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Tone, filters, and information

Photo by Bas Silderhuis

Whenever I see articles talking about the importance of nutrition in pregnancy I get a little tense.  When recent articles came out about research findings that moms that eat a diverse diet of healthy foods during pregnancy expose their babies to flavors that can help them to be less picky and eat a wide range of healthy foods later, I had a momentary twinge of guilt.  With articles like that I find myself thinking “I guess I screwed up” and then “actually, they eat pretty darn well, thank you.  They turned out fine.”

I eat like crap when I’m pregnant.

An article like this one about how physical activity during pregnancy gives babies a “head start on heart health” cause me to want to curl up in the fetal position and cry that it must be my fault that Smunchie was born with a heart defect and I’ve probably taken years off her life because I didn’t exercise much during pregnancy.  In fact, I hardly got off the couch.

It’s not easy to hear that what we have done as parents may actually give our children a disadvantage or worse, hurt them.  In fact, it can be darn near crippling or lead us to defensive responses of anger.

Those articles all hit a sore spot for me, the vulnerable spot of the reality of my pregnancies.  With every one of my pregnancies so far I have battled hyperemesis gravidarum.  Due to extreme nausea and vomiting I lose tremendous amounts of weight and usually don’t even get back to my prepregnant weight by birth.  With my worst pregnancy I was down to 83 pounds at 5 months pregnant.  Instead of a diverse diet of healthy foods, I can’t even keep down prenatal vitamins and pick what I will attempt to eat based on how it will come back up.  (FYI, ginger burns like hell and saltines rip up your throat and make it bleed.)  Regular IVs, PICC lines and an impressive drug cocktail closer to a cancer patient’s regime than anything pregnancy related get me through my pregnancies sometimes along with TPN and NG tubes.  Usually with multiple hospitalizations.  Kidney failure, liver problems, gall bladder problems, and permanent heart damage from severe dehydration have all come with having my babies.

This article just about broke my heart and the possibility that my children may experience long term health and behavioral issues as a result of my pregnancies is a tough reality to face.  I hate it.  It makes me angry.  I may even get defensive.

Sometimes all I want is someone to tell me it’s ok, that nutrition really isn’t that important and all that matters is that the baby is growing.  Not to dismiss the suffering of HG but to somehow alleviate my fears that artificial nutrition is really not that bad and that poor diet in pregnancy isn’t going to ruin my children for life.  After all, I want to say, Lactated Ringer’s and TPN (total parenteral nutrition) are specially formulated to be just as good as real food, right?

No, no they’re not and they come with some very real risks.  I really don’t want people to lie to me and more importantly, I don’t want to lie to myself.  It’s not even close to “just as good.”  But it is as good as I can get.

I’ve tried it all.  Eating the “right” foods, avoiding the “wrong” foods, detoxing, homeopathy, gut healing, a variety of testing, cleanses, herbs, chiropractic, acupuncture, positive thinking (can’t convince me I’m not puking though), prayer, supposed miracle drugs and so much more.  Nothing has worked.  Some have made it a little less awful.  Every time I’ve been afraid of what the medications will do to my baby but more afraid of what not being on them would mean for both of us.  It is not what I would choose and I grieve the loss of the pregnancy experience I had hoped to have.  And, I have to admit, sometimes when I hear that someone else has the perfect pregnancy with no problems and never even took a Tylenol I not only get a little jealous (or a lot, as in completely green… again) I may even get defensive even though what they’ve said really has nothing to do with me.

Do those articles set out to make me feel guilty that I barely eat during my pregnancies?  No, they are just sharing information and sometimes aim to encourage and inspire moms.  Do the moms celebrating their beautiful pregnancy experience do so to punch me in the gut and knock me down?  I’m pretty sure they are just excited about their own experience.  Does the fact that I have very little physical activity during the prenatal stage of my mothering make me a bad mom?  I don’t think so but it doesn’t mean I don’t wonder from time to time or that it doesn’t hurt a little when I’m faced with the reality that it really isn’t a good thing and could be putting my children at risk.  Blaming the information though doesn’t help me or make my reality better.  Hiding it, or worse denying it, doesn’t help anyone else either.

But maybe I have an acceptable reason that gets me off the hook?  Maybe because I had no choice and couldn’t move off the couch or do a prenatal work out with my IV I “shouldn’t feel guilty.”  (I thought this blog post from Analytical Armadillo about telling others they shouldn’t feel guilty was interesting.)  Some may say that but just as soon as some try to make me feel better about the reality of my situation, others will tell me I “should’ve tried harder.”  In fact, when I was pregnant with Lolie I had multiple psych evaluations and was told that if I just wanted my baby and if I would make up my mind to stop throwing up I would be able to eat.  If only that had worked.  It was in moments like those that I felt like nobody really heard me and my suffering and that maybe I was a really bad mom and didn’t deserve my children.  Where is that line?  When is the problem real “enough” that it  doesn’t deserve criticism?  And who gets to decide that?

What if I had just decided to be that way though?  What if I didn’t have HG and just had a normal pregnancy with normal pregnancy fatigue and nausea and I didn’t eat well or get off the couch?  I’m sure the harsh criticism would have been significantly more and maybe even deserved.  But what if there were other factors that others couldn’t see?  What if my husband wasn’t supportive of my pregnancy and I struggled with wanting my baby but having no support?  What if depression was already an issue for me and pregnancy changes led to more of a mental and emotional health battle?  What if no longer feeling in control of my body brought flashbacks of my sexual abuse history?  What if I was totally terrified at becoming a mother, giving birth or that if I moved wrong I’d hurt my baby?  What if I didn’t tell anybody what was really going on and instead I let people think I was selfish and lazy?

Harsh criticism only goes so far.  Occasionally it will inspire people to change but usually it inspires people to become defensive.  It’s hard to listen from a defensive position.  Dialogue, information sharing and genuine care, on the other hand, help people explore their own situations and choices honestly.  It is important to remember that the tone with which we share information can make a difference, making it personal towards someone else’s choices rarely is effective.  At the same time, when reading and receiving information readers bring their own baggage and filters to the message.  Remaining objective is incredibly challenging particularly when we live in a world where much of what we see and read is intended to rile us up and get a reaction.  A form of entertainment.  Even fairly objective peer reviewed studies can be reported in the news with headlines that immediately spark controversy and raise emotions that really have nothing to do with the study.  One I linked above reads as though women who love their babies will be doing prenatal work outs, leaving unsaid but certainly implied that not working out indicates a woman does not love her baby.  With tones like that the actual message can be a bit hard to accept.

Yet these caveats should not preclude us from sharing information.  In fact, we have a responsibility to share it.  My training as a midwife required me to learn a lot about prenatal nutrition and the impact it has on pregnancy, child birth and the health of the baby.  It took a while but I got over the urge to write in every margin on prenatal nutrition “but not always…”  Because ultimately that response was about me, not the standard, normal, healthy, low risk pregnancy these texts were talking about.  Over time I even developed sympathy for women dealing with normal nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, able to offer up suggestions that could help with their discomfort that never touched mine.  These days I can also legitimately celebrate with those that have healthy, normal pregnancies, gain weight without problem and enjoy food and I don’t take it personally or feel the need to remind them “not everyone can, you know.”  They’re not making a personal indictment against me and even if they were too, life is too short for me to dwell on that and let it get to me.  I know they legitimately don’t understand.  Frankly, I’m glad they can’t, I wouldn’t wish my pregnancies on anyone.  But I risk isolating myself, winding up in a dark, lonely hole of guilt and anger if I remain defensive towards the information and the people sharing it.

