Mark Greene is fed up with the binary generalizations that run rampant in articles like Ms. Pollitt’s.
Recently, I came across a nasty polarizing screed on attachment parenting by Katha Pollitt at the Nation.
Ms. Pollitt goes out of her way to attack attachment parenting as another patriarchal plot bent on “pulling women back into the home.” And what sources does she base most of her critique of attachment parenting on? She cherry picks tone and commentary from Time Magazine and Newsweek as bookends to discuss the hidden agendas of attachment parenting and the state of women’s lives in general.
Time Magazine and others have encouraged readers to frame attachment parenting as an “extremist” approach to parenting. The story goes that women are expected to give up their professional and personal lives in exchange for an obsessive helicoptering enslavement to their babies. It’s some sort of Stepford Mom version of parenting. This makes for lots of ad traffic and blog posts but its simply not accurate. Its the equivalent of saying that all soccer mom’s are compulsively obsessive in their pursuit of their child’s soccer success. Some soccer moms (and Dads) are nuts, most are not. Go interview the (seemingly) overzealous soccer parents and viola, you’ll sell more magazines.
Ms. Pollitt is doing none of us any favors by taking a swing at the big fat attachment parenting piñata Time Magazine has hung out there for her. Time Magazine, Newsweek and other mass media outlets have shown time and time again that they’re about sensationalizing gender issues and creating binary uproar in order to sell magazines. You need look no further than the famous breast feeding cover. Attachment parenting, breast feeding, gay parenting, alternative lifestyles and anything else that smacks of change is not going to get a fair shake. And Ms. Pollitt’s cherry picking a Time magazine story in order to comment on gender is the worst kind of intellectual laziness. Of course, shooting fish in the Time Magazine barrel is more fun than doing real research on the issues involved, but it promotes damaging narratives and ultimately re-entrenches the very forces Ms. Pollitt seeks to overturn. Attachment parenting isn’t the enemy.
I’ll give Ms. Pollitt points for transparency. She states, “I was originally going to write this column as an attack on women who have fallen for the attachment-parenting spiel, which makes them feel endlessly guilty and then encourages them to project that guilt outward onto more relaxed mothers.”
In my experience, almost every discussion of attachment parenting I have seen online or been involved in in person has offered attachment parenting up as one path among many for raising children. As an attachment parent myself, I have NEVER passed judgement on a parent who chooses to have their baby sleep separate from them. I know lots of parents who just got tired of being kicked at night. Having a two year old in your bed is not for everybody. But maybe those same parents do decide to get a baby sling instead of a stroller. Maybe that appeals to them. Attachment is about choosing to be closer to your baby in what ever ways make sense to you. I have never heard any attachment parent criticize another parent’s decision to take a different approach with their child. And if I did, I would tell them its wrong to do so. Its a deeply personal decision how you raise your child. Love can be expressed in a wide range of ways.
Furthermore, attachment parenting is not a lock step movement with a strict set of rules, governed by sneering elitists who look down their noses at others; as much as Ms. Pollitt would like to conjure up that binary. Its absolutely not the case. Attachment parenting is a philosophy of child rearing that says, quite simply, the closer you keep your child in the first years of their lives, the more independent and secure they will be as they move out into the world later on. How parents choose to do attachment parenting varies widely. And for the record, relaxed or partial attachment parenting is commonly practiced. In fact, the case can be made the attachment parenting in all its forms is more relaxing. Because it creates more comfort and security for parents and babies alike. That stuff about babies crying less? Or not at all? It’s true.
Ms. Pollitt writes, “Now, according to Time, women are giving up on careers to embrace attachment parenting – breast-feeding their kids till age three or more; having Baby sleep in your room, if not your bed; and “babywearing” – carrying your baby in a sling every minute of the day and never, ever letting it cry.”
Deconstructing the thinly veiled contempt in this comment, conjures images of some 19th Century Dickensonian matron scowling down at cowering children who should be seen and not heard. Ms. Pollitt goes on to launch wide ranging attack on everyone who is party to any aspect of attachment parenting. The article is literally awash in confrontational binary generalizations. And not even particularly creative ones. Dr. Bill Sears, a leading voice in attachment parenting is dismissed as a “devout Christian.”
And the reactive binary observations just keep on coming. I’ll share a few here but you can go graze for more if you’re feeling particularly masochistic.
