This week special guest Peggy O’Mara, author of 4 books on natural family living, joins us. Peggy is the owner and editor of Mothering magazine. You can subscribe to Mothering magazine by clicking here.
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Carrie Lauth: You are back with Carrie at Natural Moms Talk Radio and we are joined this week, and I’m so honored to be speaking with, Peggy O’Mara.
Peggy O’Mara: Hi Carrie. Great to be here. Thank you for asking me.
CL: Well Peggy, I’m sure that most of my listeners are familiar with you and your magazine, Mothering Magazine , has been around for over 30 years now.
PO: 31 years, ‘76 so yeah last year we celebrated our 30th anniversary and I know, it’s unbelievable.
CL: Wow! I can’t believe it. That’s wonderful.
PO: I know, I can’t either.
CL: Yeah, and you’re also the author of 4 books on having a baby naturally and natural family living , so I’m sure many of our listeners have either read your books or have seen Mothering or are subscribers.
PO: Well, I hope so. And let them know, in case they haven’t, to check out our website at mothering.com. It’s really a good place to find out more about us. We have discussion boards which are really fun for young moms, and all moms to be able to talk about issues with other moms.
CL: Yes, a very busy message forum. You guys just announced that your magazine is going digital so people can subscribe to the digital copy.
PO: Yeah. Some people freaked out, they thought we were going digital altogether. They were like, “Oh no, what about” , and we said, “Oh no, no. We’re just adding it”, you know as an extra thing, particularly for international readers and for people who really prefer that. It’s kind of a nice combo because if you have both, you could read your magazine in the leisure of your home, just take your time, and then mark those things you wanted to check about online and go to the digital version. And that allows you to click right through to everything directly from an ad or from a resource list. Do you know the end of the articles always have “For More Information…”
So it’s really– to me, I thought, as a researcher, I thought that would be the way I would use it. I want to probably do both of them even. We do have that online now available and to save trees you can also search it if you want to look for an article and you can send an article, print it out, and send it to a friend whereas, people tell us all the time they lend their magazines to a friend and they never see it again because they are so popular. So yeah so we have a digital version online.
CL: I think that’s great. That’s wonderful. Well, Peggy, I wanted to have you on the show to talk about what you’ve seen and experienced over the last 30 years. You were really on the cutting edge, if there is a cutting edge, of the natural parenting movement. You were doing it probably before there was a name “attachment parenting”.
PO: Yeah, that’s true exactly in fact I kind of find that amusing the different names it has, that just means more people are interested in it.
PO: When I started out as a parent, which was in 1974, my first child was born and like you, Carrie, I was a La Leche League leader. I became a La Leche League leader in 1975. I was down in southern New Mexico and I was part of what was called “back to the land” movement.
We were kind of the natural living pioneers that were disillusioned by the Vietnam War in the ‘60s and ‘70s and just wanted to make our own life that made sense to us, so we went back to the land. Some people went to communes, some people just had little farms, and so my husband and I had a little farm in southern New Mexico and we grew some of our own food, we canned, we had chickens and goats, and we wanted to live, you know, what we thought was a natural life, so then when it came time to have babies we wanted to figure that out too.
I actually didn’t start Mothering Magazine, it was founded by a woman named Adeline Evanston in southern Colorado in 1976. So when I had my babies and I started writing, I actually wrote an article In Defense of Motherhood because it was such an amazing experience to have a baby. No one had ever really told me that; they just told me the bad news, they hadn’t said how ecstatic I would feel, how wonderful I would feel, how empowered I would feel.
So I wrote an article about that that eventually ended up in Mothering, which I happened to see up in Albuquerque at about the same time that it was first published, moved up to Albuquerque, and eventually was just able to take over the magazine; just started making payments out of the magazine. You know, we didn’t have any money, just kind of took it over and grew from 3000 subscribers, 3000 total circulation in 1970 whatever in 1980 to like about 100,000 circulation now.
CL: Wow, that’s a great story. So how were things different back then and how are things different today for people who want to parent naturally, and really listen to their gut instinct?
