Women CANNOT mother alone

There, I said it.  Women simply can’t do it.  Either the village is coming along for the ride of raising your kid(s) by coercion or they’re coming along willingly, but it’s still going to happen.  There are news articles from time to time about women that expect kids’ toy or clothing shops in a mall to watch their children for several hours while they go buy their own stuff.  These women are single mothers and they sure aren’t dithering about how terrible it is to have a strange person keep an eye on your kid for a couple of hours.  This is the brutality of making motherhood so hard that only women who really really really want children or are really really feckless will do it.  The women who become single mothers are the ones who will just create situations where other people have to help out.  The women who marry first are more likely to wilt alone until they crack under the strain.

In a bizarre confluence of toxicity, the worst sorts of “traditional” or “conservative” narratives on mothering as something a woman does alone intersect with attachment parenting, which also presents mothering as something a woman does alone (sometimes not even bathing or meeting other private needs without the child physically on her body).  In both cases, women are told “it’s going to destroy your children to have anyone else feed, hug, kiss or show affection and other care needs to them, even (in the most extreme forms of this narrative) your own husband”.

Forcing women to take the burden of caring for their own children as if it’s normal to care solely and with complete emotional absorption for your own specific children is another one of the reasons women have fewer children than they used to.

Single mothers forcing the issue in the opposite direction, demanding lots of concessions and tolerance doesn’t always work out for them, but it reveals that when facing having to mother alone literally, women are very quick to try their darndest to avoid that.



42 thoughts on “Women CANNOT mother alone

  1. In my opinion, attachment parenting is the worst thing you can do for yourself and your child, and your marriage. I did take my newborn infants to bed with me, but only because it was the easiest thing at the beginning. But they were always placed in the bassinet. By six weeks, they were in the crib in their own room and we had a schedule basically established. I was strict about that. The newborn periods weren’t this constant exhaustion as others have found it to be; I also did not “wear” my babies like some people do; I knew that would lead to a bad situation, and I avoided a lot of problems by dismissing half of the modern attachment theories.


    • The problem with attachment parenting is that it draws from cultures where things like baby wearing are part of the childrearing process, but without the surrounding circumstances or babies that would be more suited to it. It also ignores that those cultures have lots of people wear a baby (as an example thing), not just mom (sometimes dad too).

      Schedules are great for babies that respond to them, I sure wish mine had.

      For stuff like hiking a steep cliff, wearing the baby is a lot easier than trying to make a stroller do that job. I’ve done both, wearing is better even if the baby isn’t a fan. But we don’t limit ourselves to one way of carrying infants around and about.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Do you think it was commonplace for women to raise lots of children by herself? I sometimes hear references to the farm wives who raised 8-12 kids almost by herself.


    • I have to disagree with you, TPC, on that score. I do think they raised children alone frequently. The big difference is that they utilized more common sense than people do nowadays. The attachment parenting craze is something that would never have happened in the older days. Homes were adult-centered, not child-centered, and that’s what I think starts 90% of all problems. Even in homeschooling circles I see this happening. You’re way better off when you establish a routine quickly with your oldest kids. I avoided a TON of problems that I saw others having simply by taking control and letting my kids know who was making the decisions — and it wasn’t going to be them. I have learned, though, that my advice is usually unwelcome among a lot of the circles of my friends, so I rarely offer it. (That’s why I blog, LOL 🙂


      • “The big difference is that they utilized more common sense than people do nowadays.”

        There was also a lot of just letting kids (especially boys) do their thing and borderline and actual neglect.

        On the one hand, a lot of current middle class standards are nuts (especially for infants and young toddlers), but on the other hand, current middle class parenting standards do a better job of keeping children alive until their 18th birthdays.


      • I think children will respond positively to firm schedules if you establish it from the get-go. All my kids are of varied personalities, but it was established right from the start that I was in charge. I taught elementary school for thirteen years and utilized most of what I used for management to make it crystal clear that I was the boss. It does work. Now, I have six, so I had to do this or I would have gone just as bonkers as a lot of these other Moms have done — but there are ways to handle it.


