According to my child-raising bible, a toddler’s security object is an important symbol of comfort, bridging the transition from Mummy’s arms into the big scary world. “Don’t try to force your child to abandon this source of reassurance,” the book admonishes – but what if the security object isn’t an old blanket or a stuffed toy – what if it’s Mummy’s breast?
Breast-fed babies don’t seem to rely on Blankie or Ducky as much as their bottle-fed peers. New mothers might congratulate themselves upon raising such self-sufficient young people – but wait until the weaning. Baby’s favourite toy may not supply food any more, but it’s just as warm and tactile – and almost as accessible. Experts agree that a child must not become excessively dependent on the security object, but their advice for dealing with blankets and bears is not adaptable to the breast.
“Make sure you wash the object regularly, or your child may become attached to the unclean odour,” says the book, but that is not our problem. I want just one loving mother-daughter photograph undistorted by the small arm thrust down my neckline in the moment between posing and the click of the camera.
Perhaps the problem stems from my lack of shyness about breast-feeding. I’ve been self-conscious while feeding spaghetti or Easter eggs to my baby in public, but never breast milk. Now she is repaying my convenient nonchalance by exposing me shamelessly at any opportunity. At a barbecue recently, I was describing my new job to a group of people. As my audience gradually backed away with glazed eyes, I suffered the usual social terrors of a stay-at-home mother: have I forgotten how to talk to adults? Am I rambling, or using toddler jargon? I was actually relieved to discover that my daughter had been sitting on my lap for some time, happily playing with her toys. At least I wasn’t being boring….
After that barbecue, my husband took a more personal interest in the security-object concern. He looked through the book and discovered this intriguing option: “Shop around for a similar or identical alternative, for when the original is not available.” I was quick to discourage his enthusiasm for that solution. And neither of us were taken with the following suggestion: “…or cut it into several pieces, so your child has a spare for when the original is lost or in the wash.”
So I could hire a nubile nanny, strap myself down like a Russian gymnast – or just hope she’ll grow out of it. I’m not very optimistic though. The experts who said a toddler will outgrow breast-obsession by eighteen months haven’t met the child who comes home from pre-school and asks in her best little-good-girl voice: “Play Mummy’s bubbies now please?”
We should have saved the lessons in manners until after we’d dealt with the baby issues.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem