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I Won't Be My Baby's Only Mother


Aug 19 2013
Othermothers, not-so-attachment parenting, and a vision for shared childrearing.

At six months pregnant, I am the only lifeline for little one growing within me. Firmly attached, Baby derives everything it needs right now from me.

But once my first child is born, I will no longer be its sole source of love, security, and comfort. I will not become that idealized picture of an attachment parent, the all-giving, all-sacrificing mother who is totally serene, fulfilled, and at home in her domestic enclave. I will not be constantly present, always responsive, 24/7/365. I believe this perfect mother does not exist.

As a mom-to-be, the basic philosophy behind attachment parenting resonates with me. Sustained, continual engagement between parents and kids helps their development throughout their lives. I'm on board and plan to breastfeed, do skin-to-skin, wear my baby, etc. etc. But I recognize our inevitable limitations as mothers (and as people). I know I won't be able to do it all. The image of the always-there, always-giving mother that comes with attachment parenting burdens moms with unrealistic expectations and unnecessary guilt.

Though I'd like to be an endless supply of love and care for my children, I'm pretty sure the well will sometimes run dry. Though I'd like to think I will joyfully set aside my needs and wants for my children every time, I'm pretty sure there will be times when I will gladly place my kids in others' loving hands so I can attend to my own needs and recharge my batteries. I'd like to think that my children won't necessarily be worse off for these times.

Without a doubt, the mom is the primary figure in a child's life, especially in the early years. But the one who is called Mother isn't the only one who is called to mother. I love the idea in Bonnie Miller-McLemore's book Also a Mother of "othermothers," those aunts, sisters, cousins, neighbors, and friends (might I also say – uncles, brothers, and male friends) who gather 'round to nurture a child and support the primary mother in her caretaking responsibilities.

People in other cultures seem to have nailed this role down better than those in American society. As a young child growing up in China, I have as many memories of "othermothers" taking care of me as of my own mother taking care of me – waiting for the bus with my great-grandma, my paternal grandmother chasing me down for a spanking, getting my toenails clipped by my aunt. Did I miss my mom? Probably. Did I feel any less loved because she wasn't always there? Probably not.

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