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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"Are You Mom Enough?" Yes. No, Maybe. (Graded on a curve?)

(I rescheduled a book review from today to Thursday because I wanted to put on my mom-blogger hat before last week's news literally becomes "last week's news.")

I really wasn’t sure if I’d make a response to last week’s sensational TIME magazine cover for its feature on attachment parenting, but the more I read other people’s responses to it, the more I realized I did have some thoughts of my own to add to the many thousands of words already spilled over it.

For those who might somehow have missed this, here’s the cover:


TIME Magazine cover re: attachment-parenting feature

The people on the cover are LA mom blogger Jamie Lynne Grumet and her almost-4-year-old son...who does, in fact, still breastfeed. I haven’t met Jamie Lynne in person, but she is one of my fellow contributors at Moms LA and has done some very thoughtful, articulate writing on attachment parenting (including extended breastfeeding) and adoption on her blog I Am Not the Babysitter.

I’ve been a mother for almost my entire adult life (and now approaching 60% of my entire life, period)--my son is a year or so older than Jamie Lynne. I’ve seen a lot of child-raising practices come and go, and I’ve heard some of the same debates go on for decades, believe it or not. There were “lactivists” back in the ‘80s. There were “family bed” advocates and baby-wearers. There probably weren’t as many of them, but I’ve come across them throughout my years as a parent. And the further I get from raising young children, the more of them there seem to be.

One of the things that’s impressed me about Jamie Lynne is that she firmly believes in what she’s doing as a mother, but she also consistently expresses support and lack of judgment for those who don’t do the same. She hasn't struck me as the combative know-it-all "mommier-than-thou" sort who would pose a question like the one TIME uses on its cover

I understand that TIME chose that particular photo and designed that cover for provocation (and Jamie Lynne had to be aware that there was a chance they’d use that photo as they did when she and her son posed for it). I think they knew what buttons it would push, and I’m sure they knew that mothers ask themselves that question over and over...no matter how old their kids are.

I didn’t nurse my son. His father and I almost never let him into bed with us, although we took him plenty of other places. He was frequently with his grandparents while his father and I finished our college degrees, and I’ve worked full-time outside the home since he was three years old. I let him cry. By attachment-parenting standards, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t even close to being “mom enough.” Having said that, if I started all over again tomorrow, I probably still wouldn’t be “mom enough,” because I’d do--and not do--a lot of the same things. My focus wasn’t really on my son’s experience of childhood...or on my own experience of parenthood. I was always aware that he wouldn’t stay a child, and considered my job to be raising him to be a functional, contributing member of adult society.

By most objective standards, he’s there--a college graduate with a solid career, a thriving side job, and a variety of interests who lives independently. By more subjective standards, I think he’s there too--he’s smart and funny and caring and principled, and I genuinely like the person he’s become. (And most of the time, I’m pretty sure he likes me.)

I think the ultimate verdict on whether a parent is “enough” isn’t rendered until years down the road, but I think I may have been. In any case, I was mom "enough" to refill my empty nest and take some of the nitty-gritty of motherhood on again when my son was 21...and I became stepmother to my new husband's daughter and son, then 12 and 7. There's a whole different calibration of "enough" that goes with that job.

There’s more to this story than a provocative question on a magazine cover (a question which, for the record, is fairly loosely related to the content within), so I wanted to highlight a few of the responses from within Jamie Lynne’s Moms LA community; they’ve ranged from deeply personal reactions and impassioned defenses to considered questioning of blogger motivations and concerns about the photo’s future effects on her young son.

At MomsLA:
Dear TIME Magazine: Working Moms Can Attachment Parent Too
Attachment Parenting: How I Made It Work For Me

Ciaran @ Momfluential: Are Mommy Bloggers a Bunch of Boobs?
“...If lactivist wasn’t her brand yesterday, I sure as hell hope it will be her brand tomorrow. Because she has been made the face of this controversy, along with her 3 yr old son. The world will move along to the next willing 'model' without her if she doesn’t use her words well. They probably will even if she does. Models are ultimately interchangeable...
"This is just my opinion, but Brand and Media 'ops' like this and so many more are starting to feel like bad boyfriends. More and more bloggers are being motivated by the scraps of addictive fame that these pimps are peddling. This addiction to attention is dangerous. It runs the risk of undermining all the wonderful other things they do. And for what? 40 dubious comments about how pretty we are?
"Five minutes of fame and fluffing is not enough!”
Shannon @ The Woman Formerly Known As Beautiful: In Defense of My Friend Jamie Lynne Grumet: TIME Magazine's Breastfeeding Cover Girl
I think TIME did Jamie a disservice by photographing her in an unnatural position in a calculatedly provocative pose in order to sell magazines. The woman on the cover – while as stunningly beautiful as the real Jamie – doesn’t reflect the inclusive, intelligent, wise-beyond-her-years, loving, nurturing, non-judgmental woman I know who would never have authored the headline 'Are You Mom Enough?'"
Kristen @ Rage Against the Minivan: where is the mommy-war for the motherless child?
"I don’t much care if you breastfed your kid until they started kindergarten, or if you fed them formula from day one. I don’t really care if you turned your infant car-seat forward-facing prior to age 2, or if you homeschool, or if you send your kids to daycare while you go to work. Do you cosleep? Did you circumcise your son? I DON’T CARE.  Do you babywear? Push your kid around in a stroller? Use a leash for your kid at Disneyland?  Whatever.  Good for you. 
"When it comes to issues of motherhood, there is one issue I care about: some kids don’t have one. All of these petty wars about the choices of capable, loving mothers is just a lot of white noise to me, Quite honestly, I’m often astonished at the non-essential parenting issues I see moms getting their panties in a wad about. Particularly when there are so many kids in this world not being parented at all."
Deborah @ BetweenParents.org: TIME and time again...
"A school administrator who’s a friend of mine talks regularly about appreciating diversity in our culture and on the school yard. She’s referring to parents who have gossiped relentlessly about the way other people raise their children. The gossip and name-calling damaged our small community. People were put in the position of picking sides on issue after issue. A lot of bad feelings went back and forth. We see this over and over with the media-manufactured 'Mommy Wars.' I know a lot of us who write and blog are trying not to enter the mudslinging fray."
Morgan @ The818.com: “Mommy Wars”: An argument around us, about us, but not between us
"I read a LOT about parenting and motherhood. I read books, and articles, and research papers, and blog posts. I read the views of mothers and children and MD’s and Ph.D.’s, and the only common thread I see is the one where this argument, this battle…these MOMMY WARS? Nobody is fighting them. When it comes to Mothers, WE ARE ALL ON THE SAME SIDE."

Cheryl MommypantsAre we mom enough?

Sunshine Wonderland: I am mom enough, Time.