How Leaders Can Avoid Mixing Causes
from LEAVEN, Vol. 33 No.
5, October-November 1997, pp. 99-101
by Nancy Jo Bykowski and Marianne Vakiener
When we focus on our message of mothering through breastfeeding, we help ensure that mothers get a clear picture of LLL.
La Leche League was founded to give information and encouragement, mainly through personal help, to all mothers who want to breastfeed their babies.... This singleness of purpose does not prevent interaction with other organizations with compatible purposes, but La Leche League will carefully guard against allying itself with another cause, however worthwhile that cause may be.
--LLL's Purpose and Philosophy No. 5
What Is Mixing Causes?
Since all women, regardless of background or interest, are welcome at LLL Series Meetings, almost any topic from architecture to zoology may come up. Most of the time, the discussion passes over such unrelated topics quickly. A topic becomes a problem of mixing causes when it comes up so frequently that it starts to give a false or restrictive view of what LLL stands for. This can happen differently in different Groups.
In some Groups, subjects such as home birth, family bed, tandem nursing or vegetarianism may be mentioned frequently because a number of members are interested in them. If those choices are the only ones discussed by the Group, mothers may get the unspoken message that they reflect LLL philosophy.
Other subjects, such as home schooling, food co-ops, alternative medicine, non-circumcision, non-vaccination and political or religious topics are also outside LLL philosophy, but some Leaders and/or Group members may be interested in them. Sometimes subtle messages are sent with clothing, bags, bumper stickers or pins with slogans on them. Sometimes casual conversation or observable action reveal that a Leader or member is involved with other groups in the community or has a home business. Any of these things can leave attendees with an inaccurate perception of what LLL is.
Why Do We Avoid Mixing Causes?
First, when discussion during a meeting or phone call strays to one of these other topics, we are no longer talking about LLL's cause, mothering through breastfeeding. The more time we spend on other subjects, the more likely mothers get a distorted view of LLL. By sticking with our message of mothering through breastfeeding, we help ensure that the attendees get a clear picture of LLL philosophy. It also enables us to help mothers who may hold different opinions about these other topics due to their cultural or religious backgrounds.
In "LLL: A Single Issue Organization" (US Western Division, Connections Nov/Dec 1991), Lynne Coates mentions another reason why we are a single issue organization:
To create and maintain a unified, focused leadership, able to work together regardless of differences of opinion on other issues.
By focusing on our common goal of helping women interested in breastfeeding, we are able to attract volunteer Leaders who hold a variety of opinions on a variety of topics.
How Do We Avoid Mixing Causes?
When a topic that has nothing to do with LLL's objectives is mentioned it is helpful for a Leader to have a ready-made response. The LEADER'S HANDBOOK (page 59) reminds us that "as an organization, LLL is neither for nor against any other cause...our goal is solely to offer information and support to women who want to nurse their babies." A Leader can then empathize with the mother's feelings and proceed with the regular discussion.
We can avoid mixing causes by going back to basics. One way to decide whether or not a particular topic is appropriate at Series Meetings is to look over the Series Meeting Guides in Chapter 3 of the LEADER'S HANDBOOK. If a topic is not listed there or in THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, chances are that it's not appropriate for Series Meetings.
Some topics, like co-sleeping (family bed) and home birth, come up frequently at meetings because many mothers in the Group have experience with them or are interested in them. These topics are definitely related to the topic of mothering through breastfeeding, but when the discussion stays on a narrow set of choices, the balance of ideas is upset. A newcomer would probably get the impression that only a few choices are acceptable to the Group.
Even when no newcomers are present, it's good to avoid discussing only one choice. When we get in the habit of talking about things narrowly, it's hard to switch gears when new mothers are present. Other attendees may get used to "letting their hair down," too.
Instead, Leaders can use the concepts to help provide balance. For example, when many attendees have talked about their home births, a Leader could say, "And this might be a good time to mention that LLL believes...."
A narrow focus on a breastfeeding or parenting topic may develop when a Group meets in a homogeneous community. For example, attendees from the same culture may have strong beliefs about foods or religious and political issues. When this is the case, it is especially important for a Leader to clarify that LLL as an organization does not hold religious or political views. A Leader can also say that because of its worldwide membership, LLL holds a broader view on a parenting issue than that of the local community.
Planning/Evaluation and Enrichment Meetings provide an opportunity to enlist the help of regular attendees. Leaders can explain LLLI's policy on mixing causes and ask for help in presenting a variety of options during Series Meetings. When members know that there are a variety of parenting choices within LLL philosophy, they will feel free to share their approaches at Series Meetings.
