Let Go of That Breastfeeding Guilt and Get Angry!


If I hadn’t managed to pull through and breastfeed, I wonder if I would feel the same way. Would I feel angry, or would I feel guilt and shame? Would I be beating myself up, or would I be pointing the finger at a system that conspired against us? To be honest, I suspect that I would probably be focused on my own shortcomings. I feel anger, in large part, because I know that I did all that I could to make it work. If it hadn’t worked, I think I may always wonder what I could have done differently -- what I should have done differently. I’m not saying that I should feel that way, but knowing myself as I do I’m saying it’s likely this is what would happen.


Knowing that I have my own confused dance of guilt vs. shame vs. anger, I try very hard to be sensitive of the way that other mothers feel. I know that all too often mothers are told what they should do, while receiving very little actual support towards achieving those goals. We’re told to breastfeed at all costs, and then sent home with a tiny baby and a bag of formula samples. We get mixed messages from medical professionals and family members, and we sit awake in the middle of the night with a crying baby and no idea what to do. Is it any wonder that we struggle?

Breastfeeding is just one instance of how a mother can fall short of the societal ideal. There are no shortage of examples of how the wider culture likes to weigh in on our parenting -- no shortage of ways we can “fail" as mothers. If we’re too permissive or too strict, we fail. If our babies are too big or too small, we fail. If our children don’t sleep the right amount of time or refuse to sleep in a crib, we fail. If our children sleep better in a crib than in the family bed, we fail. If we don’t get every vaccination on time, we fail. If we vaccinate at all, we fail.

I’m drawn back to the Harriet Lerner quotes. Maybe what we really need to do is stop focusing on the ways that things haven’t gone well, worrying over our own failings. Maybe they’re not really our failings at all. Maybe the real problem is a culture that holds mothers to high standards, but fails to provide adequate support. Because if we can move beyond the shame and regret to become effective agents of personal and social change, we can make a difference.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive to be better parents. Of course, there’s always room for improvement, which is where Brene Brown’s distinction between guilt and shame comes in. If we learn better, we can do better. But the truth is most of the mothers I know are already doing the best they can with what they have, every single day. So let’s cut ourselves some slack, and work for better social supports, so that no one else has to feel the same shame, guilt or regret that we have. Because, truthfully, much of it wasn’t ours to begin with.


Growing kids, growing me at www.strocel.com


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