I read a paragraph from Carlos Gonzalez’s book Kiss Me! (US Link)*recently that has stayed with me all week and has gone round and round in my head. Speaking about taboos in modern society, he talks of how the subjects of sex and promiscuity or homosexuality are no longer taboo as they were when our parents were children, but modern taboos focus a lot on mothers and children. He then divides that topic into three categories: picking up a crying child, where that child sleeps and how that child is fed, especially if said child is over around 6 months of age.
Gonzalez points out what many mothers already know: When you have close physical contact with your child, they tend to cry less. However, society tells us that if we respond to our children too readily, we’ll be spoiling them. A breastfeeding mother will tell you the ‘easiest’ way to comfort, calm and otherwise have a peaceful life with a baby is to nurse her, whether for nutrition or comfort. Yet society puts such a negative on the idea of comfort nursing – how often haven’t I been asked ‘is she actually feeding, or just sucking for comfort?’ as if it’s a bad thing?
When those things that encourage physical proximity, says Gonzalez, are removed from a mother, she has very little left in her arsenal to help her through her ‘job’ of mothering, and it suddenly becomes really hard work.
Perhaps that is why raising children is such a strain for some mothers. It entails less work than before (we have running water, washing machines, disposable nappies…), yet there are fewer compensations. In a normal situation, where a mother is at liberty to look after her child as she sees fit, the baby cries very little and when he does it pains her and she feels compassion (“Poor little thing, what’s the matter?”). However, when they prohibit you from picking him up, sleeping with him, breastfeeding him or comforting him, the child cries even more, and the mother is helpless in the face of this crying, and her response becomes angry and aggressive (“What’s the matter with him now!”)
I have heard so many mothers talk so lovingly and happily about the 3am feed with their new baby. There’s something beautiful about that middle of the night feed, when there’s no one else awake, other than the child at your breast (even if you’re bottle feeding, putting the child to your chest, skin to skin, offers an amazing oxytocin release) staring in your eyes. (Did you know that relationship councilors will often recommend that a couple kiss each other with their eyes open, looking at each other?)
But getting back to the 3am feed. No one in their right mind wants to be woken at that time of day, least of all to do something for someone who depends on them so wholly, but the rewards of falling asleep cuddled up next to a squishy baby, suckling at your breast, are exquisite. It’s definitely compensation for being woken up.
On this, Gonzalez says:
Although some try to justify such recommendations by insisting they are ‘to help mothers to rest’, the fact is they never prohibit tiring activities. NO one ever says: “Don’t do too much housework or he’ll get into the bad habit of having a clean house”, or “you’ll have to go with him to do his washing when he leaves home.” In fact, it is usually the most pleasurable part of motherhood that is prohibited: letting your child fall asleep in your arms, singing to him, enjoying him.
But this here is the paragraph that’s rung in my ears all week:
Almost all of these taboos have one thing in common: they prohibit physical contact between mother and child.
Is it any wonder then, that motherhood is so wholly under rated? Is it any wonder that it is difficult, and referred to as the hardest job?
Don’t get me wrong. I cosleep, breastfeed and babywear. I respond to my crying child, and I am with my children most hours of every day, and it is no magic bullet or secret recipe. There are hard days. There are days so hard, all I want to do is sit down and cry, especially during this period of solo parenting, but , and it’s a big but… the rewards of feeling my child go limp as she falls asleep in my arms, the beautiful peace as her breathing deepens and she drifts off in the darkness of night, the serenity of seeing a crying child’s tears turn into a toothy grin when you pick them up… those rewards are what differentiate between simply having children, and actually enjoying motherhood.
*At the current price of this book I will earn about 20p if you buy through this link, however this is a personal, unsponsored recommendation – I bought the book myself too.