Salt and Sugar

I’m always a little reluctant to tackle subjects like “demand feeding” versus “schedule feeding” and other topics in this general area because women tend to have such strong feelings about these things, and I have no desire to get into a raging debate with any of the Christian sisters about such things.  But brace yourselves, I’m going to stick my neck out a wee little bit.

First of all, whoever named the alternative to schedule feeding “demand” feeding was quite clever but not necessarily being fair. Some moms do everything on a schedule, and so to put the newborn on a schedule is simply that mother’s natural way of doing things. But whenever I imagine the alternative described by the word demand, I think of a spoiled child who is still nursing at age three when he should be learning his ABC’s and sitting at the table with a cup. My style of mothering newborns was very similar to my style of doing other things. If we were to the point where my doctor recommended feedings every four hours, I would take a peek at the clock, see that it had only been fifteen minutes, and figure that it just wasn’t dinnertime yet. But if I was just twenty minutes out from being four hours since the last feeding, I didn’t fuss about it. And if I thought we were in a growth spurt or some other such mysterious thing, I didn’t stress out about the clock. So I wouldn’t describe that as “demand” feeding. But it certainly was regular feeding. It worked and they grew. If demand feeding means spoiling a child, then I am against it. If demand feeding means that you feed the child regularly when they are hungry, then I’m for it. If schedule feeding means that the world revolves around you and your schedule no matter what, I’m against it. If it means you feed your child regularly without being a slave to the clock , I’m for it.

Every mother has her own style, and it is always dangerous to claim that your “method” is the only one approved by the Bible. Of course every mother should think that her own way works the best and appeals the most to her. The real danger appears when one group of mothers begins to look down on the other group of mothers, criticizing their method of feeding their own babies. It really is a ridiculous thing if we just think about it for a minute. I never hear mothers asking one another if they serve dinner on time every night and getting huffy if someone doesn’t. When it comes to things like that, we see how it is very much not our business. But how mothers feed their babies has become (for some reason) a matter for public discourse, disapproval, and busy-bodiness. 

So let’s see if we can come up with some governing principles to guide us in these things.

1. Babies are born hungry. Feed them! I’m a big fan of nursing simply because that seems to be what God had in mind in the first place. But you can take any good thing too far, and when a kid in sneakers can run up to Mom to pull her shirt up for a snack, I think we have exceeded the bounds. And if a mother wants to supplement or doesn’t want to nurse her child for whatever reason, I feel she ought not be cornered by women interrogating her about it. Neither should she be shunned by the women who do it differently. Why so militant? It is, afterall, her child.

2. Of course a baby will yell and fuss when he’s hungry. What else can the little guy do? He can’t write a note or speak politely yet, so a mother should get the message by all the other commotion. This is the way God has designed us. A newborn needs to be fed more often than a six-month old.  A newborn should be fed during the night hours. But at a certain age or weight, a child can sleep through the night without a midnight snack. I remember getting to that point, and then the baby would get a fever and need some night-time consolation. Then we would get back to the no-night feedings again. It took a while to get there, but we made it!

3. When we had a baby who was fed, changed, not sick, but hollering and fussing anyway, we would assume that it must be bedtime. When we put the little fusser tenderly to bed, my husband would tell him or her to “count it all joy.” There is nothing wrong with a baby crying in his bed instead of all around the house while you jump and swing and sing and rock and nothing works. Our kids cried themselves to sleep many times, and it didn’t seem to hurt their little psyches one bit. At the same time, if it was time to start getting them to sleep through the night (whenever that was, I forget), I didn’t just roll over and ignore them. We would go to their room and check on them, make sure everything was all right, give them a kiss, and put them back to bed. And since I was recognized as the chuck-wagon, my husband often did this duty so the baby didn’t get his hopes up. This was part of the night-time weaning process.

4. Babies need lots of loving. They are little bottomless pits for love and affection. So I think mothers should pour it on. You want to rock and hold and love on your baby when the parenting book says he should be having his “quiet time” in his crib? Goodness gracious, relax and enjoy your baby.

