When I first saw the new Time magazine cover of a nearly 4-year-old boy nursing on his mother’s exposed breast, I must admit it made me nostalgic.
For a time when they wrapped magazines in brown paper.
I’m no mothering expert, but I do believe, as a general rule, that if you are standing up and wearing long pants, your breast-feeding days are over.
But what do I know? Using the headline “Are You Mom Enough?” Time has gotten tons of attention for its cover shot of 26-year-old Jamie Lynne Grumet yanking down one side of her tank top for her son Aram, who breast-feeds while standing on a stool and wearing – I’m not kidding here – sneakers and camouflage pants.
Grumet is a devotee of attachment parenting – the subject of the cover story – and, I admit, she and her boy do look attached. Very attached. Although I wonder how hungry that poor kid must have been. I’ve been to photo shoots. They can take hours.
Then again, why would the boy want to move? In their famous “2000 Year Old Man” routines, Mel Brooks tells Carl Reiner that the key to his long life was doing things slowly: “I breast-fed for 200 years.” He quickly adds, “I look back at that as the happiest part of my life.”
But Brooks was making a comedy album.
Time is trying to make a statement.
Getting what it wanted
Well, I take that back. First, Time was trying to make a splash. Then make money. Then make a statement.
Why else do this cover? It’s 10% substance and 90% shock value. Yes, Grumet actually breast-feeds her son (and I feel sorry for that kid when he hits school, now that the whole world has downloaded that image). But I doubt Grumet earned the cover with her story.
Would the magazine have used her if she were 50 pounds overweight and had a funny nose and frizzy hair? The fact that she is attractive and stands pitched in a slightly sexy pose – wearing skinny jeans, with her shoulders bare and a hand on her hip – should tell you what Time most wants from this whole thing: buzz.
And yes, we are helping the magazine achieve that by writing about it. But the image is too omnipresent to ignore. And it has, for a few days (which is as long as anything lasts in America now), sparked another discussion over what makes a good parent.
Attachment parenting was started by Dr. Bill Sears 20 years ago with a best seller called “The Baby Book.” Sears suggests long-term breastfeeding, sleeping in the same bed as the child and wearing the little one in a sling against your body.
Personally, had I been raised in such a system, I would never have learned to walk. Why bother? I’m riding shotgun and sleeping next to my food source.
How we go totally overboard
Anyhow, why are we so fascinated by parenting techniques? Not long ago, it was the Tiger Mom. Even more recently was pre-chewing your child’s food. Every five minutes, there seems to be a new, better way to bring up your kids. You wonder how adults ever managed for millions of years before Time needed to sell a copy.
And, as with other lifestyle magazine stories, you wonder how many people are really living the trend, and how many are just gaping at the cover. Sears’ book has sold in excess of a million copies over the last 20 years, but in a nation of more than 300 million people, that’s not big penetration. According to Dr. Lori Feldman-Winter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, “only 12% of American mothers exclusively breast-feed even for the first six months.” The number goes down after that.
Breast-feeding has many benefits, and it should be celebrated, but ask yourself: Really, how many people do you know who still are nursing their 4-year-olds? Is this really a national issue, or, like that famous picture of a naked, pregnant Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair, just a great way to boost newsstand sales?
The truth is, as enlightened as we think we are, many Americans still get worked up over seeing an attractive woman’s naked breast on a magazine cover. To us, it’s a big story; to a baby, it’s breakfast.
Makes you wonder: Who’s the mature one here?
Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). To read his recent columns, go to www.freep.com/mitch.