Written by Holly from Little Pickle’s Mom
Becoming a parent, especially for the first time, is a bit of a weird paradox. It’s something you’ve never done before and nothing can really prepare you. If you’re anything like me, you’ll pile an incredible amount of pressure on yourself to be ‘perfect’ and to get everything right. If you’re also as stubborn and proud as me, you’ll know exactly what you’re doing and not take kindly to anyone suggesting otherwise. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Whilst that’s definitely true, there are some villagers whose help you don’t really appreciate but can’t really risk offending.
We all hear horror stories of interfering mother-in-laws, well-meaning childless friends or even random strangers in the supermarket imparting their words of wisdom. But what’s the best way to deal with unwanted comments without causing offence? Here’s what I’ve learned the hard way:
Just say thank you
My standard response to anything I don’t particularly agree with but don’t want to risk offending is: ‘Thank you, that’s definitely something to think about.’. And that response has evolved and come a long way. I used to say ‘Thank you, I’ll bear that in mind for if we ever get really desperate.’. Turns out, people don’t like to think you’re only going to consider their advice as a last resort. Especially if that advice comes from another Mum. It’ll most likely result in a slightly passive aggressive conversation where each of you desperately defends your own decisions whilst accidentally (or maybe purposefully, who knows?) trashing the alternatives. It’s never going to end well.
Accept the generational differences
Things have changed dramatically in the advice given to parents about all sorts of things over the past fifty years. Not only has medical research advanced but societal attitudes have changed. Which means that the way our grandparents raised our parents can sometimes be at odds with how many choose to parent today. It’s true that babies haven’t changed much, but our knowledge has. An easy way to counter any outdated advice is to simply say: ‘we’re following the advice from the health visitor/midwife at the moment, isn’t it amazing how the guidelines change? I wonder what they’ll be saying in twenty years’ time?’
Don’t ask for it
Whilst there are some who give unsolicited advice, most people will only offer if they think you need it. You may not have asked for it outright. But if there’s a certain aspect of your parenting life you are struggling with, seem upset about or moan about, others will just want to try and help. If there’s an area of your parenting style you don’t want comments on, especially if it’s a divisive issue (feeding, weaning, sleep training), try not to be the one to bring these up in conversation. It’s best to save your venting on those topics for when you’re around those you know share the same views as you.
It’s not personal
Back in the early days, I took every comment and suggestion as an insult and a judgement. I was so desperate for my friends, family and medical professionals to approve of my parenting that I let it cloud my reasoning sometimes. During the first week I obsessed over a tiny comment my community midwife had made as she was leaving my house: ‘don’t worry about the housework, just you enjoy this time with your baby.’
I spent hours agonising over what she meant by that. Did she think my house was a tip and she was being reassuring? Or did she think it was too tidy and that I should spend less time cleaning and more time bonding? What is the perfect amount of messiness to imply I’m putting my baby first? But not so untidy that I come off as incompetent? Really, she just meant what she said. It wasn’t a comment on the state of my house either way. She probably says the exact same thing to all new Mums. She was just giving me permission to enjoy those precious cuddles.
Any advice, from lengthy lectures to throw away comments, are (mostly) given with the best of intentions. It’s easy to say now that I’ve got almost a year of parenting under my belt. In the whirlwind of life at the start of parenthood, that’s a difficult thing to remember.
Find those who agree with you
The internet is a double edged sword. Its ability to connect us means that it’s easy to find those who disagree with you and those who are on the same page as you. Finding communities that share your parenting style can give you a bit of a confidence boost. The reassurance to ignore the gasps, flinches of horror and ‘he’ll choke!’ mutterings from your own parents when you pass your baby led weaned six month old a stick of cucumber. Whether it’s a blog, a forum or a Facebook Group, these little communities can be a wealth of information and support. Giving you plenty of case studies or statistics to help retaliate against your naysayers.
I do feel like it can sometimes be a minefield trying to navigate your way through the parenting waters. I hope to have given you some ideas on how to politely deal with unwanted advice. We should all remember how it feels to be on the receiving end. So that the next time a friend, sibling or even our own children become parents, we can be as sensitive and supportive as possible. Without risking making the same well intentioned mistakes.