The Carnival of Natural Parenting set Gentle Advocacy as the theme for this month. Unfortunately, what with moving countries, internet difficulties and so on, I missed the deadline, so am not participating this month – regardless, however, I felt it would be a shame to let the now completed post go to waste, so here it is.

While marches, protests, shouting and sometimes even ‘violent’ advocacy* all have their place, especially in history, there is also a place for gentle advocacy. In many senses, gentle advocacy is possible only because of the more forceful advocacy of the past. If it weren’t for the suffragettes, for example, who marched and shouted and protested and were arrested or threatened or whatever, would we as women have the foundation to even be in a position to petition for, say, pumping rooms at work? Laws protecting breastfeeding in public? The right to custody of our own children? (It always shocks me that Italian women only won that right in the 80’s. In my lifetime. Before that they had to put up with all sorts to be with their children.)

Image credit: Indymedia UK

I guess the type of advocacy required depends on the hierarchy of the need and where the ability to bring change lies. If a protective law or government decision is required, a protest, a sit in, a loud (metaphorical, usually) noise and active community are required, are in fact essential, to be heard and to force change.

But that is not the only way an individual person, a mum on her own can bring change. If you’re dealing with ‘the powers that be’ forceful activism might be the only option. But using that same approach with other mums is more likely to make enemies than friends – and is generally where the name calling starts.

The truth of the matter is that gentle advocates are the unsung heroes. They’re the ones that bring change, even though no one will recognise it for them – or perhaps even realise that it was them that caused it.

No prizes or medals will be awarded – unless you become the Florence Nightingale of Attachment Parenting, of course – but there are rewards: seeing your friends make gentle parenting choices, having someone who never agrees with your approach ask for your opinion, or more directly when a mother thanks you for showing them a different way.

Ways of advocating are plentiful: Write a blog. Respond with alternatives in online communities. Breastfeed in public. Help out where required. Offer a gentle suggestion to a mother in need.

Why do I call these ways of gentle advocating?

Well, if you write a blog, it doesn’t matter how passionate you are, your advocacy is gentle because no one is forced to read it, and they’re welcome to click the x in the corner. While people can and do become embroiled in word battles, control lies with the one being advocated to.

Responding on online communities – I think that requires will power from the advocate sometimes, and because you’re responding to someone asking a question you have every right to share your opinion or what worked for you and as long as you stick to that you should be fine. (Although it can get tricky. Someone once asked, on a forum, what she could to about her baby’s ear infection. I responded with these three sentences: Are you still breastfeeding? A few drops of milk (yours! Not formula or animal milk!!) in the ears would clear up the infection. Good luck mama! Someone else responded to me writing a massive diatribe about how not everyone could breastfeed, that it was the mothers choice if she wanted to formula feed, and how dare I come on a forum where everyone respects choice and make this mother feel guilty in what was obviously already a hard time. Wow. Was I taken aback!

But at the same time, sometimes a simple answer plants a seed – I’m absolutely dreading weaning my child. Does anyone have any advice? Can be answered with Have you thought of baby led weaning? It saved us a fortune on baby food and we never fight about eating. DM if you want more info 🙂 Simple, opening the door, planting the seed and giving the mother the choice (and at the same time saving yourself time and effort if she doesn’t want to know more!)

I’ve said Breastfeed in Public, but really that can be any of the attachment parenting principles – in public. I love Ameli’s little cloth bums peeking out under her dresses when she’s clambering up the climb frame for example. I specifically chose to breastfeed around my younger family members in South Africa. I know they don’t and wont have much exposure to it, so even if the 10 minutes I did in their presence planted a seed for them, that was worth doing. Babywearing is the same – and when someone comments about still baby wearing an 18 month old (generally at nap time!), I deflect their negative intention with a positive rebuttal – “I know, great isn’t it? That we can be so close and I don’t have to faff about with prams up stairs at the train stations. Don’t know what I’d do without it, really?” Followed by a big smile. Sometimes that opens the door for conversation. Sometimes it doesn’t, and that’s fine.

Helping out and offering suggestions sort of go hand in hand. When a friend says something about an issue they’re struggling with, there’s a difference between “you should try” and “have you tried?” It’s marginal, hardly noticeable, and the end result is about the same – but there’s less opportunity for getting anyone’s hackles up.

Photo Credit: Lucia du Preez

I once sat in a coffee shop with a friend and her friend. Her friend mentioned that she was really struggling with colic in her little boy. I suggested that she let him spend more time on his tummy to let him massage the wind out. She didn’t seem convinced and was concerned about cot death, so I suggested she let him sleep on his tummy in the day when she was awake and could keep an eye on him (Ameli slept on her belly from a couple of days old. It was the only way, apart from on her back in my arms, she’d go down without screaming for hours, and is still how she often sleeps today.) She still looked sceptical, so I left it.

Later that day, my friend sent me a message to say that her friend had tried it and was amazed and sending her thanks.

