Are You Rich, White, Suburban Mom Enough?

May 18, 2012

Okay, chances are high that you’ve seen the magazine cover.  It doesn’t even need to be referenced.

First of all, if that kid is just under four, then it must prove that milk does a body good.  That kid looks ready to deploy to Afghanistan…or at least go to the fridge and pour his own dang glass of milk.

Second, the picture did exactly what the people behind it wanted.  It got people talking.

And third, most people picked up on how ludicrous it is to ask women everywhere if they are “mom enough” to do what this woman does.

But I think it goes deeper than that.  The cover is downright hateful to the hardest working moms out there, and ironically anti-feminist in the modern sense of the word.

This is Natural Parenting?

Let’s quickly get the obvious out of the way.

I thought that parenting was a personal choice.  There’s no wrong way to do it, right?  Sure thing, just like everyone is beautiful in their own way…until you’re forced to compare yourself to the people on magazine covers.

Besides that, since when is “attachment parenting” considered the most “natural?”  Breastfeeding until kindergarten?  Co-sleeping?  Lugging the kid in a sling 24/7?  What’s the point of learning how to walk?  This makes “helicopter” parenting look tame.

At least he wasn't breastfeeding in the video.

I don’t care that I’m not a mom, much less a parent at all.  I’m going to make a judgement call.  “Attachment” parenting is no more “natural” than any other form of parenting (and probably less natural at that).  What parents need to do is stop listening to so-called “experts.”  And since when is it “natural” to plaster your kid’s face on a national magazine?  I’m pretty sure that kid is going to have a harder time living down being the “boob kid” than the “Star Wars kid.”  Where the hell is this kid’s dad?

What Kind of Mom Is This?

Now, let’s get to the more subtle stuff.

The woman in question, the one who’s a better mom than you or your wife, she’s a very specific kind of woman.

She’s white.  She’s healthy.  She’s probably educated.  And she’s at least middle to upper middle class.

You might be wondering how I know those last couple of things.

Because breastfeeding is no simple or convenient task.  I’m under the impression that there’s more to the whole thing then just whipping it out on a moment’s notice.  It seems like a major interruption to Mom’s schedule.  It takes a lot of time and planning to drop what you’re doing and feed a child.

The kind of woman who becomes this “attachment” kind of mother takes her new job very seriously.  She’s educated enough to have read the most current parenting experts (like Dr. Bill Sears – the pioneer of attachment parenting).  And she has the resources to be the kind of mom she wants to be without compromise.  There’s no way she’s working a full-time career.  There’s no way she’s having more than one or two kids.  Being an attachment parent, breastfeeding for four years means all kinds of time and money lost in a career, meaning her husband makes enough money for her to live a lifestyle that enables her to look down her nose at other moms.

Are You White and Affluent Enough?

There are a million moms who could’ve been featured on that magazine.

They chose to not feature a single black mother of three who works three jobs just to scrape by, suffers from ill health, lacked opportunities to pursue higher education and a profitable career, and sends her kids to public school where they get free lunch, rather than packing lunches for them from Whole Foods.

And they have the gall to ask a mom like that, working herself to death for her kids, if she’s mom enough?

They might as well have asked our wives if they are mom enough to be able to afford organic groceries, or are they mom enough to marry men who make lots of money so they don’t have to work, or if they’re mom enough to be educated, affluent and white.  This is no different from any other rag “asking” women if they are thin enough or sexy enough for men to love them, (while showing their ideal of beauty that you can’t possibly measure up to.)

Screw them.

Ladies, you are mom enough.  And if you’re not moms, then you are woman enough.

What say you?  Is there really one form of parenting that’s best or most “natural,” and is this it?  Or did this only serve to stir up division?

36 responses to Are You Rich, White, Suburban Mom Enough?

  1. Seen a little of the hub-bub…haven’t read the article (don’t really intend to), but here are my thoughts in general on the subject.

    A) Breastfeeding is encouraged by the World Health Organization (WHO? I crack myself up…I’ll be here all night…) up to the age of 2, but it is known to be the healthiest food source, most easily digested, etc. for a person of any age. I mean, think about it….humans drink cow’s milk all the time and that’s considered “normal” at any age. You’re drinking a _cow’s_ breastmilk. Formulated for _COWS_, not humans. And that’s ok, culturally. But drinking human breastmilk (formulated for _humans_, not cows) is weird somehow. So I guess my point is….get over it, people. That’s not to say that I’d whip it out for you to have a sip….but I still wear my “I make milk, what’s your superpower?” t-shirt with pride.

