When people see me breastfeeding my almost 5-year-old, I get a ton of comments (as you can imagine, and might be making right now). But before you hit the comment button, please spare me the “he needs to learn to be independent.”
I know it’s hard to watch the news and see the amount of kids killing kids, violence in schools and bullying. We want to find an answer, we want to have someone to blame. It seems to be the knee-jerk reaction to think that these kids aren’t being disciplined enough, that their parents need to beat some sense into them.
Reality TV and social media have created an entire population of instant doctors, lactation consultants, psychologists, scientists, parenting experts and many other professionals. While sitting on the couch and spewing out opinions on the internet as facts is a most popular pastime these days, an expert you are not. The way you become an expert is to go to school for a long time and then work in that field for a long time.
This is where I come in as a social worker with a master’s degree and 14 years' experience with abused and neglected children. If there is one thing that I can tell you, it’s that being breastfed for too long isn’t the issue with kids these days.
Independence is fostered, not forced. It’s like a seed in soil that needs water and sunlight. It soaks up the nutrients of the earth and begins to sprout, pushing upward toward direct sunlight. Once it bursts through the topsoil, it unfolds its leaves. The plant continues to soak up water and nutrients from the earth and pulls them up the stem into the leaves where sunlight is drawn in. Soon a colorful flower blooms.
You cannot kick the seed to go faster. You cannot slap the seed to make its flower bloom. You can’t yell at it or send it to military school to make this process go any quicker. You cannot force a child into independence. Forcing a child to grow up is a common desire for many modern parents. We tell them to quit crying, stop whining, get up you’re OK, stop acting like a baby and so on.
When we force kids into what we think is growing up, we do not give them time to gain the trust, attachment, connection and love that they need to really be independent someday. This force can cause long-term anxiety, distrust of the world, depression and lead to other issues down the line such as emotional, psychological and behavioral issues, drug abuse, violence and a bunch of other things that some people feel they are warding off. So it seems we are back where we started with wanting an answer to the violence we see in kids.
Force is not the answer. Just as we cannot rush the gestation period of a fetus or jump and down to make the earth spin quicker on its axis, we cannot rush childhood. It has a purpose. A really vital one.
Keep the kids close — you don’t have to breastfeed to do this, but you can, and it will have positive effects, not negative ones. It fosters that love and connection that will lead to trust, emotional stability, self-esteem and independence.
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