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The Prerequisite Puzzle

Karin Gausman
Co-Director, LLLI Leader Accreditation Department
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 42 No. 3, July-August-September 2006, p. 61

As Leaders, we have been working with the current prerequisites to applying for leadership since 1998. Yet, many of us still have questions about whether or not a mother meets the Mothering Experience Prerequisite (Policies and Standing Rules, Appendix 18):

Mothering Experience: Mother values nursing at her breast as the optimal way to nourish, nurture, and comfort her baby. She recognizes, understands, and responds to baby's need for her presence as well as for her milk. She manages any separation from baby with sensitivity and respect for the baby's needs.

Will we ever reach a point where we feel confident about determining which experiences meet that prerequisite? The Leader Accreditation Department (LAD) encourages Leaders to "look at each application individually," but what does that really mean? Is there any kind of "line in the sand"?

We want to be open to diversity and at the same time accredit Leaders who show an example of LLL philosophy in their choices. Does it mean we are judging a woman's mothering if we determine that she doesn't meet the prerequisites? No, there are many ways to raise happy, healthy babies.

Leaders believe that mothering through breastfeeding is the most natural and effective way of understanding and satisfying the needs of the baby. We also believe that mother and baby need to be together early and often to establish a satisfying relationship and an adequate milk supply and that in the early years the baby has an intense need to be with his mother, which is as basic as his need for food. Leaders show how that philosophy has been workable in their lives. Leadership prerequisites are the basic skills/experiences required for the job of a Leader.

How can we increase diversity among mothers who meet our prerequisites? A good place to begin is for each of us to think about our own evaluation of a particular breastfeeding/mothering experience and then to dialogue with co-Leaders about their assessments. It may be easy to see LLL philosophy when a mother's experience is similar to our own. When another Leader has an opinion that conflicts with ours, we can try to open our minds to what she is saying. Why does she have that opinion? What has led her to that determination? Understanding her perspective may help us to see things differently. Or, hearing clarification of her opinion may serve to further reinforce our own. Either way, we will have looked at a particular situation from many sides and our final assessment will have a broader, stronger base.

Many of us recall days when we had concrete experience requirements that potential Applicants had to meet before applying. After we had applied those guidelines to a number of different situations, we began to feel confident that we would be able to make accurate assessments in the future. The difficulty was that some women who did not fit into those rigid boundaries might have become effective Leaders and could have been excellent examples of LLL philosophy in action.

When we look carefully at the details of mothers' experiences, we realize that no two are alike. Identifying LLL philosophy in varied experiences can open leadership to mothers who have found many ways to use our philosophy. When mothers new to LLL see Leaders from a wide range of backgrounds and life experiences, LLL is able to appeal to and help more women. On the other hand, if we overreact by recommending a mother for leadership when she has not found all of the concepts workable in her life, we risk eroding the credibility of LLL philosophy. In between these two extremes lies a vast area, the borders of which can be very fluid.

I wonder if the discomfort many of us feel stems from trying to figure out "once and for all" what the ultimate answer is. What if there is no "answer"? What if each application brings a fresh opportunity to find LLL philosophy in a different configuration or to determine eventually that the mother's experiences lie outside our philosophy? Maybe we will go back and forth many times (talking with our co-Leaders, the mother, LAD) before finally forming an assessment. Perhaps we can think of each part of a mother's story as a puzzle piece. If you've worked with jigsaw puzzles, you know how you might pick up a piece thinking it fits one place, only to find that it isn't what you thought it was—that dark line is not the edge of an eye but the hem of a coat. We often have to assemble the whole puzzle before the picture makes sense. Individual Leaders (and the mother herself) may see a mother's experiences from different perspectives. We need to look at the whole mothering picture, assembled from all those perspectives.

Remember also that, while a piece from another puzzle with a different scene might have the right shape to fit into our puzzle, the picture at the end could be distorted. We have a responsibility to accredit women who not only have facilitation/communication skills and breastfeeding knowledge, but who also give credibility to LLL philosophy by showing that it truly works for them.

We know that life does not usually proceed on a predictable and even course. We are all mothers and thus are used to handling constant change. A similar challenge for us as Leaders is to approach each potential application in its own right, not necessarily the same way as ones that have come before. Together, Leaders, LAD, and members can ensure that the Leaders of the future represent both the full spectrum of women and also the strong core that is LLL philosophy.

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