Before I answer a question, I'll give a brief review of the book and some of the media attention it's gotten. First of all, I hate the title of this article. I don't know if Druckerman titled it herself, but I didn't think the tone of the book was "all French parenting is superior". Then again, I felt somewhat validated in my approach to parenting, which is explained in the answer to the question. I fully admit that I may be biased as I have a pretty strict approach to certain aspects of Baby X's development. I caught on that she seemed to suggest that the setting up of the cadre within the family is seamless and easy if you buy into the system. Since reading the book, I've tried a few things with Baby X, such as trying to teach him to put books back on the bookshelf when he merrily throws them all on the floor. We've had several sessions of this particular lesson, and in general he gets bored after putting the third book back on the shelf and goes back to yanking them all off. I have seen some success, just today when he was getting ready to fling his spoon from the high chair, I told him to put the spoon back down on the tray and pointed to the tray. It worked. Yesterday, however, it didn't. So, it's a process.
I was struck by the message expressed in My Child book–the one proliferated by France’s public health department–that the relationship between a baby and mother should be balanced, that the needs of the mother are as important as the needs of the child. That does not seem to be the message spread in the United States, where mothers are expected to make intense sacrifices for the well being of their children, especially in their first year. Why do you think the American message requires so mothers to give up so much for their children, employing guilt as an inspiration? Which message do you most identify with?
Lately, I'm not finding a whole lot of time to sit down and blog, and while I'm happy I took this plunge to participate in this book club, I'm too fried to really delve much into research or even to think about what I read. What I'm trying to tell you, is that I'm attempting to find my own work-life* balance, and as happens often, there are aspects of my life that are suffering. I go back and forth waffling between focus on Baby X, and focus on myself. Because Baby X does not nap well during the day (two 1-hour long naps most days), he goes to bed by 6:30pm. What that means, is that once we get him home from daycare at 5:00pm, there's little time to do much except try to get him to eat some food before he gets too tired to eat, maybe play for a few minutes (difficult to do when I'm trying to get mine and S's dinner ready) and then it's time for bed. He doesn't like to have books read to him and squirms constantly, trying to eat the books rather than look at pictures, and he doesn't really like being rocked to sleep anymore. He wants us to put him down in his crib, shut off the light and get the hell out of his room. It kind of sucks from the perspective of an American adoptive mother wondering if the attachment is really going that well when my kid doesn't snuggle. Twice a week, I don't even see Baby X at night because I exercise after work and don't get home until almost 7:00pm. (I do the daycare drop off, so I get more time with him in the mornings.) On the weekends, we try to spend as much time with him as possible, but are definitely taking advantage of close-by grandparents to go out and do something together every couple of weeks or so. I'd say that I definitely identify with the French message that the relationship between mother and baby should be balanced. It's not something that I read before becoming a parent, or even really paid a whole lot of attention to, and I think that it largely has to do with my personality. I naturally have a detached-type personality, and it is what it is, neither good nor bad. It doesn't mean that I care less, or that I'm a bad parent, it means that I recognize that for my happiness, I have to keep growing as a person even as I grow as a mother. I have to exercise to feel good about my body and to keep on top of my eating habits (otherwise, it all goes to hell and before I know it, I've gained 20 lbs). I have to cultivate friendships, and build my village so to speak. I also have to keep my relationship with S strong so that we work well as a team, and that requires some "non-baby" time for the two of us. I like my career, and have no desire to give it up. Working part-time is an option for me, although I haven't pursued it quite yet, I'll admit, it is starting to look pretty good from where I'm standing.
I was going to end this by saying I refuse to feel guilty about all the things I do that don't involve Baby X, but then I realized that I just wrote all the things I do to try to keep balance from a defensive point of view. So, in some ways I guess I do feel a bit guilty that I didn't cut my hours right away, or make myself hit the crappy gym at lunch instead of Jazz.ercising at night. I've already cut down how much I exercise due to scheduling with S, and I feel like I need to keep working on friendships rather than let them wither on the vine because I'm a mom now. That's not to say that I make decisions to do things that continually interrupt Baby X's schedule (that 6:30pm bedtime really is a bear on the weekends), but I do try to work around it (happy hour anyone?).
So far, I feel pretty insulated from the need to make over my life for the baby. Most of the women I know who are parents are working parents and I don't get the sense that they feel like they're making intense sacrifices as stated in the quote from the book. I think we all feel like we compromise in all aspects of our lives, and there's probably some guilty feelings going around too. To keep myself from falling into the black hole of guilt, I purposely stick my head in the sand and hum a nice little ditty. I don't go to mommy groups, I don't get parenting magazines, and for the most part don't read parenting books (except I have ordered "Parenting with Love and Logic" and I read "Healthy Sleep, Happy Child", which made me want to fling the book across the room a few times, so I guess that isn't exactly true). I'm not sure why the American message is so guilt-inducing when it comes to mothers. Maybe it's a backlash from the whole "We can do it all" mantra shouted from the rooftops by my mother's generation. Women had to push to be accepted into the workforce, fight for equal pay, and for some reason, prove they could work and parent equally well, at the same time. It's kind of a recipe for disaster when you think about it. It's a stress-creating environment. Throw in a little "woman against woman" fighting a la formula vs. breast feeding and attachment parenting vs. everyone else and everyone loses.
*I'm using the working mother as an example throughout, because it's my experience.
p.s. I'm in the market for a lightweight umbrella stroller that doesn't suck. Any suggestions?