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Separation Concerns?

How to Determine Whether an Interested Mother Meets the Mothering Experience Prerequisite

Jacqueline Kralovic
Sally Allison
From: Leaven, Vol. 44, No. 4, 2008, pp. 10-11

The very word "separation," when used in the same sentence with the word "baby," can strike anxiety into the heart of even a seasoned La Leche League Leader. It can be especially disconcerting if the Leader Accreditation Department (LAD) asks you to examine a separation concern with regard to an interested mother whom you have recommended for leadership.

Perhaps you have questions concerning the Mothering Experience Prerequisite. Can a mother who has experienced separation from her baby become a Leader? Is employment outside the home compatible with LLL leadership? How can a Leader work cooperatively with the LAD and the interested mother to address this concern?

When we think of a mother experiencing separation from her baby, generally we think of a mother employed outside the home. However, separation can take many forms, including tending to a sick relative, returning to college, or other activities or interests. Anything that might cause a mother to be apart from her breastfeeding baby for an ongoing and extended period of time is considered "separation."

If it appears you suspect that there may be a problem with an interested mother's ability to meet the prerequisites to applying for leadership, begin your pre-application dialogue by explaining to her that there are many ways for her to support breastfeeding mothers. Then, you can explore whether leadership is a good fit for her, and can talk about other options too. We want to help her find the best ways to achieve her goals, without implying that one way of supporting breastfeeding mothers is inferior or superior to another.

Many resources are available to help you gather information and evaluate the nature of the separation when you work with a potential candidate. The Leader Accreditation Department (LAD) and Leaders evaluate each ongoing or significant separation situation individually. That means there are no precedents. Each mother and baby, each situation and the responses to it, are unique. We look to see strong evidence that the mother's choices reflect LLL philosophy.

Leader's Pre-Application Packet is a great place to start exploring a mother's experiences. The Packet includes Appendix 17, "Concept and Policy Statements," and Appendix 18, "Applying for Leadership," of the LLLI Policies and Standing Rules Notebook. These documents can be used by the Leader if available in her language to initiate an open dialogue with a candidate during the pre-application period. On the concept "Mother/Baby Relationship," Appendix 17 states that:

In considering a mother for leadership, the focus shall be on the mother's breastfeeding experience, on her awareness of her baby's need for her presence, her continuing flexible availability to her baby, and her willingness to support the philosophy of LLLI.

Appendix 18 further explains the Mothering Experience Prerequisite; "[The mother] manages any separation from baby with sensitivity and respect for the baby's needs." Guideline 12 in Appendix 18 (page 4) offers some specific questions you can use in discussion with a mother to learn more about her experiences in relation to LLL philosophy and the prerequisites.

It is important to refer a candidate for leadership to primary sources such as The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (2004 edition). Chapter 9, "Making a Choice," can elicit a wealth of information, especially if the separation involves employment. You can ask the mother to read this chapter carefully and then share her thoughts on it the next time you get together for a discussion. This can shed light on the separation issue and give the mother another perspective on the topic.

Another useful document is "Separation: Areas for Leaders to Consider in Exploring the Mothering Experience Prerequisite with a Candidate," which is available on the Sponsoring Leader Web pages provided by the LAD Eastern United States at This resource lists further examples of questions that you can use in talking with a mother who experiences regular separation. As the introduction states, it is not meant to be a questionnaire to be filled out by the mother or by you. The questions provide a helpful guide to facilitate discussions with a mother, such as "How many hours at a time was or is the mother away from her baby?" "Was or is it possible for the baby to be brought to the work site?" and "How was it determined that the baby was ready for the amount of separation involved?"

Gathering the necessary information before a mother applies for leadership helps to expedite the application and makes it less likely that the Applicant might feel hurt, frustrated, "judged," or shocked when questions arise about her separation experiences. All of the information that is shared with the LAD would become part of her application and would not need to be covered again at a later time. For example, talking about her separation experience might cover her thoughts and experiences relating to the "early years" concept -- and in this way she would have started her personal history before she applies.

After you have determined that the interested mother meets the Mothering Experience Prerequisite (as well as the other prerequisites), and you feel confident in recommending her for leadership, you can provide the information that you have gathered about the mother in the current Leader Recommendation Form (March 2007), which asks questions based directly on the prerequisites.

Maybe you haven't obtained the information you need because you are worried about offending the mother by asking more specific questions. Maybe you feel so confident about the mother's eagerness to promote breastfeeding that you have been distracted from questions about her personal experience. Perhaps you assume another Leader will cover the situation in her recommendation. Or, maybe you had planned to come back to that topic and simply forgot. If your Leader Recommendation does not give the Coordinator of Leader Accreditation (CLA) the information she needs, she will ask for more information.

When the CLA asks for more information,it is to allow her to learn more from the person who knows the mother personally. Responding to the CLA's questions is your opportunity to help the CLA see what led you to recommend this mother. The CLA's questions show that she respects your input and your decision to support the application. It sometimes helps if the CLA can hear from the mother herself. How the mother explains her situation to the CLA (who is a stranger to her) is probably how she would explain to a mother whom she does not already know.

The LAD and you are partners in helping a mother interested in leadership. By using the available resources during the pre-application period, you may better assess a separation issue before a candidate for leadership becomes a Leader Applicant. By providing as much information as possible on the Leader Recommendation Form, you help the LAD better determine whether a candidate meets the Mothering Experience Prerequisite.

If you have any questions regarding separation and whether a mother interested in leadership meets the Mothering Experience Prerequisite, or if you would like to know more about the available resources, please contact your LAD representative.

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