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Sharing LLL Philosophy at Series Meetings

Maggie Heeger
Huntsville, Alabama, USA
From: LEAVEN 1995

La Leche League Leaders believe strongly in LLL's philosophy of breastfeeding and parenting. Leaders have incorporated it into their daily life, and it's reflected in the parenting choices they make. They understand that LLL meeting content should reflect these views, and strive to make this information available to anyone who expresses an interest. Leaders also understand and accept that not everybody agrees with La Leche League's philosophy. There will be mothers at our meetings who have made choices that are quite conflicting with what League advocates.

That's OK. Leaders don't make requirements of anyone for their attendance at Series Meetings. Respect of the many options in parenting is one of the cornerstones of what La Leche League strives to present.

While Leaders respect those choices, it's important also to remember that LLL is an organization with a distinct purpose. Leaders believe that babies do best under specific conditions, and they present this information at meetings with a gentle but clear message.

Yes, it's true that there may be disagreement among the mothers at our meetings. To prepare for that, many Leaders begin their meetings with a disclaimer. It goes something like this: "What you hear today may be surprising and unusual. You may hear things that you've never heard before. La Leche League has a special philosophy of parenting that we encourage you to consider. We don't require that you adopt any of the options mentioned here in order to attend our meetings. We do ask that you accord all mothers respect as they discuss the choices that have worked for their families." This disclaimer sets the stage for respect and tolerance of views that may be in conflict with any given mother's choices. From there, they hope to present LLL options for mothers to weigh.

Discussing the Mother-Baby Relationship at Meetings

"In the early years, a baby has an intense need to be with his mother that is as basic as his need for food." La Leche League Leaders endorse this statement, and parent with this philosophy as a guiding principle in their lives. They don't leave young babies with substitute caregivers on a regular basis. Leaders know that La Leche League doesn't say that mothers and babies should never be separated; they understand that the best separations are ones where everyone feels good about it. This is a natural separation, as opposed to a forced one. It's such a joy to meet a mother who feels similarly; often she feels that same joy upon discovering that League supports this choice. What about mothers who don't incorporate this idea into their lives? Surely no one wants to offend them by saying that the decision to be regularly separated from their babies is a bad one. Instead, Leaders hope to share, by example and by discussion, ideas that may have never been considered by some women. The mothers may not choose to change their views on separation. The Leaders, however, can feel satisfied that mothers have had an opportunity to hear this perhaps radical viewpoint. Mothers can see from the women in the meeting room that it's a viable option.

Consider this true story. A mother at a Series Meeting shared that she worked part-time and found it to be an ideal situation. She was able to leave her milk in a bottle, and her husband cared for the baby in her absence. It seemed perfect, and the mother gave every indication of being completely satisfied with this arrangement. The Group Leaders congratulated her on finding a wonderful way to continue providing breastmilk to her baby. They were so supportive of this mother, yet they never dared to mention other possibilities to her, for fear of alienating or offending her. Years later, after successive babies and experiences that allowed the mother to avoid this ongoing separation, this mother went on to become a Leader. Looking back on it, she expresses disappointment in those first Leaders she met. "If only they'd let me know that there were other options," she laments. "I was trying to present this happy face as a mom who was successfully combining breastfeeding and employment. In truth, I hated it. I hated the rushing, the stress, the terrible aching I felt at leaving my baby. But I had the "ideal" situation. My husband watched the baby and fed bottles of my milk. I felt I didn't have any right to complain." The Leader goes on to say that it would have taken only the slightest nudge for her to reconsider the choices she'd made. "If only my Leaders would have pointed out how much a baby needs his mother's constant presence in those early months. If I'd been shown examples of how other mothers have made sacrifices in order to meet those needs, I'd have quit my job in a heartbeat." By encouraging other mothers to share experiences, and by advocating the baby's needs, a Leader can encourage mothers to standup for feelings they may be trying to hide deep inside. A little support, encouragement and confidence-boosting can go a long way!

But what about the mother who is quite adamant and defensive to any suggestions? Leaders need to respect that. They can offer insights such as "while experts may agree that babies do best when they experience only minimal separations from Mother, this option isn't always open to everyone. We then make the best decisions we can, given our particular circumstance."

Talking About Loving Guidance

La Leche League's philosophy statement on discipline-related issues reads, "From infancy on, children need loving guidance which reflects acceptance of their capabilities and sensitivity to their feelings." The wording of this statement leaves great latitude for personal interpretation, which was the intent of the Board of Directors. La Leche League Leaders aren't here to teach parents how to discipline their children. They're not here to defend numerous charges that one method works better than another. Leaders shouldn't expect to solve every mother's discipline crisis. A Leaders role is to encourage mothers to increase their pool of acceptable discipline choices, and to consider the idea that discipline is a form of teaching rather than punishment.

When Leaders take the approach that spanking is inadvisable, they risk insulting women who feel otherwise. This may be in direct conflict with a mother's personal beliefs, and making such a strong statement lacks respect for others. Instead, a discussion could center around a large, blank piece of poster board. Give a hypothetical situation, and ask for as many ideas as possible that could address the predicament, yet offer sensitivity, respect and love to the child. Encourage mothers to brainstorm and consider ideas that they've never actually attempted. Make it fun and creative! Write down every idea that is suggested-even if that includes spanking and other harsh methods. Leaders can then comment that employing creativity and sensitivity increases the number viable options. Each parent uses her own set of principles to determine which choice they'll try. At this point, it could be helpful to read the philosophy statement on Loving Guidance. Leaders need not feel defensive or apologetic, and can add that "La Leche League encourages parents to make choices that help babies and children learn acceptable behaviors without pain or humiliation. Look at the list we have here on this poster: some of these options fall into those guidelines, while others don't. It's up to you to decide which one sounds acceptable for your family." Leaders can also remind mothers that from time to time they need to re-evaluate those principles and perhaps consider new options. By discussing loving guidance in a general approach, Leaders allow mothers the dignity of not having to argue their positions in front of the Group. They may not agree with all of the choices listed on the poster. Perhaps months from now, a mother may recall one of those ideas, try it, and find that it really works.

