I almost wrote the title of this post as, “I’m an unnatural parent,” but then I remembered it’s my sex that’s contributing most to my feeling that I need to write about this. So mother it is.
If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll surely have noticed that I’ve been reading a book called Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, by Emily Matchar. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? It’s been making its way around the crafts blogosphere. And I’ve been tweeting about it a lot.
I’ve always been on the fringes of the DIY movement. I work in crafts, but I’ve never been hardcore about making all our stuff of a certain sort, and I’ve never sold the stuff I make, nor have I wanted to. I’ve always worked as an editor and writer in this realm – I’m most interested in the ideas. I make stuff, but I’ve never considered retreating from the mainstream world. And this book has convinced me that we DIYers have done a great job of staring so long at our collective navel that we’ve lost sight of our individual role in the greater world/movement/society.
It’s the parts of the book that are about parenting that get me the most riled up, so I’m going to focus on that for a bit here. [ETA: I wasn’t clear about something. It’s not the author who espouses incendiary things, it’s the people she quotes. In my opinion, the author manages to convey these opinions in a pretty responsible way, with appropriate sarcasm when unavoidable.]
I am an unnatural mother. The parenting aspects of the new domesticity are so utterly, overwhelmingly offensive to me that I feel I must tell you about exactly how unnatural I am. I say unnatural because someone, somewhere, decided at some point that there are some ways of parenting that should be considered natural. And if only some ways of parenting are natural, then all the other ways aren’t. Which means I’m an unnatural parent (and one with a giant bone to pick with people who label their decisions in ways that imply that other decisions are worse.)
I did not give birth to our son at home.
I did not, in fact, give birth to our son at all.
I did not breastfeed our son.
Yesterday, this son of ours, who’s two-and-a-half, pulled down the front of my shirt and told me he wanted some milk. And so I explained to him that though his baby cousin eats breast milk, he, as a baby, did not. He ate formula from a bottle, and I wasn’t the only one who fed him – his father fed him just as frequently.
We co-slept with Owen for a month or two. It was very sweet and easy to reach over and pat his little tummy when he got fussy in the night. Then he got too loud and into a bassinet he went. When he outgrew it, into his crib he went. When it became time for all of us to sleep through the god-damned night already, we eliminated his overnight feeding and started letting him cry at bedtime for as long as twenty minutes at a time, at the extreme. It took about six nights and zero trauma for us all to get a solid night’s sleep.
We did make almost all of Owen’s baby food. It’s not very involved nor time-consuming to do, and he started pureed food during farmer’s market season so it was a no-brainer. But his graduation to chewable food was the end of our slow-food parenting.
I am uninterested in cooking and always have been. I’ve always had better things to do with an hour of my time than spend it in the kitchen. My husband, on the other hand, is an outstanding cook who enjoys doing it. We flout sex-based trends to a dramatic extent in this regard. We don’t even share cooking – he does the overwhelming majority of it. Our son asks his father what’s for dinner.
We have vaccinated Owen according to the normal schedule. We did this without question nor hesitation, because vaccination is extremely important to the functioning of our society. Also, it’s scientifically proven to be so. We love science over here, even when it involves chemicals.
(That said, I clean house almost exclusively with some combination or another of vinegar and baking soda. Chemicals don’t always make things better, and these two wonder-ingredients do it all. And they’re cheap! I also have a grey streak in my hair almost exactly like the woman illustrated on the cover of the book. And I wear cat’s eye glasses. And I’m going to learn to sew my own clothes. But this post is about how I’m a dirty unnatural parent. So back to that.)
We send our son to daycare, and think it’s the greatest god-damned thing since sliced bread (store-bought). I want my kid to be influenced by people wholly unlike me. I’ll assert our family values when needed, but I want him to eat all sorts of different things and see how other people dress and behave, I want him to sing songs I’ve never heard and play games I’ve never heard of.
Speaking of, we have no desire to even consider homeschooling him. No, participating in our greater society, as individuals and as a family, is extremely important to us. Also, neither of us wants to spend the entirety of our time influencing Owen.
I work. It’s important to me to work, and to have a life that’s independent from any particular role I inhabit. Also, if I didn’t have time and space to pursue my own interests and to contribute to the world outside my mind and my home, I’d go stark-raving insane. That would really suck for me and for my family.
There’s been so much talk about women opting out and leaning in recently, but Homeward Bound has really highlighted to me that it’s not just about the workforce, this phenomenon of opting out. “Natural parenting”, and in fact much of the DIY lifestyle Matchar describes, seems to be about opting out of society. It’s about removing oneself and one’s family from school, commerce, vaccination, exposure to un-likeminded people.
Used to be, we DIYers would stick it to the man by organizing our own, indie institutions like craft fairs and workshops and clothing swaps. Banding together for the collective betterment of our communities was an important, motivating ideal. But the way Matchar paints it, and I don’t think she’s wrong, it seems there’s an intense focus on one’s own family going on here. It’s individualism at its most extreme, and I’m very uncomfortable about that. I think the world outside one’s home is very important, and that we as citizens of that world should be engaged in it.
This is squarely a feminist issue, too. I don’t think feminism is wholly about a woman’s freedom to make choices for herself. I think it’s also about creating an environment in which all women and men have equal opportunities to succeed (in equal ways). And the way to work toward that is by participating, not by retreating.
So yeah. This formula-feeding adoptive parent who works (without guilt!) and sends her kid to daycare and makes stuff and shops at the farmer’s market and loves “nachos” from Taco Bell and also gardens with her kid has discovered that I’m not really a third-wave feminist despite the accident of my birth
smack in the middle of Generations X and Y toward the end of Generation X (thanks to Greg for correcting me on this). No, I’m actually a second-wave feminist stuck in the wrong time. And I’m a lefty progressive who believes I not only have a responsibility to my family, but to my local community and the world at large. The way to change the world for the better is to do it as a participant, not by focusing entirely on home life.
Ok. I’m not sure if this conveys what I’m really thinking. I’m thinking so darn much, reading this book. It’s a start, though. If I really made you mad, I hope you’ll say so. And if you agree with me, I hope you’ll tell me why. Twitter is too short to think out loud about such big ideas. Have you read the book? What was your experience of it?
(Oh, but for real about the “natural” parenting label. It’s really fucking offensive.)