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I Am Mom Enough

In this first of a series, the author examines the intersection of hyper-parenting and feminism. Where do we go from here?

 

In another shocking example of poor journalistic judgment, the current Time Magazine cover of an attractive mother breastfeeding her three-year-old son stoked intense debate among mothers across the nation just in time for Mother’s Day.

The cover, reading “Are you Mom enough?” invites the reader to learn about the unorthodox childcare advice administered by longtime parenting guru Dr. William Sears. Dr. Sears, who recommends a technique called attachment parenting, advises a host of techniques designed to foster—he says—a safe and secure childrearing environment.

The attachment parenting mother breastfeeds on demand until the child self-weans, sometimes not until kindergarten. The mother wears the young baby in a sling—nearly all day, as far as I can tell—to maintain constant contact. The child sleeps in a family bed for as long as necessary.

As this cover slapped everyone in the face last week, I was in the midst of reading a book called “The Conflict” by French feminist, intellectual and professor of philosophy Elisabeth Badinter. In it, she describes how modern motherhood practices undermine the status of women in society because of the increasing demands of early childhood parenting. 

Prescient timing. While Badinter’s hard-line approach left me wondering if she has children of her own (she does—three, in fact), many of her arguments made sense to me, especially as they relate to Fairfield County’s competitive mom elite.

Dr. Sears’ methods and other groups such as the La Leche League advocate for a style of extreme parenting that could only be accomplished by a full time stay at home mother. How many Americans live in two-income households? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 58.5 percent in 2011. Where does that leave them, or their hard working single mom counterparts? According to the Time cover, they’re not “mom enough.”

As mothers, we all want to see our children become happy, healthy, productive adults. How do we reconcile these extreme parenting advocates’ elitist demands with our hard-fought rights to a successful career and a happy marriage (never mind maintaining youthful good looks and a fun social life)? 

My personal view is that the greatest gift one can give a child is . I fail to see how teaching a child that he or she cannot eat, sleep or move without direct parental involvement achieves that goal. I also believe that these extreme parenting tactics reduce by design the involvement of the father and undermine the adults’ relationship, already in a tenuous state from little sleep, less money and zero free time.

Does this quest for parental “perfection” truly serve the needs of the child or does it serve the emotional needs of the mother, who perhaps struggles to reconcile years of schooling and hours of hard (professional) labor with the menial daily tasks of chopping food into little tiny bits, changing diapers and losing countless hours of sleep?  

Isn’t parenting difficult enough without experts telling us that in order to really be a “good mother” we need to stay home, breastfeed through preschool and endure a crowded family bed? Surely there are better common sense ways to raise confident, secure risk-takers!

I can’t imagine what those baby, toddler and preschool years would have been like without my husband’s hands-on, getting-really-dirty help and companionship. He is essential to our family, my best friend and an excellent father, and we work as a team.

I relied—and still rely—on his help for meals, time away, intimacy and more. For every day in our early parenthood that was bliss, there was another that was hell, and we laughed and cried and argued and loved and did it all again, usually with no money.

We still do, 20 years later.

I am grateful to our own mothers, who fought for our , workplace rights and more, and I worry that this attachment parenting trend divides women by playing on their deepest guilty fears. But my biggest concern is that the child-centered family misses out on what is really the center of life: the adult partnership of equal decision-makers that holds it all together. 

Years from now—if you did your job right—your child will move on and leave you behind. It won’t matter how long you breastfed. Don’t define yourself only by the years you spend actively parenting. Maintain your perspective and long term goals, and remember that as liberated women and equal partners, parenthood, from its proudest moments to its most intimate reflections, is but one part of a lifelong journey.

