‘Time had the opportunity to explore motherhood and the individuality of each parent-child bond, to validate the mundane and empower women who make countercultural parenting choices. Instead, the editors chose to cash in on cookie-cutter sexploitation and mum-vs-mum sensationalism’
Time magazine threw fuel on the fires of the Mummy Wars last week, with its controversial feature story on Attachment Parenting. Or – and probably more to the point – with its controversial cover picture, featuring 26-year-old Jamie Lynn Grumet posing somewhat cooly while her almost four-year-old son stood on a child-sized chair and fed from her exposed breast.
The magazine cover, of course, went viral, sparking conversation and debate all the way from the blogosphere to the mainstream print media. Many were wondering about attachment parenting – and if breastfeeding chair-standing man-children was really part of the deal and if it’s what you have do to do be ‘Mom Enough’?
While standing up isn’t my preferred method of feeding my babies, I am committed to attachment parenting including extended breastfeeding. But I’m afraid the authentic message of this style of baby raising is being drowned out by TIME’s controversial cover.
According to Dr William Sears, pediatrician, father of 8 and founder of the modern Attachment Parenting movement,
“Attachment parenting is an approach to raising children rather than a strict set of rules. Certain practices are common to AP parents; they tend to breastfeed, hold their babies in their arms a lot, and practice positive discipline, but these are just tools for attachment, not criteria for being certified as an attached parent. So forget the controversies about breast vs bottle, crying it out or not, and which methods of discipline are acceptable, and go back to the basics. Above all, attachment parenting means opening your mind and heart to the individual needs of your baby and letting your knowledge of your child be your guide on making on –the-spot decisions about what works best for both of you. In a nutshell, AP is learning to read the cues of your baby and responding appropriately to those cues.” (The Attachment Parenting Book)
Breastfeeding children past infancy is all about bonding. Breastfeeding, says Dr Sears, “is the prime example of the mutual giving at the heart of attachment parenting, since both babies and mothers benefit from breastfeeding.”
And therein lies the rub. The benefit of breastfeeding to a baby is, to most, without question. But mothers? Surely breastfeeding is not for the benefit of the mother, beyond the self-sacrificial joy of providing for her little one? A burden, of sorts, gladly borne, but primarily for the sake of the beloved child. Weaning is liberation, from baby and from home. And with formula and cow’s milk so easily available in the West, the choice to continue breastfeeding once that child no longer physiologically requires it is baffling to many.
But extended breastfeeding is a choice, and a valid one at that. For some women, it is a choice pursuant to attachment parenting. For others, it is easier to allow a toddler to continue nursing than to enforce weaning. And for some women, probably more than will admit, breastfeeding is a source of pleasure, one which they themselves are unwilling to relinquish until it is absolutely necessary.
The notion of maternal pleasure in breastfeeding is one of the great taboos of Western culture. Because everyone knows that breasts are instruments of beauty, lovely sexual orbs manifested primarily for the enjoyment of men and the advertisement of Lynx deodorants. To enjoy breastfeeding – or for that matter co-sleeping, or popping your baby in a sling instead of a pram -is nothing less than socially deviant behaviour.
Look no further than a 2009 poll of Australians, which revealed that nearly a third of Australians felt that women should not breastfeed their babies beyond six months and that young adults aged 18-24 were the least supportive of a woman’s (and baby’s) right to breastfeed in public.
Yet among this same demographic, wearing the image of a woman’s exposed breasts or buttocks printed on a t-shirt is considered fashionable.
In a pornified world, breasts are to be seen only in terms of sexual gratification, even in breast cancer awareness campaigns.
It should be of no surprise, then, that of the four families photographed for Time’s cover story, it was Jamie Lynne Grumet who was chosen for the cover image. Jamie Lynn Grumet, conventionally attractive young blonde, tightly braless as her camouflage-pants-clad preschooler stared down the camera instead of up into his mother’s lovely face. Jamie Lynn Grumet, sexpot MILF who just loves to nurse.
By sexualising the cover image for their Attachment Parenting feature, Time hit the viral media jackpot, and affirmed the relevancy of print media in an e-world. But did anyone read the story? Time had the opportunity to explore motherhood and the individuality of each parent-child bond, to validate the mundane and empower women who make countercultural parenting choices. Instead, they chose to cash in on cookie-cutter sexploitation and mum-vs-mum sensationalism. A sadly predictable choice, but one which ultimately does neither women nor motherhood any great favours.
Nicole Jameson is an Adelaide-based mother of two and Collective Shout activist. While completing her Master of International Public Health she developed a keen interest in maternal and child health. She would have breastfed her three-year-old while writing this if he hadn’t gone and self-weaned nearly two years ago.