Thursday, May 10, 2012

Social Commentary: The Age for Breast Feeding

You must have seen the cover image from Time Magazine by now.  It's ubiquitous.  26 year-old mom, Jamie Lynne Grumet, dressed appropriately in "new age" spandex, stands tall, blond, and shapely.  She looks defiantly into the camera lens while her 3 year-old son, Aram (3), looking slightly confused and standing on a chair, feeds at her breast.

Now, when it comes to matters of choice, I'm pretty much a "freedom across the board" kinda' guy.  When it involves personal decisions, like whether to breast feed or not, the choice is YOURS and no one else's.  So, I have absolutely no issue with women breastfeeding in public. Personally, I see nothing sexual or "dirty" about it.  In fact, I find it to be beautiful.  Certainly, though, some places and times are more appropriate for doing it then others. But, to me, it's a natural thing that should be seen as such.  Women have been it doing since, well, women have been having children.  However, I DO have an issue when the child is old enough to walk up to his mother, unbutton her shirt, pull out a boob, and start suckling!  This is something that this photo certainly suggests.  The boy is of the age to walk and stand on his own.  He looks knowingly into the camera, so he is aware of what he is doing.  And, he is obviously old enough to have teeth.  Therefore, IMHO, he is old enough to be WEENED!!

I personally experienced a breastfeeding situation similar to what is captured in the Time photograph.  My wife and I were on a flight to Europe a few years ago.  There was a young couple in the back of the plane who had their young son with them.  I guess that he must have been 5 or 6 years old.  His mom was reclining in her seat when the boy snuggled up next to her and began unbuttoning her shirt.  She did not object or stop him.  Eventually he removed her breast and began to feed.  I have to say that I must admit that I was shocked by this behavior.  And quite frankly, so was my wife, who breast fed all three of her children!  As I said, breastfeeding is a completely natural behavior that is not only physically important for the child's growth and well-being, but re-enforces the maternal bond between mother and child.  However, like most good things, there is a limit.  I would think, and most women that I have spoken to tend to agree, there IS a limit.  And most women seem to feel that the point to stop breastfeeding comes when the child can walk on his own, can unbutton your shirt on his own, and has a good set of chompers to eat solid food on his own!!

It is reasonable to ask in these situations, why, when most mothers would have long before stopped nursing a child of that age, is she still doing it?  Is that mother really doing it for the child's well-being or her own?  I know that, because of the bonding that occurs during the process, it can be very relaxing for the mother as well as for the baby.  Hormones are released in the breast milk that ensure this. But notice that I wrote mother and baby - even infant would be acceptable.  In this case, we are talking about a young child.  And there is a difference.  I'm no psychologist (thank god!) but I would think that good mothers know, in a effort to create an independent child, there are certain key moments when to let go.  Weening is one of those times.  Mother's who have breast fed their children tell me that as pleasurable as it can be, there is also a cloying dependency that can prove irritable to the mother.  This is when MOST women feel enough is enough and ween their children.

In the case of Ms. Grumet, (and I must admit here that I did not read the corresponding article) I write only of the strong impression that the photo left me with.  And it seems to me that she may have a so-called hidden agenda.  Her posture, her glare, her body language all suggest a defiance as if she where saying, this is what I WANT to do.  I know some of you may feel it weird, but I don't care. He's my child and I'll raise him as I see fit.  Even the cover's caption is defiant: Are You Mom Enough? Admirable?  Perhaps.  But, I also see it as exploitative.  She is using her son to make a point.  And, ultimately, I don't care what that point is, children should be left out of it.  That's playing off their innocence and that's just plain wrong.  At some point, as a young man, he will be left to deal with that photograph - and he had absolutely no say in how, or why, it was created (and the poor kid was probably just hungry!! LOL).  Having been a young man once, I know how things like that can come back to haunt you.  How many of us have been embarrassed by those bare assed baby pictures our mothers are so found of showing to strangers?!  And this, I would dare say, is a little bit more intimate than a child's naked butt being shown on a bear skin rug.

It reminds of a blog entry I wrote a few months back about a fashion editor who used a photo of her painting her son's toe nails with the caption that read, I'm glad my son likes pink.  I get it.  She's raising an open-minded, sexually neutral son.  But those are HER concepts being associated with him - forever - whether it eventually adheres to them or not.  And that, my friends, is exploitation.

Ultimately, I have to give Time Magazine credit, though.  It's a bold move and it's going to sell LOTS of magazines! It's a marketing coup.  And it has also stimulated a great deal of discussion about morals, culture, women and their children, and society in general.  Bravo.

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