Every time I see a blog post by Renee Septimus I take a deep breath and read with a nervous flutter in the pit of my stomach. The same portion of my anatomy that has been newly ulcerated by the searing judgment of someone who thinks I’m doing it wrong or they did it better. Grandma Renee has told us to put down our breast pumps, stop talking on our cell phones, and not to let our child cry for more than 45 seconds for fear of permanent brain damage. If that isn’t condescending, I’m not sure what is.
Much of the same started rolling my way less than a week after my son was born. People were examining us as if we were auditioning to be parents. Watching us struggle with nursing, with sleeping, with balance. Some did it quietly with odd glances and “helpful” comments to sing to him more, shhhsh him less, rock him more, swaddle him less, feed him more, bathe him more, while others laid it out there without a shred of finesse or tact. Three days before my first Mother’s Day I got an email from a family member outlining all of the ways in which I had failed my son in his first three months of life. The letter urged me to put down the books and “…start relying on common sense and advice from the people you love. You are supposed to be such an educated woman, start being a mother to this baby and take care of him properly” with a few jabs at the end about how my grandmother, of blessed memory, would be appalled at the mother I had become. You would have thought I was putting cigarettes out on his arms while feeding him rat poison from my bloody nipples. That criticism burned like salt in my open wounds. I didn’t need to be told that I was being a terrible mother when I was already telling myself that very thing every minute of every day.
I’ve struggled a lot with this over the past year and all the therapy in the world can’t take away those comments. Most of my new-mama friends share similar stores, and while my family seems to have been more forward than most, I can tell you that Ms. Septimus isn’t the first grandma to classify cry-it-out as a form of child abuse.
I’ve narrowed it down to two things, grandparents forget and the vast majority of parenting literature was developed over the last 30 years. For them, “parenting strategies”, “sleep solutions” and “attachment parenting” were things you learned through trial and error, not something you read about in a book. You didn’t use an electric gadget to suck milk out of your breasts or talk on your cell phone because they weren’t invented yet. You couldn’t have read about Harvey Karp’s “Five S’s” because his findings weren’t published until after the new millennium. You can’t remember what you had for lunch last week so don’t tell me your baby didn’t scream at night during his first week of life. I don’t want to sound disrespectful because advice and supportive words from family can be worth their weight in gold to a new mother, but organizations like La Leche League were founded because over the past 50 years, family systems have changed and new parents are looking to books and experts for support because they don’t have an elder lactating woman in the house to offer a breast while they figure it out.
Perhaps our new-fangled parenting methodologies are a slap in the face to the ways in which we were raised or maybe it seems disloyal to accept scientific theories over the advice of our own flesh and blood. But in the end, that’s the license that comes with having a child of your own. You get to figure it out for yourself and slowly and dynamically turn into the parents you hope to be. My son is and has always been well fed, rested, healthy, and happy and at the end of the day we do what works best for our little family.
This mother’s day just tell your daughter, daughter-in-law, granddaughter that she is an amazing mom, because even if she doesn’t do it exactly the way you think she should, take a nice long look at your beautiful grandchild and know that she wakes up in the morning with a desire to do her best and goes to bed each night with a promise to do better tomorrow. Just like every Mama I know.