Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The "Versus" Strikes Again: Opinionated vs. Judgmental and Good vs. Best

I got several comments on my use of the word "best" in my Smorgasbord post yesterday and I wanted to address that.  I wanted to further explain the connotations of what I feel like that entails. I hope no one will think this is me backtracking.  I stand by what I said, but I want to clarify and further explore these things.

First of all, I really do hate "mommy wars" and I try not to propagate them.  I feel like calling something a "war" assumes that there are two sides, at odds, each doing some attacking.  I guess you could say my post further engaged the whole Mommy Wars drama.  I just wish the whole thing could be "Mommy Debates" or "Mommy Dialogues".  In those cases you still have opponents in a sense, but no one is attacking each other.  I know to some people the idea of discussion and especially debates is not fun either and they just want privacy in regards to their choices.  That is why in real life, I am careful about talking about these things and usually get into discussions when someone asks me my opinion on them or it naturally comes up in conversation.  Interestingly, things often do just come up naturally!  To me, though, discussion and debate and engaging each other about parenting decisions is helpful and healthy and that's why I choose to do it on my blog.  For example, with the childbirth issue- I originally began thinking about it simply because I had been presented with the argument that it was best, not because I thought it would be an awesome life experience.  I've come to believe both, but for a person such as myself, the later would have never preceded the former.  I am thankful  for people that cared passionately about birth choices and helped point me toward my eventual decision.

Secondly, yes, I am a pretty opinionated person.  However, I think sometimes people equate being opinionated with being judgmental and it is my view that the two are not synonymous.  I got an email last week in which a blog reader said that she and I had very different opinions (actually, on non mothering issues), but she had never felt judged or slapped in the face by me.  That brought me so much happiness because I know there have been others (friends even) that have not felt the same way.  She said she assumed I did not have to try very hard to be that way.  The truth is though, I do try very hard to walk the fine line of realizing that this is my blog and it's a forum in which I want to be comfortable sharing my thoughts and the desire to not appear overly harsh and like I am casting judgment on another woman, as a person or a parent. In one of the linked articles, the writer talked about "extreme wording" and "blanket statements".  I realize that to some that is what my opinions feel like, but as I've written before, I don't want my words to be arrogance filled or to reek with superiority.

Finally, the word best.  I've said it before, but I wanted to express my feelings on this again.  There are two components to the "good vs. best" decision making process in my mind and in our home:

1. The idea that sometimes there is a "good" option and there is a "best" option, but the difference between the two is marginal.  For example, Peyton has shown me numerous studies showing that it's not ideal for children under the age of two to see any television at all.  Do I believe what those studies say? Yes.  Did  Ann Peyton (and to a much greater extent, will her brother) see a good deal of television before her second birthday? Absolutely.  Because, in my opinion, the results may be slightly harmful, but not significantly damaging. Or carseats.  Ann Peyton is two and a half and she's ridden forward facing exactly once in her life.  Because it's my understanding that that is best.  But she loves the car. Not every kid does.  It is my goal to keep my kids rear facing until two (per the new recommendation), but beyond I'd probably flip them if they were unhappy. So yes, I guess I did imply that anyone making a choice different than these is "purposefully choosing to forgo what is best for her child", as one (sweet, friendly) commenter put it. But I've done the same thing.  And some people feel like things like getting an epidural or not breastfeeding are similar to the way I view under two year old television watching.  Of course, I don't agree with them but I do respect their opinions and their right to hold them.

2. I know this is probably going to get me in trouble with some people, but we do not strive to be a child centric family.  We love our kids, cherish them, and try for the most part to do what is best for them.  However, there comes a point when we have to do what is best for the family unit as a whole.  This means different things to different people.  For example, I feel like I'm pretty passionately pro breastfeeding.  However, show me a mother with PPD who needs medicine that is contraindicated for breastfeeding. Tell her she's selfish and I'll tell you that you're being an ass.

Since breastfeeding seemed to be one issue both commenters picked up on, I thought I'd share a little more. on a more personal level.  First, if you've followed this blog for awhile, you know that when Ann Peyton was around nine months we started supplementing with formula due to her weight issues.  I fought it a long time and really struggled with the decision to do so.  In the end, at that time, I felt it was the best choice.  I think I'd make a different choice now, but I still feel no guilt over it.  I did what I thought was best and that's all that matters.  If someone were to shame me for it, it would sting I suppose, but I know in my heart that I did what I felt at the time was in her best interest.  I would not say that a mother who gives her child formula when there is a legitimate need to do so is giving her child "second best".  As another post I linked to stated "Many bodies out there don't produce what comes naturally to so many others. Some bodies don't produce enough tears, some bodies don't produce enough insulin, some bodies don't produce enough estrogen, some bodies don't produce sweat, some bodies don't produce sperm and some bodies don't produce babies. Just because someone has all the parts doesn't mean they all work in harmony (or at all.) But a body that doesn't produce breastmilk is the only one that is judged both openly and silently on a fairly regular basis." I fully understand that and it makes me sad.  It also makes me sad that in Mississippi only about 8% of mothers breastfeed to a year. Something seems very wrong with that and being an advocate for breastfeeding seems to be the only thing that will help.

Another personal example- breastfeeding past a year.  I have not done extensive research, but I'm inclined to say at this point I probably won't go past a year with Graves.  I do think there are benefits, but to me it seems they are marginal and in all honesty I'm at such a better place emotionally and mine and Peyton's, um, physical relationship is much better when I'm not nursing. And to be truthful, I feel about one hundred times better physically when I'm not sustaining another life through pregnancy or nursing.  I have been pregnant or nursing for all but six months of our marriage and I feel like making my emotional health and our relationship more of a priority will probably trump the benefits of nursing past a year.  I could totally change my mind based on the additional research which I plan to, but right now I'm not afraid to say that I plan on doing what is "good" for Graves by doing what it "best" for our family as a whole.  I know some women make a similar decision much earlier on and I don't fault them for it.  It's a complex issue.

Similarly, when I talked to my AMAZING doula at our initial meeting, I asked her if there was ever a situation where she would support the use of an epidural.  She said if a woman had experienced a really long, difficult labor (as in 36 plus hours, getting "stuck" at a point, ect.) she would not only support, but encourage, the gentle use of intervention in order to try for the greater good of avoiding a cesarean.  I felt that there was so much grace in that answer and in her ability to come to the table without a strong bias.  On a related note, of course I don't think inductions are ideal, but if it's that or risk your husband missing the birth of your kid (I've known at least two people in that situation), I say walkwalkwalk, have sex, and then pack your bags and get some pitocin pumped in you.

 All this is to say that while I generally believe that the choices we made are the best ones across the board, I understand that sometimes "good" is what is "best" for a particular family and sometimes we choose "good" because we see the risks/benefits as marginal.


Sarah Broadus said...

i like you and your opinions. They are complete opposite of mine but that's okay. It's what keeps our "relationship" interesting! I can't boobs don't "work"...I have to a csections bc my pelvis is extremely narrow and almost killed my first born when I tried to go naturally....I could care less about tv as long as it is educational/religious....but its okay. We aren't suppose to be the same, thats why God makes us all different. Press on with your opinions. =)

Carrie said...

While I totally agree with you that it's not at all wrong to have opinions, sometimes (most of the time, actually) I just think that concern for people's feelings is more important than EXPRESSING those opinions. If one's motive in expressing one's opinions is TRULY love and concern that another mother be educated on what is "best" for her child (such as breastfeeding), then I do think there is a time and a place for that. Are some of us overly sensitive about some of these choices (and I think you and I would agree that we've BOTH fallen into that category a time or two)? Absolutely. But sometimes it seems like we just feel this need to express our opinions on what is, in our opinion, best over and over and OVER, and after a while, I just don't think it serves a good purpose. And I don't think the "Good vs. Best" really makes it easier to swallow. After all, every [good] mother wants to do what's BEST for her child. Anyway, that's just my two cents! :)

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to add another aspect to this idea of "best" or even "better". (And to be clear, I use both terms in relation to these topics, so this is just part of my take on the topic).

There is a clinical vs. personal aspect here. If you look at these things from a purely clinical point of view, where real life issues don't get in the way, the choice is extremely clear cut. Breastfeeding results in healthier babies and children. Intervention free births result in better birth outcomes for both mom and baby. Rear facing children have an exceedingly better chance at survival in a car accident. It does not matter your experience or the reasons you have for choosing differently, those are facts that can be proven time and time again with solid medical/scientific studies.

However, when you add in the personal aspect to all this, things get a little murky. Women have highly medicalized births or get poor advice, and as a result breastfeeding isn't successful. Few (very few...far fewer than we are led to believe) physically cannot produce breastmilk. When a baby is not getting enough breast milk from it's mother, it's hard to say that mama's breastmilk is still the best choice for them because that choice is going to lead to a malnourished baby. Similarly with birth, you may have a woman with so much anxiety regarding the pain of birth, that she simply cannot relax and successfully dilate. And to be so stuck on a natural birth that an epi can't even be considered could be dangerous to mom and baby.

