Category Archives: The Mommy Wars

For the Mama Who Says “Gentle Parenting Doesn’t Come Naturally to Me”

Dear Mama,

“Gentle parenting doesn’t come naturally to me.”

Maybe you’ve written me a letter saying this. Maybe I’ve seen it in a comment here or on Facebook. Maybe you’ve said it to me as an apology when you have sought advice. Maybe you’ve thought it as a reason why you should just give up. It doesn’t come naturally. It’s hard. It is a lot of work.

Shh.. Shush. Let me give you the words that you’re looking for. “This is a conscious choice.” Do you feel the power of those words? “I am making the conscious choice to parent gently.” You may not be a natural at it. You may not have had the role models for it. You may struggle. But you are making a conscious choice.  You are choosing the road that stretches your abilities. That is not easy or simple for you. You are making the conscious choice to parent your children gently.

You are making the conscious choice.

You are learning new ways.

You are trying to give your child the things your heart says are best.

You have put aside your fear of “failing” and you are doing something that comes hard.

Fill your toolbox up with the tools that help you along.

Don’t apologize for not being a ‘natural’.

Be proud, instead. Be proud of the conscious choice that you are making. Of the progress that you have made. Of the beauty of the feelings that you have overcome, of the hurdles you have conquered. Recognize the little seeds of gentleness that you have sown and watch them grow.

“I am making a conscious choice.” There are no words more powerful than that.

<3  Sarah

Empathy Week: Rush Hour with a Preschooler and a Newborn

One of the things that pulled me out of the mommy wars was all of the stories. This week I’m sharing the stories of other moms that have touched me through their experiences. If you have an experience you would like to share, please email me at sarah@momtomommedia.com and I’ll publish it here this week. (All names will be changed to initials to keep them anonymous.)

My story from 2010: 

July heat. On a train. Rush hour into New York City. A newborn in a sling. A preschooler holding my hand. No seats. People staring right through us. I pull off my backpack and place it on the floor next to me and squat with my back against the wall. My preschooler sits on my leg and I balance us all to the sway of the train.

Why am I on a train with a two week old baby in the grotesque heat? Why am I dragging my preschooler on a train into New York City during rush hour? Why not one hour later when rush hour passed? Why am I clogging the stairs? Taking up room in the elevator? Why is my baby crying? Why am I changing a diaper squatting on the floor near the stairs in the subway?

Why am I subjecting my children to this? BAD MOM. BAD BAD MOM.

Balancing on a bus. Three week old baby in a sling. No seats. No one offers. An older woman peeks at my baby. “I was never brave enough to take a baby out like that when they were that young.”

Oh but neither am I.

I have no choice.

I’m not here because I want to be.

I’m here because a court order says that I have to have my older child at a certain place at a certain time. Because the court order doesn’t say that someone else has to do this during my recovery time. I don’t WANT to risk hemmorhage. I don’t WANT to drag my kids out in the heat. I don’t WANT to be on this bus, this train, this subway, this street right now in rush hour. I don’t want to be here.

I am here because if I was not here I would lose my child. I have been told that I have to do this. I have no one else in my life to do this for me. I do not have a driver’s license. I am picking the options that will get me there on time, that let my children get the most sleep. That will allow me to travel with the least amount of stuff. That will let me climb the stairs when the elevator is out. That will let me get there as fast as I can so that no one can say that I was late.

I do this every week because I have no other choice. I was given no choice. It is be strong or lose my child.

So I do it with a smile. I dance in the subways and I make up funny rhymes. I tell my children stories. I nurse on the go. I become stronger. Not because I WANT.. But because I have no other choice.

I know you don’t understand that. So when you roll your eyes when my baby cries.. I don’t judge you. When you sit all comfortable and snug in your seat smug with the satisfaction of knowing that if I really wanted to I could just take a later train with more seats.. I don’t get upset.

I’d feel the exact same way if I were in your shoes.

I just really wish that more of you would smile instead of looking at me as though this is something that I chose. It’s hard enough to do this without being judged.

The one thing I’m profoundly grateful for is that this experience taught me that I cannot know the circumstances surrounding another parents “choices” when I’m just witnessing a moment of two of their lives or hearing a tiny story.

