In the latest issue of The Atlantic (or, at least, the one I most recently got around to reading), Hanna Rosin has a provocative article on why mothers shouldn’t be or feel compelled to nurse their infants. She argues, rightly, that breastfeeding requires an inordinate amount of time, making it all but impossible for a nursing mother to do paid work. The benefits to the infant, at least as measured so far, are not sufficient to justify the costs to the mother. Moreover, excluding fathers from the opportunity to bond with their infants by feeding them is inconsistent with newer cultural expectations of fathering, and introduces a sort of inequality into the parenting structure that is hard to overcome as the child grows.
I agree with her on all counts. And I think she is completely wrong.
The trouble is that she accepts too many anti-maternal and anti-child aspects of our culture as given, and asks women to make the best of a bad bargain. Instead of demanding that the adults who make workplace policy should work to reduce the costs to mothers for breastfeeding an infant, her argument requires that babies should bear those costs. WHY should women or men accept that corporations have the right to structure work in a way that is good for productivity and terrible for families? Why shouldn’t we be asking the husbands of breastfeeding women to change the policies of the corporations they run to accomodate the needs of their future workers? Why shouldn’t we get serious about what’s good for kids– consistent caregiving from a few people who love them unreasonably (fathers, mothers, grandparents) lots of time to play at home, less time in school until they’re 7 or 8 (not extended-day preschool and full-day kindergarten with full-time academic pressure and not enough recess!), both parents with flexible time to attend the school play or nurture them through illness–instead of setting things up so that they work best for CEOs who want to spend 80 hours a week away from their families? And don’t let’s start with the “this will never work–our economy will collapse if we don’t keep squeezing every last drop of productivity out of workers.” It seems to me that experiment has been done and we may as well try something new.
Why aren’t Mormons more involved in these issues? We like to publicize our devotion to our families–why aren’t we at the forefront of a movement to make society more responsive to the needs of children and families? Why don’t we read the Proclamation’s injunction to “promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society” as a mandate to advocate for policies that allow fathers to be involved in the day-to-day care of their children from an early age, give mothers opportunities to develop their talents and contribute them to the larger society as well as to their own children (which, by every measure, also makes them saner, happier, better mothers)? Why don’t we call on corporations to structure workplaces that encourage employees to be persons of integrity, able to arrange their lives according to their highest values? Why don’t we demand that our most precious and vulnerable citizens should be the foundation of our thinking about public policy, instead of an afterthought?