I have, in my tenure as a mother, done quite a few things that other human beings might find discomfiting. I’ve sucked mucus out of my child’s nose. I’ve sat with a puking baby in a bathtub. I’ve breastfed another woman’s child. I’ve spend whole days with saggy cabbage leaves plastered to my engorged and ravaged nursing chest units. I’ve caught shit in my hand. I’ve caught vomit in my hand. Why, just the other day I held on to Jasper while he vomited – great, endless streams of vomit – directly into my lap. No, I didn’t run away screaming. You don’t run away screaming from uncomfortable things when you’re a parent. Parenthood is itself just one long discomfiting experience. It is what it is, and you accept it for what it is.
Well, mostly. There are still some things that I wouldn’t do, like ever. ‘Kiss-feeding’ my baby is one of those things.
This isn’t a judgment on Alicia Silverstone, who is now possibly better known for being the celebrity mom who chews food for her kid than she is for having starred in Clueless (which is, if you ask me, a travesty.) I really do try to avoid passing judgment on other parents. I’m not always successful, but I do try, usually by resorting to the hoary old position that ah, well, to each one’s own. Which I’ve done in this case. Kiss-feeding is just not for me, and that’s fine, that’s fair, it’s all good – because what works for Alicia doesn’t have to work for me for it to be a valid choice, right?
Right. Sort of. Mostly. For sure yes, for the most part. We really should, I think, tread carefully in the arena of judgment. That doesn’t mean, however, that we are obliged to not have opinions, or that we must refrain from asking questions about whatever practice is in question. And in this case, I do have questions. Among which:
1) Why? No, seriously: why? When Jasper was 11 months old, he was mashing bananas and avocado and mushy noodles and cereals and teething biscuits into his face. He was teaching himself how to eat. To the extent that I helped him, it was to mush some stuff up – with a fork or spoon or something – for him in advance, or help him wield a spoon on his own. It simply would not have occurred to me to chew up that avocado and deliver it directly from my mouth to his, because, you know, I’m not a bird. I have hands, and opposable thumbs. Why would I use my mouth?
2) Are there not reasons to NOT do this? Like, you know, the small matter of the amount of bacteria that can be found in the human mouth? It’s said that bites from a human being are more dangerous than those of any other creature, because we just carry that much bacteria in our mouths and so are that much more likely to transmit something horrible. I know that mouthfeeding isn’t biting, but still – it’s delivering the contents of my mouth to my baby’s mouth, which I’m not entirely sure is a good thing.
3) There’s no way a dad could do this, right? Because it looks a little, you know, inappropriate, what with the mouth-to-mouth element and all. I’ve been known to to argue for acknowledgment of the erotic character of our relationship to our children (‘erotic’ in the classical sense of the Platonic erotic, which is the yearning for connection with beauty – not ‘erotic’ in the modern sense of ‘sexual’) but despite – or perhaps because of – my understanding of the place of the erotic in love for our children, I think that there is a line of appropriateness across which we should not even appear to venture. Mouthkissing – maybe – represents such a line. Maybe. I’ve certainly planted smackers on my babies’ lips – and vice-versa (Jasper loves to grab me by the face and plant one on me.) But is transferring the contents of one’s mouth to one’s child’s mouth not a different thing? I’m not sure – but I did have the immediate thought, upon watching the video, that if a guy did it people would freak out even further. And any (non-biological) practice that is a practice that not every parent could participate in is, I think, something to discuss. Does it mean that it’s something we should discourage? Or something that we should encourage?
4) Do we help the cause of getting conversations about parenting into the mainstream of popular culture by pushing forward examples of extreme parenting? Is this – ‘Look, guys! Crazy moms chew their babies’ food and KISS FEED THEM’ – helping to advance conversations about parenthood that situate parents as normal adult human beings, just like everyone else? Or does it keep the conversation stuck in the space that generates responses like STFU Parents? Or, or… should we be talking more about these practices, the better to normalize all approaches to parenthood, and to normalize discussion of those approaches?
5) Is this extreme parenting? I’m judging again, aren’t I?
End of the day, I wouldn’t do this. Which, again, doesn’t make it wrong, by any stretch of the imagination. But I do think that it’s worth discussing why we are – why I am – discomfited by it, and worth interrogating why we’re discomfited by it, even if that means that we come off as a little critical. I think.
Civil discourse: so hard sometimes! What do you think? Would you kiss-feed? Do you judge a mom who does? Would you judge a dad? Should we really just not be judging ever, at all? DISCUSS!
More on Babble Voices:
Why We Should Have Our Kids Chew Our Food for Us
Catherine is Director of Community at Babble, but her super secret mommy blogger superhero identity is Her Bad Mother. Don’t tell anyone.