    2) I think that the most “natural” form of parenting is the one that works best for you and your kids. Having said that though, I think that we, as parents, frequently choose some _unnatural_ forms of parenting due to cultural pressures (see A above for one example, but there are many, many more), economic pressures, social pressures, religious pressures, etc. So attachment parenting may be what works best for your kid in terms of sleeping through the night, but you may not do it because your friends think you’re weird for co-sleeping or because someone told you it was dangerous (I’ll tell you what’s dangerous…driving after being woken up every two hours to nurse a baby who takes at least 45 minutes to eat, night after night after night after night…) or because your mom thinks you should just let your kid “cry it out” or your pediatrician told you to put cereal in his bottle at 2 months.

    iii) I think it’s natural to compare, and in some cases it’s healthy – if it starts an actual dialog where people are respectfully discussing pros and cons of their different styles. That rarely happens though because someone throws up a wildly extreme example (as in this case), then writes off an entire section of the population because of the one extreme example (as you did of “AP” folks….of which I’m really not, btw).

    So yes, I think this has been divisive. But only amongst people who had already decided it was bad. How about instead of bashing “AP”-style parents (or any other style, for that matter) we instead discuss differences and similarities, pros and cons, etc.

    Let’s also discuss stereotypes while we’re at it. For instance, you don’t have to be affluent to be educated. You don’t have to be rich to do what you can to care for your child in the way that you think is best. You don’t have to be black to be a single parent working three jobs. You also don’t have to marry a rich man in order to stay home with your kids.

    I appreciate the point of your post, Matt, I really do (thanks, btw), but I think you got there the wrong way.

    • Yes – love your comment – we choose unnatural forms of parenting based on societal pressure.

    • Awesome points. We are attachment parents as well. We have two children whom we are AP style parenting. We have read tons of books, blogs, etc on this topic. It works for us but we do not think it is the only way, or even the most natural way.

      I think this one hit a nerve with Matt just a little because his wife works [I think, but correct me if I am wrong Matt]. That may be why this is more rantish than usual. He is usually a more level headed writer than this. No fault to him cause we all have those moments of extreme passion on a topic.

      I just hate the broad brush strokes here and the hypocrisy. In on breath railing against an article for seeming to say other means of parenting are less natural, and in the next breath saying it yourself about AP style parenting? Not cool man.

  2. Matt, you are freakin’ hilarious. I’ve only read the first three sentences, but I have actually laughed out loud.

    Brilliance, Sir, sheer brilliance.

  3. I wish there was a way to determine exactly how long one should breast feed for. It seems that 4 is too old but you can find expert to say just about anything. I am sure that it is part cultural and part economic status.

    Good parents raise their children to know Jesus, everything else is optional.

  4. Okay, I can now comment, after having linked to this post on Facebook, and then re-reading the first paragraph for more laughs.

    Thanks for writing this. That cover pissed me off, mainly because of that “Are you mom enough” tag. I’m all for breastfeeding. I did with Z until I had to go back on meds for my autoimmune disease. But you’re right, it’s NOT easy. In fact, I should write a blog post on how NOT easy it is. It hurts like hell at first, and yes, you basically have to schedule yourself around baby’s hunger. If I didn’t have an awesome breast pump and the help of family, I probably would’ve locked myself in a closet. Seriously.

    That tag line, with it’s insulting question, is reminiscent of those magazine covers that scream “Look how Beyonce lost all her post-baby weight!” which leaves me feeling like a fat slob in the grocery checkout line. I learned some years ago that most of those magazines are from the devil and to avoid them, but yeah, sometimes, it stings to be compared to a stranger on completely arbitrary basis- and then fail to come close to measuring up.

    “Ladies, you are mom enough. And if you’re not moms, then you are woman enough.” Thank you. We need to not only hear it, but to start believing it. When we do, covers like this will not cause a stir, and die the silly and unnoticed deaths of millions of National Enquirer tabloids on the way to the recycling plant have before them.

  5. Excellent analysis and very well-written. Too, I think, it is a metaphor for our society, hanging onto the teat of Big Government perhaps well after we are grown. Thus the question becomes Is Government “mom” enough?

  6. Matt, I appreciate this post and the point you are making. I do have to take issue with the implied use of “white” as a pejorative. “Affluent” and “privileged” are sufficient, and avoid the pitfalls of stereotype.

