On the shelves this week is an issue of Time magazine that has sparked some controversy. If you have not seen the cover photo already, it features a three-year old boy standing on a stool facing his mother and suckling at her exposed breast. The caption next to the photo reads, “ARE YOU MOM ENOUGH?” When news of this cover photo first appeared on the web a couple of weeks ago, there was an almost immediate reaction. If this is what Time was aiming for, they certainly got it. There was quite a bit of discussion over the controversial nature of the photo. Personally, I find the image a bit disturbing, but that is nothing in comparison to my initial outrage at the caption.
ARE YOU MOM ENOUGH?
Excuse me? Did a nationally read news magazine just ask that question? Are mothers not criticized enough for the choices they make regarding the care of their children? Do they not deal with enough self-inflicted guilt when it comes to the decisions they are often forced to make?
These are the thoughts I had at the time the cover photo first appeared, but I decided to hold off from writing anything regarding the controversy until I actually read the article (which took almost the entire morning because I had to pause several times to read board books and play Sesame Street with my non-breastfeeding toddler).
The article takes a look at the roots of attachment parenting and the ways it has shaped modern motherhood. While I do not ascribe to this philosophy, it is not my goal to criticize those who do. If a mother chooses to co-sleep, wear her baby, respond to its every cry, and breastfeed well past the child’s first birthday, that is her choice. It is not mine to make for her, and it is not mine to judge.
What I would like to discuss is the theory itself and why it doesn’t work for me and my family. Here are some of my observations of attachment parenting:
1. It is championed by a man.
I find it ironic that the theory which defines motherhood for many women originates with a man. In fact, for me the title of the article says it all: The Man Who Remade Motherhood.
Think about that for a moment.
The man. Who Remade. Motherhood.
For centuries, mothers have birthed and cared for their children successfully without the theories of men. Yet, much of the thinking regarding mothering in the modern age has been promoted (for profit) by men. If you have had a child in the last fifty years, you are likely familiar with Drs. Benjamin Spock, Richard Ferber, and/or William Sears. Now, I’m not saying that these men are not qualified and well-respected within their field of study. I’m also not saying that men cannot have good ideas regarding child-rearing. Fathers can and should have equal input when it comes to caring for their offspring. However, when I have a question about an issue with my children, I do not call my father. I call mom. And though I have had both male and female doctors for both myself and my children, I prefer a woman, specifically one who is a mother.
2. The theory behind attachment parenting is at least somewhat reactionary.
This is the part of the article I found most interesting. Sears developed his theories in part because of the childhood experiences of his wife, Martha. The article describes her childhood as difficult. I imagine that with a mentally unstable mother it would be. Another point of note is that Martha’s ideas on motherhood have ties to her observation of a relative who “was just left to cry in her crib” and grew up to have mental problems. Whether this individual’s mental state was a result of the seeming neglect she experienced as a baby or her crying was somehow related to issues that could not be diagnosed at the time is not clear. It does seem, however, that this experience influenced Martha Sears’ approach to her children and planted the seed for her husband’s theory on parenting.
Now, we are all products of our environment. We judge the world around us and make decisions based on what we think we know from our own unique experiences. Is this wrong? Not necessarily. However, I choose not to ascribe to a theory that comes from someone else’s experience. I have to make decisions for myself and my family based on my own judgment. And when ideas come along that challenge my belief set, I must evaluate where those ideas come from and whether or not there is any merit to them. Do I agree with everything that Sears says to be true about caring for young children? No. Does that mean that his ideas won’t or can’t work for someone else’s family? Of course not. However, families and children within those families differ, so what works for one does not work for all. I do have to wonder, though, about the person who adopts a lifestyle without fully researching it, and I imagine that at least some of the people who buy into attachment parenting (or any other parenting method) do so without doing their homework.
3. Attachment parenting has roots in the jungle.
As he was developing his ideas on parenting, Dr. Sears came across the work of Jean Liedloff, author of The Continuum Concept. This book is based on Liedloff’s observations of children and their mothers in the jungle of Venezuela. These mothers carried their babies with them wherever they went. I imagine this arrangement came about out of necessity. The jungle is not exactly a place a mother can set her baby down without worrying about a wild animal preying upon it.
