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Intensive mothering


YPestis

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There was some comments on the juice and milk thread mentioning mommy wars on seemingly innocuous subjects. I realized I had a friend who shared similar complaints about how mothers (online) seem to fight over every single parenting choice. Attachment parenting, bottle vs breast, milk vs soy. The list goes on. It seems these fights usually devolve into "if you don't do this my way, your kid's going to die!!!". All those doubts and fears comes to the surface when someone else does something we choose not to do.

Is this phenomenon new? Did mothers always feel doubtful about everything they did? Has these subtle fears been magnified by the internet? Or, is this the new phenomenon of intensive mothering?

There's a recent book I read that talked about intensive mothering madness. It got me thinking about how mothering has changed. We now have a generation of mothers who are educated, driven, career minded. For some who end up staying home, perhaps they channel that drive into childcare. Every decision is researched and analyzed. If the child is not on schedule for something, there must be a reason. Of course, working mothers are not immune. The guilt they feel for working may make them act defensive about their choices. So what if they take the kids to daycare? It's ok. Oh, but this study show blah blah. The argument goes in circles.

Since I'm not a mother, I can only observe from the sidelines. I wonder if the new mothering trend is the result of our reduced fecundity and a more educated female population. We laugh at mega-family fundies who barely have time for each child. And yet, is it easier on mothers to have fewer kids? The theory goes that the fewer kids, the more energy we can put into each one. However, does that mean mothers have it easier?

Michelle Duggar would probably be happy if her kids are fed and clean and the house is still standing at the end of the day. However, mothers of smaller families don't seem any less harried. They drive each child to an assortment of activities. Meals must be homemade, nutritious and developmentally appropriate, with eye towards each child's allergies and/or desires. Weekends and days off are spent with the kids doing family activities. If one child is struggling, mothers now consult with teachers and counselors. The fewer kids we have, the higher the expectation for each one. Perhaps Michelle Duggar is happy if half her kids are "successful"---so about like 9 or 10 kids. However, a mother of two may feel pressured to ensure the success of all her kids because she only has these two.

With a more educated and career focused generation of mothers, have mothers also taken to childcare like they have to work? The time saving devices and higher education means that mothers now have the time and know-how to think and argue over nutrition, child development, education curriculum.

Was mothering "less stressful" when a woman was barefoot and pregnant and the standard was a clean home and clean and fed children? Thoughts?

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I think some of it is a reaction to baby boomer parenting, the stereotype of which is both parents working, latchkey children, more likely to be divorced, more detached from their children. I think there has been a huge over correction to the other extreme. I understand why a woman would want to stay home, but I don't understand the knee jerk horror directed at parents who utilize day care and don't nurse on demand for years.

I am a product of working parents who had me in daycare and preschool, and were pretty egalitarian about parenting duties. I liked my upbringing, I am close to my parents, and we plan on doing the same with my son. Maybe if I had been traumatized by daycare or something I'd feel otherwise, but as an only child, day care for mewas where my friends and the cool toys were. I have had several people react to our parenting plan with the type of horror I would reserve for war crimes.

ETA, personal example: I have been looking around for moms groups and things to maybe do when I am on maternity leave. The one in my area has the slogan "a group for moms who parent full time". Um, ok then. Not exactly welcoming of other parenting decisions.

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ETA, personal example: I have been looking around for moms groups and things to maybe do when I am on maternity leave. The one in my area has the slogan "a group for moms who parent full time". Um, ok then. Not exactly welcoming of other parenting decisions.

Because mothers who work somehow stop being parents during the time they are at work?

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What else is a bored SAHM or WOHM going to do but go online and pick fights all day? A bored anyone, actually. I'm sure there are knock em down drag em out fights going on online about, I dunno, beer? Cars? The best way to clean a toilet?

Was mothering "less stressful" when a woman was barefoot and pregnant and the standard was a clean home and clean and fed children? Thoughts?

More stressful, because if the only choice you had was to sit and listen to babywisers talk about how much they hate their babies it would suck. Likewise if it seemed everyone had an immaculate house and children who never lost it. I much prefer modern life where I have more ways to find my people.

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it now has a term Helicopter parenting. The parent is always hovering around and making and doing everything for the child.

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I think the internet has contributed to this amount of judgment about every single move a parent makes. Now with FaceBook and social media allowing you to see everything other people are doing instantly, it leaves more room for criticism. Of course, I wasn't a parent before the internet, so I can't be sure.

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I was a parent before the internet and I am extremely glad that I did not have facebook and cafe mom, and baby center and any of a million other sites and people telling me how much I suck as a parent.

I think there were always a few moms who were super competitive about their kids, and complete know it alls about the best way to do anything ... but I think the internet has magnified that to an absolutely insane degree.

I kind of agree with the family size thing. We have a lot of kids ( not crazy amounts like the Duggars, but a large family by most standards ) It does seem to be less pressure in general if you know that you aren't a complete fuck up because child number 2 is being an obnoxious punk - because probably child number 1 or 4 are shining in the school play or doing charity work. I think you kind of realize more it isn't all about you and your parenting (good and bad ) if you have a bunch of kids.

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I think it's linked to the economic progress of women. The more independent and financially stable women become as a group, the higher the standard for mothering. It's a way to keep women feeling inadequate and guilty.

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I think we're ALL (not just parents) supposed to feel worried and anxious about all decisions we make, because the prevailing "market-based" view is that if anything bad happens to you at all, it's all your own fault due to your own "bad choices." Add to that, this constant drumbeat about how things are getting harder, things are getting more competitive, if you don't do everything exactly right, you're going to be a loser in this grand competition, and that will just be the end of you, you deserve no compassion because it must be all due to your own "bad choices." (And of course the market is right there to tell you what you should BUY to make the "right choice"...)

Now throw a kid into the mix - if you don't do everything exactly right for your kid, give your kid every exact sliiiiiight possible edge, you're surely dooming your kid to failure from the START. There are just so many opportunities for you to screw up!! Better be vigilant!

So people really don't want to hear that might be "doing it wrong" on any small issue, and get very defensive.

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I think it's linked to the economic progress of women. The more independent and financially stable women become as a group, the higher the standard for mothering. It's a way to keep women feeling inadequate and guilty.

You might be interested in the writings of the French intellectual Elisabeth Badinter, if you're not already familiar. Her book, The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women basically says that the whole "natural birth/prolonged breastfeeding/cloth-diapering" paradigm is harmful to women's status in the workplace and world at large, as well as ultimately discouraging younger women from having children. It's a fascinating idea.

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Ambition is incompatible with motherhood, so status-seeking or ambitious individuals have to resort to ambition within motherhood. As women's ability to organize and plan grows her mothering "responsibilities" grow in lock-step. This effect is more pronounced the higher-status a woman is.

For example, I am a military wife and a stay-at-home mom. Since moving around a lot makes it difficult to keep a decently paying job large numbers of women who would otherwise be high-status earners are stay-at-home moms. The result is that MOST women I meet:

  • scrapbook family photo albums each year
    throw elaborate theme parties for their kids (with everything home-made, of course)
    are very particular about their kids diet/sleep/sports routines
    have homemade Halloween costumes each year
    coordinate regular play-dates with other families (as thinly disguised efforts for the parents to have an adult to talk to)
    have kids in the maximum number of activities their finances allow
    volunteer for each one of their kids classrooms/sports teams

There is no validation for mothering, so each of the above activities is an opportunity for each Mom to show off her organizational and time management skills. Each event raises the bar for the other mothers. A pot-luck? Each Mom knows which dishes got emptied first and which ones didn't get touched. A child's sporting event? His/her failure to perform correctly identifies the Mom as someone who didn't take the time to work with him/her properly.

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I'm extremely well-versed on the subject of mommy wars. I've participated in them more than I'd care to admit.

I couldn't tell you why so many moms will defend their parenting styles to the death. Breast vs formula, forward facing vs extended rear facing, cosleeping vs non cosleeping, organic vs non organic, helicopter vs free range, SAHM vs working mom...aughhh. It does get exhausting, and I usually just skip past those posts on my favorite mom forum. Perhaps people feel like it's a personal attack on them if others aren't operating on their exact wavelength?

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I think some of it is a reaction to baby boomer parenting, the stereotype of which is both parents working, latchkey children, more likely to be divorced, more detached from their children. I think there has been a huge over correction to the other extreme. I understand why a woman would want to stay home, but I don't understand the knee jerk horror directed at parents who utilize day care and don't nurse on demand for years.

I am a product of working parents who had me in daycare and preschool, and were pretty egalitarian about parenting duties. I liked my upbringing, I am close to my parents, and we plan on doing the same with my son. Maybe if I had been traumatized by daycare or something I'd feel otherwise, but as an only child, day care for mewas where my friends and the cool toys were. I have had several people react to our parenting plan with the type of horror I would reserve for war crimes.

ETA, personal example: I have been looking around for moms groups and things to maybe do when I am on maternity leave. The one in my area has the slogan "a group for moms who parent full time". Um, ok then. Not exactly welcoming of other parenting decisions.

I would tend to agree with this. But here I would say it is a direct result from the 'Thatcher' era. Yes you can have it all. Yuppies (gosh remember that?) Slightly later than the baby boomer era but just as important.

I was the product of I suppose a 'traditional' per se set up. My Father worked my Mother stayed at home. They were always as most of their generation was careful with money. We were very comfortable, we had holidays every year, actually two. We had good wholesome food. But treats were a pack of Kitkats in the weekly shop. One pack. Six biscuits. They were expensive and therefore my Mother would buy ordinary biscuits for the non-treat. Hardly penury. Just prudent. (Just a small example we had many treats.) They put four children through University helped us all financially. They were not shy about saying no, we cannot afford that. One of my siblings is so material biased toward her kids, anything they 'want' etc. She attributes this to that upbringing. She was very much a Thatcher child you can have it all. She worked full time and used child-care. Credit cards, anything to meet that need.

Then the other extreme meda mentioned. Well that was me. Breastfeeding zealot SAHM. I did though thankfully at this stage not have access to the internet in which to torture other people. This stage thankfully dissipated after some seven months, I cringe when I look back. What actually made me wake up was those Mother Toddler groups meda mentioned. That would be my introduction to the 'you are doing it wrong' crowd. I was just doing it for me for my baby. I did not want to make others do the same. I just found it rude the way every single person felt the right or urge to tell you how to parent. I was a quiet zealot. My sister in law still takes the piss some ten years later :lol:

Then we have the 'my child is very special and every thing they do is also very special.' My friends and I call this the X-Factor effect. You know the horror on the face of the child and it's parents when on national TV that very out of tune singer kind of gets told...well you are shite love. They are heartbroken the parents fuming with rage. I recall when my child asked to give up ballet another Mother said to me 'What a waste of talent' to which I replied. 'Really? She hates it and lets be honest she is never going to be Darcy Bussell.' I may as well have eaten my own young. I felt compelled to say that she was more interested in her tennis and swimming. WHY? Even my five year old could care less.

I do think the internet has a lot to do with it. People are very brave in an anonymous medium. I feel heart sorry for anybody who buys in to that hype. Especially when hormones are a raging. People make mistakes. Parents make mistakes. You know though. No matter how they tell you they are doing it right and you are doing it wrong. It is your kids who will let you know. I don't look for approval now from anybody. I look at my lovely kid. I think about her being 15 and THAT will make you look at yourself and your parenting :lol:

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I think the dual edged sword of the internet is that you have a much wider world view.

The advantage is that you can find a 1,000 different ideas for how to get little Violet to stop chucking rocks at the other toddlers at the park.

The disadvantage is that you have another 1,000 people telling you how their little Daisy would never, ever chuck rocks at the other toddlers at the park.

Or if you comment with pride that little Rose just wrote her own name at age 3 you'll have 1,000 people telling you that their little Peony not only writes their name, but wrote an entire book while another 1,000 will tell you you must be abusive and a tiger mom pushing your child 24/7 when you should be just letting them play.

In the old days you would only have to the actual people you know and see in the world to share ideas with, brag about your kid too, vent about the problems you have. And since you know them in real life most of them will at least try to tone down the judginess - since you have to see them again.

And I agree about some of the step-parent boards - some of those people are just horrible. Blended families can be really hard, with a lot of added stresses - but damn the way some of them talk about their step-children :shock:

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I don't have kids, but my mom once told me that if you're the first of your friends to start having kids, your baby hits every milestone ahead of time and is the most cutest and advanced baby of them all. If you start having kids later, your kid will reach their milestones at the absolute last minute to be considered developing on time and you'll spend the entire time worrying that they're delayed compared to previous babies. Really, most babies are average but the first babies aren't compared to other babies and so any milestone is considered "ahead of schedule" and the later babies are going to hit about half their milestones later than the first babies and look like they're "behind schedule."

When you look at Facebook and other internets, it's easy to lump everyone into one person--like, all my friends are having awesome parties and the cutest babies and wonderful relationships and are at the top of their careers...when really you have one friend who had an awesome party and one friend with a cute baby, etc. Everyone's not doing everything at once, it just seems like it when you look at everyone's cool things at the same time. So maybe when you delve into the mommy internet you encounter one person who cares about cloth diapering and one person who has strong opinions on organic baby food and one person who knows what's up with strollers, and you leave thinking there are 1 billion things everyone else out there cares about that you haven't even begun to look into yet. And there probably are a few people out there who have opinions about everything, but that might just be because they got Facebooked by the mommy internet and think they have to because everyone else does.

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You might be interested in the writings of the French intellectual Elisabeth Badinter, if you're not already familiar. Her book, The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women basically says that the whole "natural birth/prolonged breastfeeding/cloth-diapering" paradigm is harmful to women's status in the workplace and world at large, as well as ultimately discouraging younger women from having children. It's a fascinating idea.

I was not familiar with Ms. Badinter. I just ordered a copy of The Conflict from Amazon. Thanks!

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There's some very astute observations here. I particularly liked the comment about being the first baby born of your friends vs the last. Having the first child means your child sets the the milestones. Having the last baby in your group means your baby will be constantly compared to someone else' milestone. If your baby is 'average', half the milestone will be "behind" someone else.

I also agree that the internet has made it easier to be judgmental. When it's your neighbor's kids, you are polite. When it's a faceless poster, you tend to let rip. Plus, let's face it, when we put ourselves out there for strangers to see, there may reasons other than just finding someone to talk to. We may go online to vent, to show off, or to belittle others. You can't always do that with your neighborhood mothers.

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I don't have anything of substance to add just yet, but I do want to note that it took me a minute to realize the thread title wasn't "intensive Smothering." Some weird Freudian slip on my part

ETA **Okay, I have read the many thoughtful responses on here now, and I feel lucky to have found this board because, much as I adore straight snarking, I actually find many of the posts on here thought-provoking and informative. I'm not a parent as such, but I have assumed quite a bit of responsibility for my 2 year old niece (both financial, emotional, and disciplinary - she lives next door and my brother has struggled with mental health and employment issues). Before I had this baby in my life (well, before I became more than your average Auntie), I was guilty of making certain judgments - "WHY does this parent let their kid THROW THINGS at the store, OMG you're feeding your child a treat IN THE CART, DON'T EVER smack your child's hand," etc. I still don't smack her (I was raised with corporal punishment and turned out mostly ok, but I have honestly never felt the urge to physically discipline that little girl, which is actually something that scared me about raising kids), but as far as the other things go, I've become more lenient. For example, I realize that sometimes you have to go to the store with a cranky baby, so you put her in the basket and give her a granola bar (from a box which you obviously later buy). Or, sometimes you're teaching them emotional regulation, which means you let them whine and don't respond (obviously if we get in the tantrum zone, we leave). Or we have to go sit in the car in the middle of the play date because Baby decides to push another child.

Anyways, it drives me nuts when when I hear things like "I would NEVER" or "Timmy is NOT PERMITTED" or "You mean, you gave her a JUICE BOX????" et cetera. Particularly when these statements come unsolicited. I have a bit of an out if I say I'm the Aunt, but FFS. No, my niece is not perfect. I am not perfect. And even if she DID eat a perfectly balanced diet during her perfectly scheduled day, so what? What kind of monumental difference do we suppose that would make to HER? She doesn't care. I caught that kid eating a worm while she was helping me in the yard (and this is WHILE I was supervising, she's VERY QUICK!!). She prefers drawing on the floor to drawing on paper. How would homemade oatmeal and Baby Einstein make HER any happier than a peanut butter sandwich and The Muppets?

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There's some very astute observations here. I particularly liked the comment about being the first baby born of your friends vs the last. Having the first child means your child sets the the milestones. Having the last baby in your group means your baby will be constantly compared to someone else' milestone. If your baby is 'average', half the milestone will be "behind" someone else.

I also agree that the internet has made it easier to be judgmental. When it's your neighbor's kids, you are polite. When it's a faceless poster, you tend to let rip. Plus, let's face it, when we put ourselves out there for strangers to see, there may reasons other than just finding someone to talk to. We may go online to vent, to show off, or to belittle others. You can't always do that with your neighborhood mothers.

Not in your neighborhood, maybe.

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I think some of it is a reaction to baby boomer parenting, the stereotype of which is both parents working, latchkey children, more likely to be divorced, more detached from their children. I think there has been a huge over correction to the other extreme. I understand why a woman would want to stay home, but I don't understand the knee jerk horror directed at parents who utilize day care and don't nurse on demand for years.

I am a product of working parents who had me in daycare and preschool, and were pretty egalitarian about parenting duties. I liked my upbringing, I am close to my parents, and we plan on doing the same with my son. Maybe if I had been traumatized by daycare or something I'd feel otherwise, but as an only child, day care for mewas where my friends and the cool toys were. I have had several people react to our parenting plan with the type of horror I would reserve for war crimes.

ETA, personal example: I have been looking around for moms groups and things to maybe do when I am on maternity leave. The one in my area has the slogan "a group for moms who parent full time". Um, ok then. Not exactly welcoming of other parenting decisions.

My kids are in their mid twenties now. Both their father and I had full time careers. We did use day care and babysitters. We were fairly eglitarian in our parenting and despite the fact that we divorced, remained so. My children are very close to me and to their father. I did breastfeed (pumped at work) all three of them for nearly a full year. We went to museums and parks and classes of all sorts. My children, like Meda, feel like their childhood was well balanced. They are planning to do something similar when they start families.

All of that said, there are always times of doubt and insecurity raising children. They are, after all, our legacy to the world. Having doublts is normal. Driving yourslef and everyone else crazy with these doubts is not so healthy.

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All of that said, there are always times of doubt and insecurity raising children. They are, after all, our legacy to the world. Having doublts is normal. Driving yourslef and everyone else crazy with these doubts is not so healthy.

I think that when you put together these moments of doubts and insecurity with the internet, a perfect storm has been created. One of the reasons that people are so set up in there parenting decisions, they feel the need to defend them to death in order to disminish their own anxiety.

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Here is an interesting article about what they call DIY parenting. I don't really agree with it since I think choices are frequently made for more reasons the individuality. I make a lot of my choices because I read my options and pick the one that seems like the best idea and involves not too much extra work. I also feel like when I started cloth diapering (to save money) it became my gateway drug to doing other "natural" things since I was reading cloth diapering boards where people also frequently did extended breastfeeding and made their own baby food and such. I wonder if a big reason parenting these days involves a lot of things is because people are delaying having children and having fewer. We also have a lot of time saving devices like washing machines so child rearing and housekeeping are a lot easier then many years ago giving us time and energy to analyze each option.

I also HATE the term "fulltime mother". When I quit working when my son was 19 months old people kept commenting that I was going to be a "fulltime mother" and it drove me crazy! What was I before I stopped working? A part-time mother? If that's the case why did I still have to take off when he was sick or my daycare provider took a day off?

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I read a really interesting thing in a Stephanie Coontz article about The Feminine Mystique: in the '50s, middle-class women (the targets of a lot of "education" around parenting - remember in this era lots of college women majored in some variety of Home Economics) - were much more insecure about their parenting than working-class moms.

Now we are ALL the targets of that kind of "education".

Plus, at least in the US, the stakes are a lot higher - you can't raise a kid (like my dad in the '50s) who just doesn't really like school and wants to tinker with a car all day, and think "well it will be fine he'll get an industrial job, he's a good kid" - if your kid can't claw their way into the professional class, they may end up without access to basic things like shelter or health care. Everyone's wages are stagnating, the piece of the pie regular people have access too is shrinking, so now every single decision seems just fraught with future importance.

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Here is an interesting article about what they call DIY parenting. I don't really agree with it since I think choices are frequently made for more reasons the individuality. I make a lot of my choices because I read my options and pick the one that seems like the best idea and involves not too much extra work. I also feel like when I started cloth diapering (to save money) it became my gateway drug to doing other "natural" things since I was reading cloth diapering boards where people also frequently did extended breastfeeding and made their own baby food and such. I wonder if a big reason parenting these days involves a lot of things is because people are delaying having children and having fewer. We also have a lot of time saving devices like washing machines so child rearing and housekeeping are a lot easier then many years ago giving us time and energy to analyze each option.

I also HATE the term "fulltime mother". When I quit working when my son was 19 months old people kept commenting that I was going to be a "fulltime mother" and it drove me crazy! What was I before I stopped working? A part-time mother? If that's the case why did I still have to take off when he was sick or my daycare provider took a day off?

When strangers ask I say I am a childcare worker. Stay at home mom sounds dumb to me, housewife is insulting. Someone needs to care for young children. Whether you do it yourself or outsource it, its labor that is important to society.

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My son and I went to Admitted Students Day at one of the colleges he was accepted to (he has to decide and send in the deposit by 5/1). Looking around the room at these bright accomplished kids, it was quite difficult to determine who was breastfed or how they were diapered.

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