Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sometimes You Can Judge a Book By Its Cover

I won't be reading Time magazine this week.

Never mind that I don't read it most weeks. This week I'm Taking A Stand.

You may have seen the provocative headline and cover. "Are You Mom Enough?" the headline screams. It's accompanied by a picture of a mom standing with a defiant look on her face. Her three-year-old son -- who looks remarkably like a second grader -- is on a step-stool with her breast in his mouth.

We all know the old adage You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover. This time, I would just bet I can.

Time supposedly wanted to explore Attachment Parenting. No doubt they sought the most extreme and militaristic examples of this type of parenting. O omniscient me says the article makes a mother who practices Attachment Parenting look like a fringe lunatic, but at the same time manages to load another mother down with a ton of shame because she's Just Not Mom Enough, darn it!

Truly a Win Win situation.

A few days ago Elizabeth Foss posted this to Facebook:

I'm taking a social media sabbatical for the weekend. I'm tired of seeing that Time cover. I distinctly remember the email asking me to consider that photo shoot. I recoiled at the thought of exposing my three-year-old to a media circus and reducing our relationship to a marketing gimmick. I feel sorry for that little boy. One day he will be 15. What happens when someone digs that photo up and posts it to Facebook? Attachment parenting is about nurturing trust. I think those moms made decisions that betrayed a child's trust. But those are their decisions. My next decision is whether to keep talking about it.
Kate Wicker also declined to participate in the photo shoot and is very glad she did. She puts a very different face on toddlers and nursing.I have friends who practiced extended breast-feeding. I would imagine this involved nursing a toddler at nap or bedtime, curled up on a couch or bed. It was a time of cuddling and stories and comfort. One of my friends nursed a child until he was four. She faced a fair amount of criticism for doing it. When she talked to me about it, I had two pieces of advice: Do what you want and don't poll the neighbors.

Some things -- many things -- are nobody's business.

We practiced many tenets of Attachment Parenting -- breastfeeding on demand, extended breastfeeding, and, to some degree, co-sleeping. I would have done the baby wearing thing -- Lord knows I tried -- but I'm five foot two. We tried nearly every baby-wearing device out there and met with limited success and one aching back.

I can jibe with Attachment Parenting to some degree, but let me say that Tim, my oldest, was a high needs baby, and I would have given my left, um, arm if he had taken a pacifier. Nursing 24-7 was not liberating or freeing; it wiped me out and not in any healthy way. Further, I will tell you without hesitation that the weekend we did what AP would call "sleep training" with Tim was the best thing we ever, ever did as parents. While I eschewed schedules for itty-bitties, let me say with dogmatic fervor that toddlers and young children absolutely thrive on routine, and the only way you get to routine is to be a bit inflexible with the schedule.

So we're hybrids around here. And what worked with number one wasn't how we rolled we number four.

I have two beefs with Attachment Parenting. First, the name. You can be just as attached to your children without baby wearing, without co-sleeping, even -- brace yourselves, now -- without breastfeeding.

Second, I recoil at any parenting philosophy that provides a laundry list of Musts and puts pressure on mothers (and fathers) to do what they very well may be incapable of doing. The passion many AP adherents show for babies, I have for mothers as I wrote about last week (If you kill the cow, you kill the calf).  I take significant umbrage with absolutists who try to make mothers do the impossible. Why? Because at the end of the day, everyone suffers. In truth, the most official AP website I could find wasn't at all militant, purist, or dictatorial. The authors presented their tenets and offered alternatives or modifications for nearly all of them. I've stumbled on an AP blog or two that set a bit of a rabid tone, but I suppose the same can said of most topics related to parenting.

I have never watched Nineteen and Counting, the show peeking into the lives of the Duggar family. I have read lots of articles and seen plenty of news clip about them. God bless the Duggars and their quiverful brethren. Maybe they are as happy as they seem. Maybe the kids' needs really are met. Maybe the girls don't mind wearing those long skirts.


If their goal is to put a face on one type of large family, fine. Apparently they do that and do that well. If their goal is to evangelize other families into thinking that having nineteen children in roughly twenty-five years is The Only Way To Go, Sister!, I say wait just a minute. Few women could do what Michelle Duggar is doing and emerge healthy and sane at the end of the day.

(Just to clarify . . . Does she have a right to live her life as she chooses? Absolutely. Do I think children are a blessing from God? Yes, I do. Do I think some couples are called to raise large families through birth or adoption? Of course. Am I not an observant Catholic who disagrees with artificial birth control? Yes, I am. Do I embrace the quiverful mentality? No, I do not. Am I providentialist? No, I am not.)

My experiences with La Leche League were overwhelmingly positive. To any mother with any sort of nursing problem, give your local chapter a call. They, obviously, are pro-breastfeeding. I've heard writers chide them for their "Gestapo tactics," but in my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. Their mission is to help mothers breastfeed successfully, and they are committed to meeting mothers where they are. Take what you want; leave what you don't -- to me, that is a balanced and healthy organization.

When a parenting paradigm is offered as an ideal with the flexibility to suit individual families, great. When it becomes a dogma -- when one way of life is pitched as the only way of life -- I say steer clear.

We are all fearfully, wonderfully, and differently made, and every family is a unique reflection of God's creative genius.

I think we're all quite capable of discerning what's best for our families without incendiary articles, false guilt trips, mommy baiting, or provocative photos.


Kris said...

If you've never read her blog, you should pop over to my friend, Kate Wicker's page. She has a few posts about the Time magazine article, too. Including Time calling her last week to ask her to visit NYC for a possible piece on attachment parenting. She was unable to accept, and has been counting her blessings ever since. She dodged a bullet on that one!

Monica said...

I just love your writing! Well put.

Kelly said...

Kris and Monica - Thanks for reading and commenting. One of my kids hit "publish" and away this one went -- twenty-two spelling errors and all. So bless your heart, Monica, for saying you like my writing.

I read Kate's response and added a link here. I'm glad for her and her family that they avoided this mess.


claire said...

Love it Kelly! Very well said.

Dianne said...

Wise and thoughtful post, Kelly. Beautifully written. I totally, completely agree.

christinelaennec said...

Thankfully I am more likely to see the Loch Ness Monster than the cover of Time Magazine here. It sounds like it would make my blood boil. I agree with what you write here. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, as individuals and as families. And it really irks me that we keep trying to categorise and Give Names to things which defy neat categorisation and neat naming.

As an adoptive parent, I find it interesting that Attachment Parenting has hit the headlines in the U.S. when at least here in the U.K. most people (and I include many professionals) have no idea what the reality of poor attachment and attachment disorder is.

Kelly said...

Claire and Dianne - Thanks for reading and commenting!@

Christine - I thought of the many adoptive parents I know as I wrote this. I have a number of friends who have adopted older children or sibling groups. Some of these children came from sad, sad situations. Gosh, those early years are just so vital.

Other friends have adopted infants and have proved that you can bond beautifully without having carried the baby in your womb and without nursing.

I love what Elizabeth Foss wrote about her view of Attachment Parenting -- it's not about a list of rules; it's all about trust. Good parenting is letting your children know you're there. (I still count on my parents to be there in a certain sense).