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On Parenting
Posted at 12:11 PM ET, 06/25/2012

Is ‘Can we have it all?’ still a relevant question?

Suddenly there’s a runaway debate about one of the most enduring parenting questions: Can you have it all — successful career, strong marriage, happy family?

Spurred by the Anne-Marie Slaughter Atlantic cover story that examines why the supermom myth is just that, recent days have been filled with online and print commentary about how hard it is for women in general — and elite women in particular — to juggle.


The Atlantic magazine, July/August 2012 (AP)

A new survey, however, suggests that this is not just an old question: It might be an out-of-date one. Or at least one those younger self-described feminists are not as concerned with.

What a new and younger breed of self-described feminists told researchers at the University of Mary Washington is that our cultural stereotypes about women, career and child-rearing need retooling.

Called “Feminism and Attachment Parenting,” the report by University of Mary Washington Professors Miriam Liss and Mindy Erchull suggests that mothers who consider themselves feminist are now the most likely to embrace more intense child-focused parenting.

For the survey, published this month in the journal “Sex Roles,” researchers divided women into four self-described categories as feminists or non-feminists and mothers or not.

It turned out that the feminist mothers were most likely to embrace practices like extended breast-feeding and co-sleeping. Their ideas were more closely linked to what’s come to be known as “attachment parenting.”

We all got a crash course in attachment parenting a few weeks ago when Time magazine published it’s notorious cover showing a young mother nursing her almost-4-year-old son. The cover was ostensibly promoting a story that examined attachment parenting and the debate it inspires.

What was lost in the ensuing controversy over whether Time should have published the cover was the crux of the attachment debate. Does attachment parenting, sometimes called natural parenting, oppress women?

The book “Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women,” by French philosopher and feminist Elisabeth Badinter, triggered the question by positing that it does. The insistence that children’s demands dictate schedules and that babies should be held as much as possible subverts the needs of the mother, Badinter argued.

Slaughter’s piece did not wade into this debate.Her children are older — she had a rebellious teenage son at home in New Jersey when she was working at the State Department in Washington. She instead works in the realm of the older cousin to the attachment parenting debate: How much should family life infringe upon a mother’s work life?

Slaughter’s piece is most interesting when it confronts the impossibility of separating work and family life, and offers concrete solutions to the national quandary: Embrace more telework options; talk openly about family in the workplace; respect family obligations as we do religious obligations.

She has been criticized for focusing too exclusively on only a sliver of the parenting populace — a fault she herself acknowledges in the piece.

Highly educated and privileged mothers have far more choices than most mothers. Plus, this is not just a struggle for mothers.

Increasingly, it’s a problem for fathers, too, even high-profile ones. Check out Ed O’Keefe’s recent story about Sen. Marco Rubio’s vocal musings about his own balance struggles.

If Slaughter’s piece can be faulted for focusing attention too much on women, and on a certain subset of them, she can still be thanked for getting a conversation started.

One of fascinating results in the University of Mary Washington study is the survey answer that revealed that many feminist mothers believed themselves to be atypical. These were the subjects who were actually in the majority.

Yet since so few people talk openly, honestly and publicly about their decisions on how to approach work and life and work-life, these women thought of themselves as forging their own lonely path.

Culturally, we have too often told ourselves that there are certain types of parents: Either passive, professionally underachieving and child-obsessed or self-centered, cold-hearted careerists.

It’s so ingrained that we tend to think that since we don’t personally fall into either group, we must be atypical, our work-life problems must be unique. We have a hard time recognizing that none of us, really, fit either stereotype.

Do you think “having it all” is still a common quest? What is your own work-life goal?

Related Content:

Mothers multitask more and resent doing it, study finds

Can dads have it all?

By  |  12:11 PM ET, 06/25/2012

Tags:  Work-Life Balance

 
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