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Is motherhood a prison?
November 16, 2010 2:38 pm | by

The Wall Street Journal just published an opinion piece on attachment parenting & cloth diapers in their Saturday edition. The headline – “Spend every moment with your child? Make your own baby food and use cloth diapers? Erica Jong wonders how motherhood became such a prison for modern women.

The author is clearly talented. Her article was deftly written to stab a knife in the heart of those who have wielded other equally venomous attacks in her direction.She eloquently attacked the parenting style, but I wish she had identified the real issue before writing a sadly misdirected article to be published on a platform like The Wall Street Journal. Her knife doesn’t belong in the heart of the parenting style. Her knife belongs squarely between the eyes of the culture and attitude behind the parenting style.

Jong is described as a feminist activist. How did we reach the day that a feminist activist is speaking out against a woman’s choices in parenting? Feminism involves political, cultural and sociological theories, as well as philosophies concerned with issues of gender difference. Did I really just read an article written by a feminist that advocated against choices that women should be allowed to make without fear of criticism or rebuff? Is she really attacking the right issue? Or could she just be saying, “Shut up world! I am ME and YOU don’t get to decide if I was a good mom”?
Jong’s words were just given a pedestal in one of the most well respected newspapers in our country. I think it’s time that we, as a community, choose to raise the standard. This article shouldn’t have been about a parenting style. The only reason she sees life through those lenses is because someone left her feeling like a bad mom. Someone shaped an influencer. Was it you?
It isn’t the first time it’s happened either. We saw it last week. And the week before…
The real issue is a lack of cultural civility between mothers. I’ve watched women rip each other apart online seemingly without consequence for years. Then they come into my store scared to ask questions because they are afraid that their method of parenting won’t meet my standard. If I had a $1 for each apologetic look I’ve had from a woman, I could pay off my house and yours too. It’s sad! Women should not be eating each other alive. Imagine how the world would be if we encouraged each other the way we hope to be encouraged. Dare I say it? We would all be better mothers. Most women really don’t want anyone telling them what to do… because, as we all know, there aren’t any hard and fast rules other than to do the best you can.

Natali Del Conte called for an “
internet time out” last week in her blog post after the cloth diapering community viciously attacked her (CBS was kind enough to remove the worst comments). Her report about “Diaper Wars” on CBS certainly wasn’t a fair representation of cloth diapers. Frustration was justified. Coordinated education and protest was justified. However, even righteous anger isn’t justification for ripping apart someone’s mothering skills or criticizing her personal integrity.

Del Conte
chose to take the cloth diapering challenge and cloth diaper her baby for one month. I’m proud of Del Conte for standing up to the cloth diapering community and offering to try cloth diapers while also drawing a line in the sand around her parenting choices.
I wish I was as proud of the cloth diapering community for the manner in which the challenge was posed. Yes, we want cloth diapers to be fairly represented in the media… but frankly, if Del Conte actually discusses the character of the cloth diaper community in her followup report on CBS, we’re likely to hear something more like what Jong just wrote for the Wall Street Journal.
Our customers tell us that they want cloth diapers to be mainstream. They want to be able to walk into a store in their hometown and pick up whatever they need. If this is ever going to happen, it is important that the cloth diapering community stops using words and attitudes to alienate the very people who can help make that dream a reality.

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” – St. Ambrose (A.D. 537)
I rarely write posts that so clearly state my opinion, but I’ve seen enough in the last week to last the rest of my career. I’m calling on all of the industry leaders to stand up and draw a line in the sand. Raise the standard. Stop hosting drama. Stop generating hatred. Stop hating. We should be respectful, friendly advocates for mothers who are learning. Research. Speak carefully. You never know who you are talking to or who is going to read what you have written. It’s time to realize that the influencers in our culture are watching you and start behaving like something and someone that should be watched.
When treated professionally and with respect, authors like Erica Jong, reporters like Natali del Conte and even buyers from big box stores could freely advocate for your product and parenting choices… rather than rail against the emotional prison imposed by rude, unfettered tongues.

About the Author

Jenn is the founder of Cotton Babies & creator of bumGenius, Flip, and Econobum, worldwide leading cloth diaper brands. She has four children (Andrew, Oscar, Elsie and Louis) and holds an MBA from Washington University. When she's not working full time, she enjoys teaching business leaders how to implement sustainable economic & social change.



  • motheringspirit said...
    November 22, 2010 at 10:42 am

    Great post. I think the lack of civility between mothers on issues like this stems from the fact that parenting philosophies often slip into ideologies. We come to believe that our approach – or theory or philosophy or favorite expert – is The Only Way, and instead of encouraging one another in a positive way, we end up tearing down those who don’t do exactly as we do. Your thoughtful reflection inspired me to blog about this as well, thoughts that have been percolating for a while:
    Thanks for the inspiration, and for setting a good example!

  • Anonymous said...
    November 21, 2010 at 9:21 am

    Great point on the practical issue of moving to mainstream cloth diapers — it’s not going to happen if cloth diaper moms are viewed as completely OUT of the mainstream. Whenever I’m asked about how cloth diapering has worked, I try to make sure, as with nursing and stay at home mom-ing, etc., to make the point that cloth diapers have worked wonderfully for US. As with EVERYTHING to do with parenting I think it’s important to always frame your comments that your experiences are specific to you.

  • J Pelham Family said...
    November 20, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    I agree with what everyone has said about the article. It’s not her place to judge us or us to judge her. It sounds like she has never lived the way we have with our kids. She will never know what she is missing. I feel sorry for her.

  • Mindy said...
    November 19, 2010 at 10:55 am

    Thank you for writing this. I resist fitting into some particular parenting group on purpose. I cloth diaper and breastfeed, but don’t co-sleep and I’ve always intended to make my own baby food, but never managed it. I like sharing things that have helped me as a parent, but not because I believe everyone should parent exactly as I do. I, too, was appalled by the some of the comments left for Del Conte. Cloth diapering is terrific – I love it – but I don’t think it is the only way or even necessarily the best way for everyone. We need to support each other as moms and enjoy connecting with women who make similar – and dissimilar – choices. I don’t want to walk around always assured that I am the only one doing things the only one way. In fact, I want to be able to change my mind – like I did when I decided to cd my 2nd at 8 months – when I see something that I think could work for me.

  • dannyscotland said...
    November 18, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    Something you wrote in your post made me think: I wonder if the women writing these ridiculous things are just feeling guilty because they chose not to stay home, breastfeed, etc. and they think that, by speaking out against it and somehow trying to make those into “bad” things, they will feel better or less guilty.

    Motherhood is not a prison. If you love your child then it’s not a prison. Prisons are for punishment. Is your child punishing you? Prisons are for people who have done something wrong. Is your child that “something wrong”? Or did you do something wrong by getting pregnant? NO!

    I’ve decided to just ignore morons who write crap like this. I don’t have time to listen to their half-cocked garbage. I have a daughter to raise.

  • Katie said...
    November 18, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Thanks for this, sometimes on BBC and other internet forums it gets crazy and just so rude I can’t stand it.
    We decided to cloth diaper because we were spending to much $ on chlorine free diapers because our LO’s skin was so sensitive that I sent out to find a better way and save us money since DH is no longer employed and we really needed two incomes to keep up.
    I went on forums like BBC to educate myself on what is out there and if this could be an option for us. The first diaper I ever bought was a Flip and we were hooked. We now have several types of diapers (a lot of BG!) And we would never look back. So, in my case the internet CD community was really great for me getting started. But, it seems in a whole that it is not true, which is unfortunate.
    A perfect world for me would to be able to open my own cloth diaper retail store in our town to help educate people that things have changed and they aren’t you mother’s diapers. It is hard to get that message out when so many women are so intense thinking that their style of parenting is the only way.
    I didn’t breastfeed for very long or baby-wear and when DH was employed also, LO went to daycare. Our society today made me feel like I was failing because I didn’t or did those things. It is so hard to fit societies standards of what a good mother in this economy. Of course ppl like the celebrities in the article make it look easy because it takes a lot $ to be a “good parent”.
    I would be thrilled to walk down the street in my own town and see a cloth diaper stores. The harsh truth of it is that this won’t happen with the attitudes coming through.
    So, I guess I will just have to drive an hour or shop on the internet and sit here dreaming about owning my own cloth diaper store.

