Originally released in France in 2010, The Conflict by Elisabeth Badinter was translated into English and released in the United States in 2013. Younger son was 2 and I read nothing longer than the back of a cereal box. I remember a dear friend of mine from my most excellent moms’ group talked fleetingly about the book, but I was such a wreck I probably just nodded then checked to see how long it was until 5pm and I could have some wine and cheese and crackers.
Now that younger son is Six and older son has graduated from college, my brain has returned to me and one of the first things I remember seeping up from the ooze was the hazy recollection that someone, somewhere had had the nerve to say that modern motherhood was threatening female independence. And that the person had been French.
Whoo-ee, the book was not hard to find. Just follow the angry reviews on Goodreads. Man, Badinter is my hero. No one takes on La Leche League in my neighborhood. You’d be driven from Trader Joe’s, the park and the PTA. Getting chucked from the PTA might not be so bad in some places but the local group here is pretty good and sometimes, depending on who hosts the meetings, there is booze. One takes one’s pleasures where one can. But I have to say that overall I do agree with Badinter’s position that modern mothering can sometimes have the often unintended side-effect of sidelining many women.
Do I agree with every word she wrote? No. But I do think it is important that we as a society examine the spoken as well as unspoken ideas we hold about the best way to raise children. This book picks a fight with the prevailing idea that naturalism and maternalism are our best hope for raising healthy, happy children. But what about raising healthy, happy moms? And that is, to me, the most important question Badinter is asking.
We focus so much on child development, which is important. But what about maternal development, the process by which a woman becomes a mother? And as her children’s needs change, her needs as a mother change. We seem to be focused on one part of the equation. What’s best for baby should be best for mom. But the fact of the matter is, sometimes it just isn’t. That is not something moms should be ashamed of. But with many of the modern mothering mores, if you don’t conform to the norm, there is quite a bit of shame in store. And that doesn’t help nurture mother or baby.