The Advice Sorting Game
As the mother of almost three children, I have been given my share of advice. Sometimes it is difficult to know what applies to you and what simply wouldn’t work, especially in the first pregnancy. A pregnant woman can easily find herself receiving opinions of everyone from her mother to a perfect stranger at the grocery store. What care provider to use, where to birth, how to birth, how much weight to gain, how you look, what to eat, how to diaper your new baby, how to potty train, how long to breastfeed, how to discipline, where to sleep, whether to “sleep train” and anything else that happens to be involved in pregnancy and parenting might come up. And it doesn’t stop at the pregnancy; parents often spend the lifespan of their children hearing different ideas and tidbits of advice. It can create confusion and frustration in the parents-to-be, especially for new parents who may not have yet decided what their “way” of parenting will be.
From Your Care Provider Your pregnancy care provider can provide valuable insight, backed with medical and experiential information, that may help you make decisions along your pregnancy and into the early moments of the baby’s life. As a midwife, my advice on birthing options and parenting styles is frequently solicited. I spend plenty of time with patients covering these and other pertinent topics during the months of pregnancy; this information can reassure and direct a patient toward resources and choices that fit with what’s important to her. I try to be sensitive when someone asks me for my advice, offering information that is unclouded by biases whenever possible. When I can’t, I’m clear about my bias before offering the advice. Your health care provider can be a valuable resource as you make decisions about how and when to get pregnant, choices during pregnancy, birth options, and early childhood parenting and care ideas.
From Your Family and Others Though family, friends, and those outspoken strangers may not approach giving advice with as much care, recognize that the intent is generally to try to inform, support, and help you. Where your birth and parenting choices differ than those of your parents or the family in which you were raised, there may be feelings of rejection or offense. Remind yourself that advice from these sources may be emotionally charged and that they’re sharing because they care. Politely allow them to share their advice and then sort it in “keep” or “discard” according to what feels right to you and your partner. Even if their intent is not misguided, it can still be upsetting to hear that you’re doing something wrong or what can go wrong. Don’t worry, though! Pregnancy, birth, and parenting are as individual as a person’s looks or personality. Your child will be unique and have his/her own traits and needs. Instead of looking for the right way to parent, look for what feels right for you, your partner, and your child. It does not need to feel right to the outsider who is not part of your family!
The best advice I have ever been given about parenting is “trust yourself to know what is best for your family.” When I was young and parenting for the first time, I wasn’t sure if I could trust myself. I was a beginner and worried that I’d make mistakes. As my older children grew and matured, I instinctively knew how I wanted to parent, and realized it wasn’t necessarily right for others to follow.
Learning to listen closely to your own voice of conscience and trusting that you are the individual who was chosen to parent this child will empower you to make the “perfect” decisions for his or her wellbeing. Your confidence and united front with your partner will bring about relief from the pressure to heed all the advice.
Try It and See for Yourself Certainly, there is much we can glean from parents and grandparents who have walked this road before. And chances are you will begin to appreciate your own parents in new ways as each stage of development passes. Take what advice you like, what seems to fit your lifestyle, and incorporate it into your family. If it doesn’t work, throw it out and try something new. Just because you begin down one path doesn’t mean you’re stuck there.
You might try new ways of parenting you have not seen anyone else try. You might use age-old, tried and true ways of parenting that you cherish from your upbringing and wouldn’t trade for anything. As your children grow and change, so may your parenting techniques. Great! There will be mistakes, regrets, or wistful hindsight, and that’s okay. Learn from these experiences and keep moving forward, empowered with the knowledge that you are your child’s best advocate and nurturer. Think of it like a plant in a rainfall, absorbing all the water needed and letting the rest run off. Parents can do the same: listen, let the advice run over you like water, and take in only what you can use for your family.
Parenting involves creativity, humility, sensitivity, and love. The next time you stand in line at the grocery store listening to that sweet woman who has raised seven children herself share all her parenting tips, listen politely, knowing that some of what she is saying will fit your family like a glove, and some of it should run off like extra water. You have the tools built into you to parent your little ones. Learn from others and then trust yourself.
Erin Kaspar-Frett is a Licensed, Certified Professional Midwife with a Master’s of Science in Midwifery from the Midwives College of Utah. She lives with her family in Ellsworth, Wisconsin and serves a geographical area within a two hour radius of her home office. For information about Erin and the safety of home birth visit www.earthmothermidwife.com.