In years past, new mothers found solace, companionship and even advice while walking or sitting in the park while babies slept in their carriages. These days that park bench has been replaced by social media where a multitude of voices now take the place of the two or three friends of old. And the backdrop to the mothers’ voices are the latest reports on “scientific” findings about child development and child rearing.
That’s all to the good when women find the support they need in the challenging job of raising children. But one can wonder at times what that support consists of. I came across a reference to a mother participating in an online group saying that with the encouragement of her social media friends she had taken a series of small, reasonable seeming steps but now felt not only supported in her parenting decisions but rather entrenched in a camp.
Unfortunately, there is a tendency for points of view and supposed scientific facts to quickly become polarized and even politicized to a degree leading to anything but reasonable discussion or self-expression. At times commercial or financial forces are involved in supporting a particular position for reasons of self-interest.
A good example is the recent and ongoing controversy about breastfeeding. It’s hard to remember that we lived through a period when formula and bottle feeding were considered far superior to, and healthier than nursing. Now women are often shamed into nursing by the idea that they are harming their babies in some way if they use formula.
There may be good — even scientifically based evidence — for the benefits of nursing. However, there are also good reasons that women may decide to use formula. This speaks to a deeper question about the conflict that exists at times between the needs of the mother and that of the child. Women may tie themselves into knots pumping milk while at work or become stressed in other ways to continue breast feeding in the belief that to do otherwise would be to the child’s detriment.
A more significant issue about peer advice or advice generally is that the answer to most questions that arise for parents requires both knowing their own child and more specifically, understanding the behavior or situation they are questioning. A common example is a question a parent raised about her child lying, saying she was reading on her iPad when mom knew she was watching something. She had used up her allowed screen time and her mother became focused on getting the child to acknowledge her lie rather than on her protest about the rule itself.
This is a familiar situation in which children try to argue their way into getting what they want — or what they don’t want to do. “I did my homework on the bus.” Children turn into lawyers arguing their case while parents get involved in determining the facts of the situation. In this case, it seemed the mother needed to prove to the child that she had lied in order to justify maintaining her rule.
The issue was really the child wanting to watch something on her iPad at that time. The mother could make a decision about that without getting into the question of lying or breaking the rule. Parents are afraid that if they go along with the child they give up their authority for the future. But authority as a parent means deciding what is best for your child.
There is no rule or advice that applies to every situation. That’s the hard part of being a parent.
— Elaine Heffner, LCSW, Ed.D., has written for Parents Magazine, Fox.com, Redbook, Disney online and PBS Parents, as well as other publications. She has appeared on PBS, ABC, Fox TV and other networks. Dr. Heffner is the author of “Goodenoughmothering: The Best of the Blog,” as well as “Mothering: The Emotional Experience of Motherhood after Freud and Feminism.” She is a psychotherapist and parent educator in private practice, as well as a senior lecturer of education in psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College. Dr. Heffner was a co-founder and served as director of the Nursery School Treatment Center at Payne Whitney Clinic, New York Hospital. And she blogs at goodenoughmothering.com.