A version of this post originally appeared on Single Spaced.

I just read this AWESOME post over at Feministe about attachment parenting and feminism. The discussion is still unraveling, but I wanted to write more thoughts about this, especially now that my daughter is now an fiercely independent toddler and having none of that attachment shit.

Theresa and her famStrange enough, for as long as I’ve been a mom, it had never occurred to me to google the terms “attachment parenting” and “feminism” in one go. Point blank, I’ve been having a very difficult time trying to marry my feminist ideals with my thoughts on what a mother should do because these early years of my daughter’s life have been so demanding and I have a lot of hang-ups about whether or not I’m making enough sacrifices for my daughter.

A lot of those hang-ups are also a result of the way I was raised and the way my mom talks about motherhood, but the reality is, BF and I actually share parenting duties more than most couples I know, and I still have a sense that I’m entirely responsible for her as the mom.

BF isn’t at fault for any of this, but I do often notice that when we’re out in public, he’s seen as a progressive, doting, hot dad, but the minute our daughter behaves in a way that’s unfavorable (whether that means she is crying or just laughing really loud), I feel like strangers give me the side-eye for not being able to keep her under control.

Aside from that, as much as I’d like to identify as a “granola mom,” I’ve always had a vague feeling of not belonging to that club, which is probably why I hate convening with other moms so much. It isn’t even necessarily the values of attachment parenting that are bothersome for me. Some attachment parenting literature can feel anti-feminist to me, and the communities around attachment parenting sometimes feel vaguely classist.

It’s been very hard to articulate my feelings about this, and it’s been difficult to have confidence in my relationship with my daughter when basically none of the parenting guides I’ve ever been able to find actually speak to me as a mom.

Parenting literature in general usually assumes that the mother can at least take an extended maternity leave, if not have an option to quit her job entirely. And many books on the motherhood experience — attachment parent or not — tell the story from the point of view of middle/upper-class, stay-at-home moms. And living completely by the attachment parenting doctrine — from on-demand breastfeeding, cloth diapering, non-vaccination, to homeschooling — is extremely difficult to do if you require two incomes to run your home. And let’s face it, we’re just not at a point in our society where parenting is truly shared down the middle. If you’re a breastfeeding family then, chances are, the daddy is NOT the one offering up the boob.

Admittedly, a lot of the choices I’ve made so far as a mother have been borne out of pressure or guilt. Breastfeeding and co-sleeping were the only ones that gelled, and even though breastfeeding was only possible with tons of elbow grease (pumping three times a day, five days a week for over a year, plus diligently breastfeeding on demand whenever I was home — my body was in service to somebody else pretty much 24 hours a day), for the most part I felt it was the “easy way out.” That is, no extra bottles to clean, no formula to mix or buy, and I didn’t have to get out of bed to feed her in the middle of the night.

The philosophies about how a mother should never let her baby cry for an extend period of time, and that a mother should be able to intuitively read her baby’s cries and immediately pacify? Babies cry, man… how can this possibly NOT be designed to make you feel like a garbage-ass mom?

The fact that I have never been able to coalesce my ideas as a feminist and my ideas as a mom has really driven home the point of how necessary it is to be a consciously feminist parent.

The truth of the matter is, mothers are devalued in every practical sense in American culture, and mothers of color are often demonized. The “Mommy Wars” still have lots of pull in the media and there are still books coming out on both sides women who actually have a choice between working or staying at home — NOW, say, thirty years after second wave feminism. Also of note: when a white mom doesn’t work and raises her children all day, she’s being a good mom, but when a brown mom does the same, she’s lazy and neglectful.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are struggling emotionally, financially, and physically with trying to meet the demands of being working moms, putting children in daycare, and having to be fifteen places at once. Pro-family labor legislation is still pretty nonexistent, daycare is still barely affordable for many families, and individual insurance (for those who can’t be covered by an employer) doesn’t even cover the un-complicated delivery of a baby.

And amidst all of that, we’ve somehow got to endure the barrage of images in the media of the big bad world we need to protect our children from — getting kidnapped, sexually abused, taunted at school, poisoned by toys, or otherwise turning fatter and more prone to learning disabilities on a daily basis because their moms apparently aren’t doing enough to keep them healthy and safe.

I try on a daily basis to just transcend the bullshit and do for my daughter what I need to. I’ve stopped reading the parenting books, but it’s definitely freeing (and somewhat relieving) to see that I’m not the only one who feels conflicted.

Comments on Is feminist motherhood an oxymoron?

  1. Finally, an article about parenting that I can relate to. I am convinced that mommy-guilt (Am I pushing too hard for potty training? Will she hate me in twenty years because I worked instead of staying home with her? Is it ok if she scarfs down mickey d's for dinner two days in a row just this once??) is the true gift that keeps on giving. . .forever. Add to the mommy-guilt a healthy dose of seemingly contradictory feminism, and it threatens to drive you nuts. Thank goodness I'm not alone!

  2. Thank you for this article. Its hard enough trying to figure out your own identity as woman and a feminist–throwing motherhood into the mix can make it so much more complicated. Its nice to know I'm not the only one struggling with those issues.

  3. Thank you for this post! I especially see this AP style pressure/competitive parenting in the white, middle class lesbian community where i live. It is difficult for me to relate to such a seemingly heteronormative system/method of parenting. As a working class queer woman, it would be out of the question for my partner or me to be a single-income family. It has also been difficult to reconcile our radical feminist values with the predominant queer parenting community in our region and has actually made us steer away from having children because we would like to move to a place where we can rock out—and not be tied to this non-conformist conformity. Again, lovin' on your post!

  4. being conflicted is tough, but it shows that you care and are paying attention so that's great!
    Raising 3 boys has been a challenge on many levels but whenever I feel guilty or inadequate, whether because of myself or others, I look around at how many people there are in this world.
    There are so many from all different types of family background, that I know, if I trust my instincts to do what is best for my kids, they'll be alright.
    skip the labels and judgements – if we do our best to love and educate our children, that's what counts.

  5. being conflicted is tough, but it shows that you care and are paying attention so that's great!
    Raising 3 boys has been a challenge on many levels but whenever I feel guilty or inadequate, whether because of myself or others, I look around at how many people there are in this world.
    There are so many from all different types of family background, that I know, if I trust my instincts to do what is best for my kids, they'll be alright.
    skip the labels and judgements – if we do our best to love and educate our children, that's what counts.

  6. being conflicted is tough, but it shows that you care and are paying attention so that's great!
    Raising 3 boys has been a challenge on many levels but whenever I feel guilty or inadequate, whether because of myself or others, I look around at how many people there are in this world.
    There are so many from all different types of family background, that I know, if I trust my instincts to do what is best for my kids, they'll be alright.
    skip the labels and judgements – if we do our best to love and educate our children, that's what counts.

  7. being conflicted is tough, but it shows that you care and are paying attention so that's great!
    Raising 3 boys has been a challenge on many levels but whenever I feel guilty or inadequate, whether because of myself or others, I look around at how many people there are in this world.
    There are so many from all different types of family background, that I know, if I trust my instincts to do what is best for my kids, they'll be alright.
    skip the labels and judgements – if we do our best to love and educate our children, that's what counts.

  8. being conflicted is tough, but it shows that you care and are paying attention so that's great!
    Raising 3 boys has been a challenge on many levels but whenever I feel guilty or inadequate, whether because of myself or others, I look around at how many people there are in this world.
    There are so many from all different types of family background, that I know, if I trust my instincts to do what is best for my kids, they'll be alright.
    skip the labels and judgements – if we do our best to love and educate our children, that's what counts.

  9. being conflicted is tough, but it shows that you care and are paying attention so that's great!
    Raising 3 boys has been a challenge on many levels but whenever I feel guilty or inadequate, whether because of myself or others, I look around at how many people there are in this world.
    There are so many from all different types of family background, that I know, if I trust my instincts to do what is best for my kids, they'll be alright.
    skip the labels and judgements – if we do our best to love and educate our children, that's what counts.

  10. being conflicted is tough, but it shows that you care and are paying attention so that's great!
    Raising 3 boys has been a challenge on many levels but whenever I feel guilty or inadequate, whether because of myself or others, I look around at how many people there are in this world.
    There are so many from all different types of family background, that I know, if I trust my instincts to do what is best for my kids, they'll be alright.
    skip the labels and judgements – if we do our best to love and educate our children, that's what counts.

  11. being conflicted is tough, but it shows that you care and are paying attention so that's great!
    Raising 3 boys has been a challenge on many levels but whenever I feel guilty or inadequate, whether because of myself or others, I look around at how many people there are in this world.
    There are so many from all different types of family background, that I know, if I trust my instincts to do what is best for my kids, they'll be alright.
    skip the labels and judgements – if we do our best to love and educate our children, that's what counts.

  12. being conflicted is tough, but it shows that you care and are paying attention so that's great!
    Raising 3 boys has been a challenge on many levels but whenever I feel guilty or inadequate, whether because of myself or others, I look around at how many people there are in this world.
    There are so many from all different types of family background, that I know, if I trust my instincts to do what is best for my kids, they'll be alright.
    skip the labels and judgements – if we do our best to love and educate our children, that's what counts.

  13. being conflicted is tough, but it shows that you care and are paying attention so that's great!
    Raising 3 boys has been a challenge on many levels but whenever I feel guilty or inadequate, whether because of myself or others, I look around at how many people there are in this world.
    There are so many from all different types of family background, that I know, if I trust my instincts to do what is best for my kids, they'll be alright.
    skip the labels and judgements – if we do our best to love and educate our children, that's what counts.

  14. being conflicted is tough, but it shows that you care and are paying attention so that's great!
    Raising 3 boys has been a challenge on many levels but whenever I feel guilty or inadequate, whether because of myself or others, I look around at how many people there are in this world.
    There are so many from all different types of family background, that I know, if I trust my instincts to do what is best for my kids, they'll be alright.
    skip the labels and judgements – if we do our best to love and educate our children, that's what counts.

  15. being conflicted is tough, but it shows that you care and are paying attention so that's great!
    Raising 3 boys has been a challenge on many levels but whenever I feel guilty or inadequate, whether because of myself or others, I look around at how many people there are in this world.
    There are so many from all different types of family background, that I know, if I trust my instincts to do what is best for my kids, they'll be alright.
    skip the labels and judgements – if we do our best to love and educate our children, that's what counts.

  16. being conflicted is tough, but it shows that you care and are paying attention so that's great!
    Raising 3 boys has been a challenge on many levels but whenever I feel guilty or inadequate, whether because of myself or others, I look around at how many people there are in this world.
    There are so many from all different types of family background, that I know, if I trust my instincts to do what is best for my kids, they'll be alright.
    skip the labels and judgements – if we do our best to love and educate our children, that's what counts.

  17. Thank you for this! You're clearly thinking, and that's probably the most important thing (in my mind) — making your decisions consciously. My partner and I have been talking about kids for several years (we don't have any yet), and the whole breastfeeding-cosleeping-babywearing thing is something we're struggling with. We're anticipating that he'll work from home/not work (he's a computer contractor; sometimes those are the same things), and I'll have a job outside the house (as an RN, eventually nurse practitioner)…all of which makes us go, "So, wait, how do we do the breastfeeding thing? The stay-at-home parent doesn't have boobs…" Anyway, point being: it's fantastic and helpful to read other people's takes on these issues. Thank you.

  18. There are so many aspects of this post that hit home for me – especially the feeling of not truly belonging to this or that mom niche. Once I became pregnant, I sought out attachment parenting groups for the sole purpose of gaining knowledge from those who have been there done that. But when my daughter flat out refused to breastfeed and I became an exclusive pumper there were initially some negative vibes thrown my way. And then when she was three months old and preferred to sleep in her own crib (trust me I practically begged my newborn to sleep with me because I loved the closeness it brought us), I was actually asked to leave the group because exact quote "my parental ideals simply do not match those that belong to this group". THEN on top of that, I get major flack from my kick ass feminist friends who think I'm exact quote "enforcing the patriarchal ideal that women stay home and take care of the kids leaving behind their own personal identities " because I chose to quit my job and stay home with my baby. So yeah, I totally get this article. However, I do disagree with the author's choice of separating all mothers from the mothers of color – especially stating that they are often "demonized". I feel as if all mothers are demonized in one way or another for our parenting choices. For me, it is less an issue of race but more an issue of culture and personal circumstances for each family. But like others before me have said, it is comforting to know that there are others who are just as conflicted as I am and who are doing the best we can with the knowledge we have. Good Post!

  19. " Also of note: when a white mom doesn’t work and raises her children all day, she’s being a good mom, but when a brown mom does the same, she’s lazy and neglectful."

    SO true! And thank you for saying it!

  20. I’m so glad that my post was well received and that there are other moms out there who relate. I wanted to add a couple of things:

    @linettasky – I had to return to work when my daughter was six weeks old and breastfed her until she was just shy of 18 months. For future reference, it’s doable but a big part of it depends on your job and basically how supportive your boss and team will be of your new mom role. I actually ended up leaving the original job I returned to when my daughter was 4 months old for a job that was much more conducive to the work-life balance I wanted (great pump room accomodations and telecommuting capability). Also, you kind of have to be a pain in the ass to everyone who has a hand in helping you raise your child whether it’s your husband, a nanny, a daycare center, etc. and be super diligent about only giving your child pumped milk when you are at work. If you ever want more info, feel free to hit me up.

    @Shannan – I definitely agree that all moms are judged harshly no matter what they do. Being a mom of color just informs a lot of what I write, and at the time I think I had in mind the idea of “stay-at-home mom” vs. “welfare queen” — two terms rampant in the mainstream media (like the “mommy wars”) intended to divide moms by race and class and pit them against each other, instead of highlighting and dealing with real issues that moms face, like labor legislation, access to health care, affordable daycare, etc.

    I love this site so much. A real life Offbeat Mama group — one where moms are actually OPEN and SUPPORTIVE to other moms’ ideas — is so necessary!

  21. I have a few thoughts on this.

    One – my experience is that a person kind of needs to have the child actually here to sort out what works. Some of it worked for me, some of it didn't. As an anecdote to this: with my second baby, a friend asked how breastfeeding was going. I said "Much better now that one of us knows what she is doing."

    The second thought – I think the best expert on your child may be your own instinct. No, I don't mean that as code for "instinctive parenting" the capitalized-letters-movement. I mean literally, good old fashioned instinct. If the shit feels wrong to you, don't do it. The hard part is – some things will feel right and you will be restricted by finances, lifestyle, poverty, family, culture, health of yourself, health of your child. Finding your own instinct without allowing extraneous things like opinionated friends, judgmental mothers, well-meaning books, to influence you greatly — that can be a challenge.

    Finally, the passage at bottom here, from the original article hurts my brain. Why would even a remote goal for a feminist be for men to lactate or breastfeed? Breastfeeding is an amazing experience if you choose it as a woman, and if it works for you as a woman. For me personally, it was an integral part of what makes being a mom, and being a woman just utterly amazing. Dude, this kid is LIVING on milk from my own body. Like, who invented THAT brilliant engineering?

    I'm not part of the breastfeeding militia (not that there's anything wrong with that). Also, I love me some vaccinations and I had two cesareans. So, I'm not in the natural birthing culture either. My very best friend offered a bottle from day 1, she hated the basic idea of breastfeeding. I love her dearly and I have no judgment. For me personally – I have to say – – hands down, boobs down, breastfeeding my children as infants was the #1 most fulfilling experience of my life.

    Dad isn't the one "offering up the boob" but you know what? I got the payoff as well as the extra work. It shaped me as a person, as a mother, (as a feminist!! Very much so!)… And it shaped my relationship with my children forever.

    I want to be a mom, and a feminist, and a chick without having to be a guy. Email that back to 1972. And, I love it when men can be men and fathers, and it's OK for them, without venturing over here with their man-boobs, just saying.

    From the original article:

    (There are, apparently, some anecdotal stories of men breastfeeding in more than one culture, including contemporary American culture. Women who have not been pregnant or given birth can lactate, and it would not surprise me if men could, as well. So far, though, there has not been a push for men to breastfeed. From what little I’ve heard about this, the process would enlarge the male breasts, which would require us to think very differently, societally, about gender (and that wouldn’t be a bad thing).)

  22. Im typing this one-handed while my 4 mo. old nurses in my lap, and her dad is off at work: yeah Im feminist And a SAHM. You know why? Because thats what I say I am, and my opinion of mysef is the only one that counts!

  23. I love this post. I don’t feel like I fit into any parenting “genre” and although my husband is totally involved while he’s home, it never could have made sense financially for him to stay home with our son. I get pressure from both sides- I am finishing school and the two reactions I get to being a mom who stays home and goes to school twice a week is either, 1- you’re wasting what feminism has won you by having children or 2- you leave your baby!??!

    On a side note, while I “wore” my son, breastfed him, slept with him, and generally followed nearly every tenant of attachment parenting, I hadn’t actually heard of it as a parenting style or dogma. I tried to join an attachment parenting group, they denied me because “You couldn’t practice attachment parenting if you hadn’t heard of it.” So I get fed up with parenting labels… we’re all doing the best we can!

    • I think you're actually taking advantage of what feminism has won you by going to school WHILE you are raising your baby, which takes some serious effort on both fronts. Leaving your baby twice a week is not only normal, but I think healthy for both of you — you and your child both need a life outside of each other to form healthy bonds with other people. Just as it is important for you and your partner to have friends outside of your family, it's important for your baby to bond with other friends and caretakers, too.

  24. i couldn't be anymore conflicted then you dear. with an AP sister always bashing on the traditional moms its so hard to find whats right. i try to find a balance between AP and the 'normal' parenting, but its so hard. where are the 'in between' books?

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