Guest Post by Jessica Lang Kosa, IBCLC
Back in the day, when I was a teenager, I read Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying. The Baby-Boomer sexual revolution context went completely over my head. It didn’t matter – I was only in it for the dirty parts.
Now Erica Jong has taken to the interwebs to warn the Gen X & Millennial moms that our own lives are seriously lacking in dirty parts, and the reason is the way we mother. (Apparently we all do it the same way. Or least her daughter does, and some celebrities do, so that’s how it is for everyone.) Her take on it: “With children in your bed, is there any space for sexual passion?”
A little context here. Jong wrote a Wall Street Journal piece last year in which she makes some great points about the unreasonable expectations that so many modern mothers have internalized. She notes the insistence of many educated parents on trying to optimize and control every aspect of their child’s life, and that the absence of a “village” means that “much of the demand for perfect children falls on mothers.” She ends with the fabulous sentiment, “We need to be released from guilt about our children, not further bound by it. We need someone to say: Do the best you can. There are no rules.”
But, she sprinkles the whole essay with examples of “green” or “attachment” parenting, and blames these choices – not the perfectionism, not the rigidity of parenting standards, not the internet-fueled anxiety, not the absent village, not even the economic & workplace stresses – for making mothering a “prison.”
Why does this stuff bug her? Why is it any skin off anyone’s nose if some women are walking around with their babies in slings and cloth diapers? Apparently she equates this type of mothering with a rejection of the battles her generation fought. She bemoans, “Our foremothers might be appalled by how little we have transformed the world of motherhood.”
Jong’s own daughter Molly Jong-Fast sees it a little differently – she wrote:
To my mother and grandmother, children were the death of a dream; they were the death of one’s ambition. Ironically, it was because of my mother’s hard work that I have the life I do now. She worked hard so that the women of my generation could have the choice to work or to stay home.
It might be that Jong is concerned that her daughter’s peers are not “choosing” so much as giving in to guilt. Or maybe she’s just threatened. I don’t know.
I do know this: It’s possible to do obsessive, guilt-based parenting with any philosophy. You can make yourself nuts with Dr. Sears attachment parenting books. You can make yourself nuts with the (very opposite) Babywise series. You can make yourself nuts trying too hard to do it right, no matter what your concept of “right” is.
It’s also possible to co-sleep, wear your baby, etc, because you like it and it fits your life, and to enjoy your mothering even more because of it. It’s possible for physical closeness with your baby to be a celebration of your sensuality and love. For some women, all that breastfeeding and babywearing that Jong describes as “man-distancing” actually nurtures her physically and emotionally, and makes her more available to her mate, not less.
When they’re working well, baby-wearing, breastfeeding, and co-sleeping can also be convenient. Some of us make these choices because it makes our lives easier, and helps us take care of our babies while we do our jobs, get some rest, socialize, run errands, and participate in the world. I’ve gone to meetings, gone to parties, written journal articles, taught classes, and testified at a public legislative hearing at the state house, all with a baby in a sling. I’m not saying it’s a requirement, or even a realistic option for every woman. But please don’t tell me that nursing and wearing my babies has imprisoned me!
As for Jong’s question about co-sleeping, Yes, of course there’s space for passion – the couch, the guest room, and the shower are popular ones.
To give the new parents among us a serious answer – everyone’s different, but yes, most couples go through a substantial dry spell after the first baby arrives, most get past it, and usually their sex life rebounds much faster after subsequent babies. This is true whether you co-sleep or not. With co-sleeping couples, some find it hot to sneak off for some privacy; some find it annoying but tolerable. Some couples are on the same page, and some fight about it. There’s no guarantee that co-sleeping will be good for your marriage, or bad for your marriage.
If you want to protect your couplehood, check out the research studies concluding that when fathers help more with the house and kids, wives’ libidos are stronger. And the recent Kinsey study that found that, contrary to popular belief, married men’s sexual satisfaction is tied to kissing and intimacy, not frequency of sex.
Mothering shouldn’t feel like a prison, and the women of Jong’s generation did make the world a less imprisoning place. The baby-boomer grandmas have useful wisdom to pass on. I’d love to hear more from Jong herself, if she ever drops the shallow generalizations and sweeping judgments about us, and just writes what she learned about raising kids while being part of the world. Or she could just go back to novels – as long as she still includes lots of dirty parts.
Jessica Lang Kosa is a board-certified lactation consultant in private practice in the Boston area. You can visit her site at Motherfeeding.com, find her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter @motherfeeding.