I am so annoyed that I did exactly what the editors of TIME magazine wanted me to do. I stood looking at the cover of the latest issue with my mouth agape and my mind spinning. I recognize that magazines are a dying media form and their biggest chance of having their paper issues purchased for $4.99 rather then downloaded for much cheaper is cover art that makes people either curious, shocked or angry. Another artist's interpretation of President Obama's face made out of vegetables or small portraits of Americans doesn't turn my head anymore. A sexy blonde in skinny jeans with a kindergartner standing on a chair suckling on her exposed breast was the ticket. And from the shit storm that was facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere yesterday- I was not the only one.
The article inside was not only about extended breastfeeding (a term that means nursing a child past one year of age) but about Attachment Parenting. I want to define attachment parenting to make sure everyone understands this concept or to clarify for everyone who only knows it by watching Away We Go in which Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a mom who goes one step further from attachment parenting into "continuum parenting". Which, after a bit of research, I found out was not created for this film- it exists and there are families who practice raising children this way. These are the families who do not own strollers because parents only carry their children close to their bodies in slings and carriers. There is only one bed in the home because all members sleep together in a family bed. Breastfeeding continues well past the age of one, and becomes a medium for comfort and security rather then nourishment. One parent, usually the mother because of the need for frequent breastfeeding, alters their life in such a way to center things around the children- quitting their jobs, working from home, etc.
Those practices make up a "continuum home", which seems to be one step beyond the Attachment Parenting philosophy. Attachment Parenting is defined by these 8 core elements (I will give one example of each):
1. Natural Childbirth (med-free, vaginal births)
2. Sensitive and Immediate Responding (not allowing babes to cry it out)
3. Nurturing Touch (baby wearing)
4. Safe sleeping (co-sleeping to avoid the child feeling alone)
5. Consistent and Loving Care (one parent staying at home to be the primary caregiver)
6. Positive Discipline (no physical consequences, talking and demonstrating positive behaviors only)
7. Feed with Love and Respect (breastfeeding)
8. Balance (meeting the needs of every member of the family equally)
Back to the TIME article. This article featured four families practicing attachment parenting, but obviously taken to the furthest extent. In our culture as it stands TODAY, these families are definitely parenting outside the normal range either of age or child development. One of the many articles I read responding to TIME quipped that what our culture calls "sleep training" our mothers just called "letting the child fall asleep". It's all semantics sometimes, right?
What TIME seems to want us to ask ourselves is WHY we viscerally respond to these pictures the way we do. Are we focused on the hot Mama confidently- and from the sassy hand on the hip- defiantly parenting how she sees fit? Are we looking at the almost four year old in shorts and tennis shoes who looks like when he is done nursing will jump off the chair and go play t-ball with his friends? Are we mentally imagining him walking in to his kindergarten class next fall and having his classmates recognize him? Or are we still thinking about the images of Jamie Lynne Grumet breastfeeding her adopted child- a beautiful contrast of black and white skin.
What are we really talking about? Why did the internets explode with opinions and research and vicious attacks on those parents who have made different decisions from us? Because parenting is PERSONAL. Because we are dealing with (and looking at) people who also love their babes and want what is best for them. That is the hope, right? That parents have truly evaluated whether their decisions are best for THEM or best for their children. And because after countless hours of research and doing the hard work ourselves we think have chosen the best way to raise children, we can struggle with others who have come to different conclusions.
So where should the line be drawn? I read one article in which the author accuses Jamie Lynne Grumet of incest because she is nursing an almost 4 year old. Pretty harsh stuff, no? If she asked me my opinion, I would probably ask Jamie if she is nursing her son for his good or hers. If he is old enough to make a sandwich, why does he need the calories from breastmilk? Or is she still nursing for other reasons- because she had a good experience with extending nursing as a child (which she did, her mother nursed her until she was 6 and she has good memories) or because her son has chosen breastfeeding as his way to be comforted? Either way, if she was asking me, I would just ask her to make sure her choices are thought through. And that she has also thought about how posting herself on the cover of TIME magazine will affect her son when he is 10. Regardless of how she wishes society viewed breastfeeding, the reality still stands that Americans in the 21st century typically wean babies to solid food sometime before their second birthday and the image of her nursing her son is shocking to most of us.
Should it be different? It is in other cultures. So the question becomes: if you are really doing what you believe to be best for your baby why do you need the acceptance of the rest of the world? Go confidently and nurse your four year old son. I don't want to be nursing my children when they are that old but I am a different Mama and Pursy weaned herself at 14 months- she didn't need it anymore. And that is where I drew my line. Trying to encourage her to nurse would have been 100% for ME. My girlfriend Amanda gave birth to a gorgeous baby Preston two months ago. Amanda is working on a PhD, has lived abroad in Kenya, fostered two children- she is quite a cool broad. And when circumstances made breastfeeding almost impossible, she did some research and found a formula that Preston liked. He started gaining weight, sleeping and stopped spitting up everything that went into his mouth. She made the best decision for him, which makes her a great Mama.
I feel like I say this quite a bit in my blog posts about parenting styles. Parenting is hard, and we all will do a little back and forth before we figure it out. Grant and I would probably fall closer to attachment parenting on the spectrum because we incorporate a little of each of the 8 elements into our family life. Not because we want to be attachment parents, but because we want to raise confident children who love other people well because they were loved by us. And we want to come out of this season with two babes 18 months apart with everyone alive. And if Jamie Lynne Grumet wants to nurse her son longer then the rest of us, let's just smile and hope her son survive elementary school without too many boobie jokes. It wasn't his decision to be on the cover of TIME magazine, after all.
What do you think?