Mother’s Day is this Sunday and most of us anticipate hand made cards from our children and perhaps a present from our spouse. However, there is a gift that we could give to each other each and every day, and Mother’s Day would be a great day to start.
What is that gift? Replace words of shaming with words of support.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of shame, especially in relation to the package of mothering choices known as attachment parenting. It seems to me that attachment parenting as the dominant contemporary mothering ideology has not done much for children, but it’s done a lot of harm to women by making them feel ashamed. Mothers have always felt guilty of course, but shame is a relatively new emotion in relation to mothering.
According to the article For Shame: Feminism, Breastfeeding Advocacy, and Maternal Guilt published in the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia. Quoting a variety of mothers who feel like “failures” because they could not breastfeed successfully, the authors explain:
What these examples have in common is that they indicate something other than just guilt (though all of these women may, in fact, feel guilty). [They] all say they feel like failures. In all of these cases, the mothers’ emotions go beyond guilt, or the feeling that a particular action, or lack thereof, has broken a rule and caused harm. Rather, they judge themselves as deficient: bad mothers, failures. Such negative global self-assessments suggest what scholars have identified, in contrast to guilt, as shame, which “involves the distressed apprehension of oneself as a lesser creature” or “a painful, sudden awareness of the self as less good than hoped for and expected…”
We can give mothers and incredible gift by not shaming them in the first place. Here are a few examples:
Support: I’m so glad you got relief from the pain.
Shame: You wouldn’t take drugs the entire nine months of pregnancy; why did you take them in labor?
Support: I’m so glad that your baby is okay.
Shame: Your C-section was unnecessary. If you had been more educated about birth, you would have known that.
Support: Breastfeeding is difficult. You shouldn’t blame yourself. The important thing is that your baby is thriving.
Shame: There is no such thing as “not enough” milk. And if you were in pain when you were breastfeeding, you were doing it wrong.
4. The family bed
Support: The best sleeping arrangements differ for different families and even for different children within the same family.
Shame: What do you mean you need private time with your husband? Your baby is only young once; you’ll be married to your husband for decades.
5. Baby wearing.
Support: It’s great if a sling works for you, but the baby really doesn’t care as long as she is with you.
Shame: Your baby won’t feel loved if you don’t “wear” him. And without skin to skin contact, babies suffer from stunted emotional development.
6. The all consuming nature and isolation of caring for small children
There are lots of different way to shame women about this issue: Isn’t being with your baby more important than making money? I love my baby enough to do without material things.
Or, what do you mean you need time for yourself? There is nothing that you could be doing that is more satisfying than meeting your baby’s needs.
Or, I can’t believe you leave your baby with a sitter just so you can go to yoga class for an hour.
There are lots of different ways to replace shaming with support for mothers who feel isolated and temporarily overwhelmed with parenting duties, but my personal favorite is this:
Bring the baby over to my house and I’ll watch him while you take a little time for yourself.