Most women love their children desperately and want to be good mothers. Unfortunately that leaves them vulnerable to experts, real and self-proclaimed, who insist they know what is “best” for babies. But what women (and experts) often fail to realize is that what is best is often determined by socio-cultural factors that are left unexamined.

For example, parenting experts of the early 20th Century, embedded in a culture that highly valued both technology and conformity, thought that what was “best” for babies was formula, rigid schedules and limited displays of affection so as to prevent becoming spoiled. In contrast, most experts of the early 21st Century, embedded in a culture that highly values nature, experience and maternal self-sacrifice, claim that what is best for both babies and mothers is natural childbirth, breastfeeding and attachment parenting.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Good mothers don’t trust parenting experts; they trust themselves.[/pullquote]

It seems never to occur to experts that mothers themselves might actually know best. After all, mothers (and fathers) love their children more than anyone else, are more attuned to their needs and cues, are responsible for balancing the needs of multiple children within a family, and are best acquainted with the personal, cultural and religious needs of the family as a whole. Simply put, good mothers know what is right for them and their children. And good mothers know that expert advice is often flat out wrong.

Keep in mind that I’m not talking about scientific evidence. Doctors and scientists are experts in what the science shows. I’m referring to advice about what constitutes good parenting for a specific mother and child pair.


Experts may insist that unmedicated vaginal birth is best because it’s it natural. But good mothers know that their own needs in childbirth are also important. Good mothers often consider the health of the baby paramount, but recognize that their own needs in childbirth (safety, pain relief, and preserving future continence and sexual function) matter a great deal. It is not selfish to consider them; indeed ignoring them is paramount to erasing women from childbirth.


Experts claim that breast is best, but good mothers know that ensuring babies are fully fed, content and growing matter far more. The benefits of breastfeeding in industrialized countries are trivial and there are real risks to underfeeding babies. That doesn’t even take into account the suffering of a baby who isn’t getting enough food because his mother isn’t producing enough or because he isn’t able to remove it from the breast. Good mothers know that being fed is far, far more important than being breastfed.


Attachment parenting experts claim (with no evidence) that babies have a need for perpetual maternal proximity that exceeds any need a mother has for sleep. They recommend that babies sleep in bed with mothers because it’s natural, because it facilitates breastfeeding (natural!) and promotes infant security and self-confidence (they just made that up). In contrast, good mothers know that their own needs for sleep, privacy and partner intimacy are also critically important. Indeed, sleep deprivation can contribute to maternal postpartum depression, a condition that is bad for both babies and mothers. Moreover, good mothers know that bed sharing is a safety issue because it increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

You may have noticed a theme. Good mothers know that though babies require maternal sacrifice, they don’t need and don’t benefit from maternal self-erasure.

We should be looking carefully at the socio-cultural factors that have led to a philosophy of mothering that demands total self-abnegation. While experts may claim that such a philosophy is best for babies or that it must be correct because it is natural, the truth is as old as recorded history if not older. It’s about controlling women through the love they have for their children.

Contemporary parenting philosophy is based on prejudices about women, where they belong and what they can be allowed to do. Specifically, contemporary parenting philosophy is built on the belief that women belong at home, with no personal identity or needs, and that anything they do for themselves — whether as mundane as getting adequate sleep or as phenomenal as winning a Nobel prize — necessarily comes at the expense of their primary purpose: bearing and raising children.

But good mothers know that maternal needs and children’s needs dovetail most of the time. Children don’t need a mother who is a doormat; they only need a mother who loves them. And good mothers know that love has nothing to do with childbirth, breastfeeding or attachment parenting.

Good mothers don’t trust parenting experts; they trust themselves.