As a mom of a new baby, it can feel like you need a full time bodyguard. Suddenly you’ll find that you’re on display for a conga line of well-meaning, occasionally useful, often weird and sometimes nasty advice and judgment from friends, family and strangers. Since having a bodyguard is not a reality for most of us, though, we’re left to contend with a whole lot of nonsense for ourselves.
I remember when my daughter was seven weeks old. I was walking, zombie-like along the street, pushing the pram, in desperate need of coffee. I found a café, a good one, and felt that burst of joy all new, sleep-deprived moms know when they’re just about the get a nice caffeine hit. I picked up little Violet — all skinny arms and legs and grunts — and gave her a bit of a jiggle as I waited in line. The man standing behind us watched her intently and looked as though he wanted to say something.
I braced myself.
He was a chiropractor, he said by way of introduction, and the shape of my daughter’s head was concerning to him. The bones could be impinging on her brain and her ability to learn might be affected. And she was probably getting headaches, which would explain why she cried a lot. He could treat her.
It’s true, my daughter’s gorgeous bald head was a little cone-shaped. Our doctor had already assured me this would resolve itself over time. Nothing to worry about. And I hadn’t worried about it. Until this moment. This man’s words shocked and concerned me. And yet I was also grateful. What a kind man! How could I have glossed over this this? What a terrible mother I was! And swirling under all of these feelings were little alarm bells going off in my gut. I trusted my doctor, didn’t I? Was this really an issue?
I ended up bringing my baby in for a consult with him. But mid-exam, I wasn’t feeling it. It didn’t seem necessary and I didn’t know why were there. I told him I’d changed my mind about treatment and that was that. We left.
So I’ve been trying to come up with a few statements — or mantras — we can say to ourselves to help us filter out the bad, useless and downright silly advice we’re hit with so relentlessly.
1) Hear the good stuff. Out of every ten positive comments we receive about our parenting, we will remember the one bad one. This needs to stop. None of us are perfect parents, but mom-bashing — including mom-bashing ourselves — is common and counterproductive. We need to practice absorbing positive parenting feedback; this makes us better parents. So when someone tells you you’re doing a good job, listen. And on those days when you really nail parenting — like remembering to bring along diapers and a spare outfit when you hit the shops — enjoy the triumph. Parental mic drop moment.
2) People just want to connect. Remember that older woman at the library who told you that your baby is too skinny and you should try putting duck lard in his bottle? She was probably just looking for a way to make conversation. People love babies. Babies are beautiful and represent hope and joy. And seeing them often prompts people to reminisce about their own parenting experiences. Don’t take their words to heart.
3) A*#%@%s are everywhere. The world is mostly full of good people. But there are a handful of jerks poking around, and age, race, social status and sex don’t discriminate. Plus sometimes perfectly nice folks just act like grumps because maybe they just got a parking ticket, or had their power cut off or just got dumped. In any case, these people always seem to come out of the woodwork to tut-tut over you breastfeeding at the restaurant, or when it’s time to dish out the emergency lollipop you’ve saved for your toddler so that you can wait in line at the post office. This person will give you The Look. They may even say something. So be prepared. If you have a line you’ve worked out in advance — something firm yet polite — you won’t get that awful feeling of rage after the fact (and you won’t lay awake at night replaying the moment and fantasizing about the cutting response you should have given). Look ‘em in the eye and say “Thanks for your feedback, but I’m really happy with my parenting choices.” It can be that simple. Don’t let the bastards get you down.
4) Family is the best. And the worst! Family members tend to dish out parenting advice liberally. Some of it will be helpful, compassionate and useful. And some of it…. well, there will always be Great Uncle Allan, who never actually had children and has never changed a diaper but always has pearls of wisdom for you. Yes, they’re all trying to help in their own misguided, judgmental way. But that doesn’t mean you need to listen. Do like me and excuse yourself, go into the bathroom, shut the door and scream into a towel. Then you can go back and sit down, smile politely and let all the rubbish wash over you.
5) Form powerful alliances. Surround yourself with like-minded moms. Or just people who have a similar moral code. It could be a mothers’ group. It could be a bunch of school friends. It might be members of your family. These are the precious ones who give you unconditional support. They just ‘get it’ and will save your life on a daily basis – from the smallest things to the biggest.
6) Don’t be Judge Judy. It’s easy for us moms to slip into judgmental mode when it comes to other people’s parenting (even though we can’t stand being judged ourselves). The truth is, we don’t know others’ circumstances. We don’t know what their day has been like, what they’re facing. That kid on the iPad eating gummy worms while his mom is on her phone may paint the picture of a parenting fail, but perhaps that mom has been playing hide and seek and feeding her son fresh fruit all morning and needs half and hour to answer her work emails. We just don’t know, so let’s be kinder.
BTW, my little girl’s head did go round again, and she is learning just fine. And every time I walk past that man’s chiropractic practice I stick up my middle finger and carry on. Because that’s what us moms do.