The Green Mama responds to Time Magazines: Are you Mom Enough?
See The Green Mama participate in a conversation on this topic in the video: Real Women Respond to Are You Mom Enough? on CNN.Com
Generation blame mom
It’s become a common theme in the media: the blame mom manifesto.
First, “The Case Against Breast-feeding,” published in the Atlantic in which the author uses questionable science to attack breastfeeding, seemingly as a way to relieve herself of the guilt of not continuing to breastfeed her third child. Then there was the fervor over Lenore Skenazy who let her 9-year-old son ride the New York subway alone and thus earned the media moniker of “America’s Worst Mom.” And, now there is the “The Man Who Remade Motherhood” article that stuck a photo of a mom nursing her 3-year-old on the cover with the caption: Are You Mom Enough? The article ridicules moms for choosing to co-sleep, wear their babies in slings, or—gasp!—breastfeed their children beyond a year.
My main issue with all of this media, is that it blames mother’s for making the “wrong” choices in a world with fewer and fewer “right” paths. In North America we have the greatest economic disparity ever in our history; most of us are more isolated than ever before without the support of parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles (aka free babysitters) living nearby; and for the first time in our existence we have the science to show us that our babies are born pre-polluted with some 300 contaminants already in their bodies at birth. And, who is to blame? If we are to believe the publications above, it is not society at large and our unreasonable expectations on motherhood and work, or government practices that have shifted wealth out of the middle class , or the corporations that dumped the toxins in the environment. No, the person to blame is mom: the woman blind-sided by a world not safe enough, nurturing enough, or whole enough for her precious Johnny or Jane and left to bridge the gap between expectation and reality.
Women try to bridge this gap in many different ways: some do it through extreme parenting styles, others through research, and still others by trying to recreate the childhood of simpler times. Others simply ignore it all and try to pretend that the world is better than it is and that our children can be kept safer than they can. The issues are real. When we attack a mom’s
response—however ill advised or unscientific it seems—INSTEAD of the real issue, we are doing ourselves and, more importantly, the next generation a huge disserve. We are distracting from the reality of the day: a reality where autism and related disorders effect 1 in 88 children (according to the CDC) and where chronic childhood diseases such as asthma, obesity and ADHD are on the rise (more than doubling in 12 years).
Are You Dad Enough?
The main tenants of attachment parenting, as described by William and Martha Sears (the founders), are:
1. Birthbonding, 2. Breastfeeding, 3. Babywearing, 4. Bedding Close to Baby, 5. Believing in the language value of your baby’s cry, 6. Beware of baby trainers (i.e. believe in your own gut instincts., 7. Balance.
The Sears’ also say that these are not rules but guidelines. And, really, these are pretty basic ideas that most parents practice to some extent these days. There are extreme examples, of course, parents who do some of these to the extreme and these are what we hear about: the mom who sleeps with her child until she is 8, nurses until the child is 6, and never lets the child out of her sight. However, there are also parents that work full-time, nurse their babies when they are home, and where the dad wears the baby on the weekend so the mom can get some much needed rest.
Dr. Sears, himself, emphasizes again and again that attachment parenting is simply a tool, even a discipline tool. It is to help establish a responsive parenting relationship, not a set of laws defining the relationship. One of the biggest changes that Dr. Sears has actually brought about is a belief that father’s have an important role to play in the parent-child bond. He encourages dads to help establish the breastfeeding relationship by playing a support role and to take part in wearing the baby, creating family balance, and establishing early bonding. In North America, moms have always been the ones to nurse the babies, carry the babies, and to take the lead in establishing the bonding. It is in part thanks to Dr. Sears that we now see dads wearing their babies at the playground, playing a larger role in parenting styles, and even choosing jobs that allow for more time within the home.
They didn’t choose a photo of Dr. Sears or a slogan such as: Are You Dad Enough? For the cover, because it is boobs that grab attention and moms that get easily riled. The Mom Wars–that pit woman against woman to criticize parenting styles and decisions–are created by the media and hurt us all, parents or women or not. It is an idea that we all find a bit awful and that media hopes will sell magazines. (Though I think it was for all the worst reasons, I am nevertheless delighted that there is another picture of a woman breastfeeding to be found in the public domain. Now that Time has a woman nursing on its cover, it will be harder for Facebook, for instance, to deny photos of nursing on their pages.)
Boobs still scare us
When Time Magazine chose to put the photo of Jamie Lynne Grumet nursing her 3-year old son on the cover of the Magazine, they chose to do so because they knew that the photo would raise controversy. It did. It also gave a chance for the mother pictured to be heard as much as the author of the story. Which I am glad it did. The article falls prey to the worst of today’s journalism: valuing pithy and quotable lines over complexity and content. Ms. Grumet, on the other hand, is beautiful, thoughtful, and willing to speak about the complexities of parenting and her decision to be photographed in one of its most intimate moments: breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding should be considered nothing less than a heroic act. If more time was spent talking about it as such, then when people saw Ms. Grumet on the cover we would applaud, smile, or shed a tear for her courage.
Why is breastfeeding a heroic act?
The science is clear. Ever creditable scientific and health organization in the world (including the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatricians) recommends women breastfeed EXCLUSIVELY for the first 6 months and continue for as long as possible (at least two years according to the WHO and at least one year according to AAP). Yet, in the decades since the onslaught of commercially available formula, breastfeeding rates in North America have dropped from nearly 100% to 64% at birth and 29% at 6 months.<
Breastfeeding may be great, but why heroic? Because it is good for both the baby, the mom, and society. It saves environmental resources: 550 million cans of formula sold yearly for U.S. babies alone and the energy and materials used to grow, manufacture, and transport the materials for the raw ingredients and the cans and the packaging is staggering: 86,000 tons of tin waste, 1,200 tons of paper waste, and just for the cows 10,000 square meters of land. According to Peggy O’Mara, editor of Mothering Magazine.
The health benefits are also huge: breastfed children are more resistant to disease and infection early in life, are less likely throughout life to contract juvenile diabetes, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, and childhood cancers, among other diseases. (Source: NDRC)
Mothers who breastfeed are less likely to develop osteoporosis later in life, are able to lose weight gained during pregnancy more easily, and have a lower risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancers.
There are also economic benefits to breastfeeding: a family can save between $714 and 3,000 a year looking at just basic costs of buying a breast pump and special bras versus formula. Healthcare savings can account for much more: approximately $3000 a year, according to the KellyMom website. And, it is projected that the U.S. alone could save a minimum of $3.6 billion a year if breastfeeding rates were increased to those recommended by the US Surgeon General: (75% at birth and 50% at 6 months).[1
Is there a natural age to wean a baby?
One of my favourite responses to the Time Magazine image and article is by Mayim Bialik, PhD, neuroscientist, and former child star (Blossom): “Breasts,” she says; “were designed as part of a mammalian system to deliver nurturing, nutrition, and immunological properties to a child.” As she also points out, breastfeeding continues to impart these benefits as long as a mother continues to nurse.
Physiologically it seems that babies are designed to wean between 2.5 and 7 years of age. Most animals have an age of natural weaning; comparing humans to our closest animal counterparts on a number of life- history variables (e.g. gestation, birth weight, age at eruption of teeth, etc.) gives an idea of when humans would “naturally” wean without any cultural influence. This is according to research by anthropologist Dr. Katherine Dettwyler, Breastfeeding: Biocultural Perspectives. Her research also showed that the longer a child breastfed the greater the associated health (and IQ) benefits. Although almost no studies have been done beyond two years.
So, while most people in North America, choose not to or are unable to nurse beyond the first 6-months of a baby’s life, those women who do continue to nurse their babies continue to provide heroic benefits for her child, herself, and her society. Let’s stand up and applaud these few and the many other mothers who are doing the best they can in an increasingly imperfect world.
Whether you have obsessed too much about the wrong things, helicoptered when you should have simplified, forgot to buckle the seatbelt on your brand-new $500 carseat, got too many vaccines or not enough, breastfed too long or not long enough, went back to work because you wanted to or had to, or stayed at home because you wanted to or had to, mothered well enough or too well, I thank all of you mamas for giving it a kick-ass try. Kudos to you!
Article by Manda Aufochs Gillespie, The Green Mama.
Watch the Video: Real Women Respond to Are You Mom Enough? on CNN.com Video (and still, above) by Tracy Bymoen.
[1 The Economic Benefits of Breastfeeding: A Review and Analysis by Jon Weimer. ERS Food Assistance and Nutrition Research Report No. 13. 20 pp, March 2001.