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January 6, 2010

On my newfound trekker, newfound confidence, and the mystery of defensive mothering

Oh, if I could go back seven months, what a lot of things I’d have to say to the me I was then. I would urge that shattered, messed up girl to, “Get thee to a lactation consultant” a week sooner than I actually did, and advocate better for myself and baby whilst in the hospital, and promise myself that life as we knew it was not gone, gone, gone forever more.

I would also tell myself to run out and buy a Baby Trekker. I know why we didn’t in the first place– I thought Baby Bjorn was the end in baby carriage, but that $150 was too pricey. Since then, I’ve learned that you get your money’s worth, and that Bjorn’s not where it’s at anyway. We’ve had the Trekker for about three weeks now, and I’ve used it every day (it’s snowsuit friendly!), whether to haul Harriet around the neighbourhood, or to cook dinner with her happily strapped to my back (and this has improved our quality of life more than I can ever describe).

If I could go back about six months, I’d tell myself to START PUTTING THE BABY TO BED EARLY. That she doesn’t have “a fussy period between 7:00 and bedtime”, but that she’s screaming for us to put her to bed then. Of course, I wouldn’t have believed myself then, and even once we’d figured it out, it took another six weeks to learn how to actually get it done. This, like everything, was knowledge we had to come to on our own. And most of motherhood is like that, I’ve found, and it seems to be for my friends as well, which is why all my well-meaning, hard-earned advice is really quite useless to them. But even knowing that we have it in us to do so, to figure it out, I mean, is certainly something worth pointing out.

Even more useful than my Trekker, I think, the best piece of baby equipment I’ve acquired lately is confidence. I had reservations with Naomi Stadlen’s book, but she was right about this: “If [the new mother] feels disoriented, this is not a problem requiring bookshelves of literature to put right. No, it is exactly the right state of mind for the teach-yourself process that lies ahead of her.” Though it actually was the bookshelves of literature that showed me I could go my own way, mostly due to the contradictory advice by “authorities” in each and every volume. (Oh, and I also read Dreambabies, which made it glaringly obvious that baby expertise is bunk.)

Solid food was the turning point though. I have three baby food cookbooks and they’re all reputable, and each is good in its own way, but they agree on nothing. When to start solids, what solids to start on, and when/how to introduce other foods, and on and on. It was good, actually, because I found that whenever I wanted to feed the baby something, at least one of the books would give me permission to do so. So I decided to throw all the rules out the window, and as teaching Harriet to enjoy food as much as I have the power to do so is important to me, I decided we would make up our own rules. As we’ve no history of food allergies in our families, and Harriet is healthy, we opted not to systematize her eating. We’ve fed her whatever we’ve taken a fancy to feeding her, without rhyme or reason, including blueberries, strawberries, fish, chicken, toast, cheese, beans, chickpeas, smoothies, squash, broccoli, spinach, spaghetti, and cadbury’s chocolate, and she’s devoured it all.

Okay, I lied about the chocolate. But the point is that my instincts told me that this was the best way to feed our baby, what made the most sense, and so I tried it and we’re all still alive. And it was liberating to know that the baby experts could be defied– I really had no idea that was even allowed. That as a mother, there could be something I knew about my child and our family that an entire panel of baby experts didn’t. And we can go onward from there.

What has surprised me, however, is that confidence hasn’t done much to reduce my defensive-mothering. You know, feeling the need to reassert oneself whenever someone makes different choices that you do. How not going back to work, for example, makes me feel like a knob, and moms going back to work feel threatened that I’m not, and we keep having to explain ourselves to the other, in fitful circles that take us nowhere.

It’s not just working vs. not working, of course. It’s everything, and this past while I figured it was my own lack of confidence that was making me so defensive. The best advice I’ve received lately is, “Never be too smug or too despairing, because someone else is doing better and worse than you are.” And it was good to keep in mind that any residual smugness was due to probably due to feelings of inadequacy anyway.

Anyway, it’s not just inadequacy, inferiority. Even the decisions I feel confident about prompt defensiveness when other mothers do differently, and now not because I’m unsure of myself, but because I’m so damn sure of myself that I’m baffled when you don’t see it the way I do. And there’s this line we’re meant to spout in these sorts of situations, to imply a lack of judgement. We’re meant to say, about our choices: “It’s what’s best for our family”, but that’s the most sanctimonious load of crap I’ve ever heard. Some things, yes, like me not going back to work, are best for our family, but other things, the other “choices” we’ve made: I’d prescribe them to everyone, and that not everyone is lining up for my prescriptions drives me absolutely mad.

Mom-on-mom action continues to fascinate, nonetheless. There are politics like nothing else, like nothing in the world of men, I think. It brings out the best and the worst in me, and I don’t think I’m the only one. And I doubt the action is going to be letting up anytime soon.

5 thoughts on “On my newfound trekker, newfound confidence, and the mystery of defensive mothering”

  1. Carrie Snyder says:

    If you have time, consider taking the questionnaire on my side-blog: Moms Are Feminists Too. Find it here:
    I'd be very interested in hearing your responses, since the subject is one you're thinking about, and living. There's no real agenda to the blog, it's just a space for asking questions and talking about being a feminist and being a mother, too.

  2. Meli Melo says:

    Your anti-Bjorn stance made me laugh. I was very anti-Bjorn too and thought that the Ergo was going to be the end-all-be-all baby carrier and didn't want the chichi Bjorn until I realized (months later of course) that you couldn't have the baby face outwards on your chest with the Ergo and then after many trials I shelled out for the Bjorn b/c it was the only one narrow enough for Moira. (The Ergo was always cutting off the circulation in her legs – poor thing. Of course it would take me for ever to notice too: "why are her legs purple?)

    Anyway – you'll laugh at this but I opened the baby book I bought for Moira the other day (the one I hadn't yet started filling out) and one of the first questions I saw was: "Baby starts sleeping through the night…" I immediately shut it with the thought: "who the hell cares!" Needless to say – that baby book is never getting filled out.

  3. Kristin says:

    I want that Trekker thing! I've never seen that before. We have the Bjorn (love it for many things, but not cooking), the Ergo (hate it), and various other wraps that work with lesser degrees of success. Harriet looks quite thrilled to be in it.

    I agree with you about the whole defensive mothering thing. I remember everything you described with my first kid. Happily, I have not experienced this with baby number 2. I think it's a combination of sheer exhaustion, more self confidence in my parenting skills, and less time to worry about things.

    Of course, this also has resulted in me not worrying about things I probably should worry more about, like, is Emma meeting any milestones? I have no idea. She seems happy, I'm pretty sure 5 month old babies aren't supposed to do much beyond babble, smile, laugh, grab things with both hands and stuff them in their mouths, and clumsily roll from side to side, right? Because she's got all of that down pat.

    I'm sure you two are doing a great job. It's all trial and error. I remember trying to do everything "right" with Will, and beating myself up about things that I didn't do "right." I was stressed out, he was probably stressed out…it was hard sometimes. It's much more fun the second time around!

  4. alyssa says:

    I've become very familiar with defensive mothering and baby hasn't arrived yet. Whether it is buying something secondhand or deciding what my last day of work will be, I feel like all I do is justify, justify, justify.

  5. Julie says:

    The politics are crazy. And what is surprising me is that it just gets worse as the child gets older (discipline alone is a huge minefield).

    As for trusting instincts, I'm doing so much better with that this time. The second child is almost ridiculously easy.

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