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Time breast-feeding cover: On parenting, can we all get along?

Parenting trends – including 'attachment parenting' – come and go, but fervent debate about tactics is rooted in widespread parental insecurity and the so-called middle class 'mommy wars.'  

By Staff writer / May 11, 2012

Time magazine's current breastfeeding cover. The US ranks last among the 36 industrialized nations in support of breastfeeding. But the extended breastfeeding cover image – as in an elderly toddler suckling his model-mother's breast – is Time's angle into the American trend of attachment parenting.

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America got together this week on the national playground to talk mommies, breastfeeding, and good parenting. Time and their cover model-mom, Jamie Lynne Grumet, made sure of that, as the pretty, hand-on-her-hip mom looked out from supermarket magazine aisles, her near-4-year-old son standing on a chair, attached to her breast with his mouth, while Time asked, “Are you mom enough?”

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The peculiar intimacy portrayed, the size of the child, and questions about whose needs are really being met in the Grumet family set off a fervent debate in a country that ranks 36th among industrialized nations when it comes to breast-feeding, and where “normal” parenting is hard to define because of America’s cultural diversity.

Is this good? Some say the picture helps to normalize breast-feeding and the idea of “attachment parenting,” which means extended breast-feeding, co-sleeping, and refraining from using the word “no,” ideas espoused by best-selling parenting book author William Sears, whom Time suggests “remade motherhood.” (The philosophical underpinnings of attachment parenting actually date back to the 1950s.)

Is it bad? Some say the picture itself, more than the idea of what some would call over-attentive parenting, is an example of parenting gone badly wrong. “This is self-centeredness at its worst, sold as good parenting,” writes Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist, on Fox News.

In an era of helicopter parents and delayed nest-jumping, these are all debatable points. But the core of debate over the provocative picture is fueled by the extent to which American moms and dads are ready and willing to debate their own basic parental insecurities: Am I doing this right? How do I know?

“Part of the issue here is, she can do whatever she wants, there’s no abuse going on,” says Joani Geltman, a child development expert in Cambridge, Mass. “It’s a way for people to look at their own values and their own belief systems, which I think is what a good magazine article does. It gets you to look at your own life and your own family, and your own children and ask, Why wouldn’t I do this? What’s my belief system that I wouldn’t do this?”

To be sure, what Ms. Geltman calls the photo’s “icky” quality suggests that America as a whole may not be totally comfortable with so-called “child-led weaning” espoused by Sears. According to an unscientific online poll by MSNBC, 73 percent of respondents said they would rather not see those kinds of images.

One mom who took part in the Time photo shoot said the confrontational nature of the photograph and the headline may actually serve to inflame middle-class “mommy wars.”

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