The Goddess Myth, as described in the October 30th issue of Time, outlines how new mothers are set up for failure from all sides. The current American maternal society and mothers themselves formulate rigid targets about natural birth and long-term nursing. The associated guilt experienced for mothers unable to fulfill these internal and external expectations can at best, lead to a difficult start to motherhood, and at worst, contribute to post-partum depression.
However, while the start of motherhood is where this article ends, that is precisely where the guilt begins. The article does not consider that after birth and nursing, the onslaught of every other parenting decision destined to be scrutinized under a microscope unfolds: use of a pacifier, when and how to introduce solid foods, what type of first shoes are best, to sleep train or not to sleep train, which diapers are the most environmentally friendly. And these are just a few of the debates to be had during the first year, but the list continues far beyond these examples. With each year comes a new menu of guilt-ridden decisions and with each new child, the flashback of previous sins.
Contributing to this problem is the information overload on social media. Any parent scrolling through the internet can access just about every opinion on just about any topic, written by just about any “expert.” Each of these articles offer up advice, often from an “either-or” perspective. Either the author swears by the cry -it-out method, or it’s evil and will cause prolonged mental damage to your child. Time-out is either the savior for all 2-year-olds, or it’s evil and will cause prolonged mental damage to your child. Attachment parenting is the only way to develop a strong bond with your child or it’s too coddling, therefore it’s evil and will cause prolonged mental damage to your child. I think you get the picture; it’s a lose-lose situation for moms who are looking for support.
These articles have a healthy dose of click-bate, intentionally presenting polarized views of a particular topic. Parents are pressured to pick a side, when the truth is more often found in the middle. Often a more nuanced option would better fit a particular family and a particular child. The pressure to be the perfect parent continues much beyond when a child is weaned; it follows parents throughout adolescence and adulthood.
The question is how can we, as a parenting community, be supportive of all parenting choices? How can we realize that the decision that was the best for our child may not be the best for someone else’s? How can we internalize that each child is an individual and therefore may require a different approach?
The first step is to acknowledge that we as parents will make mistakes. It is inevitable. Each and every parent will make the wrong choice for their child at some point. And for the most part, it’s okay. If baby-led weaning didn’t work for your child, it’s ok to try a different approach.
The second step is to recognize that what worked for your child may not work for someone else’s. Just because your child happily gnawed broccoli does not mean that your friend’s baby will do the same. Each and every child is different, and we should approach each one with a menu of options that are all viable options for the child while helping parents maintain sanity. Parental sanity cannot be understated.
Once we accept the reality that there are as many right parenting strategies as there are children, we can move away from holding ourselves up on pedestals that can only lead to our eventual fall. So rather than setting yourself up for unrealistic expectations, let’s set each other up with support, open-mindedness and love as we work together as a human community to raise our next generation of parents.