This topic is going to be HUGE around the web, people. Time Magazine has an article about the “controversial” practices of Attachment Parenting philosophy and Dr. Sears in their latest issue. Here is the cover:
Jamie Lynne Grumet, photographed by Martin Schoeller
The picture is shocking. What bothers me about it is two-fold. First of all, it’s an unnatural position and posed to solicit strong feelings. (In real life, a mother nurses like this only to relieve a plugged duct – I’m just saying.) In other words, society finds breastfeeding shocking AND that shock value makes people spend money. Secondly, I am bothered that people get all out-of-whack calling it inapropriate, disgusting, or sexually motivated.
How about this one?
Jennifer Aniston photographed by Michael Thompson
Or this one?
Julia Louis Dreyfus photographed by Shape Magazine.
I will tell you what the difference is, my friends. The first photo is a picture of breasts that are not being paid for their work, photographed for shock value to sell magazines. Those breasts are working hard every day, contributing to society in a critical way, but they don’t receive a monetary paycheck. The next two pictures are big stars (disclaimer – I am a fan of both of these ladies) who are paid big bucks that in an industry where appearance is of critical importance, and the photos are meant to be shocking or inspiring for the purpose of selling magazines. But I didn’t feel the need to blog several thousand words about the GQ or Shape photos.
In the Time Magazine article, Dr. Sears is portrayed as an anti-feminist, as someone whose parenting practices have brainwashed women into sacrificing themselves upon the mantle of motherhood while giving up every other part of their identity in order to meet the demanding code of AP (attachement parenting).
I find this to be frustrating. Let me outline my reasons.
1) These women are not doing something unheard of or unadvised in regards to breastfeeding. In fact, as my friend Grace pointed out on Facebook, they are only following the guidelines of the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics who advocate breastfeeding for far longer than the average American mother does. Nowhere in the article do they talk about the fact that parents (YES! NOT JUST MOTHERS!) who practice AP are some of the minority who are meeting the health guidelines laid out by all major medical organizations.
2) Are some AP practices controversial? Yes. Co-sleeping and extended breastfeeding (and recently even babywearing) have their share of detractors. But are they controversial in such a way as to pit mothers against one another? The cover states boldly “Are You Mom Enough?”, suggesting that only the toughest, best, hardiest mothers could practice AP. I must honestly tell you that, in my anecdotal experience, I have never seen anything to indicate that AP parents are tougher or work harder than those who don’t. In fact, AP parents are some of the laziest that I know – and I mean that in a loving way! It was so simple for me to pop out a nipple and keep typing, or snuggle baby into daddy’s arms so I could keep doing the bookwork late in the evening – not a very disciplined lifestyle, but that’s my personality and how life works on our farm (we like to roll with the punches rather than plan ahead too much). In other words: It worked for us. It’s not because I was “mom enough,” it just felt right. Intentionally fanning the flames of bad feelings in the so-called ‘mommy wars’ is yet another sad commentary on our society. It’s like forming a circle and yelling “Fight! Fight! Fight!” while you encourage the two mommies to bite, scratch, and pull hair. It’s a dirty trick.
3) Are AP parents sometimes pretty militant about their parenting practices? OF COURSE. Think back for a moment to when you were a first-time parent and the things you felt were CRITICAL. (I know, it’s funny now, isn’t it?) How about calling to mind a first-time parenting couple you know (or knew because they don’t talk to you anymore) that were just…over-the-top. Those parents come in all shapes and sizes, but they are generally most pronounced with their first infant and are typically overbearing in every other part of their lives as well. We’ve all met someone like that – whether it has to do with where you go to church, how you educate, if you drink (or don’t), what you eat, and how you parent – if you aren’t aligned with their system they just can’t feel comfortable hanging out. They are the minority.
Have you ever read the Baby Wise books? They are the antithesis of the Dr. Sears books in every way. Baby Wise parents have a reputation of equal tenacity. I actually know several people who prescribe to Baby Wise philosophies and you know what? They are very nice. They still hang out with me despite the fact that my copy of the Sears’ “Baby Book” is too worn to even loan out. And our differently reared children like each other and get along just great. We even liked each other when our children were infants and theirs were on a tight schedule of crying in their crib and mine were strapped to my torso and offered my milk regardless of where we were or who else was in the room. I didn’t feel threatened or angry because they did it differently. I never assumed it was my responsibility to convert them to my way of parenting. Hell, I was far too busy questioning everything I was doing to find time to judge what they were doing. At the most I may have rolled my eyes (mentally) or voiced in private to my spouse “I could NEVER manage that.” I am certain they did the same things when we parted. But none of it was ever malicious, or made the assumption that we were better parents, or made us feel like we couldn’t be around one another. It just helped us find the right style of parenting for us.
