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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Unwanted Parenting Advice & How to Deal With It

Whether you like it or not, as soon as your first child is born you will receive truckloads of advice from family, friends and even strangers. Some of it will be useful. Some of it won't. Rarely, will it be asked for.

It starts in hospital. After the birth of my first son, one midwife walked in after another giving me advice. Although obviously part of their job, unfortunately the advice usually conflicted from one midwife to another. By the end of my hospital stay, I didn’t feel confident and ready to start my new life with my child. Rather, I felt confused and anxious. Did the clicking sound my new son made during breastfeeding mean he was not attached properly (as one midwife suggested) or did it mean he was drinking my breast milk (as another had)?

About five months later, I was standing outside a supermarket – my son happily chewing on a cloth book whilst propped up in his pram – when a little old lady wandered over and observed him chewing at the book. She said, “Oh, look. He’s teething.” She then went on to explain to me how to use a lemon and some other items I can’t recall to help relieve his ‘discomfort’. Um…see that smile there on my son’s face, dear lady? That’s because he’s happy to be chewing a book, not because he’s trying to show you his sore and throbbing gums!

Seven months after that – with my son now 12 months of age – I was sitting in a cafĂ© feeding him a jar of baby food I had purchased. An older woman approached me and basically chided me for doing so. She went on to tell me how her daughter never gives her baby ‘manufactured food’. Well, good for her. She must be an absolute LEGEND of a parent. Now why don’t you mind your own business? I wanted to say. Instead, I replied, “Sounds like she’s doing really well,” smiled, and went back to spooning food in to my son’s hungry mouth.

Of course, unwanted advice is not restricted to new babies. Throughout your child’s life - no matter what new challenge their facing - there will be people around you offering their advice whether you asked for it or not. However, unwanted advice is especially dished out to new parents.

Almost always, the advice relates to parenting principles that have evolved over time. A lot of what we do now with our babies (feeding, sleep etc) is very different, say, to when our own parents had their kids. Things that have changed considerably since our own parents had you and I:

* When to start solid food - 6 weeks vs 6 months
* The temperature of a baby’s bath - The recommended temp is higher these days.
* Sleep routines - Babies on their tummies vs babies on their backs.
* Breastfeeding - Set feeding times vs feeding on demand.

In the beginning, I used to get very defensive about the advice I was given about the above and more, and probably didn’t hide very well my frustration and annoyance. Let’s face it: it’s difficult when you already feel like a mediocre parent (as many parents do) to then have someone tell you – sometimes time and time again – what you’re doing wrong.

However, over the years I have learnt to deal with it a different way.

Whether you receive unwanted advice from family, friends or strangers, the way to handle it is the same:

1. Smile and say thank you. As difficult as it is to do sometimes, it’s often the best way to get the person giving you the advice the chance to move on. If they think you’re probably going to use their advice, they’ll feel satisfied and leave you alone!

2. Give soon-to-be grandparents a parenting book. As I mentioned above, by the time you have your own children, your own parent’s advice is sometimes thirty years plus old. See it from their point of view: they have raised you and all has worked out okay, so why wouldn’t they think the way they parented was best?

If you give grandparents-to-be a parenting book like, for example, Robin Barker’s Baby Love or the classic, What to Expect The First Year they can read all the new techniques and routines for themselves, which, although not guaranteed to do so, may stop the unwanted advice and any arguments over the best way to do things once the baby is born. 

3. Ask for advice occasionally yourself. Your parents want to feel a part of their grandchild’s life, and really just want to help you. So, help them to feel a part of it by occasionally asking them for advice. You don’t have to use it if you don’t want to, but they’ll feel included just by being asked - and who knows...you might actually learn something!

4. Ignore mean-spirited advice. Occasionally, some people want to tell you what you’re doing wrong, and not in a very helpful or tactful way (little old ladies are notorious for this)! Try to just ignore their advice, or if they persist, don’t be afraid to tell them to mind their own business, in as tactful a way possible! ;)

5. Remember that people generally mean well. People really do generally mean well, and just want to help when they offer advice. They’re not thinking about the fact that ten people before them have probably given similar or conflicting advice, and more advice will follow theirs. 

Just breathe…

How do you deal with unwanted advice? What’s the worst piece advice someone gave you regarding raising your child? What's the best piece of advice (wanted or otherwise) you got when your first child was born? 


Anonymous said...

ahhh - all so true.
I find myself telling more of my disaster stories these days than offering advice, I figure most mums can use the laugh :)

I think that most people's advice comes from their own personal insecurities. I wonder when mums offer advice whether they are really trying to help or if they are just reminding themselves that they managed to get through this enormous mothering experience themselves and perhaps they're looking for another mum for a pat on the back to help convince themselves that they did do it right - after all most days I have no idea if I'm doing the right thing and nearly no one ever says 'well done' so it wouldn't surprise me if this advice giving is the only way mums can justify their parenting choices? Sometimes someone saying 'that's a good idea, I'll give it a try' might be the only positive feedback some mums get.

The worst I find are women who choose to relate their terrible tales of birth - at a time that new mums are feeling apprehensive about what lays ahead it's not the time to bring out the war stories. Women who have positive stories often stay quite for fear of 'gloating' over a 'perfect birth' but without these great results being discussed it leaves only negativity and breads fear none of which is helpful to mums to be :)

Good luck to new mums at the coal face, it might help to remember that when people offer advice it's more often about them then you :)

Mum on the Run said...

