I’ve been seeing a lot of stuff lately about how breastfeeding advocates shame mothers, mothers shame mothers, businesses shame mothers, healthcare providers shame mothers. It’s frustrating. I see a lot of this:

“That doctor made me feel bad for formula-feeding.”

“The server gave me the dirtiest look when I started breastfeeding in the café; it made me feel I was doing something wrong.”

“That sancti-mommy lectured me about using formula. It made me feel horrible.”

“My sister (who breastfed) said I was weird for breastfeeding my 3-year-old; it made me feel terrible.”

“That chick said I’m not a real mom because I work outside the home; that made me feel like shit.”

“It made me feel so awful when that mom told me bed-sharing was dangerous.”

“My doctor made me feel like a terrible mother when I asked about taking antidepressants while pregnant.”

These are just a few of the infinite number of ways parents could be shamed. Basically any decision we make as parents is probably going to be questioned by someone. When someone objects to what you’re doing, or says you’re doing something wrong, it can often lead to feelings of shame. But it doesn’t have to.

Do you know what I see in the statements above? A whole lot of refusal to take responsibility for how you feel. A whole lot of letting someone else tell you what your success should look like. A whole lot of letting some jackass decide that you should be ashamed of what you’re doing.

Here’s a way to stop the mom-shaming. Instead of pointing the finger outward at that mom, that breastfeeding specialist, that doctor, that other person – how about pointing the finger inward at yourself? In other words:

STOP GIVING OTHERS THE POWER OVER HOW YOU FEEL.

Photo by Flickr user Sansbury
Photo by Flickr user Sansbury

If you own your decisions, know they were the best for you and your family, and have the confidence to stand by them, nobody can make you feel ashamed. Nobody can make you feel anything – you get to choose how the actions of others affect you.

I’m not saying to never feel anything, or just to brush that dirt off your shoulder like it’s nothing. That’s not going to happen. Shit happens; we react. What I am saying is that when you start to feel ashamed of a parenting decision, take a step back and analyze it. Did I make this decision because it was what was best for ME, or MY family, or MY baby? If the answer is yes, then you have absolutely no reason to feel ashamed. Example time!!

Was switching to formula the best decision for you and your family? Then the next time someone says you’re harming your baby, tell them to fuck off – your family, your decision, and no need to justify it.

Does seeing the research on breastfeeding make you feel like a bad mom because you didn’t breastfeed? Don’t let it. Increasing risk of something does not equal harm. Infant feeding decisions are not made in a vacuum. There are so many variables to consider; risk reduction is just one of them and not necessarily the deciding factor for everyone.

Do you enjoy full-term breastfeeding? Then the next time someone says it’s tantamount to child abuse, tell them to fuck off – your family, your decision, and no need to justify it.

Do you feel pressured by medical professionals to wean because [insert reason here]? Tell them you are the child’s mother and you know what’s best for your family.

Does safe bed-sharing allow everyone in your family to get more sleep? Then the next time someone declares you’re going to kill your baby, tell them to fuck off – your family, your decision, and no need to justify it.

See a pattern here? Own your decisions. If someone questions it, tell them to back off in whatever manner you choose (I’ve illustrated a more direct approach; some of you may prefer a more nuanced, less foul-mouthed response).

If I sound harsh, it’s because I’m so frustrated and saddened. I see so many beautiful, strong, amazing women question themselves because of the words of others. I see what amazing mothers they are; I just wish they did, too.

Who cares what other people think about how you care for your family! The only “right” answer in parenting is the one that works for your family.

Don’t let the actions you take as a parent, define you as a parent. You are not a breastfeeding or formula-feeding or bed-sharing or cloth-diapering or [insert label here] mom – you are a mom who loves her children and makes the best decisions she can, based on the information she has at the time.

Taking back power over how you feel isn’t easy. It’s taken me years to recognize that I didn’t have to let anyone make me feel bad and put that into practice. It’s something I struggle with almost every day.

Also, it will be different when the power balance is off. For example, it’s easier to shrug off a stranger’s disdain than it is to speak up against negative comments by someone in a position of “authority” – like a doctor.

If it’s someone you know and care about (such as a family member or close friend), it may be even harder because of the fear of hurting the relationship. But think about this: you can speak your truth gently and with respect; if the person you love reacts negatively, that’s their issue – not yours.

The following are some tips for taking back your power. It’s things I’ve learned through mothering, working as an IBCLC, going through the 12 Steps as an alcoholic, and just life in general.

  1. Grieve your losses. If you wanted to breastfeed more than anything, but formula ended up being a better option for your family, it’s ok to be upset. Grieve the loss of breastfeeding. If you got no support, or really shitty breastfeeding support (like someone saying the latch looks fine even though you’re in pain) – be angry! Do something to work through that anger, though – don’t bottle it up (no pun intended). Take however long you need to grieve, but try to work through it in healthy ways.
  2. Find a mantra. I personally like saying, “Well, that’s just their opinion” if someone says something negative about me. It’s true – it is that person’s opinion – but I don’t have to accept their opinion as my own. Find something that will help you put emotionally charged situations into perspective.
  3. Be confident. This can be really hard. I don’t think I became confident as a mommy until my first son was 3 and I was pregnant with my second. Even so, I still question my abilities. But if I can honestly say that yes, I am doing the best I can, then that is enough for me. If it’s enough for me, it’s damn well enough for the rest of the world.
  4. Be the change. If you catch yourself judging another mom, stop and think. It can be hard to see people doing things differently – after all, I picked my way because I thought it was best. But what’s best for me, may not be best for another mother/family. And that’s OK. Next time you feel yourself start to be a Judgy McJudgyPants, stop and say, “You know, I’ll bet that mom is doing the best she can. It’s different than what I would do, but I’ll bet it works for her.” Change how you think.
  5. Toughen up. You’re going to encounter Assholes – the ones who deliberately try to make people feel bad because it makes them feel better about themselves. Often, you can’t reason with an Asshole. At that point, pull a Jay-Z and brush your shoulders off. Assholes aren’t worth your time or your emotions. BUT…
  6. Don’t assume everyone is an Asshole. Maybe I’m being too Pollyanna, but I really think that most people say stuff out of a desire to help, not to be a jerk. Perhaps they say it the wrong way, with the wrong tone, at the wrong time, or they shouldn’t have said anything at all. Assume that people come from a place of love or concern for welfare, and you might be surprised at the positivity that comes your way.
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4 thoughts on “To Stop the Mom-Shaming, Look in the Mirror

  1. A million years ago when I was an uncertain young Mom and a family member persisted in giving me “advice” my Dad have me a line which I used over and over. Just say”thanks for your concern/input ” he said, and then go ahead and do what you think best. You are the Mom and you know your baby. It was a good strategy and it worked! Now as a Grandma I use it still! (It also left me free to consider the advice because sometimes there was some truth in it!)

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