Activism, Attachment parenting, Feminism

My tiny tyrant? Feminism and attachment parenting

3 April, 2012

Er. Ramona has a new thing. It involves calling my breasts baps. “BAPS! BAPS!” she yells as she pats my mammary glands.

It isn’t particularly pleasing – clearly she is spending too much time in the company of those objectifying truck drivers and sweaty sexist builders. (Must get new baby sitters.)

I am currently wrapping my aching brain around the concept of feminist motherhood. (Yeah. One who loves a dash of fashion, who staggers towards bra-off-o-clock every evening, because, shiver my timbers, I do have to wear that thing most of the day.) I am wrapping; embracing it, wrestling with it, assuming it.

For these first 17 months of Ramona’s life I sat a little uneasily- kind of comfortable on the sofa of my new mummydom, but with a pesky toy car under my thigh- this small sticky sense that being a mother was gobbling me up;  my other identity, my desires, ambitions, hobbies.

Credit: The Radical Housewife

It is AMAZING that becoming a parent does that to you- you suddenly realise that you think NOTHING of yourself in comparison to your baby, without one single doubt you would put aside everything just to love them. Knowing that you have an intrinsic goodness, an inherent ability to sacrifice all of you– that is a pretty incredible human experience.

But, in practice it is the mother that actually tends to do that. Especially so when practicing attachment parenting, I genuinely do reckon that the first year of a baby’s life is like a second gestation. They need us, they want us, to be there every moment, our nipples in mouths. For most, daddies just don’t cut it. (Although, there is one society where moobs/ daddy breasts will do – some even lactating?!)

And in practice is really does have an impact on our empowered selves. This nurse all night, lugging on backs, mothering option we choose can seem to subsume who we are, our newborn tyrants rejecting the space we have carved out as Women with Rights .

Yet at the same time, there is a freedom in it -it allows us to get on with life. To go where we need to go, heedless of nap time and nursing  schedule. Attachment parenting turns its back on normal parenting structures, built by “experts” and imposed onto already guilty and harassed parents.

Blue Milk (brilliant blog, must read!) suggests another place that attachment parenting and feminism meet. Attachment parenting is about treating your child as if they too have rights, respecting their personhood, regardless of anything (in a child’s case, them being so small) – an idea central to feminism.

There isn’t quite enough nuance involved in mothering conversations, don’t you think? I am an attachment parent, I buy whole heartedly into the principles and have practiced nothing but. However, a lot of non-nuanced attachment parenting  philosophy would despair at me going back to work. When in fact, despite it being one of the hardest decisions to make, turns out to be one of the best I have made.

I work 2.5 days a week, my husband the same, and we share work and parenting equally, an ideal situation. And something I never thought would ever, ever happen has happened I am enjoying it as much as I used to pre-Ramona. For real, I didn’t think it could happen. Maternity leave was AWESOME, I felt fulfilled mothering but had the opportunity to get involved with Occupy London and spent days hanging out with other activist mamas. Being a full time mother has huge, under rated, potential for world changeyness.

And yet here I am now, loving my days at work as much as I love my days at home. I love my colleagues, the activists I work with, the campaigns I work on.

And it allows me to be who I am- which is exactly the person Ramona needs me to be.

A recent F Word article by Jane Chelliah heralded a new groups called Outlaw Mothers – “An outlaw mother is an empowered mother who believes that her personal self-fulfilment is a key enabler of her child’s happiness”. I love that – I am so in.

I am going to be thinking about this a bit more… with some posts in the pipe line imaginatively called “Routine Schmoutine” and “Rules Schmules”. Hehe.

Meanwhile I am off to see if I can teach Ramona how to say “Mamm-a- ry gl -an ds

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  • allergickids 3 April, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    Hi Lucy,

    Very interesting topic and I look forward to reading people’s comments. I’ve had a load of thoughts I wanted to share but will do that when I have a bit of time. For now though I just wanted to say that we need to be careful when discussing these things to be aware what an average mothers’ situation is actually like. The vast majority of mothers in the work place state that they would rather not have to work and be able to spend more time with their kids. Most mothers’ jobs aren’t about saving the world but about mundane office work.

    And we need to be very careful about our assumptions. For example, you seem to be conflating work with identity. Also, can we assume that those mothers who talk about a mother’s self-fulfillment truly understand what a child’s happiness and long term emotional development actually depend on? That they are not primarily talking about prioritising themselves as women over their children’s needs. You assume that you know who the person Ramona needs you to be is. How do we know who our children want us to be is other than to be a gentle, responsive, loving parent?

    On top of all that what are we talking about when we talk about feminism? Is it about work? Your work-life balance is not ordinary. Most of my friends who work struggle with balancing work with life and don’t find it some empowering, enlightening experience even when they have high-power jobs. Only one other friend apart from you has a partner who helps with childcare during the week and she still uses nursery on the mornings he’s meant to be helping on. All others use nurseries which is a completely different care environment for a child. Your arrangement is rare and likely to remain so for a very long time. In the meantime, I have only one friend who doesn’t use any childcare at all and can be properly classed as a full-time mother (yes, yes, I know its not the most useful of terms as everyone is a full-time mother in some sense but you know what I mean ;-)). So from where I’m looking, working mothers is the absolute norm as is the use of nurseries as substitute childcare.

    • lulastic 3 April, 2012 at 8:45 pm

      Oh HELLO!! I was so hoping this one would lure you out of hibernation! Hurrah!

      But really, this is you with no time? Yikes.

      You should really be the one blogging about this stuff.

