To honour World Breastfeeding Week, I have include an extract from Chapter 3, The Socialisation of Mothers (The Shepherdess: A Guide to Mothering without Control) available in November 2012.
It has been well-researched that close attachment is better for us and our children. Why then is society so against us mothering this way? Why, when we mothers have perfectly good working breasts, do we use an inferior milk product, fake teats and a plastic receptacle to feed our babies? Why are we encouraged to use cots and prams and other ‘mother eplacements’ rather than hold our children close day and night? Is there something wrong with breastfeeding? Is there something wrong with being close? Apparently, in our society, there is. If we do breastfeed we shouldn’t do it for too long because it requires us to be there for our baby. Breastfeeding makes it rather clear that we are not physically separate. The fact that our baby lives and grows on our milk means they are still dependent on us for life and development. Breastfeeding demands of us a greater commitment and responsibility than bottle-feeding. Furthermore, the mutual dependency, both physical and emotional, fostered by the nursing relationship bonds us to our child. We continue as one.
In our culture nursing is primarily seen as a way of providing an infant with food. Why should we be tied down when our baby can get food from a bottle or a jar, which anyone can give to them? Formula and baby foods were not invented to provide our babies with food that was better than our milk, but rather to allow us to not have to breastfeed so we can do other things. More important things apparently. We are commonly pushed back into work rather than being encouraged to be home mothering our babies ourselves.
These products have made it possible for us to become separate from our babies, which is seen as a good and necessary thing. Our inventiveness has given us the ability not to be natural mothers. Why does society view a baby’s need for closeness day and night as a problem? Why do we think it is a good idea to train our babies not to request to be picked up, held, cuddled, rocked, suckled, even though these things are completely natural for a human child? Is it because our society wants mothers to be doing something else, perhaps?
In our society, we do not see anything wrong in leaving an infant without their mother. This is because our society is based on theseparateness of individuals rather than on their unity with each other. We do not see it as strange that we separate from our newborns, so they can sleep alone, that they don’t drink from us and they aren’t constantly held by us. We do not find it peculiar for us to not always be present for our babies and to leave them in the hands of strangers, whilst we go to work. We have been socialised into believing that our baby’s need for constant closeness isn’t a need at all, but a desire, a whim and if we give in to that whim then we are weak and doing them a disservice.
Why should we respond to our baby’s crying if our baby is fed, clean and not in pain? Our baby has to learn that they can’t control us, that they can’t get away with using their sobs to manipulate us by being ‘overly-demanding’. We are told time and again – don’t feel guilty, Mum, don’t give in, don’t go in the room. Suppress your instincts to respond and remember you’re doing it for them – for their own good. You’re teaching them discipline. You’re saving your baby from becoming spoiled, from being dependent on you. Your baby needs to learn to be independent of you. Don’t, under any circumstances, pick up your baby, or you will ruin everything – for yourself, for your husband, for everyone. That’s what all the experts say, so it must be right. Of course, often this approach works and our baby eventually learns not to cry and to go to sleep alone, which proves that they weren’t really upset after all, doesn’t it? It proves that they were just being manipulative, right? What is really happening is that our baby learnt that their cry does not bring a caring response, that their crying has no power. Our baby learnt that their needs will not be responded to so they must ignore their own feelings and accept the ‘rules’. What do we learn? We learn that our baby is trainable and if we ignore their requests we can make them easier to manage. We learn that it is best to bury our natural instincts that make us want to respond to our baby – to nurse, to hold, to comfort. We learn to become more physically and emotionally separate from our child and further detached.
The biggest sadness of all this is that we modern mothers do love our children desperately and want to give them the very best. However, we have been socialised to believe that in order to do this we must reject and ignore our innate human instincts. Our culture tells us that the best way to raise our child is to direct their behaviour and development in order for them to be normal, healthy, happy, good citizens. As modern mothers we are encouraged not to be guided by nature, biology or instinct, but by the voices of society. The ‘right’ way to rear children in our society has absolutely nothing to do with what we need or what our children need and everything to do with what society needs. It always involves imposing on our children the necessity to give up their requirement for nurturance as soon as possible and denying us the opportunity to nurture our young the way nature intended. We ignore our instincts and become driven by our need to preserve our separate identity under the influence of our husbands, relatives and infant care experts. As a result, we begin to treat our baby not like a baby. We are encouraged to change our baby to fit who we are (or what society wants us to be). Therefore, we must train our baby to become something other than a human baby in order to ‘fit in’.
From childhood on, we are socialised not to believe in our instinctive knowledge. We are told that parents and teachers know best and that when our feelings do not concur with their ideas, we must be wrong. Conditioned to mistrust or utterly disbelieve our feelings, we are easily convinced not to believe our baby whose cries say ‘You should hold me!’, ‘I should be next to your body!’, ‘Don’t leave me!’ Instead, we overrule our natural response and follow the fashion dictated by baby care ‘experts’. The loss of faith in our innate expertise leaves us turning from one book to another as each successive fad fails. It is important to understand who the real experts are. The second greatest baby care expert is within us. The greatest expert of all is, of course, our baby who is programmed to signal to us, with their own unique sound and action. The signal from our baby, the understanding of the signal by us and the impulse to obey it, are all a part of our species’ character. Our socialisation as mothers has damaged part of the signal – our impulse to obey. Our conditioning leads us to question – should I teach my baby that I am the boss so they won’t become a tyrant? Although our babies begin by letting us know by the clearest signals what they need, if we ignore them they will eventually give up. At what cost did we get a compliant baby? As this is what contemporary Western civilization relies upon, it is little wonder why the relationship between parent and child has remained steadfastly adversarial.
This is an extract from Chapter 3, The Socialisation of Mothers (The Shepherdess: A Guide to Mothering without Control) available
About Chaley-Ann Scott
Chaley-Ann Scott is a parenting author, sociologist, counsellor, and mother-of-four. She writes widely on parenting and education for various publications, and is the author of The Shepherdess; A Guide to Mothering without Control.