On facebook, a friend of Jen and I recently shared Nicola Krause’s HuffPo article, “My Message To Dr. Sears: Why I Chose Detachment Parenting” because she thought it make good blog fodder. And she was right. Kinda. I’ve been thinking about this article for 2 days, mostly while lying in the dark helping my youngest daughter fall asleep, a consequence, according to Krause, of my idiotic parenting choices that are motivated by unhealthy psychological dependence. I guess she didn’t read my post about the difference between attachment parenting and helicopter parenting before she wrote the article, but really, she’s not interested in what attachment parenting actually is or looks like. She’s not interested in what we actually have in common (young daughters, a desire to raise them to be independent and strong, strong marriages, nannying). She’s interested in talking about why AP is bad for families. While I agree with some of the broader points she makes, that’s the takeaway. I mean, it’s written to Dr. Sears, and she basically accuses Mayim Bialik of nursing her child because she is psychologically damaged. No really, she uses her magical powers to discern the motivations of Blossom and all of us crazy fucked up Moms:
We’ve all seen Blossom nursing her 25-year-old on the subway. Is she doing it for him — because he “needs” it — or because it fills her with a sense of security and purpose robbed of her as a working child actor? Does a 3-year-old need to be rocked to sleep or do you need to be needed that badly because your own inner 3-year-old still isn’t sure if it was?
And hey, I’m not even going to get into it. I’m not even going to talk about how wrong she gets a ton of stuff, or what’s right in her article. But for whatever reason, this article is a tipping point for me. I’m simply sick to fucking death of writers — especially, most of all, smart, feminist, women writers — trashing my parenting choices.
I realized at some point, when I was thinking about writing this while gritting my teeth and telling Holly I was bored to death being in bed with her so please go to sleep kthxbye, that I don’t even know if Nicola Krause is a feminist. It’s not a tag on her entry. I don’t really care to google her; I read the Nanny Diaries and mostly liked it. I just made the assumption that she’s a feminist because she’s an educated white woman trashing AP in a top publication. And that’s the problem: trashing AP is emerging as a core tenet of mainstream feminism. It’s becoming The Feminist Perspective on Parenting. AP Bad. AP Not Feminist. When I was in early pregnancy, there were a lot of feminist APers just getting started. It was this new and wonderful discovery, the notion that I could be into these ideas and focusing on my children in this intense way without compromising my feminist identity. But that’s no longer true. It seems like this backlash against AP is gaining momentum within (mainstream?) feminist circles and things are getting more and more tense around issues of mothering.
For the first time since identifying as a feminist over ten years ago, I feel shut out. I feel like feminism — mainstream feminism, whatever — doesn’t want me. Thinks I am bad. Judges me. And it hurts. And it’s making me really mad. Isn’t this what everyone thinks feminism is? A bunch of privileged, judgmental women out to make us feel bad? Doesn’t this reenact some of the worst tropes?? When did feminism become a club I couldn’t belong to? Because the problem with Krause’s article — or Jessica Valenti’s provocative book, Why Have Kids? — isn’t that they are critiquing AP from a feminist perspective. That’s fine. The many rhetorics of natural parenting, AP, etc, should and are and ought to be open to critique. I have my bones to pick with the La Leche League. As with any group of passionate people, AP has its supercilious bastards. I get that. The problem is that they are generalizing their experiences as The Right Feminist Experiences, and mixing valid critiques with shitty, baseless, ignorant, mean-spirited judgment. They’re asserting their way as the one true feminist way, and by the way, if you practice AP*, you are psychologically damaged and all that fatigue? It’s your own damn fault.
Hey, I only took a couple dozen courses in feminist theory, history of feminisms, and feminist ethnography. Maybe I don’t know shit. But my recollection is that a tenet of feminism is acknowledging your privilege and positionality. If you won’t speak to your position, you run the risk of sounding like a grandiose ass. And that’s what’s happening here.
I recently read a couple blogs about Fourth Wave, “Big Tent” feminism and it resonates with me. It works for me. Feminism must become Big Tent. A couple of people have already had this idea and unsurprisingly, there is debate about what it means. But to me it means that we have to stop believing that there is one true way to do feminism, and be open to the reality that there are multiple, often directly contradicting, beliefs and practices that can and do coexist as feminist. Kinky, sex-positive feminists have to be ok with anti-porn feminists. Formula feeding, sleep training feminists have to listen to lactivist feminists when they critique the corporate influence on infant feeding in this country. I will have to be on board with Christian feminists even though that does not intuitively jive for me: my mind must be open. Fat feminists, trans feminists, dog-loving feminists and cat-loving feminists. Feminists who love country music. We have to be ok with our differences. And we have to be fine with the fact that we may not agree. We have to fine with the fact that we might actually believe that the other person is really wrong, but still be ok with being in the same room with them.
A couple of years ago, my husband and I went through a really bad period in our marriage. There was a lot of fighting. At one point, he said to me, “You’re more interested in being right than in maintaining this relationship.”
That struck me and stuck with me. Because it was true. I often want to be right. I often think — hell, sometimes I know — I’m the smartest person in the room. I want everyone to agree with me and do things the way I do. My way is the high way. Right? But what’s really more important? That my husband concede, or that our marriage survive?
This question has become a touchstone for me when I start to feel myself getting worked up over ideological differences. I used to think that hypocrisy was the absolute worst thing a person could do: someone who did not practice what they preached was despicable and not deserving of respect. I spent a lot of my twenties harping on dumb white dudes for not being more aware of their own BS, and I enjoyed it, but I didn’t really change anyone’s mind and I didn’t create any allies, either. Now as I get older and see how flawed and complicated life is, I now think that self-righteousness might be the most damaging and problematic attribute. Believing that you are right above all others, and being willing to sacrifice relationships on principle? That divides. That hurts. I would rather be a hypocrite with strange allies than alone and convinced I’m right. Especially if those strange allies are open to my different experiences and choices, and when we talk about our perspectives as parents and feminists, we acknowledge our position and speak for ourselves and not for all feminists, all mothers, or all women.
I don’t think Krause (or whomever: she’s a stand-in for a bigger problem: I really didn’t disagree with her on every point!) would be interested in having coffee with me. She’d be more interested in confirming her beliefs in her superior parenting when I speak honestly and vulnerably about my children’s awful sleep patterns, or my uncertainty in how to handle Robin’s recent obsession with this awful Bratz Babies movie. The only reason she’d listen is so she could judge. Let me tell ya: she’ll be bummed when she finds she’s sitting alone in the coffee shop while Jen and I are at a nearby table full of women talking and laughing and genuinely sharing.
* I’m no fool: AP has to be Big Tent as well. Less judgey, more supporty. Fortunately, I know a lot of AP bloggers, writers, etc, who are already all over that.