What would you do?

I was thrilled the first time I watched Willow demonstrate imaginary play on her own. She was sitting on our living room floor setting up a party in her 1980s plastic dollhouse.  

IMG_1387I was equally excited the first time I saw her nurse a doll shortly after Iris was born.

Now, even though Iris was exclusively breastfed, Willow sometimes pretends to bottle-feed her stuffed friends. This isn’t any surprise to me, because the majority of children’s books and media don’t feature breastfed babies.

What did surprise me though was when Willow offered her nipple to console Iris after I refused to nurse her the other day.

She lifted her shirt and simply said, “Here Iris. You can nurse.”

Even more surprising, Iris accepted her offer! She briefly latched, came off and then pretended to hold milk in her mouth like she sometimes does after I breastfeed her.

For a while I was speechless and to be honest, a little uncomfortable. Was it inappropriate to allow this behavior? My husband seems to think so.

Why was I questioning Willow’s offer to comfort her sister? Why did I as a breastfeeding advocate feel like it was slightly inappropriate to allow the behavior? Would it have been any different had Willow offered Iris a bottle?


Once I was able to gather words, I told Willow that it was very sweet of her to console her sister, but that “we should leave the nursing up to Mama.”

As I reflect on my discomfort, I worry about the way it might affect my daughters’ perceptions of breastfeeding and their bodies.

Not long before the “Willow nurses Iris incident,” Willow took off her shirt outside in our front yard.

I gasped and ordered her to put on her shirt.

“But the runners don’t wear shirts sometimes,” she argued.

Right. The runners don’t wear shirts sometimes, I agreed.

“Let’s keep your shirt on though,” I said without giving her a reason.

Although I am very honest and scientific in my discussions about human bodies with my young daughters, I wasn’t prepared to have a discussion with Willow about the societal differences imposed on male and female bodies.

Had Willow taken off her shirt 10 years from now, I might suggest we discuss the Free the Nipple equality movement, and ask her to share her thoughts with me.

But the other day, should I have allowed her to remain topless?  My husband says, “Absolutely not.”

But why not? Because it’s against the law for females to be topless? Because female bodies are too indecent to be exposed? Because my husband and I are so saturated by societal norms that it’s become instinct to freak out and tell her to put her shirt back on?

Am I overthinking these incidents? Or am I right to scrutinize them? Something tells me that the way I respond during these moments has the potential to shape the way my daughters view their bodies and their futures as women.
What do you think? Please share your thoughts with us.

2 Replies to “What would you do?”

  1. I am remembering a dance camp I attend every year; the granddaughter of the founder is a beautiful 3 year-old. This summer (2015), she often ran around naked, in freedom. I loved seeing her sweet innocent cherubic body.

    My daughter at age 9 (1984), would come home from school and do two things: throw her backpack on the living room floor, and take off all her clothes. She stopped doing this on her own around the time of the first changes of puberty.

    Today, when children are sometimes picked up by the policing for walking home unattended from school after a neighbor has called in a complaint, it can be difficult to know what to do.

    We do teach our children about the world; one of the most painful things for me as a parent was the realization that it was I that had to corrupt my child by teaching her the need to be careful in certain situations. It was I that had to spoil her innocence. Weird, yet I couldn’t risk her being hurt by a stranger.

    A suggestion to let children free to be or to do whatever they wanted at home, as long as there is no name-calling or belittling could work to honor their developmental stage. We do things differently at home than we do out in the world, even as adults.

    One of the great teachings my children gave to me is to question myself. Sometimes my first reaction to a request was to say, “No” and then I would think about it, and wonder, “Why not? What is the harm?” and then I would discuss this with my child. Sometimes I would apologize for saying “No” first, without thinking. Sometimes it was my mother’s words that would walk out of my mouth and I had to become conscious of that as I parented my children completely differently from the way I was parented.

    All food for thought. {{{Jess}}}

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