How to parent guilt-free

As the common saying goes, “When you assume, you make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’.” There’s a lot of assuming going on in the mind of Elisabeth Badinter.

The French feminist and author is quoted in the August 7th Toronto Star (“A mother’s guilt never ends”) as making various types of assumptions about mothers like me. Yes, I am the type of mother who breastfed well beyond six months, and who is familiar with such things as “menstrual cups, cloth diapers, homemade baby food”, as Badinter describes it. But please, please, you who condemn parents who judge, do not judge me or make assumptions about me, based on the parenting practices that I’ve chosen, or the products that I use (or don’t use). Because your first assumption is wrong: No, I am not a mother burdened by guilt, expectations, constraints, or obligations. Nor am I “[kept] in the home” because of these supposed pressures. I do the things that I do for one simple reason: Because I want to and love to.

The second assumption is that mothers like me have children in our hair 24/7, and feel the need to, in order to be “perfect mothers.” First of all, contrary to popular belief, we Earth-Mother types do not tie ourselves to our children with braided organic cotton rope; we do have lives outside of our roles as mothers, so we are not with them every single moment of our life. Secondly, we do sometimes enjoy being without our children, without guilt. So no, there is no “tyranny of the toddler” with us. Simply put, we are with our children because we like them, not because we feel the “need” or pressure to be with them. And when we are not with our children, we do not feel imperfect.

The third assumption that Ms. Badinter makes is that her country’s health minister wished to ban all ads in maternity wards for baby formula, with the ultimate goal to “pressure women into breastfeeding.” Okay, here’s a scoop, and it isn’t even that big of a scoop: Is it possible that the ministry responsible for health is actually concerned about, wait for it—the health of mothers and their babies? To make the statement that banning formula advertisement is simply a political move to pressure mothers, is to willfully ignore the undeniable scientific data that show breastfed babies and their mother to be healthier than formula-using twosomes.

The fourth, unspoken, assumption is that we’re all out to get you and pressure you into being like us. It is true that there are parents out there who want to pressure and influence you, like supermodel Gisele Bündchen, whose statement on mandatory breastfeeding understandably riled quite a few moms. But trust me, not all mothers are like that. I am very much a live-and-let-live type of person, in parenting and other aspects of life. I don’t pressure, guilt, cajole, plead, or otherwise try to persuade any other parent to do what I do. So don’t make that assumption about me and every parent who operates on this side of the mainstream.

For example, I love the whole babywearing movement, and privately wish that more parents would drop the stroller. But I don’t go out and openly proselytize other parents. In fact, when I’m trying to sell slings, I never approach people and say, “Hey, you should be using one of these.” If they’re curious enough (note, I didn’t say, guilted enough), they’ll come see me. Yes, there’s plenty of guilt involved when you’re a parent, but don’t assume that it’s all on our side. When you come up to someone like me, and without invitation or prompting on my part, you offer these words, “Oh, I could never do what you’re doing,” who has the guilt?

There is too much judging, condemning, and pressuring in parenting circles. It’ll never stop, and people like Elisabeth Badinter and Gisele Bündchen will ensure that. But if you live your own life, and parent your own way, I promise that I’ll do the same. Don’t make assumptions that I parent the way I do because I’ve been guilted into it and don’t like it. Especially, please don’t make the assumption that mothers like me are all out to get you and guilt you into our group. Trust me, if you don’t want to be here, we won’t have any fun having you here. In return, I won’t make any assumptions about the way you parent, and won’t assume that you do the things you do because you’re imperfect. If we can both sit quietly side by side at the playground and not eyeball each other’s breastfeeding techniques, I promise, we’ll get along just fine.