A holiday gift: support instead of shame

Happy pregnant woman and expecting baby at home.

There is a gift that we could give to mothers 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:

…[T]hey 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 for the holidays 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.

Happy Holidays!