WHILE the front cover is attracting a lot of attention, the actual story in Time Magazine is about an American pediatrician known as “Dr Bill” who has written 30 books on parenting and childcare issues. An academic (UC Irvine School of Medicine) and frequent TV guest, Sears and his physician-wife Martha are supporters of “attachment parenting,” a child-rearing philosophy in which parents and child caregivers are encouraged to be more “emotionally available” and immediately responsive to the emotional and biological needs of their newborns and toddlers.
NEW York Times writer KJ DELL'ANTONIA reacts to the Time Magazine's provocative cover depicting a mom breastfeeding her four year old son...
MY favorite part of Time magazine’s coverage of “Attachment Parenting” wasn’t the cover image, or even the headline, “Are You Mom Enough?,” both of which beg the adjective “provocative.”
We can get caught up in whether a mother should nurse a preschooler — or, perhaps more relevant, whether that preschooler will later appreciate being photographed nursing for a national magazine. (No, and I’m so convinced that most of you will agree that I’m not going to say any more about it.)
"What do you mean by 'mom enough' Time magazine? What is enough? We don’t know what 'mom enough' is"
Or we can take this entertaining quiz: “What’s Your Parenting Style?” It’s free even if you’re not a Time subscriber — so I dove in.
Q.1 Does your baby sleep in your bedroom?
Well, one did, but we were in a one-room apartment. And the others did for a while, but not for long, and certainly not anymore — but there’s no space to write that. There’s not even an option for “sometimes.” So: no.
Q.2 Does your baby sleep in your bed?
Sometimes, but not on purpose, except when he/she/he did. And again — not anymore. And more the first than the last, but still…sometimes. But there’s nowhere to explain that, so: no.
Q.3 Did you avoid sleep-training your baby?
For the first child, yes. The last two we “sleep-trained,” which is to say that we realized that letting them sleep in the crib was a good plan, even if there was some minor crying involved and… Oh, never mind. Answer: No.
And so on. Ten yes-or-no questions. Is your child breast-fed? Has your child breast-fed for more than six months? Was your child born without pain medication for Mom? Did you change jobs or go from full-time to part-time to accommodate your parenting? Yes. No. All or nothing.
Kudos to Time’s reporters for finding some parents who were all — but how many women do you know who fit that label, or could lay claim to nothing, either? There isn’t much about motherhood that can be reduced to a yes or a no.
And make no mistake, this is about mothers. With the breast so central to Time’s coverage, even the most dedicated attachment father must feel, as Nathan Thornburgh puts it in his valiant attempt to bring fatherhood into attachment perspective “detached.” Or, as Elisabeth Badinter put it in “The Conflict,” shot down, with his role redefined at best.
Which brings us back to “The Conflict” in all its guises: the book, which proposed that attachment parenting had replaced sexism in pushing women out of the workplace, and the “conflicts” themselves: the supposed one between “women who’ve made different choices” and the real one, the internal one — the one most mothers have about whether we’ve made the right choices.
Whether those are choices about working (if we’re financially fortunate enough for that to be a choice) or about “sleep-training” (which I believe my mother called “letting the baby go to sleep”), nursing and preschool or homework and sleepovers, inner conflict is an emotion with which few parents of either gender are unfamiliar.
There is, behind the cover images of beautiful women nursing children older than those we’re accustomed to seeing nurse, some good reading in this issue of Time. There’s a long article about William and Martha Sears (not, says their son, the stereotypical attachment parents themselves) and the evolution of attachment parenting into “the new common sense,” with some caveats about how common sense becomes common. It’s far more nuanced than that quiz, or, for that matter, than “The Conflict.”
But “Are You Mom Enough” still fails to take into account, as so many things do, that not only is there a continuum of attachment parenting from all to nothing, but there is also a continuum of parenting in all of our lives. I am no model of motherhood, but my answers to those quiz questions are all of our answers. Sometimes. Kind of. When it seemed like the right thing to do. With one baby, not the other.
Do you feel pressured to parent your children in a certain way? Sometimes. Kind of. But as Jennifer DeLeonardo put it in another discussion of “The Conflict,” those pressures vary depending on whom you’re with and how you respond to them (some people — and some magazine articles — can make you want to go right out and do the opposite). Did those pressures affect your choices about working, staying home or doing something in between? Maybe, along with a career choice, financial necessity, personal history, job availability, child care and a host of other factors — all of which, along with our personal status, are subject to evolution.
The factors and the nuances and the continuum are the reasons the conversations women have about how we balance, or combine, work and family are worth having — conversations that men have too, although with a different historical background and set of pressures. We are different parents at different times of our lives. An autism diagnosis, a financial crisis, a divorce, a move — all of those things can change us in an instant, so the the question isn’t really “does your baby sleep in your bed?” but why, and for how long? What does that say about what’s important to you, and how would you hold onto that if circumstances changed?
Are you mom enough? Yes. No. Kind of. Sometimes, when it seems like it’s the right thing to do. It depends.
What do you mean by “mom enough,” Time magazine? What is enough? We don’t know what “mom enough” is — probably because it changes from child to child and day to day and year to year. For some of us, it’s the choice between staying home, working, and some compromise. For others, it’s between WIC and food stamps. “Enough” has whole lot of variables besides slings versus strollers.
And that’s why we’ll keep talking about it.
So What is Attachment Parenting?
This is a 10 minute excerpt from the CREATING CO-OPERATIVE KIDS TV show. In it, show host Bill Corbett interviews Dr. Susan Markel and discusses Attachment Parenting, bedsharing, breast feeding, and discipline in the first 18 months.
"We can get caught up in whether a mother should nurse a preschooler — or, perhaps more relevant, whether that preschooler will later appreciate being photographed nursing for a national magazine"