I’ve talked lots of times about how thankful I am for growing up in a family where breastfeeding is completely normal. My husband’s family isn’t like that. They aren’t “against” breastfeeding, like some families are, and they have never tried to convince me to stop, for any reason. I think they are probably like a lot of families in Australia – they know breastfeeding to be the normal way to feed babies, and they have seen the campaigns telling everyone why it’s important, but they are still wrapping their heads around because they didn’t grow up around it.
They sometimes don’t know which way to look when I’m breastfeeding, especially as my kids have grown out of babyhood and into toddlers, but they don’t say anything – they know their feelings are their issue and don’t expect me to stop on their account. They sometimes ask questions about how it all works. Sometimes they make inappropriate jokes, which can be a bit squirmish for me, but I don’t take it as a sign of disrespect, it’s just their way of getting used to the idea. Sometimes they tag me in every single breastfeeding thing they see on Facebook too. Sometimes I’ll be tagged in the same thing twenty times after I’ve already seen it in every single group I’m in, but ultimately I appreciate the effort everyone goes to, to find common ground with me.
Soon after my son turned 3, breastfeeds became something that we don’t do out of our home, and soon after that they were something that only happened in bed, either before or after sleeping. So while I have never lied to anyone, it would be understandable for any family members who don’t read my blog (most don’t), to assume Mr 5 finished breastfeeding a year or two ago.
A few weeks ago at a family barbecue, everyone was feeling pretty merry after a big dinner and a few drinks. A family friend told a story of the horror and disgust he felt when he found out a bartender at a nightclub was still breastfeeding her 6 year old. I looked for my kids, preparing to swoop them out of earshot if these comments turned into a boisterous conversation. Mr 5 is extremely perceptive, and he would have felt great shame to hear someone talking about term breastfeeding that way. I’m a pretty assertive person and don’t usually shy away from expressing my opinion, but I never considered engaging in a conversation or argument in this situation, purely for the protection of my kids. My husband must feel the same because he didn’t say anything either. I almost held my breath and shut my eyes, waiting to see the reaction from my inlaws.
A few of them suddenly found the grain of our wooden table very interesting. Someone found a spiderweb in the corner of the ceiling to stare at. I actually saw one or two rolled eyes. After an awkward silence, one of my husband’s brothers very obviously changed the subject.
And that was that!
Some people might have felt the silence was a lack of support, but I feel the opposite.
What we say matters, but sometimes what we don’t say matters more. I don’t know if my inlaws support the idea of term breastfeeding or not, but their unwillingness to get involved in a discussion shaming a mother and child for it while my kids and I were present means the world to me. Sometimes support is loud and vocal, with lots of praise heaped on top. And sometimes it’s a quiet nod in your direction, acceptance that you (you with the awesome kids, who are probably awesome because of the way you raise them) deserve space to do what you do when it’s working for you.
Sometimes the biggest hurdle to finding support from your extended family is understanding that although they don’t support you the way you expect or even the way you want, they probably still care about you in their own way.
I love and appreciate my extended family very much, and I’m blessed to feel like they love me too.