I don’t read many blogs much anymore. Sometimes I hate it because I know I’m missing some really good stuff. I also don’t like it because some of my “real life” friends communicate to everyone strangers and friends alike via their blog, and I don’t like to think I might be missing a pregnancy announcement or a call for prayers or something else. (If you happen to fall in this category, always, always know I’m a personal call, email, and text away from you. I want to hear from you about your life, your joys, and your sorrows! And if you never read this, good. I don’t expect you to keep up with my life and family on the computer screen. I promise to call or to write if I need you or if I’m just prompted to reach out to a dear friend.) But there are a small handful of blogs I still try to read weekly. This morning I clicked on over to one of these such blogs, and my eyes clouded with tears. These are the words God called me to read.
I was standing at my kitchen counter when I read the email asking me to consider flying with my toddler to New York for a Time Magazine cover story on attachment parenting. It took about a second to remember how exhausting (and frustrating) it was when The New York Times scrutinized our family for a piece on homeschooling. It wasn’t terrible, but it was intrusive and in the end, I didn’t feel like our message was conveyed well at all. In the next second, I thought of my nursling. Clearly, she’s an “older toddler.” She and I talk about nursing. And her nursing is limited to bedtime, in the dark and quiet of her bed. It’s her snuggle time. It’s our snuggle time. It was inconceivable for me to imagine nursing and posing. How would I even begin to explain that to her? This isn’t photo op. It’s a real life relationship. A relationship I would not exploit for anything in the world. Anything.
My reasons for declining weren’t as noble. But God sheltered my child and me, didn’t He? He sheltered other mamas I know, too. I realize now that I was being overly idealistic but when I knew I had a scheduling conflict, Time asked me if I knew any other moms who might be available and interested. So I immediately I forwarded the request from Time to a few Catholic moms I knew who I thought had a similar parenting style as I do, dear Elizabeth being one of them, thinking that this would be an opportunity to portray Catholic motherhood in a positive light. How wrong I was. When the cover came out, I felt guilty for even have forwarded the request to any mom I knew and thinking they could have been duped in to going. (I know one mom I’d passed the information along to whose bags were nearly packed when the trip fell through last minute. Deo gratias.)
Hindsight is always 20-20. I had no inkling that the magazine was going to try to exploit the intimate relationship between a child and her mother. What they wanted, they said, was a mom who could provide a “conceptual illustration of attachment parenting” (their words). The focus was not on breastfeeding although they did want a mom with a toddler. Nothing in the request I received hinted at what was going to end up on the magazine cover.
Still, I see now that I was being overly naive, especially considering the source.
In part, I wrote:
I need to start the day (after the prayer and exercise start) with a shower, clothing and lipgloss, and then some quiet time with the Bible. I want my children to find me in that room, with a candle lit and the Bible on my lap when they first wake up. I don’t want them to find me staring into my laptop.
I need to refrain from internet drama, even a little bit.
I’ve made a similar promise to myself and to my family. And I’ve broken it far too many times.
And then this:
I got an iPhone a few weeks ago. Suddenly, I was connected everywhere I went. I immediately made sure it would not chirp at me everytime I got an email, or someone posted to Facebook, or someone tweeted. The only notifications I left on were phone calls and text messages. Still, I heard the call of social media from anywhere, anytime. The weekend before last, I took my phone to a full day of dance competition. My daughter danced 3 times. We were there twelve hours. Nonstop dance, nonstop music, in an auditorium. I thoroughly drained the fully-charged battery on my iPhone. I was connected! I could post cute things about the day. Chronicle life’s happenings on Instagram. Do something. Read something. Anything. Everything. And at the end of the day, I felt that sick feeling.
Oh, I know that sick feeling all too well. I think I felt it yesterday after I responded to a comment when I promised myself I’d let it go…
My best writing takes its time. Says its prayers. I’m not a news chasing vehicle and I’m not about promoting myself while fighting for a cause. And this “cause”? It changed my life forever long before it was a cause at all. Attachment parenting matters to me.
I wish that women of the digital age could have learned this parenting style the way I did.
Me, too, Elizabeth. Me, too.
