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All Mothers Are Equal: Being Sensitive to Family Size

Kathy Grossman
Glenshaw, Pennsylvania, USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 34 No. 6, December 1998 - January 1999, p. 121

La Leche League Leaders have families of varying sizes. They also encounter mothers at meetings and in phone-helping situations whose families are different sizes. Acceptance of, respect for, and sensitivity to family size are important as we encourage mothers to breastfeed.

Consider this: A Leader is keeping her twin toddlers busy at a Series Meeting (and also has three children at home with her husband). A mother with one child asks about getting more sleep at night. The Leader rolls her eyes and sighs, "Boy, I wish I had only one to worry about!"

Or this situation: A pregnant mother brings her two teenagers and her five-year-old to the World Walk for Breastfeeding. She asks a Leader some questions about breastfeeding and going back to work. The Leader steers her toward another Leader with four children instead of a newly accredited co-Leader who has one child.

The LLL Founders' families had varying numbers of children--from three to eleven. Are these numbers important? Does a family with more children make someone a better Founder? A better Leader? A better mother? It doesn't, of course, but perhaps we sometimes inadvertently give mothers and Leaders that impression. As we work with women with families of different sizes, it may help to keep in mind the following:

All mothers are equal. Leaders encourage and support all breastfeeding mothers. There is no hierarchy of motherhood depending no how many children a woman has.

All Leaders are equal. As soon as she is accredited, a Leader is equal to any other Leader, regardless of the number of years she's been involved with LLL or the number of children she has.

The visible number of children may not be all that gives a mother experience. Visible family size does not reflect miscarriages, stillbirths, children given up for adoption, sudden infant death and other losses. A woman may be parenting a chronically ill child or one with emotional or physical challenges. A mother may have teaching, coaching or counseling experience. She may have helped raise her sibling(s), a relative's child(ren) or be involved in foster care.

A Leader needs to be sensitive to the facts of her own family size. A "large" family does not make a Leader a more knowledgeable mother or Leader. A "small" family does not mean she has less to offer. When talking to a mother, avoid comparing or implying superior or inferior knowledge based on the number of children you or another Leader has.

Avoid using numbers when describing parenting situations. Instead of saying, "My fourth baby had a bad case of colic," use his or her name or more general terms, for example, "One of my children had a bad case of colic."

Avoid using language and tone of voice that calls attention to family size. Avoid words like "only" and "just" when referring to someone's child or children. Avoid raising your voice in volume or pitch when referring to a mother who has what you consider a large number of children, for example, "Now, let's hear from Melissa. who has six children!"

Avoid using language that quantifies families (large, small, only child). These labels are subjective at best and at their worst can be insulting or hurtful, for example, if a couple is struggling with infertility.

Avoid mixing causes. Women and their partners have certain numbers of children for a variety of medical, personal, cultural, religious and ethical reasons. These decisions often reflect issues that go beyond the scope of LLL.

There is no hierarchy of mothering experience and family size, with either Leaders or women who attend our meetings. Leaders need to treat other Leaders and all mothers with the same respect and care, encouraging and supporting breastfeeding with each baby, treating each family equally, regardless of its size.

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