As I mentioned in my post of earlier this week, there was a kerfluffle over a woman nursing another woman's child. I didn't read the blog post that originally questioned the decision of the two women to "cross-nurse" but I understand that she raised issues of the wellness of the mother (potential disease, taking medication or other substances, cleanliness) and the well-being of the child, physically and psychologically. All reasonable questions that one might ask.
The kerfluffle occurred when the woman in question felt "shamed" and "judged" by the blog post. And then the comments flew back and forth. They are almost impossible NOT to read. Very dramatic. Very soap-opera-ish.
The whole thing got me thinking, and not about the potential misuse of both the word shame and the word judge. Apparently it is verboten to "judge" another person's parenting choices. And by "judge", these people seem to mean "stating an opinion that makes a value judgment about another's parenting choices." It seems that you can make a statement that "I wouldn't do it, but it is their choice" but it is not ok to state that a particular choice is right or wrong. We are not supposed to make value judgments about other mothers. It perpetuates the "mommy wars." Or something.
The silly thing is, we make such value judgments all the time. We pass a mother on the street and her toddler has what appears to be soda in his bottle. And we judge: doesn't she know how bad that is for the baby? We see children at the playground who appear out of control. And we judge: can't those mothers discipline their children? We see a mother with a whole passel of kids at the grocery store. And we judge: that is a LOT of kids! We may never say any of these things out loud. But should we or shouldn't we?
The government makes all sorts of rules to protect children: car seat laws, seat belt laws, regulating baby and children's products, regulating child care facilities, pediatricians who frontload a vaccination schedule to ensure that they catch all the "at risk" children before their parents stop coming to see the doctor, "recommendations" for various parenting choices on childbirth, sleeping, nutrition, etc.
And each of us has opinions about various parenting choices. And we picked our choices because we reviewed all the options and picked the "best" one, right? Even if we tell others, and maybe ourselves, that each choice is perfectly valid, obviously we have picked one.
Now there are issues for which I just made a choice and I had no particular opinion about the choices. Baby food is one for me. Some people get all hepped up about organic versus regular food. Whatever. Not a big deal for me. If I have a coupon for Earth's Best, I will get it. If Gerber has a better deal, I get that one. So, when I see a mom buying (or making!) something I didn't, I actually don't think anything of it.
But there are issues about which I have stronger opinions, to varying degrees. We co-sleep, sortof. And I think that is best for my family. A crib and nursery might be better for others. We might choose to homeschool our children, if that is what is best for them. And I think homeschooling is definitely better than a lot of other educational choices, but not all of them, so I don't really think less of other options (especially since it is only theoretical on my part at this point.) I have chosen to breastfeed my baby, which is a great effort for me, and I don't just feel that breastfeeding is best for my children, I think it is best for children in general. And when I learn that a woman is formula feeding by choice, I do think her choice is not as good as mine. (I absolutely know that there are situations in which a woman cannot breastfeed and thank goodness that formula exists for those situations. You can ask me my story about breastfeeding my first child sometime.) When I see a person driving a car and there is an unrestrained child in the back seat, I absolutely think they have made the wrong choice.
So we all make judgments about parenting choices of others. Most of the time we don't say anything, or at best, gently question the choice. At other times we might say something, when we think that the child might be suffering in some way because of a parent's choice, or if we think that the parent might not be aware of the "wrongness" of the choice they have made.
And then there are the parenting choices that result in the intervention of Child Protective Services. And I don't even have to detail what those might be.
All of this is to say that the mantra of "it's her choice, you don't have a right to say (or think) anything of it, or think less of her for making it" is false. It is easy to say that, but it isn't true. We all judge. Much of the time our judgment shouldn't be voiced, because we are not more "right" than another. Sometimes we should say something, or at least ask questions. And sometimes a person should feel "shame" for making a particular choice.
Where are the lines? When do we cross them? Should we cross them? Do I have a right to tell another mother how to parent? Do I have a right to tell her she is wrong? And not only wrong, but not a good mother for making the decision she did?
The answer surely cannot be, "mind your own business."