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I Am Mom Enough

In this 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 three-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.

51Wilton Mom May 16, 2012 at 12:49 PM
when my twins were born 13 years ago my pediatrician's advice was, "Breast is best, formula is fine." It was the best advice I ever received. Today I have healthy kids with no allergies, (I believe some of the arguments for breast feeding include reduced risk of allergies). Sorry to say this but I believe La Leche devotees like to demonize women who opt out of breast feeding. I originally felt inadequate when I gave up on breast feeding after a few weeks but I learned it was important to feel OK about my decision. Those of us who bottle feed are not any less of a mom.
Cathy May 16, 2012 at 01:08 PM
What I find to be lost in all of this is the notion that being a stay at home mom has become less than worthy of value much less praise. Statistics show that children who hale from 2 parent families thrive best. I chased to 'practice motherhood' in Wilton two decades ago because our family decided that we wanted to be among other families who found ways to allow one parent to be a stay at home parent to not only take raising children seriously and lovingly but to physically and emotionally support the person who 'practiced bread winning'. I do not think less of a parent who chooses not to be a stay at home parent, wether breast feeding is involved or not. But in the end, we have lost sight on the value of the profession of motherhood and short changed ourselves by thinking we can have it all.
Cathy May 16, 2012 at 01:10 PM
iPads make me crazy... I chose not chased to be a stay at home mom...
Lisa Bigelow May 16, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Thanks for reading and commenting. Let's not confuse the decision to be a stay at home mom -- something I did for 10 years altogether -- with the choices made by those who practice attachment parenting. I also breastfed, with varying degrees of success. But I definitely felt ashamed of my decision to reach for the bottle after that practice no longer worked for me. And quite frankly, I didn't want any of my three kids in my bed and I certainly didn't want to wear them in a sling all day long (although I did use a Baby Bjorn on occasion and it was a lifesaver). And I definitely agree that kids thrive best in a two parent household whose adults work as a team. The point is, extreme parenting advocates push for a hard line parenting approach that strictly limits the mother's freedom and seems counterintuitive to the goal of making a child resourceful and independent. Advocacy groups that denigrate choices outside their unorthodox views only divide and demean women. Lisa B.
Lani May 16, 2012 at 05:57 PM
No one can make you feel shame but yourself. I am sorry if you felt guilt over your own decision, but please don't blame someone else for that feeling. And why are parenting practices that you disagree with considered extreme? If they don't work for you, don't use them. To me, scheduling feedings to a clock and scheduling playtime and rest time and etc etc is extreme. But I simply didn't opt to parent that way. I don't need to rail against it. I will tell you why *I* chose not to parent using those techniques but I respect your right to do what *you* feel is right for your family and I expect the same respect in return. Rather than helping mothers come together on the areas we do agree on, you seem to be adding fuel to the 'mommy wars' fire.
Kendall L Owott May 16, 2012 at 07:05 PM
To start, Ms. Bigelow’s writing is not rhetoric-free, frequently attempts to persuade, strays from conservative principles and is not always calm. She also sometimes overgeneralizes and tends to narcissism. The statement that the cover “slapped everyone in the face” is an overgeneralization and violent. Professor Badinter’s book and how it relates to “Fairfield County’s competitive mom elite” could have used more explanation. What did Professor Badinter say and what’s with this competitive mom elite? What conservative holds that anybody has a right to a successful career? There is certainly nothing in the Constitution about the right to a happy marriage, either, as desirable as a happy marriage is. Many would hold that the greatest gift one can give ,not to a child but to an adult, is the gift of independence. As children mature, parents can teach them the necessary skills to practice independence without harming others. Independence can be granted too early. Ms. Bigelow’s piece contains a link referring to a previous Bigelow essay touching on reproductive rights and today Ms. Bigelow worries about attachment parenting dividing women “by playing on their deepest guilty fears.” Women ARE divided on reproductive rights and “deepest guilty fears” are entirely appropriate. This subject is much more important than the self-oriented goals of “maintaining youthful good looks and a fun social life."
Lisa Bigelow May 16, 2012 at 07:46 PM
Please stay tuned for next week's piece...this is the first of two articles. And "maintaining youthful good looks and a fun social life" are meant to be tongue-in-cheek. --Lisa B.
camille lawrence May 16, 2012 at 10:54 PM
Oh please, because the words "extreme" "hard line" "strictly limits" "counter-intuitive" "denigrate" "unorthodox" "divide" and "demean" are really so supportive to women and their choices. There has been an incredible amount of thoughtful and wonderful responses to the Time's magazine cover and article both in the context of feminism and rising above the mommy wars. http://www.care2.com/causes/are-you-mom-enough-yes-you-probably-are.html http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-belkin/no-i-am-not-mom-enough_b_1507550.html?ref=parents http://mothering.com/all-things-mothering/baby-2/breastfeeding/an-open-letter-to-time-magazine I'm assuming that you picked this topic to be the first so that fans, and not fans, would look you up for the continuation of your "series". I hope that you will be more original in both material and intention. You do all mothers a great disservice with your ignorance.
Amo Probus May 17, 2012 at 03:27 AM
http://danieljmitchell.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/clooney-obama.jpg
C.M. May 17, 2012 at 03:53 AM
Ms. Bigelow, We all want to feel good about the decisions we make for ourselves and our children. To write an article full of judgement based on your assumptions is just foolish. If it’s validation you are looking for, I think you could have gotten much more accomplished by looking in the mirror and saying ,”I am Mom enough”.
camille lawrence May 17, 2012 at 12:54 PM
And here is an excellent patch op- ed http://westport.patch.com/articles/mother-knows-breast-c271a7ec?ncid=newsltuspatc00000001
Steve Symonds May 17, 2012 at 04:46 PM
Cranbrook "humor"...just as inappropriate.
TR May 18, 2012 at 01:05 AM
What being "Mom enough" really means - check out: http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/health/mdmama/2012/05/what_being_mom_enough_really_means.html MD Mama
Claudia Chapman May 18, 2012 at 01:52 AM
I'm genuinely very sorry that something was said which made you feel demonized as a result of your choice to bottlefeed. It's important for young mothers to be told that breastfeeding may hurt a great deal during the first few weeks. It may be physically demanding during this time period as well, but it usually gets much easier. (It's hard to believe just how demanding it can be, at first, unless you've been through it.) I was never affiliated with LaLeche League, but know many women who were. I believe that these women try their best to get new mothers through the first (potentially) difficult weeks of breastfeeding so they and their babies can enjoy the rewarding period which follows. I do understand why the pep talks about not giving up because breast feeding is best for your baby might seem like "demonizing" when you're exhausted, in pain and feeling vulnerable. Clearly, the organization needs to be aware of this very serious problem and take steps to avoid hurting the women they are trying to help. I do believe that their intentions are good, however, and that they're trying their best in a society where breast feeding is not the norm anymore.
Amo Probus May 19, 2012 at 01:26 AM
The real worry about this topic? When will they start taxing mom's milk? They tax everything else don't they?

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