So now comes Time Magazine with their May 21, 2012 cover showing California Mom and model Jamie Lynne Grumet with her three (almost four) year old son Aram suckling at her left breast – while standing on a chair? As provocative, and I guess for some folks, arousing as you can get in our mostly still puritanical society, it was no doubt meant to shock, stir controversy and bring attention to something called, attachment parenting - a nice way of saying “on-demand, extended breastfeeding.” The national debate has started and from our perch it looks like Time Magazine and Grumet are the big losers. We also unfortunately think that son Aram could be harmed by this whole episode.
The photo wasn’t a private on a chair or bed, intimate, nurturing and special moment between Mother and Son, rather a staged and posed photo with both looking directly into the camera. Aram had that, OK this is cool but what am I doing here look while Grumet was staring back with a defiant and matter of fact, Sooooooooo! We think that Grumet is motivated by and embraces the spotlight, publicity and glorifies in all this attention. We have even seen some critics speculate that narcissism is playing a major part in her decision to go public on this issue.
The headline for the story inappropriately challenges, "Are You Mom Enough?" insinuating that this is the perfect or proper order of things. I couldn’t disagree more with the sensationalist approach to this issue. We better understand Grumet’s attitude after learning that she had also breastfed her five year old stepson (Yikes?) and admitted that her Mother breastfed her until age six. Having said that the informed decision to breastfeed should be made by the Mother and her decision is always the right one.
We do believe that a parent’s relationship with each of their children is unique - different from child to child depending on their own individual needs and level of caring. So, I don’t take offense with differing parenting styles and the decision to breast feed for as long as feasible. My choice, were I a woman, though, would probably be to cut it off at that point when a child is capable of regularly eating and drinking for themselves – but that’s me. Then comes that pesky argument when at an age when they start to interact with other children, will extended breastfeeding hinder their ability to effectively socialize with their peer groups? I would, at least, with an older child like Aram keep the practice private and behind closed doors and that is all about respect and consideration for the child.
So, I will concede that so long as no laws are broken, then I guess, all’s well in Smallville. I have always felt that breastfeeding is a critical and important part of child rearing and nutrition. We all know the health and emotional benefits and the vital bond it creates between Mother and Child.
We took offense only because Grumet chose this forum and that Time Magazine offered and choreographed the story. So, you have an almost four year old boy with little or no say or understanding about the story (let alone the photograph) in front of the camera standing on a chair engaging what had heretofore been an intimate moment with his Mother (a little to the left please). That’s the whole issue for me. While there may be no foul here, we feel that the potential for harm is real.
When the story first broke we noted that all the local TV stations had “blurred out” son Aram’s face and Grumet’s left breast. Later that same day I was watching one of the ESPN channels and there was the Time Magazine cover in all its unretouched glory. I thought it no big deal but then noted on the news that night – the blurring was gone from local TV. Someone or, something else had broken the barrier so Katy bar the door… now the whole world knows.
My attitude about breastfeeding was shaped by one event. I remember that day in August 1962 well. I was riding the Greyhound bus from Memphis to Oxford and contemplating the start of a new life as a freshman football player at Ole Miss. I had flown in from Dallas Love Field (I think via Braniff) to a then smallish Memphis Airport. While the trip was relatively short, the hassles of the flight and hauling all the gear that would see me through the first month or two had its effect. I wasn’t fatigued, rather wired and mostly apprehensive about this new and mostly foreign chapter in my life. I had attended private schools for all of my nineteen years and would describe my surroundings as cloistered and my life experiences as substantially limited… Athletics had given me my only real and meaningful outlet to the outside world.
As I was settling into the trip contemplating the Mississippi countryside I heard a baby cry. I was sitting midway down the aisle in a window seat, looked back and saw a lady breast feeding her baby right there in front of God and Country. The Mother looked back at me and smiled. I smiled back and watched for a few more seconds before turning around to give her some privacy. I had surveyed most of the other passengers on the half-filled bus noting that folks were just minding their own business, taking no real note of Mother and baby. It just was no big deal. I thought it was beautiful; an expression of the perfect love between Mother and Child and all of a sudden, everything was OK.
Now comes a very public and self-serving Grumet who may be indifferent/oblivious to or ignorant of the ultimate needs of son Aram. For me, it sensationalizes and turns something sacred into yet another prurient video bite.
Psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow with whom I have little in common save our mutual love of Brown University and the spirit of his opinion on this issue states, “This is self-centeredness at its worst, sold as good parenting. And this is an act of media violence against a child, committed by adult journalists who also commandeered his will (as did his mother), for sensation and profit. Rarely do we get such evidence of how wrong parenting can go, how poorly journalists can behave and how slow we can be to recognize ugliness when it is disguised as something beautiful.”
Now what would Dr. Benjamin Spock say today? Probably, “Don't take too seriously all that the neighbors say. Don't be overawed by what the experts say. Don't be afraid to trust your own common sense.” Common sense, ah…