I would be surprised if this was the first place you have seen this Time cover- it was literally all over the press a couple of years back. I have come across it again, and the commentary that it provoked, whilst doing some research for my book- and it has reignited a rant!
If by chance this is your first peek, then it is a picture of a 26 year old mother feeding her three year old baby whilst he stands on a stool. It’s obviously not a conventional ‘breastfeeding’ shot,- far from it- and it was clearly designed to create the very controversy that it did. So no surprises there and top marks for the designers.
On the upside, it has meant breastfeeding made the headlines like never before, and attachment parenting got some serious press.
But on the downside, two things also happened. First, its use of shock tactics to get people talking seems to have skewed people’s idea of attachment parenting as being characterized by its most extreme interpretations (so breastfeeding till school age, sleeping in the same bed as your children till virtual adolescence and generally allowing their lives to subsume your own) which might well, understandably, lead people to throw the baby out with the bathwater- if you’ll pardon the pun.
The second negative was an avalanche of anger and vitriole from commentators, mothers and journalists. Endless blogs, countless column inches and wall-to-wall TV chat shows pitted mother against mother, or mother against the so-called guru of attachment parenting Dr Sears (a dear old thing who stood up to it all quite well I thought).
I have to confess I was at the time and still am shocked by the outcry, and dismayed by it, in equal measure. What is it about us mothers that we feel the need to judge the parenting choices of others? As I said in one of the chapters in my birth book, pregnancy tends to unite women, whereas mothering divides. And wow, this certainly divided!
Breastfeeding until school age wasnt for me- mine got five days, nine months and eight months in that order. They are all very happy, well adjusted children. I am not in any way advocating the Times cover as what ‘should be done’, but precisely because there is no ‘should be done’. There will only ever, can only ever, be different ways to mother. There are more than 130 million babies born every year- how could it possibly be that there is a single right way to bring them up? There is nothing wrong with exchanging ideas. Debate and discussion and even disagreement is of course entirely good and healthy. But couldn’t we do it without the anger?
Interestingly much of the anger came from women proclaiming that ‘attachment parenting’ or more specifically its advocates, made them feel guilty. But the absolute truth is, no one else can make you feel guilty, the only person who can make you feel guilty is you. The women breastfeeding their three and four year olds cant. The people writing the books can’t. As the saying goes, ‘the more you love your own decisions, the less you need others to love them’. If you are happy mothering the way you are mothering, fantastic. Carry on. Do what you do and do it with conviction. The fact that someone else is doing something differently shouldn’t matter a jot. You can disagree with them by all means, but then it should just add more fuel to your own fire, more courage to your own convictions. Being angry with someone because they mother differently is as nonsensical as getting mad with someone because they have marmalade on their toast when you have vegemite. Its illogical, insane, and quite frankly a complete waste of time. Or is it?
Because, I think the fact we feel mad and get guilty could end up being quite useful. Because, I suspect – and its just an idea- that when we get mad at other people for doing something differently, we aren’t just disagreeing. I think, even without knowing it, we might actually be feeling quite defensive. Maybe, just maybe, someone doing it differently has hit a nerve. And maybe that means that the dreaded guilt thing isn’t such a dreaded thing after all because if we are clever then we wont get mad about it, we’ll get humble. We can choose to see guilt as a warning bell that something that we are doing is not sitting quite right in our own gut.
I only say this because it has happened to me constantly over the last nearly fourteen years. Whenever I have felt guilty, my first reaction is to try and find someone to blame for it, as though guilt has been cast over me like a net. And yet when I am truly honest with myself, my feeling guilty is almost always – annoyingly- a very clear sign that I am not convinced by my own actions. Like my own conscience is whispering self-righteously in my ear.
Motherhood is a roller-coaster, a bumpy journey, a plain muddle, and comparing and competing with other mothers in a quest for perfection is the fastest route to insanity there is. We can glean nuggets of wisdom from books galore, and get the advice of countless well meaning mothers and grandmothers, but the truth is, we all have to find our own way to mother, and it will necessarily be warts and all. We’ll get some things right and others will be a dismal failure. Some days all the balls will be in the air, and on other days they’ll be scattered willy-nilly around your feet. Some parts of motherhood will come naturally and others you’ll have to work at, very hard, and even then you wont really know what you are doing.
But the best thing we can do throughout, the only thing we can do really, is listen to ourselves and do what feels right for us, for our kids and our own family. And rest assured, when it doesn’t feel right, you’ll know, because for sure you will be mad at the women who is doing it differently and who maybe, just maybe, is doing it how you would like to be.