Exploring Healthy Nutrition at Meetings

The most vivid example of La Leche League's viewpoint on foods is evident at the refreshment table. When calling mothers to solicit refreshments, Leaders or their representatives can offer suggestions that are healthy, such as apple juice or water, whole grain muffins or crackers, and fruit. This example will speak volumes to newer mothers, without Leaders ever uttering a single word about "what La Leche League believes". LLL's philosophy statement says that "Good nutrition means eating a well balanced and varied diet of foods in as close to their natural state as possible." Just as in other statements, the wording purposely offers a wide range of possible interpretations. As representatives of an international organization, Leaders must take care to present information and viewpoints that reflect League's "middle of the road" approach. If their own personal dietary choices extend far beyond the requirements of leadership, Leaders must remember to present material as shown in THE LEADER'S HANDBOOK and THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING. While vegetarian, fat-free, and sugar-free approaches are certainly compatible with LLL's statement, they aren't the only way to interpret it. Leaders need to open this statement up to its true intent, and not focus exclusively on their personal convictions. Meat is a healthy food, and trips to fast food restaurants don't automatically resign a mother to being labeled a nutritionally deprived individual.

If a mother should bring a food to share at refreshment time that is less than wholesome, Leaders shouldn't lecture her on the inappropriateness of her contribution. Put it on the table, and let the overall example speak for itself. Hopefully there will be plenty of healthy snacks to counteract the box of glazed doughnuts that she may have brought. If this situation continues to pop up month after month, a Leader could bring the topic of meeting refreshments into her introductory remarks at Series Meetings. She can stress that we offer healthy choices to moms and children as an example of the philosophy La Leche League promotes, and she can then read the philosophy statement verbatim.

Meeting discussions should take a positive approach. Instead of preaching of all the unhealthy foods one should avoid, Leaders can ask mothers to share tips on improving overall nutrition. Moms can share the biggest accomplishment they've made recently, or suggest challenging areas for group brainstorming. We need to stress in that brainstorming, however, that many choices are suitable, and that each parent has the right to consider what works best for their own family situation.

Birth Options Are Many

When discussing childbirth options, Leaders are wise to proceed with sensitivity to the fact that many mothers have had disappointing circumstances. Asking each mother to share the method of birth she most recently had would be inconsiderate to the personal nature of the subject. A different approach might be to read La Leche League's statement, "Alert, active participation by the mother in childbirth is a help in getting breastfeeding off to a good start." From there, Leaders can invite mothers to share how they see this philosophy impacting on breastfeeding. We can then go on to illustrate that this statement does not require alert births in order to achieve breastfeeding success. Many mothers experience highly interventive births yet succeed at nursing their babies. We stress instead, that positive birth situations enhance breastfeeding, so if plans are being made, this could be a way of helping to ensure breastfeeding success. Consider constructing a poster of "a perfect birth," listing many ways to achieve birthing Nirvana. After the list is complete, point out that it would be nearly impossible to achieve all of the suggestions in most circumstances. Encourage mothers to consider this a smorgasbord of options, and that they're free to select or reject any number of choices. State emphatically that we all make the choices that we're most comfortable with, and that these are merely suggestions to take into consideration. Be sure to make it clear that if a mother has not been able to experience many positive aspects in her birth, she can still view her child's birth as a wonderous event. Assure her that her breastfeeding efforts can succeed.

Thoughts about Weaning

Leaders often view weaning as a very different concept than much of the world's population. Leaders view weaning as a slow, gradual process, not an event that happens on a particular day. Weanings at their best occur in a manner that allows a pleasant and graceful transition for everyone concerned. In the past, "ideal" weaning situations were called "baby led weanings." This has caused some misunderstandings. Some have interpreted this to be "baby mandated," with the mother's feelings being unimportant, and picture a demanding toddler calling all the shots. To make our intent more clear, the phrase "natural weaning" is now being used, because it more accurately describes what takes place. It's a gentle give-and-take between mother and baby, with mother recognizing signs of readiness, and respecting indications of unreadiness.

When discussing weaning at LLL Series Meetings, Leaders can encourage mothers to discuss their thoughts about weaning: what it means, how to achieve it, and the feelings involved for both mother and baby. Ask mothers who have already experienced natural weaning to share their thoughts. Share the philosophy statement: "Ideally the breastfeeding relationship will continue until the baby outgrows the need," and ask for interpretations. These interpretations may vary widely, which is fine. This gives women plenty to consider, and enables them to formulate their own philosophy. We're not here to force our opinions on others, but to provide an opportunity for our philosophy to be heard. Mothers then make their own decisions.

When women hear ideas that are new, they sometimes need time to mull it over in their thoughts. This process may take years before it gels completely and feels right; then again, there's always the possibility that after considering our message, a mother will discard it. It's frustrating, but Leaders do need to be able to respect that choice. How does a Leader know when it's right to present La Leche League philosophical ideas? Using sensitivity, gently introduce ideas in a general discussion format, rather than confronting one specific mother about her parenting choices. Ask mothers at meetings to share what experiences have helped them decide how to make these important decisions. One of our common phrases sums it up beautifully: "All parents have the right and the responsibility to determine which choices suit their parenting philosophy. We're here to offer some insights that you may have never heard before."

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