Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Thoughts on Mothering

When I was young I was convinced my mother was the greatest mom around. I felt this way through my teenage years, but then as I entered adulthood I began to reevaluate my opinion on the matter.

I came to resent the way that I was unprepared to deal with life. I felt that she had neglected to prepare me for not only the practicalities of living, but also how to deal with hardship, stress and relationships. I decided that she was too immature to effectively parent. I often wished she would not have had me... sometimes I hated her for how hard even simple aspects of living were for me.

I blamed her for not knowing how to manage money, time, my home and my life. I blamed her for not protecting me from people who hurt and damaged me; I blamed her for not giving me the parenting I needed and deserved.

I still feel like I was shorted in the parenting department. It is true that she was not an ideal parent and that I was/am ill-prepared for life. I am finding, though, that I blame her much less.

I've begun to imagine what life must have been like for her. She was 21 when she had my older brother, 25 when she had me. She married my father when she was 20. She had never lived outside of her parent's home; she was sheltered and cared for until the day she was married. Then, this innocent girl soon found she had married a monster. My father intimidated and abused her mentally, physically and emotionally throughout their marriage. I used to blame her for not leaving him, for not having better taste in men... finally I'm beginning to see how hard it must have been.

For now I look at my innocent child. I see how beautiful she is and know that my mother saw the same thing in my brother and I. I see how hard it is to adjust to being responsible for someone completely helpless and dependent and see how frightening it is to imagine doing it alone. I know she loved my father... now I imagine how hard it must have been to love a man you are afraid of. Perhaps loving Eric, someone I will never have to fear, has given me the strength to understand how awful it would be to feel so connected to someone unworthy of my love.

I see that she must have tried to protect us, that she was not prepared to have to though. She was not taught to watch out for people hurting her children. She was naive and did not know the evil that sometimes lurks within seemingly safe people... things like that were not discussed then, they didn't happen... at least not publicly.

And while I still wish I would have had a better childhood, that I would not have so intimately learned the possibilities of cruelty in others, I no longer blame her for giving me life. I can see how she must have happily anticipated the birth of my brother and I... as joyfully as I did. How she must have spent hours holding us, memorizing our tiny hands and feet, trying to decipher the color our eyes would become and who's nose and lips we had.

And I finally know, once more, that my mother really did love me. I know that, even with all of her failings, she gave us the best she had to give. Perhaps it was not as much as I would have hoped for, but it was more than many people have had. And now I can take from her the lovely things she did give us... Singing to Lily, telling her stories, making paper dolls, playing silly car games on long trips and the comfort of mommy hugs.

I think she's taught me more about being a mom than I ever thought I'd give her credit for. Some things by example and others through omission. In any case I am hopeful that I will be able to be the kind of mother I dream of being to Lily, and loving Lily has given me the peace to know my mother gave us all she had to give.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Militant Mommies

So I have become a frequent visitor to several parenting boards. I am also trying to find local mommies I would enjoy getting to know and generally trying to transition from being a carefree and feckless lass into a (hopefully) hip and fun-loving mommy.

I do take the responsibility of raising a happy and healthy child quite seriously and put a lot of thought into my choices etc.. but I have noticed, since I began lurking about boards and reading about parenting stuff, that there are a lot of mommies out there who really turn me off.

I guess the thing is that I really believe that nearly all parents have a basic desire to raise their children well. I think it's pretty rare for someone to not love their child and want to do things that are in their best interests. We all, of course, have different ideas about what those best interests might be.

A lot of parents out there, though, take their ideals of parenting to a point I find to be offensive, even when I agree with them. There is no one right way to raise a child. We all, of course, adopt the philosophy that works best for us and I cannot understand why so many of us become so militantly pro-whatever that we end up essentially insinuating that anyone who does otherwise is a bad parent.

The two issues where I see this at its worst are breastfeeding and circumcision. I do breastfeed and if I had a son I would likely not circumsize but I cannot understand the venom that so many breastfeeding and non-circ mommies spew toward parents who choose otherwise.

Sure, I believe that breastfeeding is the best choice. I believe that it has been proven, beyond any doubt, to have numerous health and emotional benefits for both the parent and the child (not to mention economic). I hope to be able to breastfeed Lily pretty much exclusively until she's 6 months and then to continue with solids until at least a year. I cannot find that I have any right to look down on or berate anyone who feels differently though.

So what if the woman doesn't want to breastfeed for whatever reason she finds compelling. If she thinks it's yucky, if she thinks it's inconvenient, if her family doesn't like it... hell, if her dog tells her that breastfeeding is only for poor people... whatever her reasons might be; they are her reasons and she should not be put down or criticized for making a choice to feed her child formula (hmm... if her dog's talking to her that might bring up separate issues :)).

I can't tell you how sorry I feel for women who speak up on these boards to defend their choices, or the choices of others, only to be yelled down by dozens of fire breathing militant mommies who use their "evidence" to try and make these women feel like they are making a choice that is going to harm their child.

The fact is that breastmilk is the best. It is the standard food for babies and should be. It helps support healthy immune function and works the best in almost every case. The fact also is that most every woman knows this. Also, formula is a safe alternative to breastfeeding. Yes, it is substandard, it is not as good, it is second best to breastmilk... and millions of babies have thrived on it for many years. This is not to mention that most women who are formula feeding are past the window of lactation by the point they post on these boards anyway... so it's not like you could be getting them to nurse their child even if you weren't pissing them off.

It's the same with the circumcision issue. With really any issue about parenting. Parents who do cry it out are wrong, parents who don't let their kids learn to self-soothe are doing the wrong thing, babies must be put on a schedule or the parents are failing them... blah blah blah. None of these things will insure a negative outcome and none of them will ensure a positive one either.

Raising a happy and healthy child is not dependent upon what you choose to feed them or certain choices you make. I don't think anyone has the secret recipe that works for even "most" children. Just because you or I am happy with the philosophy we choose doesn't mean it is the "right" one or that it is even going to work for our kid in the end. Only time will show us if our parenting choices produce the results we were hoping for.