Following the birth of a baby everyone has advice to offer new parents. While some of the advice received may be pearls of wisdom: – helpful, soothing, clarifying bits of information that we are ever so grateful to have gained access to, other bits of advice may be less desirable causing us feelings of anxiety, confusion, helplessness, hopelessness and even anger. Some advice is solicited, and some is “dished out” whether we want or not. Here are a handful of suggestions of how to stay calm and grounded in the face of “unwanted advice.”
Advice during this time can come from all kinds of places. Sought after advice may come from a friend, a physician, a relative etc. Unsolicited advice can come from anyone you find yourself in close quarters with including the person standing on line in front of you in the grocery store.
Here is a sampling of kinds of advice some of the moms in my groups have received, along with suggestions of how you might chose to respond. Use these examples as a benchmark if they are helpful, and/or simply let them speak to you in whatever way makes sense for you at this time.
The stranger - Remember people are generally well intentioned, if not fairly naive, when the person behind you in the grocery store suggests that you might try feeding your crying baby. After all every time her baby cried twenty-five years ago, it was because she was hungry and underfed, and it took this Mama eight months to figure this out.
How you might respond? Take a deep breath and remember, babies are provocative beings who we are biologically wired to respond to. Seeing a crying baby can bring up our own deep sense of internal helplessness, our wish to be able to control our environment, unresolved feelings about how we were parented and/or how we parented our own children. (All this in an unconscious instant, too much for many of us to bear without trying to remedy the situation no matter how silly our suggestions may be.)
While the advice may be exasperating and/or terribly naive, try not to take it personally. Take a deep breadth, gather whatever calm you can, and precede with whatever you know or believe to be the best way to navigate through this particularly challenging situation. Remember it is always easier to give advice than to receive it when you are in the middle of struggling through a difficult situation.
Your Mother in Law – Your mother-in-law tells you for the 5th time that you might want to consider leaving your baby in the crib to cry for a while as you are spoiling her by picking her up every time she cries.
How you might respond? Remember, different generations have different culturally laden beliefs about how our little ones should be raised. From the perspective of many grandparents, the culture of attachment-parenting may look like a crazy misinformed approach, which will raise a generation of whining, self-indulgent, out of control children.
You be the judge as to whether a frank conversation about the importance of responding to our little one’s in an emotional attuned manner will penetrate grandma’s belief system. If this is too much to get in to it may be best to simply take a breath and explain that, while you respect that in her time the consensus was that responding to an infant too quickly might result in spoiling a child, today’s thinking is focused on the understanding that you can’t spoil a baby. Scientists now believe that until a baby can sooth itself, it is important for us to help them regulate their emotional states. This way of speaking about it with someone from another generation shows respect for the fact that we all parent within a cultural context that changes with time and geography. Referencing scientific studies can also help take it out of the realm of a personal power struggle so that it is not simply my belief versus yours.
Your Pediatrician – Your pediatrician tells you it is time for you to sleep train your baby and recommends a book along with the prescription that by your next visit she wants to see your little one sleeping through the night.
How you might respond? Remember, unless you are suffering from a Postpartum Mood Disorder or another medical condition, the only valid reason to sleep train your baby is because it is what you (and your partner if you have one) have decided is the right course for your family at this time. Pediatricians and other professionals may have their own bias. Try and stay grounded in what you know to be right for you. There are 1001 opinions regarding “the right thing to do” but you are the only one who can know what the right thing is for you and your family.
Sleeping is one of the most controversial and stressful topics for new parents. In early parenthood sleep is one of those topics where people have very strong and varied opinions about what the right thing to do looks like.
If you are feeling pushed in a direction that does not feel right to you it is important to speak up. Share with your pediatrician, or whoever is pushing you, that you are not there yet, or that this is not consistent with your belief system. While with a relative you can’t exactly switch grandma’s if the one you have isn’t respecting your choices, with a pediatrician, or other care practitioners, you can. If a conversation about your views is not adequately incorporated into your practitioners approach, this might mean it is time to look for someone who is more open minded, and/or whose views are more consistent with your own. (This topic could certainly go either way with the care professional pushing either a cry-it-out, or a baby-led approach. Pushing either is a bias that doesn’t take into consideration individual differences and preferences.)
Your Cat – Your beloved Kitty Seymour gives you a stern glare which you know only to well to mean, “You’ve changed from your easy going self to this tense hurried stranger. Lighten up lady and give me some attention for a change.”
Seymour may have a point. Unsolicited advice is not always welcome, but every once in awhile there is some wisdom lurking beneath its irritating surface. Whenever you can, take a moment to consider without judgment is there anything to be gained from these suggestions. Would taking a moment out from your hurried baby-focused frenzy to luxuriate in Seymour’s furriness be such a bad idea? While we may not have time for the things that use to give us pleasure, our Kitty, our partner, taking a bath, we might also forget that it is O.K. to take a moment here and there to pause and not be “doing” something.
So next time your kitty, or your metaphorical kitty, gives you such a look, pause to see if there is wisdom in this advice before you simply shrug it off. If there is, take in the wisdom. If not, try and stay spacious and let the advice pass through without throwing you off kilter.
You can see more from Gina Hassan here.
Featured image via.