Just in time for Mother’s Day, TIME magazine has decided to dole out an unhealthy dose of mom guilt and throw some fuel on the mommy wars. The magazine put a picture of Jamie Lynne Grumet breastfeeding her three year old, on the cover of the magazine with the headline “ARE YOU MOM ENOUGH?” The picture, while it is striking in terms of the subject matter (it isn’t often that breastfeeding is shown in the media at all, never mind breastfeeding a preschooler) and the composition (I certainly never had my children standing on a chair to breastfeed) didn’t really phase me. The headline, however, had me banging my head on the desk.
Mothering is not a competition
“Are you mom enough?” is an obvious play on the expression “are you man enough?”, which is frequently used to call a man’s “manliness” into question. If he isn’t tough enough for [fill in the blank], then he is obviously a baby, a girl or a homosexual, a problematic concept rooted in patriarchy and homophobia.
So what does that mean for mothers who may not stack up as “mom enough” according to some obscure definition thrown out by the media, a parenting book or society? Does that mean that she doesn’t really deserve to be a parent? That she shouldn’t have had children? That she should have her children taken away from her?
I am a big advocate of discussing and debating the merits of different approaches to parenting, but it never needs to come down to the point of questioning whether someone is worthy of being a mom, except in cases of obvious abuse or neglect.
Does the media really understand attachment parenting?
Part of the problem with articles like the one from TIME is the complete misinterpretation of what attachment parenting is. It isn’t about creating perfect children (as some have said). It also isn’t as simple nor as prescriptive as TIME describes it. “The three basic tenets,” Kate Pickert writes, are “breast-feeding (sometimes into toddlerhood), co-sleeping (inviting babies into the parental bed or pulling a bassinet alongside it) and ‘baby wearing’ in which infants are literally attached to their mothers via slings.” Let’s compare this to what Attachment Parenting International lists as its eight principles of parenting (yes eight, not three):
- Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting
- Feed with Love and Respect
- Respond with Sensitivity
- Use Nurturing Touch
- Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
- Provide Consistent and Loving Care
- Practice Positive Discipline
- Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life
Each of these principles comes with ideas, guidelines and thoughts about how they might be practiced within individual families, but there is no list of rules.
What about the fathers?
If you read Attachment Parenting International, you’ll notice they talk about PARENTS, not just MOTHERS. The way that the TIME article, as well as Elisabeth Badinter’s book “The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women,“ portray the issue, you would think that all mothers are single mothers or that they have husbands who don’t participate in parenting at all.
For our family, pursuing the principles of attachment parenting is something we do as a unit, all supporting each other and participating in creating a strong family bond. Even our children participate in modeling the principles in their relationship with each other and with their parents. Attachment parenting isn’t something I do to my child. Attachment parenting is something we practice as a family.
As I wrote in the aftermath to my participation in the New York Times “Motherhood versus Feminism” debate, parenting isn’t something that is solely in the mother’s domain, but the way TIME and others construct these “mommy wars,” you would think that it was.
If we do not talk more openly and frequently about the role that fathers can, should, and often want to play in parenting, then we will not see the societal shifts that are needed to migrate away from the conflict that women feel between their careers and their families.
Choosing a parenting style, whether it is attachment parenting or something else, shouldn’t be something a mother has to do alone. If she does have a partner, they should decide together how to parent the child and both participate in the parenting.
We’re all doing our best
Our family chose to practice attachment parenting because it feels right, because it is the easiest way for us to parent, and because it allows us to create the type of relationship that we want to have with our children. Is some of it intense? Sure, but I see that as an investment into our relationship, and it is something that I hope will pay back in their teen years (although there are no guarantees, of course).
Other parents have chosen other paths, doing what feels right for them, what was easiest for them, or what helped them make it through the day. They are doing their best, just like I’m doing my best. They are making the choices they feel are right for their family, just like we’re making the choices we think are right for our family.
TIME magazine says that “this demanding brand of child rearing has ignited a philosophical battle that rages within the parenting community.” Yes, there are certainly raging philosophical and often judgmental battles, but inflammatory headlines and divisive articles provide plenty of ammunition to keep the battle going.
We’re all doing our best. We’re all “mom enough,” TIME. How about next year you do a celebration of all types of mothers for Mother’s Day (or any day of the year), instead of throwing them under the bus before they’ve even opened their handmade cards and eaten their breakfast in bed?