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Lisa Belkin Headshot

No. I Am Not Mom Enough.

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TIME BREASTFEEDING
Time

No. I am not Mom enough.

Not as TIME magazine seems to define it on their outrageous cover today. The one showing the willowy bombshell of a mother, staring defiantly at the camera, while her 3-year-old son stands on a chair next to her, the better to suckle at her exposed breast.

I am not Mom enough to take the bait. To accept TIME's deliberate provocation and either get mad at this woman for what I think I know about her from this photo, or to feel inferior, or superior, or defensive, or guilty -- or anything at all, if it means I am comparing myself to other mothers.

I am not Mom enough to think that the debate over how to feed our youngest children -- an important and nuanced conversation about nutrition, and workplace policy, and government responsibility, and gender relationships -- can be boiled down to a simplistic, unrepresentative, staged photograph.

The breastfeeding conversation is not titillating. The TIME cover is.

Breastfeeding is not a macho test of motherhood, with the winner being the one who nurses the longest. In fact there ARE no macho tests of motherhood. Motherhood is -- should be -- a village, where we explore each other's choices, learn from them, respect them, and then go off and make our own.

Women who breastfeed their children for three years are outliers, but they are not spectacles, and we shouldn't hold them up as either Madonnas or freaks. Women who do not breastfeed are not monsters, and we should not condemn them, or really have any opinion about their decision at all.

TIME wanted attention. They have gotten it. And the shame of it is that the article accompanying the photo and headline has moments of nuanced exploration of the global social questions raised by the attachment theory of parenting. "The arguments for and against," author Kate Pickett writes, "mirror questions about family and work that still divide America five decades after the advent of modern feminism, when nearly half the U.S. workforce is made up of women."

So, let's talk about that. But let's not wrap it in the tired trope of my-way-is-better-than-yours and parenting-means-choosing-a-camp and cool-we-can-put-a-breast-on-our-cover-if-we-say-it's-a-social-schism.

I refuse to see either a heroine or an extremist in TIME's cover photo. I won't condemn her or praise her. I will not stoop to the level of pretending that we are so unidimensional that we can be divided by a lifestyle choice.

I am not Mom enough.