Friday, 11 May 2012

*THAT* Time Magazine cover...

How could I not blog about it? I mean really... Everyone and their dog seems to have an opinion on Time's May edition front cover photo and it seems to have caused quite the whirlwind. Never one to resist a good bandwagon, I feel it's only polite for me to contribute my two-penneth on the matter. 

You can't possibly have missed it, but just in case you have, here is the image in question:


The lady is 26 year old mother of two, Jamie Lynne Grumet from Los Angeles, and the child is her near-4 year old son, Aram. So there's the introductions done with: Jamie and Aram, meet the world. The world, meet Jamie and Aram. OH! But wait... I forgot the pivotal character in this photograph - Jamie's BREAST. And oh my word, look where it is! Aren't we all just shocked to our very core? No? Oh... No, neither was I. It's a woman, breastfeeding her son. That's it. I have no reaction to it beyond that. I've known plenty of mothers and children who've enjoyed breastfeeding up to and beyond 4 years of age and it's just one of the many things that some parents and children enjoy doing together and others don't. 

There is, however, something I really, really don't like about the magazine cover. That caption... right there... Are You Mom Enough? Ick, yuk and shudder. I'm not even sure where to begin with dissecting this one. Firstly, every woman who has ever been pregnant is a mother. One-hundred per cent. There aren't degrees of motherhood, there isn't a checklist of achievements and activities that you tick off and at the end there's a shiny medal. I don't care how or whether you gave birth, how you fed your baby, where your baby slept, how you transported him or her around - we are all 100% mothers and should support and care for each other in that. There are plenty of parenting choices that I don't like and wouldn't practice myself, some that actually upset me a little because of the reasoning behind them or research demonstrating potential long term negative effects - but I am no "more" a mother because I of the things I do or don't do with my children. It just isn't a competition. 

The juxtaposition of that dreadful, loaded question with the image really sets up attachment parenting as the sort of movement that DOES consider parenting to be a competitive sport though. It's no wonder that the general public see us as weird, yoghurt-knitting hippies with superiority complexes because we practice x, y and z. I made the terrible mistake of reading comments from the general public on a range of websites that had written about this issue over the last couple of days, and some of them really made me incredibly sad. The vitriol directed at attachment parenting and the people who practice it is intense in places. Allegations of child molestation and paedophilia, accusations that this sort of parenting produces dependent, slothful adults who don't know how to function, and the favourite "it's all for the mother's selfish benefit". Selfish? Child abusers?? That hurts. It's also untrue but that should be obvious anyway - right? Well here's the problem... The mass media LOVE a juicy contentious issue to whip the public up into a bit of moral outrage. It sells, it's sexy news. I have never read or even considered Time Magazine before (I don't think it's a big thing here in the UK anyway) but here I am writing about it having spent a lot of today reading what other people have written about it. So clearly it's NOT obvious that we're not all judgmental lunatics. 

Actually if you go out and meet the sorts of women who breastfeed their children to whatever age, share a bed with them, use a sling or carrier more often than a pram or stroller, you'll find that, on the whole, we're really very ordinary. In fact, I defy anyone to single out one parent in their entire social circle who has not, at some stage, either breastfed (even only once after birth), slept in the same bed as their baby (even just one night out of sleep-deprived desperation!) or carried their baby in a sling of whatever design.
Very few of us are bonkers and self-righteous - naturally a few are, but then you find bonkers, self-righteous types in all walks of life! Just because some people who prefer bed-sharing, breastfeeding and baby-carrying are a bit nuts, this doesn't automatically mean that ALL parents who adopt this approach to raising their children are funny in the head. Somehow the sweeping generalisation that we are seems to have become the normal perception of attachment parenting, and sadly coverage like the Time magazine front cover really only serves to fuel that misconception.

Reading an interview with the lady in the photograph, something jumped out at me about her appreciation of Dr. Bill Sears - the man credited with pulling together the philosophies behind attachment parenting and shaping it into a defined 'style' of raising children. When asked if she was a fan of his, Ms. Grumet replied that she finds him to be "a gentle spirit... nonjudgmental and relevant... The way he does it is graceful and educating rather than condemning"

That's a perfect summary of how I feel we should all treat one another in our journey as parents. It's what attracted me to join support groups for attachment parenting and why I enjoy reading the blogs and books written on the subject. I have encountered judgment and condemnation, but as a recipient from those who don't understand what my parenting choices are about, because they have chosen not to educate themselves about it but instead to make assumptions gleamed from snapshots misrepresenting the whole area - rather like this magazine cover. Or like the Channel 4 documentary on "Extreme Breastfeeding". Or like the plethora of Daily Mail articles maligning parents and particularly mothers at any given opportunity... You get the idea. It is very difficult to find a piece of popular media that presents attachment parenting or any of its constituent elements in a positive and open-minded light. In fairness, why would they? It's not interesting if you talk about it sensibly and encourage people to make up their own minds. It sells FAR many more issues if you get people really riled up, set parents up as warring factions hissing and spitting at one another's choices. Throw in some really obtuse reference to sex and you're onto a winner! 

So there is my opinion on the debacle. The fact that the woman in the picture is breastfeeding a four-year old is neither here nor there. I'm far more concerned by the unfortunate message that is being given out about attachment parenting and the people who embrace it. 

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