Extended Nursing and Being Mom Enough

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Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about last Friday’s Time Magazine cover story on attachment parenting and the “controversial” image of a 26 year old mom from Los Angeles, Jamie Lynne Grumet, breastfeeding her three year old son.  Depending upon who you might ask, the photograph of Grumet and her son is either beautiful or disgusting or somewhere in between.  Regardless of the the posture, the attractiveness of the mom, or even the fact that the photographer was male, this image has started many much needed discussions of extended nursing.  It has moved something that is all-too-often a closeted act, despite being completely natural and recommended by the AAP and WHO,  into public discourse and I can only see that as a positive.  Where some might worry that this has only “brought out a mob of people saying breastfeeding is ‘sick’ and ‘perverted,’”  I thought it was nice to see an attractive, normal looking (I.e., not hippie) woman breastfeeding.

As a 27 year old, I am well aware of the fact that most of my peers do or did not breastfeed exclusively and that both initial and exclusive breastfeeding rates decrease with the mother’s age. If we want young women to initiate and stick with breastfeeding, then we need to show young women doing it; women that young mothers can identify with or hope to be like, not women in their 30’s or 40’s who look more like their moms than someone they would want to be friends with.

Beyond the appearance of the mother, I loved that this was not another image of a woman breastfeeding a newborn.  If we want to meet the US Breastfeeding Goals, if we want to see mothers meeting that one or two year minimum, and if we want to support mother and child nursing as long as both are willing, then we need to normalize breastfeeding beyond infancy.  That means showing images of nursing toddlers and, yes, even preschoolers so that women will know that what they are doing is normal and nothing to be ashamed of.  It isn’t something that needs to be covered up or hidden away in the bathroom.  Despite the closed-minded or immature reaction of some, this photo on the cover of a major publication is one step in the right direction of reminding our country that healthy breastfeeding relationships are to be supported and encouraged.

In addition to the image of extended nursing, the accompanying title, “Are you Mom enough?” has received much criticism — perhaps even more criticism than the photograph.  That title has been blamed for stirring the pot of the “Mommy Wars” and inciting guilt in any mom who doesn’t practice attachment parenting to a T.  My initial response to the title was a negative one, as I agree it is setting motherhood up to be some sort of competition, but the more I’ve thought about it, more I see it as nothing else than a poor editing choice.  I mean, really, I have such a hard time seeing how one sentence on the cover of a magazine could make any woman feel guilty about her parenting style or choices.

Over and over I see “guilt” come up across the blogosphere: in the work-at-home mom vs. stay-at-home mom debate, the intervention vs. natural childbirth debate, breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, cry-it-out and scheduling vs. responding to baby’s cues…the list goes on and on.  It seems that no one can state his or her views on parenting without someone else claiming that doing so is an attempt to induce guilt.  When Dr. Sears was on The View yesterday, it was all the hosts could talk about.  Ladies, I have one thing to tell you:

You know your family and your baby best,
you make the parenting choices,

you chose your own guilt.

Every time I hear someone say that some article or some parenting philosophy is making them feel guilty, I’ll admit that I just don’t get it.  With very, very rare exceptions, each and every one of us does the very best we can as mothers in our individual situations.  No one situation is alike and even if there is an ideal, all that matters is that we tried our hardest.  If you tried with your whole heart to be a good mom and to do the best that you possibly could for your child then she’ll remember that when she grows up, and you have nothing to feel guilty about — because you couldn’t possibly have done more than your best in any given situation.  If you let a title on a magazine or some parenting philosophy get to you, then most likely you aren’t confident in your choices, in which case you should rethink them.  But I strongly believe that no matter what someone else says, if you did or are doing your best and are confident in your decisions, you will never feel guilty.

It is with that belief that I sadly watched the “Mom Enough” debates unfolding in the past four days.  All I could think is that most of us, in this nation of moms, need to calm down, relax, and most importantly remember, as we were told 65 years ago,  to trust ourselves.

