Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Mom Wars: One Mother's Perspective

As a mom who still nurses a toddler well on his way to three, I had mixed reactions to the controversial cover to the new Time Magazine. A three something boy is standing on a stool, next to his svelte mom, onto whose exposed breast he is firmly latched.

I confess I haven’t yet read the article, but I have read a vast array of responses, from the often enraged and repulsed comments on facebook links to the article, to the more comprehensive open letter response from Mothering Magazine here……. to the refreshingly funny take from comedian Jason Good here.

While I was glad to see extended nursing getting news coverage, the provocative title, “Are You Mom Enough?” is divisive in ways that do no good to us moms. At first I was glad that if it was going to be divisive, it at least appeared to come out on the side of extended nursing. But in the end, I feel that such an extreme cover image is only about selling magazines, and not about building communities of mothers. In fact, it would be useful for us moms to remember that people are profiting by putting us at odds with one another.

 What’s wrong with the picture on the cover of Time? Nursing a toddler doesn’t look like that. I have never seen a toddler nursing standing up. A mom and her nursing toddler do not look like an exhibitionistic, infatuated young couple walking down the street immersed in a slurping, smooching public display of affection.

 Generally, a mom nurses her toddler sitting or lying down. The child may curl up, assume a fetal position to nestle into the warmth of mother’s body. While it may not be very common to see moms nursing their toddlers in public, when you do, it’s not nearly so blatant or audacious. If you look, the toddler will not look back at you looking at him. Most likely, if a child approaches out of curiosity, the nursing toddler will unlatch and go about his merry play. At least that’s what my child does, since he never wants to miss out on any of the fun playing with other little people.

 I remember years ago, I was walking through a Whole Foods store on Houston Street in the East Village. It was before I had my own child, or even knew that becoming a mother would soon be my fate. My friend and I were making our way to the bathroom at the back of the restaurant area. Right in my line of vision, as we walked toward the east wall, a woman was sitting at a table with a large toddler boy on her lap, nursing. I looked. Or, I should say, I didn’t look away.

 “It’s called breastfeeding,” she snapped, with that oh so New York, talk-to-the-hand attitude.

The mom in the Whole Foods might be surprised if she could see me now, fast forward a few years, looking much like her with a long-legged toddler sometimes dangling from my lap while he fuels up.

It saddens me to think that I may lose friends, and worse, that my son may lose friends, because people are turned off somehow by what to us is the most natural thing in the world. Whatever choices we make as mothers, it seems that every mom is on the defensive these days. I guess that’s because moms in general are under attack. We are constantly being judged. It is always, it seems, Damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Women are judged if we don’t have any children, and we’re judged if we have too many. We are judged if we don’t breastfeed our babies, then we’re judged again if we breastfeed them too long. We are judged if we put them in day care, and we’re judged if we stay at home. All this judging tends to put moms in separate corners of the boxing ring, when we should be holding hands in the center, saying “Ommmmm.”

 I recently wrote about the messy house factor in my life as the mom of a toddler. I wrote that I hoped visitors would be so enchanted with my friendly and engaging child that they wouldn’t notice by bad housekeeping. Well, I would also hope that my community of moms and dads and nannies and teachers would forgive us our brief public transgressions into the private world of mama’s milk, and notice instead that my son is happy and well mannered and loves to sing and play and treats them and their children and their pets with kindness and respect and something more, something just a little bit more… something in fact more like reverence, more like love.


cdowling said...

Beautifully balanced and thoughtful.

Rachel Dowling said...

Thank you, Mom. That really means a lot coming from you, my mentor as a mother and as a writer. And I'm so glad to see that the new Blogger layout has made it easier for you to post comments.