Can you parent your child too much? Writer Erica Jong thinks so, and she explains her argument in a controversial essay in the Wall Street Journal.
In the essay, Jong blames the narcissistic culture of celebrity and the popular child-rearing guide The Baby Book by William and Martha Sears. The Baby Book promotes the kind of attachment parenting that Jong considers impossible:
“You wear your baby, sleep with her and attune yourself totally to her needs. How you do this and also earn the money to keep her is rarely discussed. You are just assumed to be rich enough. At one point, the Searses suggest that you borrow money so that you can bend your life to the baby’s needs. If there are other caregivers, they are invisible. Mother and father are presumed to be able to do this alone: without the village it takes to raise any child. Add to this the dictates of “green” parenting: homemade baby food, cloth diapers, a cocoon of clockless, unscheduled time and you have our new ideal. Anything less is bad for baby. Parents be damned.”
This, she says, is another notch on our narcissistic belts — that parents cannot control the world, so they control everything about their child as an alternative.
“Our obsession with parenting is an avoidance strategy. It allows us to substitute our own small world for the world as a whole. But the entire planet is a child’s home, and other adults are also mothers and fathers. We cannot separate our children from the ills that affect everyone, however hard we try. Aspiring to be perfect parents seems like a pathetic attempt to control what we can while ignoring problems that seem beyond our reach.”
Jong goes on to position herself on the other side of the debate by showing how impossible that kind of parenting is in “the real world.”
“I try to imagine what it would have been like for me to follow the suggestions of attachment parenting while I was a single mother and full-time bread-winner. I would have had to take my baby on lecture tours, in and out of airports, television stations and hotels. But that was impossible.”
Some parents agree, some don’t
As you might imagine, her essay has created a controversy among parents both for and against her argument. Mommyblogger Paula Bernstein agrees with most of Jong’s argument.
“[W]hile Jong’s claims about attachment parenting are overblown, I wholeheartedly agree with her closing point that women ‘need to be released from guilt about our children, not further bound by it.’ We need someone to say: Do the best you can. There are no rules,” Bernstein wrote. “Too often, we get caught up in the idea that there is one right way to parent. Let’s all stop judging and do the best we can. My new mantra is: “There are no rules.”
Others, like mother Gretchen Powers, disagrees with Jong’s assessment.
“I’d say, yes, you can be an attachment parent and work. I’d consider myself an attachment parent because I embrace the philosophy and do what I can. And sometimes I found it easier to co-sleep with my kid after I was at work all day or wear him on my back while I did the dishes,” Powers wrote.
“It didn’t feel like a political statement. I find it funny that people like Erica Jong blame the Sears’, but in the introduction to their book, they flat out state that there are no definite lines in AP and it’s more of an attitude. Basically, there’s no litmus test.”
Another mother, Stephanie Christensen also disagreed with Jong.
“I would answer the question of whether it is possible to be an “attachment parent” and a “work outside of the home parent” with a YES!” she commented.
“It is definitely not my choice or the way I would do things or even call ideal, however, I have many friends that work outside the home and are way better AP adherents(yikes!!!) than me. It really doesn’t take that much time or energy to cloth diaper and make your own baby food, either, I would add.”