Let’s return to Ms. Pollitt’s view of women: “Women are so eager to blame themselves and one another about, well, everything – weight, looks, clothes, sexual behavior (you haven’t lived till you’ve heard a seventh-grade girl refer to another as a “ho”), marriages and, of course, baybeez, every wrinkle of whose behavior is directly attributable to their mothers’ having made some small but fatal mistake.”
Throughout the article, Ms. Pollitt paints a picture of women unable to make their own informed decisions. Her modern women is wracked with socially induced guilt, ping ponging between culturally imposed priorities of family and career, a dichotomy within which she can only frantically flail about while men pull her puppet strings from the unattainable corner office. In a word, a victim. A frame which is crucial to her construct of men as the villains in Ms. Pollitt’s narrative.
As she serves up this comically disempowered portrait of women, Ms. Pollitt tosses in her contemptuous spelling of the word “baybeez,” baiting parents everywhere with her seeming contempt for anyone who would lower themselves to something as intellectually demeaning as child rearing. What is even more amazing, Ms. Pollitt has permanently recorded in the public discourse a sentence in which she brutally judges woman as being, well… judgmental. The irony is just too much. Why all this contempt for women who choose to raise kids? And then, why the almost compulsive need to paint a picture of women doing so alone while their husbands continue to go off to work? When in fact, the opposite is just a likely too be the case?
Ms. Pollitt writes: “It’s true that only a tiny number of families practice attachment parenting to the full – there are only 5 million stay-at-home mothers in the whole country, and most of them are either very wealthy or very poor – but its ideals are pervasive: As Badinter puts it, Baby is king; Mom is servant.”
Ms. Pollitt seems to have left a few million parents out. She clearly hasn’t caught wind of the Stay At Home Dad tsunami that is sweeping across western culture. Possibly because Time or Newsweek hasn’t made a poorly reported, binary-inducing cover story out of it yet? The fact is MILLIONS of men are raising children full time, often in partnerships with their wives or while their wives go to the office and pursue their careers. To state otherwise is to promote the invisibility of Stay at Home Dads in collaboration with the very mass media she has so much contempt for. And what’s worse, from a women’s rights perspective, is it also makes women’s choices to pursue successful careers while their male partners stay home invisible as well.
In the US, 20% of fathers with children under age five are the primary child caretakers in their family. Period. Thank you very much. Which means Ms. Pollitt’s five million stay at home mom’s are getting a real run for their money.
Ms. Pollitt goes on the reinforce her own willfully ignorant bias, writing “And only tangentially are child-raising fads about fathers; men are more “involved” now than 50 years ago, but you won’t catch them beating themselves or one another up over not making organic baby food from scratch.”
Attachment parenting is not a fad. And fathers across America are fully engaged in the practice. The only thing an attachment parenting father can not physically do is breast feed their baby. But as for organic baby food, obviously, Ms. Pollitt hasn’t seen mine or the tens of thousands of other organic gardens that dot upstate New York. Gardens in which we taught your little ones how to plant kale and cilantro, peppers and tomatoes, which we harvested and ate with them, sitting on our front steps in the warm morning sun.
As for Ms. Pollitt’s other ideas of what work men do or don’t do in the home, she hasn’t seen a bathroom cleaned until she’s seen me clean it. She hasn’t seen a breakfast served up until I serve it. She hasn’t seen a load of laundry done, a basement play area painted, a child’s book collection organized, a kids birthday party thrown or a baby’s bottom diapered until she’s seen me do it. The fact is, men are amazing parents. We love the work of caring for children. We are doing it by the millions all over the world. And if Ms. Pollitt were to choose to do so, she could easily learn just how engaged all men are in the lives of their children. And how many men are taking on full time and part time parenting, specifically to empower their wive’s careers.
Frankly, I’m disgusted by the polarizing generalizations that run rampant in articles like Ms. Pollitt’s. I’m sick of millions of primary parent Dads being rendered invisible by ideologically rigid partisans like Ms. Pollitt. And most of all, I’m sick to death of people promoting the idea that one set of life choices are inevitably in opposition to all other possible life choices. They are not. There are many ways to live in the world. Ways which can exist comfortably alongside a range of possible alternatives. Unless somebody decides to make a binary issue out of it; to stir up arguments where none need exist, usually for personal profit or self promotion.
Women and men are engaging a vast range of self affirming life choices. Attachment parenting is one of those choices. To deny the existence of those vast changes in our culture, in order to promote yet another binary reframe of the gender wars is to play the same game as the worst elements of the status quo. Namely selfishly defending your own rigid ideological turf by disingenuously attacking the choices of others.
Image of An unused, new party piñata courtesy of Shutterstock.