Jamie Lynn Grumet, the 26-year-old mother featured on the cover of Time magazine breastfeeding her 3-year-old son, has done more this week than become the poster woman for “attachment parenting,” the sometimes laudable movement that advises parents to be physically and emotionally available and responsive to their children. She has shown the limits of such a concept, and the ways in which it can be twisted into a bizarre, contemptible caricature of itself.
Grumet is a model, and models have to have at least healthy dose of narcissism (television journalists like me, too, by the way). But I fear Grumet has more than what’s healthy.
Because she thought nothing of becoming far more famous than she ever was or ever would have been by getting naked on the cover of Time using her son as a prop—letting him, in fact, look right into the camera and be completely recognizable while sucking her nipple. He may never be better-known for anything than for being a breastfeeding 3-year-old on the cover of a national magazine.
When he enters school later in his young life he may be ridiculed for it. And these realities hint at a woman who could (and I have not evaluated her) have very poor boundaries and be willing or likely not only to nurture a child, but to absorb him, deny him his personhood and render him no more than her appendage.
In short, it is not at all clear who is the “parent” in the Time magazine photograph. Is Grumet responding to real and healthy needs emanating from her son’s psyche, or is he responding to her potentially outsized needs to be the center of attention and the object of desire (if only for warmth). Who, we can legitimately ask, is feeding whom?
See, Grumet loves being photographed. And she apparently loves having her son breastfeed. And she loves attention. And she’s happy enough to get naked in front of other people (which there may be nothing wrong with—for her). But that may or may not be the case for her 3-year-old boy, which seems not to have mattered to her—at all. And if his will was bent to hers in order to have him suck his mother’s nipple in front of a photographer and makeup artist and art director and all of America, then it stands to reason that his will may be being bent to hers in all sorts of ways—including protracted breastfeeding.
The truth is that what Time magazine may have unwittingly captured and been party to was a grotesque form of psychological abuse—the parading into public of an intimate moment (intimate for mother and child) at the sole direction of that child’s mother, who didn’t stop to think that her child may not be able at the age of three to know what he thinks about the whole thing, much less to stop it, if he wanted to.
Grumet has stained the attachment parenting movement by documenting how easily it can go wrong, when used as an excuse for poor boundaries and manipulation.
In a way, while looking at the Time magazine cover, we are all Grumet’s son and may know something of his possible plight: finding her a compelling and dramatic presence, seduced by her combination of sex appeal and motherhood—unable, in fact, to detach from her.
Talk about a prescription for psychological disaster.
This is self-centeredness at its worst, sold as good parenting. And this is an act of media violence against a child, committed by adult journalists who also commandeered his will (as did his mother), for sensation and profit. Rarely do we get such evidence of how wrong parenting can go, how poorly journalists can behave and how slow we can be to recognize ugliness when it is disguised as something beautiful.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.