Why is it that people think it’s perfectly acceptable to offer unsolicited advice about parenting as soon as you’ve had a child? Not just people who know you, but random strangers. Not just people with children of their own, but people who have never had children. We desperately wanted children but found it difficult to conceive at all and then lost one before my son was born. I didn’t feel overwhelmed at his existence, I willingly followed his lead. He was an easy baby and we bonded immediately.
It was reading a piece by Nikki Cawood that got me thinking about the random advice that I and my friends received when we became mums for the first time. Nikki’s standpoint is not to apologise for the parenting choices you make, but this can be quite difficult in the face of people who clearly think they are doing the right thing.
Here is a good example of this: carrying my weeks old son in a carrier on the front of my body, I was holding a takeaway coffee cup with a lid and about half an inch of almost cold coffee. I was stopped by a woman who said she’d seen “so many” children scalded by coffee in cups exactly like the one I was holding and would I please not carry it around while I had my son in the carrier. I was completely taken aback as this was my first experience of being accosted in the street and I wasn’t prepared for it. I calmly explained that there was about half an inch in the bottom of this cup (with a lid on it) and it was all but cold anyway. I have often wondered what made that woman think that I was being an irresponsible parent. Do I look like the type of person who would put her son in obvious danger? What does such a person look like? Unfortunately, people who should know me better were also very ready with their advice.
I chose to breastfeed my son, which attracted lots of comments from various family members. These ranged from feeding him so often is no good for him to how I’m really not physically built for breastfeeding and would find it difficult. This last was from my sister who had breastfed her own first child and so knew what it was like. She had clearly found it difficult but my viewpoint was: I have breasts, what else do I need? A childless member of the family said that we would need to “top him up” with formula as breast milk wasn’t enough. Another said I shouldn’t be breastfeeding at all.
It was the underlying assumption that everyone else has the best interests of my child at heart and I didn’t that really bothered me. In the supermarket a woman told me that the carrier I was using (same front carrier) was bad for my son’s neck. Bad how, we asked? She said she’d raised several children and was professionally qualified to comment. She didn’t elaborate further! What is wrong with these people? Don’t they remember all the unwanted advice they got?
I’ve found that people get very upset if you don’t take their advice. They often check back later to see if you took their wisdom on board and get quite hurt if you haven’t. I was informed that carrying my son with me all the time would make him clingy. In fact he’s now a very sociable and outgoing boy and I believe that’s because he feels secure at home in his relationship with his parents. I got lots of comments along the lines of “still carrying him?”, “haven’t you put that child down yet?” I wonder what they would have said had they know that in fact, I spent the first year of his life just cuddling him and staring at him!
A word about advice from the health professionals, who you believe know what they are talking about. Whilst it’s not exactly unwanted, in my experience some of it just made no sense at all. Whether the subject is bottle feeding, keeping the baby in your room until 6 months or not weaning before 6 months, the pressure is enormous, even if only expressed in subtle ways. My friend was breastfeeding twins and was told her boys weren’t growing quickly enough. She gave in to this huge emotional pressure at 12 weeks and regretted it ever since. My son’s cot was at my side of the bed and we kept waking one another every hour or so from 15 weeks to 22 weeks, when we finally went against advice and put him in his own room. We got a whole four hours sleep that night! All in one go! Bliss!
Here’s some advice I did take though! Lots of people stopped me and told me how quickly this time would pass, and to love and enjoy him. “Keep an eye on him” said one particularly creepy chap in the supermarket, advice I thought was well worth heeding! Unfortunately it was never to be that we would have more children so we are very glad that we followed our own instincts, ignored everyone else and just did it all our way.