Don’t Compartmentalize Kids

We should have more of this, more babies seamlessly integrated into their moms' existing lives (eonline.com).

We should have more of this, more babies seamlessly integrated into their moms’ existing lives (eonline.com).

The cover of the June issue of Australian Elle magazine tells a powerful tale. We see model Nicole Trunfio nursing her young son and enjoying the special coziness that mothers regularly share with their infants. However, the backstory is even better.

Unlike last year’s Glamour shots of Olivia Wilde nursing her son, the cover that Australian subscribers will see apparently wasn’t planned. According to a Refinery29 article by Gina Marinelli:

“This wasn’t a contrived situation,” says Elle Australia’s editor-in-chief, Justine Cullen. “Zion needed a feed, Nicole gave it to him, and when we saw how beautiful they looked, we simply moved her onto the set.”

Bravo, Ms. Cullen. Good call. As Marinelli comments:

Sure, it may be a glorified representation of motherhood—one that includes luxury fashion and professional hair and makeup—but it’s still a badass ode to any mom who’s ever had to drop everything (a phone call, a workout, a sentence) to feed her kid. 

It’s that last part that’s relatable—and refreshing. Rather than leave her infant at home with someone else, Trunfio brought her four-month-old son along to her cover shoot. She brought her new baby, who was likely to cry and make noise during the day, with her to her job. And when her son was hungry, she took an unscheduled break to breastfeed him.

Trunfio commented on Instagram, “There is nothing more powerful and beautiful than motherhood. . . . There is nothing worse than a mother that is judged for feeding her hungry child in public. #weareonlyhuman I’m so proud of this cover and for what it’s stands for.”

This is Trunfio’s triumph. She managed to mesh her pre-existing career with her new identity as the mother of her son. That meshing is notable because parents are so often pushed to segregate our personal and professional selves. Workplaces and conferences are rarely kid-friendly. Even restaurants, which are meant to be more boisterous than your local library, are increasingly hostile towards children.

The cultural status quo means that our children and colleagues see very different sides of us. It also makes it harder to take advantage of all the opportunities that might await us, if only we could inhabit both our personal (parental) and professional roles simultaneously. And why can’t we?

Having children should help an adult grow, not erase the underlying person. Children want to know what animates and motivates their parents. One way to stay true to the original you is to involve your children in activities that were meaningful to you even before you were a parent, and that could absolutely include a parent’s pursuing higher education.

Consider the story of Hebrew University Professor Sydney Engelberg, which everyone learned after a photo of him holding a student’s son went viral. Rather than banish the mother of the crying boy from his course, Engelberg approached, picked up the boy, and continued lecturing.

Engelberg says he not only allows infants and occasionally older kids to tag along to class (and breastfeed whenever necessary), he encourages it. “The reason is that education for me is not simply conveying content, but teaching values,” he tells Yahoo Parenting. “How better than by role modeling?”

How better, indeed. Engelberg and his wife are surprised by all of the positive, international attention the professor’s received, but they shouldn’t be. He deserves praise for not only holding pro-family beliefs, but also for living those values. It’s true that university students in Israel are older than in the United States (they attend after military service) and so are more likely to have children than their American peers, but still. Can you imagine any professor you had in college or professional school doing something similar? I cannot.

Both Trunfio and Engelberg are proof that life needn’t stop when a woman becomes a mother. Why can’t we help parents integrate their children into their academic and professional lives? Perhaps if we stopped insisting that parents compartmentalize their children, more Americans would see parenthood as a viable, even appealing, option, rather than an experience to shun. And that would be good for everyone.

This article appeared in Acculturated.

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