  • Anonymous said...
    November 18, 2010 at 1:19 am

    I know I am going to be unpopular in this particular forum for saying this, but I read Jong’s article and can’t say I haven’t felt similar to her in the past. I live in a very environmentally friendly state and city. The social pressures here toward natural parenting, environmentally friendly child products, and cloth diapering are very extreme. I’m a person that doesn’t care what parenting style you choose or what diapers you use because I know it’s sooo very personal. Each family is different, each woman is different, and each child is different in how they respond to a particular parenting style. I’m not saying that what Ms. Jong wrote wasn’t negative toward the attachment parenting style, but it’s obvious she too has gone through what many women/moms have gone through. It’s a struggle to balance the mom pressures and career role if that’s what we choose. When not only our peers are judging us, in addition to being beaten over the head with social trends (as in my state and city) it’s very difficult not to get a little grumpy and emotional toward those pressures. If you were not already too red with anger by the time you got to the end of her article to notice, she did end with a plea. It went to the effect of she just wishes it were out there “do the best you can.”

    When a particular parenting style is trumpeted as the best for your child’s mental and physical well being, but you find out it’s not working for you or your lifestyle (physically or mentally), it’s devastating. The guilt is huge. You feel you’ve failed as a parent to do what everyone else is saying is the best for your child. Some of you said it, but it sounds as though you’re still condemning her for it, she is riddled with this same guilt. She expressed it in anger, and as a rather prominent figure, that seems to be irresponsible of her. But walk a mile in her shoes. Isn’t she allowed anger too?

    With that said, I do agree with Jen’s post. We as a peer community need to be more supportive and less judgmental of each other. Jen I think you do a wonderful job yourself being very supportive of your customers and policing your facebook forum and your blog. Kudos.

  • Amy T. said...
    November 17, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    Awesome post, thank you. Makes me proud to be a Cotton Babies customer. This sentence sums it up perfectly: Most women really don’t want anyone telling them what to do… because, as we all know, there aren’t any hard and fast rules other than to do the best you can.

  • HereWeGoAJen said...
    November 17, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    I was really disappointed in the cloth diapering community after I read through the comments on Natali Del Conte’s blog. Yes, the news story was quite bad, but people were rude and attacked her on a personal level. I thought her response and the fact that she agreed to try cloth for a month was very gracious and far more than we deserved. I love using cloth diapers and I wish that more people would try them but personal attacks are certainly not the way to recruit!

  • Anonymous said...
    November 17, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    To Ms. Jong:

    If motherhood is a prison, go ahead and lock me up. I love being a cloth diapering, baby-wearing, stay-at-home-mom (who also happens to be a veteran middle school teacher).

  • Amy said...
    November 17, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    Thank you so much for this! I was a sposie mom, my sis is a cloth diapering mom. We both formula fed, as we had no milk supply as a result of breast reduction surgery.

    I can’t tell you how it feels to buy formula these days. I can’t tell you how many dirty looks I received for FEEDING MY SONS. I’ve heard stories of women getting things thrown at them.

    Should I have worn a sign? Are other formula feeding mothers required to announce to judging strangers that they are on medication, have adopted their baby, were molested as children and are uncomfortable with breast feeding?

    The same is true for people who attack women who quietly breastfeed in public.

    We are all moms. We don’t make the same choices, for whatever reason, and that’s OKAY. We need to get over ourselves and start being kind to each other. And we need to be loud about it, because this nastiness has GOT to stop.

  • Anonymous said...
    November 17, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    Can I be honest with ya’ll? I began cloth diapering largely for the financial benefits. I do appreciate the environmental benefits as well, but that alone would not have made my decision. I continued CDing because I just love it. It’s become my hobby. In the past year I have gone through almost every kind of cloth, just for the sake of experimenting. But that is pretty much the end of my “crunchiness”. I don’t babywear (not that I am against it, it just wasn’t comfortable for me). I co-sleep only as long as it works for us, which has been the first couple weeks. I have not successfully breastfed for various physiological and emotional reasons. I vax, if we have a boy I will circ, etc, etc.

