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 â€“ 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.)
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 â€“ 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 â€“ or perhaps even realise that it was them that caused it.
No prizes or medals will be awarded â€“ unless you become the Florence Nightingale of Attachment Parenting, of course â€“ 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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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 – â€œI 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?â€ 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 â€œyou should tryâ€ and â€œhave you tried?â€ It’s marginal, hardly noticeable, and the end result is about the same â€“ but there’s less opportunity for getting anyone’s hackles up.
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:
- Being available to help those who are actively looking for it.
- 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 â€œoh, 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.â€
I had never even thought of a homebirth, so I went online to find out more, and found BornFree and from there â€“ 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.