Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mommy Guilt

What is it about motherhood that seemingly cultivates guilt? We feel guilty for not spending enough time with our kids, not enough quality time, too much attention to one child and not another, giving our kids unhealthy snacks, opting for a less nutritious meal for convenience, acting out our frustrations, taking some “me” time – oh, the list goes on and on. And it seems that list grows exponentially for holistic-minded moms who are passionate about making healthy and natural choices for themselves and their families. Suddenly, a trace artificial ingredient, a disposable plate or a plastic straw develops into a mountain of guilt for not being healthy enough, not green enough, not “good” enough.

It’s time moms stop beating themselves up and take a kinder, gentler approach. No matter what our passions, no matter what our goals, this natural parenting lifestyle is a journey. We are approaching each day with unique circumstances, specific knowledge and awareness, and whatever tools we have available on that day. It’s not about perfection – it’s about doing the best we can in every moment. That much-needed cup of coffee after a long night with a teething infant who is attachment parented is not something to feel guilty about. Caving in to let your child watch one PBS show so you can get a 20 minute sanity break is not the end of the world. Guilt is a destructive emotion. Guilt can make you hyper-vigilant and hyper-critical. It can immobilize you and generate a negative script in your head that denies you happiness, creates blame, and always makes you wrong. Green guilt seems to be running rampant. So rampant that it’s got a name: eco-anxiety and it’s own form of therapy: eco-therapy. But awareness is not black and white. Yesterday you may not have heard of BPA. Today you understand its dangers. Move forward, empowered by your new awareness. Don’t dwell in guilt.

And we should no more be dousing ourselves with guilt than we should be criticizing others who are trying to live their best possible life. As a holistic parent, it’s easy to get on your soapbox about everything from your non-toxic nursery and natural childbirth to living TV-free and avoiding junk food. But every person has a unique set of circumstances to manage and their choices may be optimal for them – at that moment in time. That does not mean we should be quiet. Raising awareness is essential to producing healthful change but doing so with positive intention and kindness goes further than with criticism. Help someone make a change for the better - don’t shout them down for failing to do so. Empower people and they will flourish. Shower them with guilt and they will wither.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Greenwashing Moms

Apparently Chef Boyardee and its parent company, ConAgra, think I’m not too savvy. After, all I’m a mom. And I want my kids to eat healthy, meaning I prefer to feed them whole grains and vegetables. So, as a healthy-minded mom, I will easily be persuaded by Norman Rockwell-esque ads showing illustrated children hugging wheat or broccoli, revealing how much my children will love their whole grains, a la Chef Boyardee’s Whole Grain Beefaroni.

And because I’m a mom, I clearly do not understand the nutritional value of whole grains that have been stripped and processed into a food-like product, combined with numerous unidentifiable preservatives and flavorings, and packed into a BPA-lined can, which I can quickly irradiate in my microwave and serve to my hungry children. Then, I can feel proud that I am a good mom, feeding my kids real, wholesome food. Clearly, they don’t know me. Or thousands of other healthy, holistic-minded moms who actually know a thing or two about food. Real food. Whole grains that are not processed in a factory and rendered into unidentifiable food-like substances. Moms who know that real vegetables grow from the ground. And – gasp – moms who understand toxins like BPA and the pesticides used to produce the wheat and vegetables we are likely to find in something as endearing as a Rockwellian Beefaroni.

And to further endear me to their company and products, they’ll soon have an online “community” where I can chat and share advice with other “mums”. Certain to be ensconced in Chef Boyardee ads, no less. Sadly, they won’t be the first corporation to create or buy out a “green”, “eco” or “natural” moms club. That seems to be the trend right now – create a meeting place (online and/or in person) for moms who want to live green and build focus groups to test your products, hand out samples, and push your products. Forget support and building relationships. Forget about real, face-to-face community. Let’s get product out there and sell, using moms to test and sample under the guise of friendship and support. Push “natural” and “green” products or not so much.