    I hear what you’re saying, and I agree, that this is a privileged mom question, not a mom question in general. Props for comparing it to buying expensive healthier foods as well. The only people talking about these things are the people who have time and money to do so. The rest of us have more important things on our minds.

  7. TIME made its point from all the coverage the photo has received. The actual article is really good, thoughtfully written and interesting. Here in Europe the photo doesn’t appear once on or in the magazine which I think is a very good thing!

  8. 1) I think the best parenting advice I ever got from the women’s group I used to belong to in med school was “Do as much as you can, but don’t feel guilty about what you can’t.”

    I’m an “affluent white suburban mom” (at least on paper) but only because I work my tail off and have some pretty crazy hours. I’ll never have the time nor the energy to breastfeed my kids until age 2, I’ll never be able to keep my house looking as nice as my mom did hers, and I’ll most likely never be anyone’s den mother or soccer coach.

    However, I will do my best to be as “available” to my kids as much I possibly can. I’m not going to waste the energy beating myself up over not being able to compete with a stay-at-home mom.

    2) I hate to beat up on my own gender, but women really do seem to have a knack for tearing each other down (although the media probably does exacerbate it quite a bit.)

    My husband is a stay-at-home dad (and does an excellent job of it, BTW), and I never hear about guys getting competitive about this stuff. Maybe I’m wrong?

    3) The whole “attachment parenting” thing sounds like another example of taking what was originally a good idea (babies DO do better when you interact with them) and exaggerating it to the point of ridiculousness. I don’t know much about the rest of the world, but we as Americans seem to be awfully good at that sort of thing.

    4) “Attachment parenting” doesn’t strike me as the worst thing to come out of Hollywood/yuppie culture–I’ve been more ticked off about Jenny McCarthy and the anti-vaccine people. Breastfeed ’em until they’re driving for all I care, but if you refuse to get your kids vaccinated for stupid reasons, it’s tantamount to child abuse in my book. End of story.

    • What about people who don’t vaccinate for smart, researched, educated reasons?

      • Sorry, but I’m going to preface this by saying I’m an MD, an infectious disease specialist, and an IDSA member, which should sum up the bulk of my opinion on the matter.

        The only “smart, researched, educated reasons” that exist in my mind are if 1) your kid is allergic to some vaccine component 2) your kid has an immune deficiency or 3) your kid is receiving chemotherapy.

        Measles is already on the rise in Europe and much of the US because of vaccine refusal. And this is no small thing–kids are dying of it.

        I’ve seen enough of how the vaccine debate goes on the internet than to get into debates with true believers. No one really ends up learning anything and everyone just wastes a lot of energy typing long-winded, all-caps screeds in an effort to prove their point.

        Therefore, I’m just posting my opinion and leaving it here. Thanks.

        • Hey Abby, I respect your opinion. I’m just asking you to respect mine.
          I did my research which led me to my decision before the internet, cuz I’m that old. My only issue is your statement, “if you refuse to get your kids vaccinated for stupid reasons, it’s tantamount to child abuse in my book. End of story.”
          I’m not trying to hijack Matt’s blog, and I know that this is a hot button on either side. I do believe that whatever choices we make in life; whether it is about vaccines or church doctrine, our choices must be our choices, and not the latest celebrity choices, or our mommy group topic of the week, etc.

    • I second Jillian’s question. My younger son had a bad reaction to his 6 month set of vaccines – failure to thrive, seizures, ADHD, bipolar disorder. I delayed his sister’s vaccines until she was 3 years old, after much research and study into the issue. I am astounded and horrified by the number and type of vaccines MANDATED for the tiniest babies now. Who is really in charge of our children?

  9. Every fad has its grain of truths. Not only the affluent do this. Truth is this comes from idolizing the poor in the third world, where healthy sources of food are scarce, and it is much safer for the mother to eat the food, and breast feed her children as long as she can. Before birth control, it was normal to breast feed until your next kid needed to breast feed. Which was 10-24 months for most. When my kids were little, I lived in an area where most of the moms were stay at home moms at least until the kids were all in school. We weren’t rich by any means. I think the stereotype is off. I think the are you mom enough is insulting. I also think that although societal pressure should not dictate what you do, it is important to know what you are going against. The cover does not take into account what will happen to that boy. Any mother who is breast feeding a child at a point where innocently mentioning it in front of peers could cause embarrassment is probably not thinking of the kid, but of her image as being a better mom than the rest of the moms.