5. Mothers can tie themselves in knots over these things. It’s great to seek the advice of an older woman, if you know she doesn’t have a stake in her method. The world is a messy place. Some women like a schedule and some don’t. Some breastfeed and some don’t. I’m not saying that I have no preferences. Of course I do. But there is no reason for me to impose them on everyone else.

6. Mothers tend to be sentimental. This means we can be manipulated away from doing what would really be the best thing for the child. And how are we manipulated? We don’t want them to cry, we don’t want to say no for any reason, we hate the thought of not having a baby at the breast. This is where molly-coddling comes from: mothers who need to be weaned themselves! We want to mother our children like Christian women, not like women who do not fear God.

Finally, and most important: These things require wisdom. Wisdom is something that we must seek, pray for, and grow in. If we find a book that has everything mapped out for us with charts and graphs, we don’t need to seek wisdom because someone has already told us what to do. But parenting is way too complicated for such things. As Anne Bradstreet said, some children need salt, some need sugar. Every child is different. And lo and behold, just when you think you have it down pat, they pull some new thing. Then you are back on your knees asking God for wisdom again.  But that is just where He wants us.

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26 thoughts on “Salt and Sugar

  1. This is such a breath of fresh air! I remember reading something similar in one of your books when I had my first child and found out I was not able to breastfeed. It helped me climb out of the pile of guilt the nursing nazis tried to heap upon me!

  2. Both of my boys were born 9lbs 4oz, so, they did (one still doing) a whole lot more sleeping than eating. One time not long ago a woman asked me how often my baby nursed (he was not a month old) and I told her about 8 or 9 times a day. She replied “Oh, well, he SHOULD be nursing 10-12, really.” I don’t think I said anything but a very bland “hmm.”

    What is the best way to respond in this situation? At the time, I was not interested in correcting her, as she had done me, or disagreeing with her enough to cause an argument, but I sometimes wonder how to best respond in those cornering situations.

  3. I appreciate your willingness to approach the practicals about child-rearing on your blog. For those of us in the middle of raising small children; this is the kind of stuff we think about…how to potty train boys, sibling issues, expectations for behavior in public… the list goes on because it’s all new for a young mother. Please continue to share as much as you are willing to, your family is very respected in our home!

  4. Your comment about asking others about their feeding times being not our business sparked something that is regularly on my mind. What is “none of my business”? I grew up in a very blunt non-Christian family where everything is asked about and talked about. I am always second guessing myself, “is this ok for me to ask?” Where are the lines for topics that are none of my business? Even with loving motives, some things I’m sure I should not ask, but I always wonder what. Love to here a blog entry on that some day… 🙂

  5. I’ll second the commenter that called this post a breath of fresh air. A big, sincere “thank you”, Mrs. Wilson. 😀

  6. This is very, very good. And I would like to add one thing about seeking advice and direction about all of this: pray to Christ and ask your husbands for his direction! With my firstborn, I was seeking the advice of books, mothers of young children (often with strong advice from one camp or the other) and older women (again, with strong sentiments) and kept praying but with no real direction. Then, completely frazzled, I spoke to my husband and looked to him for guidance (rather than quoting to him what “the book says”). I can’t tell you the peace I had when he told me, after kindly listening to my dilemma and what both sides said, what he wanted our family to look like in this area. I was blessed and felt such relief. And you know, it looks a lot like what Mrs. Wilson described above, the balance of feeding, comforting, crying, etc. I realized I needed to trust that Christ would guide me through my husband as He had appointed it.

    Now if I could just master laughing when I receive those comments regarding scheduling or demand feeding. But, I will say, if we can take what we hear about all child-raising advice (that isn’t directly taught in the bible) with a (big) grain of salt, and not get angry, we might also realize that sometimes we really can learn and get ideas from someone, even if that someone’s agenda doesn’t meet ours. I’ve gotten great ideas and help while sifting through the other “stuff”!

    Thanks again for your teaching!

