Since my last post I have been thinking a bit more about the effects of fear. As a new mother I had so many fears and I think they drowned out my natural instincts. For example, my instinct was to pick my baby up every time she cried. But when people told me that it would spoil her and that she would want to be held all the time I began to worry that they were right and perhaps I was wrong. Because it felt bad to just let her cry, I still picked her up every time she cried, but then I felt guilty about it! And somewhere deep inside of me I still worried that perhaps I was “doing it wrong.” I can now identify that’s the fear of making mistakes in what felt like the biggest, most important test of my life– the test of being a mother.
Over the years and three children later, I feel that I have left behind much of that fear and I wanted to share what helped me. The first thing was that I was fortunate enough to be introduced to La Leche League, a place where mothers are empowered to listen to their instincts. Through LLL I attended conferences where I heard some great speakers, but two of them made a very strong impression.
The first is Nancy Mohrbacher. At the time she was launching the book she co-authored with Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Breastfeeding Made Simple and she gave a presentation to explain some of the main concepts in the book. She took pains to explain that breastfeeding is not a left brained activity– logical and methodical. Rather it is associated with the right side of the brain– the side that is imaginative and emotional. She presented a humorous slide in her powerpoint presentation:
How to Breastfeed in 463 easy steps!
(I could have the number wrong there; it was a while ago!) We all laughed when we read this, but I laughed particularly ruefully. I read all the books about breastfeeding, followed all the steps to the letter, and still had struggles breastfeeding my first baby. What was I doing “wrong”?
Whereas 9 years ago when I had my first child, there was definitely a “right” and “wrong” way to breasteed (sit very upright, tummy to mummy, nose to nipple, etc.) (read: get a sore back, start sweating, struggle with baby who seems to have grown several new limbs), things are turning around now and we are hearing more about encouraging mothers to follow more instinctual ways of breastfeeding their babies, such as biological nurturing.
The second speaker I was lucky enough to hear was Diane Wiessinger. She had so much to share but one thing that I wrote down, which I recently came across while looking for something else, was a comment she made about mammals. I can only paraphrase here, but what I wrote down is that other mammals don’t worry about their milk supply. They don’t worry about how much milk their babies are getting– they probably don’t even realise they have milk!
What I gained from listening to Nancy and Diane was the dawning realisation that even though I was worried about getting everything “right,” there is no one right way for everyone. And yes, I know everyone says that, but how many of us actually believe that? Do we actually believe that there isn’t a right way and a wrong way? If this is true, then where did the phrase bad mother come from? If there is no right and wrong dichotomy how can a good and bad dichotomy exist? In other words, when I’m impatient or feel frustrated I’m a bad mother (i.e., feeling anger and frustration = bad), but when I’m calm and relaxed I’m a good mother. Hmmm… food for thought, and I’d love to hear your comments on this.
If there is no right or wrong, this means we can free ourselves from the millstone of parenting “mistakes.” The industry of parenting books written by apparent “gurus” is built up around our fear of making mistakes. We want to do it the right way, we want to know what “works.” (more on this topic in another post) Why not just follow our own instincts? Going back to what I wrote at the start of this post– is it because our own instincts have been so buried underneath our fears that we can no longer access them?
Perhaps the ups and downs of our daily lives as mothers are part of the normal hilly geography of parenting. Maybe there are no mistakes. Think about it this way– has there ever been a perfect parent? I suspect not. And the human race carries on. Ok, maybe my children will need a bit of therapy later in life, but they’re half American so that goes without saying– you get a therapist’s number with the passport! 🙂
It can be helpful to remember what Diane Wiessinger said about mammals. I’m no animal behaviouralist, but I know that most mammals are thinking of three things when it comes to their young: food, shelter, and guarding from predators. I’m a mammal, and looking at it through this lens, I’m doing a pretty darn good job! I am a fulfilling all of the normal expectations for a mammal. And more! And today I am going to pat myself on the back for that rather than beating myself with the “good mother” stick.