Time magazine made news this week with their controversial cover. The cover features Jamie Lynn Grumet breastfeeding her 3-year-old son. The photo concerned the Time’s article about “attachment parenting,” a theory of parenting that “focuses on the nurturing connection that parents can develop with their children. That nurturing connection is viewed as the ideal way to raise secure, independent, and empathetic children. Proponents of this parenting philosophy include the well-known pediatrician William Sears, MD. They make the case that a secure, trusting attachment to parents during childhood form the basis for secure relationships and independence as adults.”
This is all well and good for the first few months of a child’s life. Yet many of those who practice “attachment parenting” refuse to stop it. Instead, they make excuses like this:
“In some ways, the photo was sensational because the child breast-feeding was so much older than the cultural norm,” said [Miranda] Hallquist, a La Leche League of Pittsburgh East leader. “In a way, I think it was good to get it into the cultural debate but people could miss the point if they wonder whether they should or should not see it or are confused by ‘Are You Mom Enough?’ “
This is not healthy cultural debate. This is issue with parents not respecting children’s boundaries.
One woman, Lynn Stuckey, who practiced “attachment parenting” continued to force her 5-year-old son to breastfeed after he told a babysitter he wanted to stop but his mother would not let him. She also slept in the nude with her son. This resulted in Illinois removing her son only to give him back to her. Stuckey appeared on Good Morning America, still forcing her now 8-year-old son to breastfeed.
The “attachment parenting” advocates may think they have good intentions, but the theory seems to be more about them than the children. As Dr. Keith Ablow explained:
[…] Is Grumet responding to real and healthy needs emanating from her son’s psyche, or is he responding to her potentially outsized needs to be the center of attention and the object of desire (if only for warmth). Who, we can legitimately ask, is feeding whom?
See, Grumet loves being photographed. And she apparently loves having her son breastfeed. And she loves attention. And she’s happy enough to get naked in front of other people (which there may be nothing wrong with—for her). But that may or may not be the case for her 3-year-old boy, which seems not to have mattered to her—at all. And if his will was bent to hers in order to have him suck his mother’s nipple in front of a photographer and makeup artist and art director and all of America, then it stands to reason that his will may be being bent to hers in all sorts of ways—including protracted breastfeeding.
The truth is that what Time magazine may have unwittingly captured and been party to was a grotesque form of psychological abuse—the parading into public of an intimate moment (intimate for mother and child) at the sole direction of that child’s mother, who didn’t stop to think that her child may not be able at the age of three to know what he thinks about the whole thing, much less to stop it, if he wanted to.
At best, this is a huge boundary violation. It goes beyond a child not wanting to ween, and goes to a parent “allowing” a child to do what he “wants.” It is the same logic many who sexually abuse child use. It is the “I didn’t make them do it. They wanted to do it.” excuse, and it is not a very good one. As Lynn Stuckey showed, it can easily become outright abusive.
What makes this particularly bad is the way it was couched. Here is this pretty model showing off for the camera while her son suckles her breast. It has a thinly veiled sexual element, and that makes it all the more disturbing.
Fortunately, enough people are put off by this that they are calling for what it is rather than pretending it is something beautiful and special.