I’m an Instinctive Straddler….

If you happened upon this blog post while looking for something dirty….I sincerely apologize for what I am sure you will find to be a very disappointing read.

If you happened upon this blog post while looking for something related to motherhood….CONGRATS!  However, I insincerely apologize if you read something here you don’t like.

So, I was recently asked by a woman I work with, a new mom with a six-month-old son, “What kind of Mom are you?”  I was a bit taken aback at first.  My initial reaction was to assume an offensive stance.  As a woman and a mom, I’ve grown accustomed to fighting in the trenches of the Great Boob War.

However, I managed to practice my HR preachings, “slowed the knee jerk reaction” and simply said, “Why, whatever do you mean?” in that precise way women have of warning others to tread lightly….   

Her question wasn’t at all a dig on my parenting abilities.  She was interested in knowing about my personal parenting style….She wanted to know if I labeled myself an Authoritative Parent, a Permissive Parent, a Helicopter Parent, a Tiger Mom and so on.

I thought about it for a moment, not exactly sure how to answer the question.  To be honest, I never researched parenting styles before choosing to become one or even after the fact.  I knew what I didn’t want to do and who I didn’t want to be, but otherwise I assumed I would just know how to be a mom when the time came.

“I guess I would say I’m an instinctive parent?  I told her….not at all sure if “Instinctive Parenting” was an actual recognized parenting style or if I had just coined the next “Conscious Uncoupling” type term.

She looked at me as though I had just said I subscribed to the Jungle Book method of parenting….and that my son was, at that very moment, galavanting through the woods with a pack of wolves and a singing bear.  When I asked about her parenting style, I learned she was, as yet, undecided, but researching her choices.

As soon as she left my office, I turned to Google to quickly research my possibly made up term and to my surprise, “Instinctive Parenting” is a recognized parenting style….though it doesn’t seem to be among the most popular….more a catchall for those of us who haven’t joined one of the other, more poplular sororities….to put it simply, Instinctive Parenting is a “go with your gut” approach; a very personal style of parenting where your own upbringing largely influences your approach.  I also saw it referred to as the “old school method.”

It seemed a reasonable enough style to adopt.   Women have been birthing and raising babies all over the world for centuries and to this day, manage to do it in parts of the globe where modern medicine and modern conveniences aren’t readily available. On some level I have to assume that instincts play a part.  If not, how then have millions of women managed to raise children without the benefit of Google, self-proclaimed parenting expert bloggers and clearly defined and outlined parenting styles to lead the way?

Apparently, it’s not so reasonable a conclusion….as the countless number of blogs and commentary devoted to bashing the idea….while simultaneously advocating for some other parenting style everyone on the planet is remiss if not adopting….desperately attempts to make clear.

One such blog post, written two years ago, states that sometimes we should follow our instincts and sometimes we shouldn’t.  That instincts can be:

“violent, aggressive, manipulative, and neglectful just as readily as they can be loving, caring, protective, and respectful.”  (Gullible New Parent)  

Well, no shit.  Certainly, thousands of women suffer from the baby blues, postpartum depression and in extreme cases, postpartum psychosis, in the aftermath of child birth. I also believe other factors have a tendency to influence parenting behaviors….like repeating cycles of abuse from one generation to the next,….divorce, remarriage and the introduction of step-parents and step/half siblings….I’m sure there are others.

When these factors don’t apply and/or when they are managed through treatment/support systems, I think we can ultimately learn to adjust and still instinctively raise happy, healthy children.

Of course, some women simply adjust to motherhood more easily than others, but shouldn’t that be the time when we can reach out to our counterparts in motherhood for support and encouragement….without the need to declare ourselves a disciple of a particular style, without being recruited to abide by a particular style of parenting and without being made to feel we are colossal failures when we don’t?

As an example, the title of one of the blog posts I came across while researching this subject was entitled:

“Why I hate ‘instinctive’ parenting.”  

Hate?  Really?  Isn’t that a tad extreme?  Score another for women supporting other women!

