The other day, a friend who’s about to have her first baby passed me a giant, Costco-sized can of worms and invited me to open it. “What do you think about pacifiers?” she asked.
When it comes to infant care practices, I’m about as natural as you can get. I have homebirths, cue-feed, co-sleep, and do EC. To get any crunchier, I’d have to give birth to my babies unassisted in the back of a VW bus parked at a scenic overlook. So it should come as no shock to anyone that I’ve never used pacifiers, and that after five babies, I can’t imagine a scenario in which I would use a pacifier.
But still, I take a deep, deep breath before tackling an issue like this because whether or not to use a pacifier is one of those questions, the kind that invites all sorts of controversy and condemnation for even taking a position on, the kind that hurts people and fosters pride and bitterness and factions among mothers. I’ve gotten pretty gun-shy over the years, having witnessed numerous vehement reactions to discussions of this sort, and I’ve asked myself over and over why it’s so hard to talk about things like this and why some people seem to believe that we shouldn’t even bring up these topics at all.
So, rather than talk about pacifiers, I’d like to take a step back and talk about talking about pacifiers (and other similar issues). How do discussions of this sort fit into a godly woman’s life? What is the nature of these conversations that cause so much contention and Mommy Warfare? I think the answers lie in a triple whammy of characteristics that makes these topics particularly dangerous, divisive, and even taboo.
For starters, this kind of question is physical/medical rather than spiritual. And God has not seen fit to give us very much in the way of physical mothering directives in His Word. That means that a question like this has nothing whatsoever to do with any direct commands of Scripture. We are on our own to try to figure out the best thing for our families. It’s just us and the research, or us and Great-Aunt Sally’s advice, or us and our neighbor’s glowing book recommendation (or, ahem, us and an impassioned blog post). We can pray about it, and we should. We can look for Scriptural principles, and we should. But in the end, we all need to have extra humility about the physical because without the light of Scripture, we could very easily wind up convinced about things that aren’t really the truth. We also need to realize that whether or not someone agrees with us on a particular physical issue has little effect on how godly she is or how godly her children will turn out to be. In my case, most of the mothers I know do use pacifiers, and there are some who I would readily admit are better mothers than I am simply because they are more consistent in their discipline, more in control of their irritation, less distracted by the Internet, etc. Physical stuff like pacifier use isn’t even remotely in the same league as stuff like whether you read the Bible with your children and help them apply it, pray with them, memorize verses with them, regularly display the fruits of the spirit in your own life, etc.
Second, oddly enough, despite the secondary importance, people seem to get way more upset and emotional about the physical mothering stuff than about the spiritual. I’ve seen women get mighty defensive and self-righteous over, for example, a discussion of infant formula vs. breastmilk in ways I’ve never witnessed when someone exhorts mothers to pray with their children. We’ve all heard about the “Breastfeeding Nazis,” but so far I’ve never encountered any wounded women complaining of the “Bedtime Prayer Nazis” or the “Verse Memorization Nazis.” I think this is precisely because there is no Gospel truth about the physical stuff, no absolute commands to hang our hats on, to give us the quiet assurance that God is on our side, no matter what the world may say. And it’s also because our children matter SO MUCH to us. We want to do the very best thing for them, and we want to be able to believe that we are doing the very best thing. But the lack of Scriptural guidance leaves us with a smorgasbord of passionate conviction that can make us feel condemned and bewildered.
“Oh, you’re using a pacifier? Tsk. Tsk. Don’t you know that only the selfish, bad mothers who lack real commitment to breastfeeding use pacifiers?”
“Oh, you’re not using a pacifier? Tsk. Tsk. Don’t you know that only the ignorant, bad mothers who want their children to get addicted to thumb sucking and ruin their teeth don’t use pacifiers?”
And the third thing that makes physical mothering questions so difficult is that, to one degree or another, they actually do matter. They all have a slice of the solid, the scientific, the research-based best practices with genuine consequences (nipple confusion, ear infections, inadequate milk supply, toddlerhood addictions, the need for thousands of dollars of orthodontia). They aren’t just matters of personal preference like whether we like macrame or tulip gardening.
And because they matter, and because there are real consequences that we have to weigh, physical mothering questions are worth talking about. Figuring out your very best shot at what’s good for your children is a big part of loving them, and loving our children is part of our Titus 2 “curriculum” for woman to woman teaching. It’s entirely appropriate for Christian women to discuss with each other the pros and cons of pacifier use (or VBAC’s, or epidurals, or immunizations, or organic baby food, etc.). We need each other. After all, if no one ever warns you that, say, that pacifier the hospital sent you home with might have something to do with the problems you’re having getting breastfeeding established, how would you ever know to explore that area?
The key is to discuss these things gently, with humility, realizing that there are few absolutes in the physical mothering realm. Science deals with probabilities. But nobody’s baby is a probability. And just because one practice or another raises the risk of some complication does not necessarily mean that it can’t work for a given family, especially if the parents understand the risks and know what to watch out for. (I’ve known lots of pacifier babies. I’ve only ever wondered whether one of them had nipple confusion. Everyone else seems to have done just fine.) In the end what we need is open information and opinions without condemnation. And we need to foster respect for each other as mothers even if we disagree on the binky.
By: Andrea Parunak