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I AM Mom Enough

In the first of a series, the author examines the intersection of hyper-parenting and feminism. Where do we go from here?

In another shocking example of poor journalistic judgment, the current Time magazine cover of an attractive mother breastfeeding her 3-year-old son stoked intense debate among mothers across the nation just in time for Mother’s Day.

The cover, reading “Are you Mom enough?” invites the reader to learn about the unorthodox childcare advice administered by longtime parenting guru Dr. William Sears. Dr. Sears, who recommends a technique called attachment parenting, advises a host of techniques designed to foster—he says—a safe and secure childrearing environment.

The attachment parenting mother breastfeeds on demand until the child self-weans, sometimes not until kindergarten. The mother wears the young baby in a sling—nearly all day, as far as I can tell—to maintain constant contact. The child sleeps in a family bed for as long as necessary.

As this cover slapped everyone in the face last week, I was in the midst of reading a book called The Conflict by French feminist, intellectual and professor of philosophy Elisabeth Badinter. In it, she describes how modern motherhood practices undermine the status of women in society because of the increasing demands of early childhood parenting. 

Prescient timing. While Badinter’s hard-line approach left me wondering if she has children of her own (she does—three, in fact), many of her arguments made sense to me, especially as they relate to Fairfield County’s competitive mom elite.

Dr. Sears’ methods and other groups such as the La Leche League advocate for a style of extreme parenting that could only be accomplished by a full time stay at home mother. How many Americans live in two-income households? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 58.5 percent in 2011. Where does that leave them, or their hard working single mom counterparts? According to the Time cover, they’re not “mom enough.”

As mothers, we all want to see our children become happy, healthy, productive adults. How do we reconcile these extreme parenting advocates’ elitist demands with our hard-fought rights to a successful career and a happy marriage (never mind maintaining youthful good looks and a fun social life)? 

My personal view is that the greatest gift one can give a child is . I fail to see how teaching a child that he or she cannot eat, sleep or move without direct parental involvement achieves that goal. I also believe that these extreme parenting tactics reduce by design the involvement of the father and undermine the adults’ relationship, already in a tenuous state from little sleep, less money and zero free time.

Does this quest for parental “perfection” truly serve the needs of the child or does it serve the emotional needs of the mother, who perhaps struggles to reconcile years of schooling and hours of hard (professional) labor with the menial daily tasks of chopping food into little tiny bits, changing diapers and losing countless hours of sleep?  

Isn’t parenting difficult enough without experts telling us that in order to really be a “good mother” we need to stay home, breastfeed through preschool and endure a crowded family bed? Surely there are better common sense ways to raise confident, secure risk-takers!

I can’t imagine what those baby, toddler and preschool years would have been like without my husband’s hands-on, getting-really-dirty help and companionship. He is essential to our family, my best friend and an excellent father, and we work as a team.

I relied—and still rely—on his help for meals, time away, intimacy and more. For every day in our early parenthood that was bliss, there was another that was hell, and we laughed and cried and argued and loved and did it all again, usually with no money.

We still do, 20 years later.

I am grateful to our own mothers, who fought for our , workplace rights and more, and I worry that this attachment parenting trend divides women by playing on their deepest guilty fears. But my biggest concern is that the child-centered family misses out on what is really the center of life: the adult partnership of equal decision-makers that holds it all together. 

Years from now—if you did your job right—your child will move on and leave you behind. It won’t matter how long you breastfed. Don’t define yourself only by the years you spend actively parenting. Maintain your perspective and long term goals, and remember that as liberated women and equal partners, parenthood, from its proudest moments to its most intimate reflections, is but one part of a lifelong journey.

Cynthia James May 23, 2012 at 08:30 PM
As a 26 year old mother of three who works full time, I completely understand that every monther has her own choice of whether she wants to breast feed or not. Just dont give me s*** if i want to bottle feed my kids. I personally never breast fed my children over a long period of time....1)milk did not come in right away 2)had to get back to work and formula seemed just fine to me. I only breast fed my daughter (my oldest 6 years old) for a week and then went to formula....and with my two sons (5 year old, 2 month old) i went straight to formula. All three of my children are in perfect health, rarely get sick except for a common cold. My daugther is in first grade and I am in talks with her school about having her skip a grade because she is already doing school work and reading at a 3rd grade level. My son just turned 5 and has not started kindegarten yet and he is already reading beginner chapter books. He can write his entire name, our address and phone numbers and both of them and count to fifty and say the alphabet forward and backward in english and spanish. So I dont want to hear the crap about how "bad" formula is for children. The only benefit I can see with breast milk is because it is natural babies can probably digest it better. But please dont give me the lecture about how much better than formula it is. Formula fed babies can grow up to be just as healthy and smart as any other kid. I know plenty of breast fed kids who are dumb as rocks (sorry but they are).
Aidan May 23, 2012 at 09:47 PM
Laura, kindergarten ... and especially pre-school education ... has limited results that often fade quickly. Even Head Start admits to this in its very own study. Sorry, but there is no substitute for parental involvement in youngsters. Parents are the magic instillers ... or, at least, should be. I've wondered if all that money might be better spent education the PARENTS. But even there I have my doubts. because I believe that parenting is one of those magical instinctual gifts some have ... and other just don't. Whatever the case, there will never be a more important force in a child's intellectual and curiosity development than a mom or a dad.
Ss May 24, 2012 at 12:16 AM
I agree with the attachment parenting-not mothering comments. Not sure why so much emphasis was put on the mother because as I understand it, all family is involved. In fact, my husband wore the moby wrap as much as I did! I worked my first year - averaging 55 hours a week and still managed to use many "attachment parenting" techniques. Cosleeping helped night feelings go a lot faster, employers are following better regulations for nursing mothers (many employers, but not all..and until very recently it was virtually impossible to work and breastfeed-many people worked hard to make this better in the work place,thanks!), my baby wanted to be in a wrap or sling and it kept him happier-our daycare even used the moby. Also, we tried to let him cry it out..but after two hours, he let us know that it wasn't going to happen... Some of what we did came from research, some came by accident or trial and error. I think the important issue is to do what you feel is best and not be angry or defensive about what someone else does. We are all trying. It's a shame that they chose that cover because it seems like it was intentionally chosen to be off putting and takes away from some good parenting techniques. It is really hard to be a working mom, but I will say, it's pretty darn hard to be a stay at home mom too. Oh, if you are working and worry you can't be the parent you want to be: read Balancing Pregnancy and Work. It tells you all the rights you have and how to apply for them.
Tigerose May 24, 2012 at 03:24 PM
Did you read the article? It's not about having children, it's about styles of parenting. Clearly written by a resentful person who made choices in their own life that never made them happy.
Laura Beth Kerr Gilman May 25, 2012 at 02:21 AM
Aidan - I agree with all that you write. Most parents are not capable or willing to be the kind of parent you (and I) hope for. Kids with half day Kindergarten in our country, with no enrichment or daycare, most likely come home to watch television. That is the reality. Most parents cannot or will not make the time to actively enrich their Kindergartener for 3 hours a day. We can't let our kids out to play and explore on their own anymore, as we fear the child abductor or CPS. This is the very sad reality of today.

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