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What being 'Mom enough' really means

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  May 13, 2012 07:43 PM

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At this point, most of us have seen the Time Magazine cover, the one with the woman standing with her hand on her hip, her shirt pulled down while her 3-year-old son stands on a chair in front of her and breastfeeds. "Are You Mom Enough?" says the headline of the story, which is about attachment parenting.

I don't like it.

Which is ironic, actually, because I breastfed that long. My two younger daughters were breastfed until they were 3, and my youngest child until he was 4. I even did the other two pillars of attachment parenting too, co-sleeping and baby-wearing (which, in case you were wondering, means putting your baby in a sling or some other carrier and "wearing" him.) 

So you'd think I would like it a lot.

But I don't.

First of all, I don't like it because it makes extended breastfeeding look weird, kind of sexual and deviant. For what it's worth, none of my kids ever breastfed standing on a chair in front of me. My reasons for breastfeeding that long were not about taking any kind of stance or following any particular parenting philosophy. As a pediatrician, I wanted to breastfeed because of the known health benefits -- and I figured I should do what I ask the mothers in my practice to do. I didn't expect it to go so long, but as they grew older it became a lovely way to connect and comfort, so we just didn't stop. That was what worked for us as a family. We would never have dreamed of being so in-your-face about it. 

That's the other thing I don't like. The cover is so self-righteous, with the message that you're not Mom enough if you don't do attachment parenting -- the basic idea of which is that the more you hold and are close to your child, the more well-adjusted that child will be. My co-sleeping and baby-wearing weren't about making anybody well-adjusted. I just wanted to get some sleep and get stuff done. I had babies who were terrible sleepers and didn't want to be put down, so after trying lots of things, we did what worked.

But what worked for us may not work for another family. There is no right way to parent, no one way that is superior. There are as many ways to parent as there are parents and children. We need to love our children, and make sure they know they are loved. We need to keep them healthy and safe. We need to teach them right from wrong, and to treat others well; we need to be sure they have the skills, knowledge and discipline they need to have a good future. But every family is going to do that differently.

As a pediatrician, I am very cognizant of this. I want mothers to breastfeed, but breastfeeding doesn't work for everyone, and that's fine; there's much more to motherhood than breastfeeding. And when it comes to parenting, what I like to do is help empower families to take the healthy, safe approach that works for them. I don't encourage attachment parenting -- or any kind of parenting, for that matter. My job, as I see it, is to help families find their way.

I get why Time Magazine did it -- hey, they got me to buy the magazine. But I wish they hadn't. Breastfeeding rates in the US are nowhere near where they should be; making it look deviant hardly helps the cause. And parenthood is hard enough without pitting people and parenting styles against each other.

You know what I think being "Mom enough" really means? I think it means knowing what your child and your family need -- and doing it, no matter what anyone says or thinks.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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