Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Parenting Decisions as Moral Choices and Other Ridiculous Ideas
As a result, those months, and especially the first few months after her birth, are something of a blur.
Yet there's one memory that has stood out through the last seven and a half years because it was so very odd.
I was standing in the aisle in Target that has feeding supplies, staring at the bottles on the shelf. Sadie was in her baby carrier, strapped securely to my chest, and I was bouncing her up and down and pushing the pacifier that I'd finally broken down and given her back into her mouth.
That little pacifier was a turning point for me. It marked the beginning of the end of knowing everything that there was to know about parenting choices (Annie wrote a great piece today about this very subject).
You see, before Sadie was born, I knew that I was never, ever going to give my baby a pacifier. I'd read the all the books and new all about the evils of the binkie.
When she was four weeks old I finally broke down and began to wonder if maybe the people who had suggested giving her a pacifier weren't just agents of some binkie selling conspiracy.
After seven hours of nursing and spitting up and screaming any time she wasn't eating I broke down and admitted that a pacifier might help. And it did.
So the pacifier was important, not only because it bought me brief moments of rest so that I didn't fall asleep while I was on my feet, or driving to the grocery store, but also because I began to realize that parenting choices aren't quite as black and white as they seemed when I was reading those books without actually ever having changed a diaper.
Back to that aisle though, on that mid summer afternoon in 2008. I was standing, staring at the rows of bottles and had just picked one up when a voice off to my right startled me. A woman was standing there and she had just asked me what I was doing and why I was buying those bottles.
She was, she explained, from the local La Leche league and could help me breastfeed.
"Oh no," I explained, caught of guard enough to offer her information she had no right to, "I'm nursing." And I continued to explain that we lived in a remote area and it took an hour and a half to get to the store to do our shopping and we were going to a family reunion, that would mean an entire day in the car driving, and I wanted to have a bottle of expressed milk on hand, because we couldn't stop every five minutes or we'd never get anywhere. I had a pump, but no bottles.
She looked at me doubtfully and told me I was buying the wrong bottles.
Simcha's excellent response to Greg Popcak's latest post, where he agrees with a "moral developmental psychologist" who claims that breastfeeding is far more than a choice, but is in fact a moral obligation.
Here we go, I thought as I read his post. And then I couldn't help but think that he'd finally come out and said what some who engage in "Mommy War" style debates seem to have believed all along: that parenting choices are actually moral matters with solutions that are either right or wrong (just writing that makes me sigh...).
Breastfeeding or formula feeding (or a mix of both)? Cosleeping or crib sleeping? Pacifiers? Babywearing? Cloth diapers?
There are people who will tell you that the answers they've discerned to these questions aren't choices at all but that they are basically moral imperatives. And often times breastfeeding stands at the very top of the list of questions that somehow assume moral authority.
Which is ridiculous because they aren't moral choices. And acting as if a family making this decision is making it because it's the "easier thing to do" is ridiculous.
If there's one thing that the last seven and a half years have taught me it's that the choices that we've made as parents have seldom had anything to do with doing the "easy" thing and everything to do with doing what's right for the individual child and for our family as a whole.
Because raising children is hard, even when you make the best decision. But sometimes the best decision is a little easier, because you're doing what's best. Not always, but sometimes.
Some of our kids have wanted to be worn constantly and others definitely wanted to be down and let us know they wanted their own space.
These simply aren't decisions that are right or wrong in the general sense. They were conclusions that we came to, after weighing our specific situation and our children's individual personalities, and deciding what was right for that particular child.
To be honest I find myself marveling at the hard work that my friends put in who have decided that formula feeding is best for their children and families (and also for those who pump. All of you in both groups are seriously rock stars! And of course nursing moms too. Because feeding babies can be hard, however you do it!).
Because the work they put into buying formula and prepping bottles is far more intensive than anything I do when I'm nursing, which is generally the time when I get to a) sit down and b) glance at social media or catch up on blog reading.
Which brings me to another little secret. One of my favorite things about nursing is that, for me, 99% of the time (with the exception of the first month the first time) it has been easy. And that, along with other considerations, is part of what made it the best choice for our family.
So when I see other moms putting in way more work to nourish their babies I think of how amazing and awesome they are... because it doesn't look easy at all. It looks like they love their kids and are doing what's best to feed that kid.
Instead of shaming women for making a decision that is very often incredibly difficult and incredibly personal, let's recognize the sacrifices that often go into making those very difficult decisions.
Don't be that woman in Target (either online or in real life), walking up to a brand new mom and demanding to know her reasons for being in the bottle aisle.
She had no idea why I was there or what struggles I'd gone through that had brought me to that moment. There was a fair chance that I had been standing there because I hadn't been able to nurse and that I was making the very difficult decision to give up what had been a dream of doing things the way 100 different baby books told me that they needed to be done.
There are enough pressing moral matters in this world without inventing new ones.
There's a difference between offering support to someone who's struggling and crossing over the line into wildly inappropriate pressuring and even shaming over a matter or personal choice.
Let's not presume to know the motivation for another family's chosen method of feeding their child, and let's give this tired old debate a rest.
It's more than time and resurrecting it as a moral issue is ridiculous.