Today I read an article by Erica Jong titled “Mother Madness” (via Ohdeedoh). Jong’s thesis, by my interpretation, is that our overwhelmingly high expectations for mothers interfere with what’s good for women and make mothers feel inadequate when they fail to meet those expectations. She lashes out against mothers who cater to their children’s needs at the expense of their own happiness and sanity, particularly in light of “attachment parenting” (a term I’ve never heard before) – wearing your baby, breastfeeding, co-sleeping – and green parenting – cloth diapering, making your own baby food, “a cocoon of clockless, unscheduled time.”
While I certainly understand and even agree with Jong’s view that unrealistic expectations can and often do create feelings of guilt when we fall short, I am so strongly opposed to many of her statements about motherhood and parenting that I want to share my opinions on the subject.
Bearing and rearing children has come to be seen as life’s greatest good. Never mind that there are now enough abandoned children on the planet to make breeding unnecessary.
I don’t know if I can adequately express how much I disagree with Jong’s sentiments here. In my eyes, bearing and rearing children is life’s greatest good. The Romgi and I got married because we love each other and wanted to have a family together. We believe that “what matters most is family.” I know if you ask either of us, parenting is what brings us joy. Jong follows her “breeding unnecessary” remark with an attack on celebrities like Madonna and Angelina Jolie who have adopted children as a social statement or perhaps as fashionable accessories; the Romgi and I certainly didn’t have similar motives for having children of our own. Yes, we have plans to adopt at some point, but we also wanted to have children who are biologically ours. I have trouble understanding why that’s a bad thing.
A lot of Jong’s article addresses the judgment passed by others on our parenting. I do understand her point there. We should never make others feel inadequate; we don’t want others to make us feel inadequate. But she focuses on the societal pressure to parent a certain way, and that isn’t something I’ve ever felt or that I necessarily feel is even legitimate. All those sociology classes have made me think that while we may perceive pressure to behave one way or another, we have the choice in whether or not we feel guilt for ignoring that pressure. (I apologize for the poor wording. I’m still not quite back to full mental capacity.)
Is it even possible to satisfy the needs of both parents and children? . . . [P]arents change their lives to accommodate [their children]. In the absence of societal adjustment to the needs of children, parents have to revise their own schedules.
This is my other major disagreement with Jong. While I readily acknowledge that in order to maintain some sanity, mothers need to also define themselves as something other than mothers – a life outside their children – that balance has to remain a balance, not a me-first-mother-second attitude. The decision to have children is necessarily also a decision to put someone else’s needs first. That doesn’t mean you never consider your own needs; the Bwun gets nothing out of my blogging, and I am obviously not sitting and playing a game with him in his room as I write this. Likewise the Romgi and I spend time together without our kids. We are still ourselves. But as parents we learn to care for our children first, and to me that’s one of the central lessons of parenting: selflessness. I firmly believe that much of parenthood is designed to help us become more Christlike, more patient, more giving, more compassionate.
So do I think of myself in terms of Roni, or Ma? To me they are inseparable. I am both; I’m a better Roni because I am also Ma, and a better Ma because I am also Roni.
What do you think?