What I Learned From Science This Week: Worry About Yourself

posted in: Acceptance, Kids, Parenting | 50

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:

Moms, this is one thing NONE OF US IS SCREWING UP!parenting

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.

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50 Responses

  1. OK, yes-yes-yes. Funny you should write this because I’ve been tinkering with a similar sentiment in one I’m writing (not about breastfeeding, but just in general). What is WRONG with the world these days and all this oppressive judgment in EVERYTHING? It’s so out of control … so I especially love this post. Keep ’em coming, Kelly, because you speak the truth! I also double adore it because that’s maybe my fave vid of all time and I’m always quoting it to people who are in the know, “You worry ’bout you’self!” I LOVE IT!!! 🙂

    • Thanks Anna! That’s why I love you so much…you look for the good in people and spread hilariousness instead of judgement. And seriously, I laughed so hard when I first saw that video. I had to include it 🙂 Can’t wait to read yours, because I know you’re going to knock it out of the park…and be a lot funnier than me on top of it!

      • Aww! Well that’s kind of the problem—right now, that ish AIN’T funny bc I’m so fed up! It’s a work in progress. But I’m posting a different one shortly! I did love this one of yours and think you’re SO SPOT ON 🙂

        • Oh see? Just another reason I love you. You recognize the genius I really am 😉 And you are so right…it ain’t funny. I have almost had to stop reading comment sections altogether because I just start getting really sad. I have no doubt you will be able to tackle the topic with grace, intelligence, and wit. And then I will likely share the heck out of it!

  2. What a refreshing thing to read this morning!!! I feel the exact same way about the whole breastfeeding and anxiety inducing society we have become. If you were to line up 100 adults, NO ONE would be able to tell who was breast-fed, bottle-fed, goat-milk-fed (I have a friend who was given goat’s milk)….it’s ridiculous. And as a mother who often suffers from bouts of anxiety around my kids, I agree that so much of it is produced from our culture. This as a wonderful post. Thanks so much for sharing:))

    • Thanks so much for your comment! I have fallen into this trap of over-worrying about every little thing way too many times. It’s hard not to, especially when you are a new mother. It’s a lot easier to “worry about yourself” once you have a few years under your belt 🙂 It’s nice to know others are feeling the same way.

  3. Deanna Herrmann

    I love everything about this.

  4. That video is the bomb! And so is this post. Hurrah!

  5. I laugh at everyone who says are children are being disserviced by being fed formula. My twins have brought home A’s and B’s throughout their entire tenure in school, yet to hear the pro-breastfeeding crowd talk your child’s brain will never fully develop if he or she is raised on formula. Sigh…

    Baby C’s mom cried the day after he was born because she was unable to produce milk. When we finally decided to feed him formula so he didn’t, you know, starve to death, every one in that joint started making her feel guilty for that decision. I had to reassure her that everything was okay and that they were just being bitches. I had to explain to her that the twins were formula fed and they turned out great. There are certainly benefits to being breast fed, but your child isn’t going to end up deformed by eating formula instead.

    The bottom line is that each child is different and what works for one child won’t work for another. Just because something works great for your kid doesn’t mean it will work for mine. So basically, mind your own business, just like you said. Quit judging people. You don’t know their circumstances so you have no place to tell them what they are doing is wrong.

    I may post about this…

    • I would love to hear your take on it…speaking of which, I seriously have like three of your blog posts still sitting in my inbox, waiting to be read. I’m a slacker.

      As I said, I did both breast and formula feeding. There are wonderful things about both and crappy things about both. I understand that supporters of breastfeeding are mostly trying to encourage the benefits, of which there are many, especially when there are still many people who don’t even give it a chance. But that encouragement needs to stop short of chastising women who end up not doing it, for whatever reason. And vice versa. It gets ugly out there. And it simply doesn’t have to.

      • Precisely. I get that they were trying to help, but at the time Baby C has been alive for over a day and had had nothing to eat. My wife wasn’t producing milk and her nipples were all torn up because Baby C wasn’t latching correctly. It just wasn’t happening, yet they made her feel horrible for choosing to give him formula. I was pissed, to say the least.

        And quit procrastinating! I need enlightened readers like you on my blog!

        • Aw, thanks!!! And I know, I know. But to be fair, I’m not procrastinating. Just busy. I upped my hours at work and am trying like gangbusters to get the illustrations for my book finished, which I put off for too long, during what free time I have. Hopefully I will get some much needed blog reading time in the near future 🙂

          • Book? Did I miss something? What book?

