TIME’s take on toddler nursing: A madonna, her child…and a chair?

Just in time for Mother’s Day in America, the following issue of TIME was placed on newsstands across the country.

The photo on TIME magazine’s cover of an unnaturally posed mother with her nursing child sparked a media firestorm that quickly spread. Soon, journalists, daytime TV divas and radio talk show hosts were on fire with commentary. And, the article’s combative title, “Are You Mom Enough” was certainly no less buzz worthy. Mothers of every sort saw this as a call to arms and launched campaigns for or against attachment parenting on every social media outlet they could find. Defenses of extreme choices, of conventional choices and of on the fence choices sprang up everywhere. And, sadly, most of these defenses were rooted in criticisms of the opposing “side” in this new mommy war.

There are loads of  articles describing how toddler nursing was misrepresented by TIME, that outline the World Heath Organization’s breastfeeding recommendations, that explore the outcomes of breastfeeding in detail and that estimate the natural age of weaning for a human being. There are stories from the trenches that tell how attachment parenting is not just for stay at home moms, how it isn’t an all or nothing ”extreme sport” of American parenting and how it can simplify rather than complicate the life of a working parent. More importantly, there are articles on how AP isn’t new or American. You can read these if you like. But, there’s something I’d like to share with you today that I think is of equal importance and may not get as much coverage. And that is this. Every mother, whether she’s an AP mom, a Tiger mom, a soccer mom or something in between, is being taken for a ride by this magazine cover. And, not only that, mothers are missing a very important question TIME asks – and it isn’t the one plastered on the magazine cover.

Let’s start with how we are all being taken for a ride. To do that, we must expose this magazine cover for what it really is: an exaggerated image designed to shock you. And this isn’t the first time this magazine (or any magazine for that matter!) has run an cover image that has been altered to boost the response by viewers. Take a look at this one.

This cover was widely criticized for darkening OJ’s skin.

And this one was lambasted for giving Billy Graham devil’s horns.

And, while we are taking a trip down memory lane, have a look at the title of this TIME cover. It caused a mighty uproar.

And this title, featuring Hitler as, “Man of the Year”, alongside a horrific cartoon of Nazi cruelty was also met with outrage.

But, if those old TIME covers don’t convince you that there’s more to the media than sharing information, let’s jump back to the present day. Let’s have a look at the other photographs TIME magazine’s photographer, Martin Shoeller, captured for this article about attachment parenting.

In these photos we see mothers. We see nursing children. And we see chairs. But it all looks a bit less shocking, doesn’t it? A bit less sensational. The question is, why were these photographs – even the one on the lower right of the same mother and son pair – deemed not “Mom enough” for the cover?

And here’s a little more food for thought. Take a look at the cover of my issue of TIME in England:

Maybe you are thinking that Europeans get different articles in their issues of TIME magazine. Maybe you are thinking that Europeans don’t care about American parenting trends. Well, this is just not so. The same feature article about attachment parenting and Dr. Sears was found inside my European copy of this week’s issue. But it was titled “The Man Who Remade American Motherhood” and it didn’t have a single photograph of a mother nursing a child in it’s pages.

So, why was that photo, out of all the others, chosen as the cover for the American issue of TIME? And why didn’t it (or any of the other photos of mothers with their nurslings) appear in the rest of the world’s issue of TIME?

These are the questions I think we should be asking. The ones I think we are missing by trying to answer, “Are you Mom Enough?”  You could read the Guardian’s take on the TIME cover as an answer. Or you could take a look at a few last photos that may also provide an answer.

Here’s the cover of an American parenting magazine.

Like the image on TIME magazine’s current cover, this photograph was labeled “gross” and “inappropriate” by the over 700 mothers that wrote a letter to the BabyTalk editor. Which, for the record, was more feedback than the magazine had received on any other article or issue in its history. One mother said in her letter that she, “shredded the cover so that my 13 year old son wouldn’t see it.”

Interestingly, it’s very likely that many Americans, including that 13 year old boy, saw this advertisement on TV.

Or passed images like this displayed larger than life in the storefront of their local shopping mall.

Personally, photos of bedazzled breasts or breasts nursing babies don’t bother me. What does bother me is that breasts aren’t given equal rights in America. Maybe some breasts want to be sparkly, maybe some breasts want to nurse. Maybe neither. Maybe both. I think women should be free to use their boobs as they see fit. I think it should be as normal to nurse in public (even though I was too afraid of critics to do so) as it is to flash breasts in bras covered in rhinestones. I don’t think nursing a toddler should be newsworthy. And, frankly, when I picked up my copy of TIME in England, I took comfort in the fact that the rest of the world didn’t think so either.

The nursling on a chair and the mean spirited title on TIME’s cover are certainly contrived, but they do carry an important message. They remind us that somewhere along the way, we have elevated a natural act (whether you chose to do it or not) to an act of perversion in America. We have decided that it’s ok to be naked but not to nurse. How have we done this? And, is it time for us Moms to say that enough is enough?

No matter how different our parenting styles may seem on the surface, there are more ties that bind us together as mothers than divide us. Few of us follow a strict dogma. Most of us blend a variety of mothering styles, be they extreme or conventional, to suit the individual needs of our family. And, I’d be willing to bet that all of us are on a slightly (or completely!) different path than we were on when we began mothering. So, let’s focus on that. Let’s come together and celebrate the journey of motherhood. Let’s support each other and end this media fueled mommy war.

We ARE Mom enough to do that.

Sarah Scott

About Sarah Scott

Sarah Scott is a former Occupational Therapist turned stay at home mom, living in the English countryside for a year with her family. While she was pregnant, Sarah envisioned working part time. Of collecting her smiling child from it’s crib each morning after 8+ hours of sleep. Of watching her husband, Jake, jog off with their baby in the stroller so she could have some “me” time. But, baby Maren overheard that plan and decided she didn’t like it. Nope, not one bit. And so, with a potent combination of ear-splitting cries, breastfeeding hormones and the sweetest face this side of the Mississipi, she introduced her parents to attachment parenting in a way no book ever could – through pure gut instinct and trial by fire. Soon they were hooked – er, attached? – and dove head first into the world of co-sleeping, breastfeeding, baby wearing, cloth diapering and more. These days, you can find Sarah chasing Maren around, taking photos, bantering with her hubby or writing her blog about the adventures of stay at home motherhood & her family’s experience as expats in England. Look for new posts here every Monday and go to http://scottgossip.blogspot.com for travel, photography and mommy posts Monday through Friday.