Fertile Ground: Attachment Parenting Isn't About Being "Mom Enough"
Maybe it is because I am breast-feeding my own son and am used to seeing women whip out a boob to put in baby's mouth at the drop of a hat, but when I saw the cover of TIME this week, I didn't find it all that odd.
Frankly, my first thought was, "Great! A picture of a woman breast-feeding!" After the uproar in 2009 about Facebook removing photos of breastfeeding mothers, as well as the rise of "lactivists" staging nursing sit-ins everywhere from airports to the Hirshhorn Museum—places that had asked women to stop nursing their babies—I usually appreciate seeing breastfeeding in the media. Obviously, though, when we have steps forward, we have steps back. The TIME cover is problematic in several ways, its problems well-pointed out in a previous Bitch post. Also unfortunate is the way the image coats the story inside, which covers "attachment parenting" with a greasy, unfriendly film.
Attachment parenting mostly focuses on three ideas: co-sleeping, "wearing" your baby in a sling or carrier, and breastfeeding. Full disclosure: for the most part, I practice "attachment parenting" (or AP, as it is often called) as much as farming and writing allow me to with my 20-month-old son. I wear him in the field, strapped to my back in an Ergo carrier, weeding carrots or transplanting onions as long as he isn't thrashing about or crying. Once in a while, when we are desperately working against the clock (or sun or rain, rather), my mom or someone else will take care of him for me. I do office work while he sleeps. I'm lucky, since we run our own business, that I can be flexible. Not everyone has this option. "Attachment parenting," which, really, is not a new "fad," and instead has been practiced to some degree since the beginning of time, asks people to give a lot of themselves, and the way I see it, people do what they are able to depending on their job or circumstances.
Personally, I think whatever people can do in terms of attachment parenting is great. It's a shame, though, that this magazine cover and the subsequent media frenzy have obscured the positive aspects AP can have for some families. Though I am happy to see a woman breastfeeding on the cover of a major magazine, the photo presents issues for me as well. Some problems include the choice of a conventionally attractive, blond, thin woman; the fact that both child and mom are looking at the camera instead of at each other; the age of the child (it would be progress enough to have it be a two-year-old in our already breastfeeding-squeamish society); and the fact he is standing on a chair (a mother sitting on a couch cradling her son is too much to ask? Does anyone breastfeed this uncomfortably?). The title on the cover might perturb me more than the photograph itself though: "Are you Mom Enough?" it screams (I'm surprised there's not an explanation point after the question mark!). I could have looked past the whole chair thing if this wasn't the cover's chosen line. Why are we still pitting women against each other, in ever more fiery ways? Why is this a discussion about moms fighting moms? And why are we making something like attachment parenting competitive, instead of treating it like a guide or tool people can use and adjust to fit their lives accordingly? With these fighting words, the story morphs into something mean and smug. The cover itself seems to tell us, "Oh, you breastfed until your child was one? Oh WOW. Big deal, look at my kid, he's huge and still sucking boob, so I win."
The story inside waxes on about attachment parenting's "pioneer" (in modern US culture, anyway), Dr. Sears, who has authored numerous books on the subject. While I think attachment parenting is great, I have adjusted to doing what I can, and have stopped stressing about doing what I can't. We stopped co-sleeping when my son turned one, mostly because our bed is not that big, our kid is a thrasher, and no one was getting any sleep. I am still nursing and am not sure when we will stop, but we will make that decision when it is right for us. I still wear him on my back though he is over twenty pounds, and he still prefers this to a stroller. Moms, dads, and whoever else should feel free to do what they can do and what they can handle, though it might not be perfect in the eyes of the attachment parenting model. So why is this an issue of feminism vs. non-feminism? Is TIME 's intention to increase our awareness, or our insecurities?
I read Dr. Sears' books about attachment parenting all through my pregnancy. I was eager to get started with it as soon as my baby came out into the world. However, things do not always go as planned. My son was born a preemie, three months early, at one pound, eight ounces. He did not sleep with us in bed for the first three and half months of his life, and instead slept in a plastic box in a hospital, unable to even be touched. I was not allowed to breast-feed for months (I pumped and froze my milk during this time instead, until I dried up and had to re-lactate, which is a whole different story). It was not the midwife-led, essential oil-scented low-lit home birth I had planned. I thought as soon as he was born we'd start practicing attachment parenting, with him nursing, sleeping in bed with us right away, wearing him close to my body as much as possible. Instead, we had the most medicalized birth I could ever imagine, and we didn't get to do any of those things for a long time. Things don't always turn out perfectly, and I am done feeling guilty about it. Parents have enough emotions they have to field, and guilt shouldn't have to be one of them.
"Are you Mom Enough?" the cover asks me. Maybe? I do my best, TIME magazine. I've done my best. I don't know the answer, but can you ask me a little nicer next time?
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