Is Jong wrong?


Is motherhood a prison for the modern woman?

Feminist author and single parent Erica Jong says it is.

In a Wall Street Journal essay, Jong pulls out all the expected liberal explanations for why modern mothering is nearly impossible:

"Mother and father are presumed to be able to do this alone-without the village it takes to raise any child."

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"Kinship is not exclusively biological, after all, and you need a brood to raise a brood."

Attachment parenting (the brainchild of William and Martha Sears, which advocates constant togetherness via baby slings and family beds) is a "prison for mothers, and it represents as much of a backlash against women's freedom as the right-to-life movement."

Perhaps most silly is her argument that parenting "serves to keep mothers and fathers out of the political process. If you are busy raising children without societal help and trying to earn a living during a recession, you don't have much time to question and change the world that you and your children inhabit." Hmm. And here I thought raising kids WAS a way to change the world. My bad.

Jong does nothing to even keep her own arguments straight. She defends her choice to prioritize her career over her daughter: "Surely [allowing everyone from grandparents to nannies to 'other concerned adults' to parent one's child] prepares them better for life than stressed-out biological parents alone."

As this and her other arguments attempt to prove, it's not only OK to leave your children with nannies, it's actually good for them. But then she admits: "Children are naturally afraid of unfamiliar babysitters, so parents change their lives to accommodate them. In the absence of societal adjustment to the needs of children, parents have to revise their own schedules."

What? Not three sentences before she defended her choice to leave her daughter behind while she worked: "I would have had to take my baby on lecture tours, in and out of airports, television stations and hotels. But that was impossible. Her schedule and mine could not have diverged more."

I must have missed it: Was it Jong or was it her baby who had to change her life or revise her schedule to accommodate the other?

Jong tries to elicit sympathy for her plight by juxtaposing the two polarities of mothering (attachment parenting on one extreme, leaving the baby for who knows how long with nice non-parent adults on the other). But most of us don't live on the poles. Most of us live somewhere in the middle between mothering kangaroo-style and shipping the rug rats off to boarding school at birth. And most of us stopped whining about the sacrifice of mothering somewhere between diaper number one and diaper number two. Jong must not have gotten the memo.

In an adjacent essay, Erica's daughter, Molly Jong-Fast, provides some telling insight: "Mom made money, bought me expensive handbags and tried the best she could to relate to me. But she was famous, always touring, always working, always trying to cling to the New York Times bestseller list. Famous people, who are often intensely driven workaholics, are typically not focused on their children. We saw each other, but my mother was filled with fear of slipping into domestic life and sabotaging her own career. . . . [T]o my mother and grandmother, children were the death of a dream; they were the death of one's ambition."

When a woman writes a two-page spread defending her decision to leave her child in the hands of others while she traveled the world (it doesn't exactly sound like she was working three shifts just to keep milk on the table), you have to wonder if, despite her staunch feministic ideal, she's really all that comfortable with her choice after all. Maybe it's not so much that she's worried that mothering has become a prison for women in general. Maybe what she's inadvertently admitting is that mothering was a prison for her. And maybe The Wall Street Journal should get a woman who actually likes being a mother to write the next two-page spread on the topic. Now there's something that would really shake up the feminists.

Amy Henry
Amy Henry

Amy is a married mother of six and a WORLD correspondent from Kansas. Follow her other "scribbles" at Whole Mama or by reading her book Story Mama: What Children's Stories Teach Us About Life, Love and Mothering. Follow Amy on Twitter @wholemama.


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