nurturing, devoted, “naturalist” parenting lifestyle. She can’t seem to comprehend that devoted parenting and self-expression and even working at a job can go hand in hand and appears to be downright offended by these mothers who … mother.

MC: You’ve written about a “naturalist” strain to modern motherhood—breast-feeding on demand, natural childbirth, eco-friendly washable diapers, homemade baby food—that pushes women back into the home.

EB: Unquestionably. The gains of the previous century—epidurals, bottle-feeding, disposable diapers—allowed women to reconcile their roles as mothers with the necessity of being financially independent. This 21st-century project of naturalism, which makes the female into an animal again, is a rejection of those gains.

First of all, this article seems to be focused on the very early years of parenting, which are not representative of the whole job.  Babies take a lot of work.  They need a lot from their mothers. They are a strain on the family because all of a sudden it DOES seem like everything revolves around the needs of the helpless baby.  Second of all, her list of conveniences are still here.  Mothers today still have the option for an epidural, formula feeding and disposable diapers. Last I checked, the Earthy Mama Society wasn’t trying to rid the world of options, instead, these mothers have been creatively finding and sharing more options.
In my community, there is a business called “Green Baby Diaper Service”  that provides mothers with unbleached cotton diapers for their baby. Then, they pick up, clean and return those soiled diapers so that mothers who do not have time or interest in the messy job of cleaning cloth diapers can still live according to their values of reducing waste or provide their baby with a cleaner material for their skin or avoid the chemicals and fragrances those baby diapers are doused with.
The “naturalist” women she is describing are going the extra mile to preserve the environment and the health of their child.  That baby does not care if he or she is wearing Huggies or hand made cloth diaper.  The baby just cares that she is dry and loved.  And while the baby may be more concerned with being fed than if it is from breast or bottle, there are well documented health advantages of breast feeding.  Maybe this is why so many educated women who go back to work have advocated so fervently for lactation rooms in the workplace and spend so much time that they might prefer to be pursuing their own goals or napping attached to a breast pump.  These educated women have the choice and they are choosing to put their child’s health above their hobbies and interests.
EB:“Homemade baby food is terrific if you know how to cook and have time to make it. But why demonize commercial baby food, which is balanced, quick, and accessible to fathers?”
Maybe Ms. Badinter hasn’t heard about the level of pesticides, sugars and sodium found in baby food.  And maybe she hasn’t seen how much more affordable it is to make your own?  Further, if she doesn’t learn to cook (or encourage her husband to learn) they will see a lot of their hard earned money going out the door on take out, which will likely make them obese and sick and then when they would be spending their precious money on trips to Disney with grandchildren, they will be spending it on trips to the ER with heart disease, stroke, cancer or diabetes; 4 of the most preventable chronic diseases caused by a poor diet.
EB:“And it’s this absence of vision in the middle of their lives that I find infantile. I’ll say it: infantile.”
Actually, Ms. Badinter, lack of vision isn’t really an infantile trait.  It’s really not expected from infants that they see the big picture.  It is expected of adults to see past themselves into a vision of the future and community, which is exactly what the “naturalist” mothers are doing.  A more appropriate description of an infantile quality would be “selfish” which is also a good description of your character. So, maybe your education didn’t get you as far as you expected if you can’t come up with an fitting insult.
MC: Do you have any advice for today’s young women?

EB: Don’t ever give up your economic independence. Don’t give up your job. You must be able to survive without a man. Because if you no longer get along with your partner or he treats you badly and you don’t have the means to leave him, you’re enslaved.

I’m not going to go on dissecting this article because I have better things to worry about.  But if anyone is concerned about her last point about financial security, which–with the rates of divorce, early death or a spouses unemployment are real concerns–there is a book called “The Feminine Mistake” by Leslie Bennetts that came out in 2007 that addresses these points more compassionately, more eloquently and more intelligently. Ms. Bennetts argument is that there can be balance in parenting, having a healthy relationship and pursuing a career.  It is not a book about “having it all” but about being prepared for anything.  She writes examples of women who devote themselves to their kids or even to their careers only to find that their husband has died suddenly of a heart attack and they do not know where their important financial or legal documents are stored.  Just as we are asking men to be more involved in parenting, women need to be more involved in finances, they need to continue to sharpen their skills and pursue their interests.  They can not do it all at the same time, and there will be years, like the baby years, when they can do very little except keep up with the essentials, but when life does slow down, women shouldn’t give up decision making of their finances over to men anymore than men should hand over all the decision making regarding children over to the women.
Balance comes from community.  There will be mothers who work out of obligation and out of choice.  There will be mothers who use disposables and those who use cloth.  We all have the ability to make our own choices and for the most part, I think we all put a lot of thought and consideration into these choices. Sometimes we have the ability to make choices based on what is right in the long run and other times we do the best we can with the moment right now.  But to advocate a “right now” lifestyle and to put pursuit of financial independence and monetary gain over the investment of attention, healthy nourishment and quality bonding and attention with a baby is so shortsighted, I struggle to fully comprehend what bubble she’s been living in.
EB:“I’m also concerned about the effects of the long-term fusion between a mother and child beyond the first few months.I’m afraid that this fusion will impact children in a way that we can’t measure today.”
I’m actually concerned about the effects of the long-term distance between a mother and child that develops when the child does not have proper guidance or attention.  I’m worried about the working moms who are so consumed by their own interests that the children eventually need to act out spectacularly to get their attention.  The misbehavior of a child having a tantrum in a restaurant while his mother stares at her phone pinning to Pinterest or responding to work emails or Facebooking the cute picture of 3 minutes ago is the thing that I personally fear will “impact children in a way that we can’t measure today.”  The BPA, pesticides, sugar and sodium in the convenient store bought baby food is something I personally fear will “impact children in a way that we can’t measure today.” The chemicals in the air fresheners, cleaners, laundry soap, shampoo and umbilical cords of our newborns is something I personally fear will “impact children in a way that we can’t measure today.”
Except we ARE measuring it today: in skyrocketing obestity rates, in skyrocketing diabetes in children, in skyrocketing asthma, ADHD, autism, food allergy and cancer rates in children; in skyrocketing depression and anxiety rates.
This is what worries me, and so those mothers who are sacrificing their financial independence, placing a bet that the investment in their children and in their bond of marriage will pan out and that they can do enough to counteract the onslaught of chemicals in products in food, the onslaught of negative or overly sexualized messages fed to our kids, the financial instability of a difficult economic state — those women are heroes.
Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. Hebrews 13:5

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