Criticism from Relatives
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 6 No. 1, January-February 1990, pp. 28-9
We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.
"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
I have a fifteen-month-old daughter and I have been going to La Leche League meetings since she was a little baby. At first I did not understand why a toddler would need to nurse. However, now that my daughter is a toddler, I am comfortably nursing her. My family, though, is not as comfortable with my child being "so attached" to me. I realize they want only the best for my child and me, but so do I. Every attempt on my part to explain myself ends up in bad feelings on both sides. Has anybody found a way to deal with their family constructively so that get-togethers can be enjoyed by everybody?
Be very clear within yourself that the decision to nurse your toddler has already been made by the appropriate people--you and your daughter! This is hard for mothers to believe: While family approval would be wonderful, it is not necessary. Also, a relative does not need to believe in toddler nursing in order to be a good aunt or grandfather to your child. The effort you put into good relationships with your family is giving your daughter a lifetime heritage of love and support. Don't let an issue that's already decided jeopardize these relationships.
Escamilla, North Carolina USA
My mother sometimes makes remarks like: "If they are old enough to ask for the other side, they're old enough to stop nursing." I am currently nursing my fifth toddler and my sister, an LLL Leader, is nursing her third toddler. What has developed over time is that we acknowledge my mother's opinion but make it clear that continuing to nurse is simply not her decision. She has accepted our toddlers' need to nurse, because she wants to spend time with all of us. Our toddlers have always let us know whether continuing to nurse is the appropriate choice or not; they are the people whose feelings really count in making this decision.
I have three children. My first son weaned himself at fourteen months, which was an acceptable age to my family. My second son nursed though my third pregnancy and until the baby was a month old. He was two years old at that time. The situation became very tense in our house with the new baby and my son both nursing. I was pressured to stop nursing my son with comments like: "He doesn't need it anymore," and "He is a big boy now." I quit nursing, hoping it would help our situation. My son is two-and-a-half years old now and I feel terrible about making him stop nursing before he was ready. It did nothing to improve our situation or to ease the tension, and I feel strongly he still has a need to nurse. My advice is to go with your gut feelings and put aside what everyone else has to say. You and your child should enjoy the closeness that you share now.
My little nursing person and I have gotten lots of criticism about nursing past infancy from some members of my family. At first I tried to explain our extended nursing relationship, quoting La Leche League philosophy, current research on various aspects of dependence, independence, and mother/baby attachment. These resulted in everyone feeling upset and defensive. Then I realized that the other members of our family viewed our "different" parenting style as an implication that what they themselves were doing, or had done, with their own children was wrong. So, I stopped trying to explain.
Knowing how everyone feels about toddler nursing, I was careful to only nurse Andrew in a private place when visiting. It's quite easy to slip away, often unnoticed, for a few minutes. If I receive criticism about nursing or any other aspect of parenting, I now calmly acknowledge that person's love and concern for Andrew, but go on to say that this is the way my husband and I have chosen to parent our son because it is what feels natural and best for the three of us. I explain that I believe each of us has to make choices based on our own family's needs, and that the way we have chosen is meeting the needs of our family very well. This tends to end any further discussion or argument unless the person is really looking for information, in which case I'm always happy to explain. No bad feelings result, since I point out that no two families are alike, so it is implied that there are a wide variety of ways one can meet his or her family's needs. Also, I believe it is necessary to respect and try to be non-judgmental about the parenting styles of my relatives if I want them to feel the same toward me.
My family began pressuring me intensely to wean my baby at about six months. I was surprised at this, considering that my sister-in-law had paved the way by nursing her two daughters (although she had received considerable criticism in the process). I thought the family was prepared for me to continue nursing after exposure to my sister-in-law's courageous behavior.
The main pressure came from my mother and sister. Everyone else could be quieted by my "broken record" response of: "I have strict orders from my pediatrician to continue nursing until my baby weans on her own. I trust my pediatrician completely and feel it is only wise to follow his good advice."
As to my mother, sister, and others whose pressure was relentless, I found it totally unsuccessful to try and defend my position or try to educate them to the "whys" of my extended breastfeeding. Despite my master's degree in child development, they still didn't consider my decisions competent. There was no way I was going to win them over to my way of thinking or get their support and agreement, so I had to let go of the idea of wanting or needing their support.
What did work was understanding the fact that they hadn't nursed their babies and watching me continue such intimacy with my daughter seemed to make them feel guilty and inadequate. These feelings were behind their criticism and concern.
Before every family get-together I would mentally prepare myself for any onslaught. I would remind myself that my decision was valuable whether they support it or not. I would prepare myself for the fact that they didn't like what I was doing but that it was okay if they didn't.
When we were all together, I would do what I could to take my daughter in another room, out of sight, to nurse. When they asked "Are you still nursing that child?" or "When are you going to wean that child?" I would answer gently "Yes, I'm still nursing." No further explanations. They knew why I was nursing. As to "When are you going to wean that child?" again I would answer as gently and non-defensively as possible, "As soon as she is ready." If they pushed further, I would again gently state that if they were interested in understanding my philosophy, I would be happy to explain.
It was a matter of persistence. When they finally saw that I was going to quietly continue doing what I felt was best, without having to justify myself to them, they stopped asking me.
My daughter is three-and-a-half years old and still nurses before she goes to sleep at night. I did what was right. I have given up trying to convince other people. Books on assertiveness training might help a mother in this position learn that she has a right to raise her child as she chooses--no explanations to others required.