        • Kids bring some of their parents’ personalities to the table. My husband and I are strong willed and struggle with accepting correct authority. So we do schedules and routines, but we don’t act surprised that we have children JUST LIKE US. Their strong wills will be wonderful when they are older, but in the meantime it’s…interesting times.


      • Yes, in North American, farmer wives on the frontier raised large broods alone. They also lost many to burns and other neglect and died early from the brutality of the life. And their daughters and granddaughters overwhelmingly refused to repeat the experiment.


      • You Know Who said:

        “Yes, in North American, farmer wives on the frontier raised large broods alone. They also lost many to burns and other neglect and died early from the brutality of the life. And their daughters and granddaughters overwhelmingly refused to repeat the experiment.”


        Also, even they themselves might have a tendency to move back into town.

        I remember looking at a summary of the lives of Laura Ingalls’ parents, and they definitely moved into town in their later years and Pa practiced carpentry rather than farming. They also didn’t have a huge family.

        Homesteaders only needed to hold their land for five years and make improvements–so they didn’t need to make a life commitment to get 150 free acres. Also, they didn’t all succeed in sticking it out: “About 40 percent of the applicants who started the process were able to complete it and obtain title to their homesteaded land.”



      • There’s a very good account in Betty MacDonald’s “The Egg and I” of the homesteader experience for a woman. (It was relatively late, being the late 1920s, but the level of technology she and her first husband experienced was very homesteader-like.)

        The book doesn’t go into the marital issues, but within four years of marrying her first husband, she had left the homestead and her husband with their two children for the big city.

        And reading the book, it’s easy to connect the dots–back-breaking toil and isolation.


        • Betty MacDonald wrote a lot of other books. She was one of the numerous midcentury writer-mothers who wrote about the realities of domestic life and have mostly disappeared down the memory hole. Some of the things I talk about on the blog come from reading those women.


      • One of the data points for the question, “How well did people in the past cope?” is alcohol consumption.

        “Early Americans even took a healthful dram for breakfast, whiskey was a typical lunchtime tipple, ale accompanied supper and the day ended with a nightcap. Continuous imbibing clearly built up a tolerance as most Americans in 1790 consumed an average 5.8 gallons of pure alcohol a year.”

        “…modern Americans look quite abstemious by comparison, consuming only two gallons of pure alcohol per year.
        In 1830, consumption peaked at 7.1 gallons a year and drinking became a moral issue.”



    • A few of the pioneer women were in that situation, and a number of them smothered infants or burned young children. But some did, and it’s easier when you are doing it over 300 or so acres. Where women can feel free to let the kids run around doing whatever most of the day, they are more inclined to have kids in general. Conservative men tend to lament the lack of freeranging, but they also want full time homeschooling and full time home cooking done by SAHMs…somehow simultaneously.


      • Hmmm…I think we have to consider how the idea of parenting has changed. What we might see as neglectful was common. For instance, placing a child in front of the tv and giving them hours and hours of unsupervised time. Adults did this frequently, while a child was still in their home or close to home. My husband grew up in the country, is late Millennial/early Gen-Xer and had many hours of unsupervised time with his cousins in the woods and fields. He’s not from a large family, but his cousins from a large family did similar things.

        Parents are scared into supervising 24/7, because of kidnappers and child molesters. If parents have to constantly supervise every little thing, how can they actually get anything they need done? It’s what STMA said– at that rate the children are in control, not the adults.


        • But our elites, the younger ones, don’t have those backgrounds and that’s one of the drivers for even conservatives being more helicoptery (but weirdly in denial about how much of what they want is helicoptery).

          I don’t try to raise my kids to be elites, but a whole lot of people are trying to do so. Fear drives some, but it’s only one factor, and in the case of “homeschooled children can all get into Harvard!” types, I don’t think it’s part of the equation.


      • TPC said:

        “Conservative men tend to lament the lack of freeranging, but they also want full time homeschooling and full time home cooking done by SAHMs…somehow simultaneously.”

