Recently I had dinner with a friend, who told me, in rather elegant detail, how she and her husband had recently got their freak on in a cab. Date night, FTW! We also talked about her new business venture and about my work, and about a recent Supreme Court decision and a few other things.
When it was time to leave, standing on the street corner outside the restaurant, I said, “Oh and how are your kids?”
There was a pause and then a lot of laughter at the irony. A decade ago, she and I met not for drinks and sex chat, but for playdates. Back then we discussed night-weaning and infant slings, and whether “time out” was a good discipline method and the evils of High Fructose Corn Syrup. I remember several lengthy conversations about the color of our infants’ poop. It made us both happy, then.
Isn’t it interesting how things change?
It’s this that makes me feel so weary of Erica Jong. The famous sex-crazed ‘feminist’ writer, last fall, wrote a ham-handed polemic against young mothers who, she thinks, care too much about breastfeeding and holding their babies and don’t go to enough parties. This week she has an essay claiming new mothers are too apathetic about sex. She wants moms to get a life.
The thing is, she’s so close to a real issue: our culture tells us that “good” mothers are merely vessels to serve their kids, not adults in their own right. The new moms Erica Jong knows are into attachment parenting; she sees them erasing themselves in a whirlwind of breastfeeding, helicoptering and sexlessness. But there’s the other end of the spectrum, too: all those parenting books and “experts” who tell moms to control their children’s sleep, food and behavior are also saying: Mothers Exist Only To Serve Their Kids.
All that stinks. It’s bad for moms; it makes no one happy; it even suggests that you’re not supposed to be happy. We all have to stop buying into that.
But Jong’s essays lump the whole lot of it together in the most cantankerous and judgy way, somehow criticizing the moms themselves, sounding awfully like a Cranky Grandma.
This is not the encouraging reminder that moms are human beings who deserve self-care, that their own needs are real needs. It’s an attack on the moms themselves, trivializing their earnest dedication to motherhood. She criticizes new moms who:
wear [their] baby in a man-distancing sling and breast-feed at all hours so your mate knows your breasts don’t belong to him…. With children in your bed, is there any space for sexual passion?
Lets get a few things sorted out:
- Your breasts don’t, actually, belong to your mate. Whether you are lactating or not, they belong to you.
- No one likes that babies get hungry “at all hours,” and feeding them can absolutely interrupt your sex life and other things. It would be less of an interruption to have your kids raised by a governess/wet nurse. Or not have any.
- There’s nothing un-feminist about being, for a while, consumed with the mothering role. Mothering is a female thing to do — why should it be the one thing feminists aren’t allowed to really dig? As you make it part of your identity, motherhood will fold in with the other aspects of you: woman, worker, artist, activist, whatever.
- There’s nothing feminist about the idea that All Women Must Indulge Their Maternal Feelings Only On Erica Jong’s Timetable of Grandmotherly Wisdom.
So, how about this, instead, NewMoms: if you dig breastfeeding and carrying your baby and thinking about your baby, that’s OK. It’s more than OK, it’s awesome. And it’s appropriate, especially if you’re dealing with a kid who’s not even walking yet. But hey, NewMoms, that doesn’t mean you should never do things for yourself, either. In fact, you really need to. Check in with yourself from time to time and think about what you’d enjoy doing, just you, not for your baby. And then go get some of that.
And speaking of getting some, NewMoms, if you’re sharing a bed with your baby and attending to his needs and consumed with the newness of it all, and that leaves you feeling a little blah about sex, for a while, that’s OK, too. It’s more than OK, it’s totally appropriate. Temporarily. But do make sure that from time to time you check in with your own needs. Adults need physical love as well as emotional sustenance. If your dose is low for a while, that’s fine, but don’t ignore it entirely.
My own kids are out of babyhood, but not so far out that I’ve forgotten it all. A decade ago, a friend told a bunch of us, “We used to have sex and I’d think, ‘that was so great!’ and now if we do it, I think, ‘that was so great for the marriage!’”
“So true, so TRUE,” we all groaned wearily.
Now we’re sharing our raunchy stories over drinks. That transition didn’t happen in a week, but it did happen. Looking back, all of that seems like a season we all passed through, not a place we got stuck living in forever. It was like a very, very cold winter that was in some ways unpleasant, and which I don’t want to return to, but was after all just one season. We all worried a little bit that spring would never come, but when we could stop fretting over how freaking cold it was, we could see that it was also shockingly beautiful, unlike anything else. And after a while the sun came out and flowers budded again, and that’s beautiful, too.