          • Well, I guess I haven’t really talked much about it, but yes…I’m working on a children’s book. It’s been a long time coming, and I think I always hesitated to mention it because then I would be accountable for ACTUALLY finishing it. But I’ve finally gotten serious. It’s happening. So stay tuned 🙂

  6. Great post. Research like the study you cited has replicated those results many times , it is not the first study to suggest breast is not best. If people, in this case mothers, could stop basing their self worth on comparing their choices to those made by others, we would all be much better off.

  7. sistersara

    “But that encouragement needs to stop short of chastising women who end up not doing it, for whatever reason. And vice versa. It gets ugly out there.” — I loved your post but I REALLY loved this ^^ sentence in one of the comments. I breast fed each of my kids for a few months after they were born and I will admit not because I really really wanted too – but because i felt like it was a good start for them and it helped me get my shape (a shape – not my old shape) back a little quicker. But I quickly gave up when the hassle got to be too much and I usually felt guilty for giving it up “too soon” – WHY!?!? Because the media led me to believe that I should be doing it until the baby was 48 months old!!
    So glad that my husband, mother and mother in law were always supportive of my decisions to switch baby to formula and get “my life” back!
    Great Post!!

    • You speak what so many mothers feel. I’m glad you had the support and encouragement you need from people who matter to you. And isn’t it funny how the comment section can be just as good, if not better, than the post? 🙂 As always, thanks for reading and commenting!!

  8. I wish I could like this post 100,000 times (then it would technically go viral, since THIS is the kind of thing frantic parents should be reading). I was reading a book recently that talked about how since the modern parent has outsourced so many of the classic parental duties (ie, kids are educated at school, fed from the grocery store, clothed at the mall, etc.), they feel so much more pressure to do everything else perfectly. The problem is, no one is really sure what “everything else” is because the era of parenting we’re living in is so historically new and no one can agree what standards we should be holding ourselves to. We end up fighting tooth and nail on the Internet and playgroups about issues that, in the end, may not really matter at all. It’s really a shame that breastfeeding has become such a topic of contention; I feel like the women who are most susceptible to the amount of fear mongering that these debates foster are the ones who are most in need of support for whatever they chose. (And in all honesty, for a lot of moms, there IS no choice.)

    • Holy run-on sentence, Batman! Would you mind popping a period between “contention” and “I”, Kels?

    • So well said! And that sounds like an interesting book. We certainly have the time and luxury to worry about all kinds of things generations before us didn’t…and I’m not so sure that is a good thing. Parents have been successfully raising kids since the beginning of mankind. Why are we overcomplicating it and fighting about it?

      And if you could figure out how to do that whole 100,000 likes thing, I would love you forever.

  9. Something I notice as the years go by is the notion of repeating cycles. One thing that is right today is later “proven” to be wrong and then a decade later it is right again. I think there is an inherent cultural desire to ‘get smarter’ each generation.

    For me, I think Joe Jackson got it right –

    “Everything gives you cancer, everything gives you cancer. There’s no cure, there’s no answer, everything gives you cancer.”

    Net? We should worry about ourselves more! 😉

    • I think you’re spot on about that. So much of life is cyclical. And funny you mention the cancer thing, because one of the things that got me to this exasperated point was seeing a new story in my newsfeed every day about something I eat being bad for me. Then I saw this article that basically says that if you live long enough, cancer will eventually kill you…because MOST cancer happens when “mistakes” are duplicated in cell reproduction, which is inevitable if something else doesn’t kill you first. We worry so much about all these external factors possibly causing cancer (which does happen), but that only really accounts for a small percentage.

      So there you go. 🙂

  10. At a party a decade ago, a very nice man asked me to “convince” his pregnant wife that she “had to breastfeed.” As I was a trained physician and mom at the time, he thought my words would hold weight. I turned to his lovely wife and told her, “do what feels right” and probably included some reassuring words from my OB who really gave me permission to stop when my body was broken and bleeding from the exhausting mess of it.

    This post recalls the tone you struck with your FP’ed debut regarding teaching the kiddos about God. Your thoughtful consideration and reluctance to judge is what keeps us coming back. There are oodles of ways to raise happy, healthy kids! Let’s support each other, and pour each other wine.

    • Sooooo…cocktail party at your house? 🙂 I love that you told that woman to do what feels right. It seems like we talk ourselves out of that too many times because it might not be what everyone around us is doing.

      And I would like to add that I wish I could give you a giant bear hug right now for saying the kind things that you did. There’s no way you could have known this, but it was exactly what I needed to hear today. So thank you <3

  11. Loved this. Everything has become a competition, even mothering. Which is just so crazy. With my first born I struggled with breastfeeding for a week. It was overwhelming and I was miserable. I beat myself up about wanting to quit but when I did I felt so much better and was able to enjoy my baby more. I think it was the first difficult parenting decision that I agonized over. My daughters I was able to breastfeed, it was just easier with them. I have a friend who always says “Everyone’s just trying to do their best”. No place does that statement apply more than parenting. There’s enough stuff to worry about with our kids… Like girls texting my son and my 10 year old turning into a snarky teenager and my 4 year old insisting every day is her birthday. These are REAL problems, people!

    • It sounds like you had a similar experience as I did. I felt guilty about formula feeding, but once I made the switch, I realize how much happier we both were. My baby was getting enough food and I wasn’t rushing her through feedings because the pain was so bad. But then the second time around, it just worked. So I did it. And I think you are right that the choice is often one of the very first big parenting decisions we have to make. Hopefully this new knowledge will make that introduction to parenting a little easier. Because you’re right….there ain’t nothing worse than a four-year-old who thinks every day is her birthday. They can be such little beasts 🙂

  12. I was just about to go all stalker on you, and write to ask where you were! Thankfully, you were reading science and then spelling out for me, so I didn’t have to read this ridiculous study, that would somehow negate one more meaningful thing I did as mom. Hello? I LOVED nursing all three of those babies and they loved it too… case closed. Missed you Kelly. xo

    • I know. I miss my blogging friends too! Writing and reading blogs has really had to take a back seat lately. And sadly, it will probably have to be that way for awhile. I’m going to keep trying to post once a week, but we will see how it goes. Life doesn’t always listen to me when I tell it I need blog time 🙂

      Nursing is fantastic. I loved being able to do it with one of mine. And the thing I actually loved about this study is that it didn’t negate ANYTHING!! Basically, it just gave those of us who used formula for whatever reason (some who had no other choice) to feel just as good about how we fed our babies as those who breastfed. So basically, EVERYONE gets to feel super awesome about the way they sustained their kids. You don’t find a lot of parenting studies that do that 🙂 Everyone should get to feel as amazing as you did about something you did those first months/years, so it’s just nice that someone is finally telling moms who formula feed that it’s not the devil’s juice that will make your kids dumb (which a lot of us already know because of how our kids turned out.) No one is negating that breast is still the preferred method if it works. But that guilt if it doesn’t can take a hike.

  13. […] in recent years, I have gotten some validation this week via Kelly at Are You Finished Yet?. Kelly shared a link to a recent study published by Ohio State (um…Go BLUE!) which found that, despite what […]

  14. Thank you for this. Every voice of reason helps amid this storm of crazy women trying to convert the masses. Now I’m not talking about your average breast-feeding mom, but the ones who seem to go truly nuts, acting like anyone who formula feeds is literally feeding their children poison. It’s like a cult. And if you cite a study that says there is no difference (like the one you did) they say it was done by the evil formula makers in some big conspiracy. Just – what?

    I was formula fed. I fed my girls formula for reasons that are only the business of my husband and me. As long as baby is fed and loved, what does it matter? Why the need to prove you are one-up on another mom? I don’t get it.

    • I know. The one-upping thing is so silly. I think it is great when people feel passionate about their choices, but it isn’t okay to make someone else feel bad about their choice…especially when that choice doesn’t affect you or your own child. But maybe I just don’t feel that passionately about anything. I’m okay with that 🙂

      Thankfully, we can all take solace in the fact that most of us are doing okay when it comes to a lot of things, and just block out those voices that keep nagging otherwise.

  15. Oh man, I feel like such a bitchy, clueless fool. I just re-read my comment and realized I left out an entire piece of what I THOUGHT I was typing– it was very late, and I should have just gone to bed! First: I meant so I didn’t have to read *another* ridiculous study, not *this*. Second, the last bit was only to state that whatever any study says, that’s how I felt about nursing and I don’t want to read studies anymore that tell me it was good or wasn’t. I loved it, my babies loved it and… I was lucky it all worked out.

    As a former lactation consultant, I had many wonderful moms who just couldn’t nurse, and their babies, and their mother-baby bonds were fantastic. No amount of science should make ANY mother feel badly about whatever choice they make, or the choices that are made for them. It’s nice that *this* study helps validate both groups.

    Amazing how differently my comment reads, versus what I was thinking when I sat down to catch up on posts, and wanted to leave a comment. Sorry it came out the exact opposite of what I was trying to convey! Trust me, there is no unconscious intention in leaving a few words out, I have just been SO tired and run down… I was thinking one thing, and then typed it very differently.

    So, to anyone who read my asinine comment above… my bad. Didn’t proof read before hitting “post comment” and intended something VERY different than what is there… My point was that we all do our best, and I’m tired of studies negating what we did, intending the best at that time. As for you Kelly… the part about missing you, I got just right. xo

    • Ha!! No worries Dawn. I think we have all hit the publish button before double checking what we wrote. I have only known you to a very compassionate and even-keeled woman, so one little measly comment can’t undo that. And I wish you had been my lactation consultant the second time around. The one I had a horrible bedside manner and actually insulted me for having a C-section. Yikes! Ironically enough, with such bad support, THAT was the time I actually ended up breastfeeding successfully. And despite having a wonderful and supportive lactation consultant the first time around, I just wasn’t able to make it happen. I think lactation consultants are one of the keys to getting mom off to a good start…because they can help them through the hard parts of breastfeeding and be their cheerleader, and they can also lend them support and understanding when it’s not working out. Both are incredibly invaluable.

      On that note, I miss your writing!! I’m hoping to find some blog reading time later today to head over there. I know there will be lots of good stuff waiting for me.

      • Thanks Kelly. It seems like a few of my blog buds have been missing lately… in light of my self-esteem post, it has had me all turned around. See how silly I can be!

        I believe a lactation consultant can truly make all the difference. For something that’s suppose to be so “natural,” breastfeeding can be SO hard! Glad my bullish previous comment didn’t mark me for good. 😉

  16. Such a wonderful message. If more people keep thinking this way and acting on it by spreading it through behaviors, words, art, and any other form…maybe there will be a collective movement in that direction. I’m a big believer in the collective conscious and am hoping/praying that we can all unite for a world that thinks this way. Love and acceptance!

  17. Great, great post! I formula fed one of my babies, and I had several aquaintences act like I was feeding my baby yoohoo. (The pediatrician was not among them. “It’s just food,” she said). I think one of the factors that breeds the breast feeding issue is that there are all these really smart women that grew up competing, competing in gymnastics and math tram, whatever, and once they are home raising kids, they naturally seek out a way to make that a competition, because “winning” is such an important part of their self worth. But we aren’t competing, are we? There is no limit to how many of us can be good mothers, and we would do well to remember that and worry about ourselves.

  18. I LOVE this. What’s interesting to me, is how judgmental everyone is, but the fact that no one thinks they are. On the one hand, there is this whole movement toward accepting others and not judging, while on the other hand, the major blogs that we read like HuffPo seem to be thriving on contentious pieces. It’s annoying at best. As far as the anxiety thing, I think it does have something to do with our unhealthy expectations. I have always been anxious my whole life, but adding children to the mix made my anxiety sky rocket in a way that landed me in therapy for a little while. And, maybe we all need to stop reading so many dang blogs. (That last part is for me, not you). 🙂 Great article. Now, I’m going to go read your anxiety one, because I can’t remember if I read that or not.

  19. kathy sack

    Great post, Kelly. The comments have been really great. I breast fed my 3 boys and really enjoyed it. However, I know it is not for everyone. What upsets me is that mothers are made to feel less if they bottle feed, no matter what the reason. I have a friend who just had her 1st baby. She felt incredible pressure to nurse her baby from her medical staff and many friends. It wasn’t something she wanted to do, and she was very clear about it. I just think that we need to support each other and not spend so much time criticizing each other’s choices. You had a great blog a while back about stay at home moms vs moms who work outside the home. In both of these instance, I think you so clearly showed that we need to support each other. Being a Mom is hard enough. I think that we need to focus more on helping each other, not tearing each other down. Thanks for your forum, and the comments of so many good people. I am telling my friend to check this post out! By the way, her 2 week old daughter is thriving and is being bottle fed.

    • I have great blog readers, don’t I? 🙂 It helps remind me that when I get annoyed by these articles that make everything a competition, most people are probably thinking the same thing as me: “Who cares?”

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