Another post I read, also published some time ago, seemed to take the the word “instinct” as it relates to parenting, a bit too literal.  Actually, most of the posts I read seemed to go that route.  This particular post quoted the following from Wikipedia:

“The book Instinct (1961) established a number of criteria which distinguish instinctual from other kinds of behavior. To be considered instinctual, a behavior must: a) be automatic, b) be irresistible, c) occur at some point in development, d) be triggered by some event in the environment, e) occur in every member of the species, f) be unmodifiable, and g) govern behavior for which the organism needs no training (although the organism may profit from experience and to that degree the behavior is modifiable).

The author wrote that if parenting is:

meant to be something innate, universal to ALL human beings, then why do we have a multi billion-dollar industry around babies?  Why are we all doing things so differently?  Surely if it was instinctive, irresistible as it were, we would all be doing it the same way?”  (Evolutionary Parenting)

I don’t believe it’s quite that primal.  For one, the “multi billion-dollar industry around babies” the author references, is more a “first world” creation than a global movement.

Parenting differs significantly all over the world.  Consider that in Norway, kids are left to nap outside….even in subzero temperatures.  In Denmark, moms leave their children curbside while they shop and dine out and Vietnamese moms train their babies to pee on command.

It’s not likely that I would ever consider doing any of these things….not because I think I’m a better, more evolved mom, but because it would never occur to me do it….I have no relatable frames of reference in this regard that would lead me in any of these directions.

Since I had already invested a fair amount of time considering this subject, I decided to see what else the internet had to say, specifically with regard to formula vs. breastfeeding moms and working vs. stay-at-home moms, since these seem to be our biggest battles.

In the last few days, as I scanned through articles, (most proclaiming not to judge, but oozing judgement) and their accompanying comments, it became glaringly obvious that when it comes to motherhood, there is no such thing as unity or even respect among women.

The Mommy War is alive and thriving with considerable reach and I have to wonder how we can expect to be good parents and raise children who are compassionate and respectful of others, if we can’t even extend that courtesy to each other.

Breast is Best

YOU WIN!  YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT ON!  YOU WIN, YOU WIN, YOU WIN!

Long before I had even begun seriously planning / preparing for motherhood, I knew I wanted to breastfeed.  I didn’t even consider it a choice among options, just the natural course of things.

When I discovered I was pregnant, no coaxing was necessary by my obstetrician to convince me that breastfeeding was the way to go. I was all in.

Then, at 22 weeks pregnant, I was diagnosed with Lymphoma and a lot of things changed.  Once the dust had settled a bit and my treatment plan was established, I discussed the possibility of breastfeeding with the high risk OB who would see me through the remainder of my pregnancy.

Had I been able to carry my son all the way to term, enough time would have passed between my last chemo cycle and his birth for the trace amounts of chemo cocktail at risk of filtering into my milk supply to have left my body.  However, things didn’t go as planned and my son was born six weeks early and exactly one week before my final chemo cycle.

Still determined to make it happen and with a supportive and encouraging team of doctors and nurses cheering me on, we agreed to start with formula and I would “pump and dump” for my son’s first eight weeks of life.  After that, we could revert to breastfeeding without the risk of exposing my son to what is essentially….poison.

However, despite my best efforts, I was never able to produce more than a few millimeters of breast milk.  I did everything I was instructed to do by the various lactation experts I consulted with to stimulate production.

In addition, I researched the topic obsessively, turning to the internet for tips and tricks. I reached out to other mother’s on pro-breast feeding sites and though I did receive a fair amount of encouragement, I was shocked and deeply disappointed by the number of women who responded with things like:

“Can’t your treatment wait? You will only get this opportunity to properly feed your baby once.”

(Yes, I suppose it could wait, but who is going to feed my baby when I die?)

“How can the doctor’s be sure your breast milk is contaminated? They aren’t always right and they have their own agenda’s.”

(Oh yeah, you really have to watch out for those crafty doctor bastards….I bet they do have some ulterior motive here….maybe they own stock in Enfamil).

“You never should have started your baby on formula. There are breast milk donation programs all over the country you should have considered first. Breast milk could have prevented your own child from getting Lymphoma one day.  

(Is that so? My own mother exclusively breast-fed and I still got Lymphoma….put that in your self-righteous pipe and smoke it).

It was the last time I turned to a women’s support network for advice.

