Keep Calm and Parent On

18 Feb

The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself” – Oscar Wilde

It starts soon after you first tell people you’re pregnant. Suddenly, everyone has an opinion. On everything.

Whether you should drink tea or coffee. Whether you should eat blue cheese. Whether you should wear clothes that hide your bump or accentuate it. Whether you should take it a bit easier at work or be a trailblazer for how pregnant women can still do it all.

What I didn’t realise was that it gets worse once you have a baby. At least when you’re pregnant, the only people who tend to have an opinion are those who have been pregnant themselves. Once the baby arrives, it’s pretty much a free for all. Even those who have no babies and no experience with babies are happy to share their views on how you’re doing with parenthood.

Some said I should go back to work part-time, some said I have to do full-time for the money and others thought I shouldn’t go back to work at all. I should go out and paint the town red or have a date night with my husband (I think this was first suggested when my baby girl was 3 weeks old). I should be wrapping her up warmer – I was once told this by a random stranger in Tesco – or not fussing so much over her or watch her more carefully. One of my personal favourites was someone helpfully asking if I was producing enough milk because my six week old baby was always hungry. With hindsight I know this was because a) she’s my baby and greedy like me and b) six week old babies feed all the time.

Advice 3Mums Body and Soul rather scarily point out that this unsolicited advice can continue until your child is in college. Damn it. I had hoped this was going to ease up soon.

This is definitely a good reason to try nipping it in the bud and also learn how to deal with it without losing my cool.

A quick Google search shows 393,000 hits on how to deal with unsolicited advice on how to raise your baby, so at least I know I’m not alone.

I understand that our daughter is connected to people in our lives in a very special way and I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see the bond she shares with people who are close to us. They love Amaya completely and totally and of course, they only want what’s best for her.

But when I’ve had weeks of sleepless nights and am worried if I’m raising my daughter right, it’s not so easy to take advice in the often well-meaning manner it is intended. Julie Francis, manager of Parenting Australia, hits the nail on the head when she says that the most well-meaning advice can make parents feel unsure of their abilities to raise their child well. In other words, all these advice givers can be bad for parental health.

If I’m honest, there are also times when I’m not so sure the advice is well meaning. I’m pretty sure there are times people share advice because it affirms their own parenting style, or they just want you to know how much they know about babies or how relaxed they would be while raising their imaginary kids.

cara-adviceThere is no advice anyone could give a mum which she will not already have felt guilty about and fretted over. Parenthood is a very steep learning curve and babies don’t come with an instruction manual, so I’m always wondering how I’m doing.

If you tell me I should get out and leave the baby more, I can guarantee you it’s something I’ve already worried over. If you tell me my child needs more disciplining, it’s something I’m already struggling to figure out. In fact, I’ll pay you £1000 if you can come up with something I haven’t worried about. It might have to be Monopoly money though, babies are expensive.

Of all the things that no-one told me about pregnancy, babies and motherhood, was this; as a mum you feel guilty from the moment your baby arrives in this world. We constantly worry if we’re doing things right.

And here’s the most disheartening thing about the advice I’ve been given. I could count on one hand how many people have given me any encouragement or told me they think I’m doing a good job of raising my daughter. Now when you’ve got people all day every day telling you what you should be doing differently, those bits of encouragement are like a beacon of light and I cling onto them for dear life.

Advice 4Most people have been wonderful since I had Amaya and I’ve realised how lucky we are.  We have a huge, crazy family who are besotted with her, wonderful friends (many without babies) who have been amazing about our daughter hanging out with us. My two sisters living abroad adore their niece, encourage me and keep me going more than they know. Then there’s my group of ex-work friends who all got pregnant around the same time as me and in the early days were an absolute, non-competitive, Godsend. So it’s not all bad.

And a message to those who may occasionally be a bit overzealous with their advice. I know you mean well and I know it’s because you love me and Amaya that you’re sharing your thoughts with me. Just try balancing it with some encouragement too so I know I’m not doing a terrible job. I won’t get it right all the time but I want what’s best for her more than anyone.

So next time you’d like to give a mum some advice, be kind and know that she will definitely have beaten herself up about whatever it is you’d like to share with her. Better yet, wait to see if she asks for your advice. Or forget the advice and give her some reassurance instead. Tell her she’s doing an amazing job, or she seems to be holding up really well with the lack of sleep, or that she must be doing something right because her baby is happy.  Trust me, you will make her day.


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