Reflections on my chaotic life of minivans, tantrums, deadlines, and diets ... a life I wouldn't trade for the world.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Yes, I Am Mom Enough: Why Attachment Parenting Isn't for Me

Anyone who has turned on the TV or computer in the past day has seen the latest Time Magazine cover, which shows a mom breastfeeding her toddler son, who is standing on a chair. The picture has sparked a lot of controversy among mothers and non-mothers alike, bringing to light two issues: the public display of a woman's breast, and the breastfeeding of a boy nearing kindergarten age.

Feeding my hours-old daughter
On the first issue, I applaud both the magazine and the brave mother on its cover. Yes, Time's motive was likely to spark the very controversy it did, thus increasing newsstand sales, but it also shed light on an issue that all breastfeeding mothers confront at one point in their breastfeeding careers: hide the hooters or let them shine? Breastfeeding is one of the greatest privileges of being a mother. It helps form an unbreakable bond between mother and child, one that no one else can experience. Breastfeeding is also the most natural act, and therefore should never be a source of embarrassment. The breasts (men, cover your ears) are designed solely to feed, despite what you see in the Victoria's Secret ads.

Some people take a different stance.

"Thank you for covering up," one waitress told me as I fed my daughter under a nursing cover. "Some women just let them hang out, and the men at the bar get all riled up."

I didn't know what to say. Here was a 20-something waitress who, by the looks of her narrow waist, had never had a child. I could get angry, and tell her all women have the right to breastfeed in public, covered or not. After all, I just chose to cover up because I am never one to want attention from random people. Or I could nod and smile and brush it off, knowing that I was only perpetuating the idea that breastfeeding is something that should be kept concealed by covering up my own breasts up.

It's the other part of the Time Magazine picture that really raised hackles: the breastfeeding of the woman's toddler son.

I have two children under two. With the first, I went back to work full time at three months. With the second, I went back to a part-time job at three months. In both instances, I spent meant countless hours of quality time in a locked conference room with my friend Medela Pump in Style. I had to work, and I wanted my children to have breastmilk, so it was the only option. 

However, I know I can't sustain the pumping thing forever, and my youngest may eventually join the formula-fed crowd. If I could skip the window of time where formula is the only option besides breastmilk, I would be elated. But even if I were a stay-at-home mom with the flexibility to breastfeed full-time, I cannot see myself breastfeeding past a year. My mind can't get past the awkwardness of feeding a child who could theoretically ask for the breast and lift up my shirt. This is just my issue. I do honestly believe that breast is best, to a point. 

Parents who follow the theories of attachment parenting believe that kids should be on the breast as long as they want to; that is, the child decides when to wean. They also believe that children should sleep in the same bed as their parents, that they should be "worn" (e.g. in a sling) instead of put in a stroller, and that they should never be left to cry. 

I don't fully buy into these ideas, as I believe they detract from a child's independence and self-reliance. I also believe they can lead to a lack of an authoritative role for the parents. Not to mention, sleeping with two kids in the bed could drive a literal and figurative wedge into my marriage. Even if I did believe in the theories of attachment parenting, it just isn't practical for most working parents, and it doesn't work for me.

But, I do not judge those who live by these rules. I have friends who were raised this way and turned out fine. Parenting is a series of decisions, and all of us parents do what we think is right for our children at any given time. Motherhood is the hardest job I have ever had, and I struggle every day to do what is right, and if anyone ever tried to challenge that, you'd see another side of me come out.

That being said, as uncomfortable as I would be feeding my walking, talking son in public, I don't fault the woman on the cover of time. She is doing what she believes is right for her son, and no one has the right to judge her for that.

So more power to the woman on the Time cover, who simply put on display what nature intended. 


  1. With respect to the point about the breast being only for feeding, how come humans are the only species among mammals where females' breasts develop prior to pregnancy? I do believe, and I think that the fact that the saying, "Hey, my eyes are up here!" is common proves, they are for more than nutrition.

  2. True, but I think the reason men are attracted to breasts is their association with feeding, on a deep level. Sounds Oedipal. :) This theory doesn't explain why some women are attracted to breasts, though. I suppose they can be looked at more generally as "reproductive tools"--breasts attract mates, mates produce offspring, offspring feed off of breasts.
    Also, breasts develop before pregnancy because as soon as a woman hits puberty, it is assumed she will soon be pregnant. Women are baby-making machines. Obviously, times have changed a bit (for most people).

  3. Wonderful, thoughtful piece--a joy to read! Loved the line about your child (theoretically) asking for milk and pulling up your shirt! The facts that (a) men are drawn to breasts and (b) the culture is filled with those who cannot wait to judge others are reasons enough to cover up while nursing. The women on the cover of Time sported, in addition to a pre-schooler, a look of defiance. That bothers me. Why is it necessary to challenge the views/sensitivities of others by thrusting your own bias in their faces?