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Dear Mother
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Off the Line

Bulletin Board

The actual correspondence of a Yankee mother and her free-spirited daughter, who is pregnant and living an unconventional life in a beautiful spot in New Zealand

Book: A Special Delivery

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Why Doesn't My Mother Understand Me?
by Amy Rawson

When I began speaking to my mother again after 13 years, she was appalled at my parenting. She poo poo'ed my nursing, was horrified that my sons remained intact and was terribly embarrassed by their nakedness.

My sons, unused to anyone's disapproval, refused to even look her in the eye and followed me around like puppies.

After the second day, I took my mother aside and laid down some ground rules:

  1. These children were MY children. Although she should feel free to give her opinion, it would be done privately and NOT in front of them.
  2. My parenting style, although different from hers, was not about her and was in no way meant to be a comment on her parenting history. If she felt it was, it was her issues not mine, and she needed to deal with them on her own time.
  3. Not once and for no reason, would she or my father lay a hand on the children in anger or punishment of any kind. Period.

Now, my parents and I don’t see eye to eye on anything. From clothes to food to language, we find ourselves unable to come to an agreement other than agree to disagree.

My basic philosophy is to live gently, peacefully and lovingly alongside my children. Other people's opinions and view of my style mean absolutely nothing to me.

To my parents and the majority of people in Mainstream America, Image is everything. How they appear to others is a gauge when decision making with their children. How many mothers smack their kids in a store check-out line because they are embarrassed at the commotion the child is making? How many women bottle-feed because someone told them breastfeeding  is gross or disgusting? How many children are weaned everyday because someone shamed the mother in to thinking it was time?

Why is it that some mothers try to have us recreate their parenting experience? Why do they get so defensive when we stray from what they taught us and go our own way? I think it is guilt. Feeling guilty, mothers tend to see our doing things differently as a personal affront to their mothering. They try to justify their ways by saying things that make us uncomfortable and we begin to question our own ideas and decisions.

It is also due in part to the lifestyle differences of women 20-30 years ago and now. Today's trend is to separate ourselves as quickly as possible from our children but new information shows how damaging this behavior is to the children. Our mothers never had access to that. They never had the chance to see the problem with crying it out or self-soothing. Their doctors treated their births like medical emergencies and the idea that they couldn’t possibly handle the strain that nursing would put on their bodies was ominously mentioned post partum--when mothers are most vulnerable. Not to mention that the husbands would feel left out, god forbid!

By the time the mothers finally got to even hold their babies, the hospitals were sure to give bottles of sugar water and pacifiers and allow the babies to cry because it was good for their lungs. Imagine how traumatized the newborns were when they finally were allowed to see and feel their mother's arms for a visit before being whisked back to the nursery. Surprising that breastfeeding survived that time at all.

Formula was new and WOW! It saved babies! What a wondrous thing the Chemical companies could provide for our babies. Hey if it's created in a lab, then we know EXACTLY what is in it. Formula companies came up with campaigns that gave subtle threats to undermine the mother's confidence, stressing how many babies would die if there was no formula (what a baby loving company!) how specially formulated it was (so thoughtful of them!) Our mothers couldn’t even say the word s*e*x* much less talk about a breast or nipple and here was a way to feed their children while keeping all those nasty naked body parts hidden away.

Mothering was a scary thing for them. Who would they ask for advice? Husbands, doctor, their own mother? The taboo of the body and its functions was a powerful deterrent from that kind of discussion.

Fast forward to now. You are pregnant. Your mother sees it as a frightening experience and comments that you are in for a terrible time. You mention that you disagreed with your doctor and have chosen to use a midwife. Your mother practically faints from the mere thought. What if something goes wrong? What if you need to have the doctors help!!! She can't even imagine that having a baby is not a medical problem, just a medical fact.

Now, you have a baby, your first couple of weeks nursing are rocky. Your mom points out that a pacifier could soothe the baby and even goes so far as to buy you a couple of them with Looney Toon characters on them. When you mention that you aren't using any artificial means to soothe the baby, your mom's dander is automatically up and she says she always used one with you. She is thinking that you are saying it wasn’t the right thing to do. What do you do to appease the situation? Well, you could try to just change the subject and move on. If she persists and starts to bring up other things you do that she doesn’t agree with, just gently remind her that she was the one who did such a great job raising you that you are a attentive mother and now it is her turn to just enjoy the baby without any of the worry. I know it seems like a whitewash, but truly, even though she may mean well, there is NOTHING that your mother can say that would be more important than your own intuition with your own children. It is not up to your mother any more. You need to feel confident and know that you are the best one for the job of bringing up your own baby.

Thinking of her background and the times that she must have gone through while pregnant and birthing, just allow her to heal through watching her grandchildren growing up in an attached family. She may not say it, but seeing children cared for so lovingly by her adult child is a soothing thing for your mom. She needs to see you be a strong woman and stand up for your mothering. So do your children, but you already knew that…

Amy and the boys.

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