I hate the “mommy wars.” The very idea of mothers taking up arms against each other based on how they choose to raise their children is, to be honest, absurd. Sure, there are plenty of women out there with strong beliefs one way or the other, and the Internet facilitates strong reactions and loud voices, but the truth of the matter is that we are all doing the best we can given what we’ve got. The “mommy wars” are amplified and sold by websites and magazines: oh look it’s another example of women being catty, click here and feed the advertisers.
This is one of the reasons why I have chosen not to weigh in on the Time Magazine Attachment Parenting debacle. To me, it’s not worth talking about. “Are You Mom Enough?” is the title? Really? Talk about baiting women to start battling each other.
I am probably what you would call an attachment parent, although I don’t think of myself in that way. I breastfed Sofia until she was a little over 2, she comes into our bed every night to sleep with us, I wore her on my body when she was a baby. These things weren’t a political statement, and they weren’t a philosophy – they were things that felt right to me, or that made my life easier. It’s easier to tuck a baby into a wrap to walk the dog than it is to deal with a bulky stroller. Co-sleeping ensures that I get a little bit more sleep, and at this point, every minute is precious to me. Breast-feeding was something that I wanted to do for six months, but Sofia needed the comfort for longer. There was never a moment when I thought, “Well, I’m going to be an attachment parent,” but a lot of what I did fell into the attachment parenting categories.
On the other hand, I am not the stereotypical attachment parent. I struggled with breastfeeding, especially at the beginning and at the end, and there are still times, usually when it’s the middle of the night and I am the only person who can comfort Sofia, when I think that formula feeding would have been preferable. I’d like to have my bed back. And even though it’s hard to admit this publicly, I don’t cherish every moment of her childhood.
So I didn’t want to talk about the Time Magazine cover. I don’t find it useful to put myself on one side of the “wars.” I have no interest in how other women raise their children, as long as it doesn’t affect mine.
If I’m being really honest, it goes beyond that. I have complicated feelings about extended breastfeeding. I emphatically did not want to be a woman who breastfed her 10-year-old. Even at 2, in the abstract, I get a little uncomfortable. That Time Magazine article – that could have been me and Sofia just a few months ago. It’s not like she couldn’t stand on a bench and breastfeed, and actually, there were times when she would stand next to me, latched on, while I was sitting at my desk. Still, seeing somebody else in that position gave me pause. I’ve been socialized to believe that tits are for sex and not for children.
But breastfeeding a toddler feels right. It feels no different, really, than breastfeeding an infant. It feels like you are giving your child something that they need. It feels cuddly and warm, and loving and sweet.
Seeing somebody else do it, though, reminds me of the discomfort that I felt towards the end. I stopped talking about it to people who didn’t know, because there was always a side-eye. Family members would say, “Are you still breastfeeding her?”, and it was awkward. It felt right to continue, but it felt wrong from the point of view of others. Maybe because I never fully identified with the label of an attachment parent, I didn’t feel like I could stand behind my choices because of a specific philosophy. I was just doing what felt right.
So I didn’t want to weigh in. I don’t feel comfortable standing on one side or the other of pretend wars, and I don’t think my personal choices should be up for public debate.
Until I saw this article, entitled “Time Magazine Cover: What About the Child?”, and I went apoplectic.
“What about the child” is a battle cry for those who have run out of logical arguments. “What about the child” has been used to say that interracial marriages should be illegal, that homosexuality should be illegal, that White Supremacy is awesome, that the Internet should be censored. I was listening to NPR the other day, and the topic was gay marriage. A woman called in and said, “if you look at ancient civilizations where homosexuality was normalized, they all are in ruins now.” Tom Ashbrook said, “isn’t that true of all ancient civilizations, even the ones without homosexuality?” The woman stuttered, and then said, “but we have to think about the effects on children.” It’s a last-ditch effort to justify your own biases when you run out of logic.
The argument generally goes like this: It’s not that I hate gays/bisexuals/minorities/women/breastfeeders, it’s that their children will be discriminated against and so it needs to stop. But who, exactly, is doing the discriminating? Who is feeding that terrible terrible situation for the children? Oh, right. The person making the argument.
“We need to protect the children from XYZ” really means “I will treat your child differently because of XYZ, so don’t do it.” We don’t need to protect the children from XYZ – we need to protect children from the person making the argument.
The kid in question might face some teasing because he was on a Time Magazine cover breastfeeding at the age of 3. So might one hundred thousand other kids whose pictures are on the internet running naked through sprinklers, or Eden Wood for being a pageant kid, or any of the Duggars. Kids are going to tease each other, and kids who are in the spotlight are going to take some extra teasing for that, regardless. That doesn’t mean that what is happening in the picture is wrong. Just the opposite. It means that what is happening in the picture – a nurturing, loving relationship between a mother and a child – should be more normalized.
Breastfeeding is on the rise in America. According to the CDC: “Breastfeeding rates in the United States increased significantly between 1993 and 2006. The percentage of infants who were ever breastfed increased from 60% among infants born in 1993-1994 to 77% among infants born in 2005-2006.” 77% of infants that were born at the same time as the kid in the picture also breastfed. If he gets bullied by other kids for this picture, the answer is simply, “Well, you did it too.” And they probably did.
I wouldn’t have done what the woman on the cover of Time did. I am ashamed to say that it would have been embarrassing for me to have such a public picture, because it feels like a private endeavor, and I don’t know if I could handle the scrutiny. But the fact that she did it makes it a little easier for me to talk about breastfeeding my daughter even when she was walking and talking, which, by the way, is in line with what the World Health Organization recommends.
Breastfeeding is good for children’s health, it feels like a loving and nurturing relationship, it is recommended to continue until they are two. The fact that some people are squicked out by it means that there is a problem with those people, not with breastfeeding.
I started this article by saying how much I hate the “mommy wars,” and I do. I have no interest in telling other people how they should feed their child, nor do I care about the sleeping habits, discipline habits, or political leanings of other parents. However, I can’t sit by and let others heap shame onto people that they don’t know because they are ill at ease. Sure, the argument is “think of the child,” but that’s not what the real argument is. The real argument is “Breastfeeding makes me feel weird, so I am going to try to browbeat you into not doing it in front of me.”
If you’re really interested in making things okay for children, the answer is not to ask them to hide their nurturing relationship with their mother. The answer is to stop making children feel ashamed for getting comfort from their parents.