Lately I’ve been forced to handle many comments all relating to the same theme of, “Shouldn’t we all be supporting each other no matter what we choose?” It’s a beautiful sentiment that parents can pull out whenever they hear of people dissenting against a particular point of view. Actually, it’s often shared against a page or group of people who speak out against mainstream or guilt-free parenting. Or at least that’s where I hear it often.
Shouldn’t we all support each other’s choices? Hmmm… well, no. Not that I don’t think we don’t offer support to any parent who asks for advice moving forward, but do we give carte blanche to all actions? Absolutely not. Or at least absolutely not for me. But here’s where my distinction comes in:
I can support a parent without supporting the action.
I said it. I can support you as a parent in any capacity I can while still maintaining that, for example, crying-it-out (CIO) is bad for your child (where most of this discussion comes from). And if you want information on alternatives or education as to why I think it’s bad, I will happily provide you with more than you probably hoped (all science-based). Even if you don’t want to talk about CIO but used it and are comfortable with it, but have questions on breastfeeding or babywearing or any number of other things, you are welcome to ask away. We are not solely defined by one act of parenting, no matter what that act is. Where the problems arise are when people are looking for confirmation as opposed to support.
This is a hard thing for many people to understand and grasp. Harder still to live with. I regularly get parents who have used CIO come to EP either here or on Facebook and who look to have people in this community – one that is clear it does not promote CIO – to condone what they did. They don’t want forgiveness for a mistake (likely because they don’t see it as a mistake, which is fine). They aren’t interested in reading any information. They aren’t interested in just leaving it because they are comfortable with their decision and don’t feel they need to go somewhere that is openly looking to promote alternatives to try and change minds. They want everyone to tell them that what they did was fine and there were no problems and that everyone supports their decision (not them, their decision). Not surprisingly, this doesn’t happen, and then they get mad and others come in and we end up where this started… “Shouldn’t we support each other?” (Or really, shouldn’t we support all choices?)
I would ask that before you use this phrase with anyone, you actually look to what you’re asking. The definition of support is “to bear the weight of; to hold up”. One can do that for a parent who struggles and needs help without simply telling them what they want to hear. To hold someone up is to help them. I have never, ever viewed “help” as being anything but giving someone all the information they can use so they can make an informed decision, and if the decision has passed and they’re still talking about it? Give them more information because something isn’t sitting right. I’m not here to tell you that everything you’ve done is great and you’re a perfect parent. I can tell you, quite honestly, that we all make mistakes and that you can only overcome them and move forward if you stop trying to justify them when you know they feel uncomfortable to you. (If they don’t feel uncomfortable, you should look long and hard as to why you feel the need to have confirmation from total strangers.)
I can handle bearing the weight of a mother who needs help. I can search resources and give all the advice I have in my arsenal and trust she will make a decision that is best for her given the information she has up to that point. What I cannot do is offer platitudes for methods that harm babies. I just can’t. Especially because a method is just that – a method – there is no individual, with all the extra considerations that entails, attached. That stands even if a mother wants to hear it.
And no, I don’t view that as not supporting her. In fact, I view the action of simply agreeing to make her feel better to be non-supportive because down the line she has to live with that decision, and the longer she goes with it, the longer the guilt may build. (Oh yeah, there’s also the baby in this who I will also support.) Why would I not give her a place and opportunity to learn and move on? If she doesn’t want it, she doesn’t have to take it, but I don’t have to compromise on what kind of advice I offer. I know many parents who made a decision that is contrary to what I would have done, but did it with eyes wide open and they feel no guilt. Nor do they ask for others to tell them it was “okay”, especially not places that are open about disagreeing with a particular act.
In short, the next time we sit down to talk about “supporting” moms, I hope we all think about what we mean. Simply telling a mother that whatever she does is fine is not support. If a mother hears information she disagrees with, she is capable of disregarding it, but to avoid giving her the information (when asked) under the guise of “support” or to suggest she be told everyone agrees with what she did? Well, that helps no one.