Haven’t You Tried … [Unsolicited Advice]?

If you’re already a parent, you’ve already received unsolicited advice. You may have given it too. Everybody’s an expert when it comes to raising a child — getting them to sleep, getting them to eat, when to breastfeed, when to start formula, and when to start solids. You may have gotten advice on what stroller to purchase, or someone may have told you to skip the stroller altogether and just use an Ergo carrier. Your mom may tell you to let the baby cry it out, while your mother-in-law tells you to sleep with baby in bed. Your cousin may tell you to nurse until three while your sister tells you to have an elective c-section and start formula right away.

Believe me, I’ve heard it all by now. I can barely walk around among people I know without picking up some kind of advice, sticking to me like so much lint. At first, I let it get to me — I felt like I must be doing something wrong about some little particular. Recently, I’ve been highly concerned about Sam’s sleep schedule, and I keep getting lots of advice about the whole thing. (Put him down – let him cry. Let him sleep with you – take a nap when he does. Rock him back to sleep when he wakes up. Put him on his stomach. Let him self soothe.) I’ve been tearing my hair out about this, and I’ve beat myself up about every piece of advice.

I think the thing that gets to me most is … “You mean you don’t … [do such and such]?” Or “Doesn’t Sam do [such and such]” “Haven’t you tried … [something or other]?” Every implication with such language is that I’m not doing something I’m supposed to be doing, or that I am doing something I am not supposed to be doing. As a mother, I’m beginning to find it pretty infuriating.

I think these type of questions are tantamount to bullying — they make the speaker of the question feel quite superior about her (or his) type of parenting. It makes the speaker feel like she has all the answers, and that you are doing something wrong, perhaps potentially damaging, to your child. What a marvelous feeling for the speaker, but what a terrible feeling it evokes in the receiver of the unsolicited advice. Why do we, as parents, seek to divide? Why do we feel one style of parenting is better than the other? Why do we think the decisions we make for our own children are better than the ones made by our sisters, friends, cousins, brother-in-laws or mothers? Is something different so threatening?

The answer seems to be yes. I have a theory why. I think that the first few months of a child’s life are so unusual and so stressful that a parent who survives those months thinks to him or herself, “Well, I figured out how do do things this way, so this must be the only way.” So, a parent with a baby who has reflux says to a parent whose child has colic, “Well, why haven’t you tried such and such?” But of course, it’s not the same situation. It never is. A parent with a good napper says to a parent with a child who hates naps, “Well haven’t you tried …?” Thus, the cycle of unsolicited advice continues.

With Sam, the answer is — yes, we’ve tried it. He doesn’t stay in a swaddle (hasn’t since about three weeks old), rarely responds to rocking, doesn’t respond to shushing, wakes up after thirty minutes, will only rarely soothe himself to sleep, and hates a pacifier.

After this experience, I’m trying to vow not to do this to other mothers. If they ask my advice, I will give it. If not, I will try to keep my big mouth shut. Of course, I do have a blog — so I can spout advice all I want — and you don’t have to read it if you don’t want. I’m just one woman, and I read a lot of stuff. I write about it, and perhaps

What is right for one parent is not right for another. I had to catch myself when talking to a friend about circumcision. My viewpoint simply doesn’t apply — it’s her child, and it’s her decision.

I have to remember I’ve gotten a lot of unsolicited advice. I should use disposable diapers, feed my baby rice cereal to get him to sleep longer, start formula when he gets teeth, put him in the crib and let him cry, put him in my bed, never have a home birth, give him a bath every day, not give him a bath every day, carry him in a sling, swaddle him, and give him a pacifier to calm him down. I can’t take all of that advice, and some if it doesn’t even apply. My decisions — my child. I need to let the advice roll off of me like water.

It’s easy to feel like you have all the right answers, and it’s easy to get bogged down in a bit of advice or a parenting philosophy that is supposed to be the “best” or the “right answer” for your kid. Well, I gotta say, no child is one size fits all. Just like adults, they are all different. Each day, we as parents try to make it to the next, giving love and discipline, setting boundaries, and making decisions. We navigate the complicated pathways of having a child or two, and we carry on as well as we can. Nothing is the perfect answer, or something might be, but it’s not the perfect answer for everyone.

I’ll make a deal — try not to judge me, and I’ll try not to judge you. I’ll keep my advice to this one sphere of the internet, and please, at least say it nicely if you’re telling me what to do.