Saturday, May 19, 2012

A few people have now asked me what I think of the Time magazine cover. That's how they say it: "the Time magazine cover." They know that I know what they are talking about. Apparently folks think that I will have an opinion.

Let's start with the facts. The kid is 3 but his 4th birthday is in June. The mom is 26 and she was breastfeed until she was 6. (Let me know if I have any of that wrong; I didn't read the article but no one is talking about the article, only the cover.)

Now, what do I think? I think it is totally fine if Mom wants to breastfeed her kids for as long as they are interested. Yes, even if they are in 2nd grade.  Because, you see, they are not my kids. So unless she is undeniably hurting them, I don't get to have a say in the matter.

Some folks have argued with me that she is hurting them, usually claiming that the other kids will make fun of the boy once he is older.

1. Kids will always find something to pick on another kid for. Letting 8-year-old assholes influence your parenting choices is a terrible idea.
2. This mom in particular was breastfed in a similar way so she knows a little bit more than most people what it's like to have grown up with that experience.
3. They are not the only family to be doing this; this kid will have plenty of peers.

 I have yet to hear an argument that there are psychological or physical harms being caused that is anything other than: "It just seems unnatural." So glad we're using scientific standards for health and not letting our socially imposed sense of what's "icky" guide how we treat people.  Also, let's think about the childhood experience and think about how many other unnatural things are acceptable.  Sour Patch Kids, anyone? 

We also cannot know what good this might do for their family. The world is a scary place to raise kids in. Predators, the attractiveness of violent video games and Internet porn, bullies both IRL and online, hard drugs available in the suburbs, sexting, "juicy" clothes for 2-year-olds and abusive teachers, coaches and caregivers are just a handful of influences that parents feel helpless to 100% protect their children from. It can make us edgy and fearful, which leads to parenting choices that are actually bad. If extending the intimacy of nursing into toddlerhood helps a parent to feel more secure that she has done everything in her power to protect his innocence, who am I to tell her she's wrong?

Finally, let's please notice that Time is doing what the media does: it tries to sell audiences to advertisers by generating controversy, even if that controversy is bad for society as a whole. The headline, "Are you mom enough?" is insulting. Parenting should not be a competition. Who benefits from that? Trying to keep pace or pass up other parents takes our eyes off the real goal, which is healthy, happy children. As with any attempt to measure the ineffable, we start doing things that increase our scores without actually increasing our success.

Unless she is extremely damaged, every mom is mom enough. I have not met a parent yet who has said to herself, "You know what, I'm only going to do a half-assed job raising my kids." We are all doing the best we can and all of us come up short.

And I have to say, it's become pretty clear to me that there is very little correlation between parents I would judge to be good parents and how well their kids turn out and parents I judge to be bad parents and how well their kids turned out. Don't you know amazing adults who had shitty parents? Don't you know assholes that are breaking their parents' hearts with the choices they make?

All we can do in the face of that is the best we can. And when we know better, we do better, to paraphrase Maya Angelou.

So, acting like people who are doing their best  have earned our scorn because we wouldn't make the same choices their making? Not cool. And let me be clear, I am going away for 4 days in two weeks and Esther will be weaned by the time I get back so I definitely would not make the choice the cover mom is making right now in my life. But it would be astounding hubris for me to declare there would never be a circumstance in which I would not make that choice. Remember that if you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans, right?

Giving people the benefit of the doubt? That's the same grace that God extends to us. That's the mercy that helps us move us all forward even we should be paralyzed by past mistakes. That's what will bring about peace for our children.

Time magazine can suck it for trying to stick a wedge between me and another parent. Between your child and that mom's child. These are the kinds of differences that we are striving to overcome when we sing camp songs and celebrate multi-cultural week by eating tacos and naan.  Because different cultures are not solely created by geography and politics.

Time can also suck it for their predictable gendering of the situation and for their predictable choice of a pretty, young, thin, blonde woman as cover model. Expounding on those opinions here will probably wear us all out, though. But let me say that men make parenting choices, too; and people of color, older moms and moms who do not fit the unrealistic standard of beauty our society insists upon can also be paragons of parenting. I know that sounds a little bit like the old joke about the wedding where the food was terrible and the portions were too small but I think that shit needs to be called out whenever possible.

Parents are amazing. It's a waste of time to nitpick about how we disagree about parenting. Outside of a close relationship with the parent, judgement will only gunk up the gears of our society because it's not going to change how the choices that parent makes and might prevent other parents and future parents from trusting their own instincts. Is there any benefit to a parent who parents hesitantly?

 In conclusion, support each other. Support each other. Support each other. And, Time can suck it.


Scott Paeth said...

Time can suck it has pretty much been my attitude for a long time. They've only continued to justify it through increasing stupidity over time. The only consolation for them is that all other American new magazines are just as bad.

Joe said...

"Don't you know amazing adults who had shitty parents? Don't you know assholes that are breaking their parents' hearts with the choices they make?"

THIS, along with your tone and wit, are why I will now be following your blog, previously undiscovered by me.

blind irish pirate said...

"Giving people the benefit of the doubt? That's the same grace that God extends to us. That's the mercy that helps us move us all forward even we should be paralyzed by past mistakes. That's what will bring about peace for our children."


stacytr said...

I just want to tell you that you rock and I'm proud to know you! We all so need support -- parenting is such a difficult task. I was an extended nurser to both my kids -- but I thought the only purpose of the Time cover was just to raise controversy. I mean who really nurses that way anyway?! (but if someone chooses to -- fine by me)
I thought so many of your thoughts were just spot on. Thanks for sharing them with us!

Ms. Like said...

Sour patch kids, anyone?