Is our modern notion of good parenting cheating women of their full potential?
That’s the argument at the heart of an attention-getting new book by feminist French author and philosopher Elisabeth Badinter. “The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women,” (Metropolitan Books) goes on sale in the U.S. next month and is arriving with a loud buzz thanks to its popularity in Europe and its aggressive attack on “natural” parenting, including breast-feeding.
“Today’s ideal is supremely demanding, even more than twenty years ago,” Badinter writes. She argues that the modern ideal of personal fulfillment directly contradicts the modern ideal of motherhood (thus the “conflict.”)
She categorizes the contradictions into social, conjugal and personal, giving the most weight to the last, which affects, “every women who feels torn between love for her child and personal desires, between wanting the best for her baby and wanting best for herself. A child conceived as a source of fulfillment can, it turns out, stand in the way of that fulfillment. And, if we pile up a mother’s responsibilities to the point of overload, she will feel this contradiction all the more keenly.”
Perhaps even ore controversial is what Badinter writes about breast-feeding. She is scornful of what she calls the “ideology” of the La Leche League and its promotion of long-term nursing.
“Advocating on-demand breast-feeding for as long as the child wants it effectively deprives a mother of her time,’ she writes.
“If you add to this the obligation to stay by his side until the age of three to optimize his development, she receives the message that any other interest is secondary and morally inferior, since the ideal mother is enmeshed with the child bodily and mentally.”
Offended yet? If not, keep reading.
Badinter, who teaches at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, goes on to suggest that the root of the pendulum swing towards such “natural” parenting is a generational reaction toward feminism.
Today’s mothers, she writes, resent their own mothers’ work for equality and have responded by rejecting the quest for personal freedom and independence.
“Beneath the rejection of feminism lurked a deeper criticism of motherhood as their mothers had practiced it. Perhaps they really meant: In pursuit of your independence, you sacrificed me as well. You didn’t give me enough love, enough care, enough time. You were always in a hurry and often tired; you thought the quality of time you spent with me was more important than the quantity. The truth is, I was not your top priority and you were not a good mother. I won’t do the same with my children.”
What do you think? Is Badinter off base? Or on to something? Will ”The Conflict” spark conversation?