The point I would like to make here is that what works in the South American jungle does not easily translate to the concrete jungle. We have lives that are very different from the tribal groups of the Amazon, so it makes sense that our parenting styles look very different. Of course, we can learn from the wisdom of other cultures, but we cannot base our lives entirely off of what works for them. That would be impractical.
(On another note, Liedloff criticized the ways of American parents without actually having any children herself.)
4. Taken to its extreme, attachment parenting can put children and their mothers in danger.
This was the part of the article I found disturbing. One of the proponents of attachment theory is a woman by the name of Joanne Beauregard, who continued to breastfeed her first child while she was pregnant with the second. The article notes that doing so almost sent Mrs. Beauregard into premature labor. I will stay true to my word and avoid judgment here, but I will say that as the mother of a preemie, I know all too well just how frightening it is to have a baby born too soon. Although this case seems to be an isolated one, it is worth noting that when a practice jeopardizes the health of mother or child, it would seem to be time to reevaluate.
Another disturbing piece of evidence comes in the form of the increasing trend in co-sleeping. The article cites statistics from the CDC, saying that “in 2005…19% of 2-month-old babies slept in beds with their mothers.” This goes against what I was taught. It also seems to go against common sense. Placing a baby in an adult bed is not safe. I already knew this, but when a nurse told me of an incident that happened at the hospital where I had just given birth, my mind was pretty well made up. A new mother had put her baby in bed with her. Not realizing that the baby was there, the father got up in the middle of the night from the fold-out couch in the room and laid down next to his wife. The next morning, they discovered that their infant had been suffocated. This is also another isolated case, but with an increasing number of parents who sleep with their babies, we may see an increase in sad cases like it.
5. Attachment parenting is very demanding of a mother.
Parenting itself is a demanding job, but when a mother seeks to follow the attachment method exclusively, she is taking on an extra set of demands. She will not be able to work. In fact, the article notes that Sears and his wife ”suggest mothers quit their jobs and borrow money to make up the difference.” She will not be able to take a break. She will literally be attached to her child day and night. The woman who can do this probably deserves the supermom award (if such award exists). However, I would say that most mothers cannot be there every minute of every day. Many of us have to work to keep our families afloat, so we have no choice but to put our children in the care of others. Even those of us who work from home have to put our children in a (gasp) bouncy seat and turn on a cartoon in order to meet a deadline.
As far as breastfeeding goes, many mothers are not able to produce enough milk to satisfy the child’s needs. Some of us are not even able to get our children to latch on. This happened to me. After ten weeks in the NICU, my preemie would not latch on to me. So I pumped for her. For 5 1/2 months. To help her gain weight, we supplemented my milk with a special preemie formula. Then, we switched her to formula exclusively. Some might say that I should have done differently, but I did what I had to do for my daughter. And today she is a happy and healthy toddler despite being born three months early.
The demands of motherhood can be quite frustrating indeed, and for many of us, not measuring up to whatever demands we place on ourselves or that are placed on us from outside sources brings on an overwhelming sense of mommy guilt. We feel that we are not enough. So when we are at the store loading the groceries onto the conveyor belt while trying to soothe a screaming toddler and keep an older child from touching all of the goodies near the register, and we see “ARE YOU MOM ENOUGH” staring us in the face, we have a sneaking suspicion that we might not be.
Attachment theory or not, we need to give ourselves more credit. We are there for our children when they need us. We change their diapers and wipe their noses. We kiss their boo-boos and sing them to sleep. We answer their tough questions and take pride in their successes, no matter how small they may seem to others.
Yesterday, I posted on my Facebook page that I had finished reading this article and that I would be responding to it here. In response to one of the comments I received, I made the following statements:
What I find interesting is the extreme this or any parenting philosophy gets taken to and the deep-seated resentment the debate brings with it.
What I don’t get is the criticism moms face for the choices they make concerning their children. In the end, I think parenting should be a balance between the child’s needs, what works best for the family, and a healthy dose of common sense.
The mom who can find that balance for her children and herself is mom enough in my book.
As for me, I may not ever win the supermom award, but I will settle for this one:
Article Source: Pickert, Kate. “The Man Who Remade Motherhood.” Time. 21 May 2012: n. page. Web. 23 May. 2012.