    • Interesting about the origins of the fad, and pretty ironic, don’t you think? But leave it to us to turn the backbreaking labor of third world people into fads and hobbies.

      • Remember back in the 50s and 60s when it wasn’t COOL to breastfeed? And when you did what the doctor said NO MATTER WHAT? Like if the doc said your baby wasn’t getting enough milk you’d dang well better wean the kid NOW and get the 2-month-old drinking some Ovaltine and Tang. I’m grateful for those who have paved the way for me in things like nursing in public and homeschooling.

  10. I think I’m with Melissa on her criticisms. The photo is certainly an extreme case, deliberately provocative to spark discussion (which it succeeded in doing), and to dismiss an entire movement based on it is unfair.

    I agree with Melissa on the stereotypes, too. While it is generally the affluent who have the time and energy to debate such things, I know of many, many families who have made huge sacrifices so that one parent can stay home with the kids. It isn’t just the rich who are able to be stay-at-home parents. And bringing race into it really doesn’t help your argument.

    That said, I do think Time was out of line with the cover (and I wish it hadn’t received so much attention) – as you said, they had the gall to ask ANY woman if she was “mom enough”. I completely agree with and appreciate the ultimate point of your post on this one – thank you for that.

    • Thanks for your input! Yes, you are right. The vast majority of single income families have made huge sacrifices to do so. But there are lots of parents who just don’t have the resources to make that happen.

      As far as race goes, I don’t know the demographics of “attachment” parents, but I’m just taking this example who is being propped up. She has a lot of advantages that most moms and children do not. I’m not bringing race into it – it’s just a pertinent addition to the subject. This year, for the first time, minority births outnumber white births. That means that minority households are having more children per capita than a family like this white woman’s. The vast majority of minority children are also born to single women, which means they do not have the means to live the life this woman is. That’s not being racist – it’s just the facts. Do with them what you will.

  11. *sigh*
    Apparently, I’m the only one on this blog who has read the actual book by William Sears. The book came out in 1992. My first child was born in 1993. I read that book cover to cover, and then dog-earred page by dog-earred page. The article in the magazine was a horrific distortion of Attachment Parenting. I am very sad that people are judging both AP and Sears by a explotive tabloid article. I am equally sad that 19 years later, people are calling this a “fad”.
    Yes, I “AP’ed” my kiddos. And I hung out with other mommies that did the same. How did I make it work? My hubby was in college when our 1st child was born, so we became managers of an apartment complex which gave us a place to live. My hubby also did repairs around the complex to earn money for us to live on. So yes, we are educated. And we made major sacrifices to live this way, because we both wanted to. I gave up teaching to be a stay at home mom. My choice. Isn’t that what the feminist movement was all about, empowering women to do what they want? Is it less valid if I chose NOT to work outside the home, in order to be a stay at home mommy?
    One of my very best friends has “AP-ed” all 6 of her children. She does not have a college degree, nor does her husband. I also know wealthy families who parent this way. It really has nothing to do with economic standing.
    Let’s quit judging and be supportive of each other’s choices. And let’s not buy into the media image.

    • Oops, forgot to log in first.

    • The media distorts things? Gasp! Say it isn’t so!

      Now that I have left the snark zone, I have to say that I attachment parented the kids who really needed attachment parenting, namely my first and thirds. It was very difficult, especially when I had more than two kids, but it was a short time and now they are all getting very independent. And actually, after my third child was born, my second child became very clingy, too and needed a lot of attention. My youngest was practically born independent.

      I co-slept with my babies for the first three to six months when I was too tired to sit up and nurse them. Exactly none of them died because I wouldn’t allow any other children to join us and neither my husband or I drank alcohol much because we really didn’t need anything to make us more tired. Alcohol, multiple siblings sleeping in the same bed and, I believe, smoking are the risk factors for co-sleeping related deaths. We usually stopped after six months because the babies were too big and too active in their sleep to allow good sleep.

      I like Matt’s comment about the fact that each parent has the right to choose how they raise their kids. Every parent makes mistakes and has to live with those mistakes. In every parenting theory, there are the people who are on the fringe or take the theory to extreme levels, but they are the few. Should the theory be discounted because of a few extreme examples? I don’t think so.

      I haven’t read the article, but could it be another example of media-based bullying?

    • Great comments, Jillian. Thank you so much for a little extra wisdom on the subject.