At the same time, when we are at a place where we cannot even talk about the benefits of breastfeeding/natural birth/rear facing/etc, we have a problem. Like you pointed out, we learn from each other and regardless of your own personal experience that didn't allow you to breastfeed, that shouldn't mean that another mom is denied the opportunity to learn about the numerous benefits of breastfeeding. (Just using Bf'ing as an example...could apply to all the topics). And yes, teaching that mom about the benefits of breastfeeding is going to include data that shows formula fed babies to have increased risks of SIDS, ear infections, allergies, etc. That's not an attack or meant to cause guilt, it's meant to fully inform women of the choices in front of them to equip them to make the best choice possible for their babies, their families, themselves.

Last (whoboy, this is getting long!), to expound on that last statement, women who talk about these topics do so because they have a desire for women to FULLY understand all the amazing benefits behind breastfeeding/natural birth/etc. Let's pretend for a minute that we lived in a world where breastfeeding is fully understood. Women understood how their choices in birth affect their breastfeeding relationships, they know all the benefits of breastfeeding and risks of formula, they have full community support and can nurse whenever needed, have numerous people to turn to when they run into an issue, their pediatricians are well versed in positive breastfeeding relationships and aren't pushing formula samples, their friends are all breastfeeding so they see it every day, etc. IF that were the case, there wouldn't be all this judgement (perceived or real) on formula feeding mothers. We would see a mother formula feeding and know that she made an informed choice and that would be that. But instead, we live in a world full of breastfeeding misconceptions (so full, actually, that it's extremely disheartening). As a result, we see a mother formula feeding and we automatically think that she's not informed, that she was given bad information, etc. And I think that leads to a lot of the judgement.

All that to say, we can't get to that positive world of women being informed without real discussions on why breastmilk is better than formula and all these wars do is take away from that real goal. (And again, that applies to all these topics, not just breastfeeding)

Kathi Fish said...

And in light of Carrie's comment, I respectfully disagree. It is my opinion that a woman's right to be fully informed on the decisions she is making takes precedence over someone's right to not having their feelings hurt.

Mallory Pickering said...

Obviously, I'm not one to shy away from expressing my opinions, even if they might be a little polarizing. ;) But I do tend to agree with Carrie, esp. as it relates to the stay-at-home-mom argument- just because it's such a sensitive issue for a lot of mothers I know. I think if it were coming from a public school/other side of the tracks/husband with a blue-collar job mom, it might be a little easier to swallow. Just my thoughts!
Maybe I will be more opinionated on these issues when I'm a mom, but I kind of doubt it. I've known a ton of formula-fed, working mom, epidural kids, and they are all fine. There are just much bigger things in the world, in my humble opinion. ;)

Anonymous said...

Ha! whoops...that last comment was me, not my mom. I was working on her account and didn't think about it when I posted. Sorry!!

Carrie said...

I guess what I meant by that comment was that, for me, at the end of the day (and the end of my life even), I would rather have people think of me as a kind, humble, loving person who made others feel valued and respected than as someone who was constantly "educating" and polorazing people. This is how I believe I can bring Christ the most glory. I did say that there was a time and a place to educate women and mothers, but I don't think, as a Christian, that that should be my primary focus. I truly believe that being kind and pointing people to Christ should be, and I think that's a little more difficult to do if you are making people feel like failures, whether intentionally or not. We probably just disagree on this, and that's ok! :)

Elizabeth said...

Good post Denley, I personally tend to not want to hurt people's feelings but the truth is the truth. I think people need to be informed about the truth on issues like childbirth, breastfeeding, parenting as shown in scientific studies. But really I would hope that people would seek out that information themselves. Isn't CA (your doula) great, I just love her she is so balanced. And in regards to nursing beyond a year I think personally the negative side effects start to subside when the child begins to consume more and more food. I could tell my hormones were shifting when I started to have my cold natured self back. But everyone is different. There is a pretty funny and informative commentary on this on facebook: When breastmilk turns to water and a cow makes better milk than you do by Lakeshore Medical Breastfeeding Medicine Clinic. She has some great notes up too. I recently did some research on extended breastfeeding (in our culture anyway) and can point you toward some sources if you are ever interested.

Mary Louis Quinn said...

I agree with Carrie 110%!!! She basically summed up my thoughts that I was not able to very eloquently articulate in my previous comment. All mothers (who I know anyway) ARE making the BEST decisions for their kids, period.

It's not about not educating other mothers- I would venture to say that most people who read this blog are well educated- so this blog is not likely a forum which people will seek to become educated on breastfeeding, childbirth, etc. (That's not to say that you couldn't positively influence people by writing about some of your decisions.)

