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Who Defines [Modern] Motherhood?

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The most recent big news to come out of the momosphere is Elisabeth Badinter's new book, The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women. In it, Badinter expresses that moms who choose to stay at home to raise their children are infantile; breastfeeding reduces moms to "nursing animals" and parents who spend more time with their children are ultimately less happy, as they are often racked with guilt and anxiety that they never do enough for their children.

Since the dawn of time, women have been having babies and making decisions about how to raise them. But hand-in-hand with that, women have been judged for the choices they make. My reaction to Badinter's words is probably the same as yours: Why is it that women seem to judge each other for the life choices we make, especially in the mothering arena?

Let me narrow that even further to the breastfeeding arena, since it's the one I'm most passionate about. I'm a breastfeeding educator and counselor, so I am constantly talking to women about the breastfeeding relationship and its specific benefits and risks, as well as the practical issues related to both. And rather than damn women for their choices, whether or not they agree with my personal preferences, my role is to support women and help them along their chosen paths.

When it comes to feeding your child, there are many paths parents can choose in today's society. There's exclusive breastfeeding at the breast. There's breastfeeding and supplementation with formula. There's exclusive breast pumping to feed breast milk when mom and baby are apart. And there are many options moms choose.

Badinter judges moms who stay home with their children for relinquishing "their independence" (I put that in quotes because who are we to say that stay-at-moms aren't independent and happy at home). But moms on the other side of the coin who choose to return to work also get judged. Some would say moms shouldn't even consider working fulltime -- that she chose to have a baby, and she shouldn't consider returning to work outside the home.

This paradox defines the crux of the "mommy wars," where judgment is passed without knowing another woman's context, framework, and the many facets that influence her parenting decisions.

When it comes to how mothers raise their families and how they decide what will work within their family dynamic, no one knows better than that mother herself. The simple truth is this: What works for one might not work for all. No two babies are the same, just as no two mothers are the same.

That's why I became an educator and advocate, so I could help women without judging, mistreating or damning those who make alternative decisions regarding their children. Myriad research proves that breastfeeding is best for most moms and babies, and that there are long-lasting health, societal, economic, and physiological benefits. That's why I educate moms to give them a well-rounded view about the options available and then help them start and continue breastfeeding. But in the end, it isn't my right or role to change a mom's mind, and it's important that I respect the decision she makes, without judgment.

This belief of "modern motherhood" extends far beyond the breastfeeding decision. I hope that we, as mothers, women, and people, eventually learn to be kind to each other and respectful of one another's mothering decisions. We can each continue to break the mold, and rebuild one personally suitable for ourselves and our families.

That is what I call "modern".