The Lookout

Ignore the Time breastfeeding cover: Never ask if you’re ‘mom enough.’ Here’s how.

The Lookout

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The May 21, 2012, cover of Time (Time)

This is a health bulletin. A sober, alarmist one. Aimed squarely at moms who feel guilty about their choices.

There is a neurotoxin that every mother must avoid. It's omnipresent. It's stealthy. And it's been found in radioactively high doses on the much-discussed breastfeeding cover of Time, which asked, "Are You Mom Enough?"

It's resentment. Avoid the story and steer clear of the poison of resentment—toxic to your brain and heart, and those of your kids.

Make whatever choices you want about breastfeeding, baby-wearing and co-sleeping (the ostensible subjects of the Time cover story). But avoid resentment, which is far more deadly to mother and child alike than lead, BPA and certainly commercial infant formula.

A woman cannot live a life or raise a child in a cloud of resentment. Resentment is life-threatening. It's enfeebling. And it's everywhere.

So when the cover story of so estimable a magazine as Time—by chronicling the lengths some women go to be responsive to their infants—issues an invitation to resentment, mothers must refuse. For their health. For their children.

Here's a handy rule for avoiding resentment: If you hate doing something, you absolutely must not do it.

This means that if you despise, in your heart of hearts, cooking or singing lullabies or breastfeeding or playing Frisbee, you are forbidden to even think of doing those things. As much as your children or your spouse or your weekly news magazine harangue you, stand your ground. If you hate it, skip it.

If you loathe watching Pixar movies or sitting criss-cross-applesauce or driving to field hockey practice or making homemade Halloween costumes or drilling SAT vocabulary or reading "Barnyard Dance" aloud—you must avoid these things. Dream up a workaround. Get your mom, dad, neighbor, wet nurse, spouse or babysitter to do them. Outsourcing is a choice you can feel good about.

The perfect opportunity to prevent resentment is at the outset. Ask yourself, "Do I hate being with children?" If the answer is yes, don't have one!

However, if the answer is, "Maybe, but I love the moral and social status associated with being a mom"—then have a kid or two, but make a lot of money first so you can hire a full-time, highly qualified concierge to keep you from spending too much time with them. You and they will be better off.

If you hate missing a moment with your kids, don't. Stay home with your children and savor the milestones and the long days. If you hate sleeping without a little body to cuddle, don't: co-sleep! If you hate anyone in your sleeping space, um, don't co-sleep. For even one night.

And if you hate breastfeeding—if it feels to you as it did to my friend Nell's grandmother, like "getting your nipple caught in a door"—for the love of everything BLOW IT OFF. Especially if you feel pressure not to blow it off—because that way resentment lies.

Get into bottle brands and enjoy the wonder of letting someone else do night feeding; and not pumping; and not seeing your baby as a mean parasite. Moms I know who have wept with misery over breastfeeding say they never felt more connected to their child, or more relaxed, than when they gave the first formula bottle.

Once you refuse, as a mom, to do the things you hate—especially the ones Dr. Sears or your friends or your mother-in-law says are non-negotiable—you open up a big beautiful space to the do the things you love as a mother. As mother to two kids, ages 6 and 2, I found out a few years ago that I hated to play catch. But I love to roughhouse. I hate to play with Legos, but I love board games. I hate to make dinner, but I love to make breakfast.

I have hated, at various times, to wake up early, to go to baby birthdays, to play soccer and to wrestle with car seats, but I loved to nurse, to go to play dates, to play in the water, to trim nails, to read and to create contests.

I wouldn't have known about my child-rearing hates and loves until I had children. And I wouldn't have discovered the danger of resentment until I took parenting advice that went against my nature—and lived to resent it. Strict religious practice and dietary restrictions sounded OK when I heard the justifications, but I wasn't listening to my heart. They were just not for me.

So now I forgo what I don't like. And I definitely don't do many of the exotic, exhausting and just weird-sounding things advocated in Dr. Sears' "Baby Book." (Take your baby to work with you if you must work in the first year?!) On the other hand, I'm all for the people who do love Dr. Sears and his advice. As long as they love doing it. My parenting pastimes sound exotic, exhausting and just weird to many people too.

Try it. No resentment. If you make child-rearing a set of practices you love, it becomes a piece of cake to love your children. That's still a cool mothering thing to do, isn't it?

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