I’ve been looking up the so-called battle of French motherhood going on at the moment which pitches old-style feminists, such as philosopher Elisabeth Badinter, against those who seek to encourage things like breastfeeding co-sleeping and ecological nappies – what Badinter calls the pressures to conform to a perfect form of motherhood. It’s an interesting debate and one I have had, for sure, with relatives. One particular relative is very much an old-style feminist. She thinks flexible working is bad for women since it sidelines them in their careers – I think she mainly means part-time working. She also sees breastfeeding as regressive and chaining you to your child and regards taking a year out on maternity leave as damaging to your career. This last could well have an element of truth to it, depending on what line of career you are in. I firmly believe that parents need help for the long haul. The first year is a walk in the park compared with what follows. The debate has, however, surely moved on from the first days of feminism. Flexible working is not just about part-time working and it is not just women with children who want it.
As for all the ecological stuff, isn’t it more about having the money to afford the nappies, the organic food, the washing powder, etc, than them being a hassle? I might not be doing all this stuff right, but I did do breastfeeding for more than the recommended six months with all my children. However, I admit to cheating. When I went back to work, they had formula during the day as I couldn’t get to grips with the whole expressing thing at all. I admit that rebel daughter used to wake up a lot during the night to feed and I was a virtual zombie for a couple of months, but it all eventually got into a pattern and it was much easier with the other two. I think, in fact, that the breastfeeding thing was actually partly due to laziness. I couldn’t face sterilising the bottles after a long day at work and we travelled quite a bit so breastfeeding was so much easier.
I admit that I also did a fair bit of co-sleeping. Again, I think part of the motive was laziness. Getting up in the night meant waking up. I needed to get enough sleep to face the working week since my partner seemed not to hear the baby crying in the night. He felt so bad about it at times that he actually used to pretend he had not slept when he had had a perfect eight-hour stretch. He thought I would feel better knowing he was sharing my pain.
Even so, I think there is something in the whole argument that we are under pressure like never before to conform to an ideal of motherhood which is hard to reconcile with an equally pressurised working life. A lot of this, I think, is a reaction to previous models of motherhood which did not place children in quite so central a role as they now occupy in the family. We are also under pressure to look fabulous and be interesting. In fact, you cannot move for different advice or opinions on motherhood. In the end, you have to devise your own path through all the hype. In any case, at least half of what you do is based on the way you were brought up, whether repeating that or reacting to it or a mixture of both. It has to be set in context.
I am becoming increasingly bored with parenting books [if I ever liked them], which I think is a good thing. I would like to think that it is because I have come to a mature acceptance of my own "parenting skills", but it is probably because I have never particularly liked being told what to do.
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