In another shocking example of poor journalistic judgment, the current Time magazine cover of an attractive mother breastfeeding her three-year-old son stoked intense debate among mothers across the nation just in time for Mother’s Day.
The cover, reading “Are you Mom enough?” invites the reader to learn about the unorthodox childcare advice administered by longtime parenting guru Dr. William Sears. Dr Sears, who recommends a technique called attachment parenting, advises a host of techniques designed to foster—he says—a safe and secure childrearing environment.
The attachment parenting mother breastfeeds on demand until the child self-weans, sometimes not until kindergarten. The mother wears the young baby in a sling—nearly all day, as far as I can tell—to maintain constant contact. The child sleeps in a family bed for as long as necessary.
As this cover slapped everyone in the face last week, I was in the midst of reading a book called “The Conflict” by French feminist, intellectual and professor of philosophy Elisabeth Badinter. In it, she describes how modern motherhood practices undermine the status of women in society because of the increasing demands of early childhood parenting.
Prescient timing. While Badinter’s hard-line approach left me wondering if she has children of her own (she does—three, in fact), many of her arguments made sense to me, especially as they relate to Connecticut's competitive mom elite.
Dr Sears’ methods and other groups such as the La Leche League advocate for a style of extreme parenting that could only be accomplished by a full-time stay-at-home mother. How many Americans live in two-income households? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 58.5 percent in 2011. Where does that leave them, or their hard-working single mom counterparts? According to the Time cover, they’re not “mom enough.”
As mothers, we all want to see our children become happy, healthy, productive adults. How do we reconcile these extreme parenting advocates’ elitist demands with our hard-fought rights to a successful career and a happy marriage (never mind maintaining youthful good looks and a fun social life)?
My personal view is that the greatest gift one can give a child is . I fail to see how teaching a child that he or she cannot eat, sleep or move without direct parental involvement achieves that goal. I also believe that these extreme parenting tactics reduce by design the involvement of the father and undermine the adults’ relationship, already in a tenuous state from little sleep, less money and zero free time.
Does this quest for parental “perfection” truly serve the needs of the child or does it serve the emotional needs of the mother, who perhaps struggles to reconcile years of schooling and hours of hard (professional) labor with the menial daily tasks of chopping food into little tiny bits, changing diapers and losing countless hours of sleep?
Isn’t parenting difficult enough without experts telling us that in order to really be a “good mother” we need to stay home, breastfeed through preschool and endure a crowded family bed? Surely there are better common sense ways to raise confident, secure risk-takers!
I can’t imagine what those baby, toddler and preschool years would have been like without my husband’s hands-on, getting-really-dirty help and companionship. He is essential to our family, my best friend and an excellent father, and we work as a team.
I relied – and still rely – on his help for meals, time away, intimacy and more. For every day in our early parenthood that was bliss, there was another that was hell, and we laughed and cried and argued and loved and did it all again, usually with no money. We still do, 20 years later.
I am grateful to our own mothers, who fought for our , workplace rights and more, and I worry that this attachment parenting trend divides women by playing on their deepest guilty fears. But my biggest concern is that the child-centered family misses out on what is really the center of life: the adult partnership of equal decision-makers that holds it all together.
Years from now—if you did your job right—your child will move on and leave you behind. It won’t matter how long you breastfed. Don’t define yourself only by the years you spend actively parenting. Maintain your perspective and long term goals, and remember that as liberated women and equal partners, parenthood, from its proudest moments to its most intimate reflections, is but one part of a lifelong journey.