Oh yeah!
Where to begin?!

As you've said the only thing to do is understand that people are going to throw all sorts of advice, opinion and judgement at you as a parent. Fact. The only part we can cntrol is what we choose to do with it and how we react.

It's a difficult thing to tune out others enough to hear what your instincts are trying to say. And then even more difficult to trust what you feel.

My son was born with an undiagnosed condition that required surgery once a specialist finally listened to me at five months. The number of well (and not so well) meaning people who had sooo much to say during those five months of hell was unbelievable. It took a lot of effort to break through my bitter emotions once my son was diagnosed and operated on.

I am (hopefully) a tad more aware of how I speak to new Mums now though.

Great post.

Sam-O said...

I was blessed with Grandmothers who kept their distance. I think they were waiting for me to ask for help. I didn't. My first son came out of special care an easy baby with excellent sleep habits.

Anyone on the street etc who offered advice, I handled by just thanking them, smiling and just brushing it off - so much so, I barely remember it happenng!

Unfortunately not asking the grandparents for advice or help first time around left me on my own when number 2 arrived and I could have done with some help (especially when the Workaholic went away for 7 weeks a few weeks after the birth). He wasn't a difficult baby, just normal.

I am really careful about when I offer advice and how I do it now.

Jackie said...

I love your idea of buying grandparents a guide on the new techniques and methods for raising kids. I know with a my children I had the worst time with my gram who kept insisting I was doing everything all wrong. Most times I tried to humor her the best I could. I think if I had thought of getting her a book it might have helped.

River said...

Oh dear! Now I'm going to have to start thinking before I start typing, because I'm rather quick to give a little advice here and there.

River said...

P.S. if you can't see little white bumps of coming teeth in your baby's gums, then your baby is not teething. No matter what anyone says.

MummyK said...

What about if I just carry around a cutter and cut anyone who gives unwanted advice? ;) Too violent?

life without mathematics said...

Doesn't it all come as such a shock when we first have babes? The world is so forgiving of anything done to anyone, done any old how, and then we take our new babe for a walk in the pushchair at 5 at night and we've forgotten a hat, and ooooo the reproving looks! As soon as we parent in public, it's as if we suddenly invite all the judgement the world has been storing up since it can't dish it up to any other poor sucker.

Ms Styling You said...

That is so true about the midwife advice. If only they read from the same book!
The only advice I give new mums is: remember when people are giving you advice about your baby that NO-ONE knows your baby better than you.

Rhonda said...

I have dealt with it in a myriad of ways. Everything from getting angry about it to just smiling and nodding. I think it all just depended on what was going on in that particular moment or how I was feeling in that particular day!

Anonymous said...

I must say I never expected this aspect of parenting before I became a parent. Then as soon as I realised it seemed the norm, I tried my hardest not to be one of "those" mothers.

When I do get unwanted advice, unless I vehemently disagree, I just nod or smile and then let it all slide off my shoulders.

I don't think I can recall a "worst piece of advice" but the best I had when my child was first born was on day 4 in the hospital when a lactation consultant advised I should try a nipple shield to get my bub to latch. I had been given bits and pieces of advice and support by various midwives but that was the best, even though I know many people don't recommend such aids. It was an amazingly uplifting and emotional feeling seeing my baby have her first good feed. I was in tears beforehand. I was able to then go home as scheduled feeling so much more confident I could feed my baby.

Anonymous said...

I found myself nodding along to various comments above.

I think the 'smile and say thank you' is good advice. But I don't know how good I would actually be at doing that.

I am constantly given advice because I have a child with ADHD. Some of the advice I really appreciate of course. When it comes from people who really know what they are talking about - but often it's from people who have no idea what they are talking about whatsoever.

My son's disorder makes him very well-known in the area, he approaches people constantly and people realise something is going on. Which therefore invites extra 'giving of advice'.

The worst ones are to do with his treatment. Despite the fact that my son is diagnosed and repeatedly assessed I have been told by 'dogooders' to take him off the medicine that helps him because it is a DRUG!!
To show you how inconsiderate that is, I should perhaps tell you that my son is so impulsive (through a chemical imbalance in his brain) that he regularly brings himself into danger as in risks his own life. Despite dogooders being aware of that, they still reprimand me and tell me to take him off the medication!!!

One of the worse ones though was a woman who told me she would have her MIL do some weird number therapy on him. All I had to do was tell her his date of birth. To keep the peace I did give her the details then a month or so later she approached me again and asked about the well-being of my son. Having realised the woman is a bit of a fruit loop, I thought I'd just tell her he's fine and walk away. The problem is now she's convinced that she and her MIL have 'cured' my sons disorder!! (And she's exactly the type of person who shouts it around.

I would say that what I and other parents need is not interfering unrequested advice but support.

Megan Blandford said...

Worst advice I ever got from a midwife? To wake my baby for three-hourly feeds. I just nodded and smiled and knew I wouldn't do that. She was a big baby and so healthy and happy - she wasn't going to fade away after a few hours sleep!

Marco Phillipstein said...

I always believe that the quality of parenting a child receives is considered the strongest potentially modifiable risk factor that contributes to the development of behavioural and emotional problems in children.