Time Magazine Freaks People Out

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

It’s a pretty amazing image, isn’t it? When Time released this issue, the blogosphere (and presumably conversations around water coolers everywhere) erupted with disgust, delight, celebration, creepiness, and more.

Some love it. Some hate it. Nobody seems ambivalent. People are really freaked out.

When I see this photograph, I have to admit… it’s quite an impressive thing. That kid is three? How tall is he? He’s huge! Probably got so big from eating too much you know what… I’m only kidding, just pointing out that this picture of a gargantuan toddler standing up to suckle isn’t exactly the most common image of most nursing three year olds.

The photo doesn’t explain that the child depicted here is a trauma survivor who was adopted by this heroic woman who happened to have just given birth to another baby when she got him, so luckily she could nurse him as well which was a great comfort and help to him in his recovery from the stress and fear of his early infancy… No, there’s no explanation about this family. It is obviously intended to be provocative, and it’s hard to argue that it didn’t get the conversation going in a big way. Just in case anyone reading this is wondering, we at Echo Parenting & Education come down firmly on the side of science, as usual. Human milk, like the milk of other mammals, is appropriate for human mothers to feed their young until…

(get ready, drum roll please…)

…uh, until the mother and child are done. Sorry if that was anticlimactic. But we do know that “normal” human weaning – what most humans worldwide do – happens between two and seven years old. That’s older than the average in U.S.,and it’s also a big gap. It doesn’t really answer the question about breastfeeding, and I don’t intend to try to answer it. Yes, breast milk is nutritious for babies. Yes, mothers milk changes over time so toddlers get something different than newborns. Yes, it’s totally NATURAL and not at all inappropriate, and YES, I’m personally all for nursing until baby and mom decide to stop. But I’m also very aware that many mothers have jobs and busy lives, some women have a hard time nursing for a variety of reasons, and there are numerous other factors to consider in each individual family. It’s not up to ME or any other blogger or pundit to tell moms when to nurse or not.

Which brings me to my critique of Time. I have no problem with the photo. I’m not offended or creeped out.

The caption, on the other hand, is troubling. It’s printed in giant red capital letters. “ARE YOU MOM ENOUGH?”

Seriously? Is the implication supposed to be that “extended” breastfeeding (which seems to mean  nursing babies who are older than six months) is the “momliest” way to be? That you have to be a REAL MOTHER to do it, if you know what I mean… If you read the (only slightly) smaller print, that says “Why attachment parenting drives some mothers to extremes,” you begin to get a different sense, something along the lines of “people like this tiny woman in the picture are extremists.” In other words… they’re wacko.

*sigh* Oh, Time. I hope you sold a lot of magazines. It’s a great cover.

I’ll try to sum up. Breastfeeding is wonderful for babies and mothers, and sure, we encourage it. Check out La Leche League for all the reasons to do it and for how to get support when it’s hard. While it is true that mammals normally nurse until adult teeth come in, it’s also true that human societies are complex, and our culture puts pressure on moms to be “mom enough” in so many different ways.

Some potentially conflicting messages for mothers:

1. Get a job. Stay at home mothers are ruining feminism.
2. Stay at home. Attachment parenting is crucial for your baby. If you don’t nurse longer, you’re ruining your kid.
3. Don’t trust your own body or your baby. Breastfeed shorter or longer based on books and blogs and men.
4. Your breasts have a purpose, they are for feeding babies.
5. Your breasts have a purpose, they are for, you know, looking good in bikinis and stuff like that. (I’m getting a little carried away, I know. But I do believe that there wouldn’t be folks talking about nursing toddlers being “sexual abuse” if they weren’t overly eroticizing breasts. Not that they aren’t very nice. But please. We’re still animals who feed our young.)


I can definitely own up to my own bias here. I believe that women should be able to make decisions about their bodies (eat your heart out, Time, we’re provocative too). My great hope is that decisions about raising children should be informed by as much information as is available. I think that attachment parenting – as expounded by Dr. Sears – with its extended breastfeeding, baby wearing, and co-sleeping, is a fabulous thing for families who have the resources to do it. For those whose circumstances prevent extended breastfeeding or any of the other methods we promote, I think we owe those families our support and love too. Let’s try to put aside our judgement and offer ALL families unconditional support.

Brian Joseph
Director of Teaching

14 Responses to “Time Magazine Freaks People Out”

  1. Candace Peterson-Kahn says:

    Brian – Thanks for your reflections and speaking your truth to the powers like TIME magazine. I hope you sent your article to TIME. I wish I could think as critically/coherently as you! Gratitude, Candace

  2. Karen Haas says:

    I breast fed my son until he was almost 2, he slept with me a lot and I carried him on my body when I could. First, all the the above was easiest on me. How nice to avoid fussing with bottles and what the heck to put into them. His meal was always handy, sanitary and healthy. Sleeping with him was in large part because as an infant he wanted to eat every 2 hours.

    How nice to not have to jump out of bed to go feed him. I was comfy in my own bed, lying down to breast feed. Carrying him on my body gave me the freedom to get things done, go for walks, be outside as I lived in the country at at the time. I didn’t have to listen carefully for his crys, etc…as he was right there, and he seemed really happy riding along. He was a busy child and did like to be stimulated, so carrying him on my body served that purpose.

    As he grew up I paid attention to him, yet didn’t let him run the show, so to speak. He was always heard, validated and free to express himself. That doesn’t mean he got everything he wanted, because he didn’t. But we had no power-struggles because he was heard and I was consistent on who made the decisions. As he aged and matured he was given more responsiblities and opportunites to make his own decisions.

    Today he is almost 30, is a very independent and happy young man who was just awarded a PhD in bio-chemistry and is as much an artist as he is a scientist. He is well rounded and self-aware.

  3. Kelly says:

    LOVE IT! Funny and Smart!

  4. Susan Goldberg says:

    Well put!

  5. Abbi says:

    Well said, as usual. The thing that irritated me about this whole cover and the chatter that went with it, is that is was just one more stirring of the pot, one more push to set parents against parents. We are more united by the experience of parenting than we are divided by our approach to doing it. The mainstream media knows that a good fight draws a bigger crowd than a friendly conversation, and so it pretends we’re drawn up on opposing sides of the field. And if it can use a pretty young woman to do so, better still. I breastfed each of my three kids differently, on account of them being, you know, different, and I respect anyone’s right to raise their kids how they want. I guess a cover story on the number of kids still going to bed hungry, or scared, was less interesting… what a pity.

  6. Elsie says:

    Just a small correction–that child is NOT her adopted son. She does have an adopted son who she nurses, but he is five and not pictured probably because if the sight of this beautiful nursing relationship set people off, the image of her nursing her 5-year old black son would have destroyed the internet.

  7. Adrienne Ross says:

    Please check your facts. I believe this quote is incorrect:

    “The photo doesn’t explain that the child depicted here is a trauma survivor who was adopted by this heroic woman who happened to have just given birth to another baby when she got him, so luckily she could nurse him as well which was a great comfort and help to him in his recovery from the stress and fear of his early infancy”

    The mother’s name is Jamie and the boy pictured is her biological son. She adopted another boy from Ethiopia (not pictured) who is actually older than her son, and did breastfeed the Ethiopian boy when he became a part of their family. Her biological son was not a newborn when her adopted son entered the picture.

    She has a blog, “Iamnotthebabysitter dot com” – where you can see the images of both sons nursing, both at older ages.

    Also, the son pictured isn’t all that big. She just looks older because of how he is dressed and, uh, that fact he is standing on a chair, an effect captured by the photographer to make the two appear closer in height.

    Jamie (the mother) was nursed to the age of 6 herself, I believe, and just doing what she had experienced.

    Please check all facts before posting — you need to make sure you are providing accurate information in your post, so people can respond appropriately.

  8. Victoria E. says:

    Well Done Brian! I, too, felt that “MOM ENOUGH” – was the insult. Nursing is a personal choice. I nursed full time for 3 months and when I had to go back to my job for 8 hours/day, part time for the next 9 months. I traveled in my job a great deal and my daughter got used to not nursing when I was away. I felt I was mom enough being the mother and the father, breadwinner, housekeeper, toilet cleaner, grocery shopper, stroller pusher, storyteller, play time partner, laundry lady, chief cook and bottle washer. I felt Mom Enough! Polarization is not useful in our society and I felt the Time Cover was encouraging that. The important thing is for mothers and fathers to have information about child development and make choices which serve their children and their circumstances. Love your articles! Thank you Brian and Echo Parenting and Education!

  9. Karen says:

    Thanks! But I think the boy in the picture is her bio son, her adopted son is Ethiopian. (According to her blog???)

  10. Judy says:

    Thank you Brian! Well said!

  11. Brian,

    You have said it all here! And by the way, my 1 year olds stand up to nurse, when I am sitting down they will get their needs met beautifully by simply coming up to the “milk bar ” (as my 7 year old puts it.)

    Mother knows best… and I agree that it is noone’s business to tell anyone what being anything is, let alone what a mother is!!! Doesn’t the variety of mothers help make the world a lovely and motley crew of various people?

    You are a wonderful writer and make great points to us.

    Love to you.

  12. Alice says:

    I think this article was an advertisement of Dr. Sears more than anything else and the Time Magazine did a good job in choosing more or less a shocking picture to attract readers,,

  13. Alice says:

    There is not more into that picture.

  14. Well written and well captured as usual Brian, Bravo!

    You should consider writing for Tom Matlack’s growing and now award winning ezine, The Good Men Project, their massively expanding audience would benefit from your work:

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