The Real Victims in the "Mommy Wars"

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.

12 Responses to The Real Victims in the "Mommy Wars"

  1. Best comment on the Times magazine article that I’ve read yet. Beyond anything else, sexing up a picture of a mom breastfeeding just to sell pictures is wrong on so many levels, and it will most likely have repercussions on the kid down the road. Shame on the photographer, Time and the mother.

  2. Apparently, no one was reading Time which is exactly why the editors published it. It was like dumping gasoline all over a simmering fire and then throwing a match on it. We all know what you get. A hell of an explosion. And we all proved we were lemmings. Meanwhile, all of the marketing executives and editors are high fiving each other backstage. I talk about the end of my role as a lemming here:

  3. You took all my jumbled thoughts and emotions about the subject and put it all out there quite eloquently, and brilliantly. Great writing, and I agree with you wholeheartedly.

  4. I have not read the article, and really have no interest in it. Time made a bold move that they knew would get a reaction. Desperation appears to have made them greedy to exploit a child. The first time I saw the cover I immediately wondered what repercussions that poor little boy would have. I did extended nursing with my youngest and see nothing wrong with it, but that pose on a national magazine is just wrong. It is not real world, completely unnatural, and makes it seem sexual in nature. Of course, once I got pasted the little boy and how it would end up rocking his world down the line, I read those words. Good Enough Mother – does that imply that others are not a good enough mothers? Sorry, but I agree with the philosophy of Rene Syler, head Good Enough Mother (GEM) when she reminds us that imperfection is fine and we do what our families need.

  5. What a great post! It does make me sad, and I even wonder what kind of backlash he is already feeling at this tender age.

  6. Lots of people have been quick to assume that this boy will be tormented in the future for appearing on this cover nursing, but I am reminded of the admonishments that interracial couples used to get, about how their children would be shunned and teased. But now, there’s barely a publication out there that doesn’t have a mixed race model smiling and selling whatever they are pushing this week, and no one thinks twice about it. Sure, Time was out to shock and stir controversy. That’s what Time does! But the good news is, that nearly everyplace I’ve looked online, where this issue has been discussed since the cover came out, there have been lots of very educated people saying good things, about not taking the bait, moving past the Mommy Wars, lots of people giving good, factual information about breastfeeding and extended breastfeeding. When I had my first child 13 years ago, there was hardly anyone talking about it, much less doing it! I’m very please with this latest stirring of the pot. Seems the cream is rising to the top this time!

    • Jeanne,

      Thanks for your comment. As a biracial child, I actually was teased and, in some cases “shunned.” And trust me when I say that people still think/talk quite a bit about it, even though it’s more acceptable. I’m certainly glad I was born, but if my mom had carelessly put me in that kind of position simply to make a statement (and not really even a very good statement), I’d be pretty pissed off right now. The photo did absolutely nothing for the cause – people who didn’t believe in long-time breastfeeding before are certainly NOT swayed by that image. And it didn’t really speak to the tenets of attachment parenting, either. I’m all for making a stand, but if you’re going to involve your kids, I do think it’s important to make sure that you’re not doing more harm than good.

      And when it comes to choosing analogies, there’s a big difference between deciding whether or not to have a child with someone you love and choosing whether or not to put your child on the cover of a national magazine in what may eventually feel like a very awkward pose.

      All I can hope is that I am completely wrong and that he suffers no ill effects. Because it doesn’t seem worth it to me to sacrifice the happiness of even one child simply to educate people about breastfeeding, which is hardly a controversial life choice.


      • Christy,

        If you don’t mind my asking, How old are you? I’m 48. The reason I ask, is that I have noticed a significant shift in attitudes toward biracial people, a tipping point, so to speak, that has occurred in the past 15 years, compared to any time in the past. I think this is due to a decision and a commitment made by advertisers to include biracial models in their ads, and I believe this has contributed to a general acceptance, because it placed those images into the “norm”, even if in daily life, people’s social circles were more segregated. Still, their children, at school, and in some churches, and at workplaces, through policies of inclusion, are making friends with people of all ethnic groups and this is how prejudices die. Prejudice can only exist where the object is “other” and unknown.
        I’m sure it’s not eradicated, but compared to the way it used to be, it’s like polio, practically wiped out, and only requires our continued vigilance to remain so.
        I grew up in Texas, where my father preached in small towns. Racism ran deep and there were still segregated bathrooms, and water fountains. I am old enough to have witnessed the changes take place, party due to the courage of people like my father, who did his best to change people’s attitudes, sometimes at great risk to himself.

        He passed away this March, but in looking over the legacy he left, I see a changed world.

        • I am 41. Things have changed significantly since I was born, but even in very liberal Massachusetts, I still see some negativity toward interracial couples (I’m in an interracial marriage). I think that prejudice is here to stay, since it’s human nature to judge people, intentionally or not, by first impressions. As for racism, I know that it still has a very firm hold in our country. Thankfully, people like your father spoke out for what they believed to be right, even though it wasn’t popular or even in his best personal interests. I’m sorry for the passing of your dad. He sounds like a great man.

  7. I appreciated reading your post this evening, and shared similar sentiments on supporting mamas too. We have to change our dialogue and create the connections between women, supporting our different choices and promoting one another! Thanks for the post.

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