Oh, and these words rooted in Truth made me weep even further:
Mary White [one of the founding mothers of the La Leche League] told me after Mass how mothering is a beautiful way to live the works of mercy every day, how mothers are especially blessed to extend the mercy of God to others. It was never about being “mom enough,” but about being humble enough. Attachment parenting–and so, extended breastfeeding–is about the least of these.
And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
All day, every day, serving the little ones with the mercy of Jesus. That’s attachment parenting at its essence.
Attachment parenting grows up. And that doesn’t mean nursing while standing on a stool. It means that mother and child grow together. It means that when it’s not so simple anymore and all their needs can’t be met by stopping to nurse, we still listen. And listen. And listen. We watch over three hundred dances because somewhere in there, our teenager is in three of them and she cares about the other 297.
If we are at our best, we do it with our full attention.
The face of attachment parenting? It doesn’t reflect a computer screen. We can’t let ourselves care more about the cause than about the children who compelled us to learn about the cause in the first place. We can’t let ourselves be lured to spend our days chasing philosophies online, no matter how noble those philosophies are. We can’t endlessly chase decorating ideas or knitting patterns or news feeds, either.
Thank you. I believe this. I encouraged this. And then I was lured in.
Elizabeth is so right. You can’t find the face of attachment parenting on a screen. You can’t depict what extended breastfeeding or rather, the love and bond between a mother and a child can look like. You can only live it.
For today attach yourself to technology just long enough to read the rest of this beautiful reflection and then as Elizabeth reminded me, this is our mission: To go home and love our families. With your full attention. When you do, you will bear authentic witness and change the world.
When I first saw the infamous cover of Time magazine showing the little boy with his mom’s breast is in his mouth, I immediately recognized it as shock journalism. But there was something else unsettling about it. I just couldn’t put my finger on it right away. Yes, the mother’s breast is showing. Yes, the whole propped up boy looking directly at us made me think that Time was trying to misrepresent attachment parenting as something that turns moms into slaves who are at the whim of their children’s every want and desire.
Yet, that wasn’t what really was getting under my skin. I’ve witnessed the heated debates over the photo, the backlash and anger. I’ve heard people calling the photo child porn and accusing the mom of child abuse. I don’t agree with these harsh statements, but I don’t agree with the photo either (and if I’d been the one to fly to New York City for the shoot, I most definitely would not have agreed to posing in that manner).
I received an email from an attachment parent who said she saw the photo as not being sensational and as being natural. After I read her email, I took a look at the photo again. I could not agree with her. I practice extended breastfeeding. I am very supportive of it and attachment parenting, but there was nothing natural about that posed photo. And the only thing “attached” in it was the boy’s mouth to his mom’s breast. As much as I didn’t want to admit it as a mom who is nursing an older child, there was something twisted and sexual about it.
Later I was nursing my sweet 3-year-old, and I felt warm and cuddly. She gently brushed my cheek with her little, dimpled hand and said, “I ‘wuv’ you, Mommy.” And – ah-ha! – it struck me that what bothered me wasn’t what the photo showed but what it didn’t.
I have seen my share of photos of older children nursing in other countries where there’s a lot more of the mother’s breast exposed (like the whole thing – nipple and all – because both breasts are clear to the eye since she’s topless); yet, these photos evoke beauty, peace, and maternity. But this photo does nothing of the sort.
The Time photo shows defiance. It shows a flash of breast. What it doesn’t show is any inkling of serenity or maternity or love.
An anonymous comment over at Faith & Family LIVE! said it best:
“This pic accentuates this woman’s boobs (even if they are not size ‘D’ or anything like that, they’re still highlighted by the pose and clothing); the woman is wearing tight clothes and standing in a defiant pose that does not suggest softness, cuddling, or warmth. My point is that I think this pic was *carefully* designed to pose attachment parenting moms in an unattached way. And attachment parenting without the attachment is… well… what is it? Let’s see, it could be weird… it could be gross… it could be any number of things because the barometer of love between mother and child which guides the mom in her choices and style is broken without attachment. So, would or could it then dip in to some gross sexualized situation? Why not! Basically, this pic turns attachment parenting on its head and debases it. This pic is the antithesis of attachment parenting. Like porn is the antithesis of what sex is meant to be. And I think that’s why this pic feels a little porn-like, even though we all know its just a nursing mom.”
