Mothers and Fathers, 2013

don't forget baby in carThe blog post below was written in Hebrew by Esther Pelled, author of the blog Unedited. She is responding in part to a report on Channel Two News last Saturday evening, which claimed that the Israeli health ministry puts too much pressure on women to breastfeed.

Thanks to Julie Rosenzweig of Walkable in Jerusalem for helpful suggestions to improve the translation.

My comments at the end.

Mothers and Fathers, 2013, by Esther Pelled.

The report tonight on Channel 22,  for and against breastfeeding, and the attempts by the Health Ministry to encourage mothers to breastfeed, and the maternal outrage regarding this pressure.

So here it is: Mothers need to give birth, they want to give birth. They want more than one child. They want to work. They have to work. Most have to work because they have a financial need to work, and others have to work because there are no other cultural options. Not working means being erased from the social map. Even those mothers who strongly identify themselves as mothers and not career women cannot imagine not working: Whoever does not work, does not exist.

So we have a mixed message, if I am seeing it correctly, that is, in a blur. The more mothers I meet, the more I see that they are trapped, trapped in the feminist revolution, the industrial revolution, and the cultural revolutions. They need to be a developing and developed subject [MiI: I’m not clear on this phrase, so I translated it literally], and they need to be a devoted mother, breastfeeding, real. And this is true even though most mothers are part of the middle class, meaning they don’t have enough money to live, so much so—and it’s impossible not to say it—that devoted fathers forget their babies, Dear God, they forget their babies in the car.

Something is rotten in a state in which mothers are expected to be career women who breastfeed, and fathers forget their babies in cars. It’s so terrible, this forgetting, that one cannot lay blame, and one can only wonder a deep wonder and think how it happened here that this happens here, that parents are so torn apart that they forget babies in their cars, while the health ministry is sending strong messages about breastfeeding, and the employment ministry is encouraging mothers to go out to work. In other words, be a mother as if you are not a working woman, and be a working woman as if you are not a mother. As for fathers, they don’t have the problem of contradictory messages. For them nothing is mixed: They are just exhausted, they simply forget, they forget the babies in the family car.

In case I am not being clear let me say it directly: I am not blaming these fathers. It’s so terrible what happened, and happened once more, that I can understand that it is a question of inability, inability to stand up to what life in this culture demands. To educate women to breastfeed and to create a market that requires them to return to work after 3 months, self-righteous capitalism in other words, is a deep sickness, a contradictory social message. The cultural subject is free, free to fulfill himself, meaning, to work so hard that he forgets his baby—not someone else’s, his ownin the family car.

My daughter, today: “Ima, how is it that you pick me up every day from gan at 1:30? How is that possible?” Indeed, how is that possible? I currently know of one young woman, only one, who stops working after birth, for more than 3-4 months. There are too few babies who stay with their mothers after six months. There’s no reason to take a six-month-old baby from home, to a stranger’s arms, no reason as far as the baby is concerned. As for the mother, if she doesn’t return to work after six months, it means that she is a problem, that she herself fears returning to work, that she is a “nervous mother.” The underlying cultural assumption is that the babies are truly ready for this separation at six months, some even at three (people say that  3-month-olds are too young to understand, meaning, they can be fooled), and therefore mothers must also be ripe for this (the mothers are also fooled, really). This is of course completely ridiculous. Babies can handle separation at a year, if they are forced to. In this matter most people simply lie to themselves, because the culture in which they live taught them to lie because of market demands.

So this is the situation. Breastfeed and work, work and breastfeed. And be careful not to forget your babies in the car, because it’s hot. And live in a rented apartment because you have no money to buy a house, but be embarrassed by this, although it’s not your fault, and then go out to work for more than ten hours a day to buy a house even though you can’t, but don’t forget to nurse, and don’t forget babies in the car. In general, if you can’t live up to this, don’t have children. On the other hand, have children, because we are Jews, and family and children are our top priorities. In other words, accept all of the paradoxes and remain sane, even though it’s hot and you have no house, even though the mortgage on the house you have eats up your life, even though the combination of the mortgage and the gan finishes your salary, that’s why we have told you, it’s best that the mothers work, but better that they should pump milk before going out for nine working hours a day. When you get back, if you haven’t forgotten your child in a car, be a happy family, cultured, in which both adult subjects presumably fulfill themselves and the children presumably get everything they need, yes, between 4:30 and 8 PM each night, usually with the presence of one parent, because the other is still working. Perfection. And let me end by wishing a good salary to all of us, Esti P.

Pelled has touched on the inherent conflict between the needs of babies and the demands of modern life, particularly in Israel. An American friend told me that she doesn’t feel that being a stay-at-home mother takes her off the social map. But since the early days of the State of Israel, mothers are expected to go out to work. Back then, it was a matter of survival. It seems that it may be today, as well. I agree that the phenomenon of leaving babies in cars (3 have died in the last month or so in Israel) reflects the stress placed on many young parents.

Related posts:

Kids Pay the Price of Free Gan

Tips for Helping an 18-Month-Old Adjust to Daycare

Tips on Staying Home and Staying Sane

Breastfeeding and Working

image: pixydust8605


  1. Thanks for sharing

    People become more intrinsically motivated to meet babies health needs when they are not pressured, feel that they are autonomous and self directed , are competent = have the ability and accomodations to act on their decisions , have a sense of purpose and are supported by family and society

  2. Hi Hannah,

    Thanks for your amazing translation, which may be even better than the original post, in transferring the pain, anger, and so many other emotions which arise from reading it….
    I hope that our society will understand the meaning and implications, which are so clear in this post, and that it will happen soon…We must wake up. These deaths are a wake-up call.
    I hope that things will be different when B”h my granchildren are born… Because I have been one of feminism’s, or “culture demand” ‘s, victims. I separated from my babies too soon, before they and I were ready, and the pain stayed with me for a very, very long time.
    Thanks again.

  3. I’ve scoured the article (which I enjoyed), but still can’t quite understand what you mean by its “anti-establishment tone,” and how it differs from the tone you would have taken. She’s criticizing cultural demands and assumptions, some of them backed up and/or complicated by governmental policies. Is there some “establishment-conciliatory” way in which you would have framed the same criticisms? I’m not sure what you mean by “establishment.”

    • Thanks Julie (and for sending me the editing suggestion earlier). I mean the talk about the references to “benevolent capitalism” and the kingdom’s subjects. It has socialist overtones.

      • I’m not familiar with Peled’s work. On the face of it, I would have assumed that she’s a member of the secular, left-wing academic elite, that she hasn’t much use for Jewish tradition, etc. But not many of these people are actual Marxists these days. In any case, if you read a recent Haaretz interview with her, she hardly comes off as a countercultural militant.
        Characterizing her tone as “socialist” strikes me as not very useful. Many European countries are quasi-socialist or “social-democratic” in character. Israel used to be more “socialist” – maybe it would be better if it went back to being that way, instead of trying to out-America America. Don’t we admire the Scandinavian countries for their generous maternity leaves and social safety nets? There are more nuanced understandings of “socialism” and, indeed, of “capitalism.”

  4. What an amazing beautiful article that spoke to my heart. Thanks for posting it Hannah!

    It captured my feelings very closely (as an attachment-oriented mother with a very rewarding career). The only thing that I did not like about it was how she seems to think that Israeli government ministries are somehow to blame for this phenomenon.

    This is bizarre and totally inaccurate. Any government cares about keeping people healthy and out of poverty, since it is costly when people are ill and impoverished. That’s why it encourages mothers to work and breastfeed.

    However, the societal trend of women having to work full-time in demanding careers in order to scrape by is much bigger than a few Israeli Health Ministry pamphlets. It has become almost universal in Western economies and is the unfortunate and unforeseen side-effect of the activism of our feminist forebears.

    When they demanded that a woman is entitled to work in high-level, high-paying jobs, they set in motion an economic reality where, 40 years later, a woman is obligated to work in high-level, high-paying jobs – in order to survive financially and maintain social status.

    Before feminism, our grandparents scraped by on one professional salary (e.g. a teacher – yes even a teacher’s salary was livable wage 50 years ago).

    Since feminism, our families can only scrape by on two professional salaries.

    And our children suffer the most.

    But feminism never cared much about children.

    Note: I am not an economist and maybe this is a simplistic view.

    • Thank you Naomi, I’m no economist either and am not sure how one leads to the other. I do think that parents have higher standards of living than earlier generations of young parents. Not that they have it easy.

  5. I was wondering whether mothers and fathers see the big picture – polio hysteria here in Israel , the immune system of the baby and breast feeding. Kids with weak immune systems are now more at risk

  6. I personally don’t see how women juggle work and home; I am very grateful for the possibility to stay home with our two daughters, aged 4.5 and 3, who are home-educated – and yes, we live in Israel. I breastfed the first daughter for 15 months, and the second for 27 months. Of course this couldn’t have been done if I worked. It takes a lot of scrimping and saving and sacrifices on our part, but we live on one just-above-average salary, are out of debt, give “maaser” and put some money aside each month.

    Also, there ARE places in Israel where non-working mothers do not feel isolated and cast out. If you truly desire it, you can seek out such places, and places where it is common for children to remain home at least until the age of 3.

  7. The issue is not only the culture but also that people don’t think for themselves.
    Breastfeeding is more important than having a baby every year. By a LOT.
    If you are spending close to your salary on childcare (plus formula), there is no reason to work. Stay home with your kids.
    Babies do not need a social life or a preschool at age three months, nor do they need it at a year or a year and a half. SOME children START needing it at two years. But don’t send your kid to gan until you see that he actually needs it. And if you do, say that you can’t stand being around your kids day in, day out, or that you prefer to work. In other words, tell the truth.
    If you can’t stand to be around your kids, then I’m not sure why you chose to have them. Kids aren’t decorations and they’re not so that on Shabbat and holidays you can enjoy/ be proud of/ say that you have a family. If you can’t handle being home with them for a week, either work on yourself or stop having kids.
    And say it like it is. Yeah, maybe it’s embarrassing.
    But it’s a whole lot worse to lie about it. Because if you don’t know how to be a mother, it shows. If you don’t have kids because you love kids, it shows. Your kids feel it and your neighbors know it. So you might as well stop lying.
    Ah. And don’t have kids to keep up with your neighbors and friends. Kids aren’t objects.

    Oh. And stop telling mothers who nurse and/or don’t send their three-month olds to daycare that they’re doing the wrong thing. Because you are.

    And then it’s okay to forget a kid in a car. I think that any parent who can do that shouldn’t be allowed to have more kids. If you can’t take care of the ones you have, don’t have any more.

    Basically, people, start thinking for yourselves. Start taking responsibility. And stop lying.