Whether we’re talking pregnancy health, birth choices, breastfeeding, formula feeding, or just about any other subject related to the choices we as parents have to make, sensitivity and recognizing our own filters in the conversation go a long way.  We should still share information, we should still read information and we hopefully do this in a safe community where processing the information can happen through trusting and supportive dialogue.  I hope that by keeping in mind the fact that we do not know everything there is to a person’s back story and why they make the choices they do we can remember to be more sensitive in how we share information.  I hope that by keeping in mind the fact that we all bring our own baggage to any topic we can remember to try not to take information sharing as personal jabs.  It is through these steps that we can support one another and make a difference for others.

Mothering Mistakes and the Human Spirit

This guest post is an important one and I’m honored to be bringing it to you.  Mi-Jo Sayegh is a very active member of The Leaky B@@b Facebook page offering encouragement, support and information to others through sharing her experience.  I love this post of hers and feel it is a message so many moms need to hear and take to heart.

When I was pregnant I didn’t know anything about labour or child birth.  I was so busy learning about breastfeeding and gathering all the information I could on that subject, the thought that there was any other way to have a baby, other than in the hospital with pain medication never even occurred to me.

I never got to have the natural birth I had hoped for.

Looking back, I know that there was series of events that led to my c-section.  Was it my fault ? Maybe , maybe not.  The end result was that my daughter had rapid breathing and ended up being in the NICU for 10 days.  I was not allowed to hold her for the first two days of her life, she never had contact with her mother, and was left to cry it out all alone in an oxygen tank.

I was a terrible mother.

It was all my fault.

According to a lot of mothers on the internet, the damage was done, my daughter would be traumatized for life and I couldn’t change it.

I had ruined my baby. This hard start would effect every aspect of her life, and there was nothing I could do about it. It was too late.

My ruined baby hardly ever cried the first year of her life.  She was sweet , content, easy to please and a generally happy little girl.  I’m sorry to say that the same can’t be said for her mother.

I cried, I felt guilty, I blamed myself, I blamed the doctors , and I wallowed in self pity.  Those are all normal emotions, but the worst thing that happened was I became an alarmist.

No one ever knew, but I obsessed about what I would feed her, how it would effect her if she had to cry for a few minutes while I went to the bathroom, whether or not she would be scarred for life if I needed a few hours away and Dad gave her a bottle of pumped milk.

I had visions of terrible things happening to her, of accidents and dangers that lurked around every corner.  I agonized over every potential mistake I never made and ones that I had.  The paranoia became all consuming.

I’m not sure when or why it happened, but one morning I woke up and realized that this way of mothering wasn’t going to work for me. I couldn’t continue living like this.

I remember my mother once telling me that she had not one ounce of guilt over the fact that she formula fed me. When I asked her why, she simply replied that ”You turned out just fine and we can only work with what we know at the time ”

Ok. I know how most people HATE that expression.

I do also, but I mostly hate it when people use it to argue science or dismiss new theories and studies.  My mother accepts that giving me solids very early, formula feeding and letting me watch too much tv were not the best choices and she would never try to claim otherwise.  But she also thought that wallowing in guilt over it could do much more damage to me in the long run.

I must admit that I now think she is right.

The more I think about it, the more right I think she is.  I’m not saying that doing any of these things are mistakes, but I know many mothers who regret choices they have made and let it consume them, I know, because I was one of them.

My guilt and paranoia was getting in the way of me being able to parent effectively. I’m not saying that we don’t have the right to feel guilty, we all have the right to our feelings, but I am saying that the way we act around our children, and the messages we send to them with our own behavior is probably more important than any other parenting choices or mistakes we make.

If I give my daughter the impression that making a parenting mistake is something I should suffer for, or is unacceptable and may ruin her for life, then how can I turn around and tell her it is ok to make mistakes and that it’s not the end of the world?  Surely I can’t, because then I would be a hypocrite.

I have come to terms with the mistakes I’ve made now.

I accept them, I learned from them, and I have moved on.  I don’t get defensive about them, I admit when I could have done things differently, but I am also aware that these mistakes will not alter my child’s entire destiny.  What better life lesson can we give our children than the lesson of self forgiveness ?  I’m a less guilty mom now, but I’m not perfect and that is fine by me.

I believe in informed choices, I believe in trying to do the best we can, but I also believe in the human spirit.  My daughter is going to be fine.  She isn’t ruined.  I only wish it hadn’t taken me so long to realize that. Her spirit is strong, she’s a survivor, and there aren’t many mistakes I could make that will change that, as long as I keep on trying my best and learning from my regrets.

Guilt is ok, it’s an important emotion, but I also now know it doesn’t make me a bad mother to let go of it.

If anything, it has made me a better one.

I want my daughter to grow up knowing there is no such thing as perfection, knowing that I made mistakes and that I am sorry, but that it is ok to forgive yourself.  I want her to see that no matter what sort of mistake she makes, or if she makes choices she regrets, it’s going to be ok, she is going to be ok and that no one expects her to make the right decisions all the time.  I want her to have faith in the human spirit.  I want her to have confidence in her ability to bounce back from anything.  I want her to know that any wrong she makes can be made right and that if it can’t, she has the ability to make it through the hard times.

I want other moms to have faith in that also, for themselves and for their children.  I want other moms to have know I have faith in them.  I want other moms to know that it is ok to feel guilt and regret.  I also want them to realize it’s ok to let it go and that it doesn’t make them uncaring mothers.

We can’t know for sure that when our children get sick, that it isn’t our fault.  We can’t know that the choices we made, the ones we regret, won’t have some sort of impact on them later on in life.   We can know that obsessing about it and letting it get in the way of our day to day life will have a greater impact.  I have no proof of this, but I believe it with all of my heart.

My challenge to you is to try to have a guilt free day today.

Let it go, and enjoy your children.  You are allowed, and you deserve it.  In the end, our memories and our human spirit are all we have.  If we spend our short time here on earth with our children, obsessing about past wrongs, it may end up being the biggest regret we have.

Breastfeeding = Breastfeeding

“You look like a breastfeeder.”

I had just met the woman that said that to me and we were not even 10 minutes into our first conversation.  We met at a friend’s birthday party when the what-do-you-do question came up and I mentioned The Leaky Boob.  After explaining what TLB is to her “excuse me, say what?” response she surprised me with her response.  After I got over my own shock at her statement I wanted to say “why yes, of course I look like a breastfeeder, I’m a woman with a baby!”  Instead, I laughed.  Because I knew exactly what she meant.

I was offended a little bit though, in part because I didn’t think I did look like a breastfeeder at that moment.  Often I do but I was actually pretty not-breastfeeder looking that day, I thought.  I really thought my style was funky-artsy-cool.  Then it hit me, I was offended that someone thought I looked like a breastfeeder.  I mean, my hair was short and funky, I was wearing my cool cat style green glasses, blue jeans, halter top and a hoodie.  My nails were even done!  As you can see from the pic below, just a quick head shot on my phone I know, but taken on that very day, I don’t scream breastfeeder, do I?

Except for the female part.  And the breast part.  And the kids part.  And maybe The Leaky Boob part.

But I don’t want to look like a breastfeeder outside of those things.  Because it has a certain connotation in our culture.  Looking like a breastfeeder means you look weird.  Means only a certain type breastfeed. It means that as of yet breastfeeding is not so normal in our society and there is a brand that goes along with breastfeeding that is more specific than a person with breasts that can lactate and children.  Really, every single woman should look like a breastfeeder, not just one type.

