Friday, 30 September 2011

All Hail Thee: I'm Not Worthy


Do you ever feel like you're not good enough to be a "natural/conscious/aware/alternative parent"? I do. God damn, I mostly feel like I'm not a good enough parent full stop, never mind trying to stick to my ideals like glue and failing miserably.

Let me give you an example. Recently we've finally succumbed to (gentle) night-weaning, at 10 months. It's not what we wanted, at all, at all. But after approximately 6 months of ever-increasing psychosis through lack of sleep, it was quite obviously the right thing to do. There are many, many, who tell me (or would tell me) that we shouldn't have waited so long, that our health is paramount because without that we cannot care for our child's health and wellbeing.

And I agree, and most of the world would agree. So why are there so many of the same people who make us feel like utter failures - including ourselves - at not meeting some kind of exacting standard set upon us unknowingly? Almost every day I read posts or comments from (mostly) mothers who appear to feel that their way is best, that you cannot call yourself a parent - let alone any kind of "natural" parent if you do not comply with rules A-Z without complaint.

Secretly, though, I know what the issue is here. And it makes me very sad. Parenting is hard - we all agree with that I think. And so we celebrate every little success, as parents and carers. Every. Single. Tiny. Success. Which is fabulous of course, and just the way it should be. The danger comes when we over-celebrate and our joy begins to spill over into The Smug Zone. Oh I am worthier than thou for I have done what you cannot manage. I've been there myself. The smugness and self-satisfaction at continuing to breastfeed long after the other 90% (or whatever) of mothers have given up. Feeling silently victorious at having lost all the baby weight (and more) after just 6 months, both times. The complacency with which we watched our babies self-wean onto solids, with no quibbles whatsoever. I could go on, and on.

But with every crow of victory we hurt another, less fortunate parent. Childrearing is not a competition, it's a life-choice. And as such, we have to roll with the punches and make hay when the sun shines, BUT we must also remember that it "takes a village" to raise a child. That means offering compassion and genuine support. It simply isn't good grace to be doling out advice whilst at the same time believing you are superior because your child has been breastfed for 4 years and the mum you're offering support to is struggling moving beyond 4 months (for example). We ALL struggle with aspects of parenting. Some of us may well put in more "effort" or have more "staying power" but that is neither here nor there. We all have our limits, and at the end of the day, we are all very different. So what works for me will very likely not work at all for you - and no, it's not because you're doing it wrong.

So please people, learn some compassion. Learn to work as a village. Learn to show our children the true meaning of community - compassion, not competition.


  1. I couldn't have said it better myself. There are many things that I have sacrificed on the altar of sanity along the way: I definitely know where you are coming from. For example, I remember feeling great shame that I had to give my son a bottle of formula one day during a meeting where other "crunchy" moms were present. Why was that necessary? Why should we have to be made to feel we have to answer to someone? It didn't ruin my breastfeeding relationship with my son- we still nurse at almost two years, but I had an earnest need to supplement in the early months. We all can take a dose of tolerance from time to time.

  2. Thank you for this. I've often wondered what where I belong in the "parenting" spectrum, because we babywear, breastfeed beyond "1 year", do BLW, we don't spank, we co-slept for a stretch, all sorts of stuff, but we don't always comply with what the "rules" set by some parents, so I don't feel I can say I'm part of that set.
    I was recently told, that because we plan to gently wean my son, if by the age of 2, ish he hasn't weaned, in order to try and get pregnant again, that I am selfish, not parenting my son's needs, and that our desire to have a 3rd baby to complete our family is wrong if it means weaning my son, and that we should "wait" til he is ready, or that I should continue to breastfeed whilst trying to concieve and through pregnancy. My reasons for weaning are that I have to take hormonal support to stay pregnant for the first trimester, and I suffered from appalling morning sickness for most of my pregnancies, constant sickness, weight loss, needing treatment for de-hydration, and I just don't think it would be good for me, the baby, or my son, to breastfeed through that. Some of the comments on a parenting forum, aimed at me, and other "selfish" mothers who were "depriving" their children of breastfeeding past the age of 2, made me feel awful.
    Parenting isn't a competition, it isn't about scoring one up on other Mum's or Dad's. But some of the parenting community out there certainly have the ability to patronise, condemn and induce guilt, when really, we mother's don't need any more of that heaped on us.

  3. Well said that woman! I keep almost totally out of AP/ NP blogs because of this feeling I get and the mama-haranguing goes on and the guilt I feel because I'm failing at this or that. Everyone comes from different backgrounds and is living with different circumstances. The more I parent the humbler, and more resigned and exhausted I become. I feel very angry that a lot of mums doling out the "how to be a perfect AP mum" blog things tend to be mums of one, under three year old... oh how different life looks when you have three under 5... or a non-sleeping baby... or recurrent breast infections... or PND...I think it is great to aspire, to try hard to do our best, to aim at best practice, to have all this information and support and ideas out there... but not guilt... parenting is hard enough, without trying to be perfect or right all the time.

  4. Oh yes, that's the point I forgot to mention - that having one child, or even 8, doesn't make you any of an expert at other people's kids! But yes, I agree - we have two babes and to me, that makes some things simply impossible that wouldn't be otherwise, with a singleton or older children or a bigger age gap.

