My Response to the Boobs

What extended nursing really looks like

The TIME cover photo and story “Are You Mom Enough” have gone viral and achieved the sensation and blabbering attention the editors were looking for.  I agree with Dr. Popcak’s remarks about that cover photo.  It obscures the real issues and merely reinforces inaccurate perceptions people have about attachment parenting.

My family was actually being considered for that photo shoot.  Can you imagine?  We were not selected; The Holy Spirit was working in that one.

TIME provided several articles on-line when they released that cover photo; most of them focus on extended breastfeeding.  Why extended breastfeeding?  Why not show photos of mothers nursing their young infants, as breastfeeding on demand in infancy is one of the central recommended practices for securing an infant’s attachment?  Why narrow the focus to one practice at all?   By focusing on extended nursing, and choosing to highlight mothers who breastfeed well into the preschool years, TIME moves the discussion away from the heart of attachment parenting. It’s like walking up to a Ferrari, sitting down on the ground, and staring at the hubcaps. You miss the beauty entirely.

AP isn’t about a list of things you have to do to belong to some club.  It is a conscious decision to parent based on what a child needs so that they can grow up with a deep sense of well-being and “rightness”.  What a child needs varies by child depending on many factors, including their temperament and developmental age.  Children’s needs change over time.  The media has raised questions about the intensive nurturing required of attachment parenting and ask what kind of life the mother will have away from her child. The intensive needs of an infant are quite different from the needs of a toddler; the needs of toddler different altogether from those of a school age child.  Fathers also play an increasing role as the infant moves into older babyhood and toddlerhood.

Parenting is tiring in the early months. I’m sorry, there’s no getting around it.  But, it amuses me that people think co-sleeping, nursing, and babywearing are so arduous for the mother when in fact it makes our lives easier.  Much easier.  You know what I would find exhausting?  Getting up every 2 hours and walking down the hallway in the middle of the night, trying to calm a frightened infant crying without relief, strapping a baby into a bouncy seat every time I want to get a cup of coffee.  And as our attached infants grow into toddlers and older children, their sense of peace and connection makes them much easier to parent.  That initial investment of love pays off.  Why are we so afraid to give these tiny souls what they deserve?

Many of the statements about AP in those on-line articles were simply wrong or misrepresentations; a video statement by Kate Pickert, the author of the main article about Dr. Sears, is also disastrous.  Clearly the staff failed to perform adequate background research or they merely chose voices of convenience, like an interview they published with the mother who is on the cover of the magazine.  That’s the best they could do?  Why not interview one of the founders of Attachment Parenting International who synthesize and analyze information every day about AP?  Why not interview the unflappable Mayim Bialik, actress, neuroscientist, & AP advocate, who would have provided some of the scientific evidence they needed and the glitz they wanted for that article.

Kate Pickert, the TIME journalist who wrote the main piece in the magazine about Dr. Sears, makes several strange statements in her video release, such as:

  • Dr. Sears “basically invented attachment parenting.”

(Of course he didn’t invent it.  He merely observed these practices in other cultures which produce peaceful, well-adjusted adults.  He put this together with what he knew about attachment theory in the field of psychology, which was developed by John Bowlby.)

  • Co-sleeping is a “new phenomenon.”

(Of course it isn’t a new phenomenon.  Most of the rest of the world co-sleep with their children.  Also, co-sleeping isn’t a litmus test of AP.  Many parents let their kids sleep with them who don’t practice AP — they’re just tired and let the kiddos climb into bed with them.  And while co-sleeping is practiced by many AP families, not all do so for various reasons.  I would hope a journalist would ask more questions.)

  • She makes a disturbing leap in logic with the following train of thought:  “It turns out that a lot of what [Dr. Sears] has taught is intertwined with his personal life . . .”  Both Dr. Sears and his wife Martha “had difficult childhoods.”

