Fertile Ground: Attachment Parenting Isn't About Being “Mom Enough”

cover of the attachment parenting book, showing a white baby looking out at the cameraMaybe it is because I am breast-feeding my own son and am used to seeing women whip out a boob to put in baby’s mouth at the drop of a hat, but when I saw the cover of TIME this week, I didn’t find it all that odd.

Frankly, my first thought was, “Great! A picture of a woman breast-feeding!” After the uproar in 2009 about Facebook removing photos of breastfeeding mothers, as well as the rise of “lactivists” staging nursing sit-ins everywhere from airports to the Hirshhorn Museum—places that had asked women to stop nursing their babies—I usually appreciate seeing breastfeeding in the media. Obviously, though, when we have steps forward, we have steps back. The TIME cover is problematic in several ways, its problems well-pointed out in a previous Bitch post. Also unfortunate is the way the image coats the story inside, which covers “attachment parenting” with a greasy, unfriendly film.   

Attachment parenting mostly focuses on three ideas: co-sleeping, “wearing” your baby in a sling or carrier, and breastfeeding.  Full disclosure: for the most part, I practice “attachment parenting” (or AP, as it is often called) as much as farming and writing allow me to with my 20-month-old son. I wear him in the field, strapped to my back in an Ergo carrier, weeding carrots or transplanting onions as long as he isn’t thrashing about or crying. Once in a while, when we are desperately working against the clock (or sun or rain, rather), my mom or someone else will take care of him for me. I do office work while he sleeps. I’m lucky, since we run our own business, that I can be flexible. Not everyone has this option. “Attachment parenting,” which, really, is not a new “fad,” and instead has been practiced to some degree since the beginning of time, asks people to give a lot of themselves, and the way I see it, people do what they are able to depending on their job or circumstances.    

Personally, I think whatever people can do in terms of attachment parenting is great. It’s a shame, though, that this magazine cover and the subsequent media frenzy have obscured the positive aspects AP can have for some families. Though I am happy to see a woman breastfeeding on the cover of a major magazine, the photo presents issues for me as well.  Some problems include the choice of a conventionally attractive, blond, thin woman; the fact that both child and mom are looking at the camera instead of at each other; the age of the child (it would be progress enough to have it be a two-year-old in our already breastfeeding-squeamish society); and the fact he is standing on a chair (a mother sitting on a couch cradling her son is too much to ask? Does anyone breastfeed this uncomfortably?). The title on the cover might perturb me more than the photograph itself though: “Are you Mom Enough?” it screams (I’m surprised there’s not an explanation point after the question mark!). I could have looked past the whole chair thing if this wasn’t the cover’s chosen line. Why are we still pitting women against each other, in ever more fiery ways? Why is this a discussion about moms fighting moms? And why are we making something like attachment parenting competitive, instead of treating it like a guide or tool people can use and adjust to fit their lives accordingly? With these fighting words, the story morphs into something mean and smug. The cover itself seems to tell us, “Oh, you breastfed until your child was one? Oh WOW. Big deal, look at my kid, he’s huge and still sucking boob, so I win.” 

The story inside waxes on about attachment parenting’s “pioneer” (in modern US culture, anyway), Dr. Sears, who has authored numerous books on the subject. While I think attachment parenting is great, I have adjusted to doing what I can, and have stopped stressing about doing what I can’t. We stopped co-sleeping when my son turned one, mostly because our bed is not that big, our kid is a thrasher, and no one was getting any sleep. I am still nursing and am not sure when we will stop, but we will make that decision when it is right for us. I still wear him on my back though he is over twenty pounds, and he still prefers this to a stroller. Moms, dads, and whoever else should feel free to do what they can do and what they can handle, though it might not be perfect in the eyes of the attachment parenting model. So why is this an issue of feminism vs. non-feminism? Is TIME ‘s intention to increase our awareness, or our insecurities?

TIME cover depicting a woman standing, breastfeeding her son who is also standing and looking at the camera

I read Dr. Sears’ books about attachment parenting all through my pregnancy. I was eager to get started with it as soon as my baby came out into the world. However, things do not always go as planned. My son was born a preemie, three months early, at one pound, eight ounces. He did not sleep with us in bed for the first three and half months of his life, and instead slept in a plastic box in a hospital, unable to even be touched. I was not allowed to breast-feed for months (I pumped and froze my milk during this time instead, until I dried up and had to re-lactate, which is a whole different story). It was not the midwife-led, essential oil-scented low-lit home birth I had planned. I thought as soon as he was born we’d start practicing attachment parenting, with him nursing, sleeping in bed with us right away, wearing him close to my body as much as possible. Instead, we had the most medicalized birth I could ever imagine, and we didn’t get to do any of those things for a long time. Things don’t always turn out perfectly, and I am done feeling guilty about it. Parents have enough emotions they have to field, and guilt shouldn’t have to be one of them.

