The image has managed to push buttons on just about every "side" of the great parenting divide. Firstly - and less obviously - the headline manages to fuel the Mummy Wars (Good Enough? springs to mind more quickly than Man Enough, the actual pun we presume it was based on). Then there is the confronting image of a 3yo breastfeeding (many commentators suggest the child is much older! I think we can take his mother's word on his age - he is almost 4!) and finally, there is the staged aspect of the photo, which is designed to shock, but doesn't depict the real closeness between mother and child when breastfeeding.
And then there is the actual topic of the article - the growth of attachment parenting over the past 20 years since Dr William Sears published The Baby Book.
Dr Sears had, in fact, been a well-respected author before 1992 and his books Nightime Parenting and The Fussy baby shaped my own parenting choices in the 1980s. By the time my third child was born in 1991, I was fully-embracing attachment parenting - my son breastfed until he weaned 3 months before his third birthday. He bed-shared until he was three and was sling-worn almost constantly in his first half-year of life and less often in his second six months as he was a happier baby once he become mobile himself.
I have written before how I not only have no regret about these practices, but have seen my three children become wonderful adults,with none of the "predicted" negative outcomes of these practices eventuating.
|My "spoiled" babies in 2011|
The three practices which combined, are labelled as attachment parenting - full-term breastfeeding, bed-sharing and baby-wearing - are not new. Dr Sears didn't invent them. They didn't suddenly appear in the 1990s, they have been practiced for millennia. Around the world, they are considered normal, unremarkable and essential.
It is insulting to suggest these cultures only continue those practices because of poverty, lack of resources or poor education - they do so because they work and they see no reason to change them. It should not be overlooked that the alternatives - formula feeding, cots, prams etc - require the purchase of equipment ... and that perhaps marketing has more to do with the change of practices in the western world than any wisdom.
It really is TIME the western world - and, dare I say, especially America - got over their desire to distance themselves from our mammalian state and the ancient practices of human parenting. The majority of "modern" methods of child-rearing have only been around for decades and could still be considered to be in the experimental stage, with outcomes we perhaps see all around us but are blind to connect with the movement to separate mothers and children from each other and the rest of society. Our young may not be at risk of attack by predators as our ancestors were, but perhaps there are greater risks than death to children who are trained to ignore their natural sleep patterns, appetite control, need for nurturing and innate dependence in infancy. We know that many modern diseases are more prevalent in those who were formula-fed as infants. What isn't acknowledged is the connection between mental health problems and the unnatural practices of strict routines, separation from mother, premature weaning etc. We are seeing concern about practices such as controlled-crying (often masked as "controlled comforting") by organisations such as the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health Inc (AAIMHI) in its 2002 position paper (revised in 2004) on controlled crying. 'AAIMHI is concerned that the widely practised technique of controlled crying is not consistent with what infants need for their optimal emotional and psychological health, and may have unintended negative consequences.' You can read the background to these concerns in a PDF document that can be downloaded from the AAIMHI's website
The magazine cover has achieved one great thing - it has the mainstream media talking about things that mostly don't get that sort of exposure. From what I can see, most Australian media outlets have covered the story and it has been great to see Australian Breastfeeding Association asked for opinion, alongside people like Pinky McKay who support attachment parenting and respectful infant care.
I guess the proof is in the pudding - as the first wave of children raised under the umbrella of "attachment parenting" become adults, we can look to them to see the actual affects, rather than those projected by the doomsayers.