Being a full time dad and the primary caregiver for a couple of spirited children has taught me invaluable lessons about time management and productivity, stress, how to deal with being overwhelmed, how to effectively multitask, and a million other things. But I think one of the most important things that I’ve ever learned is that no matter how much you know about the subject, no matter how much of an “expert” you may be (or may think you are), no woman, I repeat, NO woman, wants your unsolicited advice on breastfeeding.
I found this out the hard way. You see, I wanted all the information that I could possible gleam when I became the primary caregiver. We signed up for library programs and musical clap-alongs and all the other things that we sign our kids up for so that “they can socialize a little bit” while we actually do it as an excuse to pick up a coffee on the way and talk with grown ups about things that matter - not just that the dog is brown. For me, these groups were all about sharing. They were all about me telling people my thoughts on parenting and listening (and hopefully absorbing) what other people had to say. It was a giant hive mind for how in the hell we were going to survive.
My experiences with “parent and tot” programs, often called “mommy and me,” were overwhelmingly positive but not always so. I was often on my own, or a part of a small tribe of dudes in beards and sweatpants looking distraught. I would tell other parents that I found a lot of the other moms “snobby” or “exclusive” or “rude.”
But I’ve come to realize a few things about moms. They’re sick of your shit. Moms spend their day trying to wrangle two kids into a shopping cart while some man walking through the parking lot ogles their behind. Moms get hit on by total strangers WHILE THEY ARE WITH THEIR KIDS. But the one place that moms can go and be safe is a parent and tot group. Which hopefully sets the scene for what happened at the pool that day.
Imagine. Just picture it. You’re bobbing up and down with a few of your fellow moms at your weekly trip to the swimming pool - the only place where you can hold your son or daughter in your arms without feeling as though you’re carrying the weight of a dying star. You look tired (which, by the way, don’t bring up. Of course they look tired. Parents are tired. I’m sorry that you were up late watching Netflix and then you had to “go to work” at your office and sit in a leather chair all day. Life sounds rough.) so one of the other moms asks you if Chad or Billy or Hank or whatever your kid’s name is had a rough night. You respond by telling them that you’ve had a hard time with breastfeeding lately and that Chad Hank Billy has had trouble latching and staying latched and your nipples are cracking and cream doesn’t help because he just wants to drink milk like it’s and episode of The Walking Dead and he just found a water factory or something.
Luckily, out of nowhere, an overweight, almost naked man bobs up beside you and says, “I couldn’t help but notice you were talking about your breasts and I just wanted to chime in and let you know that I have some thoughts.”
Now, that’s obviously not what I said, but it may as well have been. No woman wants your unsolicited input on anything that has to do with her breasts... or pretty much anything honestly. What I failed to understand was that there was a tribe, and I wasn’t part of that tribe.
Now that’s not to say that I can’t be a part of that tribe, but rather it’s to say that I wasn’t at that time. These people didn’t know me or my struggle. They didn’t know that one of my kids had been a difficult baby. These people didn’t know that I’d sat in on some lactation classes and met with a nurse about breastfeeding and that I had a wealth of information to share on the topic. What this person knew was that I had floated up to her safe space and wrecked it.
I didn’t know that. Not at the time anyway.
Parent and tot activities give children and parents alike a chance to mix and mingle and learn and share. But it always amazes me that we don’t seem to learn anything from what we’re trying to teach our children. Almost…nothing.
“Timmy, remember you have to ask if they want you to play with them.”
“Peggy, you need to give people space, okay?”
We spend all this time policing our children’s behaviors without ever taking them time to follow our own advice. If we did even a handful of the things we expect from our children, our lives would be much different. We teach kids to share and to be respectful of time and space and property and individualism, and then we wade up to a perfect stranger, interrupt the conversation with their actual friends and offer them unsolicited advice on how to care for their children using their breasts.
We are clueless animals.
My tribe recently changed our informal title of our playgroup from “Mom’s Morning Out” to “Mommy’s and Mike’s Morning Out.” When I got the weekly reminder, I was ecstatic. It made me smile. I’ve since shared with this group stories about breastfeeding, labor, pregnancy, conception, child-care and personal health. I’ve talked to them about feminine hygiene products, male “rejuvenation” medicine, and more.
But the important thing is that I’ve learned not to lead with that advice, because moms have spent enough of their day having to deal with people staring or talking or absentmindedly thinking about their breasts and their underpants.
Please leave them alone.