Weaning with Gentleness {One Mom's Experience}

As I begin the weaning process with my seventh child, I look back on this post from 2013 and find that every bit of it still rings true...


I have begun the weaning process with Cub and it's shaping up to be a different sort of thing than I've experienced before. With my first kids I was brutal...

You're done. Deal with it, kid.

But a large part of that approach was motivated by cultural pressure and a faulty idea that there exists an objectively perfect and correct time to wean. I was afraid of going past that point because I was afraid, frankly, of being wrong. After a few more children, I've become a little more humble, flexible, and gentle with each child and I've found that parental sweet spot that brings child and mama optimal peace. 

I prefer to stop at two years (or pregnancy) but I think gentle weaning is kinder to the child who so naturally loves and trusts and clings to his mother. It tends to take a little longer but it seems more natural to my motherhood, which is inclined toward relationship and not calendar watching.

Cub is still one but his second birthday is closing in on us and the poor child has no clue that he will be forced to wean in the near future. It simply has never crossed his mind that this particular source of nourishment and comfort will someday come to an end. We've talked a little about it but he mostly just ignores me and keeps nursing. Telling a child that you are going to take away something he loves does not cause him to relinquish it, but only makes him cling to it more tightly. The conversation goes something like this:

You know, Cub, big kids don't nurse. (I then rattle off the names of all the other people in the house who do not breastfeed.)

Cub nods at me while he continues to nurse.

Your brothers and sisters are big boys and girls. And you are getting to be a big boy, too.

More nodding.

That means that you will be just like them soon... and you will stop nursing.

The little head is still and silent for about 60 seconds as it absorbs this thought. He finally lifts his eyes to mine for a moment and, to my everlasting astonishment, announces...

I'm a baby.

Which brings me to another point. Which is that it is more complicated in some ways to nurse an older child who is verbally advanced. While younger children are still pointing and squeaking to get what they want, this child says very clearly:

Mommy, I want to eat. Can I please eat? Get the monkey blanket, Mommy. Can I nurse? Please? Sit down, Mommy. Let's go.

It is at those times that I look at my husband and say: It's time to wean. Today.

Even at this young age, my little guy can verbally communicate almost anything he wants to and when his precious heart pours forth into words, I am rendered largely helpless...

I want to nurse, Mommy.

Not now, Cub.

Yes, Mommy.

No, dear. Wait until later.

I'm cryin', Mommy.

Yes, I see that. Would you like some scrambled eggs?

No. I want a hoc gog.

No hot dog. How about some eggs?

Okay, Mommy. And water? Can I have water?

Yes.

Can I nurse, Mommy?

No. Not right now.

Yes, Mommy. I want to nurse.

You may nurse later.

I'm a big boy?

You're a big boy.

Can I have a hoc gog?

Yes.

Toddler Genius. There are smoke and mirrors and confusion and then all of a sudden, mother is sitting down and eating the hot dog that she said that she wouldn't make for her child... while he snuggles happily in her arms and nurses when she told him he couldn't.

When Cub was born, I made a resolution that I would not let the days slip away carelessly. I know how many times I let "busy" steal my attention from the babies. I was there, but not there, know what I mean? So I decided that I would cherish the moments and breathe this baby in. And I have done it. And the time still flies by distressingly fast. Now that I have come to this point of weaning again, I notice something different about myself: I simply don't care what anyone else thinks. I can see that the relationship is good and that breastfeeding is healthy and rightly ordered. There is a time for weaning but it always does seem to break a child's heart. All five times I have done it have been sad and confusing for them. They simply don't understand. Although I don't intend to nurse for several years, I do understand why some moms do. Because they know the relationship is pure and good... and they don't wish to make the child cry. But there is a way to wean without completely breaking little hearts...

Slowly. Considerately. Affectionately. And when the day does come and the child cries from the loss, it's okay to cry with them. Because this most precious, innocent, and safe moment has passed... and the harshness of the world is one step closer.

A few minutes ago while writing this post, I heard a tiny, sleepy voice calling me from upstairs.

Mommy!

I heard it through the baby monitor and started to hustle upstairs. When I reached the middle of the staircase, I began to say what I always say:

I'm here. I'm coming. I can hear you.

But before the words left my mouth, I heard...

Mommy...You are here? You are coming? 

He was sitting up and waiting for me and held his arms out to me as I approached.

Yes, I am here.

Can I eat? Can I nurse?

I hesitated as I recalled the words I had just been writing. I thought that perhaps tonight should be the night to tell him no. And then I thought that it was not a good night for us to cry. Not yet.

Yes, you may nurse. Just a little while.

Just a little? 

Yes. and then you need to go to sleep like a big boy.

Okay, Mommy. Okay.

And I wrapped him in my arms until he slept.

It occurs to me now that this ability to converse with a weaning child is a precious gift, a great opportunity to communicate hearts and minds. Weaning will be a loss in some ways and we can talk about it together. And it will be a celebration in other ways and I will tell him how proud I am that he is so big and brave. Eventually, he will rest his little head on my shoulder and sigh with big sad eyes... but he will not ask the question anymore.

It is a stupid and callous culture that mocks the nursing relationship and tarnishes the purity of the bond between mother and child. I know that now and simply refuse to consider it's opinion about when I should wean my children.

JUST to clarify... this post is not about you. It's about me and my little guy. I promise I don't mind if you nurse or not or for how long you do it. And I trust that you love your little people and know how to take care of them. :)

2015 UPDATE: As I said at the beginning, I am now in the process of weaning another child; my youngest, who will be 2 in just a couple of weeks. We are having conversations and our hearts are breaking just a little. Last night, she cried and turned her big, sad, damp eyes to her daddy. What's wrong, little one? he asked. Mommy not nurse me. 

He held her tight and she put his forehead between her hands and kissed him with a big sloppy kiss. Then she scooted over to me, rested her head on my shoulder... and slept. By that time, her tears had dried. But mine flowed freely.

Posted on July 8, 2015 and filed under motherhood, parenting.