This Should Be the Last Thing You Read About Parenting

Time's breastfeeding cover proves the media doesn't make good moms.

Last week’s Time magazine cover was a hard one to avoid. Next to the headline “Are You Mom Enough?,” it depicted a young woman in casual clothes, breastfeeding a boy who looked to be about four.

The article was about “attachment parenting,” a not-exactly-new theory of parenting that was invented by Dr. Bill Sears, and that has apparently gained renewed popularity of late. Among other tenets, the philosophy involves breastfeeding long into childhood, eschewing strollers and bouncy seats, and sleeping with the child in your bed.

The attention-grabbing nature of the magazine cover, whether due to the nudity or the jarring sight of a kid that age breastfeeding, put the story into the national discussion for days. It also drew quite a few very humorous parodies.

But even more so, the article drew attention because—just in time for Mother’s Day—it was yet another skirmish in the Mommy Wars, in which differing views on parenting square off and judgment and bad feelings inevitably ensue.

Every few months, there’s some big new gimmick-driven media craze related to parenting. And every single time, the implication, especially to mothers, is the same: You’d better do things EXACTLY this way, or else (at best) you’re a bad mother and (at worst) you’re putting your child in imminent danger.

A lot of authors and other media types have figured out that if you can get moms, especially new ones, to feel bad about themselves, or judge each other, it’s a one-way ticket to magazine covers and the bestseller list.

There was Amy Chua’s Hymn of the Tiger Mother last year, which advocated applying something resembling neofascist traditions to parenting. Then there was the even more odious Dara-Lynn Weiss, who wrote a Vogue article earlier this year about having shamed her seven-year-old daughter into weight loss, and then, you guessed it, turned the experience into a book deal.

Bristol Palin, who got pregnant at age 17, parlayed that pregnancy into fame, money and celebrity, and then embarked on a career as an activist imploring people to never, under any circumstances, do exactly what she did.

All of these things have one thing in common: They’re much more about the author cashing in than about helping people become better parents.

I think what I find so repugnant about all this is that parents are under enough pressure as it is. If you’re a parent, you’ve already dealt with whether or not to have kids, followed by the everlasting stay-at-home vs. working debate. Not to mention the question of how exactly you’re supposed to afford everything.

Then there are the decisions about vaccinations, and circumcision, and of course the titanic breastfeeding vs. formula battle—that one in particular, I’ve heard argued about with a passion and tenacity normally associated with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

So after all that, here comes an Amy Chua or a Dara-Lynn Weiss or a Jenny McCarthy or a Time cover, all of which have a clear message for you: “You’re doing it wrong. Do it MY way, or your kid will end up fat or stupid or autistic or dead.”

My wife and I are the parents of two boys, a two-year-old and a two-month-old. We learn new things about our kids and how to deal with them just about every day. And we’ve found that the best way to parent is to figure out what works for us and not let bestselling books or magazine covers shame us into something else.