Mother Doesn’t Know Best, Baby Does

September 17, 2017 at 8:42 pm

I like the sentiment behind the old saying “mother knows best.” I often see it used to encourage a mother to go with her gut when doctors, the media or authoritarian relatives are trying to convince her to do otherwise.

But more and more I see the phrase tossed around to console women who are reluctantly acting against their gut to keep up with the pressures of modern life — putting infants in daycare centers 45+ hours a week, letting them “cry it out” in cribs, or weaning before their ready.

In a world where cultural and commercial programming have so far removed us from our natural maternal instincts, it’s time to ask whether Mother really does know best… and if not Mother, then who?

Baby Knows Best

Babies are clean slates, in touch with nature and their biological needs. A better way of life is literally embedded in their DNA

In a post titled “Mother Knows Best,” Dr. Bill and Martha Sears tell the story of a new mother ignoring her newborn’s cries for milk. The young mother goes on and on talking to an older mother of four, while her infants cries become louder and louder. The older mother, distressed by the baby’s distress, finally interrupts and says, “please, go ahead and take care of your baby… we can talk later.”

The younger mother, Tracee, looked at her watch, shrugged and said, “it’s not time for his feeding.”

Horrified, the older mother, Susan, asked where she’d learned newborns should eat according to a clock. “A parenting class,” Tracee said.

“Finally, when it was ‘time,’ Tracee went to pick up her newborn, who desperately began feeding. Susan noticed the pair seemed to be out of sync, with neither expressing much comfort in their relationship. Susan gently pointed out to her friend that she was missing her baby’s cues and, as a result, a distance might be developing between them. ‘Now that you mention it,’ Tracee confessed, ‘I don’t feel close to Nicholas. I feel like I’m treating him as a project rather than a person.’

The Sears’ go on to warn readers to avoid the advice of so-called experts:

“In today’s society, parents — so often distanced from friends and relatives — are more vulnerable, and advisers are more eager to offer pat formulas and instant solutions … The problem with these quick fixes and formulas … is that they’re made for the parents’ convenience rather than for their babies’ development and security.”

No one knows better than you how best to care for your new baby,” they write.

While I totally appreciate the spirit of Bill and Martha’s post, I think it would’ve been more accurately titled “Baby Knows Best,” as it was the baby who was still in touch with his innate needs enough to advocate for them. After a lifetime of cultural conditioning, Mother might’ve been fooled by idiots with degrees, but Baby wasn’t having it.

Since the dawn of agriculture and civilization, around 12,000 years ago, culture has forced mothers to suppress their maternal instincts and redirect their energies to hard work and productivity.

Overworked modern mothers are under pressure and faced with a lot of crappy choices. Some are working to keep up with the Jone’s, but some are working to keep a roof over their heads. This post is in no way meant to judge. It’s intended to propose a new way to navigate life, through the compass of our children.

My story

I suspect the story of how I fell into motherhood is a common one — accidentally. I dropped everything (my new career as a reporter) and began researching how to be a parent.

I knew I didn’t want to do it the way my parents’ generation had done. In my opinion, they’d done everything wrong.

The thing is, I ended up spending so much time just figuring out how to birth my daughter naturally (at home, illegally, without meds) I didn’t have time to read about what to do next.

I remember getting back into the pool of warm water to slow down my labor. The midwives encouraged me to get back out and push, saying she was almost here.

“I’m not ready,” I cried. “I have no idea what to do with a baby.”

But Nora insisted on arriving, right on time.

From the moment she swam up between my legs, swan dived onto my belly and latched eagerly onto my breast, I got the message loud and clear — “I may have no clue what the hell is going on, but this kid knows… I just need to get with her program.”

I’ve spent the last six years letting her show me the way — not only to parent, but to live.

1. She showed me how to feed her. I didn’t take a single class or watch a single instructional video, and neither did she. She knew. Instinctively. And I was lucky enough to have a La Leche League friend who advised me to follow her lead.

I had no idea it was physically possible for a baby to breastfeed longer than a year. I’d never heard of such a thing. But Nora knew the natural age of weaning, and here I am six years later, still nursing her to sleep at night.

2. She taught me to how to sleep. The two times I attempted to sleep/nap away from her I swear she sent out some bio-chemical, bio-electrical signal that sent me into sheer panic. As long as I could feel her body pressed to mine, we both slept like angels for 12 hours a day, at whatever time we felt like it. To this day, we still both sleep when we are tired, and wake up when we are rested.

3. She taught me how to treat her, which, until she was crawling, was basically like an extension of myself. If she didn’t like something I was doing (or not doing) she cried until I figured out what she needed.

When she was 18 months old or so, I picked up some transcription work in the middle of the night to help ends meet. Stressed from lack of sleep, I smacked her leg one night, trying to get her to hold still and put her diaper on. The look of shock, fear, sadness and broken trust in her tear-filled eyes brought me to tears and has served as a reminder ever since that parenting by force and violence is out of the question.

4. She taught me how to live. I continued working mostly from home until my daughter was 9 months, when my boss said I needed to be in the office full time.

I knew that was impossible. The one thing Nora needed from me more than anything at that age was simply my presence. So I quit.

For a while, I resented losing the job I’d spent $50,000 and six years of college to get. Investigative journalism was my life plan. But now I realize Nora had that all figured out too.

Now I’m making a living blogging about topics I never would’ve been allowed to write about at a mainstream newspaper. I have no boss, no office and no deadlines. I can work from anywhere, anytime I feel inspired.

Sure, there are plenty of instances where I, as an educated mother, do know best — no, you can’t watch TV all day and live off of sugar — but for the most part she instinctively knows what she needs.

She knew as a baby she did not need her hair washed (or a bath at all for that matter). She resisted. I gave up. To this day, we don’t wash her hair, pretty much ever. And guess what, it’s not greasy.

She knew she didn’t want to wear clothes, a diaper, shoes or sunscreen. Why should she wear clothes when she’s not cold, except for arbitrary cultural rules? I fought her on the diaper way too long, to discover later diaperless babies who never wet the bed. I instinctly never forced her to wear shoes, and am glad I didn’t now that I know most of them are a less extreme version of Chinese foot binding. And sunscreen, even the natural kind, blocks her from absorbing vital nutrients and energy from the sun.

One of her main needs, at this age, is her need to be around other children. Because her species evolved as a highly social species, in tribes, where children were constantly surrounded by other children of various ages, the older acting as guides for the younger, with the parents always a stone’s throw away, she instinctively craves that scene.

She has always resisted school of all kinds, and almost all babysitting scenarios. Over time, she’s somewhat given in to both (she’s in a part-time unschooling school) as she’s had little other choice if she wants consistent interaction with kids. But she always begs me to stay at school or at the babysitters’ house. When say I have to work, she says, “just work here and talk to so and so’s mom.”

She gets it. She knows in her bones we we aren’t wired to live in single-family households, 20-plus minutes away from our closest friends. She knows kids aren’t meant to sit in kid-prison all day, so their parents can work jobs they hate all day.

So that’s what we’re working on next, saving up for land to build a bunch of tiny houses on, around a community garden and kitchen, where we can live with friends, instead of working for nothing.

So thank you Nora, for coming into this world remembering what it’s all about and reminding the grown-ups who’ve forgotten.