Chris and I were near the first of our friends to have children and are full on into the world of potty training and speech development while many of our peers are still in Infantlandia. Over the past year I've gotten to know many of my friends as parents and I'm proud to say that everyone involved has rolled up their sleeves and fully embraced their new roles.
As I speak to many green dads about their new roles and responsibilities I continually see a theme popping up again and again: fathers wanting to be more useful in the early days. A handful have outright said that they wished they could somehow give their partners a break and share in the feeding responsibilities. These new fathers feel guilty that they can't be of more use while their partners, who in many cases have worked hard to master the art of breast feeding, are quite literally attached to their child for hours and hours every day without a break. With all of the talk of nipple confusion and paranoia about what it is to be a good mom I understand the pressure surrounding breastfeeding. I felt it, I saw it when I attended a breast feeding class at the hospital when I first had Molly and Jack and it was awful.
And, before I continue, let me say: I understand that breast milk is important along with all of it's super powers and that "Mother is the name for god on the lips and hearts of all children".* I also get the importance of the bond you have with your child(ren) when you feed them. That being said we all need a break some times. I don't regret pumping milk as a primary feeding source for the first six months so Chris could be a bigger part of the feeding experience and I had more help for a second. If I could do it all over again I would. Me pumping and us supplementing with formula when I couldn't produce enough milk for the minions was a necessity for us and how we made the first six months of parenthood work. We were both able to alternate taking evening shifts, whether I was feeding or pumping or it was Chris's turn. We were able to bond as a family as opposed to just maternal child feeding bonding.
When I read Karla Erickson's article about a mom talking about how she'd skip breast feeding next time because of how it sets up a gendered division of parenting with an unequal distribution of work I was intrigued. She even goes so far as to call breast feeding both a burden and a power trip that creates a bond giving the mom an unfair advantage. I've heard stories of these villainized controlling, love hogging mothers and their lump like partners. The truth is, we are all too hard on ourselves and each other, period.
It makes me happy to see the fathers I know take on tasks like bath time, walks (colic and non-colic) and story time to help them bond in early days when they can't take on the task of feeding from mom. I smile when a friend tells me about how she pumped so she could get out with "the girls" or to the gym because when a specific parent doesn't let their partner parent they become babysitters, not parents and that isn't fair for anyone.
I am proud of the equal parenting relationship that Chris and I have with the kids. Would some of this been derailed if we hadn't of pumped? I can't say for sure. I've been guilty of behaving like the martyr mom who is the only one who can calm the baby. I've lamented how I haven't taken the shower, I've worn those shoes a number of times, until Chris did what he does best, talked some sense into me and forced me to realize that doing it all isn't required to be a good mom. I've also learned, sometimes the hard way, that sometimes you need to tag out, let your partner take a lead, go for a walk and take a long hot shower.
Food for thought.
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*If you got that The Crow reference, touch the ground and touch the sky.