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)?