By Meri Levy, MFT, CLE
One of the biggest challenges facing new parents is the deluge of advice forthcoming from parents, friends, and everyone who’s ever had a child, or has even observed a child once or twice.
We’ve all experienced it:
- “You really have to stop picking him up whenever he cries, or you’re going to spoil him.”
- “She’s hungry: maybe you don’t make enough milk. Why don’t you give her a bottle and see if she takes it?”
- “He’s not dressed warmly enough. When my babies were small, I always made sure they had on three layers of clothing.” etc., etc.
How do you these often unwanted intrusions make you feel? For many new parents, unsolicited advice makes them angry. You have no doubt made your decisions about how to care for your baby very carefully, and it is upsetting to have another person second-guessing your decisions. It can also make you feel uncertain about your own decisions, or hurt because you see another person doubting your parenting ability.
Don’t Take it Personally
It is important to recognize that most people who offer advice do not intend to hurt your feelings or make you angry. They are only trying to help. They probably truly believe that taking their advice will benefit you and/or your baby. So take a deep breath, and try not to take it personally. It’s not about you.
That being said, you do not owe it to anybody to listen too carefully to their unsolicited advice. You have many resources available to you to make parenting decisions. You most likely have already considered the point of view they are expressing, and have decided after careful consideration to do things differently. This is your baby. You are the parent, and you are the decision-maker when it comes to parenting your baby.
Distinguish Between Advice-Givers
So, how to respond? Well, it depends upon who is giving the advice.
If the advice-giver is someone you don’t have an intimate relationship with: the dry-cleaner, the clerk at Starbucks, etc., don’t feel you have to respond by justifying yourself or getting into an involved discussion. If you are rude to the person, however, you’re going to be left with a sour feeling, so keep it as positive as possible. A smile and a “thanks for your input” can end the conversion quickly. Remember, it’s not your job to educate the masses or your responsibility to justify yourself.
If you do find yourself in the midst of a debate in this situation, you can end it with “I guess I just have to figure it out by myself.”
It’s more complicated, of course, when you’re talking about your mother or mother-in-law, your best friend, etc. In these cases, it often helps to remind yourself of the good qualities of this person. They probably just want to help you out, however misguided their advice. And even if you disagree completely with the advice-giver, try to see if you can see the issue from their point of view. Many of our mothers were discouraged from breast-feeding or holding the baby all the time. Perhaps your approach makes them feel their mothering was inadequate. They believe they did the right thing, so it may be hard to see you doing it differently. They have developed opinions from other sources, without considering the information you have. So, if unwanted advice is ongoing, you may want to ask questions to understand their point of view and gain a better perspective.
Sometimes it helps to share articles or portions of books you’ve read, to help the advice-giver understand that attitudes and expert opinion has changed on many of these practices. This is one way to help them understand that you are not merely rejecting their approach out-of-hand.
Be Confident and Keep Your Boundaries Clear
Bottom line, you are the parent here. It is often hard to feel confident about your parenting abilities when this is your first baby. But you are undoubtedly doing a wonderful, thoughtful job of it. And while your opinions and attitudes may evolve over time, you must at all times do what you feel is right for you and your baby. Having full confidence in yourself and your decisions is especially important when you’re responding to advice from others.
Keep your boundaries clear. Do not feel you need to engage in debates, arguments, discussions, etc. with advice-givers. You do not have to justify your opinion, because you are the parent of your baby. If you are interested in what they have to say, ask them about it, without defending or justifying your own point of view.
If you really want the person to understand your approach, explain your perspective briefly, and acknowledge that there are many “right” ways care for a baby. Let them know that you have chosen yours for a reason. But don’t expect to be able to convince others that you are right. They are entitled to their point of view, and you will drive yourself crazy if you try to get their approval. If you want some affirmation, talk to a like-minded friend (or your mom’s group!) instead.
To end this kind of discussion, it sometimes helps to say: “I love you and really appreciate your input, but we need to make our own decisions about what is right for our baby. I’ll let you know when we need some advice.” And believe it or not, you may just want help or advice from this person when it comes to teething, baby-proofing, toilet-training, etc., so don’t knock those advice-givers completely!