Advice is such a catch-22: it can be extremely helpful at times and loathsome at others. You’d be hard-pressed to find any mother who has never been on the receiving end of unsolicited advice. It’s about as common as what I playfully refer to as “belly-gate,” the taboo touching of a stranger’s pregnant stomach, and it’s equally as annoying. At times, at least.
I’ve had these conversations with so many moms I decided to write about it in hopes of helping others, both new and veteran moms, to wade through the unsolicited advice waters successfully.
The worst pieces of advice I’ve ever received all had one thing in common: they were absolutes. It was usually someone telling me to “only do this.” Everything from breastfeeding to sleep training to how many children to have, was suddenly only correct if I did it by following a very specific set of rules someone else made up. I can remember one instance as a new mother when another mom told me that I should stop working and focus solely on my baby because that was now my only job. Spoiler alert: I decided against that little nugget of “wisdom.”
In contrast, the best piece of advice ever given to me? I was told not to listen to everyone’s advice and to instead do what works for me! Ha! Imagine that.
The unsolicited advice debate leaves enough responsibility to go around for both sides. On one hand, we all need to realize that not everyone will appreciate our recommendations and opinions, and they might be better left unsaid altogether. On the other hand, mothers, new ones especially, should consider a few things. Not every person offering guidance is out to get us. As a new mom, your emotions are often anything but stable. Everything is transitory: our hormones are still settling, and the process of adjusting to a new baby is consuming. This means it’s easy to overreact and confuse well-meaning with malicious.
The first thing I suggest when faced with “advice gratis” is to examine the intention. I’ve found that even though it isn’t always desired, most people sincerely just want to help, and they mean no harm. Next, construct a cerebral wall with a door. That means put your guard up a little. Imagine in your mind’s eye a tall wall that fortifies your entire being. Now put a door on that wall. When others offer advice, you now get to decide what stays out via your wall, and what you choose to let in by opening your door. Even more simply put: eat the meat, spit out the bones.
Ultimately, moms need to be reminded that their own intuition is usually sufficient. When Kingsley was a newborn, I had one of those all-too-familiar moments when his fussiness seemed incessant. His diaper was clean, his tummy was full and he was being lavished with attention–but nothing stopped him from wailing. I remember watching the scene as if I was just a bystander. My mom tried all kinds of techniques before handing Kingsley over to my husband for further attempts at soothing. I stopped for a second to think about everything I’d read before demanding they both hand him over to me. I took my son in my arms, tuned everyone out and proceeded to do what came naturally. I remember thinking, I’ve got this; my baby’s got this. Let me simply meet the need. The chaotic moment turned to quietude, and all was well.
There is nothing wrong with seeking or being given advice, especially when it’s helpful; but mothers everywhere need to be reassured. We were given a skill set to care for our babies. Check in with that instinct from time to time, because when we fail to do so, the voices of others can sometimes result in more confusion than clarification.
The next time you feel inundated with advice you didn’t ask for, get that wall with a door ready, arm yourself with a smile and remember that above all, instinct won’t lead you wrong!