On Being Mom Enough — To Have The Conversation That TIME Started

May 11, 2012

Here’s the thing: I don’t much care one way or another about the photo that appears on the cover of the upcoming issue of TIME. I mean, I have opinions about it – I have opinions about everything – but it doesn’t rile me up in any way. Nor am I provoked by the subject matter of the article at hand. It’s about attachment parenting, which is as worthy a topic for discussion as any. Sure, it’s more substantively about whether attachment parenting sets too high a bar for moms, which is somewhat provocative, but I think that that’s a worthy question. The title that appears on the cover – ‘Are You Mom Enough?’ – is probably the most provocative part of the package – I mean, it pretty much shouts the question and demands an answer, and I think that that kind of challenge, the challenge to moms to ask themselves whether they measure up, is problematic at its core – and I kind of really hated it. But even given that, I don’t know that I would change it.

I wouldn’t change it, or the photo that accompanies it, or the articles that appear inside, because these are provoking discussion. It’s a discussion that is uncomfortable at times, to be sure – how we measure the success or failure of our motherhood is a particularly sensitive pain point within our community, for obvious reasons – but the fact that it’s an uncomfortable conversation doesn’t mean that it’s not worth having. Because regardless of we feel about questions concerning judgment and measurement and how we evaluate ourselves and each other – whether we should, in fact, evaluate ourselves or each other at all – they are questions that persist. They’re there. Sometimes we talk about them, sometimes we don’t; sometimes the conversations that we have about them are public, sometimes they’re private. But whether or not they’re out in the open – on TIME magazine covers or on blogs or around kitchen tables or in hushed whispers over glasses of wine – they’re there. And they inform our motherhood, and our understanding of our motherhood, and the communities that we build around our motherhood. Ignoring them doesn’t change that.

So when I see people deploring the conversation – the cries for us all to just stop talking about it already – I recoil a little bit. Why should we stop talking about it? Because it fuels the so-called Mommy Wars? The tensions underlying those ‘wars’ are already there. Those are live wires. We should be paying attention to them. We don’t make the judgments and vulnerabilities and pain points go away by pretending that they don’t exist. Sure, there’s an argument to be made that media discussion of these things foments conflict – but whatever conflict emerges here does not emerge from nothing. It emerges from real tensions, real issues. And I’m enough of an old-school Habermasian to believe that we need a robust public discourse – an engaged, lively community conversation – about these issues if we’re to work them through. Or perhaps not work them through – and here I become less Habermasian and more Socratic – but keep them alive and apparent and part of the ongoing discourse that makes us who we are.

This is power of this space, as I’ve said here many times before: we have not just created a robust public platform for our storytelling and community building, we have transformed storytelling and community, and with our story-driven, discursive community are changing how we think and talk and engage and connect around motherhood and womanhood and family — things that were so for long marginal to public discourse. We’re not just changing the conversation, we are changing the very nature of public conversation such that it almost no longer makes sense to distinguish public conversation from private.

We are the conversation. So why are we trying to shut ourselves down? Let’s embrace this conversation – even, or perhaps especially, the parts where people say that they don’t like it or that it makes them uncomfortable or that they thing that the conversation itself hurts us – and dig into it. Let’s talk it out – or at least talk it forward. These discursive provocations are a gift, an opportunity.

Let’s seize them. Who’s with me?

 

 

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    { 15 comments }

    Krystal May 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    LOVE this. No, the cover photo does not offend me, I can look past that, but the shouting of “ARE YOU MOM ENOUGH?” at my already fragile, guilt ridden, stressed out, overachieving mind made me recoil a bit. They tapped right into that raw nerve, the live wire, as you called it. So while I don’t necessarily agree with how they have gone about starting this conversation and bringing it to the forefront, I am grateful for the attention that will be brought to all of the ‘other’ aspects of mothering that maybe the average person has never thought about.

    Tragic Sandwich May 11, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    The problem is that we’re unlikely to have a real conversation about it, because we don’t do that anymore. It’s true about politics, and it’s true about parenting. And by parenting, I mean “mothering.” Dads have their own stresses, but this particular tension isn’t aimed at them. Breastfeed and you’re a potential lunatic. Don’t breastfeed and you’re a terrible mother. But I have never heard anyone say, “You gave the baby a bottle? You’re a terrible father.”

    At any rate, let’s have the conversation. But that means having the grace and maturity not to insult one another, and there are too many people who are not going to exhibit those characteristics.

    (And I’m fine with the photo. I don’t get the whole extended nursing thing, but whatever. The headline and the attitudes behind it are the problem.)

    Her Bad Mother May 11, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    I agree totally that real conversation can be difficult to have, but I think that’s all the more reason to push through and make the effort. The more that more of us can push to have these conversations civilly and maturely, the more that that will come closer to being the norm. But even if that takes a very long time, the process is worth it. Motherhood was something that for a long time was barely even mentioned in public discourse – now it’s a regular topic of public conversation. Even if those conversations are difficult, that’s a good thing.

