My cousin Vani is an established physician, a radiologist who lives and works in Italy. She has a 13-month-old son, whom she adores and still breast-feeds.
There shouldn’t be a problem with this picture, except for the fact that everyone has been telling her she is crazy. She hears from family and friends that this situation is dangerous and unhealthy for him and her (how exactly, I am not sure).
Vani has started to research the benefits of breast-feeding for a child past a year old to try to explain to her critics her choice.
I am all too familiar with this feeling of trying to defend myself. Ironically, I wasn’t successful at breast-feeding my first three children past a few weeks after they were born, and only with my fourth one really succeeded (fourth time’s a charm). With my first three kids, I spent a lot of time defending my position of having switched to formula.
I remember being assaulted by the dreaded “breast Nazis” – those ladies who believe it was either breast-feeding or child abuse – and feeling I was so inadequate I also started researching facts about formula-fed babies.
I felt pressure to do what others thought was best, and ashamed of my choice, even though it was the best I could do at the time.
I hope my cousin doesn’t let the pressure ruin her experience and choice. It’s not so much this issue specifically — it’s that my cousin coming under fire reminds me of how easy it is in general to judge others, and forget that being the one who is scrutinized is not simple or pleasant in any situation.
I have several friends who home-school their children and are always under attack for their choice. They are told, “It’s not good for the children. And what about friends and socialization?” And they have to explain and justify themselves over and over.
I even observe this in military circles.
“This wife doesn’t participate in the spouses meetings, therefore she’s not supportive,” or “This wife doesn’t fit in to the military lifestyle, she is too independent.” And again women come up with reasons why they cannot attend an event, or why they can’t quit their jobs at the drop of a hat.
Truthfully, if we believe in something, we should stick to our guns and not let others’ comments get to us. Except that we are people and like to be accepted, and criticism can make it harder to live in harmony.
Outside opinion can be helpful, but too often we bend to opinion that isn’t informed, just because it’s easier to bend.
Sometimes we worry too much about specifics, particularly the specifics of others’ lives. Breast-feeding past a year old, home-schooling, attending each military spouse meeting – these things are not on top of the list. Kindness, trying to be a good parent in our own ways, and support for our families and friends are higher priorities.
If those are squared away, the rest is just details – colorful details sometimes – but details nonetheless.
Anita Doberman is a freelance writer, mother of five and wife of an Air Force pilot stationed at Hurlburt AFB in Florida. The family expects to be moving to Cannon Air Force Base in the next year. Contact her at: