Am I Mom Enough? To My Kids I Am And That’s All That Matters.

From  MAY 11, 2012   THE MAMASUTRA

Time Cover croppedAmericans are in quite a tizzy around Time Magazine’s cover article: “Are you MOM ENOUGH?”  (Emphasis and bold from Time Magazine themselves).  It seems regardless of your political stance, the controversy surrounds two areas:

The Picture

What is so controversial about this picture? (see below for the full image) I’m sure Europeans are chuckling to themselves about the hubbub.  In my opinion Time Magazine is capitalizing on the sensationalistic nature of this picture.

Sensationalist: Noun: sensationalist
Someone who uses exaggerated or lurid material in order to gain public attention.
This definition is from WordWeb

Why have the kid stand on a chair? Is that how they normally feed? I’m guessing it’s not, but I didn’t breastfeed until that age. To me this appears so staged and sensationalistic. I loved breastfeeding my children but I can tell you we NEVER struck this pose. It appears to be a set up to reinforce the judgment Americans have about breastfeeding and highlights how the little boy is almost as tall as his mom. Her hand on her hip? Both mother and son focused on the camera instead of each other? Most of the breastfeeding snapshots created in a studio with a professional photographer that I’ve seen show Mother and child in an intimate pose, not this defiant way.

What I find interesting as well is how people who comment on the picture ask how old the boy is.  Um, it’s right on the cover underneath his chair in black and white, the full name and age of both of them.  What does that say that people stop at the picture and don’t look at the whole image?  Could anyone name the two other headlines on the cover?  How would the public reaction to this picture be different if it were a mother and 3 year old daughter?!?

To me the picture is defiant, highlighting a not-so-affectionate pose of the mother and child nursing. The chair: not needed.  It seems to emphasize judgment on how big the boy is in relation to his mom. Them looking at the camera instead of each other; highlights the in-your-face-nature of the picture. This country has issues with breastfeeding INFANTS in public, let’s not fuel the fire on how some people will say breastfeeding a 3-year-old is disgusting, etc.

I’ve read comments from people criticizing the cover on newsstands, being on coffee tables at offices, and in public in general.  Elizabeth Baldwin says in Extended Breastfeeding and the Law, that “Because our culture tends to view the breast as sexual, it can be hard for people to realize that breastfeeding is the natural way to nurture children.” So true.  Again, children are nursed. Nursing is 100% natural and very healthy for the child. I intensely disagree that this should be Out Of The Public Eye. That just fuels the secrecy and shame around having these conversations.  Breastfeeding is not sex.  A bare breast is not sex either.

There’s a scene in Sex and the City (Season 1 Episode 10) when Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha & Miranda go to a baby shower.  One of them (Miranda?) commented that as soon as a kid can cut his own food he shouldn’t be breast-feeding anymore. The comment garnered lots of laughs when it came out with approving nods in agreement all over the Midwest (where I am from).  But here’s the thing: There are plenty of reasons why a mother chooses to extend breastfeeding and they aren’t our business.  If anything, we mothers should be rallying to support any mother to do what she feels is best for her child.

I am not going to judge this mother – or any mother – for breastfeeding into the child’s third year – there can be plenty of reasons for it and it’s not for me to say. I can offer the fact that mothers in other countries (not only third-world ones as some speculation I’ve read believes) breastfeed well beyond the first year.  Once you have a child it is entirely in your decision to nurse however long you see fit.

What is potentially the most damaging and emotionally scarring for this child is this public reaction of shame that somehow his mother is doing something “wrong”.  I feel sadness for the child in the center of this maelstrom.  For whatever reason this mother chose to be put in this pose but she is also now in the center.  I would not be surprised if there were petitions going around to have the child removed from his mother’s custody.  That is absolutely the WRONG thing to do.  Any endangerment this child might experience is now coming from society, not his mother, and that’s only because of how the American society is so messed up around sex and sexuality.

I haven’t even STARTED on the fact that they are asking, “Are you MOM ENOUGH?” (bold and emphasis from Time itself). These “mommy wars” have got to stop. There is enough pressure we feel from society that we have to have some magazine fuel that moral panic as well? My friend The Mamafesto asks in her blog, Would they ever ask “are you DAD ENOUGH?” No. No way.  Which brings me to the second part of the controversy…

The Parenting (Specifically Mothering)

This article is about Dr. Sears and Attachment Parenting.  Full disclosure: I have not read the whole article because one must be a subscriber to do so.  *ahem*

So what’s the big deal? I did my own version of all three of these things: extended breast-feeding past a year (I breastfed in The Louvre Museum and was not asked to leave), sometimes co-slept when it worked for me (cuz, yeah, I’m selfish enough to want to have sex and not have my infant in the bed so she slept in her crib, not that there’s anything wrong with that), and wore my babies for a long, long time (I have the ab strength to show for it).  What do I have to show for it?  I have two wonderfully fabulous smart daughters. What’s the point of Time Magazine asking “mom Enough”? Who is the judge? Ask anyone who is mom enough and most people will answer their own mother was — but it’s usually their only point of reference.

