In the provocative new cover story of its May 21 issue, TIME Magazine taps into a two-decade-long parenting conversation that has boiled over in recent months. Journalist Kate Pickert reports on the rise of attachment parenting, a set of techniques popularized by Dr. William (Bill) Sears in "The Baby Book," his 767-page treatise published in 1992.
In the article, Pickert explores who Sears is and why controversy surrounds his theories -- the biggies are baby-wearing, extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping -- but it's TIME's photographs of real mothers breastfeeding their toddlers that has everyone talking. (Scroll down for reactions on Twitter.)
The cover shows Jamie Lynne Grumet, a slim blonde 26-year-old California mom, breastfeeding her 3-year-old son. TIME photographer Martin Schoeller also shot three other families on the same day.
On left: Jessica Cary and her 3-year-old daughter. Right: Dionna Ford with her 4-year-old son and 5-month-old daughter. For more from the TIME cover shoot, visit TIME LightBox.
“When you think of breast-feeding, you think of mothers holding their children, which was impossible with some of these older kids,” Schoeller said in an interview on TIME.com. “I liked the idea of having the kids standing up to underline the point that this was an uncommon situation.”
One notable mom who follows Dr. Sears's advice does not make an appearance in Pickert's piece. Actress Mayim Bialik, who recently published her memoir "Beyond The Sling", is a vocal advocate for attachment parenting and recently came under fire for writing about breastfeeding her own 3-year-old. While Bialik ignited big discussions about how much is too much when it comes to motherhood, TIME's story is elevating the conversation to a national debate.
The usual questions that come up when mothers are called out for breastfeeding in public (which happens often) include: Is breastfeeding indecent? Or natural? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all mothers breastfeed for a full year -- or longer if the mother so chooses, so how can we shame women who are just following the advice of the country's foremost medical establishment?
There is no doubt that the TIME cover strikes the public as shocking. But, as Pickert points out, the women featured are at one extreme end of this always-controversial discussion. On the other end, she says, are mothers who "endorse the idea of maternal closeness (who doesn't?) but think Sears is out of his mind." And the writer goes on:
"A third category includes mothers caught in the middle. These parents try to achieve Sears' ideal of nursing, baby wearing and co-sleeping but fall short for some reason and find themselves immobilized by their seeming parental inadequacy. They suffer from what two New York City parenting consultants call "posttraumatic Sears disorder."
Her point, in writing the in-depth profile of Sears, seems to be that there are many parents out there left wondering what's right, what's wrong -- and most important -- what makes sense for their families.
CORRECTION: This article originally stated that the author of "The Baby Book" was Dr. Jim Sears. The book is by Dr. William "Bill" Sears. The article also misstated the age of Dionna Ford's youngest child.