I just read an article on mothering called Mothering and its Cultural Discontents in the Times about Daphne de Marneffe’s new book, Maternal Desire:
Although the convention is that a woman’s fulfillment is at odds with her child’s needs, the truth, Ms. de Marneffe argues, is the opposite: caregiving is the path to fulfillment. Feminism has championed women’s choice, she writes, but it has ignored or denied the desire — not the duty, not the biological imperative, not the necessity — but the raw, profound desire to care for one’s own children.
Just talking about such deeply felt urges, she says, is so disdained that women are embarrassed to admit them. “It is almost as if women’s desire for sex and their desire to mother have switched places in terms of taboo.” This cultural taboo makes it nearly impossible for women to work out a meaningful and satisfactory balance in their lives.
First of all: caregiving is not every woman’s path to fulfillment. I caregive everyday, and only feel truly fulfilled when I create.
Second: feminism has championed women’s choices, therefore, if a woman chooses to be a full-time mother, she should be able to do so without feeling judged or needing to be wealthy. My friend Yolanda is on welfare and cares for her son full-time, and she’s the best mom I’ve ever met. She doesn’t get props from society for what she’s doing, and is in fact looked down upon. Conversely, if a woman chooses not to be a full time mom, she should be able to be. In my case, although I only officially work quarter-time, I spend the rest of my time researching, writing, and thinking about my next book. That’s what I like to do, what fuels me. True feminism makes all of these scenarios allowable and acceptable.
Third: Wanting to have sex is still taboo. I can’t just walk into a grocery store and yell out: “Man, I wanna fuck!” But I could walk in and yell: “Man, I want to care for my child!” I could, however, yell out one thing and not the other in an SBDM club. So, her point about taboos switching may be true in some circles, but not in the wider cultural circle of the US and the world.
Fourth: It is nearly impossible for women to work out a balance in their lives not because they’d really, in their heart of hearts, rather mother than fuck or work, but because they are busy writing shite books and articles like this one, and, sorry to male-bash, because most men don’t take, nor are they given, responsibility for child-rearing. If, growing up, your father took care of you 50% of the time, good for you. That’s awesome. But chances are, he didn’t. And balance can only be reached, not only in women’s but in all humankind, when responsibilites are shared and people are equal. If mothers had a creative outlet other than their children, they wouldn’t be so fucked up and torn inside out when it is time for their children to go to college. My mother, for example, will be in dire depression once my sister, into whom she’s pumped all her creative energies for the past 17 years and for whom she’s abandoned all her musical aspirations, goes to college in the Fall. Mama would have benefitted from cultivating a creative career or outlet.
It just seems inherently wrong for one woman to work full-time while a nanny cares for her children and abandons her own; for another to stay at home full time while her husband works for two, busting his ass and spending only bedtime and weekends with his kids; for women like Yolanda to be denied basic human respect because they choose not to work and don’t have the luxury of a wealthy/hardworking husband; and for women like me to never get their child support checks on time and send their children on airplanes bi-annually by themselves to cheap assholes who get married every other year while I scramble to get a sitter so I can go on a date. Oh, sorry. Digressed.
My main beef with the article and the book which it reviews is that neither undertake the idea, or the fact, that every woman, and hence every mothering experience, is different. I don’t want to do the same and tell all mothers what they should or shouldn’t do. However, if we are all striving to better our world, then a balance must be reached somehow.