PO: I think it’s a bit of a paradox. Back in the ‘70s it was not very visible in the culture. There was a very small group of people who were doing that. An example is cotton clothing. Which we wanted to find cotton clothing, you literally could hardly buy it. It was the age of synthetics, of those flame retardants that were put on all the children’s pajamas, so we would get cotton clothing for our kids at used clothing stores where we could find them and there were a few stores that had some things, like some of the Penney’s and Ward’s and stuff, but being able to find natural products was really difficult.
We made most of our own things. There weren’t like natural cosmetics or natural creams so you would kind of improvise. There literally was no natural food market place at that time. There were no products. We went to a co-op; we’d drive 200 miles to go to a co-op to get our food in Albuquerque because we lived, as I said, in southern New Mexico, so the availability of natural things for natural living was really not–there wasn’t much of that but on the other hand there was a real purity to it in that those folks that wanted to live that natural way were having to really make lifestyle choices.
What I see today is there’s more availability of natural product but whether people make a consciousness choice with that or not is not always so. In other words, back in the day, it kind of came with the whole lifestyle. Now you can kind of dip your hand into the natural marketplace, have some cool natural things, but not necessarily have a transformation of consciousness.
And to me, the heart of the natural living movement, is as you said, it’s learning to come back to yourself. To come back to your instincts and to trust yourself in a culture which tells you, not only, trust everybody else, all the experts, but also tells you you’re not good enough just the way you are.
You know, all the advertisements, you could be thinner, you could be richer, you could be something else, which is no way to raise a family. I mean, for me as a parent, I teach my kids, what I taught them is that people were more important than things, that they were more important than these ideas of how things should be.
Let me continue from that, which is to say, that the ideas of natural parenting have much more credibility in society now than they did. So, say an idea, like the family bed, which back in the ‘70s you didn’t tell anybody about, you didn’t even talk about. It was talked about maybe in La Leche meetings, among friends. It was a very private kind of a conversation. Well, I’ve been surprised to find that that issue has gotten so much publicity and public attention and as a result of that has become much more credible for a lot of people who might not otherwise have wanted to give it a try.
Same thing with vaccinations. Again, a very underground issue of just a certain kind of parents– Again coming from this back to the land movement, we want to eat natural foods, want to have natural clothing, natural products. Well, what about vaccinations? It just raises that question from the natural point of view. Like what about that, is that ok? I have to figure that out. I have to think about that.
That was a much smaller conversation than it is now. Now it’s become a much bigger national conversation and in so many ways both my own experience and the magazine, we’ve been a predictor of that. We’ve always been ahead of the times in terms of articulating issues to our readers because my point of view is a parent can’t wait 5-10 years to hear information; your kids will be grown up so I can’t sit on anything as a journalist that I hear about, even if it’s controversial. My responsibility is to let parents know the information that they need to know to make good decisions. That’s what we’re all about at Mothering. So in both those issues, Family Bed and Vaccinations, and all the issues of natural parenting it’s all about getting back-that’s what natural parenting is, your own natural instincts.
The things that people do in natural parenting are just sort of simple common sense things. They’re not big concepts necessarily. What people have always done throughout history: they’ve carried babies, nursed their babies, had babies without technology, safely. They question intervention in different areas of their children’s life, they try to live a simple life.
It’s really the oldest kind of parenting and that’s why, as I said earlier, I get amused by the names because it’s rediscovered and called something new but it’s really “human being” parenting. It’s really the parenting of our species. It’s what our species, human beings, need. I think people forget that we’re a part of the animal kingdom. We think we’re some kind of, like, superior beings and while we have wonderful characteristics as human beings, we are biologically part of the animal species and as such we have needs, babies have needs, and one of those needs is to be touched and carried around and to be held; be with their parents, be with their mothers, so those things have been true since the beginning of time.
CL: Yeah … until the parenting experts came along and told parents they couldn’t listen to their babies and themselves anymore.
PO: Yeah and I think those have always been there. When you look back-I’ve got some old publications from the ‘40s, Child Family Digest, which was kind of the first thing that started to talk about natural childbirth, it was kind of parallel with the beginning of La Leche League, and a lot of those folks were saying well, what about breastfeeding, what about natural childbirth. They brought Grantly Dick-Read over from England. At the time he was the first person to talk about natural childbirth. I think his book was published in the late’30s actually but when I look at those publications, there were the same struggles, the same questions, about babies in the nursery, rooming in, touching, always– I mean, the experts have been there for awhile, not just now, but they do seem to be more prevalent in our society and not only more prevalent– it’s not only the experts but it’s the solution.
Isn’t it interesting that after all the brouhaha about the family bed there’s all these products. You know, these new products that say watch out for the family bed. Read this instead, or– oh yeah, we just got this thing in the mail, discreet nursing breastfeeding and there was this picture of Maggie Gyllenhaal, this movie star who had just had a picture of her breastfeeding. It was just a beautiful breastfeeding picture but some people used it as an opportunity to criticize her and then say, oh, you should cover up with this and you-it’s like, look at this picture of Maggie and her baby look beautiful and this woman covered up looks like she has a tent over her or her baby.
Again implying in both cases that, yes, it’s ok, but you know, use this thing and you’ll be better and you know that’s crazy, you need to cover up. You need to be discreet… I mean, in social and public situations you want to be aware of other people, but you have the right to breastfeed in public. And most women are totally discreet about that and mostly when there’s any problems there it’s the other person’s problem.
CL: Well, your magazine has always been so refreshing. I get so irritated with most traditional parenting magazines! Someone sent me a gift subscription to one that I won’t name because someday they will probably sue me because I’m always talking about their dumb articles!
But there’s one recent one where they actually followed this Atlanta mom around the city as she went out with her 3 month old and snapped these photos of her nursing her baby very discreetly in all these different places with people stopping and watching. One young preteen boy actually came by and took a digital camera photo of her and I thought, you know, I’ve lived here all my life. I’ve been breastfeeding some kid for 9 years and I’ve only ever had 1 negative experience … and here this woman is, like, everybody is staring and pointing and laughing in this one day. And I’m thinking, I just don’t buy that. It just doesn’t look realistic to me.
PO: And they’re following her with a camera, too, right, so it is a bit of a fishbowl–
CL: That’s a good point. I didn’t even think of that. But I’m thinking, here they’re trying to do something good by talking about why are breastfeeding mothers made to feel like they’re doing something wrong by feeding in public, but at the same time they’re feeding into that scare tactic that if you breastfeed, this is what you’ll be facing and that’s why you need this pump or this formula.
PO: Exactly! And there’s so many things to say about that, but that’s exactly one of the things that would undermine a woman’s confidence in breastfeeding. She would feel, if she’s on the fence …”Well, maybe I don’t want to breastfeed. I don’t want to be in that situation…”
And yet, as you say, in my experience, I don’t even remember one time and I nursed in the ‘70s and early ‘80s in restaurants and all kinds of places and I don’t ever remember anything, one incident, in which people were critical so I think this is becoming a manufactured issue.
There have been a few incidents that have been publicized, that have been sensationalized, and were sensational in the media and probably an attempt to stir something up. But, in fact, there was a study done by the Office of Women’s Health as part of a Health and Human Services Department of the federal government and they found that 69% of people were just fine with breastfeeding in public and another study found that 90% of people were fine.
So it’s really not a problem and women shouldn’t think of it as a problem. It’s something that’s been sensationalized. But it’s also an emerging right for women so I think there’s a whole political aspect to it that is part of, is a good side to, all kinds of rights in society–the right to vote, civil rights, all those right have been fought for in society.
So while I think there’s not a big problem for individual mothers, there is an important movement to make sure that every state has the right kind of legislation for breastfeeding in public. Some have good legislation and others don’t. Even in those states that have good legislation, there’s sometimes not enforcement clauses. There’s not anything a mom can do if she is discriminated against in public. So it’s kind of a discrimination, isn’t it, and from that point of view the few cases that do happen should have protection.
In particular, in the work place, where a mom might be in a workplace situation where the people aren’t too educated about breastfeeding. In New Mexico this year we just passed a law that says an employer has to provide a place and a time for a woman to pump if she’s breastfeeding. But an employer might not know about that, they might not know how to do that or where to do that or that it’s important, so there’s a lot of education that’s necessary. But having laws like that begin the process to educate employers about the importance of breastfeeding and of retaining employees who might leave if they don’t have that opportunity. I think those are real important. That’s the other side of the coin on that so we do need to clarify some of our laws regarding breastfeeding in the sense of, again, civil rights and nondiscrimination.
