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May 2, 201207:53 AMMinivan Diaries

Oppressed by Motherhood?

May 2, 2012 - 07:53 AM
Oppressed by Motherhood?

The latest missive on mothering made a big splash in the media last week. Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Books.

American moms have been under siege – at least in the book world – with a lot of incoming international missile fire. After reading about the superior mothering done in other cultures, I’d concluded that the Tiger Mom has nothing on the French moms.

Tiger Mom had anger issues and wore herself out getting her kids into Carnegie Hall and Yale. French moms, on the other hand, according to Pamela Druckerman’s recent bestseller, Bringing Up Bébé, get their children to behave while buying aperitifs at the playground and focusing on being chic.

Who wants to be the slave driver at cello practice when you could be enjoying la vie cosmopolitaine?

I was planning to inject a little Gallic flair into my parenting when the maternal fault-finding continued, with this past week’s U.S. publication of Elisabeth Badinter’s The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women.

Badinter, a French billionaire intellectual/PR executive (now THERE’S a job description), does not care for such current practices as co-sleeping, cloth-diapering, yearslong breastfeeding, baby-food making and organic-food dispensing, all of which she says oppress women.

Her controversial polemic has some intriguing insights, but she does come across as kind of a cranky grandmère who feels that mothers are overnurturing their children, to the disservice of both and the detriment of feminism.

While reading the hoopla over her tsk-tsking text, however, I had an epiphany: I should follow all this French advice and stop trying so hard. The times I had cut corners and thought I’d been a bad mother, I’d actually been good!

I couldn’t resist crowing to a friend that my parenting style only seems to be informed by sloth and spinelessness. It turns out I am, in fact, a model of maternal feminist strength.

My friend looked skeptical.

“No, really!” I exclaimed. “It’s true! A French billionaire intellectual says so!”

“A what?” she asked, snorting her Starbucks.

 “All those times I let the kids eat baby carrots instead of Brussel sprouts to end the dinner battle? Apparently I was not capitulating to their whims after all -- I was refusing to be tethered to the kitchen! More time for me to spend pondering Jacques Derrida!”

She gave me a look.

“Or watching an episode of Mad Men,” I amended.

 “You’re nuts,” she said.

If I couldn’t convince my friend about all the blows I’ve struck against the tyranny of modern motherhood, I figured it was time to enlighten my children – and to let them know that there was going to be a lot more moi time around the house. I owe it to them, and to the sisterhood.

I called them into the family room. 

 “You can thank me for the processed baby food later,” I began. “But remember all those times I fell asleep while playing with Barbies? Or the times I got bonked in the head with the swing because I zoned out and forgot to push? As it happens, that all shows what a wonderful mother I’ve been. Never strive for perfection. Excuse me, now I’m going to go have a glass of Champagne. Zut alors.”

My children shot each other meaningful looks, and slowly backed out of the room.

When my husband got home, he pointed out that having a glass of bubbly was not the personal fulfillment Badinter had in mind.

Sigh. Le buzzkill.

Oh, well. We are all doing our best. Too bad that doesn’t create media buzz or best-sellers. I set my flute down and reflected on what I’d learned from dodging all this cross-cultural literary crossfire: maybe it’s time to just ignore the parenting books.

Old to new | New to old
May 2, 2012 10:24 am
 Posted by  The Mommy Psychologist

Am I the only one who thinks that Badinter’s age might make her a bit out of touch with this generation of parents? No one seems to be mentioning this fact or the fact that she has a huge stake in formula given her millionaire status with Nestle. I answer the question, “Who is Elisabeth Badinter” here:

May 6, 2012 05:52 pm
 Posted by  Pye

Apparently, her book caused as much of a stir among French women as it's doing here:

I'm with Maura: ignore any parenting book that insists that there's only one correct way of raising a child.

May 8, 2012 03:37 pm
 Posted by

Thanks, PYE, that was an interesting article!

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About This Blog

“Minivan Diaries” will chronicle the adventures and misadventures of raising a family in the Bethesda area, as well as provide hot parenting tips such as how to survive your child’s birthday party and how to transcend summer carpool planning.

Maura Mahoney is a writer and editor who lives in Chevy Chase with her husband, three kids, and a mountain of laundry. Maura has worked in the publishing industry for more than twenty years, including stints at Reader’s Digest, Mother Jones, and CQ Weekly Report. She has been writing for the past two years on parenting topics for ExaminerDC and Chevy Chase Patch.

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