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Mother Knows Breast

Here we go again: the real issue at the center of any debate over 'modern motherhood' is exploitation.

You don’t want to look at it, but you can’t look away. God forbid your children see it, what will happen when they view such a corruptible, sensational image?!

Oh my, it’s a breast! With a child old enough to walk, talk and ask for food attached to it. A child doing what children are meant to do.

Getting attention.

That’s right, the biggest—perhaps only—winners in this cover story on breastfeeding and attachment parenting are Time magazine’s publicity, marketing and circulation departments. That’s what the cover image was designed to do: Get attention.

And it has gotten lots of attention. Blogs, news websites, network news shows...you name it, everyone has weighed in on the 'controversial' articles and accompanying photos. It's been almost as hotly contested as the actual practice of breastfeeding older children.

It seems the topic of motherhood and how women mother is the hottest economic product around these days. Politicians use it to generate votes and contributions; for evidence, we can look at the protracted debate over women, reproductive rights and equal pay (among other issues).

Thousands of women make a living (some more so than others) by capitalizing on their mommy-hood. Their ‘mommy blogs’ generate attention and sponsorships based on their writing about all sorts of mother, family and child-related subjects. Look at me:  while my columns are technically not a blog, part of my expertise and opinionating is based on the sheer fact that I’m raising children.

And magazines and other media use the topic of motherhood to increase readership and viewers in an increasingly competitive marketplace. (Given that it’s my topic and lead image for this column, I guess you can say I’m guilty as well.)

But when you add up the media consumption, buying power and influence women wield, it makes for a very strong reason why there’s such an obsession with women who are moms.

Moms are influencers, consumers, movers, shakers, and we’re a force to be reckoned with.

But why are what moms do, choose and are always such a battleground? Why must it be up for debate at all?

Take this week’s Time cover and featured story, about attachment parenting. Supporters and adherents say this ‘hip’ kind of modern parenting technique is more natural and is actually based on anthropologically ‘traditional’ choices. In some ways, that’s right. If you look into the etymological development for the word mama, the mostly universal way a child calls his mother, you’ll find that ma ma is often the sound or word foundation for ‘breast’. Think mammary and mammography.

A breast is how mammals feed their young.

So why is it so shocking and (pardon the pun) titillating? Starting even with the headline, Time asks, “Are You Mom Enough?” To me, that’s the more controversial thing we need to focus on -- why does mothering even need to be competitive?

Why does anyone need to diminish some mothers at the expense of others at all? Whether it’s French author Elisabeth Badinter whose feminist book, “The Conflict,” Modern Motherhood practices (as my Patch colleague Lisa Bigelow will write about this week), or politicians promoting traditional marriage of one woman/one man, or parents in your own town who battle over working mothers versus stay-at-home moms, why does it have to be one or the other?

Why do we belittle the choice made by the mom on the cover of Time? That’s her parenting choice, and it works for her. It may not be your way of approaching being a parent or mine, and that’s okay. Who is someone to say that two women in a loving, committed partnership (hopefully married if they so choose) can’t be great parents, even though they ‘lack male presence’ (says who?)?

We’ve gotten so wrapped up in my-way-is-better-than-yours that judgment rules the day over compassion, acceptance and pure liberty. The mothers described in the Time article aren’t making choices that impact anyone else, except those to whom they are moms. And unless their children are in direct danger, it shouldn’t be anyone else’s business but theirs.

When we're pushed into the 'mommy wars,' we battle over the ‘right’ way, the ‘better’ way to be, and we lose sight of what works for me is likely something very different than what works for you. That choice is what makes the world go ‘round.

But it’s certainly easier to marginalize women than to take on more important issues of better healthcare for women and children, paid maternity leave and fair pay practice.

Let’s acknowledge the difference between the breast that’s on the cover of Time from the ones gracing the cover of Playboy, and accept that Time has only gotten us talking about it because they wanted some attention. So childish of them, no?

The mother in me says that what the folks at Time really need is to be put in a time out.

Check back Thursday for another view presented by "Patch Back" columnist Lisa Bigelow.

Theresa May 17, 2012 at 05:15 PM
I'm sure the kid will be just fine. And besides, by the time he's big enough to be teased, any and all bullying will be punishable by up to life in prison.
Roger W May 18, 2012 at 12:37 AM
I was breastfed until I was 35
Conservative NYer May 18, 2012 at 01:01 AM
Brilliant!!! Very cheeky. Thanks for the good chuckle.
Diane Fiorella May 18, 2012 at 02:53 PM
Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the WHO recommend breastfeeding for two years -- or as long as it can be continued. Ability to "eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich" is not the criteria for weaning used by the scientists who performed the research and formulated and documented their conclusions in the reports that showed that human milk is medically indicated -- and not simply "better" for babies. Why a grown woman or man would consider a three, four or five-year-old too old for nearly ANYTHING is beyond me. Unfortunately, the TIME cover is exploitive and not at all representative of the usual woman nursing her child, regardless of age. Most women aren't standing with hands on hips and boob out while the kid is perched on a chair, hanging off of her like he's at a water fountain. Most women hold their child in their arms and the child relaxed. I resent the deliberately distasteful image TIME presents of something that IS normal and natural, the breastfeeding of ones child. Among other significant benefits, a woman lessens her risk of breast cancer the longer she breastfeeds. Breastfeeding is nurturing and calming for both mother and child because of the endorphins released, and in the present state of this world, people can use all the peace and comfort they can get. Moses was breastfed until he was four and went on to lead a nation. For people with a hang-up about this, grow up.
Theresa May 18, 2012 at 05:17 PM
Very good comment, Diane. I thought the cover picture was great because it started a conversation about long term breastfeeding. Of course it's not representative of how the usual woman nurses her child. If that had been the photo, no one would've bothered with the story. I'm an advocate of long term breastfeeding. The health benefits for mother and child are unmatched.

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