I was poking through different parenting magazines and I happened upon Brain, Child: the magazine for thinking mothers. I like to believe that just like all mothers are working mothers, all mothers are thinking mothers. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the title, and more intrigued when I read the editor's soapbox in the fall 2005 edition.
Discussing lactivism, the editor wrote, "But there is a line, at least in my mind, between supporting the nursing mother and insisting that you know the best thing for her family. Breastfeeding, like so much else, is just one part of what makes up a mother/child relationship. And we at Brain, Child have faith that mothers can make the best decisions for themselves and their children."
I couldn't agree more. While the Torah mandates that we teach our children certain appropriate behaviors and values, Jewish wisdom is silent on whether you should use the Ferber method of gradually reducing the time it takes for your child to cry himself to sleep or whether you should pick her your child whenever he cries. It doesn't prescribe feeding on demand or on a fixed schedule. And the Torah doesn't comment on the complexity of factors that affect a mother's decision whether to breastfeed or not.
It's ironic that a society that preaches "live and let live" when it comes to a range of controversial behaviors, is outraged if a mother refuses to breastfeed.
That's because, contrary to popular belief, these are NOT moral choices. These issues involve personal preferences, personal abilities, personal medical histories. Only when we are not focused on the moral challenges in the rest of our lives, on the constant opportunities for character growth and change, do we have the time to elevate a baby's sleeping patterns to such a status.
It's ironic that a society that preaches "live and let live" when it comes to a range of controversial behaviors, is outraged if a mother refuses to breastfeed. Is she not entitled to be treated with tolerance? Should she be forced to explain her very private decision to the lactation police, to complete strangers?
We want certainty in parenting because it promotes the illusion of control. Yet so many of these issues don't have right and wrong components. And they certainly don't guarantee whether children will turn out healthy -- or good. Are you really a better parent if you make your own baby food?
As parents we can only do what we think is best within the range of our capabilities, encompassing both our strengths and our limitations. Some parents will sacrifice sleep in order not to let their infants cry. Some parents are physically incapable of such a strategy. Neither one is the correct way. Each parent must do what they can live with, what makes sense for them.
The Almighty is the Source of all morality. He is the Arbiter of right and wrong. If He declines to comment on how often to bathe a child, we don't need to turn it into a religious mandate.
We have to make important decisions and trade-offs. A less frazzled mother with a slightly dirty child? A smiling wife and frozen pizza for dinner? A day out with a friend with a lunch of Cheerios and a jar of Beech-nut for your baby?
Parenting is messy -- in all respects. What works for one child may not work for another. What works at one phase of a parent's life may not work at another. The essence of our job is to instill love and Jewish values. All the rest is incidental.
Just as we don't want to judge others on their parenting styles and abilities (unless there is, God forbid, real danger to the child), neither do we wish to be judged.
It's true that you don't see women in a Ruben's painting bottle-feeding their infants, but since when is that our standard? Our standard is Torah-based. We want to teach our children to love the Almighty and to know how much He loves them.
And if they say a blessing with a chocolate-covered face (and hands!), I couldn't be happier. Although I'm glad I bought that bubble bath...