    I think I will follow your example and steer clear, unless I'm feeling particularly solid and proud of my own achievements!

  5. It's awful isn't it, that even when we are not being judged outright, we still feel implicit failures? It really is time we learned to support each other's choices - struggles and all.

  6. Oh I really LOVE you!


    I am fed up of the smug brigade too. We can all slip into it, it makes us feel better, etc etc... but yes, like you say, for every smug victory - someone else is crying alone in the dark. My piece in this month's Juno is all about letting go of our ideals a little to keep sane. And to throw light onto the fact that we can become cliched and stereotyped into unconventional boxes - but they're still that - boxes.

    Am having a hard time accepting that any one kind of parent is best.

    Every parent goes to sleep at night thinking they're doing the best by their child. Is a poverty stricken prostituting mother in a third world country any less a person or excellent mother than me? Or a woman who spends her days making a living on rubbish dumps in India? Or a woman in America who is working four jobs to make ends meet for her kids? Or one who is bringing up her child in a way that reflects her belief in Jesus, Allah, Jehovah, or Buddha? Or master Yoda?!

    Who is right or wrong? It doesnt actually matter as long as no-one mindfully tries to hurt their child, there can be no blame, no right or wrong.

    I'm fed up of this middle class, AP smug mentality that poo poos and looks down on how other mothers parent. Personally I reckon that parenting/ educational evangelists of any description should be heard, and can have some wise things to say, but ultimately you need to do what feels right in your heart and mind, and remember that pockets of smug are just that.....

  7. This is so true! When I read posts by other who are celebrating their small victories, I can sometimes feel as if I'm just the worst "natural" parent on the planet. It's not how they say it, just how I compare myself with what's written. It's always a good thing to remember this when handing out advice. I was a very lucky mom who rarely had any breastfeeding problems. I can honestly say that I don't know if I'd have kept on as long as I did if I had to face any of the problems so many others have to deal with. It can be so hard to communicate compassion online, though. All you can share are typed words - no body language, facial cues, or voice inflection to show your true feelings. Readers and writers, alike, need to remember this.

  8. That is very true. I suppose I can be quick to judge on this level. But as a writer, on a sensitive subject, it doesn't take much to soften a statement so that it doesn't sound so much like an imperative: "I found that X really helped" rather than "Do this, it's the only way (IMO)"... for example. The latter gets peoples backs up pretty quickly!

  9. Totally agree with the boxes thing. We must live by our own rules, influenced by whoever or whatever floats our boat. I can't remember how often I've read someone describe themself by what they adhere to e.g. breastfeeding, babywearing, BLW, co-sleeping etc etc. As if that subscribes them to some kind of holy club! Personally I think many of those things *are* best for the child, but that is just my personal opinion and I'd never criticise someone else for doing things differently, providing they had obviously given it some considered thought in terms of what is best for the whole family. To me, there is more harm than good in forcing something which obviously isn't working - and that's why we night-weaned. We'd given it a good few months to allow her to get the most from it, but it had begun to hurt our family so much that we had to stop or we would have fallen apart.

  10. I love this! I night-weaned my daughter at 10 months (it took about 4 nights and was quite painless for us both), and she weaned for good at 13 months (again, quite painless for her, but sad for me because I hadn't intended for her to wean then but my milk was drying up and it just sort of happened). I've often thought that other mothers I know might look down on me for this, but you know what, I'm damn proud of myself for nursing her for as long as I did. I nursed her for the first three weeks of her life while she was still tongue-tied and it was excruciatingly painful, maybe the most painful thing I've ever been through, and I'd just had a natural childbirth! Would those who judge me for "early" weaning have been able to nurse through what I did??? For many of them, I doubt it. So I guess sometimes you're "ahead" and sometimes you're "behind," but either way you shouldn't judge others until you've walked a mile in their shoes.

  11. Imogen @ Alternative Mama3 October 2011 at 11:50

    I bloody love this. Thank you SO MUCH!! I've written about this a couple of times but never as articulately as you have here. THANK YOU! It used to make me want to scream when people told me that the reason their babies slept so well is because they didnt make a big deal about bedtime etc (i.e. "You're doin it RONG, it's all your fault"). I didn't make a big deal of it either! My kids just didn't like sleeping!

    Honestly, you should feel ZERO guilt for nightweaning now. This may shock you, coming from somebody who feels as strongly about breastfeeding as I do, but I sometimes wish I had nightweaned, or given more bottles, to my oldest son when he was a baby and would. not. sleep. I would have been happier, less insane, and as a result i would have been a MUCH better mother... and maybe he wouldnt have the sensitivities he has today. props to you, for doing something about a tough situation, even though it went against what you had planned.

  12. "works for me will very likely not work at all for you - and no, it's not because you're doing it wrong" YES! I feel exactly the same way. I'm often questioned, and sometimes crticised in France for not doing things the "French" way.

    I regularly feel like I'm not doing enough but console myself with the fact that I'm only human and I also doubt that there is any mother in this world who can put her hand on her heart and said she has done everything and more and never has a question of doubt in her mind that there was anything more she could have done.


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