The gift we can give other mothers for the holidays: support instead of shame

Female hands holding gift on wooden table.

There is a gift that we could give to each other each and every day, and the holiday season would be a great time to start.

What is that gift? Replace words of shaming with words of support.

Let me watch the baby while you take some time for yourself.

I’ve thought a lot about the concept of shame, especially in relation to the package of mothering choices known as natural parenting. It seems to me that natural parenting has not done much for children, but it has 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 an incredible gift by not shaming them in the first place. Here are a few examples:

1. Epidurals

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?

2. C-section

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.

3. Breastfeeding

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 a lot of different ways to 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.

 

Adapted from a piece that first appeared in May 2012.

  • guest

    I’m also tired of forward-facing car seat shaming. If the child is in a car seat and strapped in so that it meets whatever laws apply to the place the photo was taken, then the parent is a good parent.

    I mean, it’s safer to limit the number of trips your child takes in a car, but you don’t see anyone shaming parents for taking for car trips than average or stuff like that.

    • guest

      “for taking more car trips than average” that should say.

    • Michele

      Ugh that’s another thing parents (mothers) apparently can do no right. The goalposts keep moving. Turn them around too “early” and you hear all about it. Ffs I am not going to rear-face my 3-year-old. Keep them rear-facing past the instant the law says you have to and you hear about it too. Though to be fair, that last one was mostly my parents’ generation and they generally backed off once I told them I was following the pediatrician’s recommendations.

    • MaineJen

      I refuse to post pictures of my kids in their car seats for this very reason. Someone will jump on the photo and tell me I’m doing it wrong. I read all the instructions that come with the car seat, I read all the AAP recommendations, I’m good thanks!!

    • PrimaryCareDoc

      I always find it fascinating that many of the most strident car-seat fanatics are also anti-vax (at least it seems that way on natural parenting forums). Refuse to do basic preventative medicine, but rear-face until a teen!!!

    • guest

      I’m visiting family and using their car. My father had a professional install for one seat, and now he’s afraid to drive us anywhere because the second seat doesn’t meet the guidelines he was given. He means well, but it’s driving me nuts – we’re here for two weeks and the car is the only way to get around. We’re using latch, we’re using the rear tether – the install is as tight as we can humanly make it. At some point, it just has to be good enough, because the alternative is spending $1,000 on car seats and related expenses for a two-week vacation, or never, ever leaving the house.

  • Support – it can make a world of difference and is a tremendous gift and is truly a gift of freedom. A gift of affirmation – a kind of acceptance of others that is so difficult to find.

  • Gatita

    Completely off-topic but I just read about a case where a professor used facilitated communication to justify a sexual relationship with a man with the mental capacity of a toddler and it blew my mind how people can fall down a woo hole and completely delude themselves and cause terrible harm. Facilitated communication has been thoroughly debunked for decades yet people still use it and believe in it.

    • Nick Sanders

      I don’t think it was the same article, but I read about that too. It was super depressing.

  • Anna

    Happy holidays, Dr. Amy! Thank you for what you are doing here and all the effort you are putting into exposing the natural parenting doctrine as it really is! Your blog has made a difference for me and many new mothers out there!

  • Amazed

    I just learned that my grandmother was, in fact, the very embodiment of a bad mother. She didn’t even think to ask about her baby at all during her first days in the hospital. I guess one could say that fighting eclampsia (yes, you read that right, NOT preeclampsia) messed her up pretty badly but we know it’s just a whiny pretext. And she totally believed the evil OB who told her that she was incredibly lucky and that for a mother and baby to make it through without any lasting damage was virtually a miracle. (Another eclampsia mother died in that hospital, with her baby, 5 years before my mom was born. All glorious 5 pounds of her.) And when she heard the head midwife announce, “Oh my, A.’s baby has been killing me all night long! Mew, mew, mew to no end! Which one of you is going to BF her this time?”, she wasn’t scared at all that she was losing that special bond to, say, 5 other women. The reality of having no formula available almost 60 years ago. You take what is being offered and you’re damned grateful.

    Wonder just how many relationships my mom have in the back of her mind with all the women who breastfed her in the hospital.

    On a happier note: if a mother and baby could survive full-blown eclampsia in a regional hospital 60 years ago, then miracles absolutely can happen. Happy Christmas to all of my SOB friends and of course, Dr Amy herself!

  • YesYesNoNo

    Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, blessed New Year♥♡
    Here is my son Rob, now 12 weeks old, 12.5 lbs, and over 2′ long…
    Thriving on Similac, in crib since before a week old, and up to date on all immunizations. Sometimes he even wheres infant hats…
    A bit of an insomniac but healthy and strong.

    • YesYesNoNo

      I lost my eldest dog Crystal a month ago, so it’s been a bit hard…
      She is the brown one 🙁

      • Montserrat Blanco

        She looks gorgeous. I am sorry for your loss.

        • YesYesNoNo

          It has been tough, on us, and little sister Stella. Dogs the best, but never live as long as you would like. …

    • Gatita

      Adorable! Congratulations!

      • YesYesNoNo

        Thank You

    • Amazed

      He’s so cute I can eat him!

      • YesYesNoNo

        Oh me too!

    • Montserrat Blanco

      He is absolutely lovely.

      • YesYesNoNo

        Thanks

    • Anna

      He is great!