        Pick two, right?

        You can’t really have kids be free-ranging when you need them at home helping mom with the little ones.

        I suspect a lot of the problem is not really understanding how time-consuming the shopping/cooking/cleanup and the homeschooling are. I’ve had at least one discussion online with a similar guy where he squared the circle by saying that the schooling can be knocked out in just a few hours a day, but I’m pretty sure that that’s only true at the early elementary level. Things get very time-consuming, at least by high school–or they should be.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Helicoptering is so strange to me. It was only in the 90’s my siblings and I would literally roam the entire suburb on our bikes and at any given moment, our parents didn’t know where we were. We always remained together, but we probably covered miles by the time we were done playing. My parents were strict, and very overbearing for a few things but it wouldn’t have been feasible for them to keep an eye on us all the time. I grew up in a lower-middle-class home, with both parents working opposing schedules.


  3. I was a ranch kid and in my mid-teens, I got it into my head to start riding one of the horses on the property, which was barely ridable and had a million tricks. I fell off (or got tossed off) so many times. This was with very little adult supervision. Finally, I fell off and discombobulated my ankle and wasn’t able to walk for about three days. (Fortunately this happened when some adults were around.) No doctor–naturally.

    Looking back, the whole story gives me the heebie-jeebies. Knowing what I know today, I could have easily been permanently brain damaged or crippled by any of those falls. I don’t know that my parents ever expressed any concern about it, though…

    I have an upper middle class family now and one of my kids does therapeutic riding at a ranch out in the country. I don’t know that she’s ever had a fall. They wear helmets all the time, the ranch is very careful about the horses they use, and there are lots of volunteers on hand for the less experienced/higher need riders. My daughter is also a much better rider and more knowledgeable horsewoman than I ever was.

    I’m kind of a fan of modern middle class standards, but there are absurdities, like when I look around and realize that my 13 (!) year old has never loaded a dishwasher by herself. But she does other stuff and I’m hoping we’ll get round to it…


  4. One of the unique pathologies of the conservative religious world is the combining of different strata of expectations for mothers:

    –1880s farm family size (and maybe even a hobby farm)
    –1950s cleanliness and tidiness
    –21st century finickiness about diet, infant care and support with school work and extracurriculars, combined with the 21st century profusion of small consumer goods (the average home contains literally tens of thousands of items)

    Any one of those eras would be a chore to keep up with, but the genius of (at least internet) conservative life is that the different expectations get combined into one big mega expectation. I don’t know where to stick it with regard to era, but it’s especially challenging once one starts practicing hyper-frugality to be able to afford the 1880s farm family–for instance cloth diapering, family cloth, mama cloth, making your own detergent, etc.

    Realistically, one needs to either choose a few priorities or else get help to get it all done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s one blog which I’ll not name where all those expectations are rolled into one big huge nervous breakdown just waiting to happen for all the unfortunates who get sucked into taking the advice doled out….ooohh, boy, it’s rich…..


        • It could be any number of blogs, including some very big names in the broader Christian sphere. Although I will note that the monetized stuff is slightly more likely to support freezer hot dog meals and hiding dishes in the oven from unexpected guests compared to the unmonetized stuff.


      • No, I can’t, as I already described how terrible some of my experiences were when I had my old blog, and I don’t want to repeat that. There are plenty of them; pretty much any number of them will come up and you’ll probably find it. The manosphere guys love it, is all I’ll say.


      • “The manosphere guys love it, is all I’ll say.”

        Here’s my best labor-saving tip:

        Have two or three imaginary children in addition to your actual two.


        • Without touching on that hornet nest, another thing that is frustrating is the sheer number of people 45 or older blogging or writing articles about how to “do” raising kids and housewiving when they didn’t have the sheer number of anti-natal obstacles to deal with. They cheerfully live like it’s 2015 but act shocked that we can’t live like it’s 1970 or even 1980. Another kind of gerontocracy, one could say.


