If you honestly believe "Any publicity is good publicity," take a look at the controversy surrounding the TIME magazine breastfeeding cover fronting this week's issue. While the attendant article discusses Dr. William Sears and his approach to attachment parenting, the cover has taken on an infamous life of its own. Granted, extended breastfeeding is one aspect of attachment parenting, but despite the protestations of the photographer behind the image, TIME's cover shot aims to be provocative, titillating, and attention-grabbing.
And that's the problem. Did TIME really want to foster a discussion about modern parenting and the many theories of what's best for our children, or simply turn heads and sell magazines? And why throw the cover mother-and-child duo, 26-year-old Jamie Grumet and 3-year-old Aram, under the bus with a pose that doesn't foster warm and fuzzy feelings but instead elicits a "Did she really do that?" reaction?
Even the cover mom admitted, "There were other photos that were more nurturing, kind of like our daily life, the way we do it. I don't think it would have been quite as provocative,"
How different our reactions would be if Grumet were wearing a long-sleeved blouse unbuttoned to her breast (as many nursing moms do) instead of skin-tight leggings and a tank; or if her nursing son Aram was clearly 3 (instead of looking like a hulking 7-year-old) and was not wearing an army-grey shirt, grey and olive camo pants and tough-guy footwear.
The image does not reflect the love and closeness that is shared when a mother nurses her child. Because those emotions are absent from both participants in the photo, the act doesn't appear nurturing but looks like something darker, with subtle undertones that make most viewers uncomfortable.
There's been a lot of fuss made about the "war on women" in political circles, but a recent slew of "ewww, that's gross" articles about celebrity moms makes it clear that it's open season on women everywhere and mothers are not exempt. TVGuide.com notes that along with the TIME cover are other stories about "atypical parenting":
Last month a video of Alicia Silverstone regurgitating food into her son's mouth went viral. Hilary Duff also recently admitted to keeping her son's umbilical cord stump in a drawer, while Mad Men's January Jones said in March that she takes pills made from her placenta.
While some celebrities have shared their poorly-informed opinions via Twitter, actress and breastfeeding advocate Mayim Bialik of The Big Bang Theory spoke to CNN about attachment parenting. A mom who breastfeeds her own 3-year-old, Bialik explained to Suzanne Malveaux, "The concepts of believing that a child has a voice, whether it's a newborn voice or a 1-year-old voice, that's what then forms all your decisions about how long you breastfeed, how long you sleep safely with your child...how long you let their needs be part of yours."
While some are saying that this attention has helped launch public discourse on attachment parenting, more snide comments are circulating (like former Cosmo and Glamour magazine editor Bonnie Fuller's irresponsible remark that extreme attachment parenters are nuts) than thoughtful assessments along the lines of Mayim Bialik's.
The irony of the story breaking on the Friday before Mother's Day is not lost on me. In fact, I waited to write about it until today because criticizing the actions of a loving mom seemed ill-advised on the eve of this special day for mothers.
In the end, this story is essentially a non-issue especially in a world where bad parenting injures, maims, and impairs so many children for life...and kills untold others. Those are the stories that need to be covered and discussed widely, so that when a parent fails a larger network exists as a safety net operating under that child to see him/her safely through to adulthood. We need to focus on improved social services for at-risk children and better support mechanisms for women (especially single-parent heads of households) who are barely keeping it together for themselves and their families. This is where our energies should be spent instead of worrying about a magazine cover that misrepresents the article it illustrates.
For a much better take on intensive motherhood (and how feminism leads to better mothering), read Belinda Luscombe's commentary at Time.com. As she points out:
The affluent, slightly older and well-educated moms who are most likely perusing parenting books like those written by William Sears have already tasted financial independence, self-sufficiency and freedom of movement. They quickly become acutely aware that parenting severely curtails those things. And they want to make their sacrifices mean something. If they're giving up so much to raise this new human, they're going to make sure the kid is raised like a blue chip stock price....
We've educated women to forge a new path. Why did we think they'd treat raising children any differently?