Monday, May 21, 2012

Carnival of Weaning: Love Changes Form

Welcome to the Carnival of Weaning: Weaning - Your Stories
This post was written for inclusion in the Carnival of Weaning hosted by Code Name: Mama and Aha! Parenting. Our participants have shared stories, tips, and struggles about the end of the breastfeeding relationship.

Weaning can bring up some interesting experiences for everyone in the family. Sometimes mom is ready while other times it is difficult to let a child pass into the next phase of life. Sometimes baby or child is ready and other times they want to hold onto the warm connection they have with mom for just a little (or a lot) longer. Sometimes dad or other family members think it's "time", when both mom and child are still content to continue the nursing relationship.

In cultures where such developments are often ruled by a clock or schedule, it may be difficult to hold an open space for weaning to simply take place for the natural occurrence that it can be. Our beliefs about such a process definitely influence how the experience feels for everyone involved.

Early on in parenting I was introduced to the idea that weaning doesn't have to be something that mom does to her child, that it could be a more child-led or even mutual experience -- kind of a dance where both parties would know when the music transitioned. While that idea was intriguing, I had little tools to put it into practice when I felt overwhelmed with nursing a toddler and at the same time wanted the close connection we had through breastfeeding to continue. I felt a bit at a loss and sadness plagued me as I encouraged her to wean.

As I have grown to include more children I am reminded of a few thoughts I have embraced along the way as a mother. Maybe they will help other mothers embrace weaning as not only a component of breastfeeding, but a continual process in parenting.

Weaning begins when a baby starts eating and moving away from mother; this is healthy, natural, and desired. Many of the tears I shed over weaning had to do with holding to ideals about child-led weaning being a certain time frame or type of experience. While I respect that certain people and agencies are sharing information about average weaning ages the world over, those may or may not apply to any particular mom and baby. We must come to peace in our own relationships.

If we look at weaning in terms of reality, how it occurs, we will see that it begins very early with babies showing interest in food and moving about in their environment with incrementally more and more space between themselves and mom. This is just how it is regardless of what culture we are talking about. Babies and children gradually grow into more independence when allowed to follow a natural course, meaning we do not over-protect nor force our ideas on them. With this approach, the process is healthy; it does not need to be pushed or feared. It can benefit from being embraced.

Weaning means "to ripen". I'm not sure where I heard this first and I'm not going to look it up to provide proper attribution. I'm just going to go on the concept and how it influences me.

When is a fruit at its most delicious? When it's ripe. Would we like it before that? Sure, we can appreciate it in its growth process from even before seed until it's a bit past ripe. All stages have their value. Would we like it after it's past ripe? Possibly, but we will most likely recognize the value of enjoying it when it's ripe rather than holding onto it too long afterward.

In terms of breastfeeding and parenting, if we view weaning as a growth process into and through ripening we can see the value of allowing it to occur in a space of positive expectancy. It's not bad for fruit to ripen; quite the contrary. It's also not necessary to push it to ripen. The other factor, though, in the nursing relationship is the mother's experience. She, too, is ripening. Moms go through the process just as much as their littles, growing through the progression of a very close relationship with their babies and children to a relationship of a different form.

Love simply changes form. This is the most pertinent to embrace, in my opinion. We get all kinds of ideas about love, how we share it, what it means, and whether we're providing it rightly or enough to our children.

There's no doubt that the breastfeeding relationship has the potential to cultivate a heart-to-heart connection between mother and child. While the child nurses, mom is open and receptive while at the same time giving - when all is going well. The child receives not only physical nourishment in the form of milk, but also emotional and spiritual nourishment in the form of unconditional love. Sometimes, though, nursing does not feel like this and it may be that it's time for some assistance or a change.

Change is not necessarily bad, especially when it is love changing form. Just because a mother decides to wean -- or that breastfeeding is not for her -- does not mean that the love she has for her child is not enough, less than, or otherwise tainted. It means that the ways she expresses her love are changing, and that is okay. I'll say it again, that is okay.

Through out the parenting relationship our babies grow into children, children grow into "tweens", then teens, and adults. And through out, the love we hold for them does not need to feel restricted or lessen based on the shifting of how we relate when we choose to embrace the fact that love changes form.

One way to continually experience a deep feeling of love and appreciation of our children, regardless of phase or age, is through embracing full body awareness. It's all too easy to fall into the trap of viewing either growing children or the parent-child relationship itself as a pain, or with a negative slant. Through deeply experiencing the love we have for them on a regular basis we can come to realize that everything in life is changing form, all of the time, and we get to choose how we relate to those changes.

I am so grateful to the lovely Amy Phoenix of Presence Parenting for sharing this post.  Although only one of my four children has weaned, I can see that our relationship has continued to grow and ripen, and that all the love and closeness that was a part of our breastfeeding experience have not changed in substance.  Our love has only changed form.  For more peace and insight from Amy, please check out her website and Facebook pages!

Thank you for visiting the Carnival of Weaning hosted by Dionna at Code Name: Mama and Dr. Laura at Aha! Parenting.

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants (and many thanks to Joni Rae of Tales of a Kitchen Witch for designing our lovely button):

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon May 21 with all the carnival links.)


Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

I love your description of weaning as a dance - that does not shadow the process in terms of sadness or loss. And thinking about it as ripening (and as love changing form) puts it in such a wonderfully positive light - thank you, Amy!! I really can't express how much I love this post.

Hippie Housewife said...

Beautiful! Love "changing form" was very much my experience after each of my boys weaned.

Prof. Hannah said...

I love how beautiful this post is in how it describes the weaning process - especially the emphasis on how the love doesn't end, it changes.

Melissa said...

I love what you said about weaning being an ongoing process in every parenting relationship. Every story is different, every mother is different, and every child is different. Mutual respect of each others needs makes such a difference.

jessica said...

I so connected with weaning being an ongoing process. I wanted to include it in my own post, but couldn't fit it in there well ;-). Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

Dr. Laura Markham said...

Amy- LOVE CHANGES FORM. So perfectly put. That describes the entire journey of mothering, doesn't it? And I also love the idea of "positive expectancy". What a wonderful way to approach life with our children. Trusting that our children will ripen and blossom, and trusting our own mama wisdom to respond in a healing, positive way. Because our love is always with our just changes form. Thanks so much for this lovely post!

Amy Phoenix said...

Thank you for hosting, Dulce, and thank you everyone for commenting. :) Weaning is a journey, a part of motherhood. An unfolding... may we all embrace it as such.