Mums Can’t Win – A Father’s Reflections

As it’s Fathers’ Day I’m publishing a dad’s perspective on mothering in today’s post. This article was first published in the La Leche League Members’ magazine Breastfeeding Matters (May/June 2013 issue) and although I’m biased (it’s by a certain Tom Bellamy!) I hope you’ll agree it’s worth taking a few minutes out of your day to read.

Mums Can’t Win

by Tom Bellamy

Becoming a father for the first time creates a whole raft of new emotions and experiences and ideas, but for me there has been one realization that is more depressing than the sleepless nights, toddler tantrums, or soiled nappies, and it’s this: Mums can’t win.

I have to admit, before the birth of my daughter, I had given very little thought to the manner in which children should be raised. Beyond a vague sense that breastfeeding is obviously better than a bottle – you know, for a few months or so; perhaps till they have teeth? – I had no strong opinions about issues such as sleep training, babywearing or cloth nappies. After the birth of my daughter, I very quickly realized that the rest of the world has very strong opinions.

My wife and I made some plans before the birth: decorating a nursery, and borrowing a Moses basket, and generally going through the naïve motions of parents that expected their child to meet their expectations. And then our daughter arrived and showed us what we were doing wrong. She wouldn’t sleep in her cot. No matter how many nights of cajoling, soothing, and strategizing we attempted (I even had a plan on a clipboard at one point), she just refused. I remember a turning point when, exhausted and upset, my wife and daughter fell asleep together while breastfeeding, and we all slept until morning. The next day, I took our bed apart, wrestled the divan into the garage, laid the mattress on the floor, made it safe for co-sleeping, and we haven’t looked back. To make it clear: this was never my plan, but we were willing to adapt to our daughter’s needs, and the benefits of getting her to sleep alone did not seem important enough to force her to do it. We knew other families who made the opposite choice, and sleep-trained through cry-it-out, just as a GP had advised us. It worked for them, but it didn’t work for us, and that was the point at which I realized that Mums can’t win. No matter what choice they make, other people won’t respect it.

It strikes me now that there is literally no set of choices that a mother can make which will receive universal praise, or even acceptance. For every mother that chooses to breastfeed, there are others calling them the “breastapo”. For every mother that chooses to bottle feed, there are health professionals chiding them (but offering curiously little breastfeeding support). For every mother struggling with sleepless nights, there are friends and family full of bright ideas that worked for them. The saddest thing, though – the most pernicious problem – is that politely declining the advice is taken by the contributor as a criticism of their own choices.

“I let mine cry it out, and after a few days everything was fine.”

“I don’t think that will work for us…”

“Well I’m only trying to help! You’re making a rod for your own back!”

As a Dad, I seem strangely blameless for the choices we make as a family in the eyes of the wider world, and so my wife takes all the heat of criticism and condescension when people discover we’ve done things differently from them. I guess parenting is like religion and politics – best avoided in polite conversation – but it does seem a shame that parents can’t be more cooperative and less competitive. Maybe then, by supporting each other more, and ignoring the opinions of the opinionated, Mums can help each other win their own personal battles.