Today I decided to write about parenting and the pressure we women have in relation to it, and I do so for the number of consultations of mothers absolutely exhausted and surpassed from the first year of their baby.
Most of these mothers have babies between 18 months and 3 years old and describe exhaustion, overwhelm and absolute discomfort that has to do with the intensity of the baby’s demand, whether breast, arms or skin, during the day and/or during the night.
In addition, when we propose to distribute this demand among the couple, the answer is usually:
“He doesn’t even want to see the father”.
Good. I think it is necessary to reflect both as mothers and as professionals on what the message is and what part we should apply to our lives. After all, this situation is not the fault of the breast, the baby, the mother or the father. It is a system that does not consider parenting as an active and/or productive part of society and that always has a centre as a protagonist: before being a mother, the man; after being a mother, the baby.
Once again, there is a great conflict between two thoughts both unfeminist that break any possibility of equilibrium:
On the one hand, the thought that babies are raised alone, “forcing” mothers to return to work at 16 weeks of life ーin some countries even lessー but at the same time to breastfeed exclusively until 6 months. Overprotective if you decide to take a leave of absence or leave work, and careless if you do not get to be a woman 10, a worker 10 and a mother 10 if you return to the place where you were before being a mother without an advertisement smile.
On the other hand, the thought that the mother should give to the baby, who biologically needs her 100% beyond her strength. The baby needs the mother EVERY day, and the mother, again, has to move away from her centre to make room for the baby for an indeterminate period of time to cover absolutely all baby’s needs for breast, body, sleep, love and nourishment. It is the baby’s rhythms that set the pace and the mother must adapt.
Either of these two thoughts, which may seem radical ーyes, they areー, are a reality that marks us unnatural and unbearable rhythms. On the one hand, if we choose the first option, it is almost impossible to meet the needs of our baby, much less ours. In fact, we are covering the needs of the system, running over our needs as humans and breaking the possibility that things will start to change, because yes, if they change it will be largely a paradigm shift in the education and upbringing of our sons and daughters, who are the future.
If we opt for the second option, the one of instinct and that of the manual of good practices of respectful parenting, we can end up destroyed… Why? Because our society, for the moment, has not changed much and we do not breed in a network nor do we have a real community. Most mothers do not even have the help of relatives or resources to pay for related professional support. With what she is trying to cover ALL the needs of the baby: breastfeeding on demand day and night, carrying him at all times, giving absolute attention 24h, avoiding baby’s crying at all costs and in addition, many of us, we do also working 40 hours a week outside the home. And let’s not forget: fighting continuously for a dignified attention, both with professionals and with relatives.
The problem arises when the months go by and all those stages that we had been promised would cease, do not. At one year, our baby demands more of us than at 6 months and at two years, more than at one year. Months go by and our baby keeps waking up 4 to 8 times a night. During the day he only wants arms. If we try to rest for a while and leave our baby (already 1 year old or more) with his father, he cries as if he were killed and if we try to limit a little time on the breast, the same thing.
We are overwhelmed and surprised when 18 months after birth, we sleep worse than ever, we have our breasts out all day and, on top of that, we have half the family criticizing our actions and reminding us: “I told you so”.
The 18-month-old baby no longer weighs 5 kg but 14 kg and his sucking irritates us because he is not still. He pulls us over the nipple, touches our hair, or the ear or the navel. We can’t take our eyes off the baby because he doesn’t stop still, he takes out all the toys and doesn’t pick up anything and if he doesn’t have what he wants, he acts very badly, and again he rejects his father or other caregivers if they approach the scene.
The “good practice manuals of respectful parenting” do not speak of it. They talk about the little baby all the time. To offer, to give and to negotiate. And when we read it, we don’t visualize a real temper of an 18-month-old baby, nor of what to negotiate with according to what ages it can be complicated. They talk about crying as if it were the devil and that means that we avoid it at all costs by closing the circle to the mother-baby dyad for many months.
On the other hand, it often happens that the father does not claim “his place”. With a “the baby wants breastfeeding” is so comfortably wide, but after months will feel bad for not having forged a safe bond over a slow fire that, on the other hand, makes that circle is thickening and giving respite to the mother while giving resources and different relationships to the baby.
Resources to make it so? Well, for example, a good baby carrier with which the father understands himself would be a good instrument of relationship and transition to begin with. Accompany the mother and the baby while the baby is being breastfed. Lying next to them to go to sleep: PRESENCE.
It is clear that the mother’s body is the natural habitat of the baby the first few months, but it is necessary to find the balance not to end up exhausted at a few months and looking for magical or radical solutions to give the change we need.
It may seem that the responsibility for everything to work falls back on us, but in reality it is not about responsibilities, nor is it about trying to have a “model” of parenting, because each mother, each baby and each family has unique and wonderful needs and characteristics.
What is very important is that we understand that talking about a baby does not mean talking about 6 months, but at least 3 years and that applies to all types of demand. Planning, being informed, investing and being flexible during these months is essential in order to find our own way that nobody says is easy.