Thursday, May 16, 2013

It’s my job to protect my child, not your feelings.

A friend of mine has a tough decision to make, and I would not want to be in her shoes. She’s a new mom, and there’s an important family event planned that she is expected to attend… in India. So she has to decide whether to bring her baby girl, who will be just a year old by then. If she decides not to bring the baby, she has to choose between going without her daughter and staying home.

If my friend goes without the baby, she has to leave her with her grandparents for at least ten days while she travels to the other side of the planet. (Not exactly a short flight away if anything happens.) Plus, she will miss her daughters’s first birthday and first Christmas. If she chooses to stay home, it’s been made clear to her that her family will be deeply hurt and disappointed.

My first inclination is say her family members are adults and they will get over it, but it’s not that black and white. We all can attest to how difficult it is to disappoint your family, especially if you’re a bit of a co-dependent like me who has gone her whole life trying to make these people happy. How do you just turn that off as soon as you have child?

I’m glad I don’t have to make this decision. I know what I would want to do – stay home with my baby and celebrate her first birthday and Christmas. But I honestly don’t know what I would actually do.

When a baby is born – especially your first one – the mama bear instincts kick in fast. For example, you probably required everyone to wash their hands before they could hold your tiny, perfect baby. Most people did it without even being asked, and others quickly agreed to do so without protest. But what do you do when your Great Aunt Lucy says, “Oh, my hands are clean,” and reaches for the baby?

Since you were a child, others told you, “Oh, just do like she asked,” whenever Great Aunt Lucy made a demand. You learned early on that it was easier to accommodate her than to confront her.

But now you’re a mom, and the needs of your helpless baby weigh heavier than anything Great Aunt Lucy wants... right? It’s easy to say, “Of course! You tell her to wash her damn hands!” But almost everyone has a Great Aunt Lucy in their lives, and it’s not always easy to suddenly stand up to someone with whom you have always backed down.

I’ve found myself not speaking up many times since Quinn was born. I didn’t speak up to friends and family who refused to wash their hands before holding him. I didn’t stand up to the pediatrician when she told me to start giving Q rice cereal at four-months-old even though I strongly disagreed. As a new mom, I didn’t trust my own instincts. I didn’t want to be that mom everyone rolls their eyes about. And every time I stayed silent, I became more and more furious with myself.

But this time around, I’m older and wiser. I will not give Baby Dragon rice cereal until he’s at least six-months-old, no matter what Dr. L. says. Anyone who wants to touch him will wash their hands in my presence. Anyone who is covered in dirt and sweat after being outside will not rest my baby on their filth-covered shoulder. If anyone shows any sign of illness around my baby, we will leave. I will not have that shit. Not anymore.

Two years into motherhood, it’s getting easier for me to speak up. I trust myself more. It’s my job as a mom to protect my children and be their voice when they don’t have one They depend on me for to put their needs first,and I owe more loyalty to them than anyone else. As hard as it is to stand up to other adults, they are adults and they will get over it, and they can roll their eyes about me being that mom all they want.

I know I cannot protect my children forever. So I will let them fall and get hurt and work out disagreements with other kids on their own, and it will build their character. But when I feel I need to jump in, oh, yes, I will do it.

It won’t be easy to speak up to all the Great Aunt Lucys in the world, and I will sometimes fail and let myself and my children down. But I vow to start choosing the hard thing, to start speaking up. I will choose to protect my children’s health, physical safety and emotional security before I will choose to protect some grown person’s feelings.

As moms, I hope we can give each other encouragement and support when we're faced with these difficult situations and that we help each other find our courage and our voice.