I wrote a post about breastfeeding a few days ago. It’s not the type of subject I usually tackle, but then this blog, as you may have noticed, isn’t really about anything in particular. It’s about whatever I happen to be thinking, which admittedly isn’t the best strategy for garnering a consistent readership. Fortunately, that doesn’t really matter to me. It should, but it doesn’t.
So on Friday my blog was about breastfeeding. The points I made weren’t revolutionary or especially compelling. I just said what a lot of people say, or would say, if they had a platform to say it. For whatever reason, my little breastfeeding diatribe took off and has been viewed half a million times over the last 48 hours. I wasn’t trying to milk this topic for publicity (pun shamefully intended). I had no idea it would get this sort of reaction, though I’m happy it connected with you. I knew our society has some pretty perverse attitudes about breastfeeding, but I didn’t realize just how many mothers have been impacted by it. To these women, again I say: Do your thing, momma. Your child is hungry, go ahead and feed him. The peanut gallery can take their ridiculous, hypocritical, uptight breastfeeding prejudices and shove it. Their weird allergy to this commonplace and natural activity is completely their own problem. You are nourishing your child because your child needs nourishment, and that should be close to the least controversial and provocative thing any human being could ever do.
I’ve received an overwhelming amount of emails in response to that post. Most of them hugely supportive, some from women who wish to give me an honorary degree in Lactivism, and then some from people who were greatly offended that I stated an opinion, which is, of course, a very offensive thing to do. What I didn’t expect were the legions of bottle-feeding moms who contacted me to relay their disappointment that I’d “taken a side” in the Great Formula vs Breastfeeding Debate. They told me about the judgement and snide remarks they have to deal with on a daily basis from people who treat them like deviants because they satiate their child’s hunger with a bottle rather than a breast. They told me that “Formula Moms” are made to feel like they rank somewhere between elephant poachers and politicians on the scumbag spectrum. They explained to me why they can’t breastfeed, or choose not to, and they said I should accept them and celebrate them just as I do breastfeeding moms.
This is crazy. What are we doing here? Some moms are made to feel like lepers if they feed their kids formula, others are painted as exhibitionists if they use their breasts. Look, I’m not a relativist or anything like that. I believe in right and wrong. But, when it comes to parenting, I know there is no universal formula, aside from the kind some moms feed their babies. Speaking of which, I don’t care if you use formula. I don’t care if you breastfeed in public. And who am I, anyway? Why should it matter what I think about how you care for your kids? Why does it matter what anyone thinks? There is no One Right Way to raise your offspring, despite the thousands of hacks and charlatans that have made millions convincing you that they possess the secret guide to perfect parenting. There are only a few essential ingredients that all parents should have, and I know what they are not from my limited experience of being a parent, but from my extensive experience of having great parents:
1) Love your child.
2) Protect your child.
3) Serve your child. And serve them not like a maid or a butler, but like a leader serves those he’s leading. Like Jesus served His disciples.
I think if you do all three of these things, your child will be blessed. Love, protect, and serve them, it’s as simple and as natural as that. Parenting is more of an art than a math equation or a jigsaw puzzle. There’s a million ways to do it right and to do it beautifully. But what I take from my foray into the breastfeeding debate is something I already knew. Our society is harsh and hostile towards parents. Worse still, this harshness and hostility toward parents usually comes from other parents.
A few weeks ago an older dad — and a complete stranger, might I add — chided me for having tattoos. Out of the freaking blue this guy came up to me and told me my tattoos set a bad example for my children. He asked me if I “wanted my son to grow up and look like that.” I don’t handle jerks very well, so I immediately stooped to his level. I told him I’d be perfectly fine with it if my children decided to get some ink once they turned 18. Then I asked him if he wanted his kids to grow up to be pudgy bald assholes like him. I walked away from this exchange thinking it was an outrageous aberration. Most people aren’t that damned presumptuous and critical. I’ve since learned otherwise. Being a parent in America means having to deal with constant and relentless critiques about EVERYTHING. We’re so quick to toss out the “bad parent” label, not even thinking about what we’re saying. When you call someone a bad parent, you are digging into the very core of their being and spitting on their soul. You’re accusing them, usually based on the smallest and most irrelevant thing, of not loving their children. It’s a profound and serious thing to say about a person, yet we wantonly throw it around as a matter of rhetorical procedure. Oh you disagree with me about corporal punishment? Clearly you are a piece of filth and an unfit parent. Now, if you differ with me on the subject of pacifiers, I will murder you where you stand and your children will be all the better for it.
It’s hard enough being a parent nowadays. Arguably, it’s harder now than it’s ever been. Parents have never had more competition. Never. Every time your kid goes outside, turns on the TV, goes on the Internet, goes to school, he is immediately bombarded with a thousand nefarious forces trying to pull his heart and mind in a thousand different directions. Buy this! Do this! Wear this! Eat this! Try this! Say this! Listen to this! Believe this! Think this! Be this! Become this! It’s relentless. Yeah, I’m sure it wasn’t a breeze raising kids on the old frontier, but at least you knew that YOU would be the one raising them. Sure, you’ll all probably die of cholera next week, but until then you’ll be a unit. Together. A family. Now, the entire deck is stacked against the family. There are powerful agents out there that want nothing more than to drive a wedge between you and your child, and many times they are successful.
This is the landscape. It’s hazardous, dangerous and difficult. And how do we react? By cannibalizing each other. Instead of looking with love at a mother out with her child and thinking “God bless this woman and her son,” we become filled with spite and anger and think “Screw this awful degenerate, she makes parenting decisions that are different from my own! I hope she dies!”
It takes a village to raise your child? No. It takes you to raise your child. The village needs to mind it’s own damned business. As for whose “side” I’m on: I’m on the side of moms who love their kids and are doing what they need to do to care for them. Period. I’m rarely a pragmatist about anything, but when it comes to parenting I don’t get into the business of telling other people how to do it.