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Mommy Warring: What About the Child?

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.

Time cover
Hey look, let's bait women into fighting 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.

By Susan

I am old and wise. Perhaps more old than wise, but once you're old, you don't give a shit about details anymore.

17 replies on “Mommy Warring: What About the Child?”

Though I agree as a general matter with the, hey, we’re all doing the best we can and should lay off each other because there are bigger problems (ahem, republicans) facing women today, I have to say it’s a pretty substantial leap to draw a parallel between What about the Child racism/homophobia and the criticism found in the Daily Beast article you linked.  I think what she’s trying to say there – points with which I agree – is that (a) there’s a difference between health benefits and psychological benefits and (b) the arguments that the Time article made for extreme breastfeeding at some points appear to be less about what’s best for the child and more about what’s comforting for the mother.

 

I just want to say a big thank you for writing the article and for all of the sensible comments so far.

I get so frustrated and upset whenever I read the comments on one of these articles on other forums.  My baby boy is 10 months old.  Apple of my eye and growing so well.  I had *heaps* of breast milk but the little bugger just wouldn’t latch on to me despite all my attempts, breast shields, midwives, lactation consultants etc.  I expressed for six weeks and he has been formula fed since then.  I would’ve loved to have breastfed him (especially those times in the middle of the night when I was heating a bottle in winter….) but it just didn’t work.

So when I read forums that respond to an article where they talk about children being “defective” if they don’t breastfeed and that they just would’ve been “left to die” in other cultures or that Mums who formula feed are “lazy” (seriously I would rather use my boobs than wash bottles) it really upsets me as its obviously something close to me and still an issue.

As with so many things, the public side that you see isn’t always necessarily the full story.

At this point in my life, with women around me popping out babies left and right, I’m starting to get baby fever, but I’m also nervous about the day that I do have kids because I don’t want to suddenly be at war with other mothers. I just don’t understand why we let ourselves get pushed into a fight that shouldn’t be a fight.

Yep – I totally agree with your sentiments here. I don’t have the time or energy to read all the parenting books out there or to really do much more than raise my son in the ways that work best for me (and often take the least amount of time). I’m trying to do my best by him and I have the luxury of a flexible schedule to do some things I want (like exclusively breastfeed, co-sleep, baby-led-weaning), but I don’t have the finances to do others (like cloth diapering – I share a coin-operated washer/dryer with the building). I think most mothers do the best they can with the circumstances they’ve got.

I do appreciate you, and others, sharing their experiences, though, so that we can normalize many styles of parenting–like breastfeeding–in a society whose puritan values dictate a lot. I was a formula baby, as is much of our generation. Luckily my husband’s sister breastfed her son for around 3 years (and my husband was a teenager seeing it) so he is really supportive and encouraging to me. I plan to feed Nikita ’till he weans himself, however long that may be.

Hell yes to “we’re doing the best we can.”

I hate how there’s fighting on both ends “How can you breastfeed a toddler?” vs. “Formula is poison from The Man.” It’s ridiculous.

Breastfeeding didn’t work out for me all that well, despite my efforts. There wasn’t enough nutritional “oomph” and my kids were NOT going to be healthy if I didn’t start formula. How I felt about it didn’t really factor in — it was like my body produced watered down skim milk. Quantity, not quality, in other words.

(And then it turned out that my daughter only wanted cold bottles and would cry if they were even tepid. Always contrary, that one, haha. My son didn’t so much care where it came from/what it was, so as long as it was NOW.)

So I don’t feel qualified to even talk about other people business because I only know my own experience and they were MINE — I’m not arrogant enough to believe that it was a universal one, and these people who feel there’s only one “right” way fail to realize that. Some kids want the boob until they’re 3, and some parents are more than fine with giving it. Nothing wrong with that, if it’s working. Just like my kids were more than fine with mostly formula.

Susan, you kick ass!

but the truth of the matter is that we are all doing the best we can given what we’ve got

And what’s best for me isn’t necessarily what’s best for her, or him, or that other person over there.  Every child is different and every mother is different so there can not realistically be one set standard for the right way to parent.  That’s like saying there should be one set style of shoe in one set size that everyone in the world should fit into.  Personally, I loved breast feeding my kids and did it as long as I could.  A close friend of mine was literally nauseated by the thought of her babies sucking on her body and chose to bottle feed.  Neither one of our parenting styles was better than the other.  Both of our children got the love and comfort that they needed and all of our children are thriving.

 

Wow. I couldn’t have put my photo on the cover of Time but kudos to her and you, and all the other ladies out there who say fuck society’s Victorian ideals and just get on with caring for their kids. It’s nurture and nourishment–if those kids grow up to be healthier, loving, confident individuals because their mother’s did what they felt was best, then who can judge them (or their parents)? One of my besties breastfed until her daughter was 1.5 and loved every minute of their close time. I think it’s great what she did. It’s the most loving thing a parent can do. Great article!

The elephant in a room full of warring mothers is that a kid’s health and mental state are pretty much going to be what they’re going to be, provided that there’s no abuse going on.  A kid with a healthy constitution can endure anything, and sickly kids won’t be made magically hardy if you breastfeed them for a decade.

I wanted to stand up and applaud Katie Allison Granju’s take on this:

I propose that tomorrow become the first day of a nationwide, grassroots, maternal campaign of non-violent resistance against the profit-driven institutions which continue to find ways to manipulate us into voluntarily ripping our own sisters-in-arms to shreds for public entertainment, thus creating a sleight of hand by which any energy or interest that might exist within our own ranks for addressing the real economic and social issues that impact us and our kids is effectively diverted, diluted and silenced.

…..

Let’s start letting the whole of American media and punditry know tomorrow that we hereby declare that from here on out, if the question they’re asking us is, “Are you mom enough?” every single one of us plans to shrug our shoulders diffidently in response, and simply concede – asLisa Belkin has already done – that nope, we aren’t. Not one single one of us is “mom enough,” whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean.

Personally my stance on discomfort with breastfeeding has always been: child’s need to eat+/be comforted > your need not to see it.

I would change one thing.  All moms should stand up and say “Yeah, I’m mom enough.  I’m mom enough to make the decisions that are right for me and my child, and woman enough to respect that any other decision made by another mother for herself and her child is just as valid as mine.  So yeah, she is mom enough and so am I.”

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