Whoa. That’s a mouthful! I’ve been meaning to write a post on misplaced reactionary guilt based defensiveness for quite some time. Paxye’s written about guilt before and we’ve talked at length about this subject but I’d like to take the time to publish my thoughts here on my blog!

I feel badly for people who immediately feel defensive enough to lash out in anger because it’s usually obvious that they are fighting their own guilt.

Topics that often bring out these defensive complaints are usually breastfeeding, birth, discipline and various other parenting choices.

A typical situation would be someone writing about the benefits of breastfeeding. Perhaps mentioning how it’s the obvious and best choice a mother can make and maybe mentioning that there are very few real reasons a mother can’t breastfeed. While this is fact, it’s definitely hard for a lot of mothers to hear because despite this truth there are many lifestyle based obstacles in the time and culture we live in today that can make breastfeeding difficult for some mothers.

The defensive reaction that usually comes out is that the writer sharing their thoughts is “wrong” and “how dare they!”. “Breastfeeding is hard/hurts/takes too much time!” That they couldn’t breastfeed because they “had no milk”, their “milk wasn’t good enough” or they need “me time” or they’re “tied down” and “losing themselves” having to breastfeed. They scream that they “couldn’t care less what anyone else thinks” but in the same breath produce a litany of justifications for their opinion which only a moment ago was held in a vacuum. My favourite is when a rant turns into “You’re so judgemental!” Ha. The irony is always lost on that one.

The truth of the matter is that if people have accepted their choices there wouldn’t be any need to get angry and defensive when reading other people’s opinions. It’s one thing to have an opposing opinion on a matter (I certainly have many of those) but it’s worthwhile to share it in a proactive manner without needing to convince others that you’re justified in your choice.

No one can make you feel any way, which is a concept lost on so many. We all need to take responsibility for our own feelings and reactions. Reading thoughts contrary to your own may spark upset feelings but realising why you feel that way and what you do with it from there is entirely in your control. Many people are all too eager to blame others for making them feel “bad” about not breastfeeding or having chosen a c-section or for using withdrawal of love (eg. time out) as a disciplining technique. It’s futile to take someone’s shared opinion as personal criticism. If you were confident in your choices it truly wouldn’t matter what others thought.

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12 Responses to Misplaced Reactionary Guilt Based Defensiveness

  1. paxye says:


    I would say more but I would be repeating you… and my blog post…

  2. Lindsay says:

    Great post! I agree. I wholeheartedly think that if you feel so defensive or guilty about a choice you’ve made or something you do, that maybe it’s time to step back and look at why that topic causes that reaction. As Meredith was getting more mobile and less happy sitting nursing and sleeping most of the day, I started to feel a bit guilty about all the time I sat in front of the computer. Rather than try and defend that choice, I realized if I was feeling guilty I probably was spending too much time on it and so chose to spend less time on the computer while she was awake. Problem solved!

    I love reading opinions from parents who have similar values to me (respectful of their children as people, etc.), yet do some (or many) things differently. Sometimes I think, “hey, that’s a good point and might work better”, other times I shake my head and know it’s not something I think would work for us, but I have yet to read something that makes me feel like I’m a bad parent because I do it differently.

    I don’t think I’m a perfect parent, but I do the best I can with the knowledge I have and recognize that if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. I’m happy and at peace with all the decisions we’ve made, even if some of them have ended up being reformed or scrapped altogether. I wish more parents could say the same, maybe we’d live in a happier place.

    Anyway, sorry for the long-windedness! This is another topic I have thought a lot about, especially while reading those posts you refer to about breastfeeding, circumcision, cosleeping, etc.

  3. Annie says:

    I love your comments so please don’t hold back!

    Oh my, who’s the perfect parent? I’m certainly not! I think our flaws make us closer to perfect though if we accept and work with them. I always want to do better and there’s unfortunately always room to grow. :D

    It can be a real kick in the pants when we realise that we had so much time on the computer when our babies weren’t mobile and then it becomes hard to make time to get on once the are all over the place and into things! I still have time to write and read blogs during Leif’s nap on my lap but after that when am I going to have time!?!

  4. Sarah says:

    We’re on the same wavelength today. I was about to put something up on my blog along the lines of “My parenting is not an implied criticism of yours.” Good lord, people.

    I hear you about the computer time. I barely have time to keep up on my own blog, much less look at forums or other blogs.