    I follow CD blogs, I participate at diaperswappers, and the like. And often I am leaving those sites feeling like I would be considered less of a mother in these communities because of my decisions. Every choice I have made for my children has been what was best for mom and baby, and I think that is what people need to accept: short of abuse or gross negligence, mothers are doing what is best for their families, and therefore every decision is right… for them, not you.

  • Anonymous said...
    November 17, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    (long comment…sorry)…I am a funny example of both worlds, as in attachment parenting/natural birth/cloth versus mainstream stuff….bear with my explanation…

    I part-time use cloth (try to all the time but have had 5 billion issues, more than anyone I think ever, from constant leaks to rashes to repelling to failed stripping and size issues),

    and my child takes only breastmilk but its all from a bottle because his NICU stay gave him nipple confusion, then he would not latch, then I had insanely forceful letdown, the choking kind…then I just got used to bottle feeding and pumping

    AND regarding birth, I took not one but TWO birth method classes, the bradley method and hypnobirthing, hired not one but two doulas for a hospital birth (due to medicaid not covering a birth center)…and I had a C section that literally saved my son’s life because he had a 5 and a half inch cord and we did not know it till the surgery (but I got the surgery cuz of bad heart rate decels..)

    Anyway, I am a poster child of adoring and trying at all costs to birth naturally, cloth diaper, and breastfeed, some of which I sort of accomplished in a backwards way, yet I can’t “tell my story” of any of my difficulties or experiences with these things without outraging their advocates, and I can’t complain to my mainstream friends because they will say “I told you so” and it will only reinforce their idea that these things aren’t possible…and they are possible…but sometimes its hard, sometimes there are major issues, sometimes we can’t do it by the book exactly, like with my breasdtmilk in a bottle…and once in a blue moon, we can’t do it at all…which is what happened with my natural birth attempt…I was one of the rare cases that my child would have died had he come vaginally, a midwife reviewed my records and confirmed this..

    but anyway, my point is that I have been stuck between both worlds, unable to really talk to either one because of all this crazy drama and crazy defensiveness and negativity on either side…I haven’t even read this ladys article yet, but I felt compelled to explain what its like to be in the middle in the way I am, cuz I think that happens to a lot of women…and most of those women give up alternative approaches to things, cuz they feel branded and judged and frustrated by the attitudes of the alternative communities, and then the mainstream community chimes in to support them by expressing their over the top critique of alternative practices…

    moderation of the tongue and leading by example and being respectful seems the best never know someones situation, life history, needs, experience, etc. so how can anyone judge anyone? and that fear of judgement keeps us seperate and afraid and angry…

    telling someone they have to do something and judging them if they don’t only makes them get resentful and rebel and be afraid to try and fail, or it makes them super defensive of their way and their minds shut off to any new knowledge or perspective…if we really wanna advocate cloth and attachment parenting, we need to lead by example and be kind and friendly about it, not evil

  • Priscilla said...
    November 17, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    Great post! I totally know what you mean by moms feeling guilty! I have certainly felt that way over my choices and even seen a friend brought to tears by another mom who disagreed and misunderstood a parenting choice she had to make for health reasons. I think hope that we can truly love one another as moms, despite our different choices. Each mom is a unique individual and it seems silly to think each of these utterly unique people would make the same parenting decisions. Moms need other moms as friends and supporters, not enemies, no matter our choices. Thanks for encouraging us to be kind with our words and to love and respect each other!

  • TheGirl said...
    November 17, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    I also posted a blog in rebuttal to the WSJ article because I was so offended.

  • thefreckledmama said...
    November 17, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    I have seen many, many discussions and debates stemming from Erica Jong’s article all over the web lately, especially within the attachment parenting community. I just wonder when the meaning of feminism changed from “movements aimed at establishing and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women”, to “women abandoning such things as motherhood and homemaking”? Isn’t the point of the feminist movement, that we even have the choice? I think Erica Jong wrote that article firmly from the perspective of not understanding why women would actively choose this lifestyle, because she herself did not. I dare say that it’s possible she wrote that article as a means of justifying her own choices regarding parenting and lifestyle-but honestly that’s just my opinion. The simple truth is, this is just yet another facet in the ongoing “mommy wars” of this generation of women, which is unfortunate-because that flies in the face of what the feminist movement is supposed to be.