I have to tell you something.  It’s not exactly easy for me to admit this and I’m afraid you’ll look at me differently but I need to get this out there:

The truth is I’m a pretty green mom.  Green as in… crunchy.  As in environmentally aware and “natural.”  As in we use cloth napkins and cloth diapers, have home births and we choose an alternative vaccination schedule.  We have almost no plastic play things and avoid most trademarked characters on clothing and toys as well.  I really, really am pretty crunchy.  But I think of myself as funky-normal, a variation of mainstream.  I can’t always afford to buy organic and I really like make up.  I haven’t recycled my glass in like 2 years because the city doesn’t pick it up and there isn’t a drop off anywhere near me and after lugging boxes of glass bottles around in my van for months I decided that I was probably wasting so much gas from the weight of the glass in my car that it totally offset recycling them- if I ever got to recycle them.  Oh, and I haven’t been to a homeopath since I had kids.  No Birkenstocks either.  There are plenty of not natural, non-organic probably bad for you products in my house, some of them we eat.  Also, I have a PILE of reusable shopping bags, I’ve even made some of them but I forget them more often than I take them with me to the store.  So I’m green but not green.  Not Kelly green, more like 1970’s linoleum avocado green and I have the glasses to prove it.

I have another confession.

While it is true that we avoid prepackaged foods and artificial colors and flavors in our foods we go to fast food a couple of times a month and my kids get candy full of crap 2-3 times a week.  Some of you are shaking your head going “tsk, tsk, she’s poisoning her kids!” and others are going “yeah so, we go out to some place like that every meal or would if I could afford it and I freaking LOVE Skittles.”  Personally, I’m with both of you.  I wasn’t allowed to have that stuff growing up and my mom made us have healthy substitutes instead.  We’d take our own piece of cake to birthday parties, adults would never give us the candy other kids got because my mother warned them not to, we’d get these sesame honey stick things my mom called “good candy” instead and the snacks we brought to play groups looked suspiciously similar to mulch.  Everyone looked at me sympathetically.  I hated being that kid.  H-A-T-E-D IT.  So I don’t make my kids be that kid.  They eat the crap candy their teacher hands out.  And in full disclosure, my lactivist self is a traitor and I even let my kids eat the Nestlé candy they get.  Shame on me, right?

I have another confession.

Most labels make me uncomfortable.  If I were to use one to describe myself someone could quickly point out how I am not that.  Every time I try to label myself I have an immediate exception ready.  So I don’t call myself an attachment parent.  But I do wear my babies, they sleep in our room, there is almost always a parent with them when they are young (me or The Piano Man and rarely sitters), and we don’t spank.  That said, I also believe in regularly leaving them for my own sanity and because I’m a better parent when I do, I like my stroller, and sometimes I pump a bottle of milk just because I feel like I’m going to have a panic attack if I have a baby on my boob one more time.  And I LIKE it that way, it works for my family.  Which by some standards means I fail attachment parenting.  By other standards it means I win at label-rejection I guess.

I have another confession.

We homeschool.  But I don’t want to.  In fact, I have such a hard time with it I almost can’t say it out loud.  It’s been a struggle for me for the last 4 years and as a homeschool graduate myself I swore I would never, ever homeschool.  NEVER.  I knew I wasn’t cut out for it even before I had kids and I still know I’m not.  If The Piano Man didn’t homeschool with me and we didn’t have some great homeschool programs there is no way we’d be making it.  Obviously I feel our reasons to homeschool are important enough to be doing it right now but it’s not going to be this way forever because I can’t wait to send my kids to school. Besides, I don’t look like a homeschooler either.  Right?

I have another confession.

I’m a lactivist but I don’t particularly love breastfeeding.  True story.  As a lactivist I have lots of thoughts about formula and formula companies.  Shocker, right?  Here’s the real shocker: I don’t think formula is poison!  gasp  Though I think there need to be better standards, higher quality ingredients and a heck of a lot better regulations, I’m never going to say formula is poison.  I also don’t think a mom bottle feeds because she’s lazy or selfish even if she claims that’s why.  Nope.  Instead I think there are much bigger, much deeper issues involved that she may not even understand but are a result of the booby traps so prevalent in our society and I don’t want any mom that doesn’t breastfeed to feel guilty about it.  Should I hand in my lactivist card now?  Should I be smacked and scolded “bad lactivist!” and denounced?

I have another confession.

I was a breastfeeding mom from the get-go even when I was decidedly not “crunchy.”  Before I recycled or used cloth diapers, I breastfed.  When we ate Hamburger Helper regularly as part of my rebellion in getting to eat whatever I wanted and I didn’t even know what MSG or Red 40 was, I breastfed.  When I had one carrier I hated, kept my baby in her bucket car seat all the time and planned on spanking to discipline, I breastfed.  When I worked full time, had a hospital birth, and bought every Winnie the Pooh decoration and toy I could find, I breastfed.  The idea that it was a “natural parenting” choice didn’t even occur to me.  These things weren’t even on my radar and I’d never even heard most of these terms.  In fact, over 12 years ago I went to a La Leche League meeting and was completely freaked out by my experience there and those “natural types.”  I didn’t co-sleep, didn’t want to garden, and couldn’t handle the idea of putting a candle in an ear to cure an ear infection.  Since I didn’t fit in I never went back.  But I did keep breastfeeding in spite of having almost no support.

Recently I’ve seen conversations that almost assume that everyone that breastfeeds is on the same page regarding every parenting choice.  Like we’re a club that talks, walks, dresses, eats and sleeps the same.  But we’re not.  The mom across the street from me breastfed her son for close to a year, pumping for him when she returned to work.  Unlike me she lets her son eat prepackaged food daily, have character toys and clothing and she has him fully vaccinated.  Like me, she does curbside recycling.  Also like me?  She loves her child more than she could begin to articulate.  I admire her, she’s an awesome mom and I’ve learned a lot from her and I hope maybe she’s learned some things from me.

Here’s the thing: the natural parenting/crunchy/hippie/green/stay-at-home-mom/work-at-home-mom/gentle-parenting/natural birthing/what-ever-you-want-to-add-here communities do not have the corner on breastfeeding.  Breastfeeding ≠ all natural parenting.  Breastfeeding ≠ attachment parenting.  Breastfeeding ≠ crunchy.  Breastfeeding ≠ a parenting style.  Breastfeeding ≠ rejecting mainstream parenting.  Aside from having lactating breasts, there are no real parenting style requirements to breastfeed.  No card to carry that you’re in danger of losing if your baby sleeps in a crib in another room.  Every woman that breastfeeds is a part of the breastfeeding mom club no matter how long she breastfed, where her baby sleeps, what she eats, how she introduces solids, where she gave birth, if she stays home or works, if she loves her stroller or has a dozen carriers, if she used a form of sleep training that involved cry-it-out or if she co-sleeps, if she vaccinates or doesn’t vaccinate, if she circumcises or is staunchly against it, if she covers when breastfeeding in public or just puts her baby to her breast, or even if she uses formula to supplement.  Other moms don’t have to agree with or like her choices but it doesn’t change the fact that if they breastfeed they are all still breastfeeding moms.  Moms that are the more natural, crunchy types are just as much mothers and breastfeeders in need of support as those that are more mainstream types or those that defy labels completely.  And vice-versa.

I worry sometimes that if breastfeeding is perceived to be a part of the complete “natural” package we will discover some push back against it completely.  What if they’re not interested in co-sleeping but are willing to breastfeed and then in the experience of looking for breastfeeding help and support they discover they are also expected to co-sleep?  Or a new mom plans on breastfeeding for the first 6 weeks, encounters some difficulty but is determined to get through it only to ask for help and get chastised for not planning to breastfeed until the child self-weans?  If it starts feeling like it has to be all or nothing as though breastfeeding is some sort of lifestyle then for some it will be easier and less intimidating to choose nothing than to choose all and fail.  Breastfeeding isn’t a move to pick up any label or style of parenting.  Being a breastfeeding mom doesn’t automatically make someone a babywearing mom, or a co-sleeping mom or a gentle parenting advocate.  Being a breastfeeding mom means she’s just that, a breastfeeding mom and whatever else she chooses to be.  You don’t have to adopt all or even any of the stereotypical aspects of “those natural types” in order to be a breastfeeding mother.  Just because I eventually did doesn’t mean it’s right for you and I can respect that and still support and encourage you.  Personally, I seek to support and empower women, families, parents and breastfeeding moms and their supporters regardless of their labels and choices in parenting styles.