“Are you Mom Enough?” the cover asks me. Maybe? I do my best, TIME magazine. I’ve done my best. I don’t know the answer, but can you ask me a little nicer next time? 

Previously: Heartland Institute Pulls “Unabomber” Climate Change Ad, Bryant Terry’s The Inspired Vegan

by Alison Parker
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16 Comments Have Been Posted

The judgment

What bothers me most of all is the assumption that all parents should practice attachment parenting. For many of us this is not possible. It is not about not caring for you child enough, but what works for your family. I will never forget the amazing amount of guilt that the lactation instructors put on me when we decided to not breast feed. I was told what a horrible mother I was to opt to take medication that kept me healthy over breast feeding. I find it intrusive that it is ok for strangers to ask you if you are attachment parenting and then having to explain yourself. At one point my husband took all of Dr. Sear's books and threw them away because of the uncompromising attitude about mothering and the guilt that it caused me. The decision a mother makes about her body when it comes to child birth and post natal care seems to be everyone's business. The sad part is that I find self described feminist to have been the hardest on me. I stopped attending events at my local women's book store because of the stigma of the bottle and going to work instead of having my child in a sling next to me all the time. So, yes the caption of the current Time magazine bothers me, because it screams that no matter what we as mother's do, it will never be enough.

Sears is not exactly a feminist

I think the point of the cover photo and text is commentary on exactly what many of us have experienced: Dr. Sears and those who follow him can tend to make mothers who don't follow his methods feel as though they are not good enough. I don't think Time was rubber-stamping Sears' arguments -- in fact, if anything it appears to paint him more unfavorably. I haven't read the article yet, but I hope it points out that Dr. Sears is a religious nut who has said working mothers are the cause of many problems in our society. His philosophies, in my opinion, are anti-feminist in many ways.

Gloria Steinem believes men and women should share parenting responsibilities equally; Dr. Sears says women should stay at home and nurse their babies all day. I get that there are biological components of being a woman that make attachment parenting a "celebration of femaleness," but I think AP advocates like Mayim Bialik go a little too far when they call it "feminist." I actually don't know how I feel about it and I certainly don't have a problem with people following AP, but I do know you're off your rocker if you think attachment parenting is even remotely possible for 60% of mothers.

Frankly, as a new mom, I've very quickly gotten sick of this obsession with parenting "styles" and having books and methods to follow. While every fiber of your being may call out for a how-to guide, I've found that it's best to follow your instincts, do what's best for you and your baby, and try not to compare your parenting to others.

In the meantime, when the media is successful in pitting women against women, we all lose.

Thats funny, I literally

Thats funny, I literally ripped my Sears book to shreds with my bare hands one night when my first child was a few months old, due to the guilt and frustration it caused me. He is completely anti-feminist and the "Baby Book" is the worst baby shower gift I ever recieved. Wouldn't give it to my worst enemy. Good for your husband for throwing them away for you!

Yes! It's important to point

Yes! It's important to point out these instances of both sides being extremely judgmental at times. I've found the AP/feminist birthing/parenting community as hostile (if not more) than the "mainstream." I am a rape victim. When I was seventeen I was raped by a gynecologist, so the entire process of becoming pregnant and giving birth were nothing short of nightmarish. There's a narrative I've noticed among feminist midwives that giving birth vaginally is the ultimate empowering experience for a rape victim. The idea of this hours long process in which things happen to my body that I can't control in a hospital setting was way too much for me to even consider so in my many interviews with midwives I told them that if something happened during the course of my planned homebirth that made it so I needed to go to the hospital, I wanted a c section. The reason i had to go through so many interviews is that not one of them wanted to listen to me and the decisions I made about my own health, so I ended up going with the last one because by then it was too late to find one that would actually end up listening to me. The same thing happened with breastfeeding, I have been unable to separate sexual arousal from my breasts so I knew I would be too uncomfortable to breastfeed my baby and am opting to pump and bottle feed.

I'm sorry if this sounds kind of all over the place but I haven't had a place to talk about this.

Good for you

You are very brave, and understand yourself well. I am with you that you should have choices that make motherhood possible for you and not interfering with your health or your babies health. I am appoled by dogma that you came across at your medical institution


THANK YOU. Every parent and every child is different, there is no perfect way to parent. Maybe instead of asking the women of the world if we're "mom enough" to breastfeed our children until they're toddlers we should ask if we're giving them enough support to do so. It's called paid maternity leave and most countries have it. Just sayin'...

I'm six months pregnant and I

I'm six months pregnant and I feel like I can't do anything with out recieving critisism. I have a piece of candy or cake, I'm a bad mother. I eat fish, I'm poisoning my child. I don't eat fish, I'm hindering his brain development. I go out to eat after a long day at work, I'm going to give my child obesity. It's ridiculous. I was even condemned for living in a city that has poor air quality! God am I supposed to get an oxygen tank now! All these rules stressing me out? Well that is only going to give my child an anxiety disorder! How the heck did people deliver healthy babies in the past? It's funny because the person that I knew who took the most precautions during pregnancy has a child with severe multiple disabilities. People are also rude, random strangers come up and put their hand on my stomach with out my permission. And people at work keep making stupid jokes about my pregnancy that are kind of hurtful. Sorry had to rant.

But I do plan to breast feed and sleep with the baby in the same room as me. The business that I work for is unfortunantly closing down so I will breast feed for six months then try to find another job. I wouldn't go full blown into attachment parenting but I don't have anything against anyone else who chooses to do that. I wish this ad wasn't so condemning. I do not know a single person who breast feeds like that and I feel that the ad hurts breastfeeding more than helps it. I keep seeing so many comments, mostly from men, on how disgusting the image is.

It's also kind of funny because when I was a young kid my family members and my friends parents would breast feed in front of us and I thought nothing of it. It wasn't until I was about six, at a friends house, we were watching a movie and a woman's breasts were on the screen. All the other kids started giggling and I didn't understand what was so funny about breasts. That was how I learned that breasts were to be kept hidden and that society views them as dirty.

There has been so much

There has been so much discussion about this cover, the main thing it seems to me is as mothers we can never avoid critiscism from other mums. Lots of mums here felt the sears baby book made them feel gulity and a failure, but loads of mums I know say that about just about every other parenting book written, so switched to AP as it let them listen to their own instincts.
Feminism should be about doing whats right for you and your family, and supporting other women to do the same.
Why are women so critical of other women, its a real shame.

Let's Stop Being Lemmings

Apparently, no one was reading Time which is exactly why the editors published it. It was like dumping gasoline all over a simmering fire and then throwing a match on it. We all know what you get. A hell of an explosion. And we all proved we were lemmings. Meanwhile, all of the marketing executives and editors are high fiving each other backstage. I talk about the end of my role as a lemming here:

Honestly I don't agree with

Honestly I don't agree with attachment parenting. Having a baby sleep in your bed isn't safe. They can be rolled on and can suffocate. Breast feeding a baby past 1 year can cause delaymenf in teeth coming in and medical problems for the mother. I think while obviously slanted that article had represented those views well.

Delayment sorry!

Delayment sorry!


I can't help it.
Sleeping with your baby is very safe if done safely and actually decreases some risks for infants.
And breastfeeding past one year does not cause delay in teeth coming in nor does it cause medical problems for the mother. In fact it decreases her risk of breast and ovarian cancers along with other benefits.
That doesn't mean (and I am NOT saying) that every one has to breastfeed or has to do it for years, not at all, but we all deserve accurate information.

How long to breastfeed, whether to co-sleep, where or how to birth, these are all personal choices and their are as many "right" choices as there are parents. But misinformation muddies the water.

All that aside, I'm super annoyed with the Time cover and the article and all the uproar and implications. I think it definitely works against parents/mothers and just throws shit at the fan.

Even though I did breastfeed and used a sling and slept with my children in a family bed, I find most devotees of AP very judgmental and some are beyond obnoxious. There always seemed to be something I wasn't doing enough of or wasn't doing for the right reason. To quote a friend of mine "Parents are the most judged people."
As if it isn't hard enough.

Delayed teething???

Since my daughter's first teeth came in at 4 months, people have been asking me when I'm going to stop breastfeeding, since it's apparently too painful once teeth arrive. (Thank goodness for a considerate baby!) She just turned 1 and has 8 teeth in, more than average for her age, and is worrying at her gums again with the next set of teeth to come in. Early teething is normal in my family. My sister and I, both bottle babies, cut our first teeth at 3-1/2 months. The nutritional value of breastfeeding past 12 months has been noted as follows:

In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breastmilk provides:

29% of energy requirements
43% of protein requirements
36% of calcium requirements
75% of vitamin A requirements
76% of folate requirements
94% of vitamin B12 requirements
60% of vitamin C requirements

– Dewey 2001 http://kellymom.com/ages/older-infant/ebf-benefits/

Baby girl can KEEP getting all that energy from my body, and help me become healthier. in the process.

Have to go. She's practicing her spoon usage by stealing my blueberry yogurt! :-)

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