Like many others, I have been incensed by the recent Time cover, sensationalizing the breastfeeding of toddlers. The title of the cover, “Are You Mom Enough?” and the subheading, “Why attachment parenting drives some mothers to extremes” suggest a patronizing, inflammatory, and ignorant approach to the oldest parenting style practiced by human beings: breastfeeding on demand, holding children often, picking them up when they cry, and having infants and young children sleep next to their parents. (I don’t know the specific content of the article, since it hasn’t been published yet, but the intended shock value of the cover itself is worth addressing.)
I won’t spend time describing the well-documented physical and psychological benefits of breastfeeding to age two and beyond, since others have laid it out clearly, including the World Health Organization, and UNICEF. Mothering.com has also recently posted an excellent response to the Time cover. I’m also not writing to judge parents who exclusively bottle feed or supplement their breastfeeding with formula. I merely want to respond to the widespread discomfort that our culture has toward the natural practice of breastfeeding longer than one or two years. I want to give my testimony as a healthily adjusted and successful adult – who was breastfeed until kindergarten.
I probably wouldn’t publicly proclaim my breastfed past if my Mother were still alive to read my blog on the internet; she was always a very private person herself, and wanted to protect me from the judgment of others. But I am proud and thankful that my Mom followed her mothering instincts and surrounded herself with supportive, like-minded women. She learned from and eventually acted as a leader of La Leche League for many years. While I knew at the time that it wasn’t typical for me to still be breastfeeding at age four and five, I also knew and felt it was a natural way for me to be nourished and comforted by my Mom. And just for anyone who’s unclear, I was eating the normal amount of food for that age – actually more, given my high metabolism I inherited from my Mom. The breastfeeding by then was at most once a day, and just provided a few extra nutrients and special bonding time with my Mom. Now that she is physically gone from the Earth, I am extra thankful for every precious moment I got to share with her while she was alive.
Again, I’m not saying every child needs to be breastfed as long as I was – that’s between the mother and the child. But I do want to dispel myths that so-called “attachment parenting” (or, as I like to call it, “the way my parents raised me”) produces needy, clingy children who grow up to be co-dependent, ineffectual adults. I’m not usually one to toot my own horn, but here are just a few examples I’d like to cite of my independence:
- I was never afraid of the dark or thought there were monsters in my room.
- I was in my own reading group in kindergarten since I was more advanced than the rest of the kids.
- I studied in Spain for the last semester of high school.
- I studied in Cuba for a semester in college.
- I played rugby in college and beyond.
- I co-produced one of my plays in the DC Fringe festival, earned a terminal degree in playwriting, have received playwriting awards, am currently working as a writer full-time, and will see the first New York City production of one of my plays next month.
And I am happily married to a woman I adore, with whom I plan to be raising children sometime in the near future. While it breaks my heart to think about raising children without having my Mom physically there to help and advise me, and lovingly hold her grandchildren, I am so thankful to have the example of motherhood she set for me. In the spirit of Mother’s Day this past weekend, I can’t think of a better way to pass on my Mom’s legacy of love than to follow my instincts when I have children: to hold them, to honor their needs, and to breastfeed them when and how long we see fit.