Tag Archives: Attachment Parenting

That Time Cover: ‘Are you Mom Enough?’

12 May


When I came across this excellent analysis, I thought it might be interesting to analyse the composition of the controversial Time cover.

A particularly interesting point raised in this article is the fact that the cover photo is engineered to evoke sexual undertones. And once you start seeing the photo through this lens, it becomes clear just how carefully the portrayal of Jamie Lynne Grumet and her son has been engineered.

Clothes and Hairstyle

First, there’s her appearance: in some articles discussing the photo, Jamie Lynne is referred to as a ‘willowy bombshell‘: she’s skinny, she has flawless luminous skin, she’s blonde, she wears fashionable clothes. She might practise attachment parenting, but the mother on the Time cover (I feel it’s important to distinguish between the mother-representation on the cover and the actual person Jamie Lynne Grumet, as they are likely to be different people) is no earth mother who knits her own lentils. But neither is she too fashionable, hence the sensible flat ballerinas. See, she’s just right – not too crunchy, not too plastic – everyone can relate to her.

The way this mother is represented creates a tension: her hair is modestly pulled back, and the colour of her blue tank top and skinny jeans seems deliberately chosen to hint at common representations of the virgin Mary (albeit a bit more 21st century). But wait, her shoulders aren’t covered and she’s not wearing a bra, so is she a woman of virtue or of loose morals?

Body Language

Her  facial expression is both docile (closed mouth, neither smiling nor not-smiling) and defiant (head held high). The fragility of her thin frame is called into question by how strong and robust her posture makes her appear, while the allusion to the virgin Mary, who is usually portrayed in passive positions, contrasts with the active supermodel-hand-on-hip pose.

The mother’s posture is supermum through-and-through: her hip-jutting says she is ready for any criticism the viewer wants to throw at her, while her arm protectively cradles her son’s shoulders. She is both hard and soft, alluring and motherly.

At the same time, her facial expression is quite blank, and so are her clothes – they are simple and a non-offensive colour. She is a blank canvas ready for any viewer’s feelings to be projected onto her: is she making breastfeeding fashionable? A ‘hippy’? Aggressive? Submissive? Outrageous? A pervert? A role model? Just an average mother?

Text and Image Interaction – Questioning Mothers’ Shagability?

Then there’s the big red question mark superimposed on her nether regions – surely an accident, one might think. But this is the cover of a major magazine, there are no accidents, and text and image are designed to interact for maximum effect in the reader’s mind. So perhaps the question mark is placed here deliberately to call into question the sexuality of mothers who breastfeed for an ‘extended’ period.

There are two questions an uninformed reader might ask themselves: first, does breastfeeding give rise to sexual feelings once the baby is one day older than an arbitrary number of weeks, and secondly, can a breastfeeding woman still be sexually attractive? Is motherhood incompatible with stereotypical conceptions of womanhood? Not just motherhood as it is commonly represented in the media, because that is often seen as the epitome of femininity, but motherhood when a woman shows such extraordinary dedication to her children? (NB I am well aware that the average world weaning age is around 2.5-7 years according to Dettwyler, but nevertheless, breastfeeding a child or several children for several years is a special commitment which can occasionally take a lot out of mothers.)

The Child

Grumet’s little boy is dressed in trainers and camouflage cargo pants – very ‘big boy’ clothes that seem to hint at a child who is happiest running around in the countryside or playing football.  They make him look more grown up than he actually is, so that he appears as a big, strong, stereotypically masculine figure next to his mother. While it is obvious that he is standing on a chair, this nevertheless serves to make him look taller, and thus older, than he really is, thereby increasing the outrage factor.

Conclusion

The composition of this image and its interaction with the chosen text serve to press different buttons in each reader’s mind, so that it’s simultaneously possible to be filled with admiration or disgust at the 26-year-old mother who feeds her three-year-old son and her five-year-old adopted son, and the fact that she has two children and manages to look so glamorous.

Personally, I think it’s great that there are mums who breastfeed for several years, including adopted children, and it’s useful that attachment parenting might gain more attention in the mainstream media as a counterweight to all those ‘Supernanny’ techniques. I don’t think the competition which the headline is trying to create is necessary or beneficial for anyone; surely it’s time to leave the mummy wars behind. In addition, I can’t help the impression that Grumet and her son have been exploited for the sake of magazine sales.

Review: ‘You, me and the breast’ by Monica Calaf and Mikel Fuentes; London: Pinter and Martin, RRP £6.99

1 May

Image

It’s time for another book review!

You, me and the breast by Monica Calaf (text) and Mikel Fuentes (illustration) is a beautifully illustrated book. The pages are bold and colourful, and very engaging. One aspect I thought was great was that the illustrations of the characters (Mum, Dad, non-gendered baby) are so over the top (in a good way!) that it is difficult to tell their exact ethnicity, which means children and parents of most, if not all, origins are hopefully able to recognise themselves in the different scenarios.

The story covers most aspects of breastfeeding, from birth, via co-sleeping, babywearing, coffee mornings, feeding in public, to teething and finally weaning. It’s great for a gentle playful overview of how convenient breastfeeding is – you can do it while swimming, gardening, cooking, even exercising! – and how it contributes to a close bond. One thing I wasn’t sure about was the sudden change in register on the third page: the sentence “My nipple darkened so you could see it better and gave off a rich smell, so that you could find it with your tiny nose”, while obviously admirably accurate for a children’s book, also seems slightly too technical for a child, and also, to be honest, perhaps a bit too cringe-inducing for me to read to my daughter in public places. Other people might have more courage when it comes to reading about bodily matters out loud.

The book provides lots of talking points: while my daughter seemed non-plussed by the idea of babies coming out of their mummies’ tummies, she was more inquisitive about why the Mummy in the book has flowers in her hair (umm, quick, think of an answer that doesn’t make her think she has to make herself look pretty all the time! Perhaps that they smell nice and that makes her happy?!), and greatly concerned by why the Daddy has hurt his arms (he hasn’t really, it’s just that his arms have a sort of texture to them).

Another lovely aspect of the book is that it presents attachment parenting as a completely normal way of life: parents and baby snuggle up together at night, baby is carried in a sling, and it’s also nice to see an image of Dad feeding Mum while she is feeding the baby, to show that he is also caring for someone.

I think it’s great to have a book especially dedicated to breastfeeding. Books are usually very useful when it comes to specific life events (books about moving house, getting a new sibling, going on holiday etc etc) in order to explain things to children in a way they will understand and provide them with an opportunity to think about events and ask questions. Breastfeeding is something my daughter has been doing every day (and night!) for three years so far, so it’s about time we had a book about it!

Disclaimer: I was sent this book for free by the publisher as part of their reviewers’ book club.

My Parenting Approach in a Nutbowl (if not a bucket)

18 Apr

Jean Liedloff, author of The Continuum Concept, died last month, on my daughter’s birthday actually. She is seen by many as the person who brought ‘Attachment Parenting’ to the West. Interestingly, just like her polar opposite Gina Ford, she never had children.

Attachment Parenting includes birth bonding, breastfeeding on cue, co-sleeping, babywearing and not leaving babies to cry.

My parenting approach ticks all these boxes: I prepared for the birth of my daughter and we had some skin-to-skin time, although not as much as I would have liked because things with me kind of went wrong once she was out. But she had about two hours of skin-to-skin snuggles with her dad while they were waiting for me to get out of emergency surgery. I’m still breastfeeding my two-year-old whenever she feels like it (I know you don’t get a medal, but I kind of feel you ought to!).

We’ve been co-sleeping, bed-sharing in fact, since a lovely midwife visited us on our first day at home and made me realise how silly it was to expect a tiny baby to sleep in their own bed and how much more rest I would be able to get by snuggling up with my daughter in the big bed. I’ll be forever grateful to that midwife because although I had read a lot about parenting before the birth, I only knew how dangerous it was to fall asleep while feeding your baby. The midwife showed us how to co-sleep safely so that I was firmly wedged into position and my daughter couldn’t be covered by pillows or the duvet. I can’t imagine how much more stressful life would have been without her brilliant life-changing advice. Researchers have now found out that breastfeeding co-sleeping mothers get more sleep, and more deep sleep, than mothers who get up to feed their babies.

We had quite a slow start with the babywearing as I couldn’t get on with our pouch sling and didn’t discover the benefits of a wrap sling until my daughter was already a couple of months old, but we really enjoyed it until she got too heavy, and now we have a Patapum so I can carry her on my back. We have never done any kind of sleep training because we think it is harmful for babies. I am aware I say this as the non-working mother of only one child! As with everything else, I know there are circumstances when it’s the best option to save the parents’ sanity, but my daughter is my only child so far and I know I have been very privileged to be able to spend this much time with her, so we haven’t needed to fall back on controlled crying and similar methods.

In addition, we have been big fans of baby-led weaning – Annabel Karmel’s assorted baby-feeding paraphernalia and pureed food have never entered this household. I’d say that’s probably 50% idealism and 50% laziness. I really want my daughter to understand that she can control how much she eats, so since the week after she turned six months old we have just let her get on with things. It’s worked pretty well I’d say because even when she eats cake, she stops eating fairly soon, I assume because she’s full.

So the fundamental aspects of my daughter’s life have been led by her and I’ve followed at her pace. I wonder down which paths she will lead us now she is a proper toddler. My time with her so far has been a great learning experience: I’ve learned a lot about what society expects from people, and how I can evaluate those demands. Above all, knowing about Attachment Parenting has given me the confidence to put my daughter’s needs first. So thank you Jean Liedloff.

Transitional Objects and Parenting

5 Apr

A couple of months ago I was beginning to get worried that something was wrong with my daughter because she has never sucked her thumb, has never had a snuggle blanket and doesn’t really care that much about her cuddly toys. She would still much rather play with a calculator than carry a teddybear around with her. But then I came across a very reassuring insight (unfortunately I can’t remember where!) which completely put my mind at rest.

Children whose parents practice Attachment Parenting are less likely to use transitional objects. Attachment Parenting includes practices such as breastfeeding, co-sleeping and babywearing. This means that the baby has a lot of physical contact with the mother and as a result simply doesn’t need an object which symbolically represents her.

This study found that “the use of a traditional TO [pacifier, thumb, blanket, toy] may occur as an infant adaptation to parenting practices”. The authors are quick to point out that their conclusion “in no way suggests that an attachment to a traditional TO is dysfunctional or unhealthy, rather that through individual differences and varying cultural child care practices, infants adopt a behavior that enables them to deal with stress”. The stress mentioned here is the transition from being awake to sleeping as well as nighttime waking, which can be difficult for an infant to cope with. To me this says that the long uncomfortable nights getting used to sleeping always in the same position were worth it.

So now I know that it’s fine that my daughter isn’t attached to any soft objects, because it means that she is securely attached to me.