The Conflict in Modern Motherhood

Do you believe that modern motherhood undermines the status of women?  Breastfeeding, cloth diapering, making your own baby food, co-sleeping, attachment parenting.  Is this “naturalistic” approach to mothering bringing us back to the days of “barefoot and pregnant” in the kitchen?

Author Elisabeth Badinter seems to think so.  In her new book, The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women, she goes on to explain why she thinks educated women who become stay-at-home moms have lost their minds.  An excerpt from a recent interview with Marie Claire:

MARIE CLAIRE: What’s the problem with being a mother today?

ELISABETH BADINTER: There’s a feminism that was born in the 1980s in the United States that defines women through motherhood. I find this dangerous. From my point of view, motherhood is a choice, not an obligation.

MC: You’ve written about a “naturalist” strain to modern motherhood—breast-feeding on demand, natural childbirth, eco-friendly washable diapers, homemade baby food—that pushes women back into the home.

EB: Unquestionably. The gains of the previous century—epidurals, bottle-feeding, disposable diapers—allowed women to reconcile their roles as mothers with the necessity of being financially independent. This 21st-century project of naturalism, which makes the female into an animal again, is a rejection of those gains.

Homemade baby food is terrific if you know how to cook and have time to make it. But why demonize commercial baby food, which is balanced, quick, and accessible to fathers? While we’re waiting for biodegradable diapers to reach the market, I would choose disposable diapers [instead of washable ones]. Between the protection of the environment and the protection of the liberty and free time of women, my choice is made.

MC: You’ve also spoken about how all-consuming motherhood affects couples’ relationships. You write, “If the woman breast-feeds for months, even years, how is the couple to retain intimacy?”

EB: If 24 hours a day the woman is reduced to her role as a nursing animal, even putting the child in the bed between the father and the mother, the father is completely put aside. I think this is very hard for men, and I think the child becomes a factor in the separation of the couple.

Breast-feeding a few weeks, sometimes a few months, OK. But when it’s recommended that you breast-feed your child for one year—six months exclusively, with nothing else, day and night, on demand—there are obvious consequences for a couple.

MC: Do you believe that the benefits of breast milk are exaggerated?

EB: It’s true that mother’s milk is perfectly adapted to the needs of a child, and that it evolves according to the growth of the baby. It’s excellent. But frankly, the formula manufactured today is almost as good. And if it’s beneficial to the life of the mother, it’s worth it to give a bottle. We should stop telling women that when they give a child a bottle they’re bad mothers.

Read more of the interview here: Elisabeth Badinter New Book Interview – Elisabeth Badinter on Modern Motherhood – Marie Claire

What are your thoughts?


24 thoughts on “The Conflict in Modern Motherhood

  1. I think this woman is nuts. Breastfeeding destroys intimacy? Really??? LOL
    And it’s MORE trouble to serve your baby home-made food (which you’re cooking for the entire family) than to go out and buy commercial products? Whatever, lady.

    I think there’s value in embracing womanhood, whether or not a woman chooses to become a mother. Not everyone will choose to have kids, and not everyone who does will raise them the same way. Real empowerment of women means embracing our choices, whatever they may be, and supporting EVERY woman’s right to choose.

  2. I disagree. With my first child I nursed exclusively and then returned to work while still providing expressed milk. My husband and I have a great relationship and my daughter did not get her first cold until after her first birthday. I am currently expecting triplets and plan to nurse them as well as make my own baby food mainly for the financial savings. I think I am quite capable of being a “modern mom” and a professional who maintains a great relationship with my spouse.

  3. This is ridiculous. Homemade baby food can be made by anyone (in our house my husband does most of the cooking) and you can work full time and still give your baby breast milk for the first six month’s exclusively (I did). I agree with the previous poster too that everyone chooses what is best for them and their family – more choices is better for women, it does not set them back.

  4. I think this is a slippery slope approach to motherhood. Just because you choose to breasfeed doesn’t not mean all will be destroyed in regards to you and your husband’s relationship. There is a fine balance that most women have found and should be recognized for. I believe her responses set women back more than the actions of the mothers. So sad to have one woman essentially verbally attack other women for their choices. Might I add none of which are choices I have made. I bottle feed, use premade food (most of the time), and definitely use disposable diapers, BUT that is my choice and I would never attack another woman for the choices she has made regarding her family. As far as being educated and being a mother, I am an educated woman who has been a stay at home mother for a year and no one forced me to do it. What I choose to do or not do with my education is my business. It’s truly unfortunate that women can not be more supportive…if anything this is what sets us back more than anything else.

  5. As with all things, I believe that moderation is the key to motherhood. Is it good to put convenience and a career before the wellbeing of your children? No. But should you be so obsessed with being a “natural” mom that you give up on your dreams? Also no. I think the bigger issue is women judging each others’ parenting styles. Each individual mom should find a balance that works for them. If intimacy is being threatened then try a bassinet instead of co-sleeping. If you need a full night of sleep, let Dad feed the baby a bottle every once in a while. All of the books and magazines have moms today convinced that if they look at their kids wrong they’ll do permanant damage. We all need to relax and take these studies with a grain of salt. There will always be groups of people telling you that your choices are wrong. If you choose to stay home and take a naturallistic approach to motherhood then you’re destroying equality for women. If you choose to be a working mom then you are selfish and possibly scarring your children. We need to stop judging each other and start trusting our own decisions.

  6. I believe that when you choose to become a mother then you accept that you now have an obligation to raise your child to the best of your ability. The key is having a choice in the matter. Referring to a woman who chooses to stay home, breastfeed, cloth diaper, make her own baby food is NOT undermining women’s rights. Forcing a woman to become a mother by denying her the right to choose an abortion is far more a danger.
    Anyone who has done a grain of research knows that breastfeed until AT LEAST 1 greatly benefits the baby, homemade baby food is far healthier and just as easy to make, and natural childbirth is less risky for both mother and baby. This woman obviously did not do her research or simply does not care what is best as long as SHE is fulfilled.

  7. Wow, I am so shocked by this authors opinions! Becoming a mother and choosing how best to care for your child IS a choice but it doesn’t mean choosing breast over bottle or cloth over disposable diapers means the end of a woman’s independence, rights and romantic relationship. It sounds like this book is a compilation of Ms. Badinter’s own personal fears and misconceptions, not facts that face women today.

  8. There sure are a lot of passionate comments out there, but I think some of you in lieu of defending your PERSONAL choice are doing the same thing this author did and basically insulting women who have not made the same personal choice as you. There is no right or wrong. I chose not to breast feed my children because for me it was something I had no interest in. I made sure they received balanced nutrition and in turn have healthy, happy and extremely intelligent children. I chose to go to work after maternity leave, because I knew I would not be doing my family the best service by staying at home full time as I enjoy my life outside of being a mom. I did however, feel terrible and hurt to be criticized by these personal choices by others who like to ride their high horse all day long. That’s great if you want to breast feed for several years and stay at home full time with your children – but just remember that doesn’t make you a better mom, just different – and everybody is different.

  9. Thanks for posting this review. I will definitely check out Badinter’s book.

    Personally, I feel that mothering is an experience that is dependent upon so many factors and I always struggle to situate very strong arguments about any “correct” approach. In fact, as a feminist and as a mother and as a career woman it flat-out bothers me when other women assume that there is a clear route to empowerment. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Wow. That’s all I can say. She is crazy to think that formula (processed food) is going to be better than something that’s all natural. That’s what breasts are made for – to produce food for your offspring. Ughh!!

  11. Although I don’t entirely agree with the author’s point of view, I do think she has some valid points. Breastfeeding can (but doesn’t have to) interfere with intimacy. I know that my daughter is 2 months right now and I also have an 18 month old that I breastfed until nearly a year. They were/are both breasfed on demand with the exception of nights as my son got older. There are definitely times when I don’t feel like being touched by my husband with an infant on me all day long. The hormones do bring down the sex drive. As soon as I stopped breastfeeding my son it returned to normal. It’s definitely a sacrifice worth making as it’s only temporary and (with the exception of the firs 6 weeks or so) certainly wouldn’t define myself as a nursing animal! I can understand her point of view about disposables vs cloth…I have thought often that I am doing a diservice to the environment having 2 babies under 2 and using disposables. They pile up like mad and the bill really adds up. But seriously, I can save trees in another way and still hold onto my sanity with having 2 babies.

    Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. Again, I don’t agree entirely. I have a college degree and have had a variety of jobs but Motherhood is the most difficult and thankless job out there. We shouldn’t feel bad for using disposables, formula or jar baby food as long as our children are well taken care of. But if we can make those choices it is something to be proud of. I believe that women are created to be strong creatures and we CAN do it all if we want to.

  12. Oh my! First off, I am certified in lactation and have to say…formula is NOT just as good as breast milk. I’ll stop there.

    I am not sure if this author chose to be a mother yet or what her relationship with her husband is like…but in our family, I never felt like a nursing animal (crazy talk!), nor did my marriage suffer from breast feeding (my husband quite enjoyed the benefits to the baby and also the cost savings!). And our marriage is stronger since our little boy has joined our family. We are constantly in awe of this little miracle that we made together and we laugh together through the happy times and even harder during the crazier times.

    My heart breaks for this author. It seems that she feels so vulnerable around mothers who choose to mother more naturally and vulnerable to lose the respect of her own choices in general.

    Be kind to each other. So very important.

  13. I think people are too concerned with whats “right” and “wrong” instead of realizing that what’s right and best for one mother and family is completely different from another mother and her family. We are all different and have different ways of doing things and I don’t think it’s right to criticize one persons choices over another. I think what makes a modern woman special is giving her the right to choose what kind of life she wants and if she chooses to stay home and be a wife and mother there is absolutely nothing wrong or backwards in that. If we are comfortable with our own choices and decisions that’s what matters most.

  14. I just wish I had time to think about what was “right or wrong” when I got pregnant and had my babies. Now, I can look back and understand how everyone has their different views/ways. I just think at the time, we all just do what feels right to us and what works for us and our family at the time. Hind sight is always 20/20. I think I did great!!! My kids are awesome!!!!

  15. I wanted to add to my last post. I mean, when I get pregnant, there are so many changes and choices to be made in such a short amount of time. Think about it. I don’t think there is any other event in life with so many!!! Just the fact that all mothers go through this and have been doing it since the beginning of mankind is a miracle in itself! We are to be celebrated!!!! It’s one heck of a fast whirlwind ride!!!!! So hold on tight and scream when you need to and feel the love!!!!!!!

  16. Dr Lisa, I think you’ll appreciate this quote someone posted on FB this morning:

    I’d love to be an ideal mom, but I’m too busy raising my kids!

    It seemed to sum up my life, and many of the commentator’s feelings in this thread. 🙂

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