Seeking an Answer, Being the Answer

looking-at-the-sea-1282219-mA mother of a son, who was already married and had a family of his own, told me of the time he was much younger and in love with a young woman who rejected him. This happened during his army service, and he would call his mother night after night, sometimes at 2 or 3 in the morning, to talk to her about his loss and sorrow, until eventually he recovered.

The reason this mother shared her story with me was because of a different soldier in her son’s unit who also had a love who rejected him, but the relationships in his family were broken and he had no one with whom he was close to unburden his sorrow and be comforted. He could not recover from his loss; it cut too deep, and he committed suicide.

Suicide is one of the many faces of aggression – self disparagement and self attack. It is rooted in deep frustration that cannot find its way out through a period of mourning, and it cannot find its way to the thoughts and feelings that can temper its expression. The processes of first finding our sadness and then our tempering elements are human processes that help us keep our perspective on life and develop the resourcefulness and resilience we need to adapt to the circumstances that come our way. In helping children grow up, our thinking must be oriented toward supporting these processes and paying attention to the signs of them becoming stuck.

A teenage girl who was coping with many different sorts of problems wrote her mother the following note:

“I have no reason to live. If this is what my life has to be like, I would rather not go on with it. I am not depressed. I just don’t believe my life will ever be any different and so it’s not worth living. But I know what that would do to you. And so I live for you.”

Of course we want our children to have their own reasons for living. We want them to wake up in the morning and look forward to living their lives to the fullest, setting goals for themselves, feeling excited about their direction in life, defining and working toward fulfilling their dreams. It takes time for a growing child to find his own reasons to live. “And so I live for you” is a pretty good place to start.

As the mother of the young man who lost his love, recovered and continued building his life, we want to be the answer for our children. This mother discovered and felt deep gratitude for the power of the relationship she had developed with her son over the years. We want to be that place where our children can turn when life is dismal and all seems lost. This is the shield from the pain cutting too deeply. We want to be a safe haven of warmth and comfort.

Being this person is the essence of being a parent.  It means finding this capacity deep within our hearts. It requires compassion and a yearning to be able to give this of ourselves. Out of this grows our children’s own individuality, vitality and will to live.

When Your Partner Wants You to Wean: Heart Advice for Nursing Mothers

*The terms “husband” and “partner” are used interchangeably throughout this post.

“She’s too old to nurse. You need to stop.”

“There’s no way my son is nursing when he’s three years old!”

“You are being selfish. Breastfeeding past one year is unnecessary. You only do this because it gives you pleasure.”

“I should have a say in this situation. Why do you get to decide how long he nurses?”

“What if I took her away from you and made you stop nursing?”

Perhaps you have heard these very words. Perhaps you have heard variations on the theme. If so, you understand the instinctive fear and sadness that can rise up in a breastfeeding mother’s body when a demand for premature weaning is given–especially when this comes from her husband or partner.

Breastfeeding is one of the most beautiful and gentle expressions of human love on the planet. Tragically, it can become a subject of discord between you and your husband. Harsh words, demands or threats about breastfeeding can tarnish your memories of nursing. The added tension in your home is unhealthy for all members of the family.

According to the World Health Organization, La Leche League International, The American Pediatric Association and Attachment Parenting International, a breastfeeding mother should continue to nurse–once the minimum recommended length of breastfeeding is met–as long as it is “mutually desired” by herself and her child. All of these organizations acknowledge the important role a father plays in offering support to the breastfeeding mother.

Knowing that you have the backing of such institutions may be helpful. But it probably doesn’t ease the emotional anguish of feeling the pressure to wean before you and your child are ready. In fact, such official statements may be a source of frustration for your husband, who wants or demands to play a role in determining how long his child will nurse.

The questions remain: What should you do when the vital support of your partner is withdrawn? Should you wean on demand?

May the following four points embolden, strengthen and encourage you as you navigate your way to answering to these painful questions.

Learn and Share

Take the time to thoroughly research the benefits of breastfeeding and the importance of nurturing a secure attachment. Perhaps, like many breastfeeding mothers, you are fully committed to child-led weaning. As one mother stated, “Only one person gets to decide when my son is ready to wean, and that is my son.”

Or perhaps, like many breastfeeding mothers, you acknowledge that a shift in the mother-child nursing dynamic can occur on either side of the equation. You may be open to a gentle approach to weaning that is mother-initiated if your feelings towards nursing change. Many thoughtful and gentle approaches to weaning described by attachment-minded leaders such as Dr. William Sears exist. By researching, you will clarify why breastfeeding is important to you and be able to articulate your vision of weaning.

Most importantly, invite your husband into this experience. While it’s important to share what you have learned through your research, it’s even more important to ask him to research the topic on his own. We all learn best when our inquiry is self-initiated. Perhaps his lack of support may simply come from ignorance. He may not know that the World Health Organization recommends that children breastfeed until they are at least two years old as a minimum standard for health. He may not understand that the health and emotional benefits of nursing continue through the toddler years. As you both do your research, you can each learn, clarify and share your insights–ideally with compassion.

Identify Underlying Issues

Can the issues fueling your partner’s demand to wean be identified? Explore the possible causes of the negativity associated with your nursing. Is your husband jealous? Is your partner feeling left out of the parenting experience? Does he have his own special “Daddy Time” to nurture important memories of fatherhood? What unconscious memories does your husband carry about his own weaning? Is your partner embarrassed by your breastfeeding? Does he want exclusive access to your body?

We live in a culture full of explicit material featuring the female body as a source of male pleasure, yet mothers who nurse in public face scorn. We live in a culture in which many of us were weaned before our natural time, perhaps due to pressure from our own fathers. We live in a culture in which only a minority of children experience the benefits of breastfeeding as nature intended. Both underlying personal issues within the relationship and underlying patterns that come from social dynamics can fuel a husband’s demand for his wife to stop nursing. See if you can identify what the core issues are. Breastfeeding can be a symbol for deeper discord that is being projected upon the mother-child relationship.

Find Support

Breastfeeding without the support of your partner is not an easy road to traverse. It’s also not easy to wish for something to change and meet resistance. I’ve spent hours in conversation with women who deeply regret giving into the pressure that led to an early weaning of their children. I’ve also spent hours in conversation with men who struggle with supporting their wives or partners in breastfeeding. They feel left out, angry and sometimes disgusted by the continued nursing relationship. Offering loving support to both individuals in this situation is vital if a healthy resolution is to unfold.

As you both seek support, consider meeting with other breastfeeding-friendly families. Let the men speak together about their fears, hopes and struggles when it comes to supporting their partners in breastfeeding. For yourself, speak candidly and openly with other nursing mothers. Join online breastfeeding support forums and reach out to trusted friends. The pressure to stop nursing before you or your child are ready can feel overwhelming. Do not keep this stress private. Have the courage to share your story with other mothers; you will find it is far more common than not.

Certainly, if your husband’s demands feel relentless or turn into threats, seek professional support. A trained marriage counselor who understands the importance of breastfeeding is invaluable here. Not only will this person offer encouragement for breastfeeding and a healthy approach to weaning, but a skilled mediator can also help your partner identify underlying issues that fuel his current demands, as well as supporting both of you in open and honest communication.

Nourish Yourself

There is a deep wisdom found in the natural dynamic between a nursing mother and child. Breastfeeding eases transitions into and out of sleep, helps calm stressed nervous systems and provides nutritive wonders that science still cannot decode. The season of breastfeeding is short-lived, even if it extends through the toddler years. Ideally, as long as both the mother and child are in harmony, the bond found in breastfeeding should be supported. Remember, you cannot turn back the clock. Once a child is weaned, the nursing stage of life for that child is over. Your pain in having this bond threatened mirrors a greater pain present in our society.

161052_1659As you navigate this difficulty, you need to nourish yourself. It’s imperative. Be sure to continue eating well and exercising. If you have a spiritual or religious practice, you may wish to dive deeply into the wisdom of silence and/or prayer. Find a source of strength that is greater than your own understanding to uplift you. Take refuge in the beauty of breastfeeding. Take refuge in the wisdom in nature. Find strength in the support of women. May these gifts nourish you at this time.

