Time Magazine’s Breastfeeding Cover…A Rant in Two Parts (Part 2)

First of all, thank you to everyone who checked in to Friday’s post! It was a record-breaking day followed by a record-breaking weekend for my little blog, and I appreciate the time you took to read as well as the opportunity to hopefully shed some light on the real scoop behind breastfeeding, and especially extended breastfeeding.

Stepping back for just a moment, to truly discuss this article, we need to understand the myths and facts about Attachment Parenting (AP).

Myth: AP is the latest in a long line of parenting fads.

Fact: The ideas that make up AP are a return to more “primitive” ways of parenting, and have been studied for the past 60 years. While applying all of the ideas of AP in modern life presents difficulties, it’s not because AP is new and unusual, it’s because our hectic lives have outpaced our biology.

Myth: AP is for moms who have a pathological need to keep their children dependent on them.

Fact: The whole goal of AP is to raise independent, yet empathetic children who are capable of forming healthy attachments later in life. The guiding philosophy of AP is that by having a consistent caregiver available to young children they will develop security and trust in their parents which will allow them to then explore their world without fear and become more independent.

Myth: AP requires moms to give up their own lives to cater to their children.

Fact: While AP is very labor intensive, especially for the mother, one of the principles of AP is that there is balance between parenting and personal self care as well as nurturing the relationship between the parents. In fact, the mom at the center of all of this Time Magazine controversy blogs about her experiences with Attachment Parenting and her “about” page states that her goal with the blog is to help other moms figure out how to parent without losing themselves.

Now, here’s the thing, I think there is a knee-jerk reaction to regard AP as being ridiculous, or extreme because the principles involved are different than what most of us grew up with. It’s easy to dismiss and scoff at something we don’t understand, and it’s easy to make pronouncements about AP instead of keeping an open mind and learning about it before forming an opinion. However, I saw a great quote on another blog (Mommy OM at newhealthom.com) which applies here, and reads:

The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about. – Wayne Dyer

So, what are the basic principles of Attachment Parenting?

  • Beginning before birth: taking care of yourself, and preparing yourself for parenthood before delivery.
  • Feeding with Love and Respect: This means breastfeeding if possible, paying attention to the baby’s hunger cues, and letting the child wean when ready.
  • Respond with Sensitivity: Meaning when babies cry, comfort them, provide physical contact. No “crying it out” or, in older children, telling them to toughen up.
  • Use nurturing touch: Almost constant physical contact for infants, lots of hugs and cuddling, no physical punishment.
  • Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally: Safe Co-sleeping or at least having children in the same room as the parents.
  • Consistant Loving Care: Having a consistant caregiver almost all of the time, this is usually the mom.
  • Positive Discipline: Have a good understanding of the child’s developmental stage so that parents don’t have unrealistic expectations of what behaviors to expect from a child. Praise good behavior and redirect bad behavior without physical punishment or verbal abuse.
  • Strive for balance in Personal and Family Life: As discussed above. This includes taking care of yourself physically through good diet and exercise, and mentally by making sure to indulge in activities that are personally meaningful

I’m guessing that if you’re new to AP philosophy, that as you read this list there were at least a couple of principles that made you roll your eyes. I get it. It seems like a lot of work, and it is, but then again, any parenting that does’t involve outright neglect is a lot of work. Dr Sears, who is probably the best known proponent of Attachment Parenting, is also pretty clear that while the AP principles have good reasons behind them and work together, that each family and each family situation is unique and parents need to figure out what works for them. No guilt. No finger pointing, and certainly no mommy (or daddy) one-upmanship.

I was not an AP parent. I wasn’t really aware of Attachment Parenting when I had my kids, and if I had been, I probably would have felt guilty because I couldn’t have followed all eight precepts. I prepared pretty well before birth, I breastfed, I loved wearing the kids in a sling because it was a hell of a lot more comfortable than carrying around a baby in a car seat and I could get more done than carrying a baby in my arms. However, I also got desperate for sleep and “Ferber-ized” them (do parents do this anymore?), I have been known to yell, and I slapped the occasional hand and swatted the occasional butt. Balance….not so much. I did the best I could with what I knew and was capable of at the time, and my husband and I parented the way that felt right to us….learning as we went.

Now, finally, on to the second part of my Time Magazine Rant. Here is a confession….I didn’t like the cover photo either, just for different reasons than most people.

I should stop for a minute and give the people at Time Magazine who put this picture on the cover a standing ovation. Their job is to generate buzz about their magazine and boost sales. Mission accomplished. Seriously, when was the last time you were this interested in a magazine story? However, in picking the most provocative picture, they missed the boat on the essence of Attachment Parenting. AP is all about closeness and nurturing, but the cover photo does’t show that at all. Mom‘s face looks defiant, playing into all of the ideas/fears that the general public has about parents who practice AP, or just breastfeed past infancy that they think they are superior to the rest of us. She and her son seem disconnected, in spite of the fact that he’s actually breastfeeding at the moment the picture was taken.

