I went to a breastfeeding group for new moms the other day. It was arguably a poor decision: after all, I’m an “old” rather than “new” mom, and I’m anything but a zealot when it comes to breastfeeding. I feel that people who attend such things are generally either first-time moms or people who are much more staunch advocates of breastfeeding than I am.
“What is most important more than anything else,” the lactation consultant told the small group, “is that you take care of YOU. If Mommy isn’t happy, no one is happy.”
Well, that was certainly an idea I could get behind. But when one mother voiced the apparently-controversial opinion that an ounce or two of formula here or there wasn’t going to hurt her baby, and even had the support of her pediatrician, the lactation consultant all but tsk-tsked.
“You know what you should do? You should WEAR your baby,” she told the mom. “Wear your baby–carry her around all the time, be with her all the time, nurse her all the time. That is what your baby needs.”
Um…what about the Mommy happy thing from a few minutes ago?
Because I know myself, and I know that if I spent every second of my life wearing a newborn like an albatross, it would eventually be two of us who would be incontinent, drooling and crying. Three, if we count the albatross.
So much of mothering these days is rooted in self-righteousness. “Well, I only fed my baby breastmilk.” “Well, I never let my baby watch television.” “Well, I always hold my child any time he cries.” The emphasis on the “I” in such sentences carries with it the implicit, if unstated, rebuke of “and if YOU don’t do this, you SUCK as a mother, and possibly as a person as well.”
When I read the Vogue profile of Sarah Jessica Parker quoting her as patting herself on the back that she didn’t have a live-in nanny, I thought, “Girlfriend? PLEASE.” [See Mayim Bialik's take on the same article here.]
“We don’t have any live-in help. We’re pretty hands-on parents. That’s something that’s important to both of us, and we don’t shirk it, because what’s the point in having a family if you’re not going to really participate in it, you know?” Parker said to her Vogue interviewer over breakfast in a West Village restaurant.
Now, I could be bitchy and point out that she could have had breakfast in her home if she wanted to always “really participate” in her family…but that would go completely against the point I want to make, which is that of COURSE she has help, because no woman who has her own career does it entirely on her own without help, whether from a live-in caregiver or a day care center or a relative or what have you. And none of that, by the way, means that the parent in question is in any way inadequate.
As someone for whom formula, television, and putting the kid down are not anathema, I need to speak up. Contrary to those who espouse the value of ‘attachment parenting,” I’ve got to say that I’m more of a believer in the value of “detachment parenting.” Okay, let’s be more diplomatic and call it “latch and detachment” parenting. For those who are not familiar with breastfeeding, the “latch” is the good hold a newborn gets on a mom’s breast. It’s tight, it’s perfect, it facilitates eating. And then, at the end of the feeding, the latch breaks off –the detach.
I believe in those parenting moments of latch. They’re the moments when there is intense emotional connect between you and your child: when you kiss them good night, and look at them lovingly, and they say something sweet to you, and you feel that your entire world exists in that one night-light-illuminated room. Or there are moments of latch that are those of keen disappointment, or anger, or frustration: when you realize your child has done something he shouldn’t have, or when your response to her has been disproportionate and you feel contrite and awful. Moments of latch are the moments when you are fully present. They’re everything from the small details of your kid puking in the supermarket (“Irv, clean up in Aisle 7.”) to the big picture of your kid’s joy on her birthday.
But conversely, I also firmly believe in the moments of detach – i.e. the moments when I go to work, when I sit down at the computer, when I do something that is not directly related to my children. Those moments are critical to my sanity and well-being, and are therefore good for my children as well as for me. I kept working while pregnant, and that adrenaline-charged stress of work was good for my kid even in utero. According to the New York Times Motherlode blog, “there’s evidence of how the right amount of stress — a ‘moderate level’ of stress — is actually helpful to fetal development, leading to babies with more active brains. Up on the list of every day stressors, of course, is work.”
I know plenty of stay at home mothers who spend the day on their cell phones or at Pilates, taking advantage of the gym-based childcare. And I know plenty of working moms who spend the day working their asses off so that they can pay for their kids’ schooling. And you know what those things add up to? They add up to the fact that life is too damn short to judge other people based on their choices, whether they are made for economic or emotional reasons.
I don’t care if you have a nanny or if you never put your kid down even to go to the bathroom. The choices you make are yours. Make yourself happy and more yourself – your child will be happier and more himself or herself as a result. It really is true–if Momma ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy.