“Love is an amazing thing. It makes you feel you can climb mountains and swim oceans for the loved one…and that great drive and desire comes flooding back with grandchildren.”
Miriam Stoppard, now in her 70’s, has experienced life as a doctor, journalist, writer, broadcaster, and businesswoman. Perhaps more importantly, she has experienced it all as a mother of two sons, four stepchildren, and eleven grandchildren. One of her sons is actor Ed Stoppard, from her marriage to playwright Tom Stoppard from 1972 to 1992 .
She attended Universities at Newcastle, Bristol and London and earned numerous degrees, including her M.D. She became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1998. In 2007, she was voted the United Kingdom’s number one parenting guru by the Bounty Mums. She received the Stonewall Journalist of the Year Award in 2008.
Sharing a Lifetime of Experience
Despite her advanced age, she continues to be active as an expert on parenting styles and advice via a regular column in the Daily Mirror. Some controversy arose when in one of those articles, she accused mothers who continued breastfeeding through toddlerhood of being
“mothers who desire to keep their child dependent on them.”
Among her most recent opinions regarding parenting styles and advice is the suggestion that the ideal length of time for breastfeeding is until the appearance of teeth.
While today there are a number of accepted child-rearing philosophies, in the past women were expected to follow the advice of experts, often without question. In the fifties, women began to express that motherhood wasn’t always the ideal experience portrayed in literature. In addition to bliss, they often felt anger and hopelessness in trying to live up to experts’ recommended parenting styles and advice. That anger was often followed by guilt.
The Rise of Feminism
In many ways, it was the feminist movement that helped women communicate their actual experiences of motherhood rather than feeling that something was wrong with them. Parenting styles and advice often didn’t reflect many of the social and economic realities associated with motherhood in the industrial age. For the first time, women didn’t feel alone in questioning socially accepted parenting styles and advice. As a result, books by capable feminist authors such as Miriam Stoppard sold in great numbers.
Many male experts responded by becoming more authoritative, and their recommended parenting styles and advice contained long lists of things to do and not to do in any conceivable situation. It was almost as if they considered women children as well, with faulty instincts, and incapable of determining the right course of action.
By the seventies, society was beginning to show signs of the influence of these feminist writers. One of those changes was that rather than focusing on “motherhood”, more books that recommended parenting styles and advice focused on “parenthood”. Although in the majority of cases, the primary caretaker was still the mother, this linguistic change proved to be a powerful one. Miriam Stoppard’s 1984 book “The Baby Care Book” referred extensively to the joint responsibility of parenthood.
The child care system did not sufficiently serve the needs of working mothers, who already suffered a great deal of guilt for leaving their children. Parenting styles and advice provided by experts was often contradictory, contributing to a lessening of self-confidence in parenting, especially for inexperienced new mothers. A common complaint among women regarding such advice was that much of it seemed to go directly against their instincts and what felt right for them.
Reconciling Conflicting Advice from Experts
One of the contradictions was that many experts were of the opinion that mothers would know instinctively how to mother, which completely ignored the necessity for parenting education and the value of shared experience. Other experts seemed to assume that mothers knew nothing about parenting and needed to be instructed as if they had no prior life experience. Increasingly, as women became more educated, they began to replace male experts in matters of parenting styles and advice. Many male experts responded by becoming more respectful towards women’s capabilities in their writing.
Miriam Stoppard’s professional capabilities helped transform male attitudes towards women and mothers. She has more than eighty published books that have sold more than 25 million copies worldwide to her credit. Although she wrote primarily about pregnancy, child development and women’s health, she was also politically astute and active. During her journalistic career, she conducted interviews with some very important people, including Margaret Thatcher. She also appeared regularly on medical and scientific television programs such as “Where There’s Life” and Don’t Ask Me.
Now 77 years old, after a life of so many accomplishments, in a recent interview with the Daily Mail, when asked what she’d most like to be remembered for, replied
“For introducing the concept that women should choose how they give birth.”
I think all mothers would agree that choice is a fine legacy.