Finally, after weeks of obsessing and worrying about the supposed damage I was doing to my son through formula feeding, I sat again with my high risk OB and feeling defeated and exhausted and ashamed I told her I was giving up.

True to the person she had been throughout my whole ordeal, she was compassionate and kind.  She reminded me of how much my son and I had been through and how, despite it all, he was thriving….even on formula.

None of the standard preemie complications they had expected to treat when my son was born came to fruition.  In fact, they were so amazed by how well and easily he transitioned from womb to world, they went back to review my prenatal records and ultrasound reports to be sure a mistake hadn’t been made regarding his due date.

When he came home from the NICU, I transitioned him to an organic pre-made formula I had researched and discussed with his pediatrician.  At each of his many follow-up’s in his first year, (a critical growth and development period for a preemie), he met and/or exceeded each of his developmental milestones.

When the time came to introduce solids, I made 100% of his baby food from organic vegetables, fruits and proteins. I spent hours researching “super foods” and the best ways to incorporate them into his diet.  We’ve continued to avoid processed and prepackaged foods in favor of organic, fresh fruits, vegetables and home cooked meals as a family….this as much a product of my own cancer journey as a desire to stuff my son with as much good, clean food as I can.

In his three years of life, he has had two sick visits to his pediatrician and at each of his regular exams, he continues to meet and/or exceed his developmental milestones.  At his most recent assessment, his pediatrician advised his language and comprehension were actually advanced for his age and that his skill set was already at a Kindergarten level.

I’m not saying any of these things make me the better mother and I’m not at all attempting to advocate for my way of doing things and/or against breastfeeding….I still think it’s the absolute best food on earth….I’m simply suggesting it’s still possible to raise a happy, healthy, successful child even if you cannot or choose not to breastfeed.  It doesn’t make you any less a committed or loving mother.

Another website I visited included an post entitled, “How to Win Any Breast Feeding Argument” posted on “The Alphaparent.”

Why there is even a need for formula feeding mothers to be on the defensive and breastfeeding mothers to put us in our place, is pathetic and petty.

Among the many potential arguments and rebuttals the author was so helpful in providing the appropriate dialogue for, were the following:

Argument: “Most of our generation were formula-fed and we are all healthy”.

Comeback: This is untrue. The long-term effects of not being breastfed are only beginning to be understood. Blood pressure, cholesterol levels, obesity, allergies, diabetes and academic performance are all starting to be linked with how we were fed as babies. We have more vision problems, intestinal problems, colds and flu, dental problems, heart problems, and cancer than we need to; And we’re a few IQ points lower than we would have been if we had been breastfed.

First of all, who has really made that argument?

Secondly, a study published in February, 2014 by an Ohio State researcher indicates this is perhaps a bit too lofty an argument.

The report can be found here: http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/sibbreast.htm

Third, I find it comical and incredibly ridiculous that this “comeback” lays the blame for these medical problems squarely on the shoulders of formula feeding parents.  What about the role fast food, TV dinners, pesticides and other chemicals in our food, not to mention pollution and too much time spent on the couch have played?  Or, are we to believe that breast milk somehow makes us immune to their effects?

One more slam dunk for the breastfeeding arsenal….

Argument: “My formula-fed kid turned out just fine and went to college and university”.

Comeback: Numerous studies have shown that breastfeeding is associated with significantly higher scores for cognitive development than formula feeding (see for example Horwood LJ and Fergusson DM). A difference of at least 3.16 points has been measurable through 15 years. It is important to realise that a child with a genetic potential for an IQ of 150 will probably not notice a 3.4 point deficit. A child with a potential for an IQ of 100 would benefit from 3.4 points. In other words, breastfeeding allows an infant to reach his/her full potential.

Numerous studies have also shown that there are many other factors that impact both positively and negatively, a child’s cognitive development.  There are also many ways to positively promote cognitive development in children; reading, singing, offering choices, asking questions, visiting interesting places, the list goes on and on.

Furthermore, while an IQ score may be a good basic indicator of a person’s reasoning and problem-solving skills, it has no bearing on how curious a person is about the world or how well a person understands and deals with emotions and it doesn’t measure practical abilities or talents.  A person may have an average IQ score, but be a musical virtuoso or gifted artist.

