Homestead Girl welcomes this guest post written by her sister, Julie Keon.
With Mother’s Day just celebrated this past Sunday and the ridiculous TIME Magazine cover that was revealed last week, I felt compelled to write about mothers and what they do and do not need. The Time magazine cover, which featured a slender, blonde mother standing while nursing her three-year old who is also standing (on a chair no less) and headlined with “Are you mom enough?” insinuated that women who practice extended breastfeeding were better than the mother who did not practice extended breastfeed or who did not breastfeed at all.
I would not claim to be an expert on mothering. I have only one child and that child is nowhere even close to being like most people’s children. My mothering journey has been far from typical and so this does not qualify me as an expert on mothering. I have just under fifteen years of experience working with expectant and new mothers, though, which has given me a peek inside those vulnerable moments of motherhood like pregnancy, labour and birth and those early days and weeks at home. I have been privileged to be with a new mother who is raw and vulnerable, struggling to breastfeed and navigate this new role of Mother.
I have also been witness to what has been called “the mommy wars” where some mothers essentially bully other mothers who are doing things that that they might find offensive. It seems you cannot win in our society when it comes to mothering. You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Take breastfeeding: If you attempt to breastfeed and then decide to stop for whatever reason (and there are many), you will be on the defensive anytime you are in a group of mothers and someone asks, “Are you breastfeeding?” You may feel a need to explain to other mothers why you are not breastfeeding as if to soothe the mother rage that you might sense. You see, there is a belief out there, usually perpetuated by those who have successfully breastfed their babies, that if you are not breastfeeding or have stopped breastfeeding then you have not tried hard enough, you have not asked for help or have not asked enough “experts” for help or you are just lazy, uneducated and uninformed. Perhaps, this is true some of the time and some of the time, if anyone cared to ask, you might find the non-breastfeeding mother to be grieving over the loss of the breastfeeding experience. On the other hand, the Time magazine cover sure brought out people’s reactions to extended breastfeeding. I read things on Facebook like: “That is disgusting” /“That is not natural” /“Who does that?” The unfortunate thing about the TIME magazine cover is that it accomplished what it had set out to do. It grabbed people’s attention and it sold a lot of magazines. The sad part is that in doing so, it made a mockery of the choices some families make like tending to their babies needs as opposed to ‘letting them cry it out,’ breastfeeding beyond the one to two year recommendations and parenting in a more natural way.
When I see the amount of energy expended on criticizing others' choices, I wonder what could happen if that energy was used to support rather than condemn, understand rather than assume and reach out rather than turn our backs. Having spent so much time with couples that are just beginning this journey of parenting, one thing I certainly know is that we are all trying to do our best. We all come to this experience with our own baggage, our own beliefs about child rearing and our own preferences and comfort zones. It is my job as an educator to provide information that is backed by research and to assist couples non-judgmentally in making the choices that are right for their family. A lot of the time, people base decisions on misinformation and inaccuracies. Sometimes an open discussion, where both parties feel safe and listened to, can lead to informed choices being made. ‘Informed’ being the key word.
New mothers are exhausted enough without having to argue the reasons why they have chosen to mother their child in any particular way. If the choices they make for their family do not reflect the choices you have made for your family, letting them know your disapproval is never helpful. We all must tend to our own judgements and biases and make an effort to genuinely accept the choices of others. Being a mother is hard enough as it is without having to always be on guard. Next time you feel compelled to make blanket judgements on other mothers, stop for a moment and remind yourself that she, like you, is doing the very best that she can. And then invite her over for tea.