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« Tuesday Miscellany (Sujatha) | Main | Saadia Toor and "The state of Islam" (Omar Ali) »

May 12, 2012


A Happy Mother's Day to all.

The original painting is one of my favorites, and I remember writing my reactions to it a few years ago. Unfortunately, the family-friendly photo-shop slashing of the canvas makes it NOT the same painting. It should be renamed to 'Unaboober Interruptus.' This is not a public service announcement about breast cancer. Bring back my Gypsy with her breast and soul intact.

Norm, don't despair. The "Unaboober" still exists in all her un-censored glory on the Virtual Exhibition page. Sujatha took the image from the body of a post where I decided in a prudish moment, to photo shop the painting.

Sujatha, thanks for bringing this up since the debate about motherhood just doesn't seem to leave our consciousness, so heavily are we invested in the sacredness of the role. Here is the story of how a pacifist anti-war effort by a mother became a hugely commercial target for florists and other retailers.

I became familiar with that story, recently. Prior to this, I thought it was modern day pagan heathens, atheists, secularists, and other such liberal dregs of society that blasphemed and commercialized the sacred treasures in our Christian Nation.

Or rather, Mother's Day has been demoted to the state of 'Mother wants (5 minutes, 1 hour,etc) of peace (from whining and household duties)', rather than 'peace within the home and the world' :-(

Oops, I must confess that the 'censored' version of the painting completely escaped my notice when I linked to the post and brought up the thumbnail. Never mind, here is the link to the original.

I forgot to add that I read a detailed profile of Elisabeth Badinter in the New Yorker a while back and some of her hectoring essays. I am glad she is not my mother. She has a huge bone to pick with American women (yes, mostly the Americans) and berating their mothering habits is one of her favorite pastimes. A woman who had a very complicated (and unhappy) relationship with her own mother, an entitled heiress and a mediocre scholar she seems to be under the impression that her privilege makes her peculiarly suited to scold those less fortunate or wise. BTW, she is a very good friend of the feminist exemplar Dominique Strauss Kahn. I wonder what Badinter actually thinks of women on the whole and not just mothers.


That's my gypsy.

I know little about Badinter and her uneasy relationship with her own mother, but it could not have been much different from what this critique of her philosophy discusses, with the historical context of eighteenth century French practices and the politics of class and wetnursing.

India presents a different case, with the proliferation of infant formula occurring in the 1960's. 50 years later, we see an epidemic of early onset diabetes (around the age of 40, rather than in the 60's as was most common with the older generation.) I'm convinced that infant feeding practices come only second to prenatal influences on the health of the human being.

Here is an "extreme" reaction to Attachment Parenting. The article is tongue-in-cheek but I am sure some will find the views soothing.

Tongue-in-cheek, but not funny, not by a stretch. Reading between the lines, I sense Otte's righteous disdain for pop journalism (the Time cover, whatever) and trendy psychology, but he thinks he's getting all Jonathan Swift in our faces by calling babies assholes. Yeah, well, freelance essayists from Denver who live with their girlfriends and two kids are assholes, too, yuk yuk, har har. Why does this piece read like the last umpty-ump years of Saturday Night Live?

This guy's a dad with some experience, so he ought to know better. Probably does know better. But God forbid he should lose an opportunity to tell a zinger like "That baby is a real prick" in the Village Voice. I just tell my kids to stop acting their age.

Dean, although I find much wrong with Attachment Parenting, I found Jef Otte's rebuttal pretty insufferable. And in any case, why is a baby being brought into a slugfest between narcissistic parents who seem to disagree about how to comfort and care for a baby? The world need not revolve around new parents and their new found joys and angst, neither should it give credence to a self congratulatory jerk who thinks he needs to get his precious coffee before his crying baby gets a mouthful that he knows will calm him down.

There is no one "right" way to bring up children but there are many wrong ones. Parenting is a gamble in which no one has yet figured out how to come out a winner every time. No matter what our own parents did (or did not) do for us or what psychologists tell you, the process is much like jumping into the water without having had swimming lessons - you either sink, swim or tread water. Every child is an individual and no two will react the same way to a parenting formula. While the extremes of the "baby-centric" approach of AP are certainly ridiculous, the cold hearted "woman-centric" views like Elisabeth Badinter's are just as pernicious. Jef Otte may actually be a better dad than he would like us to believe but I doubt he will show this article to his two boys when they grow up unless he is very sure that they are of the most forgiving sort with a sense of humor. As with many other life's ventures that we undertake, in parenting matters too, common sense trumps in the end over martyrdom and selfishness. Parenthood really IS about the baby, whether one likes it or not. Babies don't just come to live with us as uninvited guests; we bring them into our lives. And one more thing - no one is "required" to have a baby.

Amen, Ruchira. We bring babies into our lives, and we'd better try hard to bring them into their own lives.

"Jef Otte is a freelance essayist and writer. He lives in Denver with his girlfriend and two kids, who probably wish he would get a real job." Jef Otte is also an asshole and a prick.

Jef Otte and others like him who feel that ignoring a crying baby is a sensible parenting decision can get a better perspective on the matter if they project a few decades ahead into their own lives and visualize themselves living in a nursing home or hospice while feeble and in pain. Imagine then the attendant health worker withholding medication, food or water until her coffee is finished brewing or her nail polish dry.

Otte's rant is funny. Finally, a parent who doesn't take the sanctimonious, self-serious attachment parenting propaganda seriously. I don't think for a moment that ignores his baby for long periods of time.

He lets the baby cry while he makes coffee and gets the kid's bottle ready.

He's making fun of attachment parents who believe, with no empirical justification, that their infants must be protected from all distress at all times. Obviously, infants need a lot of care and comfort but attachment parenting takes common sense and twists it into an absurd caricature. Cuddling the baby is good and necessary, therefore wearing the baby constantly is not just an option but an obligation. Ditto co-sleeping. Cribs are baby jails, according to Dr. Sears.

I think Otte has a point about the importance of teaching kids to soothe themselves in developmentally appropriate ways. Why should we assume that it's better for a baby to be worn continually as opposed to being worn sometimes and playing in the crib sometimes? The promise of attachment parenting is future independence. Why should we believe the AP theory that says that independence magically emerges later, as opposed to the common sense idea that independence develops in small steps like any other attribute?

It's attachment parenting that tells people they must raise their kids according to a stringent set of criteria, or pay the price in terms of their child's well-being. The problem is that the theory of AP is pseudoscience, even though many of the practices it recommends are valuable for their own sake. The theory is used to guilt trip non-AP parents.

I'm afraid I don't see anything funny in Otte's rant. Maybe I have an inbuilt bias that comes from having nursed my kids into some degree of toddlerhood and yes, wearing them (perched on the hips is the best, frees up one arm), and trying to anticipate their needs to ward off serious crying (better luck with my second than first).
I don't know about much more than the basics of AP, (breastfeeding, baby-wearing, never let baby cry), but I do know that all good parents practice at least 'never let baby cry', whether they formula feed/breastfeed, wear babies or carry babies everywhere in their carseats, etc.
Also, Sears isn't totally to blame for AP extremism. Those are more likely mom/dads who take his advice to whatever extent they can push themselves. Parents can be competitive to a fault, not unlike so many other aspects of life ;)
Sears' advice (again, it seems to me to be more of suggested guidelines rather than rigid rules) on what is considered 'extreme AP' may not be backed by the force of a thousand double-blinded studies, but it relies on the reliable standby of 'old wives tales' and cultural observations across the world, which isn't to be thrown out totally just because it offends the sense and sensibilties of modern parents. (Oh, I see an exposed nipple there, fetch my smelling salts! Or, for heaven's sake, let the baby continue to scream for a while, it's good for their lungs and great for our ears and sanity.)
'Developmentally appropriate' parenting is key here. But you also need to follow the baby's cue. Just because the AAP recommends that baby needs to sleep through the night by the age of 6 months doesn't mean that your skinny-minny with a tiny stomach capacity can make it through the night without refuelling, and therefore cry himself back to sleep when he wakes in the middle of the night. Formula feeder or breastfeeder, a responsive parent will always adher to the dictum, try to get the baby to stop crying by tending to their needs, rather than 'hope it goes away'.
It may seem counter-intuitive to us, but it does make for more independent kids when they are ready to make the shift from thinking themselves a part of the maternal unit, to when they realize their own personhood ( around the 'terrible twos',i.e. Feel free to ignore them deliberately after that) It's not the method of feeding, etc. It's the parent's attentiveness.

Lindsay, where's the science behind the belief that making a baby wait for his bottle, or cry himself to sleep, somehow builds character? A lot of what we all attribute to parenting method is probably due to temperament.

On the other hand, I think a valid measure of an adult's character is how they treat people who can't fight back or do them a favor. Which would include babies. Adults are considerably more adept than babies at getting what they want and justifying to themselves that whatever they want is the right thing to do. The period where you need to unquestioningly put baby's needs first is so, so short (even if you're a die-hard AP-er), and you will end up enjoying it so, so much more, that I think it's worth it. Being attentive and responsive to an infant doesn't mean that you can't later develop deafness to cries of "I'm bored!" or "I want (fill in the blank expensive toy)

I'm a great believer in boredom as the mother of invention. Also, milieu control. Surround yourself with interesting people who do interesting things and your child will have good examples.

Well said, Sujatha and Vicki.

I hate to disappoint anyone, but the book, "The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women," was not actually written by Elisabeth Badinter. It was ghost-written by the forensic anthropologist, Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennan, who works in the forensic laboratory at the Jeffersonian Institute in Washington, DC. Robin Vargese has posted a critical review of Badinter's latest book here:

Dr. Brennan, a brilliant scientist, has achieved great professional success, despite manifesting a good number of symptoms that are consistent with Asperger's Syndrome. She and Elisabeth Badinter became friends in recent years. They recognized, in each other, a common view of the world and other people.

When Badinter was formulating her idea for "Conflict," she spent many hours in discussion with Brennan. After a time, the philosopher and feminist realized that the forsenic anthropologist was contributing the bulk of the creative ideas and careful analysis needed for the project. Badinter asked Brennan to ghost-write the book, since Brennan was immensely more suited. Badminter's author cred would bring a far greater readership and sales. Their respective agents worked out a contract to the satisfaction of both.

As of the writing of this commentary, it is not certain whether the public disclosure of Brennan's near-total authorship came from the Badinter camp or from the Brennan camp.

Norman: You had me there, just for a moment. Not being much of a TV fan, I didn't get the reference without resorting to Google.

Jennifer Szalai's article in The Nation (in your 3QD link) makes several points that I did, albeit with better examples and verbosity. Naturally, she brings up all references from the maternalia literature past and current, with the requisite genuflections to Simone de Beauvoir, Badinter, Betty Friedan and thumbings of the nose to Amy Chua, Pamela Druckerman, Ayelet Waldman (ah the snobbery of dissecting maternal memoirs and finding them too full of personal anecdotes to be useful for reasoned discussion, as if the two can be diverced in this particular topic!)

It strikes me that all mothering books or parenting books have authors who would be Mother-surrogates in some form, if not Mother Superiors.

@ Sujatha,

I like your last sentence. Szalai really did a number on Badinter.

For readers who are not familiar with the symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome, Here are a few. They fit Dr. Brennan (the author of the book) to a T.

"Not pick up on social cues and may lack inborn social skills, such as being able to read others' body language, start or maintain a conversation, and take turns talking.

"Appear to lack empathy.

"Be unable to recognize subtle differences in speech tone, pitch, and accent that alter the meaning of others’ speech.

"...[M]ay not understand a joke or may take a sarcastic comment literally.

"...[S]peech may be flat and hard to understand because it lacks tone, pitch, and accent.

"Have a formal style of speaking.... For example, ...may use the word "beckon" instead of "call" or the word "return" instead of "come back.

"Be preoccupied with only one or few interests, ...may be very knowledgeable of a whole....

"One-sided conversations are common."

I had most of all that you describe, Norman, till I became a mother. How's that for a cure?

@ Sujatha,

I wouldn't want to suggest your cure to Badinton. I get my head taken off in blink of an eye.

What little I know of AP I've learned from this post and its comments. I'd never heard of it until May 12, 2012. It strikes me that the phenomenon may be the result of defensive troping. I can't imagine approaching parenting with such rigidity, but I can imagine a world dogmatically devoted to childish acquisitiveness. It's not attachment parenting we want to impose on everybody else. It's attachment capitalism. Always coddle the well-off. Never let the CEO cry.

For you, Dean:

That's hilarious, Sujatha. It's going on my FB wall.

I enjoyed reading your post, Sujatha, and this responsive thread. Your point that physical distance between mother and child was simply not a option for the vast majority until relatively recently is a good one. My feelings on this subject are similar to my feelings on the Ann Romney kerfuffle: arguing over parenting choices that are not available choices for most parents doesn't seem useful. I'd rather talk about the lack of equal wages, lack of living wages, lack of family leave, lack of workplace accommodations, lack of affordable childcare, and the host of other collective political choices that render both full-scale attachment parenting and full-scale delegation of parental duties academic for the vast majority of women. I only wish that women had the choice to be inseparable from their babies or, conversely, from their offices for such philosophical reasons, rather than because of the utterly mundane exigencies that drive most mothers.

@ Sujatha:

The cartoon is pure gold.

I knew Pittsburgh's own Rob Rogers had a winner there. I'm sure there will be howls of protest from the Talibornagains in the next weekend's papers and the LaLecheLeagurs, though for different reasons.

Anna: The lack of governmental/societal support in the U.S. is quite awful, compared with the conditions in places like Norway, Sweden, France, Germany and the UK. Heck, even India has more generous maternity leave terms for women in fixed employment than the US. But the unweaned Wall Streeters have decreed that capitalism should work just so here, and smirk as safety nets all over Europe rip and shred in the wake of Greece's economic woes. Even safety nets can be fragile.

"Jef Otte and others like him who feel that ignoring a crying baby is a sensible parenting decision can get a better perspective on the matter if they project a few decades ahead into their own lives and visualize themselves living in a nursing home or hospice while feeble and in pain. Imagine then the attendant health worker withholding medication, food or water until her coffee is finished brewing or her nail polish dry."

QFT. There's a shared tendency underlying such a debate to assume that "the" (only) standard for assessing the propriety, with respect to the child, of treating it in a certain way is the future impact upon the child of so treating it. You see a similar dynamic in the bullying debate - people who support stronger anti-bullying policy point to psychological damage and such, while those who worry about horseplay being prohibited say they were bullied/bullies and turned out fine. But while children are indeed adults in the making, they are not people in the making. Their present suffering in itself, as suffering, and for the sake of nothing beyond it, is important to take into account the same as with adults, and is a prima facie reason not to do certain things. If it turns out that denying babies bottles for half an hour to take a shower makes them better people, maybe this is worth doing, but it wouldn't be a good reason to ignore the suffering they experience or set it at naught.

@ prasad: LIKE

@Prasad: Exactly!

The duration of the infant's crying is moot here too. We tolerate the child crying for the brief second it takes to inject a vaccine, because of the perceived notion that it is in their interest (and of course the greater community's in ensuring 'herd immunity'). But the screaming of an unfed infant while the parent decides to postpone the feed because he/she didn't get a morning dose of caffeine is similarly dependent on the duration for us to determine the cruelty level- was it just that Otte started and continued to make coffee while his kid screamed, more egregious than him trying to finish his coffee hurriedly when the kid started to scream for a bottle?

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