Since the majority of us aren’t geniuses anyway and tend to fall somewhere within the rather large average range, it’s not likely that whether a child was breast or formula fed is the deciding factor between genius and learning disabled.

Sure, having a high IQ might give a person an edge in many areas of life, but it’s no guarantee of life success.  Other factors like hard work, tenacity, resilience and overall attitude play a significant role as well.  Not to mention social, community and family support.  But hey, if you choose to limit your child’s “full potential” to his/her IQ score….then you got me.  Your kid is indeed smarter….congrats!

I Probably Have Vomit on My Shirt Too

Who hasn’t seen one of these passive aggressive digs posted to a Facebook page or on Pinterest at one time or another?  Please ladies, can we give it a rest already!?

SAH Working Mom

Those of you who follow my blog (thank you) and those of you who might stumble upon it and read through prior posts of mine, (also thank you) will know that I have a job outside of the home.  I work for a multibillion dollar, global business.  It’s demanding and competitive and comes with a giant spotlight on every move and decision I make.  One flub of a word or misinterpretation of something I say or write or the way I handle a particularly sensitive situation, could cost my company millions.  However, I’m not afraid to admit that being a mom is ten times harder.

So, I mess up at work and my company loses a few million, they’ll make more.  I mess up my kid and he could become a serial killer.

Being a parent, not just a mom, but any kind of parental figure, is really hard work and an enormous responsibility.  In no other job is a person tasked with molding and shaping and guiding and loving another human from birth.  It’s not a role I take at all lightly….and yet, I also work outside my home.

So….who is the better, harder working mom?  From what I gather, the working moms are selfish, ball busters who pawn off the raising of their children to strangers in order to pursue the all mighty dollar.

Stay-at-home moms are uneducated, lack ambition, wear yoga pants and spend all day complaining about being under-appreciated, stay-at-home moms.

This is all true if you believe everything you read on the internet.

When I meet other moms at parks or my son’s extracurricular activities and the conversation leads to “work,” I always refer to myself as a Straddler; one foot tentatively planted in my career and the other firmly planted at home.  Essentially, I don’t fit in with either camp and I’m perfectly fine with that.

Most weeks, my son spends approximately 20 hours with a nanny who comes to our home.  For 10 of those hours….he’s sleeping.  I still work a 40 hour work week….sometimes more.  If it sounds complicated or impossible, that’s because it’s definitely complicated and borderline impossible.

It’s not an easy balance to keep.  No part of my actual work load has been shifted or modified to accommodate me.  I still have just as much work and just as many responsibilities as I’ve had in the past….I just juggle them differently.  I’m fortunate enough to have the flexibility and the support of my spouse to make it work and yes….I know it’s not even close to being the norm for most women.

So, why do I work?  Apparently, we working moms….no matter the size of our houses and bank accounts….are assumed to always have a choice in this matter and must do it for reasons other than, “we have to.”

So, OK, why do I work?

  1. It’s important to me that I make a financial contribution to my family.
  2. I don’t want my husband to have to carry the responsibility alone.
  3. My salary will allow us to contribute a little more when our kids go to college and when/if they get married….or if we have to bail them out of jail someday….because of all that formula.
  4. My salary helps buy some of the “extra’s” we are fortunate to enjoy as a family.
  5. I have really amazing retirement benefits and my husband and I want to retire young.
  6. My husband has an ex-wife who does not work, despite having a masters degree, two adolescent children in school full time and no known disabilities….other than perhaps, entitlement, (and a claim that she’s allergic to the cold and has night blindness), that would preclude her from supporting herself….vaginamony and child support are her paychecks.  My salary helps recoup that loss of income.
  7. I have to.

As a “Straddler” I think I can also offer some perspective on behalf of the stay-at-home mom’s as well.  When my son was born, I essentially pitched a tent along my career ascent path and settled in.  I’ve neither slipped nor risen.  While my co-workers seem to be speed-walking by on those moving sidewalks you see in airports, I’m the one strolling along beside it, whistling and in no particular rush.  I’m neither “Leaning In” or “Leaning Out,” just sort of trying to stay upright.

