© 2024 WUKY
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Mother On 'Time' Cover: Breastfeeding Photo Doesn't Show 'Nurturing Side'

The cover of the May 21, 2012 issue of Time.
The cover of the May 21, 2012 issue of Time.

Thelatest cover of Time was obviously meant to spark conversation — and that it has.

The photo on the cover shows a 26-year-old mother breastfeeding her almost 4-year-old son. The reaction has been explosive and visceral and a lot of the more thoughtful commentary revolves around a philosophy by Dr. William Sears called attachment parenting, which encourages co-sleeping and carrying your baby everywhere and breast-feeding sometimes into toddlerhood.

These headlines give you an idea of how deep this issue cuts:

-- "Time magazine cover — forget the breast, what about the boy?" (Fox News)

-- "Extended Breastfeeding Does Not Equal Extreme" (Huffington Post)

-- "Does Time magazine's breastfeeding cover go too far?" (San Francisco Chronicle)

-- "Time magazine, shame on you" (Boston Globe)

We could go on. But, really, this debate is nothing new. Attachment parenting has been the issue of praise and criticism on the academic circle and on neighborhood listservs for years. Elisabeth Badinter, the French philosopher, picked up on that debate in 2010 with the French book The Conflict: The Woman and the Mother. Badinter caused a stir when she accused helicopter parenting of threatening feminism and the mediocre mothering that she says made France the most fertile nation in the developed world.

The Wall Street Journalwrote a good catch-up in 2010 and The New Yorker wrote a definitive piece in July of 2011.

But again, it's all very divisive. Just look at these two graphs from the Journal piece:

"The tension involves more than simply what kind of mother one should be, or how much time with one's children is too much. In her book Ms. Badinter describes a subterranean culture war that is being waged on mothers by the new forces of "eco-political" correctness. Only a few decades ago, disposable diapers, packaged baby food, infant formula and bottles were seen as key tools of women's emancipation. Today, mothers in the rich world are under increasing pressure to not only give themselves entirely to their children, but to do so by going back to the "natural," and all the tedium that entails.

"Ms. Badinter identifies this concept as a regressive one, even adorned as it is with the new-age tinge of environmentalism. In the ascendent mentality, the "perfect" 24/7 mother is one who stays home to prepare only organic purees for her treasures, while endlessly washing cloth nappies and breastfeeding until the child is almost ready for school."

That debate was obviously at the heart of what that Time magazine cover wanted to get at. The headline for the piece? "Are You Mom Enough?"

But in an interview with NBC's Today show, the woman on the cover of the magazine and Dr. Sears took a decidedly less severe position. Jamie Grumet told NBC that the photograph doesn't show the "nurturing side" of breastfeeding.

Sears added that attachment parenting doesn't dictate anything. That it, instead, gives parents "tools" not "rules." He said parents should do with their children what works for them.

Grumet said attachment parenting works for her family, but it's a big commitment, she said, and "it's not for everyone" and it also doesn't make you any less of a mother if you don't subscribe to the philosophy.

By the way, this debate isn't going away: The English version of Badinter's book is due out next month.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.