  7. Thanks for such an encouraging post. The whole child rearing issue can be such a touchy subject. I was not able to nurse my baby girl and as a result I was always getting “looks” from women in the church and it made me feel so guilty, like I always had to explain that I was not able to nurse. It was so refreshing to hear your common sense and kindness on the topic. I agree wholeheartedly! Thank you!

  8. I remember from one of your books a teaching that I boiled down to “Principles over Methods.” It helped me to remember to check myself, lest by promoting my method too strongly, I make it difficult for a sister to submit to her husband.
    It’s helped me to be more compassionate to other mothers. And it has taught me, when a woman asks for mothering advice, to ask about her husband’s opinion on the issue.
    Thanks for the post. I’m sure you can’t know the extent to which your teaching has helped your sisters in Christ.

  9. Thank you so much. I have a five month old daughter and although she is my third child, like you said each child is different. I just finished reading my third book to try to find some answers to some questions I had. Thanks for reminding me the Lord gives wisdom and it is Him that I need to seek. That was such a great reminder as well as submitting to my husbands wishes about how to raise her that was given by another reader. Let me get on my knees now and ask the giver of all good gifts and the source of all wisdom, to grant me the wisdom to seek him and not books, friends,etc. Remember that He gives liberally to all who ask.

  10. Thank you dear Nancy! This is the wisdom that I am praying God will give me – thank you for your wise words. 🙂

  11. Amen and Amen! I can’t tell you how much more I am enjoying my third and fourth children, since the Lord showed me how not to be such a Nervous Nellie about every little parenting detail. And because I’m not so nervous I’m a lot less defensive, which has made me a lot more teachable. It goes without saying that my children are enjoying life a lot more too.

    One of my dearest friends has chosen early parenting paths (feeding, sleeping arrangements, spanking, etc.) almost the exact opposite of ours, and yet I am always encouraged by the faith of her children and the strength of her marriage. Her differences help me understand so much more about the richness of the Lord’s ways in bringing us all to faith and obedience. She also has lopped off some really sharp edges in my parenting. I am so thankful, since I know I’m going to need this kind of love for the rest of my life!

  12. Of course it’s always easier to laugh AFTER the fact. We were once criticized by relatives for letting our firstborn cry himself to sleep. Later, when our son was sleeping well, we were then criticized by those same relatives that we let our son nap too much!

    A polite smile at the appropriate time would have done much better than our attempted defense of ourselves!

  13. I prefer to call it feeding on cue (cue-feeding) rather than feeding on demand (demand-feeding). It puts a more positive spin on it. I used to use that word, but I’ve come to feel that “demand” sounds rather negative. But feeding baby when baby cues that he is hungry (by rooting, chewing on fists, etc.), I think that is crucial.

    You wrote:
    “But whenever I imagine the alternative described by the word demand, I think of a spoiled child who is still nursing at age three when he should be learning his ABC’s and sitting at the table with a cup.”

    I don’t understand what you mean. ? Are you saying that children who are nursing at three are spoiled? I was wondering if you could clarify your statement, please.

  14. Flowermama: No, I wouldn’t say that all children still on the breast at age 3 are necessarily spoiled. But that is the image in my mind when I think of “demand” feeding. The many women in our church community who breast feed are generally weaning their babies from the breast around the time they can start sitting up at the table with the big kids. The only three-year-old I ever saw who was still being nursed was a holy terror, yanking on his mother’s shirt in public and being a very “demanding” child in every way.

  15. This is indeed, as others have stated, a breath of fresh air. With my first child I attended a class that made me feel that if I didn’t get her on a strict three hour cycle throughout the day, then I was raising her “God’s Way.” So with my second child I was determined to do it “right” from the beginning. However, daughter number 2 had colic, and any thoughts of a schedule soon had to be tossed out the window, and I was laden with guilt. With daughter number 3, thankfully I had come to a point that I realized I could go more on instinct and wisdom gained from experience, and she developed her own predictable schedule right from the start and we have been a much happier family. Thank you for reminding mothers that there is much room for liberty in the areas of feeding and sleeping (2 of the most stressful aspects of parenting little ones!) I am so thankful to have found your blog after enjoying your books so much.

