Baby formula. Cocaine. Not the same thing.
Unfortunately, the mayor of my burg, New York City, is getting them confused. Starting in September, he is asking local hospitals to keep baby formula under lock and key, far from the maternity ward, and to dole it out sparingly. If a mother begs for the stuff, a nurse has to write down the “medical reason” it was given out.
How about this reason? A mom asked for it.
We all can agree that breastfeeding is probably the optimal way to go. But there are plenty of optimal things that we parents will not do as the years go by. Some of us will feed our kids locally raised, cage-free chicken so organic it died with its Birkenstocks on. And some of us will buy nuggets. Some of us will enroll the kids in violin lessons; some of us will let that potential tot talent slide. Most signifi- cantly, in terms of health, some of us will drive our kids places; some of us won’t. The No. 1 way kids die is as passengers in cars. I don’t see the mayor outlawing that.
I breast-fed my two kids, so it’s not that I am against the practice. I am against the idea that it’s the only acceptable way to feed a baby. “The idea that breast-feeding ‘sets people up for a lifetime of health’ is ridiculous,” says Rebecca Kukla, a senior research scholar in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University. “Breastfeeding is one of an endless list of things that ups a child’s chances at good health slightly. This makes it a good thing to do, if it’s workable. There is nothing unique or magical about the choice to breast-feed.”
So why does this society focus so intently on it? Same reason it focuses on so many parenting decisions: We have come to believe there’s only one right way to raise kids, and anyone who wavers is selfish, stupid or both.
This is what I hear about all the time on my blog, “Free-Range Kids,” which is considered the epicenter of the anti-helicopter parenting movement. With all the parenting experts around these days and the parenting magazines and the plain old busybodies, moms and dads (but especially moms) keep getting shamed for not doing every last thing perfectly: not reading enough to their kids, not buying the right toys, even — I swear to Barney — not using the right phrases. Did you know that when your child’s Animal Cracker crumbles, you are not supposed to say “gee, that’s too bad” or “here, have another one” or even “that’s the way the cookie crumbles.” For goodness’ sake, there’s even an expression for it!
No, you are supposed to look at your child with deep sympathy in your eyes and say “sad, sad, sad, sad, sad” to show you relate. That’s really the advice in a parenting book I read.
By the time we are telling parents exactly what to say when a kid is crying about a cookie, we are getting pretty darn picky. And breast-feeding is the gateway drug for that kind of sanctimommy, er, sanctimony.
The mayor’s “Latch On” initiative isn’t meant to make moms feel miserable or inadequate. It’s just part of a whole society that seems dedicated to that. Sad.
Sad. Sad. Sad. Sad. Sad.
Lenore Skenazy is the author of “Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)” and “Who’s the Blonde That Married What’s-His-Name? The Ultimate Tip-of-the-Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know — But Can’t Remember Right Now.”