At the moment the press is covering the release of a new book for mothers by a popular parenting ‘guru.’ According to the press reports, the author encourages mothers to have a date night out or an afternoon together within four to six weeks after the birth of their baby. Leave the baby with someone else, she says. Moreover, when it comes to sex, she says parents should resume sexual relations as soon as possible after baby’s birth, even to the point of grinning and bearing it.
It is astounding to me that this self-proclaimed expert has found yet another way to make parents feel inadequate. Not only does she want our babies sleeping in a black-out-blinded room all by themselves straight after birth, she wants us to be doing the business in the next room? Oh, the pressure! Not only must I have the perfect baby and be the perfect mother, I must also have a limitless libido and abundant energy. Is this her definition of woman? Is it the pinnacle of femininity to produce compliant children and satisfied husbands? Should I be wearing high heels and a dress to produce my husband’s dinner as well, kiss him as he comes through the door and present him with a clean house?
When I set out on this journey of motherhood, I had no idea that I would come to see myself as a woman in a completely different way; that my interpretation of feminism would not be the traditional ‘same and equal’ model, but ‘different and respected for it.’ I see no need to ‘please’ my husband. In fact the idea that I would have sex with him to please him, even if I don’t want to, runs so counter to the trust and love that is the basis of our relationship he cringes at the thought (I know, because I asked him!).
When my first child was born I read this author’s book on how to have a contented baby. I found out that in order to succeed, I must always watch the clock, ignore my child’s requests for feeds if they aren’t in the proscribed routine, and frame my life around naps. I threw the book away in disgust when she told me what to have for breakfast! Thank you, but I don’t need culinary advice. It took me a while to figure it out, but I actually don’t need anyone else’s advice. What I needed was to listen to my own baby and my own instincts.
And that is what gets lost in this scene: the needs of the baby. Inflexible routines and demands on mothers to leave their babies fail to recognise a baby’s very real need to be with his mother. Our society focusses so much on the needs of the parents: time alone, the need for intimacy, getting women back into work, free childcare so they can do so, tax credits for those who do… but what about the needs of the babies? Who sticks up for the infants?
Most mothers I know carry a heavy burden of guilt about anything and everything. We blame ourselves for our children’s behaviour, personality traits and mistakes. When I read William Golding’s Lord of the Flies in 7th grade I had little idea that the nature/nurture argument would be so poignant in my life nearly 30 years later. But after reading this news story, I wonder– is it really mothers who should be feeling inadequate in the face of such unrealistic pressure? Or rather, should society be held to account for its unreasonable expectations of mothers and infants? Leave me to mother my baby in the way I decide is best. Let me listen to the call of my own body and heart… and my husband will understand, because I am after all, his wife, and this baby is his too. We are adults: our needs can wait. My baby’s needs simply cannot.
© Copyright 2012 Lisa Hassan Scott. For reprint permission contact the copyright holder.
Photo credit: Flickr, Ian McKenzie.