mother (part two)

Let's just dive straight back into the argument here...


You may well be wondering where I am heading with all of this.  Join the club, it's warm in here!  Perhaps a little recap will get us all on the straight and narrow.

Yesterday, I questioned the way parenting advice books often present their advice as neutral, scientifically supported, expert-driven manuals for the modern parent.  To the casual reader, it is easy to assume that the advice offered is just the current thinking on what is the best, most effective way to raise your children.  There is no disputing that these books can be useful or offer creative alternatives to the ever-learning and growing parent.  Nor is there any dispute that they can use reputable scientific research to back up their suggestions.  However, the point I had wanted to make is that they are not just these things.  They are also carefully crafted worldviews that tell us who we ought to be and, by association, what kind of a world we should want.  I picked on the Sears' Baby Book yesterday, not because I don't like what they have to say, indeed there's a lot that appeals to me, but because I wanted to show how moral values show up, even in how-to manuals.

Tracey Hogg, the famous sleep training celebrity, is very clear about who we should be and the kinds of children we want.  In her world, parents need to offer schedules, routines and consistency to take control of life with a newborn.  In this way, they gradually teach their babies to become "independent and resourceful" in getting themselves to sleep.  I am not criticising Hogg here, I am just trying to show how worldviews creep in.  For Hogg, parents are guardians of time and life patterns, so that children can become independent and resourceful.  For the Sears, parents work in harmony with their children, and value children who are trusting and connected.  Both are cheerful, easy-to-read, how-to manuals but could they be more different in what they consider is the right, or good thing to do or become? 

Which brings me back to the "good" mother (the topic du jour) and back to Jong's terrible article.  The "good" mother is an ideal born out of a given ideology.  There is no objective, ideologically, politically or morally neutral definition of what it is to be a good mother.  Indeed, there is no simple, universally agreed upon 10 point plan pointing us in the right direction.  This is not a bad thing.  What is bad, though, is when advice is gussied up as if it is The Truth and not actually supporting a particular worldview about how we all ought to be.

Which is why Jong grates on me so.  Oh, does she grate.  It is not her extraordinarily thin so-called feminist analysis of Attachment Parenting which gets me.  Nor is it her generous borrowing from French feminist Elisabeth Badinter's new book that irks.  What does grate, though, is the way she tries to "free" women from the constraints of ideologically-driven parenting advice while simultaneously constructing a pretty clear picture of what, for her, is a "good" mother based on her own worldview.  Subtly, but consistently, she weaves the notion that success for women is defined by the public sphere of career and money-earning.  Add to this her support for the liberal notion of a woman being "free to choose" her way of mothering and not be bound by any biological imperative to nurture, and we see a rather well-worn liberal feminist approach to mothering that mysteriously mirrors many of the patriarchal structures that shape our society today.  A full critique of this argument has to wait for another day (or lifetime). Here, all I want to do is flag the worldview that weighs down Jong's analysis so that we can better understand how she arrives at her advice on what it is to be a "good" mother.

Her article is written to provoke some and assuage others.  What it doesn't do is acknowledge the underpinning libertarian worldview that shapes her argument.  If she did, then it would have been impossible for her to end with "do the best you can, there are no rules."  For there are always rules for how to be a "good" mother, even a career-driven, nanny-employing "good" mother, we just have to find the right book of advice.

Lovely people, that's the best I can do under the circumstances.  I hope it makes some sense and thanks, Jenny, for making my brain hurt.  Tomorrow will probably see a return of gratuitous shots of cute babies.

1 comment:

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