I really wish that they had chosen one of the other mom’s they photographed for the cover. Either picture was more representative of the bonding and closeness that I think AP moms are striving for, but even at that, I kind of hate that they are staring out at the camera, and I really, really hate that they are all thin and gorgeous (but maybe that’s just my hang up).

I think this one is my favorite.

Love the way the older brother has his arm wrapped around the baby too.

Which brings me to my final point, the title of the article, “Are You Mom Enough?”….to which I say, “Are you Kidding Me?” That is precisely the type of inflammatory language that gets moms all defensive and upset. As discussed in some of my previous articles, parenting is so personal, and none of us get to know ahead of time what type of child we’ll have, what our feelings will be or what circumstances will surround us. We just plug along the best we can, trying our damnedest to not screw up so badly our kids can’t afford the therapy bills.

Attachment Parenting is a theory, with some good evidence behind it. There are many other theories of parenting with good evidence behind them. What is better for one family may not be better for another, and that’s okay. As always I feel like as long as we keep an open mind and are willing to learn about all kinds of lifestyles, and parenting choices (whether or not we use them ourselves) that is how we’ll move on in a supportive sisterhood of moms.

Ask questions first, then make up your mind. And no mommy wars allowed!

Breast is Best, Right?

Well, in a word….yes.

So is not feeding solids until 6 months of age, no TV until at least age two, having babies sleep only on their backs and avoiding fast food like the plague. Out of all of those parenting choices, the only guideline I was able to follow was breastfeeding for at least a year.

Breastfeeding has the same level of impassioned folks on both sides at birth choice.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a big breastfeeding supporter. I loved doing it and I think it’s important that as many babies as possible receive the benefits of being breastfed. It was very meaningful to me personally and even though I struggled at times with it, I found it rewarding; plus the smell of formula makes me want to gag. (Although I guess at one time in my life I thought it was fantastic.) I am never more satisfied at work than when I can help a mom who is struggling to nurse and give her the support and guidance she needs to make it through the rough patches and have a successful nursing relationship, and I feel badly for myself and every other woman who wants (or wanted) to breastfeed, but doesn’t have anyone in their family or circle of friends who has BTDT and can support them through the (sometimes) rough early days.

To me, radical breastfeeding advocates, or “lactivists“, are kind of like evangelical Christians. They mean well and think they have your best interest at heart (or at least your baby’s) but then they go too far with it all. Clearly it’s the same psychology. They’ve found something amazing and life changing and they want to make sure that all of the poor lost folks who don’t know what they’re missing get a clue before it’s too late.

There is a difference between education and condemnation though, and that is where overzealousness and mother guilt collide with disastrous consequences. If you google “breast vs. bottle debate” (which I’m not suggesting you do) you can find page after page, blog after blog and message board after message board where  women hurl the most ridiculous insults at each other and condemn each other’s choices.

I think I speak for most pro-breastfeeding moms when I say that, for the most part, any frustration we feel in this regard is not directed at bottle feeding moms but at the system which still doesn’t know how to teach and help new moms learn how to nurse or how to overcome nursing problems. I frequently hear stories from moms who are really committed to breastfeeding, but who are actively discouraged or given poor advice by friends, family and even our pediatricians. Our moms and grandmothers were told that bottle feeding was the healthier choice by all of their doctors, and by the formula companies, so for the most part, they all bottle fed thus breaking an important link between the generations when it came to breastfeeding.

So those of us who do want to nurse are feeling a little adrift. We deal with the dirty looks when we try to nurse in public. We deal with trying to figure out things on our own, and we feel proud when we manage to overcome the current culture and breastfeed our babies for more than a few weeks. Sometimes, that pride looks more like an accusation to moms who couldn’t or didn’t want to breastfeed, and that’s a shame for both sides, because once again, instead of helping and encouraging each other, we moms turn into “mean girls”.

So, bottle feeding moms, I think you’re great. I know you’re bonded to your babies and that you made whatever choices you made after careful thought and after assessing your own personal situation. If any breastfeeding mom calls you names or says anything disparaging about your parenting skills because you bottle feed you have my permission to throw them the finger.

Breastfeeding moms, I think you’re great too. I know you’ve probably endured some sore nipples and you’ve postponed getting your body back to yourself because you’re trying to give your baby the best start you can. If anyone tries to tell you breastfeeding is gross and makes you feel bad for nursing in public you have my permission to throw them the finger.

Can we just remember that we are all trying to do the best we can with the information and circumstances we have? Trying to educate and encourage a dialog is one thing; assumptions and judgmental statements are something else altogether. Be kind to one another. Being a mom is hard enough and we need all the support we can get.

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