Time Cover

Time Magazine Cover: What About the Child?

In all the debate over the Time cover, few people have raised as an issue the feelings of the little boy.

During the past days, television has virtually devoted itself to discussing the Time magazine cover photo of a woman nursing her nearly 4-year-old son. This is called “extreme parenting.” I think it’s closer to child abuse.

This is what I am hearing:

  • We should let women determine for themselves how long they want to breastfeed.
  • We should let children determine how long they want to breastfeed.
  • We should let individuals determine for themselves how they want to lead their lives.
  • Children develop deep comfort and certainty when they know they can get milk and mommy whenever they want. In fact, that idea should extend beyond breastfeeding to sleeping arrangements. Children beyond the toddler stage should be able to sleep en famille when and if determined by them.
  • We have been denying our kids the opportunity to feel the original attachment humans had before psychologists, or priority of relationships, or separate bedrooms, or even homes existed. Originally we trekked around looking for food with kids strapped to our fronts or backs. These kids could partake of a milk meal whenever they wanted.

Most of these theories seem to evolve from those of Dr. William Sears. Everyone knows his name, and everyone seems to believe that by following the above principles, they will raise a happy child who doesn't cry. And if a child cries there are a whole lot of potential dangers waiting in the wings. Sears's followers call this progression "attachment parenting" and it seems to have something to do with attachment.

What? My dissertation was on attachment. Of course, it was 20 years ago, but so was The Baby Book, in which Sears suggested that mothers stay close to babies who are eating and sleeping until the baby spontaneously detaches.

I think my dissertation and Sears's book have two different definitions of attachment. Or we have different views of the results of various definitions of attachments. I also think his zealous advocates may be exaggerating his beliefs slightly. I think it is fine to believe we should be as close to our kids as possible, and I believe it is more than fine to respect everyone's right to choose how to live their lives and their life with the child. Let everyone research for themselves different theories. Let everyone interpret for themselves the results of different theories. And let everyone decide for themselves how to raise their own children.

But why have so few people—in print or on TV—asked what seems to me the most obvious question when you look at Time: how will this kid feel in high school when a friend shows him and every other person in school a cover of him sucking on his mother's teat?

Isn't that the important question? Won’t the child’s feelings about the question affect his future parental attachment? Don’t such questions define the notion of good parenting? Attachment used to be about how a mother and child interacted with each other and how this interaction gave the child the tools he or she needed to survive in this world.

Going back to Time, I keep thinking about how mortified my friends are when parents show off baby pictures of them naked on fur throws. Wow, how tame that looks now.

Of course everyone is entitled to embrace their own child-rearing theories. But it seems to me that focusing on the child's well-being and reaction to that parenting—now and in the future—may be a stronger approach than focusing on your own involvement. Parenting, after all, is about the child, not you.