  • Anonymous said...
    November 17, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    As a cloth-diapering, baby-wearing, baby-food-making, seemingly-counter-culture mom, it makes me very upset that people assume that being a mother was the only choice I could make for my adult life. It’s as if they assume that I have no other skills and have chosen mothering as my only option. I have a PhD, am a college professor, and am raising 2 kids in a more “crunchy” way than normal AND I’m happy about the choices that I have made. I can’t tell you how many stares I get when I wear my baby in a sling in public or change their diaper in restroom where someone else can see. I am proud of the choices I have made about my parenting style and am sad that someone would attack my decisions as making my life more like a prison!

  • subaruthie said...
    November 17, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Jong tries to address too many issues at once here… I think she’s trying to say that we can’t live up to the ideals portrayed by celebrity moms because they have a lot of help behind the scenes. And while she discusses the fact that children should not be fashion accessories or political statements, it certainly seems to be off topic with respect to the subject of parenting choices.

    I cloth diaper, breastfeed (and plan to make my own baby food), and stay at home as my son’s primary caregiver BECAUSE of the economy. It is far cheaper for me to support my family by doing these things (and others, like only cooking at home and not going out to eat). These choices are also the healthiest for my family and my planet.

    As far as environmental “propaganda” goes, I’m not sure what the author thinks happens to all the disposable diapers that get thrown away every year (or the massive amount of packaging that goes with toys and baby food). It’s a simple matter of math: if I can take one garbage bag to the curb each week instead of three, I’m doing something right.

    I am not a prisoner in my home. I stay involved with my colleagues; I worked at a small university and still occasionally attend meetings with my son in a sling. I have joined a play group. I follow mommy blogs that rally against the horrible things that we women do to one another (let’s face it, women are crazy and competitive to begin with… add in raging hormones and subtract sleep and we’re bound to hurt each other), like Mompetition and Free Range Kids.

    If I weren’t supposed to be the primary caregiver for my children, why do I have the working breasts?

  • Stacie said...
    November 17, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    Great post! That article made me insane bc of the comments about adoption, but I do understand the idea of mothers not holding each other up, but bringing each other down. It is sad! I caught a little flack for not breast-feeding, but I ADOPTED my children. From another country. I met them both (in Ethiopia) at 5 mos old! I know it “can be done,” but I chose not to based on my understanding (my sister – a midwife – told me it would be very difficult for a 5-6 mos old baby to latch on – esp. with me never having breast fed before) and my own stress about parenting, traveling, etc. You make the choices that are right for YOU, based on what you believe is right for your children. End of story.

    Sorry for the rant, but, again, great post!

  • Lanette said...
    November 17, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    Simply Compex, I agree Totally! Jenn, Thanks for this post! It was great and you are so right. I love to cloth diaper, but others may not, I don’t want them attacking me but I most certainly have no business attacking their choice to use disposable diapers either. Women can be some of the most viscous creatures out there. If we could just channel all that energy we use to compare and attack into building each other up and lovingly encouraging eachother we might be able to move forward.

  • Simply Complex said...
    November 17, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    I’m very happy to see this post. I use cloth and disposables for various reasons. I love them both differently. If someone thinks my diaper choice defines me or tells them the details of how I choose to raise my children, they are mistaken. My baby is in a sling a small amount each day too. I’ve tried to babywear to a greater extent, but it didn’t work for us. I don’t think that’s bad, or good, and I don’t think that makes my children better off or worse off than yours. I wish people would focus more on setting rules, enforcing them (however they choose to), and teaching their children patience and respect so that they have the tools to become productive members of society. Isn’t that a better way to spend your energy and efforts than judging someone who doesn’t want to homeschool or has their child sleep in their own room?

    I’m pretty sure that when I am getting to know someone new, I can’t venture a guess as to weather they wore cloth diapers, slept with their parents until they were four, were potty trained at 18 months or three years old, but I can certainly determine if they have respect for anyone other than themselves.