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"Say What?!" Responding with Respect in Challenging Meeting Situations

Penny Piercy
Magnolia TX USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 44, No. 2, 2008, pp. 13-15

The application time involves a transition in Leader Applicants' role at Series Meetings. Applicants move from speaking for themselves as mothers, representing their personal opinions and experiences, to learning to speak as representatives of La Leche League and sharing information from a broader perspective. During the application time, sponsoring Leaders work with Applicants in various ways to help them develop the skills they need to be able to feel confident about responding to challenging meeting situations.

The following information can be shared with Leader Applicants to help them anticipate some of the communication challenges that can occur in meetings. You may wish to use this information when you are talking together about personal bias or not mixing causes, or in connection with completing the Group Dynamics section of the Preview.

The purpose of Series Meetings is to provide women, particularly new mothers and mothers-to-be, with accurate, relevant, up-to-date information about breastfeeding, and to encourage and support their breastfeeding decisions. Series Meetings are usually successful when the mothers attending do most of the talking. Mother-to-mother sharing is the goal rather than experts teaching. But what if our reaction to something we hear at the meeting is, "I can't believe she said that!" What might Leaders say or do in response? Remember that:

  • Our responsibility as Leaders is to ensure that LLL information and philosophy are presented at the meeting clearly and in a way that allows mothers to use them according to their own situations and needs.
  • Your knowledge, as an experienced breastfeeding mother and as an accredited LLL Leader, is important.
  • We do not have to teach an individual mother anything or change her mind. By expressing her honest opinion or experience, each mother creates an opportunity for others, ourselves included, to learn from experience.
  • All women who come to meetings deserve support and accurate information. As we respect a mother's right to her own ideas and decisions, we take care to present what LLL believes is effective or beneficial.

Four types of difficult statements you might hear at Series Meetings

1. Individual, specific experiences or interpretations of LLL philosophy (e.g., bed sharing home birth, attachment parenting)

Why these can be a problem: Under normal circumstances, they aren't. They become a problem if they distort the picture of LLL philosophy presented at a Series Meeting by dominating the discussion or by being presented in absolutist or inflammatory ways.

Approaches to consider: Stress that there is no one "LLL way" to do things. Offer other options that balance the idea being discussed, invite other mothers to share experiences, read the relevant LLL philosophy statement.

You might hear:

  • "Babies should never sleep alone."

You could respond:

  • "While many parents sleep with their babies because they've found that works so well, there are also many who do not. What are some other ways of meeting baby's nighttime needs?"

2. Experiences that are contrary to LLL recommendations or philosophy, comments based on misinformation (e.g., sleep-training infants, scheduled feedings, etc.)

Why these can be a problem: Misinformation may spread, and what one mother finds workable may have negative consequences for other breastfeeding mothers.

Approaches to consider: Invite other mothers to share experiences, provide information, refer to THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING and other LLL resources, acknowledge the opinions expressed in the remark, don't try to teach the mother.

You might hear:

  • "With my first baby, I had to wean at six weeks because of mastitis."
  • "If you are going back to work, be sure you start the bottle early or he'll never take it."

You could respond:

  • "That must have been a difficult decision to make. Has anyone else had experience with mastitis that didn't require weaning?"
  • "Starting a bottle early worked well for Paula, but that might not be workable for every family. Let's look at some other ways a mother might handle introducing a bottle when it's necessary. What other options might a mother who is employed consider to ensure her baby's nutrition and his need to be with her?"

3. Parenting concerns that may be of interest to LLL members but that do not belong in a Series Meeting discussion (e.g., schooling options, doctor recommendations)

Why these can be a problem: They can give a false impression of our mission and purpose by mixing causes, and they can take time away from the discussion on breastfeeding.

Approaches to consider: Remind everyone that this topic is outside the scope of the Series Meeting, invite mothers to discuss the subject informally after the meeting, refer the mother to a resource, ignore the comment (if appropriate), consider holding an Enrichment Meeting on the subject (if appropriate).

You might hear:

  • "We're new to town. Can anyone recommend a good pediatrician?"
  • "I'm Sarah, and we plan to homeschool. I've heard that a lot of LLL members homeschool their children."

You could respond:

  • "LLL does not recommend specific medical practitioners. After the meeting is over, you might ask some of the other mothers what they think."
  • "Homeschooling is a topic of great interest to some parents. Although it goes beyond the breastfeeding information we're here to discuss, our Group Library has a book on homeschooling you might like to read."

4. "Hot-button" topics or subjects totally outside of parenting concerns (e.g., political action, home business promotion)

Why these can be a problem: Same reasons as in number 3 above. They also have the potential to cause conflict among attendees.

Approaches to consider: Quickly and firmly -- but politely -- state that the subject has no place at a Series Meeting and get the meeting back on topic. Speak to the mother who made the statement privately after the meeting; phone other mothers after the meeting to provide clarification (if necessary).

You might hear:

  • "I'm voting for [candidate] because of his stand on the marriage penalty tax."
  • "I'm a [company] sales representative and would like to pass out these flyers for my next party."

You could respond:

  • "LLL has no position on the upcoming election. Today we are here to talk about breastfeeding. Mary, you had been saying ...."
  • "It's wonderful that you've found a way to contribute to your family's support while caring for Jacob. LLL has a no-solicitation policy at meetings. I can answer any questions you may have about that after the meeting."

As you read through these, you'll probably think of other respectful ways to respond when confronted with challenging meeting situations. Consider using some of the sample situations as starting points for discussion among Leaders and Leader Applicants, or at Chapter Meetings and workshops.

Editor's Note: This article previously appeared in LAD Lifeline (2007, issue #4), adapted from an article Penny wrote for USWD Connections in 2002.

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