My friend, Michelle, added,
“Breastfeeding is one of those things that I had very little experience seeing until I myself was a nursing mom. Then I saw it everywhere. Never, never, have I seen a great looking mom wearing tight clothes, hands on hips, pulling her top down so her preschooler could get a drink. There is nothing soft, loving or motherly here. It is a pose of defiance that dares the world to tell her she can live her life any way she durn well pleases. Perhaps there are extended breastfeeding mother like this, but they would be in the minority. For most, breastfeeding is a quiet, comforting time for both mother and child…or a time where the mother says, “Again? I just fed your sister…I need to do the dishes…” followed by a sigh (I’ve seen that one most often!). I generally wean by age 2, because I wanted to, not because my children wanted to. And by the time they were 15-18 months old, I discouraged nursing in public just because of this sort of thing. I have friends who NEVER nurse in public, always bringing bottles of pumped milk around, even to my house where I told her she was crazy to pump to nurse an infant, especially at my pro-breastfeeding home. But she just wasn’t comfortable nursing in front of others because of stigmas fueled by this sort of news coverage.”
I hate it that women feel shame because of media stunts like this. I’ve already received several messages from moms who breastfeed older children who are embarrassed and sad due to this hoopla. Want to know the truth? Something that mainstream media rarely, if ever, portrays? This is what extended breastfeeding really looks like:
There is love. There is warmth. There is quiet. We often live in a “not now” world when it comes to our children because everything else demands our attention now.
“Mommy, can you play with me?”
“Not now, sweetie. I’ve got to make dinner.”
“Mommy, let’s paint!”
“Now now, honey, I’m checking my email.”
Breastfeeding limits the amount of “not nows” my child and I have to share (although I certainly do turn down some of my older child’s requests to nurse. A baby’s needs and wants are one in the same. As our children grow older, the line is more blurred). Nursing forces my hummingbird self to slow down and to take time to cuddle with my child. The attachment is way beyond the physical. It hinges on peace and love. The only thing attached in the Time photo was the boy’s mouth to his mother’s breast. No wonder it made people uncomfortable. What is mothering – and breastfeeding beyond what’s considered the “norm” is about mothering and nurturing a child – without love?
If you have a problem with my version of extended breastfeeding, then I’m sorry, but the problem is more you. You are not comfortable with the idea that breasts are instruments to feed children and not just sex toys. You are not comfortable that a child who is beginning to speak for herself and seek independence still needs to be close to her mama sometimes. Or that it might even be good for mama to slow down and to focus on her little one who lives in a world that tries to make her big before she’s ready.
I understand your discomfort. It’s not entirely your fault. There are lots of mixed messages out there and when media portray breastfeeding as Time did, we all get a little uncomfortable.
Aside from shocking people and igniting new mommy wars, what this distorted cover image and its loaded words ultimately did was disenfranchise moms. Thanks to Time, there is one group of moms (those who nurse and especially those who nurse children older than what’s considered “acceptable”) feeling like freaks. They also probably either feel like they have to hide the fact that they are still nursing or are prepared to turn militant about defending their choices. Some may even feel they need to defend that misguided photo (like I was at first, maybe they aren’t even sure why the photo makes them uneasy) because breastfeeding is natural and loving – but not when it’s portrayed the way Time portrayed it. On the other side is different group of moms who don’t nurse and/or practice attachment parenting, and they’re angry at the implication that they are not mom enough because of those big letters on the cover: “Are you mom enough?”
Nobody wins. Shame on Time magazine for making any mom feel unworthy. And right before Mother’s Day, too.
Motherhood is undervalued in our society. We give it plenty of lip service, but we’re constantly trying to define it, box it into a set of principles or rules, objectify it, undermine it, and judge it. At its heart, mothering is about love. And that is what Time magazine purposefully, I believe, completely dismissed when they put that cold and completely detached photo on its cover.
The primary purpose of this blog is not to promote breastfeeding or to even defend it. I write to encourage mothers no matter how they choose to feed their child or what season of their mothering life they are in. I also am not trying to be sensational by showing a photo of me nursing my 3-year-old, but I believe we’ve got to put ourselves out there some if want to fight the stereotypes and help to normalize breastfeeding. I’ll get off my soapbox now. Happy Mother’s Day to you all!!!
