Why I’m Rejecting Intensive Parenting
“Be emotionally available at all times.”
“Your child needs you.”
“Be all in, at all times.”
You can’t be a modern parent and not hear some kind of reiteration of these comments. And yes, there is some truth to them, of course. Children do need consistent care and emotional availability.
But what annoys me is that it’s pretty much a given that it’s the mother, and only the mother who will take care of all her child’s needs. That’s an implausible expectation.
We live in a time of intensive parenting, or should I say intensive mothering. That means that everything related to raising kids fall on the shoulders of mothers. Fathers, while they’re also expected to be present, don’t have the bar set quite so high.
We like saying things like “it takes a village to raise a child”, but our actions speak for themselves.
What we are really saying is that all it takes is a mother who is willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of her child. We think grandparents, fathers, siblings, and other extended family are not important to raise happy, well-adjusted children.
We think a mother is enough. But she’s not.
The worst thing is that, to make her life “easier” and to encourage her to go on, we tell her that she has the most important job in the world, or that she is the most important person in her child’s life. We tell her to stay put, to show up, to get through it, to find a “balance” to take “care of herself.”
What a bunch of nonsense.
Because it’s not working, and the consequences are enormous.
Mothers are driving themselves crazy, trying to combine work, running a household and raising children in the way they think best (meaning spending all possible time with their kids and always doing some kind of activities or another).
They think that’s how they’re supposed to live but it’s all a lie. And when they want or have to work, they’re told they can’t “have it all” and that they should just slow down and be present for their kids. That someone has to be the “primary care provider”.
We live in a time of intensive mothering. The term was coined by Sharon Hays in 1996 in her essay, and later book, “The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood.”
In an article I read recently explains intensive mothering “as being self-consciously committed to child rearing. It involves being dedicated to her child to the point that she takes much better care of her child than herself, even if it means cutting back hours, or even setting aside a whole day for the child to do whatever he or she wants. Children need consistent nurturing by a single caretaker who will expend an abundance of energy, time, and resources for the child; this may also require research on what the child needs at every stage of development. Intensive mothers see themselves as the primary caregiver for the child; men cannot be relied upon for that. Intensive mothering, overall, is “child centered, expert-guided, emotionally absorbing, labor-intensive, and financially expensive.” (source;http://hubpages.com/family/Intensive-mothering-Pro-or-Con)
And, unfortunately, this parenting philosophy has become mainstream these days, especially for white, middle class women.
At the same time, of course, women of color as well as working class parents struggle financially and are looked down at by others, middle- and upper class women are expected to devote themselves to parenting and parenting alone.
Maybe the most extreme example of this has been described by writer Wednesday Martin in her book “Primates of Park Avenue”. There, she wondered about the curious practices of the highly educated wives of bankers, who, while they hired people to clean their houses, parenting was the only thing they felt they needed to do by themselves. For example, it took so much to get the child into the best schools, and that started already with the right daycare. Therefore, from the beginning, mothers were always busy making sure that their children had a leg up compared to the other kids. And even for this highly privileged part of society, intensive parenting had negative effects on the mothers’ well – being.
Did you know that mothers who believed that she is the most important person in a child’s life were more likely to be depressed, than mothers who didn’t buy into this philosophy?
The reason is simple: intensive mothering involves devoting all possible time to parenting, leaving no time for anything else: work, the so called “me-time”, and especially socializing.
When you buy into the intensive parenting philosophy, you believe that not only should you be the one to raise your child. You also believe that no one else can do it better, which means that you may see other parents as enemies who steal time away from your child.
But the truth is that these parents are not enemies. They are your friends. No, they are more than that. They will save your life. They will come to your help when you need it. They will hold the baby while you shower or do whatever the hell you wanted to do. They will help you and support you and tell you that they understand because they’ve been there.
And they will remind you that you don’t really have to (or even should!) do it all yourself. As they say, parenting is a community responsibility and not everything should rest on the shoulders of mothers, who, let’s face it, are usually in charge of everything child- and house-related.
But there are other ways we can fight back against the intensive mothering culture: involve the community. Involve fathers and extended families.
And of course, there are things that mothers themselves can do: like consciously taking time away for something they enjoy doing. Like asking- and receiving help. Like realizing that they can’t do everyting and shouldn’t even be supposed to. But most of all, mothers should stop giving a damn what others think of their parenting practices and just do whatever works for them.
Written byOlga Mecking
Olga is a writer who lives in the Netherlands with her husband and three kids. Her blog, The European Mama is all about parenting, living abroad, cooking and travel. She also has been published on multiple sites including Wall Street Journal Expat, The Huffington Post, The Matador Network, Babble and others. When not writing or thinking about writing, Olga can be found reading books, drinking tea and reading some more.