It’s not that we can’t talk about these different choices, we can and should.  In fact, it is through encouraging and respectful dialogue about different choices we’ve made that others can be empowered to consider something other than what they already know.  For many, that’s probably how they even considered breastfeeding in the first place.  So let the conversation flow freely but let’s be careful that we don’t have a string of parenting style requirements to breastfeed and be willing to put aside our differences and still offer genuine support.  I hope we get to the place where you can’t pick a breastfeeding mom out of the crowd based on how she’s dressed or how she interacts with her children or what baby products she has with her.  That regardless of our other parenting and even lifestyle choices breastfeeding is just so normal that we don’t assume breastfeeding women look or act a certain way other than being a mom.  Whether she’s a fashionista like Kourtney Kardashian or a babywearing, homebirthing, Birkenstock sporting hippie or something in between several different stereotypes, a breastfeeding mom deserves to be supported regardless of her parenting approach.  Nobody has the monopoly on breastfeeding.  We can all be a part of the club and we all deserve support.  Just like no matter how we feed our babies we’re all a part of the mom club too.

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Do you fit any labels?  Or find that you are a little of this, a little of that?  How would you describe your parenting style and does that have any influence on your breastfeeding?  Do you find that sometimes you look down on others that parent differently than you?

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By the way, I think all of this goes for any other parenting choice.  However we feed our children, our family and household rules, discipline, educational choices, and so much more, we all have one thing in common for sure: we’re parents that love our children.

22 Ways to Nurture the Nurturer

In Mother, Nurture Thyself I talked about how important it is for me to find time to care for me.  On The Leaky B@@b Facebook wall and in the comments of that post we discussed just how hard it can be to find the time, energy and even means to make it happen.  But we need it.  Finding the time may seem like mission impossible but it’s so worth the benefits that taking the time to make it happen is worth the challenge.  Mission Impossible, no big deal.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find some time for you and, if you have a significant other, you and your partner together and help your entire family to find a healthy balance.

I practically throw a party if I was able to pee just once in a 24 hour period without an audience.  It’s a rare party indeed.  Many of you know exactly what I’m talking about.  So how to find the time to nurture yourself?  You have to start with recognizing that it actually IS important.  It’s like the safety instructions on airplanes: secure your own oxygen mask before helping children with theirs.  In other words, you won’t be any good to anyone if you pass out, so take care of yourself.  Because, let’s face it, burnt out people aren’t fun to be around.  Even kids don’t like to be around burnt out people, they’ll steer clear of them all together if given the chance.  Once you’ve acknowledged that this is necessary, it’s time to start planning a way to find yourself your own nurturing time and here are 22 ideas to get you started.

1. Think small. Sometimes what gets in the way of finding time for yourself is that we think too big.  We think it has to be a big block of time where we can get an entire scrapbook project done or a big night out.  But even small things can be energizing.  Have a stash of something small and special you can enjoy; a piece of chocolate, a bottle of your favorite nail polish, your favorite blogs and take 5 minutes here and there to enjoy them.  Personally I love the Endangered Species All-Natural Dark Chocolate with Cocoa Nibs, just 1 square with a cup of coffee or tea in the afternoon makes me relax a little, a quick coat of my favorite OPI nail polish during nap time, drooling over some delicious yarn online or a visit to SouleMama’s blog all make me feel like I got a little breather.

2. You’re not alone! Kids need time away from others too, even young babies need time without stimulation of interpersonal interactions.  Depending on the age of your constant companions (AKA kids) a great way to find some time to nurture yourself and model it for your children is to invite them to do it with you.  I know, I know, that sounds like I said to have your kids there.  I did.  What I really mean is for your kids to learn how to nurture themselves just as you do.  All growing up my mom enforced a daily quiet time for us kids, even when we were older.  This regular practice did at least 2 very important things for me: taught me it was ok to be on my own a little bit every day and that I liked being alone a little bit every day.  It probably also massively helped my mom be a little more patient with me.  Quiet time was a sanity saver when I was young and today it still is.  Depending on the day and what we have going on when, quiet time can be anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and a half.  When they are very young it’s nap time, as they get older they look at books, listen to books on CD, color, craft, play-on-your-own time and when they are of reading age it’s dive into a good book time.  Occasionally we’ll all enjoy quite time together in the living room where we set up a spot for each with cups of tea, blankets, pillows and books or journals and on simple rule: no talking.  I love this because I see my kids learning how to respect their own boundaries and meet their needs for quiet space for themselves as well.  A habit I hope they carry with them well into their adulthood.

3. Sleep. It probably goes without saying that most parents are tired.  Chances are strong you’re not getting the sleep you need.  “Sleep when the baby sleeps” is good advice but can be difficult to do particularly if there are older children or a whole pile of responsibilities (Mt. Laundry) you feel you need to get done.  So set the alarm.  You may find that getting to your to-do list is easier after a 20 minute nap and takes you a lot less time than you expected simply because you’re not as tired.  A few nights a week try going to be early even if it means you’re laying down just 30 minutes after you got everyone else in bed.  It may seem like you’re loosing time that way but you’ll make up for it in energy and focus when you’re better rested.  And don’t forget the power of sleeping in too, every great once in a while I set up a basket of special play things held back for special occasions for the girls to discover upon waking and Smunchie and I snuggle in bed as long as we can.  Even more unusual is when I put a movie on for the girls and head back to bed for another hour!

4. Wake-up! As I write this I am the only person up in my house.  It is blissfully quiet and I’m enjoying a cup of tea to myself.  I was out of bed at 5 in order to have this moment, sometimes it’s around 4.  Maybe not every day but a couple of times a week try slipping out of bed before everyone else gets up and do something for yourself.  You might not want to risk house cleaning, that could wake the masses but other quiet activities can be pulled off without anyone ever knowing.  This is so much easier when you’ve had a couple of nights of going to bed earlier or been able to take a power nap.

5. Step away from the sink. Nap time, the time when parents everywhere hope they will finally get something done, can also be the time you get a few moments to nurture yourself.  I have heard and even experienced that cleaning can be cathartic on some level and that’s great (like once, I experienced that once).  But that isn’t really nurturing yourself.  That’s house cleaning.  Sure, you probably keep yourself from going too crazy by scrubbing the bath tub and certainly in making sure you have clean dishes but you can take 5, 10, 20, maybe even 30 minutes to sit down and do something for yourself or take a shower.  Mt. Laundry and Dirty Dishes Swamp will wait.  It isn’t unusual for me to find taking that time for myself leads to me actually being more productive and energized in getting chores or organizing done later.

6. Know thyself.  When much of your time is filled with the sound and busyness of children it can be difficult to hear your own thoughts.  An inexpensive journal can be just the place to get your thoughts out.  Free yourself of any expectations for your journal, it doesn’t have to be well written, articulate, or some type of prose, just throw something down and see where it takes you.  Maybe it won’t be more than list making of the thoughts that are running through your head.  Journaling is a great activity when you’re sitting with a toddler fighting sleep or even making dinner and have it sitting on the counter where you can toss a word or 2 as they come to you.

7. Be flexible. At some point I thought I would never let my children watch TV.  Oh wait, I remember that point, it was when I had no kids.  But then reality hit and having kids turned out to be very different that I expected.  Read: I did a lot of the things I said I’d never do.  We’re still a minimal screen time family (none M-F, very little on weekends) but sometimes I need a break so badly that turning on a 30 minute DVD is worth it’s weight in gold and by the end of it I’m in a totally different place to be the creative parent I want to be with my children.  With my first baby I discovered that having The Piano Man give her a bottle of my pumped milk probably saved our breastfeeding relationship just because I felt like I was getting a break during that time.  Being flexible with what you planned to do in order to build in some space for yourself is an invaluable skill that will go far in managing the parenting ups and downs that are sure to come as your children grow.

