For the past 9 months, I have been having the time of my life raising our little blessing. Also, for the past 9 months, I’ve had numerous cases of self-doubt. I kept wondering if I have what it takes to raise a healthy and happy child. Public advise, and opinions haven’t helped decrease that doubt.
The one thing I love about being black is our sense of community. It is the one principle that makes us who we are. The moment the word is out about a funeral at home, you know you don’t have to go around asking people to help. You’ll have people flooding to your house offering a hand, cleaning, serving guests, or preparing food the night before the funeral. Its unsolicited help but it is greatly appreciated. I remember a white colleague talking about this after attending a friend’s family funeral. She kept seeing people coming in an out with sugar, oil, mealie meal etc. and she loved what she saw.
Our sense of community is evident in various parts of our lives. As a mom, I have realized that our child has many moms. I once visited my uncle’s church in the East Rand. As soon as we walked in, Tshimo was out of my arms. The lady sitting behind us said “Ngicela ungi boleke yena”. This means “please lend me your daughter” as if she is a toy. The one minute she was with that lady and the next she is three rows behind me- getting passed around like a rugby ball. I was a rugby player with other people’s children before I became a mom. New-born babies are cute and cuddly, so I got why people always jumped for mine.
One of the many ladies that held my baby had one of her own. Her boy was walking and almost talking. Side note: Tshimo was only 4 months old and her son was almost 2 years old. He was drinking formula that was clearly for children his age. She asked what seemed to be an innocent question, and I innocently replied.
Her: ‘Does she feed on a bottle”
Me: “No, not yet”
Her: “Oh, let me see”.
Me: Thank you but NO thank you.
I immediately jumped in and blocked the bottle from entering my daughter’s mouth. A 2-year old’s formula cannot be fed to a 4-month-old. It cannot. It just can’t. CAN NOT! I spoke about this in my previous blog.
I don’t think she realized what that did to me as a new mom. I was questioning my decision to exclusively breastfeed. I considered putting her on formula just in case that is how it is done. There is always a big debate around breastfeeding and formula feeding. I found myself facing that challenge. But why should I change my decisions based on another woman’s experience? I was blessed enough with a partner that kept reassuring me that I was doing great, and now and again, it worked.
Not only was she questioning my decision to not formula feed, she went on to ask why I am not allowing her to play on the ground alone. Please note that we are in a church and the floor is not wooden or carpeted. She also asked why she isn’t sitting on her own yet. Her exact response to my reasoning was: “looks like your baby is going to give you problems when she grows up”. I was not in the best of moods when I left the church that Sunday.
The concept of spoiling is a big thing, especially in the black community. I received conflicting information about whether to coddle my baby or comfort her when she was clearly unhappy. A lot of moms advised me to teach her independence from an early age, and a very few moms told me that the concept of spoiling does not exist for a couple of months.
A few weeks ago, I attended a family event. The baby was surrounded by a lot of people who all wanted a turn to hold her. She became overwhelmed, rightly so. So, in turn, she did not want to be held by anyone else but me. So, for the rest of the day, I kept hearing:
“You spoiled the baby”
“Your baby hates people”
“Why do you cuddle her so much”
You really have a problem child”
“How do you even go out with her”
“You need to get her used to people, especially family”
To me, that’s code for: “You are doing a crappy job at this”
The community baby is a good baby. She is adored by everyone and raised by everyone. The community baby, though, is not yours alone, so you aren’t allowed to make decisions about your child on your own. I make them nonetheless, but with that comes a lot of resentment from the community.
I write this to rid myself of the guilt that comes with having to tell people “thanks, but no thanks”. As much as we need people around us to help us when needed, we also need to be given the independence to make decisions on how I’ll raise my children and when to start our children on solids.
We all have different ways in which we raise our children. Baby Dove SA ran a campaign they coined #RealMom and #RealDad. The main objective of this campaign was to emphasize that perfect parents do not exist. Trying to implement every unsolicited advice we receive from people around is trying to be a perfect parent, which is impossible. I’ve learned to do what feels right for me. At the end of the day, this is my daughter and her wellbeing are my responsibility. So, moms, if your child is growing, healthy and happy, pat yourself on the shoulder, you are doing a great job (self-talk).
For now, thank you for sharing this journey with me.
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