And you know what else? Those Baby Wisers were just as tired and overwhelmed as I was. They were also as satisfied and confident as I was.
4) I’m a feminist. I was raised by a feminist. I cannot see how AP is anti-feminist. Here is a terrific article that does a great job of explaining just why second-generation feminists like me prescribe to AP parenting methods. Isn’t feminism is supposed to be about women having complete freedom to choose their paths in life without being restricted by stereotypes or societal pressure? There are AP families who maintain their parenting style with a stay-at-home dad and a full-time working mother. There are women like the gorgeous mother on the cover of this magazine who are going against what (evidently) most of society thinks is normal because it is right for her. THAT IS FEMINISM. She isn’t doing what she is told by society is the ‘right way’ to mother. And I find it offensive that the magazine is suggesting that feminists only support breasts that work for money. My breasts are powerful in more ways than one and it is against the very tenants of feminism to suggest that they can only fill the role of sexual pleasure. That is the most anti-feminist concept I’ve ever heard and only contributes to the objectification of women in our culture. There are entire books written about how breastfeeding and the natural parenting movement hurts the feminist movement and I find that concept critically narrow-minded. Extended breastfeeding (and natural parenting) gave me more freedom and success in my roles outside of motherhood, not less.
5) What hurts the feminist movement, the mothers movement, and underscores the very obvious fact that we aren’t living in a family-friendly society is the problem our culture is having with pigeon-holing. We suck about stereotyping. Guess what? There are Baby Wise families that come to La Leche League Meetings and successfully breastfeed their infants into toddlerhood despite the recommendations against it in the book. There are parents who use many AP-type methods (like me) and have a toddler that cries alone in their room while mommy or daddy holds the door shut and tries to figure out how to not beat the child for a few minutes despite what they have read. There are stay-at-home mothers, work-at-home mothers (raising my hand), work-outside-the-home mothers, and there are constantly overlooked fathers (!) in each of these places. There are different parenting techniques that work for all of them, there are different struggles for all of them, and there are different ways each family finds their path to the right place for them. It is the greatest flaw of human nature to assume that your way is the one right and best way and to insist, in every way, that others should and must do the same. Inflamitory language that you aren’t “mom enough” to parent in a certain way suggests not only that mothers who DO parent that way assume it is the right way for everyone else, but also that it is the hardest way. We are not dumbasses. If something isn’t working, we change it. We are all just doing our best, we mothers and fathers, no matter where we work or what method of parenting fits who we are and what we are hoping to achieve. And yes, I’m speaking for everybody. I never do that. But I’m fully confident that I represent every parents feelings when I say “We are all just doing our best.”
6) Creating a judgemental conversation contributes to the divide our entire culture is suffering from. I am absolutely dumbfounded that, not only are mothers (and families) judging one another, but all of society is busy pointing the finger at one another. You want more maternity leave (or paternity leave AT ALL) – In this economy?! You want better schools? Blame the teachers/government/parents/summer break/economy. You’re homeschooling? You are ruining your children (or flaunting your money and education, depending on who you ask). You want to get married to someone who is the same sex as you? That is a sin according MY religion. Oh, you don’t share my religious beliefs? That doesn’t matter – you still have to follow MY rules. Because WE ALL HAVE TO BE THE SAME AND MY WAY IS THE ONLY RIGHT WAY.
I spent this year homeschooling my kids in early American History. We devoted a great deal of time studying the American Revolution. I can’t imagine how the people who founded our country would feel about our current situation. Our government was based on everyone having the same rights – even if you were Catholic (they were going strait to hell) or *gasp* Jewish (they killed Jesus, there was a special seat next to Satan for them). But they received equal rights under the law (well, so long as you weren’t a woman or a slave). It was much harder for early Americans to figure out how to live with one another and give each other equal rights – their entire culture before winning independence was based on inequality, monarchy and forced religious obedience. Americans sought to change that – they did so by shedding their own blood, and choosing to give Protestants, Catholics, Baptists, Amish and Jewish people equality and protection of those rights under the law. Not by boycotting JC Penny (though I support the right of those offended to do so). They didn’t do it by forcing everyone to have the same health insurance or provide insurance that goes against their own beliefs (and I support the right of those who disagree with me to say so).
We are far from a perfect country and our early government was no utopia. American culture has been a constant chase for true liberty and real democracy. First came the rule of the people. Soon after the property ownership requirements for voting powers were knocked down by the rule of the people. The Civil War finally abolished slavery throughout our country, though it was a long and bloody conflict that began almost immediately after we won independence from England. Women’s suffrage, Civil rights, the right to divorce, the right to maintain contact with your children and the right to demand parental responsibility after a divorce, being accepted without a religious affiliation, inclusivity for the handicapped; we are constantly moving toward true equality. Liberty means making your own choices so long as they don’t infringe upon the liberties of anyone else.
I also believe that it involves a level of tolerance and refraining from judging those who aren’t applying their liberties in the same way as you.
Sometimes I see offensive pictures like this one:
Click the link above for the photo credit - this is a stock photo of someone not-so-famous.
This is me taking a page from Time Magazine. I’m going for shock value. What could I possibly find offensive about this photo? Do I think this mother is wrong or a terrible mother or not bonding with her baby? On the contrary. The mother looks happy and in love with her baby, the baby is darling and makes me want to make cooing sounds. What I find offensive is the reminder that in our competitive, intolerant and anti-family society a mother receives so little support and information about breastfeeding that she needs to give such a tiny baby a bottle, costing her time, money and confidence from perceived judgement (after all, the AAP and WHO recommend it for a minimum of a year!). I reserve my judgement for the current practice of the medical establishment. Doctors and Nurses are not well educated or qualified to help with breastfeeding even though they strongly recommend it, and it’s left new parents to swim against the tide of abysmal formula company practices that have allowed them to make money hand over fist for generations. I would never judge the mother – I know for a fact she is doing her best and loves her baby just as much as I love mine. Do I judge her health care providers? Not really. They care deeply about their patients and are doing the best they can with the information they have. Most mothers in America initiate breastfeeding, but at a very early point cannot continue – usually due to the erroneous information they have been given or societal pressure.
Do I judge the few moms who never even wanted to breastfeed? Nope. See all my comments about not infringing on or judging other people’s choices? My problem is with the lack of support for the majority of women who DO choose to breastfeed. What if she is taking one of the very few medications you can’t have while breastfeeding? Or has had surgery that severed her milk ducts? Do I suggest that this mother shouldn’t be allowed to bottle feed her baby in public because I find it offensive? Or that she shouldn’t be pictured on the cover of a magazine because I think it is morally wrong the way formula companies market their wares? Capitol N, Capitol O.
Do I judge the formula companies? Sorta, but all of society is focused only on money (Hello, some feminists only support boobs that work outside of the home) and these companies are working within the regulations the government has placed on them. Do I judge the government for the regulations they have made? Well, sorta but we are a government of the people, so that really means I’m blaming me.
So what do I do about that? I talk about breastfeeding a lot. I breastfed my babies in public (well, my second and third, anyway – I was pressured by society to never leave home the first time until my feminist side overcame my fears of being stereotyped or judged). I went to nurse-ins to protest unfair treatment of breastfeeding mothers. I volunteered for years with La Leche League. I write to people in government. I talk with my girlfriends about it. I talk with my baby sister about it so that if she becomes a mother one day she will be armed with good information. I blog about it.
I post pictures like this one, here and on Facebook, to help normalize the idea of breastfeeding and what it really looks like:
My husband posed and took this picture when my daughter was 27 months old. We continued to breastfeed long after this. I'm not telling you this so you'll think I'm special. I'm telling you this so you know it's normal.
So I guess I should be glad about the Time article, because it is going to stimulate conversation. I don’t appreciate that it is happening in such an inflammatory way, but then again this IS America. It’s how we roll. We make big changes in big ways, we love shock and we love breasts (raising hand again). I think we need to start a new movement in America – the Familist movement. I’ll do what works best for us, you do what works best for you, and we will all support one another by refraining from judgement, pressure or discrimination. Are you in?