The recent cover of Time Magazine, has been quite controversial. A mother and her 3-year-old son face the camera as he stands in front of her, on a chair, and suckles at her breast. The accompanying headline is: “Are you Mom Enough? Why attachment parenting drives some moms to extremes – and how Dr. Bill Sears became their guru.”
There are a lot of words I could use to express my feelings about this cover, but very few of them are appropriate, so I’ll stick to just one word: infuriating.
This cover manages to insult mothers, attachment parenting, Dr. Sears, and any culture where breastfeeding beyond infancy is the norm. The photograph and headline are insinuating several things:
- Extended breastfeeding is so strange and unnatural that it requires props
- Extended breastfeeding is an “extreme”, one of many
- All attachment parents practice extended breastfeeding
- Those who practice attachment parenting and/or extended breastfeeding pass judgment on others and deem them as “mom enough” or not
- Those who practice attachment parenting view Dr. Sears as a guru
The phrase “extended breastfeeding” is problematic. It implies that there is a normal cut off for breastfeeding and that anything beyond that time is abnormal. Current evidence-based research suggests that “two years or beyond”, for as long as it is mutually desirable, is recommended. This time frame will vary from person to person.
The fact that the cover hints that breastfeeding a three year old is an extreme behavior is absurd. About 25% of children in the US are breastfed beyond 6 months. By sheer numbers, it is less common to see a child at the breast than with a bottle.
Obviously, the percentage dwindles as the babies get older. Does the fact that we don’t observe this behavior often make it extreme? If the criterion for extreme is anything that is rarely observed then one might also call removing one’s hat when one enters into a building extreme. The use of the word “extreme” is irresponsible at best and inflammatory at worst.
As a person who practices attachment parenting, it is clear to me that the folks at Time Magazine have either never read any of Dr. Sears’ books, or that they have read them but are more interested in fomenting discord among mothers than they are in starting a useful discussion.
The overarching message of all of Dr. Sears’ books is simple: follow your instincts and parent the child you have. The things that are so closely associated with attachment parenting – baby-wearing, breastfeeding, bed-sharing – these are all meant to foster closeness. They are not hard-fast rules, nor are they requirements for attachment parenting.
Dr. Sears began writing his books about 20 years ago, and yet all of the things he suggests in his book were things that women in many cultures were already doing. So, it’s pretty insulting to imply that things that women have done instinctively for generations are all the idea of some man, and worse, that we hang on his every word like anxious devotees.
Dr. Sears mentions frequently that he learned most of what he knows from the mothers who brought their children to his practice. He has never claimed to have invented a new way to parent. He simply observed, listened, and shared what he saw as successful.
Not all attachment parents breastfeed beyond infancy, or at all. I have a very good friend whose parenting style is almost identical to mine. It also happens that her baby is formula-fed. This does not, in my mind, indicate her worthiness as a mother. It is simply a fact. More importantly, I do not have the time, energy, or interest to judge the way my friend feeds her child.
None of these insinuations are the real problem. The real problem is the insistence of the media on stoking the “mommy wars” and fomenting judgment and competition among women. It is sexism in its most blatant form.
If you keep us convinced we’re being judged constantly, perhaps we’ll overlook the reality that our society does not do enough to support women and mothers.
Breastfeeding is such a hot button issue precisely because it is one of the main areas in which women receive mixed messages and insufficient support. We are told that breastfeeding is the healthiest thing for mama and baby and yet post-partum doulas and lactation consultants are not part of standard care.
We are told that we should breastfeed exclusively for six months, yet given a maximum of just 12 weeks of maternity leave. Society is doing the equivalent of setting us off to sail in a boat with a broken rudder and no compass and then whispering in our ear that all the other sailors are mocking us for not being able to navigate the boat.
It seems to me that there is a disconnect between what the media would have us believe and what is actually happening. In my experience, mothers are compassionate, empathetic, and understanding. They are each other’s fiercest advocates and strongest support. Sure, there are judgmental mothers, but they are not the majority. To believe that we are being constantly judged by others is to do a great disservice to all of the kind mothers we know personally. And any effort to convince us otherwise is operating on the assumption that we are foolish enough to fall for it.
Are we foolish enough to fall for it? Are we foolish enough to buy into the “mommy wars”? Are we foolish enough to believe that in this beautiful miraculous world, full of love and hope and constant proof of the goodness of most people, that mothers are wasting their precious time and limited energy judging our choices?
Nice try, Time Magazine, but no, WE ARE NOT.
What emotions does the Time Magazine cover evoke in you?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our attachment parenting supporter and mother of one in S. Korea, Ms. V.
Photo credit to Polish Mom Photographer.
The author has referenced the TIME cover image from May 21, 2012 and full cover-article, Are You Mom Enough?.