Thursday, May 10, 2012

Time wins the booby prize

If you haven't already seen this, be careful about clicking the link, if you have children or males nearby:
The headline reads, "Are You Mom enough?" But if that wasn't enough to fan the flames of the Mommy Wars, there's the photo that goes with it: A pretty young woman wearing skinny jeans and a tank top, nursing her nearly 4-year-old son. It's meant to illustrate a story about Dr. William Sears and attachment parenting but, given that there's more to that movement than extended breastfeeding, it seems as if Time magazine was going for sensationalism and shock value.

It's working. [...]

The mom on the provocative May 21st cover is 26-year-old Jamie Lynne Grumet of Los Angeles, a lactation consultant, breastfeeding advocate, and mother of two who blogs at I Am Not the Babysitter. The child at her breast is her son, Aram, who turns 4 in June. "I don't consider breast feeding immodest at all," she told Time magazine. "I'm not shy about doing it in public."

"There are people who tell me there's going to call social services on me or that it's child molestation," Grumet tells Time, adding that her mother breast-fed her until she was 6. "But people have to realize this is biologically normal. It's not socially normal. The more people see it, the more it'll become normal in our culture. That's what I'm hoping. I want people to see it."
Um, okay, Ms. Grumet. But don't you think a pose that didn't make people think: I am woman! Hear me lactate! might have been a bit better in facilitating the discussion you say you want to have?

I mean, I've written about attachment parenting before. I find it to be a bit of a mixed bag. The bottom line for me is: if it works for your family, great! But if it becomes a club with which to beat all the other parents out there who, unlike you, aren't doing things perfectly with regards to their children, then it may be time to step back a bit. Like any parenting method, it has its share of adherents and of critics, and it has fanatics as well as those who practice it more sanely.

But for Time to put this pose on their cover shows that they're not really interested in some balanced discussion of attachment parenting. They're interested in attracting attention and selling magazines. And, unfortunately, they've found a woman willing to exploit herself and her son to help them do exactly that.

Why do I say exploit? Because if you are still nursing an almost four-year-old, we're talking about a nursing experience that has no real reason not to be private most (if not all) of the time. A one or two-month-old may need to nurse on demand, and I've been a supporter of leaving nursing moms of infants alone when they nurse in public--yes, even if they have to nurse in church. Any child younger than one year of age should simply be accommodated when mom needs to nurse in public.

But somewhere between age one and age two, it becomes perfectly possible to delay or even schedule nursing sessions. By age two most ordinary children can wait to breastfeed in most circumstances (I think the exceptions would be children who have developmental delays or special medical needs, or situations involving extreme conditions like war, poverty, and so on). The push to nurse older children in public involves exactly what Grumet says it does: the drive to make people learn to be comfortable with this sight. But that turns the child into an object to facilitate a social discussion, not a person in his own right who just needs to be fed or comforted. (I mean, was her son even hungry when that photo session took place--and would it have mattered if he emphatically was not?)

Grumet should have said no to this photo shoot. But Time Magazine wins the booby prize here--because at least Grumet can have the excuse that she meant well. Raising public awareness of attachment parenting, including extended breastfeeding, can at least seem like a noble cause, worth letting one be photographed nursing one's three-year-old son. But putting this picture on their cover just shows that the boobs at Time don't care about anything but the bottom line.


Susan Miller said...

Honestly, I think full-term breastfeeding does need to be seen. Biologically, it is normal,and in non-Western society, it's socially acceptable as well. I see no reason to hide it. Now, I don't flaunt it, and usually can put off the child (but not always), and in that case, I will breastfeed.

I do think a different pose would've been better, simply because most do not breastfeed in that way. The photographer said she chose that pose in part to highlight how unusual this situation is, but worldwide, it is not unusual to breastfeed a 3-year-old. I think the statement was also made that one couldn't sit and cradle a child of that age to breastfeed, but I beg to differ, since my sn certainly could fit in my lap and breastfeed at that age.

I don't care if others don't breastfeed full-term, for I don't know another's circumstances or the dynamic between mother and child. I parent in the way that is natural to me Nd works for my family, and I expect others do the same. Since there is no one-size-fits-all solution, there is rightly a lot of diversity in parenting. So you'll get no judgment from me on your parenting. :-)

I agree that Time doesn't seem to truly want to destigmatise AP, though I hope I'm wrong.

God bless.

Jim Schortz said...

So you are saying that women have breasts under their blouses? With nipples and everything? Scandalous! She should be ashamed of herself. Ickybad.

Red Cardigan said...

Cute, Jim. No, I'm saying that this photo op was exploitative. I'm actually very pro-breastfeeding, but if you look at the reaction this Time photo is getting, you'll see that instead of a thoughtful conversation about attachment parenting we're getting a dissertation about whether a pic of a nearly-four-year-old boy breastfeeding on the cover of a national magazine will cause the child to need massive therapy in twelve to sixteen years. I'm thinking the odds are in favor of that.

kkollwitz said...

I was born in 1957. Grew up in South Louisiana, where breastfeeding was a pretty mundane, but discreet activity. I can't get fired up by all the hoorah generated by the abolitionists and the militants. But then my childhood predated the West's obsession with All Things Sexual Especially Breasts.

Rebecca in ID said...

Um, yeah. I didn't like the photo. I have nursed mine until 3 1/2, and I personally think it should be normal and accepted and yes, even seen, in our society. It is normal and accepted and seen in most normal societies, but America is a weird combo of puritan/oversexed. I don't look like that when I breastfeed my toddlers and I don't know anyone who does, and it would have been much better, if you want to portray something as normal and good, to well, portray it as normal and good. I start getting a little self-conscious about nursing in public after my babies are about age two and I make an effort to put off sessions, just because I have to acknowledge people aren't used to it and I don't really want to shock/disturb folks. I do think that if we want to change the way society sees breastfeeding mothers, the comfort levels have to be pushed in some way. For instance, I was horrified at the thought of nursing publicly with my first, but due to necessity was forced to do it, then gradually became much more comfortable, especially as I saw other mothers do it, and then as I saw other mothers not being ashamed to nurse even their toddlers discreetly, it seemed more natural and normal to me. But it certainly doesn't help to further sexualize and weirdify things with odd photos of unreal situations.

Rebecca in ID said...

So maybe, Red, though I agree with you about Time's take on it,I'm taking a little issue with this statement of yours:

"The push to nurse older children in public involves exactly what Grumet says it does: the drive to make people learn to be comfortable with this sight. But that turns the child into an object to facilitate a social discussion, not a person in his own right who just needs to be fed or comforted."

What I'd like to say about this, is that my two-year-olds often do just need to be comforted, and it often happens when I am at Church or at a bookstore. I don't see any particular reason why I should put off my crying child or make special efforts to train her not to expect that comfort unless at home. It seems to me natural and normal for a child to want that kind of comfort even at age two, so I don't get why it *should* be something I'd need to hide or do only at home, as opposed to a newborn baby. I guess what I'm saying is that I don't intend to use my children to change society, but I don't really think I need to radically change what I'm doing with my child just because society is uncomfortable with it for no particular reason. (That being said, I do have to mention that I've never noticed anyone giving me a dirty look or a negative comment, and I have four children I've nursed past 2 in public.)

Susan Miller said...

I absolutely agree, Rebecca. I don't breastfeed my 2-year-old at Mass to make a statement, but because sometimes she needs that comfort (she's getting her molars, and so nurses more due to her teeth hurting). Are there some who do it to make a statement? I suppose, but I don't think that's the norm. And I'm certain I can't make my toddler or pre-schooler breastfeed if they don't want.

Red Cardigan said...

Susan and Rebecca, I certainly believe that moms should do what works for them. But I also believe that there are two issues when it comes to breastfeeding in public, and that the general public tends to conflate these two issues.

For instance, whenever I've written a post on breastfeeding during Mass I get lots of irate commenters, many of them men, insisting that nursing at Mass is offensive and that there's no reason why a baby can't wait an hour to eat. I think that this is an unreasonable position if by "baby" we mean a nursing-on-demand infant who is a year old or less, but sometime after that point, between one and two, it becomes less necessary to nurse on demand and *some* efforts can at least sometimes be made to be aware of the situation.

Red Cardigan said...

To explain this more clearly, I think that there is a sort of continuum between the "My baby just needs to eat!" moms who often give up in frustration after six months (or less) because society is SO unfriendly to nursing moms, and the "I will sit virtually topless in the front row of the Cathedral and nurse my five-year-old twins if I want!" moms who are outraged that society is SO unfriendly to nursing moms. To be honest, though, I don't think the second group is being as helpful to the drive for social acceptance of breastfeeding as they sometimes think they are.

