Parenting is hard. You are responsible for the lives of other people who depend on you for even the basic necessities of life. You will doubt some decisions you make and learn what works best for your family by pure trial and error — no matter how many books and blogs you read claiming to give you the answers you seek. And parenting is made even harder when you have to — no make that choose to — overwhelm yourself by managing the judgements, expectations, and unsolicited opinions and suggestions of others (parents and non-parents alike).
I learned that the hard way with my first, as I imagine many other first time parents do. For the first few months of my daughter’s life I was highly critical of myself as a parent. I second guessed everything I did. I explained every decision I made to people who didn’t seem to immediately agree with said decision. And if someone with a child told me they did something slightly different with their kid I would likely try it their way even while acknowledging that my kid was different from their kid so it may not be as “successful.”
I intended to breastfeed my children for all the typical reasons. It never occurred to me that I could have any problem with this. I won’t get into all the nuisances of my battles with breastfeeding (it’s a story for another post) but by three months I had completely given up and switched my daughter fully to formula and was battling feelings of depression over it. Anytime someone asked me was I nursing her I would immediately feel guilty and explain how my milk didn’t come in for 8 days, it was never enough, and how no matter what I did I could never pump more than an ounce of milk a day while being attached by both breasts to the pump every two hours as directed by my doctor, her doctor, and the lactation consultants. It was a long, deeply personal answer to a question that I have since decided is too personal for most people to ask anyway (only you, your co-parent, and the people watching your kids when they may need to be fed need to know how you are feeding your children).
To make a long story short, I had the same issues with my second child but now when people ask me if I am breastfeeding my two month old son I just tell most people “no.” No guilt and no long explanations. And I kindly tell mere acquaintances and strangers who dare to ask me, very respectfully, that it really is none of their concern how I feed my child and I prefer not to discuss it.
By the time my first child was six months old I realized that it is okay to tell people that my parenting decisions are none of their business. How I raise my kids, what I feed them, what I let them do or not do is between me and their father. Other people’s opinions on that is none of my business and I refuse to be overwhelmed by measuring my parenting against other people’s expectations and opinions. My children are my business and as long as they are fed, sheltered, healthy, happy, and not assholes then I am okay with my parenting decisions and will adjust only when my husband and I see fit.
The other day at church a woman I love and respect, who is a mother and grandmother, refused to give my toddler some iced tea telling her that it contained caffeine and she should try some juice. My daughter then turned to me and asked me to pour her some and I did. The woman reiterated to me that the tea had caffeine in it and I politely told her I know but my daughter could still have a cup, and proceeded to move on. There was a time when newbie-mom-me would have felt judged by that interaction, assumed that this more experienced mother and grandmother knew better than I did, and convinced my kid to take the cup of juice. But comfortable-in-her-skin-mom-me knows that I’m okay with my kid having 4 ounces of tea and I don’t care how anyone else feels about that.
And now if I can give new parents any useful advice it is to be comfortable in your own parenting choices and don’t let anyone guilt, shame, judge you into doing anything different. Raise your kids how you want to and as long as they are as fed, healthy, and happy as you think they should be and they are not turning out to be little jerks you are doing it exactly right. It’s okay to not share or not explain your decisions. Be comfortable telling others who ask about your parenting, politely and with a smile on your face, “that is really none of your business.” I am a much better mom for it.