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Thursday, Feb. 28, 2008

My Mother Wears Combat Boots: A Parenting Guide for the Rest of

Interview with Jessica Mills

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What prompted you to write this book?

I had access to lots of books about general baby care…but I didn’t come across any books that incorporated not only the subculture I was coming from, the punk community, but also more political ideas. I didn’t come across any books where politics intersects with parenting. And basically I set out to write the book I wished I had access to when I first became a mom.

You cover a lot of ground in the book. What are the most important issues you address?

The importance of allowing kids to be able to fully become their true selves, and one way I discuss that in the book is by talking about the gender coding phenomenon and how we push certain ways of behaving and being on our kids… and how we speak to them. Are we speaking to girls in a way that promotes them being passive, and are we speaking to boys in a way that allows them to have more aggressive behavior?

Do you feel this has been covered sufficiently in parenting guides?

There is some really interesting cutting edge research going on in science-based differences between sex and gender. I don’t think it’s covered well enough at all in mainstream magazines and parenting books. There’s some information out there, but when I was doing research for my book it was the first time I’d come across this idea that gender identity exists along a continuum; that things are not just girl and boy—there are varying degrees of genders along a continuum and that was something I was speaking to in the book.

It’s a progressive parenting guide, yet it seems to be based in very traditional practices. Why is this?

That’s the million-dollar question. Often when people ask me what this book is about it’s like, well half of it is very progressive and edgy but by the same token a lot of it is very traditional.

Well perhaps it’s about offering a more well-informed examination of traditional practices…

I think that’s the key right there; being better informed…Our generation is coming full circle and asking itself: What value have we lost in natural child birth? What has been lost in by not only breastfeeding children but allowing them to breastfeed into toddlerhood? Is it really a great feminist advance that is forcing me into the workplace and forcing my kid into daycare instead of allowing me or any other woman to make choices for ourselves?

People are becoming more aware of the benefits of breastfeeding; but with something like co-sleeping, which you discuss in your book, there’s a lot of people who feel it’s unsafe. Did you consider leaving things like this out?

I wasn’t hesitant to include something so controversial in my book, mostly because the research is on the side of co-sleeping safely. When health-care practitioners give blanket statements warning people not to do it, that is not giving a person all of the information to make a well-informed choice. Once I did dig into the research I was more encouraged to include this chapter, not only because I uncovered the research that SIDs rates are more to do with underdeveloped hypothalamus areas of the brain…and also wanted to make the connection that if health providers are proclaiming the benefits of breastfeeding, why are we trying to undermine breastfeeding rates by having babies sleep separately?

Could you elaborate on your comment about women feeling like they’re forced to go back into the workplace after having children?

The second wave of the feminist movement did, I think, score some hard fought gains for women to have career opportunities outside of the home, and also have kids in daycare centers. Those are very important. But my personal opinion is that more and more women feel pressured to be out in the workforce after our kids are born. We feel like we’re somehow letting down the feminist movement.

Who do you feel will most benefit from your book?

Hopefully this will benefit people who are becoming first-time parents or are parents already and are looking for a different way of doing things because the things they’ve been reading in mainstream publications really aren’t speaking to who they are, or what their experiences have been so far. So hopefully it will be a good vehicle for people to find an alternative voice.

Additional Links:

Jessica Mill's Blog

Shepherd Express Book Review