Expert Mothers

Expert Mothers

Categories: Leader Today

Annette Green, Modi’in, Israel

Annette looks at coping strategies for a Series Meeting where a mother has made herself the “expert” in the Group but her information isn’t always in line with La Leche League.

As Leaders, we know that the dynamics of a Series Meeting can be somewhat unpredictable. So many factors affect how we and the mothers who attend meetings feel—from how much sleep we all had last night, our general mood, our expectations of the meeting, our anxiety if we don’t know anyone, if we ate recently and even the weather!

When mothers and babies gather together, it can be even more challenging if there is a crying baby or a lot of background noise from the children present. Sometimes the dynamics can have you reaching deep inside for your best coping strategies.

One of the most challenging situations I have encountered during Series Meetings is the mother who sees herself as the expert in the Group and knows the answer to every question broached. Even though she is sitting in a La Leche League Series Meeting she feels comfortable repeatedly sharing advice and practices that are not in line with La Leche League philosophy, information or recommendations. This can be frustrating and worrying; if these ideas are left unchallenged the other attendees could leave that meeting thinking we endorse them and later tell others they heard about them at a La Leche League meeting

How can we act in situations like this?

  1. Stay calm
    Even though it can be frustrating and tiring to deal with repeated comments that you may disagree with, try to stay calm for the sake of the meeting and the other mothers attending. Take a deep slow breath. Smile. Pause before responding.
  2. Understand she has good intentions
    Usually when a mother has a lot of information and advice to share, she has a genuine desire to help. That’s why she is giving so much information. When you understand that her intentions are good, it may help you to stay calm and work with her for the benefit of the entire meeting.
  3. Treat the person with respect
    We want each mother who attends La Leche League meetings to feel respected even if her views differ from ours. We can do this by choosing our language, body posture and tone very carefully. There are many different perspectives in the world about infant care and she is entitled to her opinion.
  4. Build rapport
    When we take more time to really understand and connect with the other person, we can often find common ground. While I’m not sure we will ever get to that point with someone who is suggesting aggressive sleep training for a two-month-old, we may be able to acknowledge our shared intentions; “Of course, we all want to get as much sleep as possible while caring for our babies’ needs…” and then ask if there is anyone else at the meeting who can share what has worked for them.
  5. Set limits and boundaries
    I often start meetings by saying that mothers may see and hear things that don’t feel relevant to them at the moment. They are encouraged to feel free to pick and choose what is relevant for their family. We can remind mothers that this is a La Leche League meeting and we have a certain philosophy. It can also be helpful to mention that they may hear ideas that aren’t line with La Leche League philosophy but everything Leaders say is in agreement with our philosophy. Sharing this statement at the beginning sets a clear boundary that what Leaders say coincides with LLL concepts but they may hear other things from other participants. We cannot control what participants in meetings say so we might as well acknowledge this at the start.
  6. Let the meeting attendees know where you are coming from
    The format for LLL meetings is different to most groups I have participated in and for someone new, it can take a bit of getting used to. So often in Western society today when a concern is shared or a question asked, we expect to be told what to do quite directly.
    In LLL, we share information and support rather than telling a mother what to do. Some people don’t always appreciate the difference. It can be helpful to explain at the beginning of the meeting about the type of support we offer in meetings and how it differs to other types of support. This can also encourage and empower mothers to share from their personal experience regardless of the age of their baby.
    If during the meeting you feel the line has blurred, you can remind everyone: “As I mentioned at the beginning of the meeting, we share our personal experiences and information and support during meetings rather than giving direct advice. Thanks for your input, Jane, let’s see if someone else has dealt with this issue.”
  7. Ignore
    I hesitate to include this strategy but I think we all have been in situations where ignoring the behaviour seemed like the best option. Use your judgment and ignore when you think that’s the best strategy.Sometimes this can mean ignoring the behaviour during the meeting and talking with the mother privately at the end of the meeting. Talking with her privately can be important so if she attends in future, you can avoid a similar situation.
  8. Use humour
    Humour can be a great way of diffusing a difficult situation if you feel confident to use it respectfully without directing it at an indivdual. The trick here is to make sure the mother doesn’t feel you are laughing at her but with her.
  9. Look for the hidden need
    The postpartum period can be a confusing and challenging time in a woman’s life. Many women have left work positions where they were respected, confident and appreciated.While caring for their babies they may feel a distinct lack of confidence and unappreciated. Sharing information as a way to be seen as an expert can be their way of seeking the appreciation and respect they miss. Affirm her contribution while gently trying to steer the conversation to a different mother.
  10. Debrief
    After the meeting, or at an Evaluation Meeting, if you felt there was an issue you can discuss it with your co-Leaders. If there are mothers in the Group whom you know well and trust their opinions and discretion, you can gently ask what they thought.  Did they think a particular mother was sharing too much? How did they feel with the content she was sharing? Discussing the situation with your LLL support person can also be helpful. Sometimes, getting someone else’s perspective can help us see the meeting in a more positive light.Alternatively you can think about how you might handle a similar situation differently next time.
  11. Pat yourself on the back
    Give yourself credit for getting through an uncomfortable situation. It takes a lot of energy not to react when someone else is pushing our buttons. If you handled the situation calmly and with empathy and respect, pat yourself on the back even if you are critical of yourself! Know that each time dealing with these types of situations you learn something new and hopefully that will make it easier for you next time.

Annette Green was born and raised in Australia but moved to Israel 20 years ago. She has two daughters and has been a Leader since 2004. Currently, she is a lone Leader of a Group in Modi’in, Israel. She is a contributing editor for Leader Today. Annette has her own holistic health clinic helping women with fertility, pregnancy and menopause challenges.