  16. There are plenty of children who are both not spoiled and still nursing while learning ABCs and running around in sneakers. But generally no one outside of the immediate family has any idea that this well-behaved child is still nursing (because really, it is none of their business). The child is no longer an infant who cannot wait to be fed and may only nurse at bedtime, just before naptime, quietly behind closed doors at home.

    It is very easy for mothers who have well-intentioned ideas about breastfeeding, nurturing, and “attachment parenting” to fall into the trap of offering the breast to an older baby or toddler as a lazy way of not meeting the child’s real needs. Mother is reading a book or an email and doesn’t want to get up to go to the kitchen for a snack or a sippy cup, read a board book for the seventeenth time, or play a game with the demanding toddler. Nursing is the least bothersome way to keep the child quiet / happy / out of trouble. The problem is not that the child is still breastfeeding, but the mother’s attitude toward her child’s needs. These children become the “obnoxious older nurslings” who will be seen tugging and whining in public and giving nursing toddlers a bad name.

    Some of my children have happily weaned when they were a little over a year old. One was still nursing at three. Some of my children have been happy to sleep through the night in a crib and be laid down awake for naps. (They are, alas, the ones who will never fall asleep on a lap in church no matter how badly they need too.) One literally needed to be touching me in order to sleep for almost the first year of his life.

    I have found that the mothers I know with the most “experience” are the ones who are least adamant about a one-size-fits-all parenting style. Children, even in the same family, are born with different personalities. What worked for baby number one might not do the trick for baby number six. Wise parenting requires flexibility and a willingness to set aside commitment to any particular “method” in favor of “what is working for this particular family at this point in time”.

  17. Just found this post via a link from another. I agree with quite a lot of it, though not all. But there is one specific point I wanted to take you up on: the point where you write “when a kid in sneakers can run up to Mom to pull her shirt up for a snack, I think we have exceeded the bounds”.

    Um… what’s this ‘we’? If the family is happy doing things that way, where do you (or I, or anyone else) come into it? I find it quite contradictory that you write this immediately before objecting to the idea of criticising another woman because she formula-feeds. If a woman who formula-feeds should have her choice respected and have people back off and not make it their business when it isn’t (with which I totally agree), then shouldn’t the woman who chooses extended nursing have the same respect for her choice?

  18. Sarah, I don’t think Mrs. Wilson’s point was to criticize extended nursing, but to comment on rudeness. Sora’s comment (immediately above yours) describes how a mother might practice extended nursing without allowing the child to indulge in the wrong kind of demanding, which is disrespectful to the mother, inconsiderate of others, and not really kind to the child as it fails to train him not to expect everything he wants exactly when he wants it.

  19. Thank you for this lovely post. I found your website via another (and another and another…). As a new mom to an 8.5-month-old baby boy, I have been reading a lot of books to help me out with the whole parenting-thing. Also I’ve found a lot of wonderful BTDT mothers in the blogosphere (which has really helped out since my own mother is estranged). These blogs help me put things in perspective and remind me to enjoy every day with my baby. So thank you!

  20. I also found the comment about extended nursing to be disappointing. Calling a child who nurses beyond a year spoiled seems to me to be a cultural response rather than coming from any bibilical wisdom. Many cultures practice extended nursing for survival/nutritional needs. I am quite sure none of these mothers consider their children spoiled, even if they can run up and ask to nurse. I am disappointed in such a disparaging remark.

  21. Nursed my first three children until 3 y. 1 mo., 2 y. 7 mo., and 2 y. 9 mo.— will continue to nurse my youngest (currently 9 months) into “sneakers!”

    The older three are loving, sweet-natured, and well-behaved. They have been called “mature” in their early childhood years. I think nursing has something to do with it! I do not allow children to yank up my shirt or demand the breast in public, and have never found this type of “training” to require anything ugly. I taught them to whisper this need politely, and wait until home/later if needed.

    Basing your opinion of nursing toddlers on the behavior of one errant three-year-old seems disrespectful of nursing mamas everywhere who manage to live out convictions with grace and dignity.

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