There’s a photo of a 3-year-old boy sucking his mother’s breast while gazing at the camera that’s going viral because of a doctor from good ol’ Illinois who says "attachment parenting" is where it’s at. Dr. William Sears professes that breastfeeding well into later childhood is emotionally healthy for the child.
The photo on the cover of Time magazine that has sparked furious national debate shows Jamie Lynne Grumet, 26, a stay-at-home mother in Los Angeles, who says she was breastfed until she was 6 years old. (So was Hitler, but that could be a rumor.) Time Magazine must be loving the attention from a world up in arms and beating a stampede to their website. Is this sensational journalism, a tacky photo, or an image that may push the boundaries of what we are willing to accept as one person’s choice?
My first gut reaction was overwhelming empathy for that young boy. Perhaps a parent’s choice to breastfeed late into childhood stems from a desire to give the best possible care. If so, how about caring how he may feel as a 16-year-old when the image of him gazing into the camera with a mouth full of his mother is plastered across his Facebook page? Though I don’t generally make decisions based on what other people think, this photo does cause me to wonder if the child needs an advocate who values his rights to privacy.
There are so many debates about breastfeeding and it is my personal opinion that it’s up to the mother (or parents if both are raising the child) to decide what is best for their child. Everyone knows that nobody gets it right in this business. We can never make our children healthy enough to avoid catching a disease, experiencing loss, suffering emotionally, physically ailing or even dying. All of these things are going to happen to our children during their lives. It’s not our fault. It’s just life.
We can’t protect our children from everything. Even, sometimes, ourselves. I feel it was a mistake to capture the image of this child and plaster his expression all over the world. But I have made loads of mistakes as a parent and thankfully they aren’t captured, focused and blown up in a way that will never, ever go away.
One rule of thumb I always, always tell my children about the internet and cell phones is this: Once you send something on a device you can never, ever get it back. If you are not happy for every mother in Elmhurst to see a phrase or photo, then you better think twice about sending it. We are living public—very public—lives and time may pass but that photograph of that little boy will exist in perpetuity.
Maybe the information highway will get jammed with so many stories and images by the time this young man is grown that the image of his face will be buried.
For now though, that image renders me feeling very sad for the child. I’m sure his mother has his best interests in mind. But I would put the right my child has for privacy above my needs to gain social acceptance of a parenting style. The boy peering into the camera deserves to be shielded until his voice can make the choice to be included in his mother’s campaign.
But let's take it easy on mom here. Nobody gets this job right, and I mean nobody. But we will all die trying.