A Mother's Place Taking the Debate about Working Mothers beyond Guilt and Blame (Part 3)

03 Jan 2016 16:48

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But as the reader hunts through the book looking for at least one reassuring bit of evidence to support these contentions, she comes up empty. Miss Chira cites studies showing that children in full-time care still strongly identify with their families and prefer their mothers to their baby-sitters (but she does not see why this makes a mother's prolonged absence all the more devastating: the child doesn't cease to look to Mommy; it's just that Mommy isn't there). Miss Chira complains, a la Susan Faludi, that visions of perfect mothers are relentlessly forced upon women, and casts the obligatory sneer at June Cleaver and Donna Reed. She praises the objectivity of feminist researchers who produce evidence that soothes her, and dismisses most others as biased. (Although she gets her facts worrisomely jumbled: she growls at conservative television pundit Laura Ingraham, who, according to Miss Chira, "emerged after the birth of her child as an advocate for the new traditionalist mother." Miss Ingraham is single and without child.)


And when Miss Chira's own research presses uncomfortable conclusions upon her for instance, that while routine, short separations between a mother and infant are fine, longer separations might be dicey she falls headlong into self-delusion and arbitrarily defines "short" separations to include 10- and 12-hour days. In any case, she retorts, shouldn't we be worrying about the danger of being around too much? "It is a parent's responsibility to curb children's natural fantasy that they are the center of the universe," she writes. "A mother who never says, ‘No, I can’t, because this is my time now,' is a mother who convinces children she lives only for them."
But what of the mother who is not around enough even to say no? The "experts" we don't hear much from in Miss Chira's book are the children of all these contented full-time working mothers. Perhaps that is because so many of them are not yet old enough to speak. Or perhaps it's because their opinions open up that tiresome vat of guilt we're supposed to stop carrying around with us. Miss Chira's own children do not seem particularly thrilled with Mommy's job. Her daughter, when she was four, wept bitterly one day after her baby-sitter left, and told Miss Chira that she wanted "her babysitter to live with us and never leave, and that her baby-sitter could be the mommy and I could be the baby-sitter."
Though rattled, Miss Chira says she got over it the way she seems to get over everything that rattles her about her children: by plugging ahead at work. In a stunningly unselfconscious passage in her epilogue, she tells us that shortly before her book was published, one of her children became gravely ill; in fact, the child's life was in danger for "many, many months." Fortunately for Miss Chira, however, she discovered that "work can be a lifeline not only in normal times but in dire times as well…. Going to work … allowed me to visit a world far removed from the one of sickness and sadness that we inhabited."
Unfortunately, Miss Chira's children have no other world to escape to. As I closed this book I thought of all the months Miss Chira took to write it months of shutting her door and steeling herself against her children's yearning to be with her. In the end she has produced not really a very good book, one that a year from now will be almost completely forgotten by everyone except those children. And they, I suspect, will never forget it. Find more info.

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