Imagine the following scenario:
You and your 3 year old are taking a walk on a beautiful spring day. You’re both enjoying the warm weather, taking in everything as you walk past. You spy a bright yellow flower growing up from a crack in the sidewalk. You comment, “Look at that beautiful yellow flower! So lovely to see it growing here all alone, brightening up the sidewalk.” Your pre-schooler replies, “It’s not yellow, it’s blue!” A bit concerned by her response (doesn’t she know her colors by now?), you correct her. “The flower is definitely yellow, sweetheart. The SKY is blue.” “No. The flower is blue. The sky is red.” She says defiantly. She becomes quite upset that you don’t agree with her. “The flower is blue! I painted a flower at school yesterday that color and I told my teacher it was blue. It’s blue, it’s blue!!!! I’m a good artist and I said it was blue so it’s BLUE.”
Okay, maybe this is a ridiculous example, but this is how I feel when I read some discussions that fall into the category of the “Mommy Wars.” SO many things we all disagree on. Some have two sides supported by facts and opinions and risk/benefit analyses about what’s best for each family. . .like vaccinating or not, circumcising or not, infant ear-piercing or not. . .and the list goes on. But seriously, people, some of these topics/decisions, etc. have FACTS that are not debatable. . .and are not changed just because some moms disagree with them. . .or are threatened by them. . .or made choices based on a bigger picture and not just on the basic scientific facts. You can stick your fingers in your ears and yell, “Correct car seat use does NOT save lives!!!” over and over again until you’re blue in the face. It does not change the statistically proven FACT that car seats do indeed save lives when used properly. The laws of physics are not subject to change because of mommy-guilt because you moved your first child to a booster too early. Finding out later that it was not “best practices” does not mean you should ignore that information, once obtained, and do the same thing with your second and third child. . .and then tell all your friends that your kids were “fine” in a booster at 2 years old and you really don’t understand why anyone would wait to move them until they’re 4 because CLEARLY it’s safe at 2. That’s called anecdotal evidence. And it’s not truly evidence at all. If a doctor gave a patient the wrong medication and the patient did not suffer any ill effects, does that mean the standard of patient care should change and all patients should be given that medication incorrectly? No. Ridiculous right? Absolutely.
How about a real life example. We all know that breastmilk is the biologically normal food for an infant. It does not compare to formula except that both substances will help a baby grow and meet the caloric needs of a child through infancy. It is a living substance. Formula is a manufactured substance. In a perfect world, every baby would be given the opportunity to be nourished by mother’s milk for at least their first year. But we do not live in a perfect world.
What if a mother has a baby and has every intention of nursing that baby. She does all the things she’s told by family, friends, lactation consultants and nurses. . .but she just can’t get the baby to latch and nurse. Days pass. She has to start pumping to get a bit of milk to feed her little one. She’s overwhelmed. She takes the baby in for his 2 week checkup and he’s lost way too much weight. . .and he’s still not latching. She’s having difficulty pumping enough milk to meet his needs as well. In addition to all this stress, she is suffering from severe postpartum depression bordering on psychosis, barely managing to get out of bed. So after giving it her best shot, she and her husband decide that they will switch their son to formula once the milk she’s managed to pump is gone. They make this decision based on what they feel is best for their family, given all the circumstances.
Now, in that scenario, does that mean that mom’s milk is NOT the biologically normal food for her baby? Does that mean that formula is a better substance than breastmilk? NOPE. Breastmilk is still the best SUBSTANCE for baby. But did she and her husband make the best DECISION FOR THEIR FAMILY? I believe they did, but really THEY are the only ones who can own their choice. There are times when everything that’s within us wants to give our children the absolute best thing for them in every situation. And there are times when what’s best for our children is perhaps not the same as what’s best for someone else’s children in another family in another situation. There is no reason to feel guilty when you make a decision based on the risks and benefits in your own situation.
Which brings me to that ugly phenomenon known as MOMMY-GUILT. It’s a killer. It kills friendships, it mars our relationships with our spouses and our children (and sometimes other family members). It’s UGLY. But here is the piece of it that I really want to get across: NO ONE CAN “MAKE” YOU FEEL GUILTY. No one. And this is something I’ve had to learn the hard way. Someone can say something to you in an attempt to provoke you to guilt, true. But when another mom is talking about her own situations and decisions, and you start to feel the mommy-guilt rising inside of you, STOP AND THINK. Is it about you? Really? Or do you regret a decision you made that reflects something your friend is talking about? Is it something you can change? If it’s in your past, the answer is likely no. Is it something you can do differently going forward? Sometimes, yes. Focus your energy there. Guilt is one of the most useless and destructive emotions I can think of. Conviction over actual wrongdoing is different. I’m not saying we shouldn’t listen to our consciences. But harboring guilt over something you can’t change can be debilitating. Apologize if applicable. Forgive yourself. Change what you can going forward. But don’t say, “You made me feel guilty about _____________.” It’s not possible. You rule yourself. Let your friends be themselves, too.
So the next time I feel threatened by someone who parents differently than I do, or makes different choices than I make, I’m going to stop and think. We’re all just trying to raise our kids to be the best they can be, really. The only bad mom is one who doesn’t love her children or maybe one who doesn’t show her children that she loves them. I personally don’t know any of those. Do you?