8. Co-parent.  If you are with a partner then co-parenting is crucial.  It isn’t babysitting to be the only parent with one’s own children or step-children, it’s parenting.  Everyone will benefit from regular opportunities to be with each parent having time alone as primary caregiver.  For me, sometimes it is just running out to the coffee shop for an hour or so on a morning The Piano Man is home.  The hardest part often isn’t the kids or The Piano Man, it’s me forcing myself out of the house.  I find and create all kinds of silly excuses and often struggle with feeling somehow I shouldn’t go because I’m not fulfilling my role as wife and mother.  Over time The Piano Man has helped me to see how that communicates that I don’t trust him and that I’m buying into expectations about families that I don’t even agree with.  It’s funny too because he was the stay at home parent for 2 years while I worked outside of the home!  After my time away  I always come home to find that he has done things differently than I would have but it’s actually good for my children to have the skills and parenting styles we both bring to the table.  Plus, I’m excited to be with my family again after having been able to pee by myself and hear my own thoughts for a bit.  It’s good for all of us, I get a break, he and the girls connect more, I let go of my control issues, and the girls experience the unique parenting finger print of their daddy.  He and I also help each other find time by getting up with the kids and letting the other one sleep in, making a meal while the other one is taking a shower, or taking all 5 girls to the park while the other is getting a little bit of time alone.

9. What do you enjoy?  Not sure?  Find something that interests you, take a class if need be and start doing it.  I have lots of interests and hobbies that I enjoy: knitting, sewing, needle-felting, crafting, cooking, reading, writing, song-writing, art, photography and painting to name a few.  Wanting to be sure they don’t all center around my kids for both their sake and mine I’ve intentionally developed interests that don’t involve them or aren’t for them.  I work on them here and there as I find the time, learning to be able to work in short bursts.  Sometimes my children get to enjoy the results of my hobbies (i.e. knitted dolls, a sewn play farm mat) but the activity itself was for me.  Branching out into something new (I recently added the needle-felting) can be especially invigorating, try it!

10. Time-savers.  Find ways to save time, use the FlyLady method for house cleaning and decluttering, meal plans and weekly menus, and getting really good at using the slow cooker can add hours to your day.  I’ve liked my Crock-Pot for a long time but it was when I discovered Stephanie O’Dea’s A Year of Slow Cooking (and she has 2 books now too!) that I discovered that I down right love my slow cooker and now we use it several times a week.

11. Make the most of time. When I decided I really wanted to write a book I got Barbara DeMarco-Barrett’s book Pen on Fire to help me find the motivation and strategy in my busy life being the mom of 5 kids.  Learning how to see pockets of time in my day and to learn to make the most of them felt like someone gave me a gift.  While larger blocks of time are important for nurturing ourselves, tiny snippets of time tucked here and there can turn into a cumulative gold mine of self-nurturing opportunities.  Laying Squiggle Bug down for a nap or the night equals knitting, journaling, or brainstorming time and lately with Smunchie I’ve had to do a lot of pacing to get help her fall asleep and have started doing lunges, kick-ups, standing crunches and leg lifts at the same time.  Other ways to make the most of time is to set the timer when everyone is safe, fed, and set-up with something for them and take 10 minutes for you to do something that will be sure you are safe, fed and well cared for as well.

12. Go outside.  A change of scenery and fresh air for a tired, overstimulated, stressed-out parent is like a big cup of cool water to a marathon runner.  When the weather permits we head outdoors.  As a homeschooling family we take advantage of any weather opportunity to set up on an old, large quilt outside.  Bringing our school work, play silks and some books and toys, the big girls find their spots to read or work (up in the tree is a favorite) as Squiggle Bug enjoys exploring outside and Smunchie crawls after her.  When Smunchie was smaller she was either in a basket by my side or worn on me.  Our back yard or a park, I can knit, read or write as the outside world provides a relaxing change of pace and environment for all of us while I keep an eye on the girls being entertained by the great outdoors.

13. Get moving. A walk, a bike ride, a living room dance party, a wii work out, an hour at the gym, laps in the pool, physical activity gets your blood pumping and your body working.  Wherever you can fit it in or carve out the time to make it happen, physical activity will not only make you healthier (and your children deserve to have healthy parents) but will give your mind time to process all that you’re dealing with and release hormones that will give you energy.

14. All together now! While we all need time on our own and just one-on-one, don’t underestimate the effect taking time to nurture the entire family will have on everyone.  Family game night, reading together, and any other host of fun activities just to enjoy together, both regularly scheduled and special occasion family events will nurture everyone as well as your family togetherness.  Sharing the activities you love with your kids from time to time becomes a special opportunity, we have knitting parties in our house just because we all enjoy it.

15. Find community. Parenting groups, neighborhood community centers, churches, like-minded co-ops, school groups, play groups and more are opportunities to build community.  It’s a way to connect with others for support, hear that your not alone, and refresh your adult mind by interacting with other adults.  That can be revolutionary to your entire week!  Additionally you may just find a friend that will want to get together outside of the group and swap child care.

16. One for you, one for me.  There’s a balance of give and take to strike in most relationships.  With children it’s a lot of give and we don’t expect to receive anything in return, though we do receive a lot in the form of love and all things wonderfully unique to children.  So the take also comes from you, you have to give to yourself even as you give to your children.  Wearing my babies and small children has been a life saver not in just soothing them and getting stuff around the house done but also by letting me find time to myself.  With a content child on my back or front, particularly a sleeping one, I’ve multitasked all kinds of activities from creative experiments in the kitchen to sewing, from walks outside to working out (what a way to increase the work out too!), from knitting to installing one of my pieces.  I can meet their needs and some of my own at the same time.

Installing a piece at a gallery while nursing a 5 week old Smunchie

17. Tune out to tune in.  Vegging in front of the TV can be a nice way to unwind but once kids are settled for the night how often do you really need to hear someone else talk at you rather than with you?  Turning off the TV a few times a week and stepping away from the computer and phone so you can tune into yourself and your partner opens so many opportunities for finding things that nurture and energize you and your relationship as well as the time to take advantage of them.

18. Be intentional. Set and keep a few standing dates on some sort of regular basis, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually.  Time for yourself alone and time for you alone with your partner and/or friends.  A couple of times a month I meet with my good friend Monette (who blogs over here and is totally wonderful and inspiring) where we encourage and inspire each other with our writing goals and family life.  To keep it simple we meet at the same place on the same day at the same time, a Thai restaurant with an amazing deal on Massaman Curry we both love.  The Piano Man and I have both regular date nights (not weekly though, as much as I’d like to it just doesn’t work with our schedules right now) and annual special days such as the day after Christmas where we get a couple of sitters back to back and go out for almost the whole day.

19. Prioritize. If you can’t find people to swap child care with or don’t have friends and family that will babysit for free and spending the money on a sitter means you couldn’t afford dinner and a movie, skip on the dinner and the movie and get a sitter anyway.  Check for specials and free days or events at museums or community centers, visit the library or book store and just browse (hang out in the poetry section and read love poems together or head to the romance section and randomly select books to read randomly selected passages allowed to each other- very hot, very fun and very free), or any number of ideas from my super creative friends (and the our daughters’ godparents) over at datesonthecheap.com.