I think the controversy about “Are You MOM ENOUGH” is less about Attachment Parenting and more about pitting women against each other, which frankly, is bullsh!t.  There is plenty of pressure on us women/mothers to do all/be all without having to measure up to other women who are doing more/being more than us.  Honestly, this also brings to mind the infighting that goes on even within feminist circles.  Is this s sick game of divide and conquer?

One quote jumps to my mind in this “mom enough” issue.  Brené Brown said it best in her TED talk “Listening to Shame”: “For women, the best example I can give you is Enjoli the commercial: “I can put the wash on the line, pack the lunches, hand out the kisses and be at work at five to nine. I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan and never let you forget you’re a man.” For women, shame is do it all, do it perfectly and never let them see you sweat. I don’t know how much perfume that commercial sold, but I guarantee you, it moved a lot of antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds.  Shame, for women, is this web of unobtainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who we’re supposed to be. And it’s a straight-jacket.”

We do this shaming thing to ourselves AND each other. As long as we pit women against each other it’s a distraction.  By shifting our attention to our differences we prevent the real work that women can accomplish by working TOGETHER from getting done.

It’s not important to know which mother does what better.  What is important is things like this list written by Kara Baskin (@acbaskin).  This list is awesome and if mothers are to measure our success as mothers this should be a gauge.

“I hope I raise a child who says “thank you” to the bus driver when he gets off the bus, “please” to the waiter taking his order at the restaurant, and holds the elevator doors when someone’s rushing to get in.

I hope I raise a child who loses graciously and wins without bragging. I hope he learns that disappointments are fleeting and so are triumphs, and if he comes home at night to people who love him, neither one matter. Nobody is keeping score, except sometimes on Facebook.

I hope I raise a child who is kind to old people.

I hope I raise a child who realizes that life is unfair: Some people are born rich or gorgeous. Some people really are handed things that they don’t deserve. Some people luck into jobs or wealth that they don’t earn. Tough.

I hope I raise a child who gets what he wants just often enough to keep him optimistic but not enough to make him spoiled.

I hope I raise a child who knows that he’s loved and special but that he’s not the center of the universe and never, ever will be.

I hope I raise a child who will stick up for a kid who’s being bullied on the playground. I also hope I raise a child who, if he’s the one being bullied, fights back. Hard. Oh, and if he’s the bully? I hope he realizes that his mother, who once wore brown plastic glasses and read the phonebook on the school bus, will cause him more pain than a bully ever could.

I hope I raise a child who relishes life’s tiny pleasures—whether it’s a piece of music, or the color of a gorgeous flower, or Chinese takeout on a rainy Sunday night.

I hope I raise a child who is open-minded and curious about the world without being reckless.

I hope I raise a child who doesn’t need to affirm his self-worth through bigotry, snobbery, materialism, or violence.

I hope I raise a child who likes to read.

I hope I raise a child who is courageous when sick and grateful when healthy.

I hope I raise a child who begins and ends all relationships straightforwardly and honorably.

I hope I raise a child who can spot superficiality and artifice from a mile away and spends his time with people and things that feel authentic to him.

I hope I raise a child who makes quality friends and keeps them.

I hope I raise a child who realizes that his parents are flawed but loves them anyway.

And I hope that if my child turns out to be a colossal screw-up, I take it in stride. I hope I remember that he’s his own person, and there’s only so much I can do. He is not an appendage to be dangled from my breasts on the cover of a magazine, his success is not my ego’s accessory, and I am not Super Mom.

I hope for all of these things, but I know this: None of these wishes has a thing to do with how I feed him or sleep-train him or god-knows-what-else him. Which is how I know that these fabricated “wars” are phony every step of the way. I do not need the expensive stroller. I do not need to go into mourning if my “sleep-training method” is actually a “prayer ritual” that involves tiptoeing around the house in the dark. This is not a test. It’s a game called Extreme Parenting, and you can’t lose if you don’t play. And, really, why would you play? You have children to raise.”

Right on Kara.

We all want to do right by our kids.  The only people that have any right to an opinion, in my own humble opinion, is our children – our own children. Be confident in yourself that if you are doing truly what you think is right for your child then be confident in your parenting as well.  Don’t allow outside influences to tell you how you should feel.  No one should tell you how you feel.  Don’t let them.


The MamaSutra


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