A Leader can sometimes use humor to refocus the discussion. One way to defuse inappropriate topics at meetings is to say with a smile, "But that's a topic for another meeting and we're supposed to be talking about breastfeeding here."
As Leaders, we need to be aware of our own biases. We may find it easier to refocus the discussion when a topic outside of LLL philosophy is brought up by someone whose views are different from our own. On the other hand, when we agree with an opinion a woman has expressed, we may be tempted to let her know it. We may feel that we are compromising our own values by not letting her know that we agree with her. Or we may worry that we are passing up the possibility of a friendship based on similar values. However, because, as Leaders, we represent LLL's views, it is important to "keep our Leader hat on."
Hazards of Sharing Personal Experiences
It's important to be careful about the topics that we talk about as Leaders. Sometimes, a Leader may be tempted to say "While LLL doesn't have an opinion about this topic, my personal opinion is...." In a meeting situation, chances are that mothers will be more likely to remember the Leader's opinion than the disclaimer. For one thing, the Leader's opinion is probably more interesting than the disclaimer, and for another, the mother may have been distracted by her baby or child when the disclaimer was made. Despite a Leader's best intention to distance her personal opinion from LLL, mothers at meetings are likely to regard the Leader's personal opinion as the official "unofficial" LLL view.
Disclaimers can be even more tricky when a Leader receives a phone call from a mother she has never met. She may be tempted to share information she thinks will be helpful to the mother even when she knows she shouldn't because it goes beyond LLL's area of expertise (for example, alternative medicine or information about vaccinations). A Leader has no way of knowing if the mother will ever call again or come to a Series Meeting. That one phone call may be the only contact the mother ever has with LLL, so to her, the phone call is LLL. It's best to make sure that she receives an accurate impression of what we are and what we do from that one contact.
In general, Leaders need to be careful about sharing personal experiences. The LEADER'S HANDBOOK (page 59) reminds us that:
During the course of a discussion, it is sometimes appropriate for a Leader to illustrate a point by sharing her own experience, but this is best done sparingly.... The Leader is often perceived differently by the mothers in the Group, so if she continually shares her own experiences she may be inadvertently setting herself up as a role model the others are expected to imitate.
It helps to stop and think about why one is sharing a personal experience. Sometimes, when we find ourselves tempted to share something that is outside LLL philosophy, it is because we are looking for validation of choices we have made. Attendees at Series Meetings often look up to Leaders, so it may be easy to get that pat on the back from them. It's important for Leaders to seek validation elsewhere from others who share our views or through education on the issue so that we are more confident about our choices.
Many Leaders find it helpful to have another Leader as a confidante to talk about their many interests. A confidante doesn't have to be a co-Leader in the Group. One Leader nursing a four-year-old found it helpful to talk about it with a Leader who was not a part of her Group. That way, when she went to her own Series Meetings, she didn't have her confidante there as a constant visible reminder of the conversation they had had about all the advantages of nursing an older child. There was no temptation to exchange knowing looks with her co-Leader when a mother in the Group talked about wanting to wean by the time her baby was a year old.
Sometimes, a Leader feels that sharing a personal experience would be helpful, but wonders if it will narrow the focus of the discussion. One way to share such an experience is to do it in the third person, by saying "I knew a mother once who . . ." This can be an effective way to offer alternatives.
Use common sense. Take a step back and think about whether a newcomer would be able to distinguish between LLL's beliefs and individual interests of members and/or Leaders. Conversely, if an attendee of the Group moved to another community, would she have a narrow understanding of LLL philosophy? For example, would she expect all mothers who attend LLL meetings to practice family co-sleeping?
Avoiding mixed causes requires awareness of the potential at all times as well as the ability to look at our words and actions with objectivity. Leaders tend to be women with opinions and passion! We care about lots of things and we tend to take action on our beliefs. It can be a challenge to keep it all in balance.
If you are concerned about conflict between representing LLL and living according to your own values and beliefs, consult with your District Advisor or Area Coordinator of Leaders.
Nancy Jo Bykowski is a Leader in Bolingbrook, Illinois, USA, and the Managing Editor of NEW BEGINNINGS. She and her husband, Phil, have three children, Emily 19; Noelle, 11; and Adam, 7.
Marianne Vakiener is a Leader in Fairfax City, Virginia, USA, and Associate Human Relations Enrichment Administrator for the Eastern US Division. She and her husband, Paul Kohlbrenner, have two children, David, 8, and Anne, 9 months.