Last night, I enjoyed an evening with some amazing women as we celebrated National Mom’s Nite Out. These ladies are smart, savvy, and have a diverse range of parenting styles. They are members of Boston Parent Bloggers, where we mingle reasonably happy with each other without worrying who is breastfeeding, babywearing, co-sleeping, homeschooling, avoiding screen time, using time outs, working from home, working out of the home, or focused entirely on family and home. Sure, it comes up, and members may bond more over their like-minded choices, but unlike the media would have you believe, we’re not a divided camp. We support each other and the choices we make.
Parenting columnist Barbara Meltz was just wrapping up her discussion of protecting our children’s privacy. She was sharing her experiences with her own son who was uncomfortable when he felt her public parenting advice too closely mirrored their experiences at home. She asked us to think twice before sharing our kids names and photos. I (privately) chatted with her before her talk as she had noticed that I use pseudonyms on my blog. I have thought about these very issues, and have come to the decision that I’m comfortable sharing pictures (but not all pictures), but not names. It is certainly a question of safety, but more a question of respecting my children and the telling of their stories. After Barbara fielded some questions, one of the attendees asked about a newly released Time Magazine cover with an article called, "Are You Mom Enough?" I am deliberately NOT linking to that story here because just the title alone displays a pathetic attempt at sensationalist "reporting," but it is a piece about attachment parenting and Dr. Sears.
I have not read the article, honestly, but I have spent the past day feeling angry and sad about the situation. I’ve seen response after response to the article from parents who are militantly pro-breastfeeding, parents who think co-sleeping is a crime, parents who think attachment parenting is for whack jobs, and parents who think that not following attachment parenting is child abuse. Most of the actual blog posts are bashing the continued media drama over "mommy wars" and the idea that there is one correct way to parent. And I agree with that. Enough already. But, who cares? Because all I can think about is that cover image: an attractive young mom in skinny jeans and a tank top with nipple bared. Next to her, standing on a stool, is her 3-year old son (who, coincidentally, looks much older), staring at the camera while sucking on her breast. She’s got one arm wrapped around him as she stares defiantly at the camera. His arms hang by his sides. And in all of this passionate debate about the "right" way to parent, all I keep wondering is, who thought this was a good idea? Who thought that this little boy would be OK with this if he was old enough to make an informed decision? And why is it OK to use an innocent child as a grenade in a non-existent battle for the best parenting award?
Regardless of your feelings on long-term breastfeeding, at some point, don’t you have to wonder how this kid will feel when his friends see this picture? Can you imagine a picture of yourself (especially a boy) at 3 years old sucking on your mother’s breast being circulated around your high school? And whether or not you think breast feeding is a sexual act, I can guarantee that there are some very happy pedophiles out there today with this new picture in their inventory. It’s not a natural pose they’re standing in, unless she normally has her son pull a stool up to her chest for a snack. The bottom line is that this kid is being exploited. He’s being exploited by his mother to make a statement, and by Time Magazine to garner page views.
The ongoing battles we insist on fighting about the right way to parent are a waste of time. There is no right way to parent, as it’s an individual relationship that exists between the adult and the child, made only more unique by overall family dynamics. I have only two children, but they are as different as night and day. As such, I parent them differently. I discipline them differently. And I love them differently. And because I love them so very much, I strive to do no harm. I fail on a regular basis, when I lose my temper or run out of time or put my work before them. I do the best I can. So that is why I can say without judgment that while this mom undoubtedly adores her little boy, she failed him. She made a bad choice that will haunt him, and most likely her, as they move into the future. What saddens me is she that failed him in the very act of defending her way of loving him. In a seemingly blind effort to prove that her way is good and right (why should we ever have to prove that to anyone other than our children?), it seems that she may have missed the bigger, long-term view.
So, here’s the deal, fellow moms. In honor of Mother’s Day, can we stop placing public judgment on our varied parenting choices? Because when we hurt a fellow mom, we hurt a child. When we lower the self-esteem of another mom, she will undoubtedly pass that insecurity along to her children. And when we’re pushed to defend our parenting approaches, sometimes it’s the people we love most who are hurt in the crossfire. I think there’s a little boy who has just been caught in the crossfire thanks to Time Magazine. Hopefully, he’ll be able to heal from the injury.