(I imagine his decision to focus on gentle parenting may be entwined with his personal life,  including difficult parts of it.  That’s true for all human beings.  Why is that a problem?  Isn’t it perhaps the Holy Spirit working to turn something dark into something beautiful?  These two lovely souls, Dr. Sears and his wife, uncovered practices that may  have been lost in our culture or at least been more difficult for the average family to find.  Pickert uses this information to make the following bold leap:)

  • “A lot of people attracted to attachment parenting are reacting to their own childhoods as well.  A lot of people who get into attachment parenting think they need to do it for their babies, but if they did a little examination they would see it’s about a lot of their own issues.”

(If you asked a portion of any group they would tell you they had difficult childhoods.  The other portion would tell you they had pretty good childhoods.  So what?  Our childhoods inform many of our choices and assumptions, sure.  I’m sure some AP parents had difficult childhoods and some had wonderful childhoods.  But if you asked a group of parents who use more child training type approaches you will get the same or similar statistics.  I’m not sure why this leads her to conclude that AP parents choose to nurture our children not because of what our children need but because of some unresolved issues we have ourselves. 

In fact, parents will tend to parent the way they were parented unless they come to a conscious decision to do things differently with their own children. This is something to be celebrated! I think it’s more likely that attachment parents from difficult backgrounds come to the approach not unconsciously and because of unresolved issues, but quite deliberately after research and comparing their options.  They choose attachment based parenting because they are willing to do what is best for their children no matter the costs, including adopting some practices that may be counter-cultural and unpopular, even misunderstood.)

  • “There’s no evidence to show that wearing a baby in a sling or sleeping with kids is gonna change the way they turn out later when they’re adults.”

(Again, she misses the central goal of AP.  Attachment parenting isn’t about these little practices she is glomming on to.  AP begins with the rapport and relationship you build with your child in infancy, but that rapport has to be nurtured and maintained throughout all of childhood.  Pickert is equating AP with just 3 infant parenting practices, when that’s just a scratch on the surface of this story.  But here’s one article  providing scientific support for many of the practices we are talking about, including studies suggesting babywearing promotes attachment and others suggesting securely attached children have fewer behavioral issues and higher IQs.  Margot Sunderland’s book The Science of Parenting discusses what the field of neuroscience tells us about the importance of attachment.  In Sleeping With Your Baby, James McKenna, a world recognized sleep expert, encourages parents to sleep with or near their infants and presents the scientific support for this recommendation.)

Pickert is a health care staff writer at TIME, so this perhaps explains her clinical approach to parenting.  I’m not sure if she’s even a parent herself.  I’ve been walking through the day, feeling alternately angry about the article and relieved that I wasn’t caught up in it at that photo shoot.   Finally after prayer, time playing at the park with the kids, and a nap with my toddler, I think I’ve gained some distance.

I understand tonight that there are real humans behind the story:  writers with deadlines; editors struggling to have a life.  There’s the mom on the cover:  She’s one of the most famous women in America this week.  I wonder if she expected it.  Even though I wanted to kick their hineys earlier today, they deserve my compassion and my prayers.  But most important of all, there are children to be loved. They deserve our compassion, too, the most tender compassion, every one of them. Hopefully the article and cover photo will lead to fruitful discussions that will lead to increased wisdom in our homes and our society.

Photo credit: Anita Patterson-Peppers (photos.com)

Comments

  1. Sheila,
    Thank you for your very helpful insights! I think you’re right; The current generation of children who are growing up in empathic and gentle environments will go on to parent the same way in the next generation, allowing cross-generational healing.
    Kim

  2. I can personally testify that not all of us are rebelling against the way we were parented. My mom is into attachment parenting too, and that’s just how I learned to care for a baby. It was just obvious to me that I would breastfeed and cosleep, because, duh, that’s what babies like. And I liked the way I had been raised, and had a great relationship with my mom.

    But of course you can discount people who didn’t like how they were parented, because they’re just rebelling, and people who did, because they’re just mindlessly following what their parents did. But SOME people actually thoughtfully decide what to do based on what is right, not on their own childhood.

    I think what’s really going on here is that we’re taking several generations to get over the messed-up parenting ideas that doctors were handing down in the middle of last century — bottle-feeding as the norm, routine infant circumcision, strict schedules, etc. — and getting back to a more normal, common-sense approach. It’s only from our distorted cultural perspective that AP seems “extreme” and the other way is “normal.”

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