I often tell my children, “worry about yourself,” meaning as long as they are making the right choices for themselves, they need to stop sticking their nose in the decisions of others. Most recently, this played out when my daughter decided to tattle on her brother, whom she had deemed to be rewarding himself with an extra helping of Girl Scout cookies without clearance from me. But she clearly needed to mind her own business, because what she didn’t realize was that he never had the first helping of cookies, and I had indeed granted him the pleasure of a few Thin Mints. For once, neither one of them was screwing up, that is until my daughter made the choice to worry about someone other than herself.
“Worry about yourself” was the exact phrase that came to mind when I read about the findings of a recent Ohio State study that has shown there to be no significant long-term benefits to breast-feeding over formula-feeding. This conclusion was drawn after comparing siblings, one whom had been breastfed and one whom had been formula-fed.
Woooo-weeeeee! This is the kind of stuff that gets the internet all kinds of ruffled up. Mothers who fed their babies formula are expressing what feels like long-overdue vindication in a current cultural climate where breastfeeding seems to have gained the upper hand. Lactivists are holding their ground that breast is still best, grasping for weaknesses in the study. But I think a lot of people are missing the point. This isn’t really a defense of one or an undermining of the other. It seems to me that the most poignant information this study brought to light is that we can simply stop arguing about it and celebrate what this means:
While I found the study interesting, it did not shock me one bit. I am a mother who rocked the whole breastfeeding thing with one of my children (in fact, I even contributed to a great breastfeeding resource book called Milk Diaries). But I also rocked the whole formula thing with my other child. Looking at them side by side, you would be hard pressed to guess which one was fed which way. If we want to be REALLY picky about it, my formula-fed child actually comes out slightly ahead in some respects. In addition, I was a formula-fed baby, who doesn’t seem any worse for the wear. So there is little anyone could tell me that would negate what I know to be true for my own experience. The only real tragedy in the entire situation is that when I did decide to formula feed, I let the opinions of other people make me initially feel bad about it, instead of trusting what I knew in my heart to be a good decision for my situation.
More than ever, we have the knowledge of experts and research at our fingertips. Furthermore, we are inundated with the thoughts and opinions from thousands upon thousands of journalists, bloggers, Facebookers, Tweeters, neighbors, playgroup moms, and so on. Frankly, we let a lot of these people bully us into doubting ourselves. We have become a culture who is afraid to trust our own instincts and experiences. We Google our problems and decisions to look for external validation. We let anyone who speaks with a semblance of authority influence the way we eat, parent, spend money, vote…the list goes on. And then we turn around and tell everyone else they should do the same. I am as guilty as anyone. But maybe we all need to start worrying about ourselves.
I’m not sure if English teachers across the country should be proud or ashamed at the weight the persuasive essay has come to hold. Think about every piece of viral writing you have come across in recent years. A good chunk of it is content begging to incite arguments and debates between people of differing opinions. And oftentimes, there is nothing inherently wrong with either opinion. What IS wrong is the insane phenomenon that happens in comment sections when people become mortal enemies over things like breastfeeding versus formula-feeding. If we all simply worried about doing what works for us and didn’t concern ourselves with the decisions others make about their own lives, think of how much more pleasant the internet would be. Heck, let’s extend that to the world.
It seems to me the only thing we really need to be persuaded to do is trust our own instincts, and let others trust theirs. This Ohio State study is a great example of that. NONE OF US HAS BEEN SCREWING UP. And maybe we can finally admit we probably weren’t screwing up all those countless other times we each made a decision that felt right for our families, regardless of popular opinion, parenting books, or mommy blogs. The mother who made a different decision than we did in the same situation likely wasn’t screwing up either. Maybe, just maybe, we are all doing an okay job, and we can admit other mothers are as well, even if they don’t make the same choices.
A while ago I wrote a guest post about learning to cope with anxiety, after which I heard from many others who have gone through similar issues. Anxiety seems like such a common problem, especially among parents, mothers in particular. I am starting to wonder. Could it be that we are so conditioned to question every decision, to fear how every single move we make as parents will either positively or negatively affect the development of our children, that we are making ourselves sick? It starts right from the get-go, when mothers are immediately confronted with how they will feed their children, and are made to feel a certain fate hangs in the balance. Now it seems maybe that decision doesn’t have to be as agonizing as we were led to believe. Yet it spirals out of control from there: sleep methods, potty training, discipline tactics, dietary recommendations, school choices. I have often wondered which of these decisions will be the one that lands my kid in therapy. That’s a lot of pressure to put on figuring out when is the right time to teach your child to stop sitting in his own poo.
We spend our time stressing about all the things we might be doing wrong based on the latest article from the Huffington Post, instead of paying attention to all the things we are doing right based on what we already know, how we ourselves were raised, and what our instincts tell us. Even then, we feel the need to constantly defend our decisions, and in doing so, we unintentionally (or intentionally) set ourselves at odds with others who didn’t make the same choice. And in the case of the majority of parenting issues, no one NEEDS to be at odds. There is more than one way to raise a healthy, happy child.
That is what I am hoping this latest study about the long-term effects of breastfeeding versus formula-feeding will reaffirm: we are different, but we are all doing an okay job. And sometimes, I think we all need someone to tell us, “worry about yourself,” be the kind of parent you believe in, and trust that others are doing the same.