Speaking out against Time’s “Are You Mom Enough?” cover, but in defense of breastfeeding

Because this is not a parenting blog, I’ve avoided the recent firestorm over attachment parenting.

The New York Times hosted one of its (poorly executed and overly polemic) “Room For Debate” series called “Motherhood vs. Feminism” a few weeks ago on the style of parenting that, to oversimplify, advocates breastfeeding, co-sleeping and baby wearing.

A recent book from a Frenchwoman arguing that attachment parenting and feminism can’t co-exist is what pushed this subject into the mainstream media, but now it has really spun out of control, especially with the Time magazine cover this week that features a mom breastfeeding her almost 4-year-old and the headline “Are You Mom Enough?”

I posted on Twitter yesterday that I had mixed feelings about the cover. Several friends couldn’t understand why those feelings weren’t firmly for or against the cover, either that it was so offensive that there’s no way I could be in favor of it or that, as a breastfeeding advocate, why would I have a problem with a woman breastfeeding so openly.

But this is precisely why the cover is so troubling. The headline is easily the most repulsive part of the package because it flames the mommy wars that don’t need any more flaming. There’s far too much judgement going on in both the AP and non-AP communities toward women who choose different parenting styles, and to imply that people who do not breastfeed, wear their babies or co-sleep with them aren’t mom enough is downright offensive, especially with Mother’s Day coming up this weekend.

For this reason alone, Time should be ashamed of itself. Mothers everywhere are doing their best, and to taunt them like this is abhorrent.

But what saddens me more is the photo. If you’ve been reading this blog for long or knew me when I was breastfeeding my own two boys, you’d know that I’m outspokenly adamant about a woman’s right to breastfeed in public, while drinking a glass of wine if she wants to, without feeling the need to cover up.

The fact that we’ve so sexualized breasts that we can’t comfortably feed our babies when they are hungry and we are out in public is a problem in American society.

But to brazenly show a boy who looks like he should have a backpack on going to school standing on a chair with his mom’s nipple in his mouth doesn’t help this cause.

I’m not against extended breastfeeding, but it’s unrealistic that a boy of that age would breastfeed in this way. After a certain age, breastmilk isn’t given for nutritional needs. It’s for comfort and bonding between the mother and child, not for an after school snack. I get that and I support that.

A friend of mine, who recently stopped breastfeeding her five-and-a-half-year-old pointed out on Facebook that she doesn’t “know any moms who do extended breastfeeding (at least w/preschoolers) that just whip it out like that in public, as the photo – and various poorly-done films – seem to indicate.”

Manipulation comes to mind. I don’t know that mother or her son or the photography staff at Time, but clearly this scene was set up to provoke a reaction, which it clearly did. And all I can think about is that poor kid who probably didn’t have much choice in this matter even those he’s starting to be at the age where he is developing his own sense of self, where he has a say in the activities he wants to pursue, what he wants to wear or eat or read or watch and how he fits in with the world outside his home.

I’m sure he’s not being forced to breastfeed, but at what point is it up to the parent to say, “You are too old to be sucking milk from Mom’s breasts.”?

I like to point out breasts’ natural biological function as much as any breastfeeding advocate, but it is irresponsible to deny that they have a sexual function, too.

There is a very fine line between toddlerhood and the age when kids, say, start requesting privacy in the bathroom or asking what sex is, and at some point, we have to agree that a mother’s nipple in a child’s mouth is inappropriate. I don’t know what that age is, but some would argue that four or five is starting to push it, especially in such a public way.

Any breastfeeding is better than no breastfeeding, but that photo combined with that headline does more to hurt attachment parenting and breastfeeding in general than to help it, which is unfair.

Although we co-slept for the first few months of both boys’ lives and I carried them around with slings for even longer, I don’t really think of myself as an AP-er, mostly because I’m too selfish to co-sleep with them any longer and, by god, we still have to let Avery cry it out sometimes, which few AP advocates would support.

But despite my own history with attachment parenting, I hate that articles and covers like this villainize them as being this crazy group of extremist parents.

I’ve found that many of them, including my sister, fully support parents’ right to choose how they raise their kids, which is the first tenet of feminism, in my book.

I found it liberating, cost-saving and very much in tune with my feminist ideals to breastfeed my kids. Thankfully, my milk supply let me have that choice, which isn’t always the case.

But, when the kids had moved on to other sources of food, it was equally as liberating to stop.

8 responses to “Speaking out against Time’s “Are You Mom Enough?” cover, but in defense of breastfeeding

  1. I agree with you Addie, I also had very mixed emotions when I heard about this cover story. Personally, I breastfed both my kids until my milk ran out, about 7 – 8 months. Going back to work put a huge decline on my supply. Any extra ounces along the way were frozen to extend the length of time my babies would have my milk, whether alone or combined with formula. I know someone who just stopped feeding her 2 yr old, I could not imagine breastfeeding my nearly 3 yr old girl! Each Mother knows her baby best and her own comfort level should dictate how long to breastfeed.

  2. Nicely done, Addie. This mommy war business is so exhausting and disheartening. I recognize I probably shouldn’t comment on the breastfeeding issue since I’ve yet to try it and don’t know what level of success I’ll encounter but I say, as with so many other things, to each their own. Whatever choice I make or limitation I have to deal with (if unsuccessful), it would certainly be nice to do so without being judged. I’ve yet to read the article but from reviews I’ve read, shame on Time for setting up women to be criticized and further inflaming the issue. Poor timing, indeed.

  3. You are awesome and I hope one day to be as loving, liberated, and balanced a momma as you.

  4. Pingback: This Week in Foodie News… – Ginny’s Austin | Ginny's Austin·

  5. I shudder to think how this will set breastfeeding back…as a nurse-midwife (and former breastfeeding mom–for 7-14 months) it is like pulling teeth to get a majority of my patients to even try breastfeeding. This cover will just serve to further polarize the issue. Damn you Time!

  6. Thank you! You’ve pretty much summed up my feelings about this cover and article in a very eloquent way.

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