Jeff M May 16, 2012 at 10:45 AM
Brava!
centi May 16, 2012 at 11:02 AM
Attachment parenting is more complicated that the way it is treated in this article. How many moms have kids and go back to work right away? They are bored and think a nanny is the best solution. Feminism can mean breastfeeding btw. Choosing how to raise children is feminism and another woman judging proponents of La Leche or attachment parenting is just like men trying to appeal abortion rights, trying to control women's bodies and their ultimate freedom: reproductive rights which morphs into parenting.
susan May 16, 2012 at 12:34 PM
Terrific article, Lisa! Having raised two children to adulthood (defined by age 18+), I am so tired of being guilted by "experts" on what is the right way to raise a child. I have a child graduating from college this weekend, who finished with honors in four years, and is starting a career in her major on June 1. And guess what? I only breast fed for 6 weeks, including the two weeks of weaning! Imagine that, Dr. Sears and La Leche! The author of this article is right--teaching your children independence and showing confidence that they can do it without your hovering over every step is a wonderful gift.
Elmcrest May 16, 2012 at 12:44 PM
Did Ms. Bigelow really read the article in Time? I just did, and did not find it to be anything like what she describes. To me, it appears that Time saw a trend and reported on it, and not in a cheerleading kind of way -- the article is by no means an endorsement of Dr. Sears or "attachment parenting," and includes all kinds of dissenting opinions and contradictions -- often the same ones that Ms. Bigelow offers here herself. [There's even a sidebar article written by a dad who acknowledges (unlike Ms. Bigelow) that many kids don't have a father in their life, and talks against the extremes of "attachment parenting."] Not even Dr. Sears advocates the extremes that Ms. Bigelow rails against; the article mentions that 60% of the mothers with children in Sears' pediatric practice work outside their homes, which hardly supports Ms. Bigelow's claims that Dr. Sears is somehow "elitist" or believes working moms aren't somehow "mom enough." Go read the Time article; it is both skeptical and "rhetoric-free." My conclusion -- "attached parenting" is interesting, but it's not the approach for my family.
rough1 May 16, 2012 at 02:17 PM
From the Audit Bureau- second half of 2011:Other notable changes included Time magazine, which lost 3.4 percent of newsstand sales to 76,555. Paid circulation for Time decreased 0.5 percent to 3.3 million. So, I guess to boost sales, Time has gone for the flashinglysick cover stories. I stopped reading Time years ago when they sold their soul to AOL- it's now largely irrelevant, so who cares what the cover story says!
Lisa Bigelow May 16, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Thanks to everyone who read and commented this morning. I am criticizing Time not for the article's content but for the sensationalist and insulting cover photo and accompanying headline. Time would have showed better journalistic judgment putting a photo of Dr. Sears on the cover instead of the photo they chose, which, as you say, was really not the main focus of the article. (I state in my piece, "these extreme parenting advocates'", meaning more than just Dr. Sears.) Nevertheless, proponents of attachment parenting point to Dr. Sears as well as La Leche as the inspiration for their unorthodox practices. Elmcrest, I encourage you to read "The Conflict." There are several direct quotes from Dr. Sears that go beyond the Time piece.
J Bauer May 16, 2012 at 02:48 PM
The reality is that parents like to believe that they can mold a perfect human being and they are often looking to some fool who will provide them with a road map! "Attachment Parenting" is a funny term. The best thing we can do for our children is to prepare them for the world that awaits them. If anyone here thinks that breastfeeding their children until 6 years old and allowing them to sleep in bed with with mom and dad until their teenage years is part of that program, well good luck with that. The reality of the world is that people are selfish, greedy, and callous to anyone they do not have a care for. Raising children that can stand up to such harsh realities and find a slice of happiness within it is the goal. Be realistic and ask yourself as a parent if what you are doing adds to that ultimate goal or not.
Elmcrest May 16, 2012 at 03:19 PM
Sorry, I'm too busy raising my kids, working, and doing things I really enjoy to devote any time to reading a book by a "French feminist, intellectual and professor of philosophy," or by Dr. Sears, for that matter. I will say this, though, if you read the full headline and subhead on Time's cover, it helps explain the provocative "Are You Mom Enough?" line -- and accurately defines the article inside: "Why attachment parenting drives some mothers to extremes -- and how Dr. Bill Sears became their guru."
James Moore May 16, 2012 at 06:24 PM
I'm running over to turn on the radio to see what Rush has to say about this...
Kendall L Owott May 16, 2012 at 07:00 PM
To start, Ms. Bigelow’s writing is not rhetoric-free, frequently attempts to persuade, strays from conservative principles and is not always calm. She also sometimes overgeneralizes and tends to narcissism. The statement that the cover “slapped everyone in the face” is an overgeneralization and violent. Professor Badinter’s book and how it relates to “Fairfield County’s competitive mom elite” could have used more explanation. What did Professor Badinter say and what’s with this competitive mom elite? What conservative holds that anybody has a right to a successful career? There is certainly nothing in the Constitution about the right to a happy marriage, either, as desirable as a happy marriage is. Many would hold that the greatest gift one can give ,not to a child but to an adult, is the gift of independence. As children mature, parents can teach them the necessary skills to practice independence without harming others. Independence can be granted too early. Ms. Bigelow’s piece contains a link referring to a previous Bigelow essay touching on reproductive rights and today Ms. Bigelow worries about attachment parenting dividing women “by playing on their deepest guilty fears.” Women ARE divided on reproductive rights and “deepest guilty fears” are entirely appropriate. This subject is much more important than the self-oriented goals of “maintaining youthful good looks and a fun social life."

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