I have two different thoughts on this. First of all, I am not shocked by this image for its boldness, nor its concept. But what struck me at my very core was this little boy. I understand that sometimes we must go to extreme lengths to get our point out there. What bothered me is that this little boy did not get a say in this photo. This photo is on the cover of Time Magazine, for goodness sake. I wonder if, while considering her child’s “emotional” needs, the mother stopped to think what this photo might bring to him in the future, near and far in the way of teasing and cruelty by other children. Maybe she did. I would have no way of knowing that. If she did think of how this would make his life play out, she obviously made her peace with it. My boy is almost 22 and like Barb with her girls, I do not say word one about him on this blog or publicly in any way without his permission. This little boy is too young to understand what any of this means. He stands on a stool, looking awkwardly out to camera, probably wondering why his safe nurturing act is being exposed this way. Why is this person taking a picture of me with my Mom? He may not know the exact nature of what is happening, but I wonder if it feels odd to him, feels wrong to him. I hope not, for the little guy’s sake. I guess I just wonder why a mother who spends her life breastfeeding on demand, slinging her child, and never letting him sleep alone, would in this moment leave him out there, so alone. Because in the possible backlash of this, he will be alone.
My second thought about this theory or childrearing (a theory that is not new, by the way) is the all-encompassing of it from the mother’s point of view. I have no issue with any of these practices in concept. I think it is each parent’s right to choose what she or he does regards their childrearing and good luck to each of us. The one thing I have learned from bringing up my own child is that I made many great choices and many mistakes. We all do. So I am not judging anyone’s way of weaning or feeding or sleep practices. I certainly have my own preferences, but they are mine and that of my husband. Our child, our business. I do take issue however when woman are made to feel incomplete by not being able to tick off every box of the how-to’s of parenthood.
What I also find alarming and shocking is this concept of giving yourself completely to your child, constantly ‘round the clock, every second of your day, negating your needs in the process. For us, our bed was a place of fun and visits and scary dreams and bedtime romps and that’s all. I not only felt that I was giving the gift of self comforting and self love to the boy by having him sleep alone, but I was giving me and my relationship due weight. I would have hated to lose that in our rearing of the boy. And believe me, I have seen it happen. I decided to talk to the boy about this before I wrote down what I perceived to be his take on things. What I got from him was that he grew up with not only a healthy sense of who he is, but a healthy sense of who I am, as a person, a woman and a wife. He drew on my separate life as he was growing up. Whenever he asked to sleep with me or us for any reason, he was welcome and it was wonderful. But he understood that my time was valuable. He knew that I had not sacrificed every single thing for him. He knew that I was both Mom and Deb, at least as much as a little boy can grasp that. He has grown up respecting me for that. And in the end, I think he grew up knowing that a woman can achieve her goals, be it career or motherhood, or in my case both. He understood the give and take of a woman’s life—giving birth and taking a little of yourself back.
Why do people feel that the woman who gives up herself completely for her child is giving the greater gift?
Barbara: A fascinating question, Deb. Timely too, in that I am answering it on Mother’s Day. Of course, being a mom with children who are now grown isn’t the same as being in the thick of it when they are young and impressionable and they feel like such utterly vulnerable beings to your every mistake or misstep. It’s way way easier for me to comfortably address motherhood from this side of the process than it might have been when I too was young, impressionable and vulnerable.
I saw this article too (or rather, my national paper’s reiteration of it). Like you, I wasn’t shocked or horrified that a mother had chosen to do this. But I was mesmerized by that photo (as I’m sure Time hoped I would be), transfixed by the boldness of it. Frankly, I never even thought of the repercussions to the boy. But since you bring it up, I can’t help but wonder the same thing. Will he be “punished” for this choice somehow at some later date? I’m not so comfortable with using children to make a point in the media, no matter how important it seems. I also don’t have anything against the mother committing to this level of nurturing, although it wouldn’t have been my choice. I happily breastfed, just not past the age they could drink from cups. I felt then, and still do, that—as you so eloquently said, Deb—my time and my life and my relationship needed some nurturing too. And that I could do both with some success.
Happy (belated) Mother’s Day to all the amazing variety of mothers and nurturing souls out there!