Both at work and among friends old and new, I’m learning more about filters. Sometimes my brain wants to rant about a particular topic, but before the rant comes completely out of my mouth, something in between gives me pause to consider my audience and the possibility that whatever I’m about to say could be totally out of line.
The thing is, and I’m pretty sure this is a mom phenomenon, when a woman becomes a mother, she very quickly and very intensely learns what she values. Often, this translates into outspokenness, and the offering of unsolicited, and many times unwelcome, advice. I’ve been fairly lucky in that my choices, my new found values as a mother haven’t been under much scrutiny or question. At least not much to my face, anyway. Though when you have a baby, suddenly no subject is off limits.
I’m pretty open with my life, my choices, my reasons. I have learned a lot that I find exciting, which inspires me to try to share what I have learned with friends and customers who are navigating this same territory for the first time. But I try to be ever conscious of how I share the information. I want to be encouraging without being judgmental. And it’s tough because you never know how someone else, a stranger especially, is going to interpret your words.
Take breastfeeding, for example. This is an area of mothering that really shouldn’t be such a mine field, and yet, somehow, we mothers have turned it into one. I love breastfeeding. And I think that it’s sad how many women don’t find enough support or the right kind of support to make it work out for them. Because so many have tried and failed, a daily question that comes into my department (which includes bottles and breast pumps) often includes the phrase, “I want to try breastfeeding, if I can…” or some variation. It pulls on my heart to see these mothers already edging into defeat with this, “if I can,” business. We have the luxury to breastfeed or not in this country because we have access to formula that provides our infants with decent nutrition if they can’t get that perfect food from Mom, but when did we start writing failure into our mothering plans? It probably has to do with a lot of things, the prevalence and pushiness of formula companies among them, but again, it’s just one of those areas where mothers who do it or don’t do it are bound to impose all their “wisdom” onto someone who probably doesn’t want to hear it.
Which is why, when a mom indicates to me her wish to “try” breastfeeding her new baby, I get a little bit verbose. But I do attempt to be more helpful than boob-Nazi about it. My main piece of advice to the expecting mommies is to learn as much as possible before baby comes so that they can be prepared for any issues or red flag suggestions that may occur immediately after the birth, a very vulnerable time, which often lead to pitfalls that make the breastfeeding relationship so much more difficult than it has to be. Of course, the whole, “I’m going to try” thing just makes me want to go all Master Yoda on them: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
But the point? It’s been said before, and it’s true so I’ll say it again. We really need to support each other’s decisions, whether or not we agree with them. I will never know anyone else’s whole story, just as they won’t know mine. We probably don’t mean to judge or criticize. When someone asks after your breasts or the condition of your son’s penis, it’s probably just because they wonder what made you decide the same or differently than they did/would, especially if said decision is a little off the beaten path. Or maybe we all just feel so much like we’re fumbling around this new territory that when we figure out that something works, we want validation from others that, yes, it actually does, and I’m not totally insane to do things this way right? Right?!
The danger in becoming a parent is that since now we are responsible for another person’s life 24/7, we might find it tough to remember that all the rest of the people on the planet are NOT our responsibility. That we need to trust each other to make the right decisions for their own circumstances, their own children, aligned with their own values and beliefs.
And truly, this isn’t a rant at anyone who has come along and criticized me. It’s more that I often find myself pulled to drop some judgment bombs of my own, and I’m fascinated by how strong the urge is to assume just because someone isn’t raising their child the same way I am, that they are doing something wrong. Because I know it’s not wrong at all (at least in most cases). And you know what else? If every other parent out there is busting their ass as hard as or harder than I am, they deserve more than my haughty disapproval for forging their own path, however much I might keep it to myself.