“Are You Mom Enough?” Really?!?

I’m sure by now most of you have already seen this image. While I was annoyed that Time chose a cover picture designed to sensationalize rather than one that looks at the reality of long-term breastfeeding (and as an avid proponent, I have to say, this is not what it looks like), I was more annoyed by the title. “Are You Mom Enough?” I mean, really?!?

Along with many others, I have called for an end to the “mommy wars.” This Time cover  is designed to drudge them up again. If you were a good mom, you would buy organic baby food. If you were a good mom, you would nurse till age three. If you were a good mom, you would teach your infant sign language. If you were a good mom, you would potty train your child at three months via elimination communication. And on and on and on.

I’m tired of the guilt game. I’m tired of all of it. Can we acknowledge for once that every mom is different, and that there are many ways to parent, and that that’s okay? Can we stop having this one “golden standard” that every mom is supposed to somehow morph into?

Can we realize that mothers are individuals first, and mothers second?

What works for one mom might not work for another, and that’s okay. What works for one child might not work for another, and that’s okay. What works for one family might not work for another, and that’s okay. In fact, that’s more than okay, that’s normal. That should be expected.

After giving birth to Sally, I became a mom. It’s like your whole identity suddenly morphs when you become a mom, or at least people’s perceptions of your identity do. When I pick Sally up from daycare, I’m “Sally’s mommy.” When I go out with Sally, to the library or the mall, I’m a mother out with my daughter. One thing I love about being a working mom is that when I’m at work I’m me. And it just so happens that I like being me. This article, On Pregnancy and Privacy and Fear, articulates the dynamic I feel perfectly.

But for some reason, it’s not okay to be an individual first. Our culture has a “mommy mold,” a stereotypical cultural ideal of what a mom “should” be. This creates a culture in which the question “are you mom enough?” can be asked. The guilt, the expectations, the mold the “perfect” mother is expected to squeeze into. Melissa wrote a bit about this in The “Shoulds” of Motherhood. She finishes with this:

The idea that to be a good mother you must sacrifice everything about yourself is a myth. You are valuable too. You deserve care too. You have interests and ideas and gifts and talents. You have so much to offer the world and your children, and that doesn’t involve giving up everything that makes you you.

This goes right along with what I said about being an individual first, and a mother second. We need to ditch the mommy mold and realize that motherhood is not “one size fits all.” Because every woman has her own “interests and ideas and gifts and talents,” every woman will be a different mother.

And that’s okay.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Timid Atheist (@TimidAtheist)

    “Can we realize that mothers are individuals first, and mothers second?”

    This, exactly. I felt guilty for the longest time when I had to stop breastfeeding almost right away. My daughter getting enough to eat was more important to me than anything else and yet I still felt guilty, that it was my fault for not producing enough breastmilk.

    Every time I see things like this TIME cover, I feel the guilt all over again. But you know what? My kid is alive and healthy and just fine and that is all I care about.

    • Rosa

      That guilt is a tool, a wedge, and it’s being used against you (and against breastfeeding moms, and against stay at home moms, and against working moms…). Instead of making changes to workplaces and public spaces to assist parents, including breastfeeding parents, public health officials decided that the way to promote breastfeeding (and lower lead exposure, and combat childhood obesity, and keep kids from getting run over by cars, etc) was to “educate” – put more pressure on – moms. As if we were the power players in this culture.

      Obviously the media’s in on it too, because all the breastfeeding moms I know felt like this cover was an attack on *them* for being weird or radical or gross.

  • ScottInOH

    The “beauty” of these kinds of gold standards is that they are actually not standards. They morph–or rather, people who like to stand in judgment morph them–so that the people being judged always come up short. I see it most often in relation to women and mothers–be beautiful but not sexy (although beauty and sexiness are in the eye of the beholder); dote on your children, but don’t spoil them; etc.–although anyone can be subject to it. Every single act can be judged as inadequate by these “standards.”

  • http://puddinsilovemylife.blogspot.com/ Tonya Richard

    It’s funny, because I get lots of flack for still nursing my 2 1/2 year old. She is showing no signs of weaning anytime soon and I am fine with that. Of course, a mother who can’t or chooses not to nurse her child shouldn’t be made to feel bad either. I find that we as women are pretty much damned if we do and damned if we don’t. I am sick of it.

    And until reading this, I have never really thought about the fact that I don’t think of myself as anything other than a wife and a mother. I am very much bothered by this revelation. I honestly don’t know how else to define myself.

    • http://elliha.blogspot.com Elin

      My mother is dead but she managed to give me this advice on parenting before she passed: “Remember that whatever choice you make as a mother you are always going to be considered an idiot by some”. Although I got this advice in my teens I have carried it with me since then and I plan to apply once I become a mother (which if everything is fine will be soon, in about a month) and I have already applied when friends and colleagues who have children have talked about choices they have made with regards to their children. I have really tried to listen first and only offered advice if I felt that the person might have made a choice which goes against their feelings. I agree with Tonya that it is almost impossible to make the right choice as a mother and one needs to prepare yourself to have made the wrong one in some people’s eyes and the right one in others.

    • http://www.ayoungmomsmusings.blogspot.com Melissa@Permission to Live

      Tonya- I don’t know that much of who I am other than a wife and mother myself, and it bothers me too. I was raised thinking that it was the only thing that made me valuable, and now I am starting to think about it for the first time.

  • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

    Back when we and most of our friends had babies and/or toddlers, we became aware that everyone we knew thought that everyone else we knew (including us) was Doing It Wrong — cloth vs. disposable diapers, pacifiers, breast vs. bottle, weaning and solid foods, potty training, supervision and discipline, day care — every aspect of parenting was the subject of someone else’s judgement. Some of the nastiest Usenet flamewars were on misc.kids.

    We decided the whole thing was stupid. As long as what you’re doing isn’t into “call the Childrens Aid” territory, it’s none of our business.

  • Rey

    99% of mainstream articles on motherhood can be summarized thusly:

    If you engage in Unusual Parenting Practice X, you’re crazy, but if you don’t, you’re horrible.

  • smrnda

    I hate the way that motherhood is turned into some kind of ridiculous pissing contest – there are so many choices to make and many of them are not clearly ‘better’ than any other, and I doubt that any single one has that great of an impact. I mean, all anybody should say is to rule out the most extreme things you *shouldn’t* do and the most obvious things that everybody *should* do and avoid giving everybody a guilt trip. I mean, having a kid requires you to make so many choices and how can anyone function where someone is going to tell you a “right way” and a “wrong way” for everything.

    I remember when a friend of mine told her mother that she wasn’t planning on breastfeeding and her mom went nuts over it. I’ve never been in the position to have to make that call since I don’t have any kids, but I think her mom should have kept her mouth shut or at least not made it into such a huge deal.

  • Red

    Thank you! I am not even a mom yet, but I see this dynamic everywhere.
    I don’t know which dynamic concerns me more deeply; the fact that moms have to fear losing their identity in our society, or the fact that no one ever has a similar conversation about dads. It’s as if there is some universal law that parenthood is soul-swallowing but guys are exempt from that.
    Did someone pass out crazy pills?

    I am so glad to know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

  • Joolz

    I think you may be reacting to the Time magazine cover in exactly the way they expected. The fact is that almost no women continue breast-feeding when a child is as old as the one on the Time cover. I haven’t read the magazine (I wait forever until my friend passes it on to me) but I cannot believe that most women didn’t think “ick” when they saw that image – even if they are pro-breastfeeding. The Time cover even refers to extremes. Apparently a Dr Bill Sears is a “guru”. Read the entire cover (and maybe some other opinions) before reacting.

  • Anat

    Joolz, neither I nor my husband thought ‘ick’ about that image. To each their own. (Years ago I was among the few in an internet discussion who spoke in support of a woman who was reported to have been nursing an 8 year old boy. I wonder what became of them.)

    Anyway, I agree there are bazillion choices in parenting each with their pros and cons. Sometimes the choice that is recommended in most cases doesn’t suit an individual family’s circumstances. But sometimes people are not completely informed about options or about how solutions might be adapted to different circumstances. And sometimes people, especially from older generations, pass on information that has since been found inaccurate (I’m thinking of all the bad nursing advice that floated around in my mother’s generation). How to inform without fanatic proselitizing or pointless guilt-tripping?

  • Hibernia86

    Yes, this is disturbingly common in our culture for a lot of things “Are you Mom enough?” “Are you Man enough?”, ect. You’d think people would realize that each person is different.

  • Saraquill

    And a year or so ago Time magazine had some articles on “Tiger moms” featuring not more than a little envy. That cover article and this one seemed more focused on looking good in front of other parents than doing what worked for the family. Hopping from one parenting technique du jour to the next sounds like frustration to all involved

    Could anyone explain what attachment parenting is? The Time articles I read were vague and rather implied that children should be in physical contact with mom constantly, or at the very least within arm’s reach. Furthermore, if you don’t breastfeed your child for at least three years straight, they will never love you.

    I really hope I was misreading that or that the articles were badly composed, for this sort of thinking shortchanges dads, adoptive parents, and a host of other people. Also, if physical contact is so paramount, what happens when the children in question head to school?

  • Anat

    Attachment parenting can be practiced by anyone highly involved with a particular child. The Sears consider both of them attachment parents. Practices associated with attachment parenting include extended breastfeeding, child-led weaning, baby-wearing, co-sleeping. But there are ways to adapt these practices to individual family’s situations. The philosophy is (as far as I remember) about considering the (perceived) sensory and emotional needs of the child and avoiding as much as possible forcing overly abrupt changes on the young child. As children mature they are less dependent on contact for emotional balance. The various practices started in infancy are phased out gradually as the child’s needs change (and get replaced with philosophically consistent practices that suit the needs of an older person).

  • Carol

    “Can we realize that mothers are individuals first, and mothers second?”

    There’s no money in that. FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt. It’s what fires up everyone, gets everyone to read fashion magazines, decorating magazines, and all the publications offered by the various Evangelical sources. As long as they can keep you guessing “am I doing this right? What’s that person doing over there? Is my house good enough? Is my hair styled enough? Am I skinny enough?” they’ve got you hooked and they cash in on that.

  • Noelle
  • Jeff

    People have gone to jail for child pornography for less than what is shown in this picture. I’m curious why the FBI hasn’t launched an investigation.

    • Noelle

      Don’t tell me you think a nursing pic is porn.

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