When Time put a woman breastfeeding her three-year-old son on a May 2012 cover, controversy swiftly followed. Was it absurd, offensive, ingenius, exploitative? Television producer Jeff Collins saw it differently: reality show!
"[The cover] looked natural to me," Collins explains. "But when everyone started to freak out about it, I thought there was something deeper."
Collins' reality show production company Collins Avenue is known best for Dance Moms, and is now working on a show called Extreme Parenting inspired by the Time cover. Collins reveals that they've already filmed a number of families and that they're currently in negotiations with a few networks who have expressed interest in airing the series. No deals have been signed yet, so it's still unclear if and when the show will hit the air.
One episode of Extreme Parenting will center on the woman on the Time cover, Jamie Lynne Grumet, and her decision to breastfeed for years longer than most mothers, who typically stop when a child is less than one year old. Grumet has already agreed to appear on the show, which will feature one family per episode. Other episodes document families who practice different kinds of "extreme parenting" — and arguably make prolonged breastfeeding look relatively tame. Most of the kids filmed so far are infants or young toddlers, who aren't old enough to speak up for themselves on camera.
One set of subjects practices "elimination communcation," a form of potty training that Collins says is similar to "the way you would housebreak a puppy." So parents use as few words as possible when trying to teach their kids to use the bathroom: "They don't diaper the child until they understand how to go potty. Can you imagine if someone in you family did that?"
Collins's team also filmed "co-sleeping," where babies sleep in the same bed as their parents, a practice that doctors have routinely called dangerous. (A number of children have actually died from this due to suffocation and parents have been charged with reckless endagerment and homicide charges.)
Then there's "unschooling," where you let your child stay home and "try to figure out what they're interested in"; Tiger Moms, the term (popularized by Yale Law professor Amy Chua's book) for strict mothers who forbid playdates and insists children study and practice instruments for hours each day; and even some extreme soccer moms, who shuttle their children from grueling sports practice to grueling sports practice.
Though the show's called Extreme Parenting, the emphasis is on Moms because, Collins says, "It is mothers who are leading the way [in extreme parenting]."
With most of the families Collins's team has filmed, the Dads are onboard with the unorthodox parenting styles (or at least say they are).
At the end of each episode, Collins envisions bringing in an expert — like a child psychologist or doctor — to weigh in on the risks or benefits of the parenting method featured.
Collins says he's had no trouble signing up families to appear on the show. "We find a lot of people want to share their parenting ideas. It's their passion."