Friday, May 25, 2012

Are You Mom Enough? Part II

            Although the title alone for Time's piece "Are You Mom Enough?" triggered a national conversation, the biggest controversy centered on breastfeeding.  In Part I, I mentioned how the magazine purposely used a title and photo that would ignite readers' tongues, but I believe the topic itself and the ages of the children mentioned in the article would have initiated a debate even without the dramatic cover.
            Why can't we just look to scientific research on the whole topic of breastfeeding and its benefits (and/or harms) physically and mentally to children from birth to a chosen age?  Wouldn't that settle the issue for once and for all, so all women can quit arguing and start cooperating?  Hmm, good science continually searches for the truth, but is that "science" the determiner of "truth"?  We have to remember that scientific research can be manipulated, gathered erroneously, misinterpreted, and result in conflicting conclusions, even when it comes to providing nourishment for our babies.  Take a look at the sway of public opinion in my lifetime.
            When I was born, a love affair with science was in full bloom.  After all, the United States was going to send a man to the moon!  If science could do such an amazing feat (and to me it is astounding), then surely anything science could create had to be the best way to go, right?  That view of the world touched families in a big way, including the dramatic shift to bottle feeding.  Bottle feeding had already been an option, but gradually the "scientific" way of feeding a baby began to challenge the "natural" way to feed a baby.  My mom became one of its victims.  She has told me that sometimes "sophisticated" women would look down at her for breastfeeding and treat her as if she were an ignorant country hick for not doing "what was best for her children" and bottle feed.  She nursed my brother and me anyway.  Later she began nursing my sister, but due to a rare health situation, she had to convert to bottle feeding for her last child.  It was an emotionally difficult transition, but for my sister bottle feeding was truly the best way to feed her.
            Now let's jump in time to about 10 years ago when "research" and public opinion has shifted to viewing breastfeeding as the best way to provide nutrition to babies.  An acquaintance of mine walked into a health food store with her newborn baby.  The conversation went a little like this:
            "What a beautiful baby!"
            "Thank you.  He is very sweet."
            "Boy or girl?" asked the clerk in a melodic voice.
            "Boy," proudly replied the boy's mother.
            "Are you nursing?" continued the clerk very politely.
            "No, I bottle feed," answered the mother just as politely.
            "Well, you know don't you, that breastfeeding is the best way to feed your baby," responded the clerk with a slight lecturing tone.
            "Yes.  I know, but we just prefer using bottles.  It's easier."
            "Easier?  Breastfeeding is much easier than using bottles, and even if it wasn't easier, you should do what's best for you baby.  Your baby will be much . . ."
            Interrupting the almost threatening tone of speech, my friend declared, "Well, I don't think breastfeeding is an option for me.  I did not give birth to him.  He's adopted."
            Embarrassed and caught off guard, the worker apologized, "I'm so sorry.  I didn't know."
            My friend quickly left and later confided she wished she had ended the conversation with, "Of course, you didn't know.  It's not your business. I shouldn't have to go into a store and explain if I personally gave birth to my latest child or not.  What if I had given birth to him?  Can't I feed my baby the way I want without being attacked?"
            Good question. 
            Do parents sometimes make wrong choices?  Of course.  Do they need guidance?  Definitely.  Are they going to listen to advice until they are ready to hear it?  Probably not.  Should others give advice to parents who "obviously" need someone to tell them what to do even if they don't want to hear it?  Usually not. 
            So, what's the answer regarding breastfeeding?  Before you read the following, be sure you have read "Part I" about who to listen to.  J  (In other words, you decide if you agree with me; don't take what I say as the "gospel" unless you test it for truth first.)
            When trying to make a lifestyle decision, it's always good to start with Scripture.1  First, I don't find any commands or guidelines for babies/children to be fed only by their birth mothers.  Sometimes Scripture guidelines are not written out in black and white like the Ten Commandments but are revealed by the underlining truth of a set of guidelines.  Looked there.  Nothing different. 
            Now let's carefully look at the everyday living habits of some of the people of the Bible.  Although I do not believe people of one time of history are more holy than people of another time of history just by the time they lived, looking at their habits may give us some insight we may have otherwise missed.  In other words, let's look at how some kids were fed for some clues.  Unless Scripture dictates it, we do not have to do what they did; we can choose.
            Did nearly all women of Bible times breastfeed their children?  Probably.  Did they limit their nursing to small infants?  Hmm.  I'm guessing not.  Toddlers seem to get hungry and thirsty at times more frequently than adults and at inconvenient times.  Being able to give a toddler a snack by nursing could have come in handy.  If they did, does that mean you have to?  No.  Just because it fit their cultural setting and daily needs, doesn't mean it will fit yours.  Also look at Hannah in I Samuel.2  She dedicated her son to the Lord and took him to live with the priest at the temple when he was weaned.  I'm guessing he was potty trained, too.  He would not have been potty trained as an infant.  Yet, at the same time, we know he went to live at the temple while very young.
            What about "bottle" feeding?  Could someone have rigged up a water skin with an extended area with a hole to "bottle feed" a child?  I sure think so.  It would have been messy and awkward but could have been used if necessary; and there is no Biblical principle prohibiting something like that. 
            Did all mothers nurse their children?  Probably not.  Today there are women who are physically unable to nurse their children, so I assume that to be true of the past as well.  (Remember, assumptions are possibilities, not truths.)  Then look at Pharaoh's daughter3 who had her slave girl fish Moses out of the water.  His watchful sister Miriam volunteered to get a Hebrew woman (who was also secretively the baby's birth mother) to nurse the baby.  Pharaoh's daughter immediately sent Miriam to get a wet nurse.  Young Miriam knew what a wet nurse was.  Pharaoh's daughter knew what a wet nurse was.  No one was shocked or surprised by the suggestion of a wet nurse.  In other words, the practice of one woman nursing another woman's child (one she did not then claim for her own) must have happened often enough that the arrangement was part of general knowledge.  So if it was possible for another woman to breastfeed a baby and for that baby to still bond with his mother,4 then I think it is possible for today's woman to bond with her child whether she breastfeeds or bottle feeds and whether she stops when the baby can be weaned or later.
            Now when you read Time's article "Are You Mom Enough?" view the article as one writer's method of sharing what some women are doing.  You do not have to copy them, but you may copy them.   You may do something in between.   Talk with your trusted mentors if necessary.  YOU get to decide how the article touches your family.