UPDATE: I feel compelled to add after reading some of the comments and receiving some emails that I was careful to not personally arrack the mom in the photo or to project blame upon her. I’m aware of how it could have possibly been my child and me manipulated into a pose that would sell magazines or even just unaware of all the snapshots being taken. In this post and in all of my discussions about the Time cover, I have referred to the photo and the magazine and its editors as being culpable rather than pointing my finger at the mom. I never said she didn’t love her child or that she was not emotionally attached to him or that she was flippant or arrogant and feeling “mom enough” – only that Time magazine chose a photo that didn’t exactly conjure up maternal love and portrayed the act of breastfeeding and attachment parenting in a distorted way.
UPDATE (again because it’s my website, and I can update whenever I want): I frequently see passionate parents guilty of making a common logical fallacy when I or some other mom shares her own parenting style or even just a glimpse into her parenting life, and frankly, it drives me nuts. For instance, I’ll say something like I do “A” because it is a way to show love to my child, and someone somewhere angrily wags her finger at me (or that’s what I imagine her doing) and responds by accusing me of saying that because she doesn’t also do “A,” she doesn’t love her child as much as I do. Or because nursing helps to curb me from saying “not now” too often and living more in the moment that nursing longer than expected is the only way to do that. Rubbish.
I’ve heard overwhelmingly positive feedback about this post. There was one guy on Twitter who said the photo was maybe even creepier than the Time one. Whatever. I’m not going to even waste energy defending my words or photo to someone who makes an assessment like that.
But there was one mom, who was charitable in sharing her opposition, but was clearly upset with this post, feeling like I was asking not to be judged but judging moms who didn’t nurse as long I happen to be nursing one of my kids. (For the record: I did not nurse my first two nearly as long either. Also, I actually had to immediately wean the child who is now still nursing when I was put on bed rest after going in to premature labor. She did not nurse for 10 weeks but when the baby was born, she asked about a little mama’s milk, and here we are.) First off, I never asked not to be judged. In fact, I know that even a loving portrayal of breastfeeding an older child would have been rejected by some if it had ended up on the cover of a glossy. And I know there are probably people who saw my photo and squirmed a bit, and remember there’s the Twitter guy who found it really creepy. In these cases, I stand by my statement that that’s the person’s problem. Not that it’s completely anyone’s fault. We have some pretty strict cultural scripts to rewrite before everyone can become more comfortable with breasts’ sole purpose being to feed children – even older ones. Yet, what I never said is that if you choose not to breastfeed your child for a long time (or even at all), then the problem is with you.
But one mom saw it differently. She chose not to breastfeed her children as long, and she felt like I was being divisive and felt that I was saying she and her husband had a problem because they felt like gently weaning earlier was right for their family. She felt that I was saying that anyone who does not nurse her child as long as I do has a problem. Rubbish, again, I say. I never said that. It was falsely deduced. So often people connect imaginary dots and end up feeling attacked.
As I shared in the combox after this comment, I’m a little disheartened because I so did not want any mom to feel like she had to defend her choices. I hate the mommy wars and always try to be charitable when discussing my mothering lifestyle and choices without making other moms feel like they’re not “mom enough.” I never imagined this post would go so viral, and I realize that there are a ton of people who are new to my website and don’t realize that I’ve written ad nauseum about how how I don’t like labels and that good mothering does not come in one-size-fits-all.
I also read something really great by Lauren @ Hobo Mama about how extended breastfeeding or tandem nursing probably seemed a little weird to most of the women who ended up practicing it now. She writes,
If you think extended breastfeeding, or tandem nursing, is weird, you’re not alone. Most of us did at one point or another, too. Most of us started out merely wanting to breastfeed until our baby wanted to stop, or until we as the nursing parents needed or wanted to, or until it wasn’t working for our family. We wanted weaning to be a gentle and gradual process. You don’t start out breastfeeding a four-year-old — you start out with a newborn, who just keeps growing. By the time a four-year-old is breastfeeding, the frequency is way down, and you both know it’s phasing out. Trust me, it’s not “all about the mother” — it’s about the relationship. And there’s no way you can force a child to breastfeed, so it’s definitely the kid’s choice.
That’s an excellent point. I don’t have “end dates” in mind when I start nursing an infant. I don’t think most moms do. I might have even thought it would be weird to be nursing two kids at once or to be nursing one for longer than toddlerhood. But here I am. And it doesn’t feel weird at all.
