If you are a mother you have probably had to deal with this on multiple occasions: other people giving you advice on how to feed, raise, wean, transport and dress your baby. Everybody seems to know how your baby should sleep, what it should be able to do, how it should react, when it should eat and how you should feel about all of this. It mostly comes from well-meaning family members, friends and co-workers. And yes, that is sweet, thank you. But nine times out of ten it is unsolicited and different from your own views.
Now, that does not necessarily have to be a wrong thing. It can be quite good to get a different perspective on things. Especially when those things happen when you have slept two hours, your boobs are sore from feeding and you haven’t had a chance to take a shower or eat a decent meal yet. But that is also what makes it kind of dangerous. Because as a new, sleep deprived mama you are vulnerable. And if you already feel rather hopeless about your baby not sleeping through the night, the next person that comes along with ‘great advice’ about letting your baby cry it out might just make you feel incompetent enough to actually go against your instincts.
In my experience there are three types of advice givers. The first are the ones that try to help you by bluntly telling you what they know to be The Truth. They will bring it as such, without asking about your thoughts, opinions and feelings. But if it’s good advice you say thank you and take it and all is fine with the world. They don’t undermine you, they might just irritate you. The second type of advice-giver is undermining and rather disrespectful. They know how you think and feel about things, but they will keep telling you how to do things differently because ‘obviously’ your way isn’t working, or wrong or silly. They get under your skin and can make you feel insecure about your decisions. The third type asks what you have already tried and how you want to proceed. They don’t tell you what to do, they ask you what you think is right. They tell you that you are the expert on your own child and you know what is best. They know when to just listen and they know when to offer their ideas, because you asked about them.
“People are more prone to change when they put in the effort themselves. Not when they feel shamed out of their ways and pressed into yours.”
I have the pleasure and displeasure of having these three types of people in my life. They either make me feel annoyed (type A), sad and mad (type B) or strong (type C). As you can imagine I love being around C-people and lucky for me that describes most of my friends. It is also the type of advice-giver I inspire to be, because I would hate it if someone felt I was forcing my opinions on them. That’s why I stay out of discussions about eating meat, wooden versus plastic toys or letting babies watch TV. If someone asks I just tell them how ‘we chose to do it’. And if they are interested I tell them where they can find certain information or research. People are more prone to change (if that is your goal) when they put in the effort themselves. Not when they feel shamed out of their ways and pressed into yours. As parents we have to stick together. We have to empower one another.
Parenting Advice and Motherly Instincts
The times I felt vulnerable and insecure enough to go against my feelings I always regretted it later. Either because my instincts turned out to be right or because I did not make the decision from a place of strength. I don’t mean you should listen to all of your fears and never try anything. Raising a baby comes with a lot of fears and if we would listen to all of them all the time, we might as well just stay inside and experience nothing. What I am saying is listen to yourself. What is your gut saying? What do you think and feel about the situation? Also listen to the advice-giver. What is he or she saying and doing? Are they pressuring you into making a decision on the spot? Are they being considerate and respectful about your feelings? How do they make you feel? Do they empower you or undermine you? If it is the latter turn your back on the situation and revisit your decision at a moment you can think clearly again and maybe talk about it with someone you trust.
One of the things I love about Attachment Parenting is the way you are stimulated to believe in yourself as a mother, as a parent. To trust your instincts, get to know your child in such a way that you truly are an expert on him or her. One of Dr. Sears’ “Baby B’s” is ‘Beware of baby trainers’, where he warns new parents about advice-givers that undermine your sensitive and attachment based way of parenting. (In case you are wondering, the other B’s are Birth bonding, Belief in baby’s cries, Breastfeeding, Baby wearing, Bedding close to baby and Balance and Boundaries).
“If you have informed yourself about the possibilities, have weighed your options and then made a decision based on your best abilities and knowledge and are ready to take on the consequences of this decision, it is ALWAYS the right decision. Because you made it.”
But the thing that has made the most sense to me, when it comes to making ‘the right’ decisions and ignoring all the well-meant but maybe not so fitting advise, is something I heard during a lecture on child development. It was a couple of years ago, in Amsterdam, when a mother in the audience asked: “But how will I know I have made the right decision?!” The topic was vaccination and her voice sounded rather desperate.
The lecturer, a Dutch pediatrician called Edmond Schoorel, said: “If you have informed yourself about the possibilities, have weighed your options and then made a decision based on your best abilities and knowledge and are ready to take on the consequences of this decision, it is ALWAYS the right decision. Because you made it. It may not work out the way you wanted or intended or you may want to do it differently next time, but it was still the right thing to do.”
At the time I thought, poor woman, now she still doesn’t know what to do. But what the doctor said grew on me and I realized how true it is. Especially when my sister had her first child and a year later, when my daughter was born. Because isn’t that the best we can do? Isn’t that what we owe our children? To inform ourselves and then make a real decision. Not let other people push us around or guilt-trip or manipulate us into doing things we feel in our hearts isn’t right? I have found that this way of thinking and making decisions not only makes you feel strong and confident as a parent, it also helps you make the best choices for you and your family. So next time someone gives you unsolicited advice you have got your answer ready: