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That Crazy Mother

You know her. She's that woman over there with the unkempt look, the disheveled hair, the strident voice. She's the one who's a little too involved with her child, a little too interfering. Maybe a bit too controlling. She's that crazy mother.

What is it about becoming a parent that turns a reasonably polite, discreet woman into a guerrilla warrior for her child? And why is it that no matter how righteous the cause, whenever we assert ourselves on behalf of our children we must be prepared to do battle with the crazy mother stereotype within ourselves and in the minds of others?

With the current prominence of the Children's Defense Fund and other groups that help children, child advocacy is coming of age. Our statement of purpose for the magazine includes "Mothering is ... a fierce advocate of the needs and rights of the child ... " As a magazine, we can maintain some distance from the issues of child advocacy that we cover, issues in which the child's side of the story often is not well understood or not reported. As parents, however, it takes real strength of character to be advocates for our children, especially at times when we are either embarrassed or angered by their behavior or at a loss to understand it.

Even when we don't understand the behavior of our children, they still deserve respect and advocacy. Our well-meaning but sometimes insensitive friends may confuse us and make us feel crazy when they set standards for our children's behavior or ask repeated intimate questions about their private habits.

Sometimes we find ourselves in social situations that require impossible compliance by our children or are not appropriate for their developmental stage. At these times we may appear crazy and overprotective to others when we shield our children from experiences we judge to be questionable.

Those of us who have been led by our children into extended breast­feeding and family sleeping wonder how something that works so well can be considered so crazy, and yet we feel crazy when we talk about these things to those who don't understand. Sleep deprivation, concerns for social deviation, and fear of child ruination are the stuff of the new parent's initiation. We must do our own thing with our families in order to create the definitions of a new family. We are supposed to be crazy, to be different. As young adults we do things differently than our parents. As new families we do things unique to our union. Those who are willing to be unique in a culture are sometimes looked upon as crazy.

The needs of infants and toddlers are so obvious, and they are so innocent in their demands, that we feel confident responding to them even if others question us. As our children get older, however, we may not always understand their needs quite as easily, or will sometimes have to make decisions that are unpopular with our children, and may make us look crazy, even to them.

All parents face difficult decisions regarding infant feeding, newborn testing, circumcision, diapers, nightwaking, sleeping, vaccinations, and so forth. Some parents also face special medical situations that require the courage to insist on the integrity of the child's emotional experience in the face of necessary and sometimes lifesaving medical procedures.

Successful advocacy rests on holding a position without being positional. And while we don't always feel we can compromise where our children's needs are concerned, we can develop a capacity to insist on our position without insulting others. We can be persistent. And we can have faith in the best possible outcome, in the biggest possible picture for our child, and for our child's capabilities.

We join with others when we protect our children. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child says, among other things, that "All children's opinions shall be given careful consideration, and their best interests shall be protected."

Being crazy is not just for moms. Crazy dads follow in the same tradition. We're crazy any time we take an unpopular position in a group or support someone or something just because of love. We're crazy any time we stick up for our children without any evidence. I can't always control the events of my children's lives, but now and then I can get all worked up over them with such righteousness that it's awesome. At those times I realize how fierce and irrational my willingness to defend my children is, how animal-like, how instinctual. One feels in this type of attachment part of the greater good.

It's good to be a little bit crazy. A little bit crazy about your child and willing to get crazy for him or her. I'm sure there's supposed to be at least one, maybe two people who think you are the greatest no matter what. Someone who rushes to defend you without knowing the whole story. Someone who sympathizes even after knowing it. Someone who is crazy about you. The Crazy Mother's Club is open to both men and women. You can tell the members by the red badge of courage they wear barely visible on the lapel. You can also tell them by a certain gleam in their eye. They are the parents who are willing to get crazy for love.

Excerpted from: Editorial, Mothering Magazine, No. 78, Spring 1996, Pages 6-7. Reprinted with permission.