A Womb of One’s Own: Mama Manners Maze

I’m used to correcting my language to avoid saying inadvertently offensive things–it’s part of being an adult, part of being a feminist, part of being respectful of other people.  But since becoming a mother and interacting with other moms, I’ve learned a whole new world of language self-policing.

No two parents parent the same way–every person has their own ideas about what works for them and their children, and, at least speaking for myself, we may be somewhat defensive about our decisions.  There’s always someone who wants to tell you what you’re doing wrong, either via concern-trolling, or outright criticism.  I don’t enjoy it when it’s directed at me, and therefore I do my best to not do it to others.

It’s hard, though.  We’re in the middle of a perfect storm of terrible: teething, sleep problems in general, and the four-month sleep regression (in addition to a small person who thinks naps are for suckers).  Every other mom I’ve encountered with a similarly-aged child is facing the same thing, and we’re all fumbling our way through.  The challenge of sharing our challenges is explaining our reasoning without saying something that may offend another mom.

For instance?  Many of my mom friends are either working on or have done Ferber’s sleep training (called cry-it-out, but incremental and with soothing).  Some have done it as early as one month, others are just doing it now at five or six months.  Gabe’s four months old, and I don’t feel comfortable attempting it with him just yet.  When discussing my decision to wait, I am more comfortable being vague (“We’re waiting to see how teething goes”), citing what I’ve heard from medical professionals (that before six months, babies aren’t equipped to deal with crying, they experience it as pain), than, “I think it’s terrible and I hate to hear my baby cry himself into a wreck.”  Intellectually, I know that hearing their babies cry is just as painful to other moms as it is to me when I hear Gabe cry, and that thousands of babies have been Ferberized and are happy, healthy, loving children.  Emotionally, I just want to call them all unfeeling jerks and hug him to me forever because WHAT IF IT MAKES HIM STOP LOVING ME?

This week, I did something I thought I’d never do.  I bought formula, because I finally came to the decision that the ability to get away from the baby (in a responsible fashion for a couple hours) is more important to me than him being exclusively breast-fed.  He’s a darling, needy baby, and it’s hard to find the 30 minutes of time where I know I’ll be able to get a full pumping session in.  I haven’t been able to feel comfortable discussing this with my moms’ group, because one member is formula-feeding and a couple others have used formula for supplementing.  I hate that I could sound like a judgmental jerk, or that I’m looking down on them for using formula.  Seattle is very breastfeeding-friendly, and (at least in the social circles I travel in) there is a strange stigma about using formula–people apologize and feel guilty for having to supplement even when it’s medically necessary.  Part of that is simply that becoming a mom seems to have made us all feel guilty about everything, ever, part of it is the constant drumbeat of “breast is best!”  I feel terrible that I feel terrible about having formula on hand, and I have been trying to figure out how to explain the guilt/anger/sadness I feel over simply owning it without offending moms who choose to or have to use formula.

Sometimes, though, there are moments when I’m torn as to whether to be a straight-up bitch about someone else’s parenting decision, or to just shut my mouth.  This week, “Baltic amber” teething necklaces came up in conversation at another moms’ group, and I mentioned that I’d heard it was basically junk science.  I then realized one baby had one around her neck, and I had to temper my follow-up from, “And really, why are you putting a necklace around your baby’s neck against all common sense?” to, “I don’t trust my son to be safe with himself while wearing a necklace.”

Persepho-moms, how have you handled these situations?  How do you assert yourself and your parenting without offending others (even when they’re being unsafe and thoughtless)?

By Jessica Werner

Free-range librarian in Seattle. A sucker for happy endings, teen angst, and books that make me want to sell my possessions and travel the world. Incurable homebody and type A. Send love letters and readers advisory requests to

3 replies on “A Womb of One’s Own: Mama Manners Maze”

It’s such a minefield isn’t it?

Before I had my little boy I thought, sure I’ll do cry it out.  One night of pain for good sleep.  But I just can’t even face the thought of it.  Especially when he’s so little.  This little being is crying because he wants to be held by his Mummy.  Sure it might be a pain for me at 3 in the morning but the thought of it just breaks my heart.

Breastfeeding is a big issue with me.  I was determined to do it, I had plenty of milk but my little man would scream every time I put him to the boob.  In the end, he’d be crying and so would I and I think if I’d kept trying I would have ended up with PND.  I tried for six weeks, he got the nutrients then from expressing and is as my Dr would say in her lovely Irish accent “Thriving” but I still don’t feel at peace with having to use formula.  I am overweight and am just paranoid that my formula feeding him is going to end with him being obese (as all the breastfeeding guides will tell you).

The longer I’m a mom, the less judgy I’ve become, that’s for sure.

With real friends, I think we’ve all been pretty honest with each other & our choices. It’s weirder when it’s people you only know casually.

I’m apt to stick by my guns- “No, Mom, I’m not giving the kids juice” rather than tell someone else they’re wrong “You’re giving them juice? Don’t you know it’s linked to obesity?” I’ll offer opinions when asked, but not say too much else unless it’s a matter of safety “She should really be rear-facing because of muscle development, it’s not so much weight”

I think for sure it’s a matter of doing what you feel is right for your kids, opinions be damned. My kids were adopted, so I no control over the fact that they were bottle-fed. We also used commerical daycare, treated ear infections with antibiotics  & tubes, and they are turning out ok so far.

I am pretty good at not being judgmental.  All parents are doing the best they can, including me.  I never apologized for my choices, I just stuck with “We’ve tried a few things and this is way works best for us.” (even when I hadn’t tried some things because I thought they were stupid).

If I felt myself sliding towards judgement-land, I would ask questions instead, with a tone of genuine curiosity instead of skepticism.  In the case of the amber necklace, there’s a big difference between “Why are you putting a necklace on a baby against all common sense?” and “You don’t worry about her choking? It would make me a nervous wreck.”

As for when to start letting the babe cry it out at night, there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying “I’m not ready to give up rocking him to sleep.”  If I remember correctly, I did it with my son at about ten months and I don’t know that we ever managed it with MiniB.  She was the most pigheaded baby I’ve ever seen and she broke me every time we tried.  Seriously, I had never met a child who could cry that long without eventually passing out.

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