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Prerequisite Guidelines Stimulate Discussion

Janet Jendron
LLLI Board of Directors
LEAVEN Volume 35, No. 1, February-March 1999, p. 12

When the LLLI Prerequisites to Applying for Leadership and LLLI Criteria for Leader Accreditation were passed by the Board of Directors in February 1998, a new Board committee was commissioned to draft LLLI Prerequisites to Applying for Leadership - Guidelines for Leaders.

Alice Edwards and I co-chaired the committee, composed of Leader Accreditation Department (LAD) administrators from each Division and Affiliate, LAD Directors, LLLI Board members, Division and Affiliate heads, Founders and many other Leaders.

Throughout the process, we also sought opinions from Leaders, administrators and LAD representatives in many different arenas: newsletters such as the Board Communique, online discussion groups such as The Leader Connection (TLC) and Dialogue, as well as LLL workshops and conferences.

The committee clarified wording throughout its work on six drafts. We tried to express ideas without becoming so specific that we precluded flexibility and consideration of each mother and her situation. Throughout the work of the committee, issues were identified for the Education Campaign which will provide further guidance for Leaders.

Mothering through Breastfeeding

Committee discussion affirmed that mothering through breastfeeding is central to LLL. Accreditation decisions should take into account alignment with LLLI philosophy, purpose and mission as well as breastfeeding knowledge and skills. The relationship between the "Mothering and Breastfeeding Experience Prerequisites" was discussed in light of the fundamental importance of a mother's presence to facilitate mothering through breastfeeding. Discussion also centered on the importance of viewing a woman's mothering and breastfeeding experience as a whole. The primary focus on how a mother's experience reflects LLLI philosophy, rather than comparing her breastfeeding experience or hours of separation to a rule, was examined carefully.

Discussion about word choices in the paragraphs about the "Mothering Experience Prerequisites," particularly the section that addresses separation, was extensive. The committee revised them again and again to clarify how past and present breastfeeding and mothering experiences are related to whether a mother meets the LLLI Prerequisites to Applying for Leadership. The challenge was to use definitive words to provide concrete guidance for Leaders, yet allow individual consideration of each mother's situation.

Importance of the Leader's Role

The committee's word choices emphasized the importance of the Leader's role as she discusses leadership with an interested mother before she applies. The focus of Leader/mother discussions as dialogue, rather than a review of a mother's decisions was clarified. Wording of guidelines to the "Personal Traits Prerequisite" were refined and condensed, clarifying the Leader's unique role as she personally observes these traits and a woman's willingness to learn. Wording needed to reflect the balance between relying on a Leader's recommendation of a mother for leadership and the importance of the Mother/Leader/LAD triad working together from the time a mother applies until she is accredited.

What the Guidelines Mean for the Future Direction of LLL

Some Leaders expressed concern that we might "water down" the critical importance of LLLI philosophy regarding a baby's intense need for mother and eventually change the nature of our organization. Others were concerned that inflexible decision-making processes could exclude mothers who meet the prerequisites in unusual ways. This could limit the diversity of Leaders, depriving babies and mothers of breastfeeding help from LLL and undermining a baby's basic need to be breastfed and mothered through breastfeeding.

Concerns were expressed that we might err in presenting the mother/baby relationship as a need that comes before every other need within a family. These were balanced with opinions that mothers who spend large amounts of time away from their babies are not usually able to have the mothering through breastfeeding experience that LLL expects of its Leaders. The spectrum of concerns expressed during committee discussions brought us to a document that balances the approach to prerequisite decisions.

Quotes from two committee members sum up the general feeling of the committee when the work was completed:

I encourage Leaders to look at the guidelines as a whole. I do not believe we are in danger of diluting our philosophy. When one looks at how a mother interacts her baby, what she says at meetings, and what she says in response to the questions provided in the guidelines, we will have a good idea of whether she can or cannot represent LLLI philosophy.

I very much appreciate the way in which the guidelines give a clear picture of LLLI philosophy and policy while recognizing that there are many different situations that do reflect that philosophy. This openness to different situations is well put. And I particularly appreciate the clear statement being made to the Leaders who work with Leader Applicants.

Alice and I completed our work with a tremendous sense of awe and respect for the amazing women on the committee. Their honesty, intelligence, respect for others' opinions and deep love of La Leche League made our work an honor and a labor of love.

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