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Monday, September 19, 2011

The little voices called Guilt & Shame

If you've been following along here for the past week or so, or have been actively reading the latest news in the world of breastfeeding advocacy, then you're probably well aware of the battle of words that raged last week during the Babble Debacle. If you missed it, you can catch up by reading the 3 articles that I posted HERE, HERE and HERE. I"m not going to get into all the details of it all, but I do want to address the ever present topic of "Guilt" and "Shame" that seems to haunt just about every parenting debate.

Babies don't come with an owners manual.  They don't come with instructions.  They don't come with even a rudimentary FAQ to refer to when you suddenly have a desperate question to ask.  It's up to each and every parent to figure it out all on their own.  Now, having said that, we do have the option of doing research to help us along the way to making the best choices we can. Some times we learn things in advance of necessity, sometimes we learn things in hindsight. And sometimes, in hindsight, we learn that we screwed up.  And we feel guilty.  Sometimes even shame.  That's life, and it sucks, but the reality is that we have to learn to live with our mistakes and get on with it.

But here's the kicker:  In order to "get on with it" and learn to live with our mistakes, you need to own it. The mistake, that is. Because if you can't OWN your mistake, if you can't admit that you made a mistake, then you will never learn from your mistake.

Here's the thing about Guilt.  Guilt is not something that happens to you from outside sources.  Guilt is internal.  Guilt is an emotion that we feel in response to something that we have said or done, or even thought about.  No one can MAKE you feel guilty.  No one can FORCE you to feel guilty. If you are completely confident in your choices and actions, if you feel in your heart that you have done exactly the right thing..... you will not feel guilty..... no matter what any one says to you!!! Only you, or at least, only that little voice in the back of your head, can make YOU feel guilty.  A good friend of mine once said this about guilt:
~On guilt~
No one can make any one else FEEL guilty. Guilt comes from within. You either feel it, or you don't. And actually, guilt is a very good thing! It causes us to re-evaluate things, lets us know when we are no longer in line with our own principles, our core values. It tells us that something is off, motivates us to......change whatever it is we're doing. In other words, guilt makes us uncomfortable for good reason!Rather than blaming OTHERS for making us "feel guilty", we really need to look within ourselves for the answers, and stop deflecting our issues away from ourselves, stop projecting our issues onto others. We need to be 100% accountable for our feelings, we need to OWN them. Because they are no one else's *but* our own." Emma Kwasnica
"We need to be 100% accountable for our feelings (such as guilt and shame), we need to OWN them"

NO ONE IS PERFECT.  Not one of us is the perfect parent.  Not one of us has raised our children perfectly without making a single mistake. Making a mistake is really hard, and sometimes emotionally devastating, but it gives us the opportunity to do better.  It gives us the opportunity to learn and to try to make better decisions the next time. We all make mistakes- what sets us apart as parents is what we do with that knowledge and how we deal with our mistakes. Guilt guides us to DO BETTER.

The same with Shame.  No one can make you feel ashamed.  No one can force you to feel Shame.  Shame is a part of your internal watchdog and shares the same house with Guilt.

I'm not a perfect parent- not even close- and I have made some horrible mistakes in my life.

- when my eldest son was 3 days old, I allowed him to be circumcised.  It was years later before I truly realized the magnitude of the mistake I made that day.  When the realization came, I was emotionally devastated and I still live with the guilt in my heart.
-when my son was 12 weeks old I allowed him to "Cry it out" all night long.... because that's what my mom told me to do.  I sat on the floor in the hallway, outside his room, and cried and cried and cried along with him.
- when my eldest son was 6 weeks old, I started giving him bottles, because that's what I was told to do. Suddenly at 4.5 month old, he refused to nurse.  After struggling for over a day, I finally went to my doctor, who told me that my son had "weaned" himself and that he only wanted bottles now.  I was crushed.  I cried on and off for days.  It was even worse though when I discovered a book in our Library called "The womanly art of breastfeeding" and found out that my baby hadn't weaned, he had classic nipple confusion, and that if I'd gotten help/support, I could of got him back on the breast again.

Just typing this out brings tears to my eyes, even though my eldest son is now 20 years old.


Yes, I feel them both.  BUT.....I have accepted my guilt and my shame. I do not blame others for my shame and guilt.  When a good friend sat down and explained to me exactly what "Male Circumcision" was, and what it does, and how it's done, at first I wouldn't believe her.  I couldn't believe her, so I researched, and realized that she was right.  And I felt intense guilt. I was horrified and I felt completely ashamed. BUT.....

When "Intactivist" post articles about the truth of Circumcision I don't say to them "Stop!!  You're making me feel guilty!!"
When "Lactivists" post articles about the risks of formula feeding and the truth that infant formula is a vastly inferior substitute to breastmilk, I don't yell "NO!  Don't tell me this!  You're making me feel shamed because I formula fed my son!!!!"
When AP parents post studies that show that CIO methods cause permanent emotional damage to babies, I don't throw my hands over my eyes and say "Don't show me that!!!  You're making me feel guilty and ashamed because I let my son CIO as a small infant!!!"

Just because they are telling the facts- cold and hard- doesn't mean that they are "making" me feel guilty.

Yes, I feel guilty, and I feel ashamed of some of my decisions that I've made as a parent, but I accept that guilt and that shame and have turned it around.  I have learned from it. I have dedicated myself to helping others to NOT make the same mistakes that I did. I OWN that guilt.  I will never make those mistakes again, because I have fully accepted my guilt and shame.

Here's another thing about Guilt and Shame. Rarely are we the only ones responsible for our mistakes.  I made mistakes but I also acknowledge that I can't shoulder ALL of the blame.  I was let down by a system that didn't support parents to make informed choices.  That's another emotion that goads me forward:  ANGER.

So if you feel the emotions "Guilt" & "Shame" over parenting decisions you've made in the past, put it to work for you. Move forward and onward.  Make the changes necessary to get rid of the guilt.  Own it.

....Don't blame others for it.  It's not their fault that you have emotional baggage to deal with. Blaming them doesn't make the truth go away.
........and it doesn't make you feel any better.