Selling Magazines, Not Ideas

Nothing gets parental panties quite as wadded as having their idea of what makes a ‘good parent’ challenged in public.  For some folks, that’s exactly what the whole “attachment parenting” movement is doing and the latest edition of TIME magazine is trying its best to turn what could be an interesting, progressive parenting conversation into a heated and entirely unnecessary debate.

The cover of the magazine features mommy-blogger Jamie Lynne Grumet breast feeding her three and a half year old on a step-stool.  (I can only hope the step-stool is for dramatic effect and not some new thing expecting parents are going to have to register for at Babies R’ Us).  The caption, as you can see, reads “Are You Mom Enough?”   This is a great idea, if you’re trying to defibrillate a dying piece of print media since it plays on every mother’s fear that she is not, in fact, “mom enough” no matter what she does.

Yes, some people will be offended by the semi-bare breast on the cover but for the overwhelming majority of rational adults, it’s a nonissue. The whole breast feeding in public thing hardly qualifies as a debate and you can see a lot more skin on the average E! red carpet special.  The whole thing feels staged for the express purpose of riling people up. Putting your beliefs on the line is admirable (in this case, putting your money where your son’s mouth is) but using your child to provoke a public discussion of your personal agenda is another matter entirely.  It’s fine for me to have strong feelings about circumcision, but heading to a photo studio to pose with a scalpel and a handful of my son’s junk tends to say as much about me as my parenting beliefs.

Worst of all, all the showmanship surrounding the cover and article (and the inevitable push-back it will generate) make it harder to have a real conversation about the pros and cons of attachment parenting.

On my show, I had the opportunity to interview the actress Mayim Bialik (Blossom, Big Bang Theory) about her book Beyond the Sling.  Mayim and her husband have wholeheartedly embraced attachment parenting with their two sons – breastfeeding well into the toddler years, co-sleeping in a big family bed and ‘wearing’ their children throughout infancy.  Having read through her book twice, I led off the interview as honestly as possible, telling Mayim that I couldn’t decide if this was the most enlightened, progressive approach to parenting in a generation, or a big steaming pile of new age hooey.   She laughed (thankfully) and we had an interesting, intelligent discussion in which I was able to express my doubts and she was able to describe her experience and her reasoning.

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She didn’t push her ideas as ‘right’ or ‘superior’ and I did my best not to dismiss or judge.  Nothing about our conversation made me want to run home and move my kids into my bedroom, but nothing about it made me think that people like Mayim belonged on meds or in a commune. She’s a smart, thoughtful woman making what she believes to be the best parenting choices for her children.  We should all hope to be described that way.

The fact is, there’s no such things as a ‘right way’ to raise kids – so all quiet, rational discussions have the potential to make us better at it (sometimes by reinforcing our own beliefs, sometimes by opening our eyes to new possibilities.)  There’s a lot to attachment parenting that doesn’t work for me and, I don’t think, would work for my kids.  But that’s not at all the point.  Surely none of us are so confident in our parenting skills that we can afford to close ourselves off to new ideas and tools.

When the feigned outrage about the TIME cover and the amused eye-rolling about raising a diaper-free child (invest in slip-covers) dies down, I hope there’s still room for a friendly, honest debate. Perhaps everyone can get down off their soap box (and Ms. Grumet can her son down off that chair) and do what many of us encourage our children to do.  Listen more than you talk and think before you speak.