    CJ May 11, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    I wouldn’t put my nearly four year old on the cover with a breast in his mouth, but I applaud this mom for doing so. I agree that the discussion is worth having and I have to admit, I’ve been watching it like a train wreck.

    What I can’t stand is when the conversation becomes an judgmental argument (srpurred, in great part, by that title.) Let’s discuss our differences. Let’s shout out what works for us. Let’s support one another in our similarities AND our differences instead of attacking one another.

    Kassidy May 11, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    I hope the conversation will continue so that we can all be aware of the way that the media manipulates us. Whatever your feelings on breastfeeding, or attachment parenting in general, there’s no doubt the cover and articles are deliberately controversial. And we need to examine, within ourselves, why we always fall for the ol’ divide and conquer.

    Mama Bean May 11, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    I was discussing Elizabeth Badinter’s book (the release of which prompted this TIME cover, I believe) on fbook a bunch last week. I want to have this conversation, I want to talk about it, because someone silent over there with fear and self-doubt will hear someone say what she needs to hear, that she is, in fact, mom enough. That we are all mom enough. So I want to have this conversation, and not shut it down, because in all the drabble, the good things will be said, too. And someone out there needs to hear it. Maybe our kids need to hear it, hear us say, I am enough! We are enough!

    I get sad about the distraction the mommy wars create from other fights, though. i resent the media manipulation that keeps us fighting each other, instead of fighting for each other. Fighting for moms whose rights are trampled. Fighting for kids who have no moms. This fight is worthwhile, and we should have it. But we have to stay self-aware enough to not let it consume all our resources, so that we have nothing left for the other fights. The bigger fights.

    Lori Zambito May 11, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you MORE! I don’t care about the picture either. I’m glad we are having the conversation though. It needs to be had. Why are so many people offended by any photo of any mother breastfeeding her child and then not offended by photos of violence and wars? It’s ludicrous. We need to stop being such prudes already. Or, rather prudish when it serves our purposes. Time to stop turning away from something or acting outraged because you don’t fully understand it. Time to open up the closets and let the skeletons out. A lot of women that I’m friends with found the picture to be disgusting. Really???? There are quite a lot of things that are disgusting, but a woman breast feeding her child, even if he seems to be a bit old for it (or not, who cares – not me) is not disgusting! It’s another form of misogyny that women don’t realize they have been spoon fed and are regurgitating back out.

    Marcy May 11, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    I agree with you about the benefits of having this conversation. But I don’t think articles like TIME’s are what will inspire it. TIME used a specific headline that’s meant to get us all on the defensive, making productive conversation very difficult.

    I also have a big problem with how they described Attachment Parenting and the moms (never dads, of course) who parent inspired by its principles. It is a caricature, AP doesn’t hold moms to impossible standards any more than any other style of parenting does. They’re just different, and most AP moms I know take what they like and leave the rest. It’s not AP that places undue stress and burden on mothers, but this society and culture that expects us all to be perfect, and that tells us that no matter what we’re doing or how, we’re doing it wrong.

    BusyMomof Twins May 11, 2012 at 10:25 pm

    Fantastic response to a difficult subject and one that we do ALL need to be talking about. There isn’t a day that goes by that most of us don’t question whether or not we are doing a good job, or making the right choices for our children. Thank you for writing your opinion so eloquently. familyfoodtravel.blogspot.ca

    Leah Segedie May 11, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    Doood, you busted out Habermas. OMG, that book is laying on my shelf RIGHT NOW with all the other communication theory books from grad school. I was desperately trying to forget him and his “public sphere” and “bourgeois society”….UNTIL you wrote this post. So our coffee houses are really the internet, but what makes us even more kick ass is we have access to create more of the conversation in our own ways through our blogs. We don’t have to rely on printing presses, books, and cartoons…we can create our own. Stir up more trouble quicker. Change the tide faster.

    Part of me agrees with you saying having this conversation is important…but then the other part of me is like Waah wahhh wahhh. The image itself isn’t really representative of reality AT ALL. And I know that’s not the point, but if it was at least more respectful to the Attachment Parenting community, I’d be all for it. I just look at it and feel like it borders on disrespect. It reminds me of a cartoon, but it’s far more powerful. and the other part of me says we’ve hashed this out so many times already in meaningful ways. Meaningful ways…this images just makes me kinda squirmy. Have you seen the other picture of her with her son in her lap? I LOVED that picture so much more. Even that picture made a statement, but I think that one was far more respectful to the community as a whole. I think the Attachment Parenting community is already starting up the conversation in appropriate ways. They are fab. And I think because of them, the idea is becoming more mainstream. I feel like this pictures kinda sets them back a couple of steps. It’s not like the kinda image that creates helpful dialogue, it’s like running over the idea with a mack truck.

