Back to Nature or Back in Time?

Photography: Brandi Johnson

By Mary Malyon

If, like me, your head has been buried in a fug of nappies, baby food and breast milk for the last year, you might not have heard about a controversial book which blamed the green movement for romanticizing the ‘back to nature’ ideal and forcing women back into the home.

In Le conflit: La femme et la mere, French feminist Elisabeth Badinter blames the “holy reactionary alliance” of green politicians, breastfeeding campaigners and child psychologists for turning women into slaves to ‘green’ practices like reusable nappies, homemade organic food and breastfeeding.

Clearly, Badinter is on a completely different page from anyone following a more ‘natural’ parenting path: talking about leaving her baby behind she says, “I never wondered whether it was normal to not feel like spending 24 hours a day with just a small baby.”(My underlining). Yes, that made my toes curl as well! And she boasts that even in seventeenth and eighteenth century France, “women had a life apart from the children.” Have a read of the excellent Parenting for a Peaceful World if you want to find out more about what was happening to these unfortunate children – packed of to wet nurses for the first two years of their lives, swaddled and hung on a hook until it was their turn to be nursed.

But, going beyond her eye-watering disregard for the child’s experience, I think Badinter’s stance does open an important dialogue for ecologically minded parents. I had a chat with fellow mums and many disagreed with Badinter’s portrayal of mother’s as victims unable to make choices for themselves. “Everyone I know who does some or all of those things (cloth diapering, breastfeeding and so on) does it because they WANT to and because they think it’s the best thing for their kids and family. Not because they feel pressured by society,” said one mum.

I follow this maxim of choice. I use cloth naps as much as possible, but when I need a break I resort to disposables making use of recently available composting options. The same goes for baby food. If my partner’s working late or I’m just plain exhausted then a jar of mashed carrot is like manna from heaven, my small one loves it as well – often more than my home cooked creations!

I have not always been so Zen about my green parenting practices though. As a new mum of a sleepless baby, I often spent entire nap times hanging out diapers at a hundred miles an hour only for Isobel to wake just as I sat down for a cup of tea. And if it rained, I made those sleepless newborn nights even worse by worrying that my baby would have damp diapers in the morning. Then I brought a packet of disposables for emergencies and my mind was at rest.

So what drove my urge to ‘cloth nap or die’? Ethics? Or was something else going? Maybe Badinter does have point. If we are honest with ourselves could it be true that green practices are adding to the insidious burden of one up (wo)man ship that so often creeps into parenting? When you want the very best for your child and you see someone who is doing what you deem to be a ‘better’ or ‘worse’ job it can cause emotional turmoil.

I had a great conversation with a mum recently about this. She is committed to breastfeeding long term, but reflecting on her attitudes to mums who make different choices or who can’t breast feed she questioned: “What must that feel like in this strong minded world that decrees ‘breast is best’? I am guilty of judging other mothers internally for choosing to cut children off from their mother’s milk at a certain age.”

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