CL: Well, what do you see for our future? Do you think things are getting easier or harder for people that want to parent naturally? What do you think is coming?
PO: I think it’s totally the future. I’m preparing a talk for an upcoming conference called The Sustainable Family: A Recipe for Optimism, so I think the natural family, the green family, the attachment family, the sustainable family-it’s all the same thing. It’s all the human intrinsic system that is based on the actual needs of the human being and also in terms of sustainability. People who are inclined to parent naturally also are inclined to have a lifestyle that is more sustainable.
So I kind of see the future in terms of possible climate change, in terms of those kind of upheavals as being– as the natural way of parenting, as being kind of a solution to that in the sense that, say for example, gas prices go up, transportation gets higher, food perhaps becomes more expensive. Because of that, the family that learns to rely on their local resources– their farmers’ market, their local farmers, their local businesses– is not going to see such an interruption as the family who’s dependent on food that comes from other places. So this is the whole conversation, I’m kind of going off on a big thing here but I think the natural way of life is really a survival position.
It’s kind of a minimalist position, you know. It’s a kind of a “small is beautiful” position. You’re saying to your kids …”You don’t need to have all that stuff. You don’t need all those fancy toys. Let’s play with the pots and pans, let’s play with the toilet paper roll.” You know, kids could care less about toys.
CL: Yeah or “Let’s go outside”.
PO: If we don’t inculcate them into the culture, if instead we give them really good human values of cooperation with each other, which is another thing, again, that is part of the natural family, the cooperative model rather than the domineering model. It’s kind of the old society that’s dying now …domination. Let’s dominate nature, let’s dominate each other, let’s dominate these countries over here.
What’s being born in our world is a whole new world view of cooperation, not without a lot of struggle, but the natural family is right on that wavelength of the future and so I think people that make those choices are less dependent on the culture, less dependent on the cultural myth, they’re more free of the opinions of others. More individuals, more authentic, that stream is the future. So I don’t know how, obviously, that will all play out but I’m quite convinced that that way of life, that way of thinking, is kind of survival of the fittest really on the bottom line.
CL: Yeah, that’s an interesting way of putting it. Because this generation of children that are being reared with these principles, are going to be the adults who are then again raising children and making decisions.
PO: And just one, one generation being raised free, being raised to think of themselves as inherently good. Huge. That will change the world.
It already is. This is the second generation now because we’ve got– you’re the age of my oldest daughter and I see now moms who are reading the magazine who are the daughters of previous readers of the magazine or previous La Leche League leaders, you know, kind of second generation and wow, that’s powerful.
CL: Yeah, that is that’s really cool. I know I sometimes meet women and my own mom and other women her own age and they say, “Well, this is what we did and we didn’t tell anybody and there wasn’t a support group“.
PO: There was no support group.
CL: But I talk to my mom all the time about how the way she raised me was very different from the way she raised my sister who is 7 years older than me because she had a different education and a different level of support.
She talks about how harshly she was criticized by some of her friends and people. You know, just strange things, like the fact that she let me run around naked. There was a question in one of her friend’s minds about that and it was very hurtful to her. But I have a completely different experience with some of the things I do with my children because I have the support and I know how to go out and find my tribe.
PO: Oh good. And you probably don’t have such conflicts about what to do because you have some history already with that right?
CL: Right; yeah. And being able to learn from her experience and listen to her as she talks about that, and seeing my friends and how their parenting helped or harmed them is a very powerful thing. A lot of my mother’s friends are really eating their words now!
PO: Yeah, yeah, and I– that’s interesting for me, having adult children. I have 4 children, they’re 24, 28, 30, 32 and they’re pretty happy about the way they were raised. That was a nice surprise for me as they got into adulthood and they became aware of how differently they had been raised than other people. They really, really appreciated it.
