Are We Done Mommy-Bashing Yet?

The now-notorious Time Magazine cover image of a woman breastfeeding her three-year-old son was accompanied by the obnoxious question “Are You Mom Enough?” I immediately recognized the tactic as identical to the New York Times’ similar pseudo-rhetorical question atop an article on my efforts on toxics, called “Is it Safe to Play Yet?”

Of course, these kinds of questions are not really questions. Instead, they are snark where journalism should be.

Obviously, I take the toxics question more seriously than the Times’ Home section. We should also try to figure out the issues, and challenges, posed by “attachment parenting” – not as a catty lifestyle question or a sneer at “natural” moms – but as a serious inquiry: what kind of parental attention do children really need to thrive? And what actually works for women and families, given these needs?

There has been a predictable media and commentariat kerfuffle about the Time cover, including some terrific responses, like the one from Lisa Belkin, that pointedly refuse to sit in judgment of other moms. And some have raised the issue of this young child’s privacy and exploitation by the magazine in pursuit of sales.

In addition to the annoying headline, the photo itself is a cheap shot, substituting the intimacy of breastfeeding for a defiantly sexy image with an unmistakable Oedipal subtext. In the wake of the much-hyped release of Elisabeth Badinter’s attack on attachment parenting, The Conflict, it does appear that there may be a staged effort to transmute the “War on Women” meme that is so devastating to (mostly male) conservatives into a messy girl-fight. (“No fighting In the Mommy War Room!”)

We shouldn’t let them get away with it, and largely, we’re not. But there’s more to the discussion than simply not taking the bait. When I actually read the article associated with the sensationalized cover, I almost yawned.

The underlying story is, essentially, an arch take-down of Dr. Sears, accompanied by a tiny side-box in the print version that pronounces a few of what it calls the key tenants of attachment parenting either “true” or “untrue” – based on “the science.” For good measure, Time also threw in a short oped from a comically self-caricatured father smugly touting the benefits of being a “detachment” (read: self-indulgent) dad.

While the profile notes Dr. Sear’s extensive empire of endorsements, it disappointingly fails to take him to task for endorsing total crap, like these freeze-dried sugar pellets posing as “baby-friendly health-food” yogurt blobs. Far more importantly, while it mentions in passing his aversion to formula, strollers and cribs, it doesn’t take such subjects seriously enough to explain what, exactly, parents might usefully think about with regard to these topics. (On a single subject, the on-line, but not print, magazine does look at the “cry-it-out” issue with more seriousness, which I appreciated.)

If Time was actually practicing an act of journalism, it might have explored the research on brain development and maternal physiology that leads to infant-mother bonding and growth, or the structural tensions between the expectation that women work after having children and the alleged consensus that the benefits of breastfeeding are clear.

Instead, the editors chose to feature a mother who is actually a fashion model as an example of the sheer, unmitigated glamour of breastfeeding, and to offer up lame anecdotes like the fact that Dr. Sears and his wife “subsidized” the staying-at-home of his children’s families (hey, those yogurt blobs pay well, I’m sure).

Those of us without endorsement machines for parents have to deal with the real options for families, and it’s not a pretty picture. Structural supports for women’s choices and the choices of families – on everything from breastfeeding to maternity leave to flexible working arrangements to childcare and preschool – are largely missing, meaning that for most families, rearranging their lives around children requires extraordinary effort, exhaustion, financial and career sacrifice and general making-do.

The article did describe Dr. Sears’ evident frustration with the perception that his advice is for women to stay home (though much in his own attachment parenting literature either subtly or not-so-subtly does suggest that, as the piece points out). Generally speaking, one would think this kind of discussion would benefit from some consideration of what women actually want to do with their lives.

For some, certainly, working in the home is the most fulfilling way to raise their family, and to fully embrace its inherent comedy. In contrast, for others like me, being at home, alone, every day, with a toddler, would lead almost certainly to madness, resentment and despair, in that order, and in fairly short order.

In either circumstance, as I’ve suggested previously, it would be idiotic to think that moms, like other humans, don’t suffer ambivalence, regret and grass-is-greener syndrome.

And while it is true that not all parents are equally gifted at the exacting performance that is parenting, anyone engaged at this level with the niceties of how best to do the job is really Not Part of the Problem. So this sort of discussion of whys and wherefores should be a judgment-free zone, a convo among friends over a coffee-flavored beverage, like in those soft-focus Taster’s Choice ads.

As a Natural-Parenting inclined mom with a generally gimlet, skeptical eye, I’ve had occasion to closely examine many of the tenets of attachment and “natural” parenting.

So I will gamely, even perhaps foolishly, propose that I will do Time magazine’s job over the next little while, by examining, each in turn, a set of propositions related to attachment and natural parenting, including the following sizzling-hot subjects:

  1. Toddlers – Are there brains in there?
  2. Mother’s intuitionBasic biology or bunk?
  3. Natural childbirth – Is it for everyone (but me)?
  4. Breastfeeding – Are boobies really better than that magic powder?
  5. Co-sleeping – Do babies always have to kick your face in the night?
  6. Baby wearing – Are strollers Satan spawn?

Ok, the question part is most unserious. But I will try to tackle some of these subjects – not from a place of asking ridiculous non-questions about parenting adequacy or the evil nature of some choices – but as a chance to reflect upon my own efforts seeking to understand and grapple with these topics.

And I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments about your own experiences, questions and conclusions concerning what was right for your family.

If you have topics to add, please drop me a line – maybe you’d even want to write a piece or two for the series. (Please! How about: Cloth diapers: Are they really full of poop? Annie, I’m lookin’ at you.)

Marking time: A love letter to our girl at 18 months

Maya wakes up in the morning, puts her face far, far too close to mine, and says, with breathless optimism, “Hi.” Now 18 months, she focuses with such intensity on the task at hand — whisking vegetables around a small pot in her kitchen, mumbly “reading” to herself, or sorting finger puppets one-by-one.

She knows “animal,” “turtle,” and, oddly, “newt.” “Wha-what?” she asks, all day long, pointing at everything.

Naturally good-natured (unilke both her parents!), cloudy weather in the form of sudden squalls sometimes appears, but usually dissipates. She has never met a stranger and welcomes surprised people to “her” street or store like a small, impertinent ambassador, waving at them with the enviable certainty they are there to visit her. She can walk, and, lately, almost run, and pull her small legs through the space between her arms to make it down the slide alone.

On the average day, she is mostly willing to follow basic instructions: putting items in her room, tracking down her shoes from the heap, and valiantly attempting to feed herself soup with a “shpoon.”

She has a stubborn streak as wide as the one in her father mother maternal grandmother, to match the intensity of her intentions, which are sometimes nothing short of mastery. At 13 months, we watched her cross a doorway with a small step in it some 30 times, until she could do it without a look of concentration. She consumes her favorite books (last week, the tongue-punishing “Fox in Socks;” this week, the predictably comforting “Everywhere Babies”) a dozen times a day, until they are worn out and have revealed all their merry singsong secrets. She loves music and stomps her feet and twirls with pleasure, plundering her basket of instruments and banging the claves on every nearby surface to hear the differences in sound.

The sounds she makes are changing all too fast, so swiftly it takes my breath away. New words come daily, and a loud insistence on doing things herself, without even my protective arm. Her only phrase? “No way.”

Blink! The baby is gone, long gone, and we stand here, just watching her, and waiting for the little girl.