Again, there is NOTHING wrong with stating your opinion on such important topics, but in doing so you will inevitably offend some people. There is just no avoiding it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you SD. I do not share many of your parenting views, but I do think that you are well educated in your decisions. Some people educate themselves only through viewpoints of others, rather than anything research-based. For the women saying that they could breastfeed but did not because it was not best for their family, I have to respectfully disagree. Breastfeeding is best for your baby, maybe not for you, but how you prioritize those needs leads you to your decision. And don't get me wrong, I completely understand woman that have medical needs that compromise the quality of their milk, and I have no problem with that. However, too many mothers make excuses to parent out of convenience rather than what is most beneficial to their child. My son just turned 2 and happily drinks about 8 ounces of my pumped milk every day. Convenient? Hell no. Frustrating? Absolutely. But I do know that there are significant benefits for his health, and for that reason I have chosen to be selfless for him. I feel the same way when people tell me they let their child cry it out earlier than 6 months, or just blind crying for extended periods without consoling them. That is a choice of parent over child. Numerous studies show the risks of increased cortisol in crying infants. I do not criticize these parents, I often try to share experiences. I will end this with one of my favorite quotes: "Fear of instilling guilt is depriving a mother of informed choice"

Melanie said...

I like the way you explain your choices using good and best! Makes sense to me! And I am sleep deprived ;)

Peyton said...

I'm somewhat confused by your comment. What does public/private school have to do with the discussion? I went to a public school and can't say that there is much difference between SD and I, except for the fact that I received a better education :). I understand the fact that if I was a blue collar worker I would have less financial security ( though not necessarily spend less money) versus my present white collar circumstance. But with the fact that many blue collar positions such as manufacturing jobs, plumbing, truck driving, electrician, mechanic, etc make between 43-52,000/year once you get licensed and started, we wouldn't have to significantly change our lifestyles at all to make up for income changes- except for lowering retirement and other investments, and moving out of our house into a more affordable one for that income level. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that it's unfair to write off SD's opinion because I make too much money for that opinion to be digestible. And the geography where one lives should matter none (other side of the tracks) except perhaps to show income level. While I understand what you're saying on one hand, I think it's also unfair to write off her opinions just because of our income.
On your second point, however I agree. There are much larger issues to attend to than breast feeding, epidurals, and if one should be a SAHMMY or not. These just seem to be things SD and her friends hold near and dear to them as new mom's. So I'm with you on that point. I just disagree with your premise for writing off SD's positions. :)

Mallory Pickering said...


I'm not "writing off" her opinions. I'm simply saying that some of the stay-at-home moms I know who are the most opinionated on the issue happen to have husbands who make good money. To be honest, when I read that they think that staying home is "best" for their child--I think, "oh well, it's easy for you to say that." That doesn't mean she's not entitled to that opinion OR that I don't agree with it. It's just a little hard to hear. When someone has been through really tough economic conditions AND still held to that conviction, I'm more willing to listen to them. I know being a stay-at-home mom is a very hard job (my mom was/is one), but it's still a luxury. Y'all have to know y'all are blessed--to have the education, career, and lifestyle opportunities y'all have had. So many don't! I know people who would love to be a stay-at-home mom, but it's just not feasible for them. So, in some ways, it seems like a slap in the face.

I think you know what I mean about people of different circumstances--so please don't take my statements too literally.

Peyton said...

First, on the issue of staying at home, I'm not necessarily in agreement with Sarah Denley on just HOW important it is to stay at home. My issue was with relegating someone's opinion based on their income. I agree with you on one hand in that anyone who's had convictions tested may have a little more assurance of their beliefs as being trustworthy to others, but that shouldn't take away from their original convictions. And I agree that being a stay at home mom is a luxury, much in the way that a dish washer, dryer, two cars, two cell phones, a closet full of unneeded clothes, cable tv, and private education are all luxuries. So as long as we acknowledge many things such as these that we as Americans view as normal are luxuries than Ill agree on that point as well. I'd have to disagree that it's not feasible to stay at home for many people, depending on how you view a SAHMMY. My parents worked different shifts when I grew up so one of them could always be at home with us. This is different from what SD does, but still keeps a parent always bringing up the kids, which I think is what makes it so important to SD. And I agree that we're blessed with the career options (that I never expected when i started college for pharmacy), the educational opportunities, and lifestyle opportunities we've had.

And I know what you mean about people from other circumstances, I just don't understand how public education figures into that. It just seemed like an unneeded insult in the situation either to SD (being a private school person) or to anyone who goes through public school- because it's obviously where the struggling persons go, right? That was really my issue with how you characterized someone of less opportunities.