  5. Annie says:

    “My parenting is not an implied criticism of yours.” – Short and sweet and to the point. I like it!

  6. Mon says:

    I agree with you. If you’re confident of your choices, there’s nothing to be defensive about. I have a relative who is constantly defending everything against my own opinions. I don’t expect my opinions to be anyone’s but my own.

    However, you point out a couple of areas where I feel there needs to be a little more understanding. For example, telling a mother who is struggling with breastfeeding that she shouldn’t feel bad, defensive or guilty is misguided.

    You are dealing here with a very primeval urge as well as a whole bunch of hormones raging a wild party.

    As an example, I am one of those, I’m-totally-fine-with-my-choices type of person. But when I was struggling with breastfeeding I was wracked with guilt. And when it was over I was angry. Angry at all those who pushed their BF agenda onto me, AND onto other women. Not at those simply talking about BF, but those saying that if you don’t you’re inferior.

    This anger is justified and good. A little more anger creates changes. And when I say anger, I’m pretty chilled out, I just mean a theoretical anger, not walking around fuming.

    Of course becoming defensive over someone simply voicing an opinion is not productive and is really what you’re driving at. But some triggered emotions come from deeper places that aren’t so logical, but from a more feminine-intuitive-womb place.

  7. Annie says:

    “telling a mother who is struggling with breastfeeding that she shouldn’t feel bad, defensive or guilty”

    I actually don’t think this really helps a person get past these feelings to hear the above. Empathy is a much better instrument to use when talking to people like this, imo.

    This is exactly what I’m talking about. When someone sees another’s knowledge and passion for breastfeeding and it suddenly becomes a “breastfeeding agenda”- something’s not right. You don’t have to listen to other’s advice or passionate thoughts on breastfeeding or any other subject. No doubt guilt not having the positive experience you wanted makes this more difficult to ignore but that’s an internal struggle having less to do with the trigger (person talking to you about breastfeeding) than it does about unresolved issues within yourself.

    Basically I think it’s no one’s fault including the hurt and defensive mother that they are triggered by what they are being told or read. What the triggered mother does with those feelings are important. Either the mother can blame or attempt to shame the person talking about breastfeeding when it’s so hurtful to hear or the mother can take the proactive approach and step away from the trigger. The mother can work hard to get to a place where what they hear and read about breastfeeding isn’t hurtful anymore. Fully accept the reality of the situation and come to some peace.

    I imagine when someone is sharing their knowledge and passion for breastfeeding it’s not to make other’s feel badly but instead to offer mothers wisdom and support.

    Did you not breastfeed when you wanted to? :( I imagine any breastfeeding difficulties can’t be easy to deal with but especially when you’re already knowledgeable about why it’s the best and most natural choice to make.

  8. Annie says:

    Ps. I wrote this in a rush to head out to swimming lessons- so please excuse any spelling/grammatical errors! (Don’t snicker at me, Paxye! I had to say it!)

    Okay, I did edit for clarity before there were other replies.

  9. Lindsay says:

    I like that Sarah. Reminds me of a quote from an article on my “About” page: “I want to know not that you have followed my way, but that you know what your own way is.”

  10. Penelope says:

    Great post! And so very true.

  11. Mon says:

    Either the mother can blame or attempt to shame the person talking about breastfeeding when it’s so hurtful to hear or the mother can take the proactive approach and step away from the trigger.”


    A woman becoming defensive when someone merely speaks about breastfeeding and how wonderfully amazing it is, is one thing. A woman’s inner defenses triggered when someone states that BF is the ONLY choice is another. I don’t know many women triggered by BF advocates, only by BF fascists.

  12. Annie says:

    I wonder if I haven’t met any “breastfeeding fascists”? Breastfeeding is an amazingly loving, comforting and nourishing act and one I can’t imagine being associated with a word that is more often than not reminiscent of hate, genocide and extreme political intolerance. I find it ironic that the empathic nature of a response like this is as forceful and strident as the message one is protesting against. I have met a lot of well meaning and passionate breastfeeding advocates who don’t always take the extra time to give hurt and easily defensive mothers the empathy they could use or disclaimer’s along with the message they want to get across.

    I think the fact though is the same- if one was at peace with their decision than they wouldn’t feel defensive about the message from any breastfeeding proponents no matter how strong. It’s a serious shame that any mother have such guilt to make them feel at the whim of other’s words.

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