Rebecca in ID said...

hmmm, okay, but this is maybe my problem with what seems to be implied in what you're saying about babies *needing* to nurse on demand before age one vs. the ability to put them off between age one and two. I don't want to argue that my 2-year old still *needs* to nurse on demand, because I don't think the discussion should be on that level at all. When it's on that level, it seems to me that what is being said is--pardon my exaggerating a little to make a point--that *unfortunately*, because small babies' tummies are so tiny, women are forced into this embarrassing situation of having to nurse them when in public. As soon as reasonably possible they should keep this activity in the private realm. That is the assumption you seem to kind of be agreeing with, and that's where I differ. I think it is really unfortunate and actually kind of sick that there should be any kind of apology about breastfeeding infants or toddlers in any situation. It is totally normal, it is totally what breasts were made for, and men who have grown up around it do not blink an eye about it or have any problem with it whatsoever. If we allow it to be turned into something we need to argue for, because of nutritional necessity, and are put on the defensive, it seems to me we are acquiescing to an unfortunate perverse view of nature and this will contribute to perpetuating the weird combo of puritan and lustful that our society has become. No woman should have to prove or argue that it is "necessary" to feed her child, as though it is a necessary evil rather than a great good which should be encouraged in society. It is very possible that I am misunderstanding you, so I welcome any further clarification.

Red Cardigan said...

Sure, Rebecca, I'm happy to clarify.

Some people (mostly men) have this hangup that breasts are always sexual, and so they argue that even if a woman is nursing a two-month-old while totally covered with a blanket, that's not acceptable in public.

Other people (mostly women) argue that breasts are not sexual at all. They're just feeding equipment. Thus, if a woman wanted to nurse a five-year-old while totally topless on the subway at rush hour, she should, and anybody who looks at her is just a pervert.

I think that there's a more balanced view, which is that breasts are *both* feeding equipment *and* sexual, at least in some sense. Breastfeeding one's child is certainly not a sexual act and is not intended to be, but there IS, in my view, a charitable attempt on the part of a breastfeeding mother to nurse modestly and discreetly whenever possible because she is aware of this duality of purpose of the human female breast.

Some moms can nurse a two-year-old in public with that modesty and discretion, while others can't (depending on lots of factors which will vary from woman to woman and child to child). Some women struggle to nurse even a two-month-old with modesty and discretion, but I'm much more inclined to give a mother of a two-month-old a very wide pass on this sort of thing, because the baby HAS to eat. You can't tell a two-month-old, "Not right now, sweetie, but how about in five minutes?"

Now, some moms argue--and I respect them, though I disagree--that you can't tell a two-year-old that either, and that if a two year old demands "nummies" during the consecration at Mass and refuses to let mom cover with a blanket, it's just tough for anyone who objects. But I think that there's a sort of progression of discipline going on, and that a two-year-old who understands the concept of "In a minute, sweetie" when it comes to watching a cartoon or reading a storybook or being given a cookie after dinner can also grasp the concept when it comes to nursing--that is, that there's not something about breastfeeding which makes it off limits for instruction in the fine art of patience, an art into which most toddlers are being slowly inducted.

But I recognize that there are mothers who believe that nursing a toddler is a special bonding moment that must always be satisfied the moment it is requested, and that, in fact, this is part of the whole attachment parenting concept. I have my reservations about that concept but would not tell others what to do in this realm--but I do think that if some people are made just a touch uncomfortable by the sight of a woman nursing her kindergartner in public without any attempt at modesty or discretion, this is not some sort of proof that our society is irredeemably puritan, but rather that the wide availability in first-world nations like ours of solid-food nutrition for kindergartners makes the sight unusual enough to draw attention, welcome or not.

Rebecca in ID said...

Thank you for taking the time to draw this out more. I think we probably agree more than disagree, although there are probably many layers here which could be discussed more thoroughly. For instance, I do not deny that breasts have a sexual dimension as does our entire body, but I believe that in a healthy society breasts *in the context of breastfeeding* will not be an occasion of lust. I tend to think that is one reason why we see many, many depictions by master artists of the Blessed Virgin nursing her toddler Son with a great deal of breast exposed--those painters lived in a culture which is healthier than ours in that respect. On the other hand, one thing I have not said which applies here is that it is often good to take people's sensibilities into account even when you disagree with them or do not think they are ideal. E.g. if I invite my Mennonite neighbors over for dinner, I will not serve wine even though I ordinarily would and even though I would disagree with their stance. When I do have a nursing baby I have usually taken the precaution of noting who is sitting behind me, and if for example there is an elderly gentleman I may scoot over in order to be in front of a family of seven, just because the likelihood is high that the elderly gentleman grew up when bottlefeeding was the norm and would be distracted by breastfeeding. I think all that is a part of charity, and yet somehow, at the same time, we as a culture need to move towards normalizing what is in fact normal. I don't know how exactly that is going to happen, but I agree with you that tasteless photos and headlines such as this will not accomplish that.

Anonymous said...