A Blacksmith, An Electrician, and a Plumber. Parenting Toolkits and Why Your Tools Might Not Be Mine

I was asked what I mean when I talk about the “toolkit” philosophy.

This is what I’ve come to call my approach to parenting issues. Both my approach to each of my very different-from-each-other children and my approach to providing and receiving parenting advice.

We each have a parenting toolkit. And the tools that work for another parent might not be a good fit for our toolkit, or the tools that work so amazingly for us might work very poorly for another parent.

A blacksmith, an electrician and a plumber each have very different toolboxes. Some of their tools might be the same and some will be very very different. And a plumber that works on houses in Ohio will have a different toolkit from a plumber that works on high rises in New York City.

One of the things that drives me completely nuts about most support groups is the attempt to convert people to The One True Way of Doing Things. When you have a hammer everything looks like a nail. And when you try to use a hammer on something that’s not a nail you’re going to get really bad results.

So it is with parenting advice. When I try to force a tool to work when it’s a poor fit to my children or to my life.. It tends to make things much worse rather than better.

I remember with my first child I tried so hard to make poor-fitting tools work because of the dire forecasts of doom related to things like co-sleeping. I felt so guilty and like a failure when I couldn’t use certain tools successfully in my life with my child when someone else could use them in their life with their child.

Imagine feeling like a failure when your attempt to use a hammer instead of pliers didn’t work. Or when your attempt to eat soup with a fork was met with failure. Imagine feeling like a failure for not being able to knit with a crochet hook instead of knitting needles. Imagine feeling like a failure because your little compact sedan can’t fit the same number of passengers as a school bus. Or because you can’t park a school bus in a parking spot designed for car.

Parenting is hard. So we seek out advice and information and sometimes we find things that fit /so/ well and click so perfectly that it makes life so much easier. Then sometimes we find something that simply does not work and makes our babies scream as though they are being dangled upside down by their toes over a boiling pit of fire breathing tiger dragons with lava of baby-eating spiders.

Since human beings are so drastically different from each other, some of those things that work SO perfectly for another family are that boiling pit of fire breathing tiger dragons with lava of baby eating spiders for my family. And the things that work SO perfectly for me might be something that make another mother and baby so miserable that no one can stop screaming.

Imagine being horribly allergic to flowers- they give you hives. Now imagine some dude on the internet told your husband that the best present was flowers. And that if he didn’t give you flowers he was a horrible husband and you would divorce him because ALL women love flowers. Now imagine your husband brought you flowers. Horribly hive-inducing flowers of sneezy eye-watery horror.

Imagine loving classical music but being told that dubstep is much better and being forced to listen to dubstep all.day.long.on.endless.repeat. All because some other person somewhere loves dubstep so you should too.

Right. Doesn’t work too well.

Humans are wildly different from each other on what they like and dislike. Babies are little humans. Some of them are going to LOVE their crib. Some are going to scream bloody murder if they’re not in constant contact with another human being. Some will love pacifiers. Some will gag if you try to give them one. Some moms love breastfeeding. Some moms tolerate breastfeeding. And some moms would rather be thrown in a pit of tigers than breastfeed.

My first child hated noise and found “shush” sounds to be infuriating. He liked to fall asleep in perfect stillness. He was a boppy-napper on my lap. He loved co-sleeping and being worn. He liked being naked in a diaper with bare feet. My second child hated being still while falling asleep and would not nap on a boppy and wanted to be bounced gently with slow shush sounds to get to sleep. He loved being worn and hated co-sleeping. He liked being in 100% cotton footed pajamas. My third child loves nursing to sleep some of the time and hates it other times. She hates slow bouncing and slow shushing sounds. Her bouncing needs to be deep knee bends, rigid and fast. Her shushing has to be harsh and full of static. Loud and firm. She likes to sleep in a diaper and a shirt with bare feet and legs.
Had I tried to use the same toolkit for each of them I would have had three very screamy unhappy babies.

Parenting tools are awesome. Coping mechanisms are awesome.  Statistics and data and studies and personal experiences are awesome. Sharing is awesome.