20. Work together. The Piano Man and I work very well together and I know that isn’t the case for all couples.  If you know there is something you enjoy working on together (we like cooking and songwriting) then schedule time after kids are in bed or when they are safely entertained with something and get working on it.  If you’re not sure how well you’ll work together, try something new.  Start a project.  Our Lunch In Paris has been so much fun for us, we don’t get a lot of time but we’re keeping it simple and working it in where it fits.  The whole concept was initially hammered out over the phone while he was pushing Squiggle Bug on the swing at the park and I was pacing the hall to lay Smunchie down for a nap and now we work our way through the book over coffee in the afternoon for about 20 minutes during quiet time about ounce a week.  We’re laughing, talking and brainstorming as we share the experience and grow in our relationship.

21. Ask for help. We are social creatures, we need community and the support of others.  Sure, you probably can do it alone but that doesn’t mean you should.  Friends, family, neighbors, church members, and fellow parents can be excellent sources of help and support.  Spend time developing a relationship with them and inviting them to participate with your family so you all get comfortable with each other, go over family rules and listen to your inner sense on someone but when you feel you’re ready, have them babysit.  An hour while you take a walk around the neighborhood with your phone ready while the kids are napping or in bed is a good way to test the waters.  We’ve just branched out into letting Earth Baby (a rather responsible 12 year old)Word of warning: only leave when your child is asleep if you are certain they won’t freak out if they wake and find the sitter there, be sure you can get home quickly and easily.

22. Think big. I know I just said to think small but you’ve got to think big too.  If you never think big you’ll never do big things, right?  Give it a try, ask a friend to do a sitting swap with you and go out alone or with your partner.  If you have family near you (I don’t and never have since having children) and it works to have them babysit then ask them to.  Seek out people through various connections that would be willing to give you some time, build relationships as a family and ask family friends to babysit once in a while.  I know it’s hard to leave your babies but they will be fine, you’ve given them so much confidence and security already that they will have a good time and be happy when you return.  And you’ll be teaching them that people DO return.  It’s object permanence just on a little larger scale.  Get a massage, go for a bike ride or walk, hit the antique mall, go see a show, something, anything without a small person hanging on you.  After your little one is no longer breastfeeding at night or will do ok without it, consider even bigger plans with overnight getaways and trips.

It’s not all or nothing.  Find a combination of things that work for you and be willing to change things as needed.  Right now the only real exercise I get involves having kids with me, walks, the putting Smunchie to sleep work-out, living room dance parties, family bike rides, etc.  That’s just how it is in this season of our family’s life but by combining some of these other ideas I’m finding a balance that works.  Even as a breastfeeding, homeschooling mom of 5, or maybe especially as a breastfeeding, homeschooling mom of 5 I’ve had to make taking care of myself and my marriage a priority.  After about the 6 week postpartum mark I can find at least an hour every few days to leave my sweet new baby in the arms of someone that loves her (in our case, her daddy) in order for me take a deep cleansing breath away from the ones that depend on me to care for them.  It’s a breath of health.  Not everyone can make all of these work* and you’ll have to find what works for you, creatively shaping your own path to nurturing the nurturer.

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What works for you?  When you find time for yourself how do you see it impact your children?

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*I recognize that individual situations vary in terms of support and resources.  The Piano Man is very involved as a co-parent and we’re able to find balance this way but not every partner is as available and single parenting presents a different set of unique challenges.  It is my hope that we can all seek out community that would help us find the time to take care of the whole family, including the caregivers and providers.

Mother, Nurture Thyself

Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy!

OH.MY.GOSH!  How many times can you say my name?!  NO, please don’t actually show me how many.

I bet this only happens in my house.

This past weekend I got a much needed break.  From breastfeeding Smunchie to being on Facebook, everything was starting to get on my nerves.  I startled Squiggle Bug by snapping at her when she asked me for an apple while I was going to the bathroom instead of simply asking her to wait until I was done.  I picked fights with The Piano Man and overreacted to Lolie’s frustration about finding shoes, bickered with Earth Baby and screamed into a pillow in my room after a particularly maddening exchange with The Storyteller.  I yelled at the computer.  I sneered at a commercial.  Everything I wrote was terrible, provided I could write anything at all and that just made me even more of a grouch.  When I start getting twitchy, edgy, impatient and in general all-around grumpy it is a tell-tale sign that I need a break.  But I hate to admit it.  I hate it because it sounds like I don’t like my kids or my work.

Those things couldn’t be further from the truth, I love my kids, I love my work yet sometimes I can’t stand them any more and, if I’m honest, I want to get away from them.  Mommy-guilt rears her ugly head then and whispers “what kind of mother wants to get away from her children?”

This kind, I guess.

It is true that upon entering into motherhood we know we will have to make sacrifices and for the most part they are ones we make gladly, our children clearly worth whatever we may have to give up.   If need be we would lay down our very lives for our children.  But there is really nothing else in life where we would expect anyone to work without breaks 24/7.  We recognize the importance of  down time, time to pursue creative outlets outside of the stress and demands of work, time away from the people we work with or for and time to rejuvenate ourselves for all recognized careers.  We even acknowledge the need for couples to have time apart, space from each other and for siblings to pursue their own interests apart from their brothers and sisters.  These needs don’t go away when we have children and become “mommy.”

Most mothers, those that work outside of the home or otherwise, would never neglect their children, not knowingly.  They work hard to ensure their children are safe and well cared for, that they have opportunity and beauty in their lives, that they get the rest they need, the chance for creativity, and a wide variety of stimulation.  These mothers work tirelessly to nourish the interests of their children, finding and creating healthy and tasty meals, safe and comfortable ways for their children to rest, and to nurture every aspect of the unique individuality of their offspring.  With research and careful consideration they reach the conclusions as to what is best for their family and their children taking into account individual as well as community needs in the family.  Often times everyone’s needs are weighed except one: mom.  She ensures all this for her children but often neglects it for herself.

Whatever style of parenting one practices whether it be attachment parenting or more mainstream styles of parenting, everyone needs breaks.  We’re wired that way, to need different stimulation for the health of our brain, to need different activities for our physical health, to need different interactions for our social health, to need rest for our all over health.  Yet somehow a mother neglecting these things for herself is completely normal and accepted.  Worse, often times it is expected.  The truth is though that this isn’t healthy.  Relationships, creativity, physical health and general happiness is greatly hampered if we don’t take care of ourselves.

I know some of you though, it’s not enough to hear that you need it, that you will be healthier if you do find time for yourself.  You need a bigger motivation to even really consider the idea.  So fine, let me explain it another way.

Our children need us to take care of ourselves.  In different amounts and levels, our children notice what we do and they copy us.  The Piano Man and I have discovered that to have polite children that say “please” and “thank you” without being prompted all we had to do was simply be polite with him.  We’ve also discovered that asking them to clear their plate from the table isn’t nearly as effective as us clearing our own plate, inspiring them to do the same.  Children copy their parents!  One of the most important parenting tools we have is modeling behavior and activities we want our children to emulate and none of us want children that grow into adults that have difficulty respecting their own needs for rest and boundaries.  None of us want our children to grow into adults that neglect themselves.  None of us want children that grow up to be adults that they are too burned out from giving to others that they have forgotten who they are.  For all the nurturing mothers expect of themselves to do for others, that others expect for mothers to freely bestow upon others, mothers tend to be terrible at nurturing themselves.  Taking time daily, weekly and monthly to nourish your own needs is important not only for our health but for our children’s as well.  When we take care of ourselves our children get to learn from our modeling and they get to have a mom that is refreshed and well cared for to care for them.

But there’s never time, right?  Or you can’t leave them?  Or they won’t let you leave?  And what about those babies that only take mommy’s milk and only straight from the tap?  I know, trust me, I’ve been there.  While I would never, ever breastfeed my baby in a public bathroom because I was banished there by someone uncomfortable with me feeding my baby in public, there have been plenty of times where I have done the one handed thing to go to the bathroom in my own home with a baby on the boob just so I could finally pee!  When I can’t even get to pee by myself how in the world am I going to find time to nurture myself?  Some days my big goal is to just pee by myself and my impossible dream would be to get a shower without someone wailing just after my naked self slipped behind the shower curtain and got my hair wet.  I really hate that “I-almost-showered-but-just-got-wet-so-now-I’m-even-more-itchy” feeling.

