Rousseau vs. the Puritans

My beautiful children are making a lot of noise, so this will have to be blunt and unlinked.

American motherhood has been defined since the dawn of America as a nation by what we would now call a PUA (pick-up artist).  That’s right, if you’re an American woman promoting mother-only care as historical, the most natural and the best possible care for children, you’re promoting the views of a man who abandoned his own illegitimate children to be reared in orphanages without the least thought.

Rousseau’s view on motherhood was that women needed to be constrained in the domestic sphere by sole (not primary, but SOLO) care of their children so that they wouldn’t go out into the marketplace and rule over men.  Yes, that was what the man feared.  He claimed women were sooooo powerful that if they weren’t trapped at home constantly pregnant raising kids by themselves (only to be handed off to men at apprentice-age of 12-13 if boys and married off at 15-16 if girls) that they would TAKE OVER THE WORLD.  And yes, he comes close in his writings about motherhood to using phrases like trapped or constrained.

The entire point of Rousseau-style motherhood is to limit female power and influence and constrain women’s roles, even in the domestic sphere.  One must remember that in the 18th century, household production by wives and mothers was still economically important and a Rousseau-style program of childrearing would make it much harder to maintain that economic role.  This was intentional.

Rousseau’s framework of solitary childrearing by mothers has, astonishingly, continued down nearly unaltered in 200+ years in American society.  American society really is just that weird and started out with wacky theories about mothering propagated by a man who didn’t do any proper family formation of his own.

In contrast, the colonial Puritans had a view of motherhood as a primary role for women and marriage as the highest state for men and women (presaging the Mormons, who replicated some aspects of their views on family and community), but they didn’t believe women were supposed to rear children alone.  Women were expected to be part of a large, bustling household composed of husband, wife, servants and relatives, with the husband sometimes gone for months earning the giant wheelbarrows full of money needed to keep what was essentially the original home-based business going.  So Puritan women were expected to stand in their husband’s stead and have authority in both the home and the marketplace.  In this respect they diverged wildly from Rousseau while still holding to the idea that women were best suited to marriage and motherhood.

And while there were many young-married Puritans, there were plenty of older-married ones who started families later in life when they could get the cash together to set up the proper household structure.  So all the current fretting about people delaying marriage “too long” is just a lot of Rousseau-inflected hokum.

Rousseau is the source of the obsessive pressure for teen marriage no matter what in various eras in America, especially of barely-pubescent girls.  Rousseau is the real source of what many think is just from attachment parenting, the idea that mom is the only possible proper caregiver for children (and yeah, it’s always plural).  Because of Rousseau’s influence, women braved the frontier life and tried to rear children that way and enough continued encouraging it that, well, here we are today.

So if you are a mother struggling with small children in isolation, and you see people saying that this is what women really want and really feel fulfilled by, they are telling you a PUA fish story.

I remain a neo-Puritan on this subject and ever will.

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.