The issue wanes and waxes in America, whether to breastfeed or not, how long to breastfeed, and now whether a pose of a pretty woman's naked breast, with a nearly four-year old suckling male child is appropriate on the cover of a widely published magazine in general circulation.

My question is "why call it 'attachment' whatever"? What is the meaning of the 'attachment' and is good to promote this private act publicly between mother and child? Is it a topic for discussion because it might be something that needs to come out of a closet somewhere? Were people thinking it was the act of a controlling mother, or a depraved individual; questionably unnecessary as a sign of the 'umbrella' effect or the 'tiger' or 'helicopter' mother?

I mean, so what? There is an 'attachment' or bond between mother and child. Are we supposed to somehow connect it to readily available levels of oxytocin, and whether the child will be ensured that it will never grow into an autistic adult?

Women have developed mammary glands for a physiological reason. Glandular breast tissue secretes milk if stimulated, so, why does Time have to make it an issue?


Siarlys Jenkins said...

"America is a weird combo of puritan/oversexed."

Well put Rebecca. That's the second time we've agreed on something in a week.

As a male who has never breast-fed a child, I generally think that a mother breast-feeding her child, including in public, should be at least accommodated, and if possible met with an encouraging and non-leering smile.

I also think Red makes a valid point about expecting children older than two to have a bit more patience or sense of responsibility -- and teaching those virtues to them in practical ways. That doesn't mean mothers who maybe cross that line a bit, flaunt a bit, should be persecuted or marginalized.

I recall a friend who, during her daughter's nursing years, kept a grey shawl handy, and casually draped it over her shoulder, so that baby could be cradled in one arm and dropped from vertical to semi-horizontal under the shawl to nurse. Not entirely prudish, but a reasonable covering also. The baby didn't mind. I recall a rather excited look of anticipation on her face as she was ducked under the shawl.

My sister nursed her children until the age of four or so. This did have some undesirable side effects. One, it promoted intense sibling rivalry for the maymays. Second, my nephew did have, at the age of ten or twelve, distinct memories of when he was breast fed and when he was weaned. Being a product of America's wierd mix of puritanical and over-sexed, I have a notion that children should be weaned when they are still too young to remember breast feeding later.

But, there is no reason to make that mandatory upon all nursing mothers. Some things parents have to choose, and we all, children, neighbors, teachers, psychiatrists, future spouses... have to live with the consequences. Its better than turning the matter over to the police.

Rebecca in ID said...

Twice in one week Siarlys--I'm afraid something is going to explode! :)

Believe it or not I vaguely remember breastfeeding, my mom nursed me up to abt age 2 (unusual for the 70s) and I don't remember much but I do remember a little. It didn't/doesn't bother me. Does it bother your nephew? Has he been around breastfeeding mothers his whole life? I could see how a child who didn't continue to be brought up surrounded with breastfeeding as a norm, might be kind of jolted by his memories of it, but I don't see why a personal memory would be any more shocking than witnessing younger siblings, cousins, etc, nursing on a daily basis. In cultures where weaning generally takes place in a more relaxed way, the average is around three to four years, and everyone seems just okay with it.

I agree that as babies get older they can wait longer, and so on...I gradually teach my toddlers to wait because it isn't convenient for me, for example, to have to start nursing at the Consecration, and if possible holding off until after Church is ideal for me. Usually the nursing would happen when you have, e.g., the 18-month-old hitting her head on the kneeler, and you can either take her out weeping loudly or you can quickly and quietly distract her with num-nums. Anyway, my only objection would be with the implication that mothers need to teach their toddlers to wait until after Church *because* society has a problem with witnessing toddlers breastfeeding, and society can only tolerate this embarrassing type of bodily sensual thing if it is absolutely nutritionally necessary. Not that Red said anything that extreme but I do see those kinds of comments far too often. Society needs to get over that, somewhere, somehow. Sorry, I know I'm way too long-winded about this. I'm shutting up now.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Since you asked, my nephew once rambled out loud about when he was no longer fed breast milk, and I found it a little wierd. But maybe that's just because I have no recollection of my own. Its not unlike, I consider circumcision normal, because I have no recollection of being any other way. Personal experience is each human being's baseline for "normal." It's not really a big deal.

Alice said...

Our family spent the weekend with my in-laws and my husband and I were chatting about this picture on our 3 hour car trip Thursday. On the whole, I agree that nursing toddlers should be a fairly private thing. That said, I'll admit that I nursed my 16 month old during the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning. After behaving beautifully for an hour and forty minutes, he jumped off the kneeler and cut his lip five minutes before the end. The church was packed for Mother's Day, so I sat down and nursed him to sleep. I was certainly trying to be discreet, unlike the picture and I'm not sure if anyone even noticed.