About 5 years ago, Super and I were out at the mall. It was one of our first trips out of the house with Belle since she was born. I remember not really wanting to go out, but we needed a present for someone and decided it would be good to get some “fresh” air. About 30 minutes into our trip, Belle started screaming her head off because she was hungry. So I hunkered down on an out-of-the-way bench and sent Super off in search of whatever it was we were there for. Not 5 minutes into feeding Belle I was approached by an older woman. I thought she was looking for a place to sit down, so I awkwardly grabbed my huge-ass diaper bag and attempted to scootch to the end of the bench. When she was still standing after I had clearly made enough room for her, I looked at her and gave her a little smile to officially acknowledge her presence. She looked at me like I had just done something really offensive and then said, “You know, breastfeeding is really best for your baby.”
“WHAT THE HELL, LADY?!!” I shouted, “HOW DARE YOU COME UP AND TELL ME HOW TO FEED MY OWN CHILD!!” Oh, you bet I really did shout that, but in my head. I was left so stunned that I didn’t have a chance to actually respond to the woman before she walked away, judgment dripping from her entire being.
What this woman didn’t know was that Belle was born 11 weeks premature–Belle couldn’t breastfeed (or bottlefeed for that matter) when she was born, she had no suck/swallow coordination, so she had to be fed via a feeding tube. This woman didn’t know that it was in fact breast milk in the bottle I was using, and that I had been pumping every 2-3 hours around the clock for the past 12 weeks, the first 6 of which Belle was in the NICU, so that my daughter would have all of the benefits of breast milk. This woman didn’t know that I DESPERATELY wanted to breastfeed Belle, but that even when she was able, she would oftentimes stop breathing or her heart rate would drop dangerously low. This woman didn’t know about all the tears I had shed because I felt like a failure of a mom. This woman didn’t know just have deep her judgmental knife cut into my heart.
Maybe had she known all of this she wouldn’t have said anything. But you know what? It doesn’t really matter. I could have had formula in the bottle I was giving Belle (and after I could no longer pump, that’s indeed what she had) and that would have been ok too. You know why? Spoiler alert: Because there is no one-size-fits-all approach to parenting. What works for me may not work for someone else. And what works for one of my kids may not work for another. Parenting is all about learning how to best provide for your kids. With extra emphasis on the “learning” part. And no one should feel that they have to apologize for how they raise their kids.
If I were to run into this lady again now, 2 more kids in, you know what I’d tell her?
Guess what Mrs. Judgmental, the baby you saw me feeding with the bottle, well that was breast milk, but we did switch her to formula completely at 14 weeks, and she’s doing just fine, thank you very much. She’s one of the smartest 5-year-olds I know. Oh, and yeah, my second child wanted nothing to do with breastfeeding from the beginning, so he started on just formula around 4 weeks. He’s doing great too, by the way. Oh, and my third baby, well he took very well to breastfeeding and, like his brother and sister, is doing just great.
I’d go on to tell her that all my kids get vaccinated; the boys are circumcised; I work at home but also send the kids out a few times a week to preschool and daycare; the kids sometimes end up sleeping in our bed; our 3-year-old still uses a binky at night; the kids don’t always eat the same thing for dinner and we don’t always make them eat their vegetables; we allow the kids to watch tv; we allow the kids to eat McDonald’s, drink juice, and chew gum–occasionally; we do not spank the kids; we hold them and cuddle them a lot…
This lady would probably have a sour puss by now with all of the parenting no-nos she’d likely consider us to be committing. But I wouldn’t care. I didn’t ask for her opinion.
The point is, there is no right or wrong way to parent. You may or may not do things like your family members or your friends or the random people considered to be “experts” in parenting who clog the interwebs with articles about good vs. bad parenting styles. The only thing that matters is that you do what works best for your kids and your family, and no one should shame you into doing any different.
Listen to advice (and know that sometimes it will come unsolicited). Try new approaches if certain things aren’t going smoothly. Inform yourself on important issues. Read up on parenting articles that offer guidance, not criticism. But at the end of the day, listen to your heart. Isn’t that ultimately the best way to parent?