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. Very nice post. I managed to breastfeed until my son was 18 mos, despite going back to work when he was 3 mos old, but it was always a struggle to produce enough milk, and the standard La Leche league line of "just go to bed with your baby for 24 hours and you'll be producing enough milk" drove me insane, especially as a single mother–I couldn't even do that on the weekend, because I had nobody waiting on me. And in retrospect, I wish I'd quit when he was six months old–I clung to this thought that I was doing something that was better than him despite the fact that the (literal and figurative) pressures of pumping were difficult for me, his latch never got comfortable, and there was a ton of stress if I was running late at work–worrying about whether he was out of milk while hoping my breasts wouldn't explode.

    Similarly, although I value a lot of the attachment parenting thinking, wearing that baby or carrying him around once he was older than a month or do was extremely hard on my back (he was 9 lbs 6 oz at birth and grew quickly)–plus I would have gone crazy with too much closeness. I tried not to feel too much guilt about that, but the guilt comes at you from all directions.

    Thanks for the post!

  2. THIS is the reason why I had to leave all those AP online communities! The "my way or the highway" mentality rubbed me the wrong way. While it's fabulous to be able to apply all of the ideals of AP (if that's what feels right for your family), some people cannot…and being publicly (well public forum) shamed for having to give your babe a bottle or, GASP, using a stroller instead of wearing them 24/7 is not my idea of an uplifting and supportive group.

  3. Fantastic post, I agree with every word! Feminist mothering is definitely not an oxymoron.In fact, I'd say it's completely logical and necessary. I'm a stay-at-home mom and a raging feminist. That's only unusual if we're reliant on labels and stereotypes to define ourselves.

  4. It's about time someone called it like it is about the title differences placed on anglo women when they stay at home versus women of color.

    Great post! I agree with unlikelymama on the who AP debacle. Love the concept hate the judgment if I don't completely adhere to the movement. I carry my babes every chance I get but occasionally resort to the bottle since I'm not producing enough breastmilk for my ravenous 5 month old. The Horror!!

    How about we start a new movement called: Respect the Choice: One size does not always fit all.

    Isn't that truly what the feminist mantra is supposed to be about? Having the freedom to choose your choice?

  5. You know what I love about parents who have a negative opinion about how other parents raise their children? How do they know what's best? Are their children old enough for them to see the effects of their parenting and if they are, who are their kids now? Why would it matter who they are now? Does everyone not have free will? Also, there are these lovely little things called personalities, and they vary. What works in one child-parent relationship may not work in another. I wish the parents that have negative opinions about other's parenting decisions would realize that. Maybe we could all help each other instead of ripping everyone's throats out over the matter. If one is not abusing their child, leave em alone.

  6. @ Shannan

    You mention people condemning you for “enforcing the patriarchal ideal that women stay home and take care of the kids leaving behind their own personal identities ” . I never really understood this attitude. As a dad, I always thought the plum job was getting to spend time with our kids, and second-best was having to go out to work! I worked full time when our first was little, and I’m going to regret that for the rest of my life. With our second, my partner and I have been working 3 days a week each, and we each have two days of looking after our girls and two days all together. Much better!

    And why would people think that staying home to look after kids is ‘leaving behind their personal identities’? It was only after having kids that I started to really discover who I am. If feminists want to define themselves by their career, the same way that the most brutally conditioned men always have, then they can take mine if they want; I’d rather hang with my girls and help them learn and grow.

Read more comments

Join the Conversation