So I know it’s difficult, practically impossible sometimes.  But there are ways, little and big that moms can find to nurture themselves.  They need to too.  Carving out time and letting someone else help can be a vital piece of your family’s over-all health both long and short term.  You’d might be surprised how well your child does without you, something that may sting a little.  You may also be surprised how just a little time can go a really, really long way.  I’ll offer some ideas in another post soon but I’m sure you can take a step back and see where there already may be some room to build a little margin into your life and if there really isn’t then you may need to take a hard look at what needs to change and develop a strategy to do so.

This past weekend, over a span of 3 days, included time for me out of the house to write, The Piano Man staying home with the girls, a work/social gathering over wine and cheese with some friends, a quiet day at home working on a new project with The Piano Man (more on that soon!), 2 sitters for us to have a 5 hour date night out (see pic above, I snapped a shot in the ladies bathroom because I’m classy like that), sleeping in, dinner with some friends and I feel refreshed and energized.  Usually it doesn’t even need to be this much, this extreme.  I didn’t go out of town or anything like that but I did build some margin in my life and took care of me and my marriage.  From there we’re in a better place to take care of our children and you know what?  They can tell.  I am more patient and creative in relating with my girls, my irritability has melted away and I’m able to write again.  The Piano Man is looking mighty fine to me and I’ve lost the chip on my shoulder.  Fighting and whining have decreased amongst the girls, creativity has bloomed, conversations have flowed, helpfulness has grown, singing and dancing has increased and independent and community play has taken center stage.  Nurturing myself has done a lot for all of us.

It’s not easy and it is possible you may have to get very creative but speaking from someone that has been there, it is worth the effort to figure it out.  Neglect yourself and you end up neglecting your family.  I know for a fact that I am a better, more balanced and healthy person when I do.  Which means, I’m a more balanced and healthy mother when I do.  And that is definitely good for my kids.

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How do you find time to nurture yourself?  Whether it’s a 5 minute reprieve or a chunk of time away from the house, having time for ourself can make a huge difference.  What are your tips and ideas?  How do you enjoy those moments?

For more ideas on how you can find some ways to nurture yourself, see this post with 22 ideas to take care of you.

Passionate Advocacy or Cyber Bullying?

I’ve wondered this before.  Where is the line between being a passionate advocate and being a cyber bully?  Is there ever a point a point when even sticking up for the little guy in advocacy crosses over to being the playground bully? I’ve wondered this about interactions I see online.  I’ve wondered it for my online friends.  I’ve wondered it for myself.  Several times after seeing an exchange or ongoing situation with advocates that makes me cringe I would considered writing something on compassionate advocacy then Dionna did just that over on Code Name Mama and I thought *phew* I’m off the hook.

Recently though I’ve felt the need to add my voice to those advocating for compassionate advocacy.  After a particularly disappointing situation on The Leaky B@@b Facebook page I shared some of my thoughts on this issue in brief on the Facebook page and longer on the forum.  I’m expanding on some of what I wrote on the forum here.

Whether we’re talking breastfeeding, birth, circumcision, homeschooling/public schooling, gentle parenting, babies/children and sleep, sustainable living, organic/non-organic, vaxing/non-vaxing, or any other topic we care enough about to attempt to educate others on, how we share our message matters.  In fact, I believe how we share our message can be the difference between it being heard and considered, possibly leading to change or it being dismissed and embittering, leading people to dig their heels in to defend their position.  Open or closed.

The Leaky Boob is intended to be a safe place, supporting breastfeeding mothers and the people that support them.  People, particularly moms, come to TLB to find help and support in a safe and authentic community.  I don’t ever want that to be compromised by agendas being pushed and sides being taken. Stimulating conversation is fine and encouraged. Personal views are fine too. We don’t have to agree on everything, in fact, we won’t ever agree on everything.  In order to be an authentic community we have to be able to voice when we disagree and share our concern about something we see.  But we also have to know when our language is not communicating effectively, when the issue is one that can’t be heard any more through the hurt and when our passion for our cause has superseded our compassion for people. Grace, just a little bit of grace all the way around would worked wonders in sharing our passion.

As much as possible I try to empower my children to make good choices.  Attempts to control their behavior usually backfire and leave us all frustrated.  If I resort to words that tear them down or belittle them they begin to resent and fear me, focusing only on how mean I am.  In that frame of mind they are unable to learn anything.  Speaking down to them, talking as though they are incapable of understanding puts distance between us and leads them to be annoyed and why wouldn’t it?  People speaking down to me annoys me too.  And shame?  Or expressions of self-righteous anger?  Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s the path to having my kids hate me forever.  Validating and sharing my own personal feelings and what or how I’ve learned something, on the other hand, opens up conversation.  Sometimes I get impatient and want to tell them what they should do and how right I am but then they don’t own the choice, all they own is their resentment for me dismissing them and their ability to make positive choices in their lives.  When I take the risk to empower them to take responsibility amazing things happen: they come and ask my opinion, they independently consider or research their options, they think critically through the choices before them, they choose with confidence (and usually wisely) and they accept responsibility for their decision regardless of the outcome.  It’s not to say that it’s perfect and that sometimes I don’t want to just yell at them to do it my way, it’s just that if I can not do that the outcome usually surprises me.

I am a Christian and I grew up in a very fundamentalist Christian home.  I know a thing or two about how the ways we try to spread our message can damage our message and discredit the messenger.  Studying Christian history I know this well and I am pained by what some have done in the name of Christ.  So much so that sometimes I avoid associating myself with them in anyway I can because I don’t want anyone to think I’m like that.  Since I can’t do that and accomplish anything positive by doing so, I instead try to validate those that have been hurt by Christians, acknowledging the damage done and striving to be different but true to what I believe.  In some of the bitter exchanges I’ve seen over hot button topics I find myself wondering if we’re seeing the modern version of crusades.  Violence in the form of words and condescending attitudes, cutting down people that don’t believe what they believe.  It starts looking more like an attempt to control than a mission to educate with a purpose to empower.

I don’t have to convince anyone of anything to still make a difference. I just have to keep doing and living what I believe is right.

It is important to me that The Leaky B@@b Facebook page and The Leaky Boob Forums be something more than a platform for those that love to hear themselves spout off and instead strive for community that encourages people to grow through gentle education. A place where patience is exercised and compassion applied.  We have to remember People over principle, compassion over being right, grace over righteous indignation. It seems so obvious to me that emotionally loaded terms should be avoided when you’re trying to actually inform, educate, and effect change. Lasting change comes with respect, compassion, grace, gentleness. Bitterness, resentment and hard hearts come from shaming, violence and belittling.  If you wouldn’t talk to your child that way why would you talk to anyone else that way? Modeling is the most effective form of parenting, I was saddened to see that behind a screen so many people modeled behavior I’m certain they wouldn’t want their children to emulate when interacting with their siblings.

We should speak up about what we’re passionate about or when we see something we feel is wrong.  I don’t want anyone to think I want conversation stifled or that I want to censor people that say things that may be hard to hear because that’s not true. What I do want though is for our messages, particularly the ones that are the most likely to be a flash point, to be couched in a constructive way that encourages dialogue. We are smart people, I’m fairly certain we know that when we use terms like poison, abuse, mutilation, lazy, uneducated, followers, ignorant, stupid, mutilate, chop it off, lame, pathetic, cruel, irresponsible, idiot, etc. we are using inflammatory language. People don’t even hear what we’re trying to say, the information is completely missed and the educational opportunity is lost all because of our word choice. Condescending questions intended to provoke (i.e. “Why would you ever…”) tear down people before they’ve even had the chance to consider your point.  Even if those words or others fit your feelings on any particular subject you don’t actually have to use them in order to have effective dialogue on the matter. I swear, you don’t.  For those of you passionate advocates out there that already understand this, thank you and I know that is actually the majority, we just aren’t the most obvious.

