Two men and a baby

I’ve had babies on my mind a lot lately.

Not because I’m knocked up, but because, increasingly, it’s apparent that our nation’s certifiably obsessed with all things pregnancy, infants and parenting.

Tiger mothers. Teen moms. Kate Hudson’s baby “bump.”

And of course Elton John and his new son with husband David Furnish. Supercute kid—but first, back to the Tiger mothers.

In January, a furor erupted over Amy Chua’s just-published Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Chua’s controversial take on raising her daughters via “extreme” parenting—an approach wrapped up in severe rules and restrictions, scolding and sometimes even a withholding of affection.

If you’re not familiar with the hoopla surrounding the book, here are some basic facts, as gleaned from Chua’s book, that perhaps highlight her philosophies on mothering:

Chua refused to let her daughter use the bathroom until she’d mastered a piano composition; once she handed back homemade birthday cards to her daughters, then 7 and 4—criticizing their artistic efforts as “not good enough.”

Is Chua simply exercising extreme parenting or is she, as detractors insist, guilty of being an extremely bad person?

Debatable—but everyone seems to have an opinion on Chua’s candid account.

That’s because we all think we have the answers to all things babies—even those of us who’ve never changed a diaper, much less raised a child.

We’re a nation preoccupied with family—from what makes one up to its so-called “values.”

It’s a fascination that, of course, naturally spills into pop culture—from 1950s depictions such as The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and Leave It to Beaver to ’90s-era political debates about single motherhood, Murphy Brown-style.

I thought that, in the past 20 years, we’d come a long way from the time when then-Vice President Dan Quayle criticized a fictional TV character for choosing to have a child out of wedlock, but apparently we still live in a society where people still find it necessary to make uninformed judgments on what fits the concept of family.

Or so it seemed when, last week after an Arkansas grocer, Harps, placed a paper shield, featuring the words “Family Shield. To Protect Young Harps Shoppers,” around copies of Us Weekly.

The magazine’s cover image? Elton John, posing happily with his husband and their supercute baby.

A store patron snapped a picture of the shield and posted it to the Web. A national uproar followed—as did the eventual removal of the shield and an apology from the grocer’s national headquarters.

What remained, however, were the perplexing double standards and disturbing mixed messages.

That Harps Supermarket branch, apparently, had no problem with previous celebrity tabloid covers including images of the stars of MTV’s Teen Mom, which chronicles the complicated lives of young, single mothers, or pictures of pregnant Kate Hudson—unmarried and expecting a baby with her rock-musician boyfriend.

Pictures of such, it seems, are perfectly acceptable to display on the checkout stand.

And, I have no doubt, had it been Chua depicted on the cover of Us Weekly, posing with her husband and three daughters, that there would have never, ever been a question of covering up their image in the name of “protection.”

Teen moms, knocked up and unmarried starlets—all OK.

Two married, loving men and their baby? Still—at least according to some—too racy for public consumption.

And still worth an impassioned conversation about the concepts of love, family and what it means to be a parent.