But my awesome might not be your awesome.  The tools in my toolkit might not work well in yours. And the tools that you find essential might just feel like clutter for me.

“That doesn’t fit in my toolkit” is a perfectly valid thing for someone to say about a parenting tool that simply doesn’t work for them.  It doesn’t mean that the tool is a bad tool or a bad idea. It means that it’s not what they need for the kids that they have in the life that they have where certain things work and others do not.

This is what I mean when I say that the support groups I run operate on the “toolkit” philosophy. It means that we’re all talking about our toolkits and the things that fit into our toolkits. We’re helping other parents figure out what fits into their toolkits. I often find myself recommending things that NEVER work for my kids. Why? Because the things that are in my toolkit don’t seem to be helping another mum and the things that never worked for me seem like they might be a better fit. 

Mommy wars over parenting tools are as silly as a blacksmith, plumber and electrician getting into an argument about over what tools are the “best” tools. The best tool is the tool that works for the job.

The best parenting tool is the tool that works. And the tool that works will depend on the child and the child’s family.  

Why I Abandoned Advocacy for Support (Peace in a Time of Mommy Wars)

I used to be a passionate advocate of breastfeeding, of gentle parenting, of certain “ideals”. I no longer am. I’m not a lactivist. I’m not an intactivist. I’m not a wait-it-out-ivist. I’m not a soldier in a battle in the mommy wars. In a way I have become a medic. I also help evacuate refugees that are caught in crossfire between opposing camps in this mad free-for-all fiasco of hurt feelings and bitterness. 
Being an “advocate” came naturally in the beginning. I was raised with picket signs and letters of protest against things that I felt were an injustice. I’m a daughter of a 1960’s mom.

Some things seemed black and white back then in the beginning. Those things seemed even more clearly right or wrong because of parenting decisions that I was beginning to make for my own child.

As often happens with any war, you head in as a new soldier expecting to win battles. Some people become hardened and excel at aggressive assaults or impenetrable defense. Some people become strategists. Some people become diplomats. Some people get caught in the crossfire. Some people see the casualties.

I saw the casualties. Moms who doubted their choices, their motherhood, their existence as human beings. Moms trying to make “methods” work to the point where they were caught between the method and their child and the method was winning. Postpartum depression, social isolation, sadness, anger, angry-sadness and withdrawal. I saw the white flags of surrender.

And I realized something. Discussions about parenting methods should be this thing of JOY. Of fascination, of learning, of discovery. Of finding out what works for us.. Of finding out what makes sense for us.

Few people come to joy through force. It was realizing this that caused me to abandon advocacy in order to be a provider of support.

I had abandoned advocacy long before the “birth” of Nurshable. I had abandoned it because I did not want to be one of the casualties, and because it left me feeling sad and defeated. I simply don’t have the heart or stomach for advocacy. There is a place in this world for advocates, and I admire the work that they do. But I will never be a soldier, and I do not believe I will ever be an “advocate” again. It requires talents that I simply do not possess.

I purchased nurshable.com on October 25 2011 and I didn’t touch it for a good long while. When I found out that I was having a daughter as opposed to a third son, something shifted in my heart and in my head. I started seeing my child in all of the women around me rather than seeing myself. And I realized that I do not want my daughter to be a casualty.

After my sweet little one was born, I made the decision to start writing her letters about my own journey through motherhood. I wanted to somehow convey to her all of the things that I’ve learned about finding joy in choices. I decided to share these letters, as they are things that I wished I could have read as a new mom.. Things I wish I could have read instead of the endless threads of who is and is not right and how right or how wrong each person is.

Through speaking to my daughter in these letters I’ve found an incredible sense of calm and peace. And through speaking to the readers of Nurshable I am growing my peace. I’m growing my compassion. I’m seeing what happens when there is place of peace outside of a war.

There is no clear “birthday” for Nurshable. Nurshable was not “born” when I registered the domain. Nurshable was not “born” when I found out I was having a daughter. Nurshable was not “born” alongside my dear baby girl. So I can’t write a birthday post for this blog on a specific date. So this post will serve as my “happy birthday” to this safe place that WE have created. Myself, the readers of Nurshable, and our children.

Thank you for helping me find this place, and for helping me keep it so full of joy and calm. By leaving the comments open, this blog has become a community that extends to the WIO group and the Nurshable page, and to all of the friends that I have made and that have come to know each other as well. This has become a creation of yours as much as it is a creation of mine.

And it makes me smile.

No Questions Asked: How We Support Other Moms

(Written for a friend who is a passionate provider of breastfeeding advice to explain my personal take on providing support to moms.)

With my daughter’s birth I had two nurses.

The first nurse had birthed her own children without any painkillers. She had a rhythm that her births had drilled into her. She moved with me, her hands pausing at contractions and touching gently between. She relaxed me and I settled into the course of things with her support, retreating into my own world to focus on those things that needed to be focused on.  She did the things that she needed to do, and was a pleasant motherly presence that made me feel safe and protected. I was an easy patient, and smiled at her and thanked her when I could.

The second nurse moved by routine and offered many things that she felt would be comforting but did not have the rhythm that the first nurse did. Her touch crashed into the contractions, causing me to tense up in pain and object with the only words that I could muster. “Stop. No. Don’t.” I was not an easy patient. I spoke in short-hand. I tensed up at the sight of her, knowing that her well-meaning ministrations would hurt, pull me out of the focus I needed, and that I could not make her understand.

She wanted to check my dilation, something that I allowed my previous nurse to do without complaint (I had heavy bleeding so they needed to keep an eye on the bleeding and progress). This is something I found tolerable between contractions and excruciating during.  I had previously used those words “Stop. No. Don’t.” I had previously tried to say “Not during a contraction”. I was not being understood.

The words that I needed to clearly communicate were that “I know that you need to check my dilation. I am not telling you not to do your job. I am asking you to do it when I am not having a contraction. If you can wait until this contraction passes and do it as fast as you can once the contraction is over it won’t hurt and I won’t complain.”

I needed those words in the middle of transition, the most intense part of childbirth where the intensity is so strong that I could not manage to ask for the blue plastic bag that I needed to catch the vomit that my body threatened me with every contraction. I was bed-ridden for the labor with my daughter, which made it all the more intense.

This nurse of mine needed to hear that I was not telling her that she couldn’t do her job, that I understood what she needed to do, that I would let her do her job, and that I was just asking her to please do it a little bit differently if she could. Shifting things around by centimeters or seconds made all the difference.

As soon as I managed to speak those words, she understood not only what I was trying to tell her, but she understood more that when I asked for something to be done a little bit differently it was not because I had a birth plan that I wanted to adhere to, but because I was struggling and those little things made my struggle easier.

I see this pattern all the time in support forums where mothers and parents are giving and getting advice. It spirals threads into name calling, “mommy guilt”, “mommy wars” and accusations of bashing and drama.

When we are supporting women in breastfeeding, in parenting, in labor or in recovery.. It is important that we try and recognize when someone is stretched to their maximum ability to cope. When a person is stretched this far, the things that we do to try and help can stretch them further.

Often when a person asks a specific question they are seeking a specific answer. They have chosen a path that they feel will take them where they need to go. They are getting advice from everyone in their life that is stretching them thinner and thinner and thinner. They are sleep deprived, emotionally vulnerable, and in a storm of hormones.

When we accidentally upset someone with information or questions.. We need to step back. We need to apologize. We need to reassure. And we need to LISTEN. More often than not we have accidentally piled more on top of someone who is struggling to cope.

We need to ask ourselves “Are we supporting the individual mother that we are trying to help, or are we simply supporting breastfeeding in general?” Because when we are supporting the MOTHER, we need to support her on an individual level and not from a checklist of best practices.

The goal needs to be to make it easier for her to continue doing what it is that she wants to do and this “thing” we believe in. Not to make her question her choices any more than she probably already does.

In order to do this we need to look at how we phrase the information about the catch-22’s and the best practices and the booby-traps. She needs to know that they are suggestions and informational bullet points and not indictments of her judgement or parenting skills.

Our goal in being “support providers” should be never to be so in love with an idea that we accidentally hurt the feelings of a person.