I’ve never been the type of person that strangers have felt comfortable casually chatting with. I’m nearly 6 feet tall, I have tattoos, I wear a lot of black, and my confident facade can sometimes be mistaken for unapproachability. (It’s just the way my face looks. I’m friendly, I swear!) But all of that changed once I had a baby.
Since my son's arrival, strangers can't wait to strike up conversation with me, no matter the setting. Retail clerks ask me if my son is sleeping through the night yet, waiters offer tips about his eating habits, and even people on the street stop me with their opinions on whether or not he's dressed appropriately for the weather.
As a new mom, I realize there's no dress rehearsal for parenthood, and because of that there have been a few times when I needed and appreciated kind, subtle tidbits of information from strangers. But for the most part, the barrage of unsolicited advice that began the moment my son was born has left me feeling defensive about my own parenting style before I've even had a chance to fully figure it out for myself.
Before I delivered my son, I did what I considered to be a decent amount of research, especially about nursing. I'd decided to try breastfeeding as well as pumping, and during my pregnancy I crowdsourced recommendations for pumps, studied different breastfeeding techniques, and even tried out different nursing pillows at my local Babies“R”Us to feel which was most comfortable. However, despite the work I'd put in to prepare to breastfeed my son, my body put my best-laid plans to waste when I was three months postpartum.
Like so many other women, I found myself having trouble breastfeeding. I developed mastitis in my right breast, which led to excruciating pain and set off a chain of events that left me unable to feed on that side. I tried every trick in the book to overcome this problem on my own. Everything from pain medications to hand expressing to visiting a lactation consultant — no solution was left untried, and yet I was still only able to feed my son on one side pain-free.
Eventually, I gave up trying to force that side to produce. Looking for tips on how to nurse on one side only, I posted my question in a Facebook moms group. I was clear in my ask that I no longer wanted to try nursing on my poor right side, I planned to supplement if necessary, and that no, I did not want advice on how to "work through it" in order to avoid formula. I hit "post" and anxiously waited for what I was sure to be an outpouring of sympathy and tried and true solutions from moms who had gone through the same thing.
What I got, however, was something else.
Despite my clear explanation and request, the replies from my fellow moms were exactly what I feared. Response after response pressured me to continue nursing though the pain, totally disregarding my struggles which I had no desire to draw out. Their responses made me feel awful. Lazy. Selfish. Yes, I had been asking for advice, but the posters' blatant disregard for my pain made me feel like I hadn't already pushed my body and mind to the brink, even though I knew I had.
As frustrating and upsetting as it was, this experience helped me recognize my limitations as a new mom, which can be tough. Now, when I feel pressure from friends, family, and even strangers, I've learned to stick with my personal parenting goals, no matter how many different opinions I'm offered.
For all the other new moms who've felt this same sense of frustration, my best advice is to follow your instincts and do what you know is going to be best for you and your kid. For me, that meant doing everything I could to nurse for several months, and finally being okay with supplementing with formula. In the end, that plan worked so well for me that now my son is exclusively formula-fed. He's happy and healthy, and so am I.
I realize now that there's no way to stop people from offering their well-meaning, unsolicited parenting advice. It's going to happen, and it may be at the worst possible time. (Think screaming newborn in the checkout line after a night of zero sleep.) However, if you ever happen to be in a position where you're about to offer a mom some advice about how to take care of her baby, try to remember that everyone's experience with motherhood is different, and what worked for you might not work for them.
I've appreciated when, instead of asking me if my son has already hit a specific milestone, someone has asked an open-ended question about him instead, such as, “What new things has he done?” That type of questioning allows me to tell them where my son is at and gives me a sense of pride rather than anxiety. It's also been helpful when statements are phrased as "this worked for me," instead of, "you should do this." From sleep training to car seats, I often feel paralyzed by indecision. When someone offers me advice based on their own experience, it instantly disarms my defenses and implies that even if I don’t do it the same way, it’s OK.
Overall, my experience with unsolicited advice made me a better mom. Without being challenged, I may not have developed as much confidence in my personal parenting decisions for my son, such as knowing when it was time for me to make the switch to formula. It has also been helpful to realize and accept that you can't prepare for absolutely everything when it comes to raising a kid. Embracing the fact that I wasn't as prepared to be a mom as I'd thought allowed me to take a step back and determine what's important and what's not — and have the fortitude to stick with my decisions.
This post is sponsored by Babies“R”Us.