Sometimes there are situations where strong language and a level of force is effective or required.  Perhaps reflecting my approach to parenting though, I think those times are rare and best when exercised cautiously and in a limited fashion.  Even better when it is by someone in real life, in a face to face exchange after care and attention is given to being sure everyone understands the whole picture and only after more gentle measures have been attempted.  It is likely to be even better received by a person that is perceived as an authority on the subject or is in a relationship of respect with the individual.  Forceful language and soap box stomping are far less than effective when respect and personal relationship are neglected.

Sometimes even the most gentle attempts at education and sharing views on a hot button topic become volatile when someone takes these words as personal as condemnation.  I think this usually happens when someone has already felt attacked once (or twice or ten times) before and has started to discriminate against anyone with a different view.  Learning how to hear an opinion expressed without applying it to oneself as a personal attack will go a long way in diffusing potentially hurtful conversations not only online but in our face to face relationships as well.  A good friend of mine helped me learn this lesson years ago and it’s been an important part of my relationships since.  Now when someone says “I think it’s stupid when women post photos of breastfeeding on Facebook, like, do they want people staring at their tits?” I can ignore the part that seems to imply that he’s saying I’m stupid and instead address the real issue he’s bringing up.

It is nice to have friends that see eye-to-eye on everything with you. Or at least I would guess it is. I have yet to actually have friends like that. In my experience there have always been some things I’ve not agreed on with my friends. Yet we can still be friends. Even if we’re passionate about those issues. I need friendship more than I need to be right and more than I need to save someone from being wrong.  And I’ve found that being open both to listen and to share has been the single most effective way to productive conversation.

It’s easy to find people that want to rant and rave about how right their views are. It’s hard to find the rare place where love, support, and openness are practiced; where even if we think someone is wrong we can let them be as wrong as they think we are; where genuine care and patient compassion educate gently; all working together to building supportive, empowering community.  I want The Leaky Boob to be that rare place.

Guilt: the great conversation killer.

“Women should not feel guilty if they are unable to nurse their baby, but they should feel guilty if they are unwilling to do so, and they should be intellectually honest enough to know the difference.” ~ Elizabeth Gene

This quote was bouncing around FaceBook on a few pages I “like” last week and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I recognize that this quote is taken out of context which causes it to be understood differently than originally intended. However, this is exactly how it was presented and commented on though FaceBook often with great passion. It was discussed on The Leaky B@@b forums as well and I am building on some of what I said there, here. Because I couldn’t quiet my thoughts on the matter I decided to explore it freely.

“Women should not feel guilty if the are unable to nurse their baby…”
Here, here! Absolutely, totally agree with this. It happens, sometimes things don’t work right or there are special circumstances or situations make it beyond difficult and a mother can’t breastfeed. Nobody should feel guilty for something they couldn’t control. But sometimes they do. Why is that? Because they think nobody will believe them? Because they are so grieved themselves that things didn’t work out? I would hope that it isn’t because other moms cast guilt on them and that along their parenting journey they find away to let it go. I want to wrap my arms around all the women in the world that wanted to breastfeed but could not and tell them that they are amazing women, loving and caring for their children with all their heart, mind, soul and body. Just like women that are able to breastfeed.

“… but they should feel guilty if they are unwilling to do so, and they should be intellectually honest enough to know the difference.”
Hmmm, well, here I have a problem. First of all, they should feel guilty? Guilt is supposed to be something only we bring on ourselves so why would anyone say someone should feel guilty? When we feel guilt it is because we know we did something wrong, something dishonest. For someone to suggest that we should feel guilt is to be shamed. Shame is an ugly monster, it causes people to hide, to conceal their hurt and to guard and protect it so they don’t hurt more. It does not bring openness. It certainly doesn’t encourage them to “be intellectually honest enough to know the difference.” I want women to own it when they are unwilling to nurse and if at all possible to explore why that is but I don’t wish guilt on them. Honesty with themselves, sure, that would be great but not for me, for themselves! If they can be honest, rather than defensive with themselves then maybe they could even talk about it. Guilt and it’s evil twin Shame are great conversation killers, particularly when delivered by their twisted Uncle Judgment step-child of Pride.

Guilt to change a culture?
I want to change attitudes about breastfeeding, breasts, women and infant/toddler nutrition, these are subjects I am passionate about. BUT, and this is a big huge but, I think that intending to create guilt in people does not bring about change. Guilt is a poor motivator and does not encourage dialogue. There is so much too that can not be seen or understood as to why people make the choices they do. If we are spending our energy trying to incite guilt in them instead of supporting all mothers, we are not going to create an atmosphere that encourages actual change but rather breads resentment and bitterness. Telling a woman she should feel guilty for not breastfeeding by choice is dismissing her personal struggles, invalidating her emotions and intelligence. Yes, we have to make sacrifices for our children but if a sacrifice is made that causes a woman to struggle with resentment and bitterness then surely sacrifice that comes out of obligation, fear of judgment and guilt is not really sacrifice at all but a form of martyrdom and can do more harm than good. Nobody wants a mother to kill herself, emotionally or physically, that would be worse for the baby than 2 years of formula any day. Nor should these women give up having children because they have struggles. I have a problem with saying a woman who isn’t ready to give up her personal struggles and inhibitions and willingly breastfeed shouldn’t be having children. All of us have issues that make us less than perfect parents but in the end what a child needs is love, parents that are present in the child’s life, and their physical and emotional needs met. If a woman can do that then she should not be excluded from having children even if she chooses not to breastfeed. Society (and formula companies) as a whole should bear the burden of guilt. In the end though, guilt will change nothing, education will.

Going deeper than guilt.
This quote has one thing I really love about it, that women that tried to breastfeed but honestly couldn’t shouldn’t feel guilty. That part I stand by wholeheartedly. It’s the flip side that I have a problem with, that women that didn’t even try to breastfeed should feel guilty. I honestly feel sorry for the women that don’t breastfeed because they are afraid of their breasts sagging, because they will feel less sexy or because it is gross or any other reason based on low self-esteem, sexually related concerns, past relationships or abuse, or fear of what others will think. I wish I could figure out how to tell them that their worth, their value is not in their sex appeal, not in their body meeting some standard but rather in who they are. Questions run through my head as to the heart of their reasons to be unwilling. What kind of wound are they trying to band-aid with the belief that their bodies are so valuable only if they are a certain way? What deep hurt prevents them from being able to give further of their bodies to nourish their child? What suffering have they encountered that creates fear and disgust towards the amazing miracle that is their own body’s capabilities? What lies have they believed about themselves and the world that causes them to silence the voice inside their head and leads them to reject what comes naturally to them as mothers? How alone do they feel that embarking into the territory of parenting is something they can face but the landscape of breastfeeding is too much? How overwhelmed are they already feeling to give themselves permission to avoid confronting any or all of these issues and then some in favor of something they know is at the very lest, second best for the child they so love?

And what can I do to help encourage and support them, educating from a place of non-judgment?

I love how Sarah, one of the posters on the forum put it (actually, everybody brought thoughtful and challenging responses that I appreciated): I have never understood the whole “well, the ones who *couldn’t* nurse shouldn’t feel guilty, but those who *wouldn’t* nurse should!” argument. With very few exceptions, moms try to make the best decisions for themselves and their families. I will never judge another mother’s efforts as “not enough” when it comes to infant feeding decisions, because, to me, it is both unfair and impossible to know what is “enough” for every individual or family.