I know that I do.  I’ve never read Sears’ Baby Book, or really any other books on parenting outside of breastfeeding.  I had a pain-med free birth, and would love to home birth the next time around.  We cloth-diapered because (1) it was cheap and (2) it felt good for the environment.  I wore Nora in a sling a lot when she was little because it was easy and let me get stuff done, but, boy, do I love my stroller now.  We co-slept for about 10-11 months, not because we planned to but because I got more sleep that way, and as soon as I wasn’t getting that much sleep we started the process of moving her to her own room on a different floor.  We never did any form of cry-it-out, but we also worked very, very hard at getting her comfortable sleeping all night in her own room and I could not be more thrilled about our current arrangement of giving her a stack of books in bed in the dark at 8:30 every night and letting her put herself to sleep when she’s ready.  I started breastfeeding because it was cheap…oh yeah…and good for the baby too.  Now, surprisingly, I’m still nursing Nora 1-3 times per day — but honestly there’s not a lot about it that I like and we talk about weaning every single day, which means we very well won’t make it to the point of self-weaning before I decide to throw her a weaning party and call it a day.  We aren’t anti-vaccine and do plan to give her some, but haven’t started yet; there’s all sorts of judgement out there about that choice, but it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.  I always knew I wanted to stay home with my children and I really do believe that it is best for children to have a parent at home with them instead of being in daycare, but when Nora was born I was our primary income source, so I worked full-time and she was in daycare full-time until she was 9 months old.  Now I love that I can make some money from home while Chris is the primary earner, and I get to spend time with Nora…but I also love leaving her with Chris for two hours on Sunday so I can go to yoga.  Neither Chris nor I feel the need to go on dates and so we have done so about once per year since Nora’s birth, yet I’ll readily admit that I’m looking forward to preschool.  We’ll be sending Nora to preschool, although we might still homeschool once kindergarten rolls around.  The list could go on and on…

All of these things are parenting choices that Chris and I have made.  Some of these choices look like attachment parenting and some of them don’t.  Some of them are mainstream and some of them are less common.  Some of them are very controversial.  Some of them are not what I thought I would do when I first became a parent and a some of them are not what I consider to be the ideal, but all of them are examples of me being the very best mom that I know how to be.  Nothing and no one can make me feel guilty about my parenting choices, because I am mom enough.

And so are you.

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8 responses

  1. Lauren Avatar

    I’ve learned to be more careful with my thoughts and words as a parent. There have been a few times I said I would never do or say X to my child only to find myself deciding to do or say X. I know I haven’t made perfect choices, but I have been comfortable with the choices I’ve made at the time I made them. I think it’s most important that children know they are loved, accepted and taught that actions have both good and bad consequences. I like your reading your thoughts (as I usually do), but it does seem like the article headline Are You Mom Enough? is unsupportive and discouraging. I’m glad we’re comfortable and confident in our decisions (at least I am at the time of I am making them), but it’s obviously not the norm for parents, mothers specifically. And an article with the spin of Are You Mom Enough? doesn’t seem to help.

  2. Jessica Avatar

    I like the cover. Time proved print isn’t dead in a digital world and it got people talking about extended nursing. Let’s face it, nothing sells magazines like a woman’s insecurities…. look at every fashion and beauty mag. I will say that I do feel guilt, I’m human. I feel guilt for working. I wish I could stay home but there is a mortgage to be paid and I carry the health and dental for 4. I feel guilt when E cries as I leave begging me to stay and play with her. I feel guilt again when I get home to find a bunch of toys lined up by the back door where she sat and waited for me to return. I feel guilt and sadness when I stand over a new mom at work helping her with breast feeding when her baby cries and my milk lets down. I also feel resentment that I have to go down the hall to a plastic pump when I’d much rather be home nursing M at 6 mo &/or E at almost 3 1/2. But I also love my job, there is nothing like helping a woman give birth. I also feel incredible joy when I’m home with my kids. While I don’t get sucked into the mommy wars or feel pressure to parent one way or another, there is guilt… I think it’s normal to feel a wide spectrum of emotions as a parent.

    1. Amber Avatar

      I felt exactly the same way as you do when I worked, the combination of loving my job but hating that it took me away from Nora. It’s so normal to have mixed emotions about being a mother, but please, please don’t feel guilty about supporting your family and providing for their healthcare, Jess. You are such a good mother. I think it is completely normal to feel sadness or resentment and to miss the time you aren’t which E & M, but please don’t feel guilty about it…especially because when you aren’t there, they are in the loving hands of family. If not you, there’s no one better than their dad and grandmother. xoxo

  3. “If you let a title on a magazine or some parenting philosophy get to you, then most likely you aren’t confident in your choices, in which case you should rethink them. But I strongly believe that no matter what someone else says, if you did or are doing your best and are confident in your decisions, you will never feel guilty.”

    Oh my, if only it were that simple Amber!

    Sadly it isn’t. I am very confident in my decision to breastfeed my toddler. I am also very confident in my decision to tend towards attachment parenting ideals. However, I’m a first-time mom, so of course despite my choices and my beliefs in them, I am going to have doubts along the way. And, the TIME cover irked me because I worry women are potentially going to have (even more) people asking them when nursing their one-week-old, “So you’re not going to end up like that lady on the TIME cover, are you?!” Agh.

    I tell my new moms when I am helping them with breastfeeding, “This is something we’ve been doing for thousands of years, so we know it works. However, I know this is the first time you and your baby have done it, so naturally it is a learning curve. There may be bumps along the way. You may doubt yourself. But be comforted that we’ve been doing this, successfully, for ages, and you’ll make it through those rough patches.” This applies to parenting as well.

    To say that you’ll never feel guilty if you are confident in your decisions is way too simplistic. A mom may be 100% sure she has to work to support her family, but she may still feel some guilt and wish it could be otherwise. Likewise, a mom could 100% know being a SAHM is right for her family but now and then feel guilt she isn’t financially contributing. For both these women, saying they aren’t allowed to experience those feelings and just tell them “If you’re doing your best you’ll never feel guilty” is not helpful and potentially harmful. It makes them think, “Well, maybe I’m not doing my best. Maybe I am making the wrong choices because I am not always totally confident and feel a little guilty sometimes” – which can’t be farther from the truth. Parenting is about having those feelings of questioning, guilt, am-I-doing-it-right because it means we constantly reevaluate our choices and either reaffirm them or (if able, or feel we need to) make changes. But I hope you do realize it isn’t as simple as never questioning your choices…because quite frankly in my opinion it is caring enough to sometimes question that is one aspect of good parenting.

    (Please don’t think I am trying to be argumentative either, this just struck a cord with me!)

    1. Amber Avatar

      Thanks for your thoughts, Jen. I agree that there are a range of emotions that come with every parenting choice and that we aren’t always going to feel happy or comfortable. I have moments of uncertainty and, as Lauren described, hindsight can often make us think we would do things differently if confronted with the choice again. I felt sad every time that I dropped Nora off at the babysitter and I regretted the time I missed from her days. All of those emotions are normal and probably common, but to me they are very different from guilt. Guilt implies wrong doing or crimes or something grievous. And when you are making the right choice for your family, even if it’s a choice that you don’t enjoy, I have a hard time seeing how the choice can be equated to wrong doing. To me, the only instance when a mother ought to feel guilt is if she said to herself at the time of making a choice, “This is not the best thing for my child and it’s not the best thing for my family, but I’m going to do it anyway.”

  4. Pauline Osborne Avatar
    Pauline Osborne

    Thank you for saying so much of what I have been thinking in regards to this article. I was thrilled to see a mom nursing a toddler on the front page of Time Magazine. It was empowering and reminded me not to stress out about nursing my 3 &1/2 year old son along with my 3 month old daughter. I also feel people have overreacted on both sides of the spectrum. And for me, “Are you mommy enough?” means are you mommy enough to stand up for what you believe in as a parent and not be ashamed.

  5. Rachel Dowling Avatar
    Rachel Dowling

    I found this today after I wrote my own response to the Time cover piece. While I was excited to see extended nursing getting press, I was deeply dismayed to see the negative reactions it was getting. In the end, I feel that the only motivation is in selling magazines, not in illuminating the issue of extended nursing. In fact, it’s go-for-the-jugular approach is quite destructive to the overall discussion.

    I think you make a dangerous mistake confusing feelings of mom guilt with actual guilt. Most mothers feel guilty sometime or another, if not chronically, throughout their growth as a moms. I think it’s unfortunately the product of a culture that doesn’t really support women, or mothers. Very few of these women actually deserve to feel the way that they feel. Blaming women for their feelings of guilt is not really constructive. And pitting women against one another, as the article does, is pretty detrimental to our common goal of raising happy, healthy children in a culture that supports mothers through a range of mothering styles.

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