Friday, May 18, 2012

Late to the Party...

So, did ya see the Time magazine cover that was such a big, fat hairy deal last week? Yeah, me too. If the internet is to believed, you were either appalled and shocked by the nudity, worried about the child, saying 'right on, Jamie Lynne,' or like me, you were too busy actually parenting a toddler to have a knee-jerk reaction to the thing. (See here for a pretty good summary of people's reactions. They also reproduce the image if you live under a rock (but have wifi or 4G) and haven't seen it.)

I do take issue with the article and the cover, but for a very focused set of reasons, and here they are:

  1. The 3-year-old on the cover will be 13 one day. While I actually do think that it is his mom's absolute right to breastfeed him as long as they are both comfortable with it, I imagine his future friends (and classmates and bullies) will google him someday and find this picture. He may not be as confident as his mom in defending the practice of 'extended breastfeeding.'
  2. Now, keep in mind that the Bug weaned herself at 17 months, so it might be different with an older toddler, but that cover image has very little to do with what I think is the actual experience of nursing a toddler. Thing the first: what stay-at-home mom of two toddlers looks that put together? I mean good for her, but I'm lucky my shoes match today. Thing the second: When the Bug was still nursing after breast milk was her primary food source, it was largely about cuddling and comfort and not so much about her nutrition; she had waffles and pasta and cow milk for calories, she had mama for feeling safe and loved... so our nursing sessions were generally quiet, darker affairs, and not the sort of drive-thru nursing depicted in this image. If anything, that is more like what nursing was like when she was in the 6-9 months-old range, when she nursed because she was hungry, but couldn't be bothered to lay down for it. And I will fight anyone who says 6-9 months is too old. 
  3. The article (and surrounding and related content both in the print and online editions) characterizes a battle between parenting styles that has not seemed to exist for me. I was confident enough our parenting choices to ignore criticism as a general rule, and if another family picks a different path, I'm not sure how that hurts me.* Maybe I'm still a Gamma Girl at heart, but I really don't care what people think of me enough for this to hurt me.
  4. The cover, through this intentionally inflammatory image, places the focus on its discussion of 'extended' breast feeding, which is one of the eight (although Time only named three) principles of Attachment Parenting, and it really isn't the most important one. In fact, Attachment Parenting International names this principle 'Feed with Love and Respect,' which sounds pretty acceptable. Because while Grumet, the cover model, was able to breast feed her adopted son, many women aren't in the advantageous situation she was for this, many adoptive parents can't or don't but still practice the other AP principles. By making such a strong statement about the breast feeding issue, the discussion largely sidesteps issues such as gentle discipline and preparation for parenting and birth. It instead focuses on the other hot button issue of AP, sleep sharing, which is one of those sorts of issues I was taught not to bring up at a cocktail party. 
If we are going to discuss how we parent as a society, I suspect that the discussion is one that we will have over coffee and at our water-coolers. It is one in which we will learn surprising things about our family and friends, and things that perhaps won't surprise us that much. It is not one we pick up at our supermarket between the celebrity gossip and the latest 1001 uses for cake mix. In a way, reality TV has done more for how we consider the issues around AP than this sort of media coverage does. Kourtney Kardashian slept with her son into his toddlerhood (I haven't seen any of the new season of Keeping Up with the Kardashians yet, nor do I make any effort to follow this beyond following all three Kardashian sisters on Twitter), Rosie Pope often talks about breastfeeding on her show on Bravo. More and more dramas and comedies assume that mothers will breast feed their children and deal with the issues of infant sleep and bed sharing. This type of presence in the media seems to do more for these issues than does a single problematic picture on a magazine cover. 

[If the prose here-- for that matter, my use of the word prose-- seems a bit 'academic-y' compared to my usual tone, I'm writing my comprehensive exams for my doctoral program at the moment. This is infecting every area of my life. When next I come up for air, I'll tell you all about it.]

*Incidentally, this is also the place where I really tick people off on the marriage equality thing: how does who you marry have any effect on my marriage? It isn't like when I moved to Canada and found out I could marry a woman there I immediately divorced my husband and went a-huntin'. (The other argument I make is about religious equity... half or more of the marriages performed by my minister aren't recognized by our state. How is that equal protection? But that's a discussion for another day on another blog.)