So, why am I not “Leaning In” and working harder as my generation of women has been encouraged to do?  As any strong willed, independent, ambitious career woman would?

  1. Because you can’t take it with you.  I earn a very nice salary.  It’s enough to help get us where we want to be.  Anything on top of that, is inheritance and my kids can earn their own stuff.
  2. Cancer reshaped my perspective and I’ve come to realize I never NEEDED to give as much as I personally gave in order to be successful.
  3. Because I want to spend quality time (not quantity, QUALITY), time with my son every day.
  4. I want the flexibility to attend his doctor’s appointments and other important events.
  5. I want to be home to make dinner for my family at least 95% of the nights.
  6. I want to see my son every morning and be the one who tucks him in every night.
  7. My son will be the only biological child I will have and I don’t want to miss a thing.
  8. Because I don’t want to.

These reasons are MY reasons only.  The way I’ve chosen to slow my career climb and realign my priorities, is what works for me.  I know how fortunate I am to have these choices and what I’ve said is not not all meant to suggest that the women who choose to “Lean In” aren’t interested in quality time with their children or home cooked meals or flexibility.

I’ve just been asked these two questions, “Why do you work?” and “Why aren’t you working harder?” many, many times and I never understand why my reasons matter to anyone else, I’m just generally almost always prepared to tick them off when I engage with other women.

At the end of the day, I genuinely believe that with very few extreme exceptions, all mothers love and want the absolute best for their children.  We just do it differently, define it differently and have different emotional and mental needs….not better….just different.

There have been dozens, if not hundreds, of studies, all over the world, focused on the long term effects of children with working mom’s vs. stay-at-home mom’s.  Weeding through the dozens of articles posted, there seemed to be two primary constants:

  1. Each approach comes with it’s own set of pro’s and con’s….not just for the children, but for the entire family.  The con’s are not earth shattering and the pro’s are all positives, so why is it necessary to debate which of those positives is more positive than the other?
  2. It’s perhaps not WHO is participating in the childcare process that matters, but more the QUALITY of the caregivers involved.  Studies showed that children who attended better quality daycares, faired just as well as those who stayed home.  Children who spent time with grandparents or a consistent nanny, also faired just as well as those whose mother’s were the primary caregivers.  Finally, children whose fathers took on the role of being the primary caregiver, faired just as well as those who were raised by stay at home moms.

I was raised by a train-wreck and generally left to fend for myself….I survived and have done quite well for myself….it’s really not so black and white.

So, why is it necessary for one of us to be declared better than the other?  Why is it so hard to cut each other a little slack?  Who benefits from the drama of it all?  Quite frankly, it’s embarrassing.

Out of curiosity, I Googled “Daddy Wars” to see what might come up and while it appears some men have attempted to stage a battle, most don’t seem to be buying in.

I asked a male co-worker today if he ever felt the effects of the “Daddy Wars” and he said, “What do you mean?  Like fighting with another dad at hockey or something?”  

I said, “No, I mean, like, if Greg were to question your commitment as a dad because you didn’t make it home for dinner every night, or because your kid goes to day care and his kids have an au pair?”

His response, “Why would he do that?”  

Why, indeed….

I’m the World’s Best Mom!

At least I am according to my son and my husband and those are the only two votes I need.

I’m planning to be the only mom my son will ever know.  Our reality, whatever it is now and whatever it looks like down the road, will be our normal….so I’m hopeful he’ll grow up blissfully unaware of all the damage my formula feeding, instinctive, straddling parenting methods have done to him.  I’ll think he’ll be alright, but what do I know….I’m just his mother.

It would be nice though, somewhere along this parenting journey, to find some other mom’s to rally with every now and then….without having to defend my choices or pick a side, because I think we need each more than we realize.

The working, breastfeeding mom’s lobbying for better, more comfortable places for pumping at work….would probably benefit from a few more female co-workers in their corner….even if they are the formula feeding mom’s.

Likewise, working mom’s lobbying for better maternity leave policies, flexible work schedules, quality and affordable childcare and so on, would benefit from the support of their stay-at-home counterparts.

It’s really not that hard ladies….to believe the best in each other and our intentions.  I have a modicum of faith we can get there.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think my son is playing in the toilet….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: