Is Attachment Parenting a “Prison for Mothers?”

Is motherhood - and attachment parenting in particular - a prison for modern women? It is according Erica Jong, the novelist, essayist and poet best known for her bestselling book Fear of Flying.

In a provocative essay in the Wall Street Journal, Jong argues that attachment parenting, the brand espoused in William and Martha Sears' bestselling The Baby Book sets unrealistic goals for mothers - especially working mothers.

"You wear your baby, sleep with her and attune yourself totally to her needs. How you do this and also earn the money to keep her is rarely discussed," Jong writes.

More on Babble: Dear Erica Jong, We Parent in a Vacuum, not a Prison!

Strict attachment parenting, for instance, doesn't allow for multiple caregivers and not all women are able to breastfeed or pump at work (or at home, for that matter).

"It seems we have devised a new torture for mothers-a set of expectations that makes them feel inadequate no matter how passionately they attend to their children," writes Jong, saying that modern mothers are bound to feel guilty when they can't live up to this unrealistic ideal.

Jong's argument recalls Elisabeth Badinter's best-selling French book Le Conflit: La Femme and La Mere which also suggests that the enormous pressure on women to be super-moms imprisons women.

Jong recounts her own experiences as a single mother (to future writer Molly Jong-Fast). There was no way she would have been able to be an attachment parent and a successful author and lecturer, she argues. Instead, she hired nannies to watch her daughter and "felt guilty for my own imperfect attachment."

I found Jong's essay to be compelling and persuasive on several points. Mommy guilt is ubiquitous and it often seems as if women are damned if they do, damned if they don't … If they breastfeed more than a year, they're deemed a hardcore lactivist. If they breastfeed less than a year, clearly, they didn't try hard enough. If they stay-at-home, they're lazy. If they return to work, they're selfish. Sometimes, it seems as if moms can't win.

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Jong also raises the point that the cult of motherhood has had political implications as well. A woman who is fully engaged in child-rearing focuses all of her energy on cleaning cloth diapers, making her own baby food and carrying her baby. She has no time to devote to changing the world (I am guessing that so-called Mamma Grizzlies like Sarah Palin are not attachment parents).

Still, while Jong's claims about attachment parenting are overblown, I wholeheartedly agree with her closing point that women "need to be released from guilt about our children, not further bound by it. We need someone to say: Do the best you can. There are no rules."

What do you think? Is attachment parenting imprisoning women? Or do the potential benefits of attachment parenting outweigh any temporary limitations on mothers?

To read an attachment parent's reaction to Erica Jong's essay visit Babble's Strollerderby.


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