Saturday, April 10, 2010

Mama Bean is caught up in the all-same all-different one-community-ness of Parenting

I've written about parenting paradoxes before (feeling simultaneously the strongest/most capable and weakest/most vulnerable ever) and another one occurred to me recently. All us parents are simultaneously doing the same things and doing totally unique things. And there is, in turn, a positive and negative side to each part of this paradox. Learning to navigate the Ambivalence of it all is a challenge.

It is super awesome to realize I am not the only one dealing with [insert parenting activity.] I have been so comforted by meeting and chatting (commiserating?) with other moms who went through the same struggles, the same challenges I dealt with when learning to breastfeed. A public health nurse visited our breastfeeding clinic looking for positive thoughts about breastfeeding to include in an information handout she was preparing for new parents choosing whether to BF or FF. What she got was a chorus of women who wished they'd been better informed, less bullied, more supported, less alone. It is powerful to hear each others' stories, realize the similarities, and take our place in the common narrative. It builds confidence.

The potential problem with this is the difficulty in choosing a different way. It is really easy to suddenly feel like a maverick (cf. choosing homebirth.) It's part of the reason behind our susceptibility to the Mother Guilt - when you're not doing what everyone else is doing, it's easy to feel judged. And all alone again. The solution involves letting us all Balance on the Ambiguity: we all have a place in the Big Story, and we all have our Own Story.

And that's the other side of the paradox, which likewise has its plus and its minus. Everyone is doing their own thing, and they are all valid ways to do it. (Barring, like, negligence and abuse, obvs.) When I bring up a concern at clinic (what do to about fingernails, how many blankets to use, when do I start solids) I hear a pile of different ways to deal. Most of them will contain some nugget of what I'm already doing or intending to do, giving me confidence to go ahead as planned.

Sometimes. The potential problem here is that all the different methods and styles just leads to confusing baby-punditry and no clearer answer of what to do. And then we're back to the Mother Guilt, because it's impossible to do what everyone is doing. Everyone is doing something different, and often contradictory. Back to feeling alone. The solution, again, requires balance: we agree on some Standard Fundamentals, we agree to Gracious Diversity.

The potential problem with each component of the paradox is self-blame and guilt. To avoid this, we have to give each other permission to occupy a unique space within the big story. I think this is one of the functions of the online mommy-blogging community - this big place to find common ground and celebrate differences. But for me, learning to walk the edge of this two-sided Ambiguity has happened in my offline community of moms at breastfeeding clinic. It fascinates me, because we come from a huge range of income levels, careers, marital statuses, personalities. There are definitely women at the clinic I would not be friends with under other circumstances (and vice versa, no doubt.) But in that room, we are all moms, we are all in this together.

The positive side of both components of the paradox is increased confidence. When I navigate ambivalence successfully, I grow more certain about my choices. Especially when I am encouraged by other mamas, doing the same stuff as me in their beautifully unique ways. I found that confidence when I jumped into community, and now, I cannot imagine parenting in a vacuum ever again.


  1. All I can say is that until I started commiserating with other mommies, I felt like all the good and bad of mommyhood was just happening to me. I felt alone and in what you call "a vacuum," and didn't find comfort or confidence in being a mother until I understood we are all going through the exact same thing.

  2. I do find that face-to-face, we are much more tolerant of our different mommy styles, whereas the blogosphere is a much more judgmental environment. "Mamageddon" certainly pre-dates the internet, but seems a bit more cut-throat now as we sit safely in the glow of our computer screens.

    The BFing group has been a blessing in my life, too, not only to affirm some of the decisions I have made, but to see that all the babes are doing just fine, in spite of our parenting.

    I have let my parents off the hook by reminding myself, frequently, that they did the best they could. If only we could all say that of each other. Hopefully M will be as forgiving to me when she is old enough to question my choices as her parent.