      • TPC said:

        “Without touching on that hornet nest, another thing that is frustrating is the sheer number of people 45 or older blogging or writing articles about how to “do” raising kids and housewiving when they didn’t have the sheer number of anti-natal obstacles to deal with. They cheerfully live like it’s 2015 but act shocked that we can’t live like it’s 1970 or even 1980. Another kind of gerontocracy, one could say.”

        I mostly mind when they’re doing it while sitting on a 1990s mortgage. There’s a lot of advice encouraging couples to start having babies now and worry about mortgage downpayments later, whereas in real life, saving a downpayment for a house while parenting is often a very slow process.

        I also notice that the longer it’s been since one has last birthed a baby, the more amazing a parent one was. (We’ve all run into those mothers of large families online that did everything perfectly…fifteen years ago.)

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Interesting conversation. It’s one of the reasons why in all the blogging I’ve done, I’ve rarely touched the parenting stuff. I can probably count on my hands the number of parenting posts I’ve written over 8 years, and that’s primarily because I know that 1) I’m not doing the best job in the world at it due to my temperament, and 2) the variables are so wide ranging when it comes to people’s situations that it’s foolish to try to get them to do what I did especially when I felt so inept.

    For example, yes, we had 5 ids but there’s an 11 year age gap between number 3 and number 4. Needless to say I had a lot of help, and even now that the older ones are a lot more busy, they still lighten my load with my two younger (now 7 and 9) just by helping with some of the house stuff. Prime example: while I am typing this, one of the 20-year-olds who has a free morning, is making pancakes while 9-year-old is making eggs and bacon. I’m sipping coffee and chatting with you guys, LOL. Most women with 5 children have them all under 10, are too busy to teach them to do stuff, an therefore do not have this luxury.

    But I do have a ton of laundry to tackle (I still do most of that myself- for me, hubs, the two younger and linens) so I better run.

    Good post, TPC.


    • “For example, yes, we had 5 ids but there’s an 11 year age gap between number 3 and number 4.”

      That was a brilliant plan. Also, high five on having so many girls!

      But as you say, not very replicable.

      Also, another pro-tip for young mothers: don’t have a special needs child among your oldest.


  6. There’s entirely too much “should” and “ought” attached to the many screeds on childrearing and homemaking etc. I wonder if there was this much wailing and gnashing of teeth before June and Donna showed up on TV with completely not-actually-happening-in-reality households.


  7. OK, what I’m seeing here is something with which I STRONGLY disagree.

    First — children are not harmed by “unsupervised” time, depending on how you describe it. Sitting a child in front of the television, while you’re in the room with them, with them passively staring at a screen, is neglect. Having your children outside, playing ball, riding their bikes, whatever they might be doing in the way of outdoor play, is NOT neglect.

    It is neglect to raise your children to be utterly helpless. I have four boys. Do you honestly expect me to be outside supervising their every move? First of all, that is detrimental to their upbringing as boys. They need to fall down, scrape a few knees, etc. To be there to pick them up every time they skin a knee is ridiculous and will only stunt their growth.

    We’re hearing a lot on the blogs lately, clucking about making sure our kids know how to do basic chores. There is also a lot of admonishment about homeschooling, doing this and that with them 24 hours a day — well, the only way to make homeschooling and self-growth possible is to let your children have some unsupervised (again, it’s all in how you define “unsupervised”) time to play, grow, learn, build a fort out of sticks, what you will. My kids are the only ones I know who are not and will never be allowed to have video games or cellphones. I forbid them. I also go through any videotapes or DVDs on a periodic basis and get rid of ones we’ve seen several times or that the kids seem to be getting too attached to, because I don’t want them getting too into electronics. They need the time to do school work, play chess and practice their instruments…..and yes, have unsupervised free play time, like football, basketball, bicycles and so forth.

    Our obesity epidemic is being contributed to by the proliferation of helicopter parenting. And I think our helicopter parents and those who aid and abet them have a problem with a guilty conscience. I have a theory on this, but I don’t think it would be very well received here.