      So, firstly, yep, I totally agree- HUGE caveat when sharing personal experience- of course this isn’t representative. Loads and loads of mothers have no choice and have to work and hate it.

      It is funny that work became the primary feature of this (let’s face it, fairly shallow in hindsight- but hey isn’t that what blogs are) post because it wasn’t meant to be. It was more meant to be “this is one example where a bit of nuancing around AP could have gone down better because then I wouldn’t have been in such a dilemma about leaving Ramona and for me work has been great and is part of my self empowerment”

      And no, feminism ISN’T work. But for me, being empowered involves my work (even though you would never imagine the amount of paper pushing my job involves!!). In fact I rejected a fair bit of the article cited up there by Chelliah because she disparaged UK mum bloggers for only blogging about homemaking, and I kind of think that that is important, particuarly as it is quite obviously them nudging out a space and having a voice AND her article seemed very work orientated AND includes huge reliance on nurseries.

      So I am with you on that one. In many ways work is well over rated.

      A huge solution would be systematic flexi working. I am so fortunate because Tim works for a small charity that allowed him to cut his hours. Very rare. If women could chose the hours they spent mothering and hours working I think this could really create a much fairer and satisfying situation for people. I was speaking to my neighbour today, she is a TA and loves the challanges, the interactions, but just wishes it wasn’t so all or nothing.

      Phew, almost a whole other post. There IS a whole other post that needs ot happen about this stuff I think.

      Keep your thoughts coming x x

      PS Seriously, you should be the one blogging this shizzle.

  • San 3 April, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    Pip used to call them “boo” and furiously signed for milk before she could speak… with clenched fists it looked like she was going to swipe at me!!! I do miss our boo feeds as I gently weaned her at three years due to ongoing health probs.

    You are very blessed to have a job you love and the shared care with DH for your precious wee one… but you don’t really need me to tell you that, it is evidenced in your words on this blog.

    Hugs to you

    San xx

    • lulastic 3 April, 2012 at 8:51 pm

      Thanks San,
      OH what a fabulous image of your teeny balling fists and calling Boo!!

      I think I am VERY blessed, daily I wonder how I landed in this situ.


  • Naomi 3 April, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    Hi Lucy

    Enjoy reading your posts 😉 So cool that you and Tim can share the day time care of Ramona. Jonno and I share care of our two littlies, although he’s working full time and I haven’t gone back teaching part time yet but he works lots of different shifts that mean that he is often able to be a part of the girls weekly activities. We’ve just started a nanny share five hours on a monday and I’m totally loving having another person in our lives nurturing our little girls.
    So pleased that we’ve found a flow that is working for us at the moment to balance the whole families needs, just more and more convinced every day that when it comes to parenting and life in general the main ingreadient is heart.

    x Naomi

    • lulastic 3 April, 2012 at 8:53 pm

      Hello Naomi!

      Thank you 🙂

      It is awesome you are sharing the parenting out too.

      The nanny share sounds cool. Myfriend does something awesome- half the week she has her kid and her friends, and then her friend takes her turn. I think is just the ticket, if you don;t have a partner able to cut hours.

      You are SO right- all about the love, all about the love.


  • jessk8rado 4 April, 2012 at 9:55 am

    I was trying to find a way of saying I feel for all the guys out there who haven’t been ’empowered’ to share as much. I’m a feminist and a dadinist. G and I share work and parenting. My mum and dad shared. My dad does our fill-in stuff. My big girl goes to “school” 3 days a week.
    Am proud that our family finds ways of wangling things around what we all (small,large,inbetween) need. No one gets it right all the time and change is the only constant! Some days I wish I could stay home and other days I wish I could go to work. My girl cries about coming home before afternoon tea (and then has another when she does get home… Socialising makes you hungry). I don’t think everything needs a system or a label. Both can be restrictive, constraining and limiting. Big ups for the recognition of agency in small persons 🙂 . Lynn Hagger has a cool line “a focus upon the future adult the child could become can result in a failure to see the child as a person living their life.” Likewise for mums and dads 🙂 .

    • lulastic 4 April, 2012 at 6:29 pm

      Hello, thanks for sharing what you all get up to. Sounds like you have an even distribution of labour too. I do feel sorry for dads who work such long hours without even the investment of paternity leave under their belt. Our laws are changing on that so it’d be interesting to see what impact that has.
      Love that quote too.

  • Jane Chelliah 6 April, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    Thank you very much for the mention. I enjoyed reading your blog post because of the analysis that you provide of how you came to feminist mothering. So many mothers tussle with the notion of feminist mothering because they think it equates to selfish mothering. Not so. Keep on being a great mother.

    • lulastic 3 July, 2012 at 6:35 pm

      Thanks for stopping by Jane, and for your thoughtful comment. I am enjoying your blogging hugely! x

  • thriftshopperforpeace 9 April, 2012 at 2:51 am

    my sister’s youngest used to climb onto her lap, reach into her shirt and just hold onto a breast for comfort. got a little weird in public, so my sister just moved the little one’s hand onto her neck instead. to this day (she is now 16) if she really, really loves someone, she’ll give them a hug, a kiss on the cheek, and a touch on the neck.

    • lulastic 10 April, 2012 at 12:33 pm

      Oh flipping heck, this is the sweetest thing.

  • Syreeta Peddlesden 3 July, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    I agree with you mama! Self-fulfilment does enable us to be the best mums we can be. If you are on a plane, you are instructed to put your own emergency mask on before assisting others because in doing so, you will be more able to help others. The same goes in other areas of life.

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