Doing The Best She Can
I’m not a mother, but if I were, I’d be bobbing and weaving to avoid getting caught in the the crossfire of current opinion about how to raise kids. I woke up this morning to two bits of mothering news: first, the National Zoo just introduced four new cheetah cubs to the public and second, the American Academy of Pediatrics is telling new moms to breastfeed ONLY for the first six months. In her first week of press appearances, Tumai, the cheetah mother, already faces criticism for her parenting techniques and the AAP says breast milk can decrease a myriad of maladies from obesity to sudden infant death syndrome.
The breastfeeding issue struck a nerve. Neither my brother nor myself were breastfed and we are as healthy as horses. When my brother’s wife recently gave birth, the baby just didn’t want to cooperate with the whole nursing process and he wasn’t gaining weight. When his mom switched to formula, life got better for everybody and now, at two months’ old, he’s as big as a Patriots linebacker and his mom is smiling and rested. Tell me how that’s not good for the whole family.
But let’s say she WAS nursing her baby. Her hard-won maternity leave ends after 12 weeks. How many members of the AAP have used a breast pump at the office? Or had to watch out for embarrassing spots on their blouse in the middle of a client meeting? And since the AAP says there should be NO other liquids (juice, water) for baby, mom better keep the supply line stocked for the caregiver who feeds the baby while she works. In my parenting world, my sister-in-law is holding down two demanding full-time jobs and she deserves a pass on nursing if she needs it.
It’s not easy being a cheetah mom either. Today Show host Lester Holt, in an interview with Craig Saffoe, head cheetah keeper at the National Zoo, asked Saffoe if it was true that cheetahs are not good mothers (Katie Couric added that they “eat their young”). Saffoe admitted that early parenting can be rough, especially if the mom is surrounded by too much noise or disruption. Any mom who has suffered sleep deprivation understands Tumai’s pain. Luckily, Saffoe and his team are wise enough to “basically let her dictate what goes on in any aspect of raising the kids.” After all, Saffoe said, “any mother with new babies can appreciate that sometimes they get on your nerves.”
Holt and Couric were probably not aware of the fact that most female cheetahs with children are single moms. While the men travel in groups, females are nomadic, chasing packs of gazelles to make sure the kids get a balanced meal. To avoid leaving their cubs behind, cheetah moms must also relocate their kids almost daily. And if pickings are slim enough, she may be forced to be gone for up to 48 hours, leaving her babies vulnerable to attack. Even cheetahs have a helluva time finding adequate day care.
But Tumai should take heart. I found some advice for single moms from Dr. James Dobson on his “Focus on the Family” website. Dobson claims that God has a special tenderness for fatherless children and their mothers. “Until a good man comes along,” Dobson explains, “you as a single mother must make an all-out effort to find a father-substitute for your boys.” While they are in captivity, Tamai’s male cubs can probably count on Saffoe to help out, but eventually the new cubs will be shipped off to other zoos so they can father more carnivoires, no doubt traveling in packs while the cheetah moms take on the parenting duties alone. Some things never change.
With all the good parenting advice out there, the AAP might consider lobbying for policies that would support a woman who wants to follow their guidelines to ensure that their baby stays healthy. Paid maternity leave, affordable medical insurance, and flexible work schedules would make a great starting point for the AAP to begin. Recommendations are fine, but it’s going to take more “big picture” thinking to make them a reality for all new moms. Until that happens, give mom a break, will ya’?