1"Scripture" refers to the Christian Holy Bible (Old and New Testament).
2 I Samuel 1:21-28
3 Exodus 2:5-10
4As far as I can tell, Moses did not bond with his adoptive mother, but I believe that is due to issues much bigger than breastfeeding.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Win a Beautiful Necklace. . .

          Who loves freebies?  Me, me, me!  Who is a pro at adding special offers, links, and photos to a blog?  That would NOT be me.  Not knowing exactly how to do something has not always stopped me in the past, so for your sake—to get something wonderful for free—I will not let it stop me now.   
      My daughter Georgia led me to the Sew Mama Sew web site, which has started a Giveaway Day. Unfortunately, I missed the official day because I had not even told anyone I had started a blog until then, but the fine print says it really lasts all week!  That's good news for you and me.
       You will be glad to know that my prize was handmade by my daughter Bethany rather than me.  She inherited her dad's artistic talent and hand painted this attractive pendant, which looks heavy but is very light weight.  Bethany had so many beautiful choices that it was hard to decide.  Luckily, I settled on this blue and white swirl design hoping it would be more versatile for an unknown winner's wardrobe.  By the way, this "ocean" pendant hangs on a sparkling chain with a claw hook clasp.  You will love it!

Now, the important details:

  • To enter, just leave a comment saying (1) "I want to win," and (2) any topic or current event I could use in my blog.
  • Followers get a bonus entry.  (If you are a follower, be sure to tell me in your comment)  If you are not a follower yet, then just click if you want and become one before you enter!
  • I will randomly choose one winner after the contest closes.
  • This giveaway is open to US shipping addresses only (sorry!).
  • The giveaway will close Friday, May 25th, at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time (or 7:00 p.m. Central time).
  • Be sure to check out  Sew Mama Sew to see the rest of the giveaways.
  • Then check back this weekend to see who the winner is!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Are You Mom Enough? Part I

            When Time magazine unveiled the attention-getting cover of their upcoming edition, private and public forums exploded with opinions, questions, and condemnations.  If you somehow missed it, the cover shows a woman with one breast flipped out the top of her tank top and a 3-year old boy standing on a chair and attached to the breast nursing.  The title reads, "Are You Mom Enough?"  (Time Magazine, May 21, 2012)  I hope Time's cover designers get paid the big bucks; they definitely know how to draw attention to their magazine.
            So, what's the big deal?  A lot.  Emotions are tied with opinions.  Self-worth is entangled with parenting choices.  Peer pressure continues into adulthood.  Although the overall article discusses attachment parenting as a whole, the public arguments focus on two issues.  One is breastfeeding.  The other lies in the title itself.  Today let's discuss the implications of the cover rather than the article itself.  Why?  Because before the magazine was actually available to the public for reading, the cover question impacted women's self-worth and touched families across the country.
            Interestingly, the photographers relied on traditional photos and artwork of mothers nursing their babies as inspiration.  I do not know about the inside shots, but the cover is anything but traditional.  Rather than a lovey, dovey portrait of a smiling matriarch, Time chose a more militant look, even to the point of dressing the little boy in fatigue pants.  The mom seems to have a look that says, "I dare you."  No doubt, the photographer coached that look.  It may or may not reflect the thoughts of the woman on the cover; but the intent of Time is clear—causing emotions to explode at the sight of the cover.  The question now is, "What does it say to you?"
            Do you feel challenged to be a better mom?  Do you feel encouraged to stand for your parenting choices?  Do you feel bullied into accepting someone else's parenting choices?  Do you feel intimidated or threatened? 
            I feel bullied.  Do I blame the moms in the article?  At this point, no.  Yet, the person who decided on the title wanted to push my buttons and succeeded.  How about your buttons?  Even so, the issue in this blog is not deciding on the view or intent of the article writer but deciding what you do when others intentionally try to bully you.
            Insecurity at some level as a parent is a given.  Sometimes that insecurity manifests itself as a know-it-all bully.  Think about kids who are bullies.  Some of them feel insecure and out of place in their world.  As a result, they make life miserable for everyone else.  That tendency can overflow into adulthood.  Yet, the self-righteous attitude that often accompanies social adult bullies make the victims doubt themselves.  Basically, insecurity may be an element in both the social bully and the one who gets bullied.
            If you are feeling pressure to change your parenting style but do not feel you should, ask yourself some questions. 
            Who do you admire as a parent?  Remember, no one's perfect, but who seems to be getting it right most of the time?  Who has a way of parenting that makes you smile or makes you feel that she is right on target? 
            Who has kids that behave in a way that you would like your kids to behave?  Again, kids are definitely not perfect and don't usually try to impress another adult with their behavior, so remember to give them a little grace and forgiveness.  Yet, whose kids are pleasant to be around and seem to have a good influence on your children? 
            Who do you trust?  Who has the patience to listen to you and give you honest feedback?  "Honest" does not mean they tell you what you want to hear, nor does it mean they use "honesty" as an excuse to criticize you to pieces. 
            Who has experiences that will help them relate to your concerns and questions?  This does not mean that they have experienced your situation exactly but can still relate to your concerns. 
            Who seems to really know you and your goals for your family?
            Look at your list.  These are the people to whom you will listen.  Sure, you can read articles and blogs.  You can have discussions with other moms at play groups, co-ops, or even in the nursery at church.  However, all those opinions and styles do not determine you.  YOU may choose to follow the suggestions from any of those sources, but it is YOUR choice.  If you hear a new method of dealing with your children and think, "That is exactly what I have been looking for," give it a try.  If you like it, great.  If you try it and it's not a good fit, drop it.  You owe no one an explanation—except it is good to keep the lines of communication open with your husband.  J  Feel free to discuss what worked for you and what didn't with others in these little groups if you want to discuss it, but remember you are sharing your experiences, not looking for their approval.  Yet, remember the people you listed in response to the above questions about whom you trust.
            Now when you talk to those people, listen to what they have to say.  They know you.  They know your strengths and weaknesses.  They know your family dynamics.  They have a better idea where your heart is and how you have evolved as a mother.  (Yes, you evolve as a mother.  Didn't you know God gave you children so He could work on your imperfections?) 
            Lastly, they will be there to support you and encourage you on those days that it doesn't go just right without saying, "I told you so;" or "You should have done 'such and such' just like I said."  Carefully consider the corrections and admonitions of these trusted few.  If they have concerns about some choices you want to make (or have made), take it seriously.  Remember, you chose them as mentors for their wisdom and insight.  Maybe you do not want to hear what they are telling you, but maybe you should.  If after careful and prayerful consideration you think you should stay on your chosen course, then do so, and thank your trusted friends for their honest input.
            Getting feedback from women who have passed your test of reliability can give you the courage to resist the social bullies.  You may resist by quietly smiling while you patiently wait for the other person to stop rattling on.  However, in some situations, you might need to resist by taking a vocal stand in opposition to another woman's blatant comments, especially if another woman in your circle is starting to doubt her own self-worth as mother because of the overt opinions of interfering oppressor. 
            As I mentioned before, some people become pushy when they feel insecure about their choices.  Second guessing ourselves and seeing everyone else as perfect can definitely create self-doubts (maybe even depression) and make us vulnerable to social bullies.
            You do not have to let some stranger—or even a long time friend—intimidate you into changing your parenting style.  You can choose whose advice you trust and whose demands you keep from touching your family.  Then the next time someone says, "Are you mom enough?" you can confidently declare, "Yes, I am!"

Monday, May 14, 2012

Years ago, before the common man had heard of the words "internet" or "blog," I wanted to write a newspaper column entitled, "Touching Families."  I planned to bring up topics dealing with the day-to-day life of being an at-home mom and also broach bigger subjects, such as politics and the media, and their influence on families.  Any subject that "touched families" would have been discussed.

A lack of both self-confidence and time kept me from seriously pursuing this venture.  However, I did express the topic to a friend who wrote for a local newspaper.  She was excited for me, thought it was a great idea, and encouraged me to begin contacting various newspapers who might be open to adding such a column.  I continue to appreciate her confidence in me, but after seeing the vast number of blogs and websites available today, I still do not think I have anything to say that can be said better than someone else.

Yet, when you compare what is out there today, many people are writing similar articles.  Even so, each one has his or her own following, because each of them.connects better to certain people than others.  Now the question is . . . do I begin a blog only if I believe I can have "x-number" of followers or do I begin to blog because now is the time?  I guess now is the time.