After becoming a mom, I got so much unsolicited advice, it blew my mind. The baby needs to wear a hat, I need to pick her up, I need to put her down, she shouldn’t be on the dirty floor, she needs to be exposed to more germs, I should wake her to feed, I should never wake a sleeping baby.
It wasn’t just advice either. I also got questions such as, “Does she sleep through the night?” “Do you breastfeed?” and “Has she started preschool?” that all sounded a lot more like, “Are you doing it right?” to me. Even worse were the questions directed TO the baby, like, “Are you hungry?” and “Are you tired?” which rang loud and clear to my ears as, “Lady, you need to feed your starved child and let her sleep.”
And even though it feels like everyone I know and everyone I don’t know is constantly evaluating my parenting, I know that’s not really true.
Consider this: Maybe people aren’t really judging us as much as it feels like they are. Maybe we’re just insecure.
Want to kill me? I know it sounds harsh, but hear me out.
Parenting in modern America comes in all shapes and sizes. We have a plethora of philosophies on how to feed, manage sleep, toilet train, discipline, and educate. It’s up to us to learn about it all and select a method, or more likely a combination of methods, that suits our family best. It’s great that we have the freedom to choose our own way and the right to parent according to our own beliefs.
There are also downsides. Did you know that in other cultures, including our own until less than fifty years ago, there is a common philosophy of raising children? Our family spends some of our time abroad each year, where I’ve experienced the contrast of America’s build-your-own-salad approach to parenting up against an overarching, universally agreed upon parenting standard.
Here’s what I’ve discovered: When the way that you parent grows intrinsically out of a deeply rooted culture—when it’s simply your way of life—it’s just easier. You parent calmly and confidently, and you can count on the support you need to come from family and community members surrounding you. Anyone who corrects your child is either helping you with something you would have done or they’re guiding you in something you should have done. There’s this feeling that everyone is on your side; everyone is helping you grow.
Parenting amongst a vast array of differing strategies is very stressful. We feel less secure in our decisions and less sure of whose advice we can trust. And even if we are experienced and confident in a particular philosophy, we often find ourselves going against the grain, simply because there are so many grains that we’re always going against something.
Amidst all this pressure, it’s easy to miss the fact that the old foreign lady wildly gesticulating to me that my infant ought to be wearing socks in this weather is only trying to help. Or that the experienced mom of three asking me if my baby sleeps through the night remembers how hard it was with her first, not knowing the tricks she does now. She wishes someone had told her then what she wants to tell me.
Sometimes people are right, like the sock lady. The weather shifted and I wasn’t prepared. I should have packed socks. Others I disagree with, like a dear friend who swears by “le pause,” which refers to waiting to see if an infant settles before going in to check. Valuable information to many, but I personally choose not to follow it.
Then there are the crazies. I’ve had a woman screaming at me that I was brain damaging my child by covering her stroller with a muslin. I’ve been viciously attacked from both sides of the sleep training debate since I fall somewhere in the middle. But listen: I’ve started to realize that if these people were acting this way about any other topic than my parenting, I’d write them off as looney and move on with my life. We can nod, smile, and slowly back away.
If we realize that for the most part, people aren’t judging, we can take a breath and make a simple choice. We can take their advice and grow from it. Or we can listen to it openly and choose not to follow it. We don’t have to get offended. We don’t have to justify ourselves. We can just listen and live.