  12. I started AP in 2001 with my first kid, simply because I couldn’t stand to hear him cry in a crib. I barrelled through the pain and exhaustion of nursing and cloth diapered b/c I wanted to SAVE THE MONEY TO BE ABLE TO STAY HOME. (new angle)
    If I did not AP, I probably could not stay home. I also did some work from home so I COULD STAY HOME.
    I didn’t do it b/c Dr. Sears told me to. It just felt right, and I took a lot of shit for it.
    FIVE kids later and doing the same thing and all is well. We did what was right FOR OUR FAMILY.
    I agree, though, about the mom who has to work 3 jobs to support her kids and when the hell would she have the time or energy to flipping nurse? AND some women … here it comes … DON’T WANT TO NURSE. Why is that not okay? Some women have sexual abuse issues and don’t want a baby near their boobs. Some women want the freedom to go out and party and don’t want to be tied down to a baby. It’s true. There are all kinds of mommas, all kinds of women.
    Bottom line: TIME sucks. I hear their cover doesn’t really match the article. Sears isn’t all about nursing a kid til age 26. He’s about so much more than that … if you check API (attachment parenting international)there are like 8 things that make you an attachment parent.

  13. Crap, sorry, I’m accidentally anonymous up above. I don’t do anonymous. Love your blog, by the way!

  14. Thanks for this, Matt! I’m a mom of 3 (all under the age of 4), and I feel like this attachment parenting stuff is in my face all the time. I breastfed my babies, but not long enough. I carried them in a sling, but only when they were tiny. And they have never (ever) slept in my bed with me. If that means I’m not mom enough then so be it, we can’t measure our worth by society’s standards. Oh yeah, and both of my sons are circumcised. I swear if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard “genital mutilation” I would be a wealthy girl.

    Anyways, good words, Matt!

    • Nikki, any amount of breastfeeding does your kid good. Don’t feel bad if you stopped sooner than you wanted or sooner than the “approved time”. Some mom’s have to use formula. One mom cried because she couldn’t produce enough, but felt better when her baby stopped crying because he was hungry. And circumcision helps the area stay cleaner and minimizes infections, so there are valid medical reasons for it. Keep up the good work!

    • Sounds like you’re a freaking fantastic mom!

  15. OK, granny clocking in here ….

    I was a natural, attached parent way before these became labels and got all trendy and stuff. My oldest was born in 1985, followed by his brother in 1987 and his sister in 1990.

    While we are definitely as lily-white as they come, and from solidly middle-class families, we were hardly affluent (we qualified for food stamps and WIC) and certainly not overly educated (both high school grads, I had one year of college). But for us, my staying home with the kids made sense, both from a child-rearing perspective as well as economic.

    I was devoted to breastfeeding my children. I read lots of books (no internet back then!) and attended La Leche League meetings. I was encouraged to meet my baby’s needs, and to take advice that works for me and leave the rest. There were no labels or trendy parenting styles. Just meeting baby’s needs.

    That did mean nursing through the night sometimes, and the “family bed” made it so much easier, and we all got more sleep. It meant holding the baby when he/she needed it, and wearing the baby in a Snugli or sling made it so much easier, and I got more things done. In fact, my youngest needed to be physical contact with me 24/7 for her first few months. I just wore her in a sling and we were both content. But instead of turning out to be a spoiled and needy, she has turned out to be quite extroverted, bursting with personality and confidence.

    I simply submitted myself to the needs of my babies. (This also taught me to submit to Christ and to my husband years later.) I wasn’t following any trends – there were no trends back then. I was simply following my heart. It’s not all that hard, and not a huge sacrifice. They do grow, and their needs do become less intense over time. It was not heroic, nor did it make me some kind of uber-mom. I just parented my children naturally, before there was such thing as “natural” or attachment” parenting.

    Now my daughter (the one I wore for 6 months), my 3 stepdaughters and daughter-in-law all have babies (we had 5 babies in a year!) and they are all mother enough … to meet their babies’ needs. That’s the best advice I could give them … meet the baby’s needs.

    • Wow, brilliantly written. :) You summarized the entire theory behind Attachment Parenting (before it was called attachment parenting!)
      “meet the baby’s needs”
      The philosophy I got out of the book was “a need that is met goes away”. I have found that to be true with my boys, and it looks like you have found that also.
      I don’t think anyone here has children with the idea that they will never have needs. I found babies needs to be so much simplier than say, teenagers.
      I’m just saying….