Spanking is a perfect example. I started out spanking my kids. I didn’t know any better and like your mom I got educated and, I don’t know if it’s the same, but I got more educated and learned new things and improved over time that I stopped spanking and really didn’t even punish them. I really just believed in cooperation and engaged in their cooperation in various ways. So as a result I think they never feel belittled or overpowered by me in that way and grew up to really appreciate that and were like, “Wow mom, that was really good, thanks”. I like how that happened. I didn’t realize at the time how good that was so I’m happy that I have a good, healthy relationship with my adult children and that’s a wonderful result of having a nonadversarial way of raising them.
CL: I think that is a natural result of that approach, I really do. I’ve seen that.
PO: In fact, it’s funny again, with the culture. The culture is so distrusting of closeness and I’ve got older kids that I’m really close with and my kids will say, my daughters will say, “It’s ok that we’re so close, you know”. We know it is but the culture says, “Get away, get away from those kids; send them off somewhere”. Again, the nuclear family, the whole human species is, is raising children in community. Human beings have always raised children in community, they’ve always been part of an extended family and this nuclear family thing we have is just such a new experiment.
CL: And it’s a very unhealthy one, I believe, especially for the mother because it’s a recipe for post partum depression and burnout.
CL: Look at all those moms that we see in the news. That’s what’s happening with them, you know.
CL: Well, do you think the internet has been a boost for people who are parenting differently?
PO: A huge boost. You know, when I was a new mom I had 2 thoughts when I had my 2 babies my first 2 are 18 months apart and I was pregnant with my 3rd by the time my 2nd was 2. So I had 3 kids under 5 … I had my kids pretty close together. When I had my first 2, I lived in southern New Mexico, as I had mentioned, like out of town a little bit, we had an 8 party line. It was 8 people sharing the same phone line so I’ve gone from an 8 party line as a new mom, to the internet.
I couldn’t even imagine the thrill of having that kind of support as a new mom when I was so isolated. Not only were my ideas not what everyone else was doing but I was so isolated, just physically isolated. I went to La Leche League meetings and saw my friends, but it was nothing compared to what it seems like the sense of community that moms can have on the internet.
You can find information right away about something which is how I got started, by just cutting out articles putting them in file folders in a file cabinet for my friends. Different things that would come up, I was just always interested in researching health issues.
To go from that to the internet where you can just find anything right away and where you can have this community. As I’ve mentioned, our discussion boards at mothering.com … we now have 85,000 on our discussion boards. We have more members of our discussion boards than we have subscribers to the magazine!
It’s such a rich place to get support for special situations. All kind of conversations there from all kinds of different parents from all different points of view. And then there are special things that come up or crises that come up or emergencies.
There’s a real sense of community there and as you mentioned earlier, this whole idea of finding your tribe, which was an article we published years ago about this whole idea of how do you find those people like you and get the support that you need because it’s so important.
Mothering can print really good articles but you really often need a community to help you to have the courage to change. You may want to, you may think, geez that sounds good. I want to try it, but if you’re the only one, it’s kind of hard. Most people are going to want and need to have some other people that are like them so they don’t feel like they’re crazy.
It’s like what I say: when you go to a conference you really go there to see other people, you know. Ok, its true we’re all in this together, we’re all doing this thing, and we’re good, you know?
PO: So, the internet has been huge and the internet has democratized information in a way that nothing has before in the sense that most everyone has access to the internet in some way. I mean certainly computers, the cost of that, but you could go to the library. It’s really made the issues of people that we might never have heard of more available to us because of everyone, or most everyone, having access to the internet.
We’ve gone from, as a business, our first machine was a fax machine which, gosh, that’s when Nora, my youngest, was a baby and I was pregnant with her. And I would always turn away from it when I was faxing. I would think what’s wrong with this machine it’s going to give me something, you know!.
And then we got computers and we got–no that was a copying machine, that was just a copier. We got a fax machine in the ‘90s so just our business going from the days, just my history with the business from the days when I just used a typewriter in the days where we had to carbon copy everything, to the days of the internet and computer it has just made our business easier and our ability to reach people so much stronger.
CL: Yeah, that’s very cool. Well, Peggy, thank you so much for joining us this week. It was really fun chatting with you.
PO: Oh, you’re welcome, Carrie.
CL: Yeah. I’ve been wanting to talk to you for a long time and this was really great.
PO: Well, let me know another time we can talk other issues if something comes up in particular I’d love to chat with you again.
CL: Yeah, absolutely, me too.
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