 

 

Connection Before Correction: How Attachment Leads Our Discipline Style

In my parenting, the goal of obedience doesn’t exist. It’s important to emphasize the part about it being a goal. Notice that I didn’t say, “Obedience doesn’t exist in our household.” I mean that our children’s obedience to my husband and me is not something we specifically aim for.

I get its importance, though, and I understand why parents expect it. It’s nice! And sometimes necessary. We tell our kids to do things because we want them to be safe and healthy. Most directions are not urgent: It’s time to get your shoes on. Please clear your plate. Go throw your garbage away. Though some directions are: STOP! (running in the street). Since we give a multitude of necessary directions every day, compliance is certainly a nice perk, not to mention needed.

But it’s also important to keep in mind that kids under age 7 are going through crucial periods of development of their autonomy and will…certainly the toughest years for expecting obedience. This is not to say I don’t have any expectations of my kids. I do.

  • I expect them to have feelings. My wishes may or may not line up with their objectives, and they will have feelings about that.
  • I expect them to express their feelings; to feel free to communicate with me at a level that is appropriate for their development.
  • I expect them to help take care of themselves.
  • I expect them to contribute to the family and household.
  • I expect them to be autonomous; to do things for themselves.
  • I expect them to take initiative; to have their own ideas and want to see them through.
  • I expect them to not like everything that needs to be done. I don’t. No one does.

When I shift my perspective on behavior and aim for an understanding, attached relationship rather than simple obedience, my children are naturally inclined to follow my directions. We have the kind of relationship in which, when I say, “STOP!” or “NO!” in a dangerous situation, they stop immediately. They’re not behaving out of conditioned obedience or because I have actively taught them to obey as one of my goals of raising them. They listen to me because of the status of our relationship. Our connection, combined with the notes of urgency and fear in my voice, creates a crystal clear distinction between this kind of communication and all of our regular daily interactions. There is no need for spankings, isolating time-outs, punishments, or shameful exclamations of “How could you do that?” and, “Just go to your room and stay there!” It’s because of the connected relationship I have with my kids that when I say “No” with authority, I don’t have to say anything else.

So, although my husband and I don’t expect obedience from our kids, we get it. Why? Why does it happen so naturally and willingly?

  • Because we recognize our kids’ objectives. We know that, as kids, they have other ideas and different priorities than we parents do.
  • Because we value their feelings. And we prove it by listening and accepting them on a daily basis.
  • Because we communicate with respect and empathy.
  • Because we aim for understanding…their feelings, their goals, their interests & disinterests. We make it a priority to know what makes our kids tick.
  • Because we value their uniqueness. The way they’re not like any other kids.
  • Because we aim to be aware of their levels of physical, cognitive, and emotional development.

All of this leads to a close, secure, attached relationship. My husband and I replace a goal of obedience with one of connection and trust instead. Because if there is connection and trust in a parent-child relationship, guess what comes naturally? Obedience. Children are drawn to “do right by” those to whom they are emotionally connected.

Do our kids ever “disobey?” Of course. But we don’t see it like that. We see all of these moments in which they’re “not listening” with an understanding of who our children are and what they need. It’s not personal, it’s developmental. I find that if I shift my perspective from You need to do what I say! to one of How can we solve this problem to meet everyone’s needs?, my directions do get carried out. I see ‘not listening’ as…

  • a child having strong, very acceptable, very human feelings. Children need validation and acceptance.
  • immature brain development. Children need time to develop brain connections necessary for self control and self-discipline.
  • an example of a child exerting autonomy and initiative. This is very developmentally appropriate; children need to be autonomous.
  • a show of distance in our relationship. Children need to feel a sense of significance and belonging.

Meet the needs, get the cooperation.

Instead of expecting obedience from my children, I have shifted my thinking to expect developmentally appropriate behavior. I understand my kids’ social, emotional, and cognitive capabilities, and I work on cultivating a relationship based on that understanding. By parenting not strictly for obedience, but for a combination of a connected relationship and authority, kids give their willing cooperation by default.

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