Dawn at this woman’s work has an interesting post up about should-ing on an already overwhelmed mother. She framed it as those self-righteous LLLers (these, I should say, as she was one of them) versus a woman who just needed to hear that CIO (the act of leaving a baby alone to “cry it out” as a method of sleep training) was just fine in her situation.
I take objection to this, yes in part because I am a “self-righteous LLL-type” who believes that CIO is harmful (to infants, to their parents, and to the adults they grow into), but mostly because I think the situation thus framed misses the point.
The point? US society hates women, and alternatingly exalts (without offering any actual support), hates, and ignores mothers. Anytime an issue like this is framed as an individual choice issue, while neglecting to point out the ways in which the patriarchy has forced women in to this bind in the first place, we’re supporting the patriarchy and its lies about women and mothers and parenting.
The point here should not be to tsk the LLL women for failing to encourage a harmful practice, nor to applaud the woman for taking care of her own needs so she doesn’t endanger her children; the point should be that in a sane society, no way would a woman with three children under five be expected to care for them essentially on her own, with a “partner” in the picture only enough to pay the bills. Of course she’s exhausted, and of course she shouldn’t be shamed or blamed for doing something — the only thing available to her — to get enough sleep to stay sane and able to function during the day. But it’s criminal that she was put in that position in the first place; there should be parental leave and daycare subsidies and mother’s helpers and community resources available to make sure she and her infant got the sleep and the care they needed and deserved.
And I know I just railed against placing individual blame, but now let me encourage individual responsibility by saying that “community” can and must (for the patriarchy surely isn’t going to step up to the plate) start with us. Rather than condemning or encouraging an individual “choosing” CIO, why don’t concerned community members pitch in to make it unnecessary? In this situation, the LLL members could have offered to take her other children for a few afternoons so she could sleep when the baby napped. They could have pitched together to bring her dinners for her family and cleaned her house while her partner was out of town to take some of her burdens off. The truly radical could have offered to take the baby overnight to nurse for her so she could have a night of blissful, restorative, uninterrupted sleep. And regardless of what this woman did, they could spend a couple hours every month sending letters and calling their representatives — or the HR departments of local businesses! — to make sure their money went where their mouths are to support real family friendly policies.
The point of this isn’t to turn around and shame the LLL ladies, who were only trying to do their best, as was the mom of three, but to attempt to reframe the conversation. All too often we see this as a mommy war issue — sanctimonious APers v pragmatic CIOers — on which we are supposed to take “sides”, without anyone taking issue with the whole mommy war idea to start with. I will never stop saying CIO is harmful, but there’s a whole universe of ways to support women without compromising on that issue; we just have to start taking a broader, and dare I say more political, view first. Stop blaming individuals, either way: start blaming the patriarchy.