Gentle advocacy, to me, is about two things:

  1. Being available to help those who are actively looking for it.
  2. Planting seeds for those who don’t even know that alternatives exist

And why do I feel it’s important?

Because that’s what someone did for me. A colleague, Jim, and his wife had had two homebirths and he planted a seed about homebirth for me by simply saying when he found out I was pregnant “oh, and if you wanted a homebirth you need to tell the midwife in the beginning as it’s easier to change to a hospital birth later than to a homebirth later.”

I had never even thought of a homebirth, so I went online to find out more, and found BornFree and from there – well, you know.

Someone planted a seed and changed my life.

* Not meaning violence is good, but sometimes events turned violent is what’s remembered: The Soweto riots in 1976 for example.


Gentle Advocacy: What Is It And Why Do We Need It?

  1. Well, keep in mind that back then everyone knew perfectly well that breastfeeding wasn’t sexual in the least! Yes, Victorian women, particularly the upper classes, did worry a lot about keeping their bodies covered. The upper classes preferred not to nurse in public, but to stay home with their babies most of the time or leave them with a nanny. The lower classes, though, didn’t have this option and breastfed all over the place. They did their best to be discreet, and men pretended not to notice. There are some great pictures you can find on the internet of women around the turn of the century breastfeeding in all kinds of situations. It was so normal that it wasn’t really noticed much, but it seems very noticeable to us modern people. 😀

  2. At least the suffragettes didn’t have to worry about getting in trouble for public breastfeeding — it would have been inconceivable to them that anyone should mind! Working-class women, in particular, breastfed everywhere. Not that I regret getting a vote, but it is sad that things like that were lost.

    Totally agree with you here — the way to advocate that works the very best is just one mom to another. You share what you did and they share what they are doing. Maybe you can help that other mom, and maybe she can help you. I’ve learned so much from other moms, even while I secretly file some of what they say (like about crying it out) into a mental trash folder. It’s important for me to realize that I’ve only had one baby, and he’s only one year old, so I’m not the ultimate expert on everything.

    1. @Sheila, LOL! That is so true. And another thing: just because my child is doing xyz with gusto now doesn’t mean they will in a year’s time! Or visa versa!

      I’m not sure about the suffragettes breastfeeding in public though. I’m pretty certain – but would have to look it up – that that was a pretty taboo time for anything sexual etc. (thinking mary poppins here!) Although that might have been in the ‘upper’ classes.

  3. Really loved this post – especially the story about the colicky baby!

    And planting seeds is what it`s all about – it took me a LONG time to learn that! But I`m even seeing it work on myself more and more – a lot of that AP stuff didn`t come naturally to me when I first read about it…things needed time to sink in before they became the norm. But I can definitely say it really is working. 🙂

    1. @Kelly, thanks Kelly. Yes, I’m the same. It took me quite some time to learn that too – I don’t think my intentions have ever changed, but my way of expressing it has softened and improved. I think, anyway. 🙂

  4. It is amazing what a difference one can make by planting a seed. Sometimes it is a seed of confidence in a child, sometimes it is planting an AP / NP seed within another adult.

    Great post!

  5. I really appreciated your thoughts and will consider yours an honorary Carnival submission. 🙂

    I love your real-life examples of offering advice and planting a seed — even if it’s not received well right away, it’s true that we never know how it might affect someone further down the road. Maybe not even the person we originally said it to!

  6. By the way, I really admire your stance on gentle advocacy. These days, not many people actually put the goals and interests of others before their own.

  7. You hit the nail on the head with the ‘planting of the seed’…this is the biggest unsung hero of them all. I can not tell you the amount of times I have done things in my 2 years of parenting because of a small thing I have seen or heard and it has changed the way I look at things and do things.

    You have a wonderful way about you and how you plant those seeds is just fantastic, I thought that when I met you last year too, in our discussion about calpol and how reluctant I am to give it and how it has become the norm with parents. Because of the circles I am in I slip back into doing what is ‘norm’ now and then…then I think of things others have said and things I have read into and it gets me back on track…You are a real inspiration. So thank you for your blog 🙂

    I also had the same issue with colic and I put Belle on her tummy to sleep on day 5 of her little life (much to the disgrace of many people) but it settled her and she still sleeps that way most of the time at 2 years old.

    Also I had no idea you could cook dandelions and I took Belle out to pick some yesterday 🙂

    1. @Carly, your comment has really touched me and it absolutely made my day. I’m really blessed by your kindness.

      As for the colic – it seems every new ‘rule’ comes with its side effects. In this case the ‘back to sleep’ campaign both increases colic and flat head syndrome! Which aren’t as bad as cot death, of course, but it’s only one of the possible causes of cot death, and yet things like formula, which increase the chances, no one says anything about. A bit of a double standard, really 🙁

      Oh – and keep an eye on the blog – there are a few more dandelion recipes coming 🙂

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