We hear a lot about mother's guilt, but it's not often that we openly discuss mother's shame. Let's face it - we all feel shame over some aspect of our parenting choices, and when we get to know other parents better, we find out that nearly all of us have some kind of parenting skeleton in the closet. And, not surprisingly, most of our skeletons are related to one of two topics: sleep and feeding.
To Sleep, Perchance to Shame
A dear friend of mine just doesn't tell people anymore that her six year-old son still doesn't sleep through the night and comes into Mommy and Daddy's bed every single night. She and her husband have come to terms with his special sleep needs, but they know that most people won't share their acceptance, so they just keep mum about it now.
Another mother I know apologized profusely to her daycare provider because her four year-old son still likes to have a bottle (with water, not milk) at sleeptime. When the provider ensured her it was just fine for him to do so, she admitted that she herself has no problem with it, but she just usually doesn't mention it around people she doesn't know well because of their (negative) reactions.
Breast is Best! Unless You Do it Too Long
Here's my shameful parenting skeleton. Well, actually, not really a skeleton so much as a pair of functioning mammary glands. What's so shameful about that? Everyone knows breastfeeding is best for baby, and I've always felt proud that I nursed both my daughters a good long time. I've also always felt comfortable telling people I was practicing extended nursing because I could quote the Canadian Pediatric Society: "Breast milk is the optimal food for infants, and breastfeeding may continue for up to two years and beyond." So why feel ashamed? Well, I've just entered the realm of "beyond" with my second, who turned two in June. I've tried several times to wean her, but neither one of us is ready for that move yet, so here we are - still nursing at bed time and at wake-up time.
The problem? Comments like, "you're still nursing?"; or, "you really need to get her off that, you know"; and my favourite: "I think it's gross when they can ask for it". So, now guess what? Unless asked outright, I just don't mention our nursing anymore.
The irony, of course, is that I know a few moms who chose, for varying reasons, not to breastfeed their young babies. They were also subject to shame, even being accosted when buying formula with comments like, "you should be ashamed of yourself--your baby deserves to be breastfed"! So what's with this double standard? If you don't breastfeed at first, you're villainized, and if you keep breastfeeding past the unspoken limit, you're "gross".
I think it's time we all took a look at our own prejudices: my own experience has helped me see that I've consistently judged the bottle-feeding moms I know. Now that I've had a taste of "feeding shame", I don't think I'll be so quick to judge such choices in the future.
I also got a taste of my own medicine when my second daughter was born. Charlotte was one of those babies who slept anywhere, anytime, and could keep herself entertained in a room full of chatting adults when awake. I used to think the parents who fretted over routines, bedtimes and night-waking were inflicting their own anxiety onto their babies, hence: sleep problems. Boy, did I get a wake-up call when Madeleine was born; demanding, loud and definitely not a good sleeper. I learned then that it's not just "bad" parenting that causes troubling baby behaviours. And I learned not to judge the moms who had to dash out of playgroup early so junior wouldn't fall asleep in the car on the way home because then she wouldn't get him down for his scheduled nap.
We're all walking the same road as parents; without a map and following different directions. I think it's time we banded together and helped each other a bit more, instead of being quick to judge.
After all, feeding or sleep hygiene may not be your particular shame skeleton, but if you're a parent, I guarantee you've got one hiding somewhere.
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