Georgina Guedes

Back in the kitchen, women!

2012-09-21 14:33

Georgina Guedes

Two recent articles on modern parenting have provoked a massive debate in traditional and social media about what it takes to be a mother.

The first article was the extremely controversial Time Magazine cover showing an attractive young mother breastfeeding a child of four. A large child. In takkies. With a haircut. Standing on a chair. The cover line issued the challenge: “Are you mom enough?”

The article tackled the issue of “attachment parenting”, and how increasing numbers of families are being governed by its principles, which include extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping and baby-led routines.

The second article was written for The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter, an academic and foreign policy analyst who served as the director of policy planning for the US State Department for two years, until February 2011.

The article, Why Women Can't Have It All, explains why she left Washington at the height of her career. Simply put, it was because she felt that she needed to be more available for her family and for her 14-year-old son in particular.

The controversy

The first article has got everyone riled about attachment parenting. Many people feel that 4 years old is too big for breast. Others say it's nobody's business but the mother's and her child's. Yet others point out that there has to be some cut-off point where breastfeeding becomes inappropriate.

While the Time photograph has created a shock value to this particular mother and child's arrangement, I don't feel that four is too old, but I do believe it's getting to the tipping point, but that's not really the point of this column.

The second article has opened up the opinion floodgates, and a stream of responses has flowed through. Some women say that they're quite happily having it all. Others say that those women aren't really operating at the highest levels of US politics. Others, me among them, were grateful that people are talking like this, rather than continuing to subject us to the relentless pressure to have it all. And yet others say this is old news and an old debate.

Women back where they belong

The school of thought that I wanted to talk about today is that of the feminists who feel that the pressure to attachment parent is doing the same old job, whether by accident or design, of placing women back in the kitchen and hiding their shoes.

It seems we've come full circle. We were once kept home by societal norms, then we got equality, got out there and conquered the workforce. Then we somehow collectively decided that we should be raising our children better, and this generation of mothers threw themselves into parenting with a consciousness displayed by no mothers before us.

The debate is raging between the two schools of thought: one says that women are only doing what feels natural for them and not wanting to be judged for it, the other says that societal pressure now means that yet again, there's another impediment to us succeeding in high-powered careers – that we're not being mom enough.

I've heard this debate and notched points on a stick for both sides. And then I thought long and hard about what I believe. I'm a bit of an attachment parent, but I also believe in being a complete person in myself that isn't defined by my parenting or my marriage, and I believe that this sets an example for my children.

However, and this is the important bit, while I do things the way that feels right for me, I don't judge others for doing them differently. Obviously, there are a few no-nos: don't drive around without your kids belted in, don't beat them with a wrench and don't play mind games with them, but in general if you're doing what you believe is best for your child, and doing it with love, I think things will work out OK.

Choice is everything

What women have now is choice. I do believe that we can't have it all. There's not a one-size-fits-all solution for mothers with careers. Parenting small children is a full-time job. This is evidenced by the fact that if we work, we have to hire someone to do it for us or make our husband's do it. So, obviously, if we choose to work full time, we will be losing out on some aspect of our children's lives. It's not like we can pause them.

On the other hand, if we choose to stay at home with our children and put all our energy into being the very best mothers we can be, we'll naturally lose out on some of the opportunities for advancement in the workplace. There's no key to unlocking the balance – there are only so many hours in a day, and we have to make choices.

In the end, each of us have to do what's right for ourselves. And nobody knows what that is except for us.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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