Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Parenting support in sound bites

George Takei posted an interesting article on Facebook this morning about a woman who was mommy-shamed buying formula by a stranger who uttered three seemingly innocuous words: "Breast is best." The shamed mom posted an open letter explaining why her child is formula fed and garnered much support and rejoicing from the Internet.

And why not? Because the internet simultaneously condemns mommy-shaming, like in this awesome article from Scary Mommy, and delights in it. In all honesty, now that I am out of the hormone-fueled psychosis that was my kid's first six weeks of life, I am a bit more mellow about the mommy shaming. Yes, it is stupid. Yes, I have enough mom guilt without your contribution. Yes, I am a hypocrite because I sometimes talk smack about other moms (and yes, sometimes just because it makes me feel like I have my shit together more than I actually do). 

My concern with a vapid stranger muttering cliches at me or any other new mom in Target is not so much about the mom-shaming, but about something much deeper. We have a culture in the United States in which the "it takes a village" mentality of parenting has been replaced with support in sound bite. 

I've written before about the support structures in place in many other parts of the world for new moms. Moms in other countries get lying in periods, and family support and paid leave in order to ease the transition into motherhood. And lets be honest, it is a big f*cking transition. In the U.S,, we've replaced "lying in" with extravagant baby showers, family support with liking a Facebook photo, and paid leave with offering strangers our judgey sound bites at your local big box store. 

Perhaps my experience with becoming a mom was extreme. I don't have many people I can rely on locally. I lost my mother to cancer a few years ago, and otherwise most of my family is at least an hour away (some more like 18 hours). Most of my friends have young kids and lives of their own.

When my son was born, a lot of people came to see him, but other than 5 days with my mother-in-law, and a coworker that babysat for us once, nobody came to help, and why would they? Friends came, held my son, chatted, and left me with the same unwashed hair, sink full of dishes, and desperate dark circles I had when they arrived. 

The "support" I got was by way of unsolicited advice as Facebook comments about how I was giving a pacifier wrong or random women in grocery stores telling me my son was cold. My personal favorite was the coworker who didn't even get up from her desk when I brought my son into the office, but pointed out in a roomful of people that, as a breastfeeding mom, I should not be having that second cup of coffee. 

I got parenting support in sound bites that left me reeling, confused, and incredibly unsupported. 

The second cup of coffee was necessary because I have one of those adorable babies who doesn't sleep. My 12 weeks of unpaid leave ran out so damned fast that I didn't get a choice about dragging my ass back into work when I was really too exhausted to function. I was, in fact, so tired that I sulked back to my office, humiliated and hurt, because my parenting chops had just been called into question very publicly. What I should have said is "you're likely right, and if you would just come over and hold my son for an hour tonight, I could get some sleep and get by on one cup tomorrow."  Or, perhaps, I should have just told her to go to hell. 

I had an awesome baby shower full of generous people that provided all of the stuff I needed to be a parent-- and then some! My Facebook post announcing my son's arrival got hundreds of likes and comments, but there was no one available when my husband and I both started to unravel the first time my baby got sick. There were sound bites... Vaporub on his feet. Sit in the bathroom and let the shower run. Prop up his mattress... but there was no help. 

If I am sounding whiny and entitled, I don't mean to. I was a piss poor support system for the moms I know who had kids before me. I visited the baby. If I got it together enough to drop off a lasagna, I felt like a hero. But then I left them with dishes and unwashed hair and exhaustion and went on about my life because I just didn't know any better. 

And because that is our culture. We have tons of advice but very little time to actually help each other, and that just means that mothering is becoming a much harder, more isolating endeavor. 

I am not sure there is an answer to this problem. Clearly, we are always going to be busy with our own lives. I sure as hell can't take a month off when my friend has a baby so I can go help her out, and I would never expect anyone to do it for me. But can we make incremental changes that make a big difference? Maybe instead of extravagant shower gifts, we start giving (and making good on) promises to stop by and let mom shower after her kid is born. 

And we can all definitely not offer our sound bites, unless we're going to back them up with some real, actual support. 

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