Thursday, May 17, 2012

Attachment Parenting- The Time Magazine Controversy

  It would seem the latest media controversy to sweep through North America (temporarily stealing some spotlight from the same-sex marriage debate), has been brought to us courtesy of Time magazine. For those of you who haven’t heard the buzz yet the May 21st issue features a cover photo of Jamie Lynne Grumet breastfeeding her three-year-old son Aram. As soon as I heard of the story I knew I wanted to write about it, so I picked up a copy the day it hit my local news stand and began reading.

  On a broader scale this centres around attachment parenting or AP, a concept currently being advocated by Dr. Bill Sears. (For his seven B’s of attachment parenting read here ; some of them I agree with, some I don't). What bothers me about all the hype is that this presents a perfect opportunity for open discussion on how best to raise children in Western society, yet all the focus seems to be directed on a provocative front-page photo. Neither Mrs. Grumet nor Dr. Sears are happy with Time’s decision to use this particular shot for the cover; a picture of her cuddling her son close would have better represented the story, but Time knows as well as anyone that an attractive young woman with her breasts half exposed in a defiant pose such as this will draw attention. In this sense the cover has done what it’s supposed to, and that’s to sell magazines. I have not so much a problem with the photo itself as the way in which it's being used to deliberately spark controversy.

  The cover headline also provokes a strong reaction by asking, “Are you mom enough?” It’s sensationalistic and insensitive, as if suggesting that women who are unable to breastfeed as often as they’d like (or at all) somehow fall short as mothers. Attachment parenting to this degree is almost a non-issue anyway; how many women are in a position to stay at home and nurse their children for this length of time even if they want to? The vast majority of mothers don’t take AP to such extremes but this message is overshadowed.

  If I were to break down Sears’ seven points of attachment parenting and give my views on each, I’d have to spread it out over several posts. So, since public attention is being focused on the issue of extended breastfeeding that’s what I’ll talk about here.

  I just don’t understand what all the fuss is about. I admit that I was a bit unsettled by the photo at first, mainly because it’s not something we’re used to seeing. Only 15-25% of North American mothers continue nursing their children past six months, where from every article I’ve read the international average is much higher. Why do so many feel breastfeeding into the toddler years until a child self-weans is wrong? And how many more mothers, given the chance to stay at home for years and raise their children, would choose to do the same?

  Response to Jamie Lynne Grumet’s cover photo has ranged from overwhelming support to threats of Child Protective Services being called under allegations of child molestation. This infuriates me. It’s a fire fuelled by ignorance, those who feel this way would do well to speak with a survivor of child sexual abuse. On her Facebook page Jamie has linked to an excellent article  written by Mollie, a blogger who is both a survivor of abuse and a nursing mother of two children, one of them a three year old. It’s very well-written and I feel worth a look.

  Much is being made of how traumatized Jamie's son will be when he's older, that someday his fellow twelve year old friends will taunt him with images of this cover photo. I highly doubt this is something kids or anyone else will be dwelling on years from now, and it's unlikely most children who know him at the peak of all this publicity are aware he's on the cover or have any capacity to understand the controversy surrounding it. I've also heard almost no mention of his older brother Samuel, whom the Grumets adopted from an Ethiopian family. What life would this child have had if he had stayed there? Surely not the same as he has now.
  It’s been pointed out that Aram looks more like a four or five year old in the cover photo. He’ll be four in June, and this to me speaks to his state of health. The benefits of breastfeeding are widely documented. Beyond twelve months breast milk changes to suit the development of a child, I came across this article which explains further and argues in favour of extended feeding.

  Breastfeeding is beautiful and natural and I fully support any woman who wishes to (which includes publicly).  I also realize many women don’t do it, either by choice or because they can’t. I’m not saying that giving a baby formula isn’t acceptable, I just don’t understand why anyone would encourage a nursing mother to remove her child by a certain age when the benefits of breast milk have been proven.

  Let’s wean a child before he or she is ready and put them on formula or cow's milk. Let’s trade the safety and warmth of a mother’s body for the security that an inanimate object such as a blanket provides. Let’s break this emotional attachment not because mother or child are ready but simply because society says it’s time.

  Show me the logic in that.

(UPDATE: Since writing this I'm very pleased to say that Jamie has asked me to provide a link to this post on her Facebook page, which can be found here . She added: "The only thing I disagree with on you is about my son (Samuel, who is actually older than Aram) and he is better off in America than Ethiopia. Ethiopians raise wonderful human beings, and we could learn so much from them! (just wanted to clear that up! I hope I didn't come across mad or attacking you...not meant that way at all)." No offence taken Jamie, my statement was probably misleading. Thanks for giving me the chance to share this post with your readers!

For more pictures from Time’s photoshoot see here

Jamie Lynne Grumet’s Facebook page

Jamie Lynne Grumet’s blog

Articles referenced:  

What AP is: 7 Baby B's by Dr. Bill Sears

Out of the Mouth of Babes by Eric Michael Johnson, Evolutionary Anthropologist

The WEIRD Evolution of Human Psychology by Eric Michael Johnson, Evolutionary Anthropologist

A Natural Age of Weaning by Katherine Dettwyler, PhD

Breastfeeding Past Infancy: Fact Sheet by Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC

How Breastfeeding Benefits You and Your Baby reviewed by the BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board


  1. Very thought provoking post, Barry! You're right, this is a large topic (referring to AP) but I guess I'll stick with breastfeeding, as you did. I tried to breastfeed my daughter and ended up getting an infection which required surgery. Because of this, I was afraid to breastfeed my son, ten years later but soon after leaving the hospital (and after he had been receiving formula from a bottle) I changed my mind because I didn't want him to miss out because of my fears and I also didn't want to miss out on the unique bonding experience that just isn't the same as holding them while giving them a bottle. In looking back over my experiences, I wish I'd had more support in regards to breastfeeding. I wish it were more common (so we wouldn't feel weird and awkward about it) and encouraged more in hospitals. If I had it to do over again, I'd be more determined about it and do it for a lot longer. And for the record, I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with breastfeeding a toddler but as you said, we're not accustomed to seeing it and like you, I was initially shocked by the cover photo. (The second picture of her and her son I guess wouldn't have been shocking at all and is actually a beautiful picture, depicting what breastfeeding is all about which is bonding and nurturing.) Kudos to Jamie Lynne Grumet for doing what she feels is best for her children in spite of what is accepted as 'normal'.

    And, as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, it actually offended and upset me to read that some are calling this sexual abuse because from where I'm sitting, this looks the exact opposite of abuse.

  2. what a poor way to bring out attachment parenting. it is true that the picture does intrigue you into reading the article. i don't agree with the fact that after a child is a certain age (a year tops) should be drinking breat milk from your actual breast. it bothers me.

  3. Amazing post Barry, seriously. This article is so perfect and so spot on, I really couldn't agree with you more.
    I was breast fed as a child and I was self weaned. I have no idea what age I weaned myself at, but my mother said I was the type to put myself on a time-out, so I'm sure I weaned myself at an earlier age...

    I think the article became controversial large part because of the title "Are you mom enough?". I think that hit a sore spot for a lot of mothers - because I think many mothers out there deal with the feeling of inadequacy on a daily basis. Mothers are told that they are to be nothing short of superheros to their children and sex goddesses to their husbands (if they have one. No husband, automatic loss of 20 points).

    Ironically at the same time the very title of the cover article is ALSO saying that this mother pictured is indeed NOT mother enough, because "just look at what she's doing to her child!".

    Great writing Barry.

  4. Thank you Barry :) More families in North America need to be exposed to this sort of "what's all the fuss" attitude. Formula companies, cosmetic companies, big pharma - they all make their money based on how uncomfortable we can make each other. It'll take blogs such as this to help more people have courage to just be, rather than the need to be what others think we ought to.

  5. How long this mother BFs her child is her business, not anyone else's. And that is the point, don't make it our business! I breast fed my child until she was 3 years old. I consider it perfectly normal, healthy, natural and intimate. But just because it is all those things, doesn't mean it should be on the cover of Time Magazine. There is so much that we do that is healthy for us and perfectly normal but it stays private. Not because it's shameful but because it is immodest to do them publicly. There are no good reasons to expose your breasts, vagina or penis publicly, period.

  6. To the last comment on here. If your in walmart, with an 8 week old newborn, who is hungry, lets say, screaming her head off because she just woke up and shes ready to eat, bet your ass your going to wip a boob out and feed her.

  7. To the last comment. I breast fed my babies and never did I have to "wip my boob out" in public to feed them. Depending on the circumstance, I pumped and brought a bottle or I went to my car and fed them. Again, there is no good reason to expose yourself to men, women and especially children. I think women who do that are exhibitionists who are using their babies as an excuse to expose themselves to people. Breastfeeding is beautiful until you force your breasts on people that are not comfortable with you exposing yourself to them. It's just a lack of respect and decency. I could always care for my babies while being mindful and respectful of others.

  8. Great post, Barry.

    To the above comments: I agree that if my child is hungry, I DO NOT CARE where I am...I WILL stop and breastfeed. I did this with my two bottle fed children and I intend to do this with my child now who breastfeeds. There is no difference for me. A hungry child will be fed, no matter bottle or breast, no matter where I am. Sometimes it's not always possible to get up and move to a more private spot to feed. Moreso, I don't feel that a breastfeeding mother should HAVE to take herself to a private place unless SHE wants to. I personally do my best to practice modesty when I feed, being mindful to cover up as much as possible. Though if it turns out my cover has slipped and I'm exposed for a moment, I would hope no one would hold it against me!! Don't like it? Don't look!! Everyone is free to go about their own day, no one is forced to sit there and watch me feed my child! I think it's absolutely ludicrous to think a woman who breastfeeds in public is an exhibitionist, breastfeeding cover on or not. Just my opinion.

  9. Dear Lord this woman who wrote the last comment is stupid. There is nothing sexual about breastfeeding. Are you that dumb that you used man-made material to hide a nurturing act between mother and child? People SHOULD see this! If people (especially children) saw more non-sexual and nurturing aspects of the human body there would be less body image issues, sexual issues as adults, and definitely more self confidence.

    You pumped for no reason and you are perpetuating myths in our culture that there is something immodest about caring for your child the way God intended.

  10. Not the last comment! The woman who goes by "unknown" is the idiot. (didn't know there were more comments in moderation.)

  11. LOLs! I knew you weren't talking to me. ;)