When you become a mum for the first time the way you interact with the world changes. Some things begin to make more sense, some things make less sense. As you grapple with this shift in perspective, you begin to notice that something else is off…the world is most definitely treating you differently now, too.
It was early on in my journey as a new mother that I realised I could walk into any room, anywhere, and be on the receiving end of random, unsolicited advice.
At first, I didn’t think much of it. Newborns attract quite a bit of attention, it’s normal for people to want to say something – especially if they’ve experienced this phase themselves.
However, as the weeks rolled on, the advice kept coming and it soon became a running joke between me, myself and I. I would enter a room and count down the seconds until the first person offered their two cents, explaining why they thought my baby looked hungry, or cold, or warm, or tired (or all of the above, simultaneously).
Bear with me, I’m not being ungrateful. Most of the advice comes from a positive place…they want to look out for me and for my baby. However, the truth is that when a mother wants advice, she usually asks for it.
So why shouldn’t you give random parenting advice when it isn’t asked for? Here are a few reasons:
1. You Don’t Know The Whole Picture
You do not know more about parenting THAT baby than her parents do. You might have children of your own or even be a close friend or relative but I can assure you that you do not have the full picture. You do not know the reasons behind the choices these parents have made, and giving random unsolicited advice can lead to great frustration on the parents’ part.
2. Information Is Constantly Changing
This is true about all aspects of child-rearing. Child nutrition, medical care, weaning, potty-training…you name it! Information is everywhere and is CONSTANTLY updated. All these new discoveries mean that if you’re not up to date, you really shouldn’t be giving out advice. Granted, you might have successfully raised six kids but please, for the sake of every new parent out there…stop telling new mums to add rice cereal to their baby’s bottle.
3. Most Mums Just Need To Hear They’re Doing A Good Job
You might just want to help. You may have been through something similar yourself. But this doesn’t matter. When you factor in the uncontrollable hormones that rule the postpartum period, as well as the sleep deprivation and new-mum anxiety…your suggestion that her crying infant is probably hungry and that she should top-up each breastfeed with formula is extremely unnecessary…and does more harm than good. Sometimes, all a mum wants to hear is that babies cry, parenting is hard and that they’re doing a great job.
4. Parenting Decisions Are Private
NEWSFLASH, there isn’t one way to raise a child. Just as every baby is different, so are parenting decisions. It is possible to have two separate couple friends with kids, who seemingly have opposing ways of doing things when it comes to child-rearing…and still see two happy, thriving babies. For example, we have adopted a more routine-based approach to bringing up Kate. Playdates revolve around naps and bedtime is the same each night. This has worked extremely well for us as a family, but has also invited many (unsolicited) comparisons between other families with more lenient approaches. The truth is that neither of us is right or wrong. You do not know why parents might choose to be rigid…or why others keep their kids up late, so it is most definitely not your place to suggest that they loosen up…or put their kids to bed earlier.
5. Unwanted Advice Can Be A Burden
Last but not least, even if she ignores your advice, she is still burdened by it. Will she offend you if she doesn’t take it? If she dismisses it? It really isn’t the time to create unwanted tension. Try to be a little more mindful of what you say, and why you say it. Rest assured she is already worrying about ALL the things, so please don’t give her one more thing to worry about.
So next time you find yourself face-to-face with a new mum (who’s still in the process of developing her ‘thicker skin’) remember that the spoken word has meaning. Encourage her, reassure her and only offer advice if she asks for it.