      • YesYesNoNo

        Thank you ♡♡♥♥

    • Medwife

      Mine is just a week younger! Isn’t Christmas with such a little one extra fun? Hes beautiful. Congrats and happy holidays!

      • YesYesNoNo

        Thanks, congrats on your baby!

      • moto_librarian

        Congrats to you too, Medwife!

    • Inmara

      Congratulations!

      • YesYesNoNo

        ♥♡♥

    • wookie130

      Lovely baby! Congratulations!

      • YesYesNoNo

        ♡♥♡

    • Bombshellrisa

      So precious!

      • YesYesNoNo

        Thanks 🙂

    • Bugsy

      He’s beautiful – congrats!!

      • YesYesNoNo

        Thanks!

    • moto_librarian

      Congratulations! So glad to hear that you are all doing well!

      • YesYesNoNo

        Thanks Moto!

  • Sue

    Best wishes to Amy and all my SOB friends!

  • Gatita

    So speaking of judgment and in the interest of fairness, Amy posted this article on FB and many of the responses put me off: 15 Times Things Got a Little Heated in the Parenting World Due to
    Breastfeeding This Year
    . No woman should be shamed for breastfeeding her child even if she’s showing more breast than other people are comfortable with. The first case in particular, where a man surreptitiously snapped a photo of a nursing mother and then posted it to FB with disgusted comments, was appalling. Also the mother who was told she couldn’t BF in Marshalls and had to use the toilet. Regardless of how we feel about pressure to BF we need to call this out. It’s problematic when women’s bodies are policed regardless of context.

    • wookie130

      I have never found her shaming women for bfing in public…what I have seen her criticizing, are women who use public breastfeeding as some sort of attention-seeking stunt, or as a means of touting their superiority over other mothers, such as the silly “brelfies” which are now a dime a dozen. Those sort of displays serve a different purpose than feeding the baby, and are rarely about the baby at all.

      • Gatita

        It wasn’t Amy’s response that got to me, it was commenters on her FB page who were braying about women exposing themselves in public.

  • Brooke

    This is amazing hypocrisy.

    • Mishimoo

      Merry Christmas to you too.

    • Jen

      I think you may have missed the meaning of the post. It was supposed to inspire you to go out and support other women. This would count as one of the shaming examples.

    • Bombshellrisa

      How?

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        I think Brooke found a new word in her SAT review books.

    • Anne Catherine

      Hi Brooke– This doesn’t have anything to do with recent post/comments–sorry!–I hope that this isn’t inappropriate blog behavior!!

      A few days ago you asked for some links on the Probit study and some links to studies that show that breastfeeding’s benefits are not all they are cracked up to be…
      I posted a few links (very late in the game) in response to your comments (on lactivism and women’s bodies) if you are interested in seeing them.

      • Daleth

        I posted some links for her too. No response yet…

        • yugaya

          I posted CS statistics for her, so that in the future she can correct both the erroneous numbers she was sharing and get a better understanding why it is a universally accepted fact that CS rate below 5% is inhuman. No response from her either.

          • Bombshellrisa

            If she is so stuck on low c-sections rates, she must be clambering to move to South Sudan. They have a 0.6% section rate.

      • Gatita

        She tried to argue with Montserrat Blanco over the validity of some studies, including PROBIT, got her ass handed to her and hasn’t responded since to any replies that reference specific research.

      • Gatita

        I’ve read your posts on the Common Health blog and I’m curious to know a little more on your background. You sound amazingly well informed on breastfeeding and it’s great to get your POV on the subject.

    • Sarah

      This from the person who demands citations while providing none herself, who whines about bitchiness while throwing others infertility into their faces, who accuses others of misogyny while characterising women who can’t or don’t want to endure the pain of labour as weak? I think not. Your stupid is showing dear.

      • yugaya

        Don’t forget that she is also the sadist who says that the ideal CS rate is no more than 5%.

        • Sarah

          One of the things she’s failed to provide any citations for!

    • Montserrat Blanco

      Actually I do not find it hypocrit. Dr. Tuteur writes about shaming CS mothers, formula feeding mothers and people that do not follow the trends of natural parenting. I have not yet read a post where she shames breastfeeding mothers, vaginal births or even seating babies on a sling. So, I do not find it hypocrit. She had four vaginal births and breastfed four children, so I would find it strange to see her criticizing that. There are a lot of mothers here that are regular commenters and have breastfed/are currently breastfeeding their children. I did breastfed my son, mostly combo fed until he weaned himself, and I can tell you that I have never ever found this blog anything but supportive.

      In any case, I am waiting about your views and critics on the PROBIT study, and your basis for recommending a CS rate of about 5%.

      Thank you.

  • Kq

    “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.”

    *snort* not with that attitude.

    Excellent post!!

    • Amy

      And I’ll only be THIS age, with THIS sex drive, right now.

      • Roadstergal

        Excellent response.

      • SporkParade

        Did you know that the main limiting factor in the amount of sex the elderly have is the fact that men die younger, so there aren’t enough men to meet demand?

        • Amy

          So if I can somehow predict the future, make sure I’ll definitely have a partner well into old age, and make sure I’ll also live into old age, I can keep the kid in bed with me until they hit puberty and not miss sex for a decade?

        • Kesiana

          Huh, that’s interesting. Yay for being a lesbian? XD

  • namaste863

    Have a wonderful holiday, whatever it may be, everybody!