I have found that there is a very disturbing phenomenon relating to what happens to we mothers who follow a progressive approach to child-rearing. It appears that we commonly find ourselves judged harshly and marginalised. Although we are turning in our droves to child-centred methods of mothering, we are forced to do it secretly or risk ostracism. There is significant social and professional pressure to conform by not exceeding the limits of nurturance that our community feels comfortable with.
Breastfeeding in public places can bring disdainful looks and comments and requests to move elsewhere. It can be so hard to be strong enough to let people around us be responsible for their own prejudices. It is so sad that something so beautiful and natural can be made to feel ugly. When the sting of disapproving stares becomes too much, many of us turn to breastfeeding in secret, especially if our child is over six months. Mothers have confided in me the hurtful comments they have received from family and friends regarding extended breastfeeding. They have been accused of ‘doing it for themselves’, ‘being unable to let go’, ‘encouraging clinginess’, ‘being weak’ and their baby labelled as ‘manipulative’. Some poor women have even had relatives tell them it is ‘sick and perverse’ and demand it is not done in their presence.
Co-sleeping can also attract equal scorn with dire warnings of ‘they’ll never be independent’, ‘you’re making them needy and spoilt’ and ‘you’ll never get them out’. Also not smacking, punishing or yelling at our children is seen by many as ‘lazy mothering’ or ‘unparenting’ and can receive unwelcome comments from friends, family and neighbours. As difficult as it is for us to resist the pressure to conform when it comes from friends and family, coercion coming from health
professionals can be all the more damaging. I have heard of many mothers who have been advised to use controlled crying methods, to turn to formula, not to co-sleep and to use punitive discipline, by child health practitioners.
Fortunately more and more practitioners are now being trained in the benefits of attachment and progressive parenting methods. It seems that many people get very angry and vocal when confronted with a progressive parent – as if it is a personal insult to them. The reasons why we progressive parents and our children are viewed with disdain may be several and complex. Perhaps the possibility of deeper intimacy with our children can feel threatening if we already feel exhausted. It may be that exposure to it painfully reminds us of what we ourselves didn’t receive as a child. We tend to misguidedly get angry at those who trigger these feelings in us; we blame them and condemn them – a kind of ‘shooting the messenger’.
Some people just do not want to question the status quo and being exposed to progressive parents may force them to.
What is thought of as ‘normal’ is a reflection of our cultural bias and has nothing to do with what babies and child actually
need. Undoubtedly many of our old notions of discipline are changing and child-rearing is undergoing some very positive and evolutionary changes. Nevertheless, much of our world continues to be indifferent, at times even hostile, to those of us who wish to follow more progressive methods. I believe a far higher proportion of us would aspire to adopt the progressive parenting philosophy, if our society more adequately supported it. We can all take comfort in the fact that, although we may feel marginalised and unsupported today, that may not be the case tomorrow.