If I had a dime for every postpartum woman whose worries, fears, and obsessions center primarily around whether she’s mothering “the right way” I would have enough money to buy a copy of this book for each and every one of them.
But it’s certainly not hard to figure our where women’s feelings of inadequacy and confusion surrounding their role as Mother stem from. Just look at the mixed messages on these popular magazine covers:
I do not intend to say that these magazines are bad. In fact, I personally read them on a fairly regular basis. But when reading (and just looking at the images) I often think some of the content could be curious and confusing—perhaps even threatening to new moms.What stands out most is the way the women look: All gorgeous. All thin. All dressed fashionably. All of their babies are adorable and well-dressed. And words like: Gorgeous, Secure, Perfect, Good, Values, Best, Easy, and Favorite are all over the covers. Although I don’t yet have children, I’ll admit I’m often seduced by the notion that if I follow the advice in these magazines, in the future I will have the perfect pregnancy, birth, baby, and early parenting years. I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.But it’s not just flashy magazine covers, or even the articles inside that might make mothers feel inadequate or confused. Some of the most popular pregnancy and parenting books send messages to women that discourage (and even shame) them from making decisions that don’t follow the status quo.For example, here is a sentence from one of today’s most popular parenting books:“WARNING: If your child does not learn to sleep well, he may become an incurable adult insomniac, chronically disabled from sleepiness and dependent on sleeping pills.”- From Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, by Marc Weissbluth, M.D.When I first read that line, I laughed out loud because I thought Dr. Weissbluth was making a joke. But to my dismay, I quickly realized that he wasn’t. If you’re familiar with Dr. Weissbluth, you know he is a huge believer in the cry-it-out method of sleep training for infants. While I certainly hold no judgment against people who choose this method of sleep for their child (everyone’s family needs are different), I think the above statement is clearly meant to emotionally manipulate new mothers into adhering to his method. All new moms just want what’s best for their children, right? So they are extremely vulnerable to the suggestions of the experts. And the experts do not often agree on what’s best for new babies.So what is really best?Women have asked me this question literally hundreds (maybe thousands) of times.Before I became a therapist in the PPD program at HAS, I spent 4 years working as a labor support and postpartum Doula. I worked with almost 100 different families in their own homes. I cared for upwards of 60 newborns, including 14 sets of twins. So, while I don’t have my own children (and certainly do not pretend to know what that’s like!) I do know about newborn and infant development, the most “popular” parenting methods, and the most significant controversies regarding what is really best for a newborn.Most new mothers quickly find out (the hard way) that they will be judged (by friends and family) for the decisions they make regarding breastfeeding or formula feeding, co-sleeping or crib sleeping, attachment parenting, bonding, childcare, and even the way they bathe or clothe their children.The overall message new mothers receive from books, magazines, and even well-meaning friends and family members is “You’re doing it wrong. I know how to do it better. If you don’t do it my way, you’re going to screw up your kid. And that means you’re a bad mother.”So what is really, truly best?I say this to every new mother I talk to: What’s best for you and your baby is going to be very different from what’s best for someone else and their baby. You may have wanted to breastfeed, and it didn’t work for you either because it was too difficult or you quickly realized you didn’t want to do it. You may have thought you wanted to be a stay-at-home mom and realized that you wanted to go back to work after 12 weeks. You may have ignored your family’s opinions about co-sleeping and chose to do it anyway. You may have longed to co-sleep but chose to put your baby in a crib because of your overwhelming fears for your child’s safety.There is no right way. I really and truly believe that.As long as your baby is safe, fed, nurtured, and happy, there is no wrong way to parent. You are the only person who knows what is right for you and your child.You can pick and choose what you like from each and every method, and throw out what doesn’t resonate for you. It’s your choice, you’re the mom!–By Melina Mejia Stock
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