I’m adding these tidbits here and there because this post is continuing to attract a lot of attention, and I really appreciate the charitable and engaging conversation that’s going on. And I want anyone who finds her way here to know that I feel called to encourage all parents – whether their kids were breastfed for four years or not at all.
Yes, I’ve seen the cover and the controversy it’s stirred up. My inbox is very full. No, I haven’t read the articles. I’m not sure I’m going to. That might seem like a cop out. Maybe it is. But I’ve just returned from a few days in paradise, and re-entry requires energy and time.
Plus, I’m pretty sure – despite the mixed messages that mainstream media continues to perpetuate – that attached doesn’t mean being attached to Internet debates over the topic or even being so attached to your personal parenting ideology that your kids are hovering in the trembling wake of your heated words and angry emails that you’re firing off more rapidly than the nervous system’s synaptic communications.
The cover (and maybe the articles are more fair, but I doubt it) does just what I recently argued against and sensationalizes extended breastfeeding and is, as a friend of mine described, “a brilliant piece of trash journalism.”
Sure, the cover bothers me. So does the title: “Are you mom enough?” As a Facebook friend pointed out, can we invite women to enter the mommy wars anymore than with a loaded question like that?
What likewise bothers me is that Time magazine approached me under the guise of respecting my own parenting choices as well as those of any fellow moms I know, especially since they’d told me they had read material I’d written on the subject.
If I cast aside my pride, it bothers me, too, that I was too stupid to see any of this coming. (My dad and husband were much more cautious about the whole thing.)
When I write about attachment parenting or extended breastfeeding, I write with charity. I am quick to say I’d rather not parent by the book or by the expert and simply follow my gut and try to parent as my God would have me do. I am wary of parenting labels. I am wary, too, of even attempting to mine out any useful gems in any type of magazine that purposefully sells something in such a provocative package.
I am not being pushed to extremes to nurse a 3-year-old because I feel guilty or pressured or scared or worried that if I wean before my child is ready, I am opening her up to a lifetime of pain. Nor am I trying to guarantee myself a winning ticket in the parenting lottery. I stand by own mom and dad’s wise parenting advice and refuse to take credit for the good knowing then that I’d have to take credit for the bad. Oh, yes, my child is a genius who started reading Tolstoy at age 4 and yes, she picks her nose and eats her boogers for an afternoon snack – neither of which have absolutely anything to do with me or my husband and my highly superior gene pool. (I’m jesting here. My kids don’t read Tolstoy, but I have a caught a little one or two with her finger up her nose.)
Honestly, as I’ve said before, it really just boils down to laziness. Weaning takes time and patience when it’s not child-led. I’m not ready to use up any of limited supplies of those precious resources just yet.
Have I ever fallen into the trap of thinking that if I didn’t form a secure emotional bond with my children or do everything “right” I would ruin them for life? Yes, in fact, I have several times stumbled into that treacherous and anxiety-producing trap (and still sometimes do).
During my eating disorder recovery, a therapist once told me that if I wasn’t obsessive-compulsive about food or my weight, I’d find something else to be that way about. There have been times, I admit, when I’ve gotten all OCD on my parenting. I’m trying to channel my OCD tendencies into something more productive – say, eliminating our wooden floors of crumbs and hairballs.
I actually wrote a whole column about my struggles with letting go in the parenting (not the house cleanliness) department and called my new form of parenting detachment parenting and, of course, some AP folks took the word “detached” the wrong way and saw it as an argument against the attached theory of psychology or that I think we don’t matter at all as parents. I’m not going to get into the whole nature v. nurture debate right now, but, nope, that’s not what I meant.
(Do you ever feel like you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t? Yeah. Me, too.)
No, I don’t believe I might as well as throw my children to the wolves (although they would have no problem nursing my pups out in the public of the forest) and let them fend for themselves. Nor do I believe I have no power at all to help shape their souls. I have a great responsibility as their mother. It’s my duty every day to give all in the hope that I can love them into loving and being good people.
When I wrote that column, I opened my heart up and talked about a difficult part of my childhood and how I was crazed, obsessive even, early on in my mothering career about not making even one misstep. Do I still struggle with mom guilt? You bet. Most moms do. We love our families. We want to do things right. Guilt is one of our most worn accessories.
Do I find the cover of Time insulting, sensational, ridiculous, ignorant, and a complete misrepresentation of attachment parenting? Uh-huh. Not that some parents don’t embrace attachment parenting – or any parenting ideology for that matter – to make up for a hurtful past, parental guilt, or simply to feel like they have more control over their children’s destinies.
I was really seething when the messages about the issue started flooding my inbox and Facebook wall, but then I realized that I was being a different kind of attached parent and was getting too far attached to the absurd opinions of others. One thing I’ve learned, especially since launching into an online writing life where I talk about my choices and my parenting, my joys and my struggles, is that there’s one thing you should never attach yourself to and that’s the opinions of others.
No, I do not want to raise “detached” children, but I do want to raise children who recognize the fruit of detachment. When we are too attached, to people, their behavior, or things like ridiculous magazine covers, we become anxious, angry, defensive, or hurt, and contentment is elusive.
Want to be (mostly) happy and at peace with your parenting? Then attach yourself, instead, to your husband or a trusted friend if you’re a single mama. Attach yourself to the thoughts of a solid, faithful spiritual director.
Above all, attach yourself to God. Forget the parenting ideologies. Parent out of love and let God be your guide for the kind of love you wish to bring to the heart of your home.
Attach yourself to hope for the future rather than everything you did wrong yesterday. To move forward, forgive. (I slipped up big time last week, and I’m having to really, really work on forgiving myself, but I know it’s absolutely necessary for the sake of my family and for me.)
When you’re angry at media for being unscrupulous, for supplying the mommy wars with some powerful ammo, and making an issue out of something that shouldn’t be an issue at all, take a deep breath, write a post, vent to your husband, write a letter to the editor or the person who originally contacted you, and then let it go.
Let it go….
While you’re at it, thank your wonderful, wise dad for being right yet again. He was the one who told you there was a reason that the photo shoot wasn’t going to work out. He’s never had much respect for Time’s journalistic integrity. (I tend to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.) Yes, Dad, they would have made me look like a freak. They would have tried to make an innocent nursing session look provocative. They would have tried to objectify me, my body, my children, my maternity, to sell a magazine.
Praise God that the friends you suggested to fill in for you were also unable to make it happen.
Attach yourself again, quite literally, to that handsome husband of yours who is so grounded in truth and looks past the rubbish and lets very little get under his skin, and give him a big hug. Thank him for taking you and your baby to the beach to celebrate 10 blissful years together. Thank him for offering to cancel the trip, but be very, very grateful you looked him straight in the eye and told him that being quasi-alone with him was just as much of a once-in-a-lifetime-experience (at this point of your life, anyway) as flying to the Big Apple for a photo shoot for a national glossy.
Nurse your baby. Nurse your 3-year-old who you were kind of thinking might forget about nursing while you were MIA but didn’t. Forget that stupid cover and the articles within its slippery pages that pit moms against each other and make cultural scripts confine (or confuse) certain moms.
Don’t let anyone or any parenting ideology push you to extremes, but do, my beautiful, fellow mamas, let Love itself take you out of your comfort zone. (We are all extreme parents because parenting demands extreme love.)
As Christian mamas, we need not be attached to incendiary magazine covers, misguided opinions, or our own ideologies or guilt. Let us instead try to attach ourselves and our children to Christ.
When everyone starts arguing back and forth about the perfect parenting style (there is no perfect parent unless you God or maybe the Mother of God), let’s remember this, too: Those sweet wounded, willful, wonderful children who sometimes drive you crazy and at other times drive you to love to extreme will grow up and become whom they were created to be in spite of you. You can do everything “right” (whatever the experts are saying is “right” at the moment), or you may feel like you’ve botched up things big time but one day, you’ll take a step back and see that like a young sapling, your child has a bend all of her own. Even in the most fertile soil things do not always grow as they should. And green shoots of life magically appear even in the most rocky and arid land. Dear mamas, don’t be afraid to get dirty, to dig deep into your own heart and into those of your children’s, but don’t be afraid to let go either. Though, as I have, I’m sure you’ll sometimes find that the holding on is – despite what the covers of magazines that victimize, objectify, disenfranchise, and stigmatize moms might have you to believe – is far easier to do.