Why I Love Toddler Meetings
Houston TX USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 40 No. 6, December 2004 - January 2005, pp. 134-35.
I lead a monthly Toddler Meeting where we usually have mothers and toddlers who have "graduated" from regular Series Meetings. I’m usually pretty relaxed about my introduction and announcements. But, every now and then, we get a mother of a nursing toddler who has never been to a La Leche League meeting; one of the regulars brings her mother, who has never been around LLL; or a mother, who meant to attend the regular meeting, will attend. In these instances, I make sure these mothers get a Welcome Packet and I make sure to mention the history of La Leche League and membership benefits during my introduction. I also emphasize the standard "take what you want and leave the rest" statement.
One thing that I’m sure to say when the mother of an infant attends is that, while I want them to be sure to get their questions answered before they leave, I will first focus on the concerns of the toddlers’ mother. I go on to explain how LLL supports mothers in their decision to nurse their babies, whether it’s for six weeks, six months, or six years. I tell them that when a mother decides to nurse longer than the cultural norm, the mother-to-mother helping tips and the emotional support she receives at Toddler Meetings are as important as the information and emotional support that new mothers receive at the Series Meetings. I explain that the regular LLL Series Meetings are geared toward answering questions from pregnant women and mothers of infants, and, oftentimes, mothers of toddlers don’t get the chance to have their concerns heard, so today is their day to come first. I believe this helps the mothers of the toddlers feel that their concerns are important and valid and I believe that it instills self-confidence in their choice to nurse past infancy.
I’ve also heard mothers of toddlers say that even when there is time to bring up their concerns at Series Meetings, they are sometimes reluctant to do so because they worry that it might sound negative to a pregnant woman or the mother of an infant. They worry that it might discourage those new to breastfeeding, or cause them to think, "Why do this if I’m still going to have problems down the road?"
I encourage them to keep attending their local regular Series Meeting where their experiences can be helpful to the new mothers. Just by being at the regular Series Meeting with their nursing toddlers, they invite new mothers to realize that extended nursing is an option and that there must be benefits to it or these mothers wouldn’t be doing it. I point out that an LLL meeting is a safe place to bring up negative-sounding concerns, that others at the meeting aren’t going to suggest weaning for every problem that arises, as can happen when well-meaning friends and family hear a breastfeeding mother make any kind of complaint. I like to ask if any mothers regret nursing into the toddler stage, if any of the hassles they’ve encountered make them wish they’d weaned their child earlier. In case the mother with the infant is wondering about that herself, she can hear from the mothers that the pros of extended nursing outweigh the cons.
And even when a mother has decided that she’s ready to wean, she can help her child through the process gradually, keeping the child’s needs in mind. Some mothers of toddlers do come to the meeting for tips on weaning. These mothers are usually the ones who have never been to LLL and are sometimes worried that we are going to try to talk them out of weaning. We talk about keeping the weaning process from being traumatic for mother and child. There are usually one or two mothers who have done some type of weaning, whether it be night weaning, weaning from nursing in public, or maybe weaning an older child. These mothers share what worked and didn’t work for them during the process.
Sometimes the mothers who come looking for tips on weaning realize at our meeting that they aren’t really ready to wean. They were feeling the pressure to wean from family or friends, and after seeing all these other nursing toddlers, they see that they aren’t the only ones out there and that they aren’t so strange after all. They leave the meeting with a renewed commitment to parent the way they feel is right for their family.
I don’t like to think of myself as lazy. I like the terms laid back or relaxed. They have a much more positive tone than lazy. But leading Toddler Meetings does make me feel a bit guilty about how easy they are! I really don’t do any preparation beyond printing the sign-in sheet, checking to see which topic I’m on, and thinking up one or two discussion questions that address the topic. At a monthly Toddler Meeting, we follow the same four series topics as the regular Series Meetings, only we relate the topics to toddlers instead of infants. But I generally hold the discussion questions as a reserve in case the mothers don’t have any toddler issues or immediate concerns. It is very rare that we ever need the prepared questions. Mothers with toddlers always seem to have something they want to talk about—from night nursing to biting to nursing through a pregnancy to tandem nursing.
After all the toddler concerns are addressed, I turn to the mother of an infant and allow her to ask her questions. She gets some wonderfully focused attention from these experienced mothers of toddlers who are happy to answer her questions or help her with whatever problems she’s experiencing. When a mother with an infant accidentally comes to our Toddler Meeting, not only does she get her questions answered in a one-on-one setting, but she’s been exposed to the ideas of extended nursing, nursing through pregnancy, and tandem nursing. She’s learned that even though it may not be bliss all the time, there are many benefits, and if she decides to nurse past infancy, she knows she has a place she can come to and be around others who have made similar choices.
I love leading Toddler Meetings because I’m helping these mothers feel good about the choices they’ve made. I see some of them go from not being sure if nursing a toddler is right for them to being a staunch advocate of child-led weaning. I love providing a comfort zone for these mothers. I love hearing a mother say, "Ah, this is what I’ve been missing!" I love helping that grandmother see what it is about LLL that her daughter enjoys so much. I love exposing a mother of an infant to new ideas.
Leaders who are leading Toddler Meetings, whether it’s monthly, once a series, or once a year, know that what you are doing is invaluable, not only for mothers of toddlers, but for mothers of infants, too.
Laura Wilder leads with the LLL Houston Metropolitan Toddler Group in Houston, Texas, USA. She has been a Leader for 17 years. She and her husband, Greg, have five children: William (21), Richard (19), Michael (16), and Mary and Walter (14). Laura has focused her LLL energy on leading Toddler Meetings for the last 5 years. Brandel D. Falk is Contributing Editor for this column.