    • I don’t think anyone said unsupervised time was harmful. I was the one who mentioned how nowadays, it would be seen as harmful because of the helicoptering. There’s no way parents can accomplish the things they need if they’re supposed to supervise their children’s every move. It is absurd for people to suggest that as the norm.


      • Complete agreement that the classification of stocky body types as “obese” is a problem. Three of my six kids are so thin that we have to purchase the slim sizes of pants and I still have to pull in the waists; and the other three are definitely much larger in body type — those boys wear regular sizes and my daughter is in misses sizes even at age eleven. I take great umbrage with anybody who would call them fat, because they most definitely are not.

        But I disagree strongly that the current model of dominant parenting is that good. We are an average family of average means, and cannot afford upper middle class private school (which is one reason we homeschool), so things my children do have to either be free or very inexpensive. I have paid for AYSO soccer and Little League baseball, struck a bargain with a piano teacher for a number of years to get my kids private piano lessons from a high quality teacher, who was willing to go on the barter system for a large portion of her fee — and it is thanks to her that my children got the scholarships they have now at their music academy. Without her generosity, they wouldn’t be able to play like they can now.

        Please be cautious about thinking that those with less financial means don’t or can’t provide plenty of outdoor time — if anything, they ought to be able to provide more, because they have less money for the electronic time wasters.


    • I don’t think there is a big overlap between obesity in children and helicoptering. Those parents helicopter kids’ sports and diet hard, too.

      I think the connection between helicoptering and obesity is a little different–the current social norm that all children’s time be supervised by adults means that in households where the adults are either unable or unwilling to provide lots of outdoor time and physical activities, children are pretty much doomed to physical inactivity aside from the commute from living room sofa to fridge. However, in households where the parents are willing and able to provide lots of outdoor time and physical activities, the children are rarely chubby. (My kids go to a very upper middle class private school and I’ve noted that the middle schoolers and high schoolers are with very few exceptions slender and athletic. I have one chubby kid myself, so I notice this stuff.)

      Even despite the obvious downsides for the nation as a whole (fat kids and kids that lack basic life skills), the current dominant parenting model has a lot of good points. There are fewer opportunities for bullying in person, fewer opportunities for older children to molest younger children, less teenage sex, less drug experimentation, etc.


      • Yeah, the obesity thing is partly a categorizing of kids with stocky body types as obese (my insanely athletic broad shouldered, heavy-boned kids are “overweight” even though they’d leave the researchers in the dust) and partly a demographic thing. Poorer kids, the parents can get food very easily and placate the kids with that because it’s not safe to go anywhere. And 15% of the population is poor, same as forty years ago.


      • I have seen the miscategorization of kids myself.

        I had two kids in the doctor’s office for an annual kid check some years ago and the pediatrician was cluck clucking over my son’s stats (he’s actually all bone and muscle–heavy stuff) while not even noticing that my daughter (who was technically OK by the charts but was verging on skinny fat) had very little muscle at all.


      • 90% of the time when somebody comments on anybody’s weight in my family (and my kids border on the skinny side), I ignore them. A couple of times I had somebody get more than a little over their line, and I just told them that if I wanted their opinion, I’d ask for it, but until then it really wasn’t their business. And oh my, did they get huffy (each time it was an older lady to whom I really owed respect due to their ages, but they were as officious as could be). Didn’t earn me brownie points, but I am past that stage in my life now. 🙂

        Recommendation — do that next time somebody starts talking about your kids’ weight and it’s not their problem.


  8. I think the analysis of attachment parenting here is subtly but importantly wrong.

    I think originally, in the 80s and 90s, people liked this style of parenting not because they believed no one but the mother could meet an infant’s need, but because they believed it was necessary to insist on the unique importance of the mother-infant dyad against the general insistence that caregivers were interchangeable.

    Now here we are in 2015 and obviously a lot of damaged and narcissistic people ended up adopting attachment parenting for less then healthy reasons, and an even larger number of people were driven into mental health problems by the sleep deprivation that results if you try to parent like an African villager in an American suburb.

    But parenting like an American suburbanite isn’t so great either.

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