A Few Parenting Clips

On fathers:

A friend recently mentioned that one of her friends was starting a fathering blog called Fathers Who Feel. The name itself caught my attention. I have noticed that most of the father blogs out there are written by men who seem interested in exploring the complexities (social, cultural, emotional) of fatherhood. However, few wear their intentions on their sleeve quite so boldly as this blogger. It’s a good blog, and he (the author calls himself simply “One Dad”) does a nice job combining the simple accounting of a life as a dad with the reflective thoughts of a dad who “feels.” This bit from recent post caught my attention:

Parenting seems to defy any attempt at labeling it. Any attempt to reduce it to a word. A few come to mind: Love. Extreme suffering. Ecstasy. Punishment. But it’s simply a matter of spirit. Ours rubbing up against theirs, sometimes until they’re rubbed raw. Which is pretty messy, let’s face it.

So many of my non-parent friends have asked “So what’s it like?” and after not having very satisfactory answers for them the conversations tend to devolve quickly into cultural stereotypes and cliches “So you’re not sleeping much?” “I bet you never leave the house.” “You must miss your old life.” These questions are the shorthand out culture has created to define parenthood, and frankly they make me grit my teeth. The truth is much better summed up by the daddy-blogger from Fathers Who Feel – “it’s simply a matter of spirit” – utterly powerful, yet profoundly undefinable.

If you head over to the Fathers Who Feel blog, be sure to also check out the lovely post entitled “Things that quicken my heart“.

On mothers:

There has been a New Yorker article making the rounds in parenting circles recently (this weekend alone, two separate people brought copies of it to show my wife and I). It is a history of breastfeeding, with a particular emphasis on the breast pump. The article is fascinating for the connections it makes between corporate culture and American values around work and motherhood. “One big reason so many women stop breast-feeding is that more than half of mothers of infants under six months old go to work. […] The nation suffers, in short, from a Human Milk Gap.” Instead of changing the laws that force women back into the workplace after a mere three months (often unpaid), we cheer corporations who install pumping rooms which the breast pump industry promises will “boost productivity.” Obviously, we ought to cheer those changes in corporate culture that support mothers who choose to return to the workforce, but we should match those cheers with shouts for policy changes are are truly pro-family.

While there is a lot of rich nuggets to explore in the article, there was one point that the author made as little more than an aside, but that I found striking. She wrote, in a parenthetical, “A brief history of food: when the rich eat white bread and buy formula, the poor eat brown bread and breast-feed; then they trade places.”Like so much of our health care system, class has had a profound effect on the history of breastfeeding. Many groups like Save The Children have documented and fought against the powerful marketing campaigns of formula companies aimed at low income mothers.

In the end, the article seemed to suggest that our uniquely American drive towards “progress” has led to an overemphasis on technical and technological solutions to the challenges and changing cultural roles of motherhood. Rather than examining those cultural changes and asking what is best for our children, our families, and our communities the companies that make breast pumps have lept in to promote gadgets that allow women the best of both worlds. The author captures this contradiction best when she writes:

The stark difference between employer-sponsored lactation programs and flesh-and-blood family life is difficult to overstate. Pumps put milk into bottles, even though many of breast-feeding’s benefits to the baby, and all of its social and emotional benefits, come not from the liquid itself but from the smiling and cuddling (stuff that people who aren’t breast-feeding can give babies, too). Breast-feeding involves cradling your baby; pumping involves cupping plastic shields on your breasts and watching your nipples squirt milk down a tube. But this truth isn’t just rarely overstated; it’s rarely stated at all. In 2004, when Playtex débuted a breast pump called the Embrace, no one bothered to point out that something you plug into a wall socket is a far cry from a whisper and a kiss.

This, to me – and to the author – is not about pumping (my wife and many of my friends use breast pumps for all sorts of reasons). This is about the “cynical politics of pump promotion” that have made it far too easy for our policy makers to ignore America’s disgraceful and dangerous (as well as classist and racist) policies surrounding family and maternity leave.

It’s a good read – support the New Yorker and go read it here: “Baby Food

1 Comment

  1. Tom Nields-Duffy says:

    Hi Josh:

    My name is Tom. I write–occasionally, as you can see–the Fathers Who Feel blog. I obviously have not been doing it lately, choosing instead to work as an actual father. Anyway, I have very complex emotions about that and only just came across your response to my blog. And then saw you blogging about it in such a generous way. I cannot tell you how much this means to me. Truly, I didn’t quite understand the power of this medium until just now.

    It’s been a long day and I’m not functioning very well. If you left an email address I didn’t quite notice but I think you now have mine. If you’d like to drop a line please do. It would be a pleasure to hear from you. And don’t be alarmed if I take a while to respond. I will.

    Thank you again. I’m really touched by your thoughts on my blog.

    Be well.


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