October 6, 2009

Helicopter Moms: Unapologetic mothering

(Editor's note: Sometimes it's hard to tell whether you're tackling motherhood in the 21st century -- or being tackled by it. This is the latest in a series of reflections by UPI writers.)

SKOKIE, Ill., Oct. 1 (UPI) -- A friend once euphemistically referred to my style as intensive parenting. Her delicacy would've been more accurate had she said intensive mothering, as she was speaking about breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is a word that, back in the day, was freely used by us cognoscenti. The rest of the population, prudish about the subject, preferred the more innocuous nursing.

Call it what you will, I strongly advocate breastfeeding. I looked back on an essay I wrote a few years ago on the topic for a graduate English class -- which was amusing because as a former lawyer, an exercise in persuasive writing was redundant for me. Suffice it to say, La Leche League has nothing over me.

But I'm not here to tell you I'm boggled by the fact that baby formula manufacturers' greed was able, with astonishing ease in the mid-20th century, to severely curtail and effectively revile this easy, cost-free, natural, beautiful, no-brainer biological function.

Nor will I share with you that I find it sad a generation after I fed my babies, mothers are still harassed by people who find public breastfeeding offensive. I fed everywhere in public, and was fortunate not to have been bothered by anyone. I was no more or less discreet than any other mother -- I don't like such an adjective for an act that should be warmly welcomed everywhere and under any circumstances, even were a woman to flaunt her breastfeeding.

Further, my object isn't to preach breastfeeding's only-too-obvious health and psychological benefits to child and mother: The subject is helicopter moms, so I'll share my breastfeeding experience as evidence I never could have been anything but one of those.

I breastfed for a total of just under five years. My eldest, the kind-and-gentle feeder, weaned herself at 13 months.

My middle child -- who throws himself with great gusto into all his activities -- drained and exhausted me, became distracted at 15 months, and weaned himself in the interest of wreaking havoc elsewhere.

I weaned my youngest at two-and-a-half years, humoring her request to pretend (her term) to breastfeed by holding her in position with the familiar cuddling until the day she went off to college -- at least it sometimes so seemed.

Cuddling is key and irrevocably establishes the breastfeeding woman as a lifelong helicopter mom. While anyone can cuddle and provide mother's milk from a bottle on the occasions mom is unavailable, most of the feeding is going to be straight from Elsie herself. Such constant intimacy creates an unbreakable bond between mother and child.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not insinuating that parents who lovingly bottle-fed their babies allowed them to play in traffic while I protected my cubs like a ferocious mama bear.

I believe, however, my own breastfeeding experience was an important reason those helicopter blades got revved up and whirring fast and furious early on in my kids' infancies -- with no sign of abatement to date.