Fortunately, I know a few thousand moms who are pretty darn smart. We’re not buying “wholesome” from Chef Boyardee. We’re not buying “eco” sales strategies targeting moms. We want to find credible, authentic people and companies who are passionate about truly natural products. Companies and people who understand sustainability and practice it. We want to gather with moms and learn about great products – not straight from people who are protecting their bottom line, but from people who have used them and adore them. We want to buy from people who “get it” and who share our passion for health and sustainability. We may not have degrees in nutrition (although some of us hold them), but we are resourceful and smart. We’re holistic moms. And we’re not buying any of it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dining with Kids

I was having dinner with a friend in an upscale cafe the other night and there was a large table together with a few kids of different ages. One of the moms had a screamer. Not a crying/upset screamer but a "I just found my voice" screamer who would pierce the restaurant din with a high-pitched yell every now and then. Startling, at times, but it made me smile because I remember those days. Not so for the patrons at the next table. "Should I give them a look?" I overheard from the man sitting there, as they discussed the situation. And he did, after a few more times. He was turned away from me, but I could sense the nasty, cold stare that he was directing toward the mom. And I cringed.

My kids are not good diners. My first was a crying/upset/miserable screamer. So much so that we didn't eat out at all until he was over three - after a few nerve-racking attempts. My second is much more mild-mannered but he's a swiper and a thrower. Anything within arms reach is promptly overturned, leaving me or my husband with a lap full of food or drinks if our reflexes are too slow. And he hurls toys and books unexpectedly. He's hit a few random diners with crayons and the like. So I know "the look" all too well. But I also know the forgiving smiles from others who say "Don't worry I have kids, too" or the kindness of the stranger who remarked "He's got a good arm - maybe he'll be a pitcher."

And what does "the look" help? Do we not understand that children are children? That very young children who have "found their voice" don't understand "shhh" or "inside voice" just yet? Are we so intolerant as a culture that we are unable to forgive the inconveniences of the next generation or so forgetful as to dismiss that we ourselves likely engaged in similar behaviors?

I felt for the mom, the recipient of "the look". She was dressed up and smiling, nervously. She was likely enjoying a rare night out - perhaps with out-of-town friends or family, or maybe even as a vacationer herself. Others had brought along children but she was singled out. I wanted to yell at "the look" giver, as a mom. The noise faded into the background for me. Funny how, as parents, you no longer notice the loudness of children in any environment. I likely gave "the look" to someone myself in my pre-motherhood days. I could never have imagined the volume of my household before it was populated by two rambunctious boys (and two dogs). Silence isn't something familiar to us and I can't say I mind all that much.

So, for the record, my sincerest apologies to anyone in my past to whom I ever gave "the look" to. I have only now begun to understand. And to the rest - seriously reconsider inflicting a scolding, "you are a bad mother" look the next time someone else's child breaks your "peace". Mothers have enough guilt, they don't need more. Perhaps some day you will understand - or remember - what it's like to be a child, or a loving parent, and discover a little tolerance for dining with kids.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Celebrating and Encouraging Breastfeeding

This week is World Breastfeeding Week, a celebration of the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) that works to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding worldwide. WBW's 10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding encourages all maternity service facilities to take specific actions to train staff, educate mothers, and eliminate barriers to achieving breastfeeding goals for all children.

Indeed, the barriers are widely present: BoobyTraps as Best for Babes calls them. They are "cultural and institutional barriers" that bombard moms and sabotage their efforts to nurse their children. Among these traps are institutional barriers such as hospitals offering inadequate support and expertise to new moms and cultural barriers including the discouragement nursing moms experience when attempting to feed their babies in public (or not so public) locations.

Nothing short of cultural, institutional, and political change is necessary to remedy the current climate around breastfeeding. Women not only need support and education about the benefits of breastfeeding their children, but also the awareness that it takes determination and commitment. Healthcare institutions need to preach true wellness and to actively discourage practices within their facilities that steer women away from what is truly best for their babes: breastmilk. That means moving formula out - out of gift bags for new moms, out of their usual protocol - no matter how unpopular. And women need aggressive laws in every state to protect their right to feed their children wherever they may be, at any time.

Breastfeeding is not just for lactation militants. It's for every mom and babe who is willing and able. It is not radical nor "hippie". Thanks to Best for Babes, it is increasingly chic and stylish! And it is normal. Moms from all walks of life, of all ages, are nursing their babies in all sorts of places. Watch our own inspiring video, Nursing Our Future, to see for yourself!

Celebrate breastfeeding this week. Nurse your babes or encourage someone who is nursing. Smile and say "great job" to a nursing mom. Share Nursing Our Future with a friend or future mom. Get involved in helping to overcome Booby Traps and help women - and babies - get support for a healthy start!