Poverty, hunger, fear of violence or lack of a stable home—those things hurt kids. But having parents who didn’t read parenting books, that doesn’t.
Posted by: Sue Atkins
“You’ve probably seen the cover image by now, a young mother confidently breastfeeding a boy who is, as one critic put it, old enough to make his own breakfast. It’s a provocative image (congratulations to TIME’s vaunted art department for that: a magazine should provoke conversations like this) and the cover story, written by Kate Pickert, is a nimble dissection of the myriad pressures facing mothers in the era of attachment parenting.
The ideas in my article won’t come as a surprise to those who know me or know this site: I argued for something I called, only half-jokingly, “detachment fathering”. That is, we should all just chill out, and fathers can lead the way. It’s simple: our instincts tell us that the kids are going to be just fine. We don’t need the fretting, the competing, the over-researching, the inflexibility and intolerance of hothouse attachment parenting (there are milder forms, I know, but in New York we see plenty of the bad kind).
This was controversial, as was anything related to that cover package. On Facebook, friends posted the piece and their friends trashed me. One of my closest friends had to write me an email because she didn’t want to be sparring with me or my thoughts in public. All expected, because the whole Mommy Wars thing implies, well, war.
Here’s what I didn’t get a chance to say in the published piece. I am against the mommy wars not only because my own children, who are three and six years old, have taught me that they are in command of their own happiness beyond the basics of food, love and shelter. I am also against the mommy wars also because of what Roads & Kingdoms, and my prior life as a foreign correspondent for TIME, taught me. That is, that in a huge range of countries, from the poorest to the richest, the most conservative to the most anarchic, kids are doing just fine. Poverty, hunger, fear of violence or lack of a stable home—those things hurt kids. But having parents who didn’t read parenting books, that doesn’t.
Kids are amazing, and amazingly resilient. I’ve seen toddlers playing after midnight in Tbilisi, I’ve eaten jungle rat with a kindergartner in the Amazon whose only toy was a decidedly uneducational hollowed-out turtle shell picked clean of meat. Everywhere I go, sometimes reporting on fairly dire things, children are being raised in every possible way imaginable and doing well. After the rat dinner, the Shipibo kid spent two hours doodling and writing the alphabet just like my kindergartner at home.”