    And then we get into the whole “Mom Enough” theme. Dear Lord. I mean the people at Time Magazine are asking me if I’M #momenough…pardon me but fuck off. Seriously, it reminds me of when you go to a male older doctor and he pats you on the head instead of listens to what you are saying. Patronizing. For me this entire debacle communicates the following:
    1. The magazine industry is desperately fighting for relevance in an era where internet is king. They are bleeding revenue at the newsstands. 34% loss was reported in 2010 with Time Magazine alone…couldn’t find anything more current. Is our print media seriously going to turn into something similar to the newspapers of England? That’s a joke. You can’t believe anything you read over there from 85% of the periodicals.
    2. The Attachment Parenting & Breastfeeding community has become WAY more mainstream than they used to be and the backlash is more against the formula companies. Cause having an image of her breastfeeding her son in her lap wasn’t controversial enough for them…they had to go with the stool and her standing there all sexy. Sexualizing breastfeeding. Dear Lord.
    3. Moms online are getting a reputation for fighting and different industries are recognizing that and trying to capitalize on it. (But really, have we changed any? Women have been bickering with each other since the beginning of time. And wasn’t it Maslow that said he was happy when women bickered because it meant that their basic needs were met.)
    4. Images like this can incite an emotional response that everyone must recognize as relevant…they are like a train wreck…you can’t help but look.

    I’m done…I think you took up my last pregnant brain cell…

    Ash May 12, 2012 at 1:02 am

    @leah I appreciate the point you made about the media using motherhood as a way to stay relevant. Because I do feel Time is commodifying motherhood and breast feeding in this way – to try and survive the print media demise. And because the cover is so sexually contrived for this purpose it IS hard to have worthy and informed conversations because the infamous photo and patronizing headline start the convo at such an awkward and unrealistic place. People are now expressing their disgust at a photo that doesn’t accurately depict what a real breast feeding relationship looks like. More importantly, you touched on how this is capitalizing on the in-fighting that goes down among parents, specifically moms. This is the truth of it. I thinks it’s quite sad and terrifying that Time’s plan to profit off of divisive mothers is working so well because we’re critical and because we are discussing the cover choice. I find it frustrating that a bunch of women are taking stances on this cover and taking it seriously – when it’s a corporate and frankly, male re-imaging of a ‘brand’ of mothering. This image forces to talk about AP as a form of “mothering” and not “parenting” (which my husband would find offensive since he’s an AP, feminist, can do everything I can do kind of dad. The only exception being breast feeding.) It is scary that this image of a mother is so highly sexualized and is designed that way to make it uncomfortable and divisive and to some extent, shameful. I’m weary of images of women being unfairly manipulated to make us feel shame – about our bodies and about our parenting choices. Breast feeding was an easy cover choice for Time because it intersects both of those things – body and parenting. There could have been a more positive image of breast feeding picked or at least something more benign. Or more realistic. If being “mom enough” is that image – a perfectly thin mom and a three year old nursing on a chair, then we are all failing. And if that image is meant with a bit of mockery, it suggests that this sort of image exists in real life, which it doesn’t. We live in a time where mothers who don’t breastfeed are often ridiculed and made to feel guilty by other mothers and mother’s who nurse for “too long” are made to feel on the fringe. And now there is some douchebag whose going to make a lot of money off this cover because so many women are letting this affirm their inner critic and because we’re all talking and writing about it, including myself.

    fuels that oppressive sort of discourse between women, mothers, and parents in general.

    Jess May 12, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    I’m with you on this one. I didn’t want to say anything, but not saying anything sort of let the power stay in the hands of the collective “ew, gross” category, and that was really getting under my skin. Also, I’m not sure being critical of Jamie (who I don’t know personally, but have been researching lately–she’s the one on the cover, by the way) and her “perfectly thin body” is really a constructive critique. Are we again to pit ourselves against each other for how our bodies bulge or do not bulge over our jeans. Does adding, “but she doesn’t even have a muffin top” to the reasons Jamie is not representative of the average mother getting at anything but our own insecurity? Personally, I don’t think we should fault women for fitting into a conventionally beautiful mold. Also, why is it so wrong to try and profit from something that is clearly so relevant to the conversation? Is profiting from discourse inherently evil? Should all us mommy bloggers stop monetizing our thoughts? Is it the “male” in the “male re-imaging,” or the re-imaging itself that bothers us? I’m just wondering aloud here, not trying to get judgey on you. I really respect everyone’s thoughtful stance on this, and Connors’ invitation for continued discussion. I’ve been trying to sort through my feelings on this cover myself, and have blogged about it, and after I got over my own “ew, gross” had this turn around that was more like, “Hells-to-the YEAH! She got up in your face and you didn’t like it? Too bad, bitches!” Because apparently I’m bipolar.

    Christine @ Quasi Agitato May 13, 2012 at 10:23 am

    This is such a thoughtful and level-headed response. And true.
    I am, however, irritated by the headline and the resulting sh**storm that is making it very hard for me to hear any conversation that may or may not be happening. I (once again) feel drawn into a national (possibly global) parenting competition that no one can really win.
    This is why I so love coming here. For a dose of clarity.

    Amber Johnson May 14, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    I think the concept of attachment parenting is a hot issue right now because doctors are trying to figure out if it benefits or negatively impacts your children

    red pen mama May 16, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    I just want to “like” and +1 all these comments. Conversation, yes. Judgey namecalling, no.

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