Unsolicited Parenting Advice Is Actually Just Mommy-Shaming
To the kindly looking grandma who came to me on the street while my baby Charlie slept peacefully on my chest in a carrier to say, “You should be using sunscreen when you go outside. Baby skin is so delicate.”
To the mom of three boisterous boys who felt the need to tell me that the reason my just born baby is crying is because he’s teething.
To the friend-of-a-friend mom who smiles sweetly at my baby every time she sees me, then repeats her nugget of advice about how I should hold him properly.
Do I have a sign on my forehead flashing a neon “Please Give Me Advice?” Does the way I look in my loose clothing and tired face simply scream that I am in dire need of your help?
“He needs another blanket.”
“Too many layers.”
“He doesn’t like when you kiss him like that.”
“You need to hold him close.”
“You should buy a heavier hat.”
“He looks hungry.”
“Aww… look. He’s tired.”
“When are you going to start tummy time?”
(Every single one of these has happened. Recently.)
All of you. You’re making me crazy.
I know you think you’re just being helpful, offering valuable advice based on your personal mom experience, but really, you’re not. Sometimes, yes, I do need support and information, in which case I’ll ask. Most of the time, though, I just want more sleep. Or to shower. Or to eat without running intermittently to pick up a baby who is crying, because he’s too hot, too cold, tired, hungry or one of the other reasons babies cry.
Surely you can empathize, right? You’ve paced the floor of your bedroom with your little one on your shoulder as you ask yourself “Why won’t he stop crying?” I’m positive you can appreciate how overwhelming it is to have your life change completely overnight, and you don’t quite know how you fit into it anymore.
You mask your advice in concern for my baby, but I promise you, no one is more concerned for him than me. I spent months preparing my body to be pregnant, then another 41 weeks feeling nauseated, tired and horribly uncomfortable, all followed by eight hours of increasingly excrutiating uterine contractions culminating in a sweaty, grunting me pushing this little being into the world. You can be sure that after all this, I have far more invested in the safety, comfort and happiness of my baby than you do.
When you tell me I’m doing it wrong in those subtle but unmistakeable ways, you reinforce my sleep deprived insecurity. I feel judged. I feel angry, frustrated and alone. “You’re not good enough,” you’re telling me. “I know better than you.”
Maybe you do know better than me and have more experience. You have X number kids, and they’ve all turned out lovely. You’ve coaxed them through toddlerhood and into childhood, and maybe you even have grown children with their own babies.
Even if your advice is the best advice on the planet, it means nothing when it doesn’t come with kindness and consent.
I’m lucky in that I’m not one of the one in seven moms who experience postpartum depression. I am, however one of the two out of three who develops post-baby anxiety. When I lose my temper, I worry that perhaps I made a mistake, and I’m not cut out for this mothering thing.
It’s hard to admit, because I’m afraid that – once again – you’ll tell me what to do.
When you point out my flaws, I feel shame at my inability to take proper care of my little one, and I fantasize all the different ways I’ll tell you off. Sometimes, I’m witty. Sometimes, I tell you to f**k off and leave you with your mouth agape, unable to respond. Or sometimes I decide maybe I’ll just be honest and quietly tell you exactly what I’m saying here. Most likely, though, I’ll just grit my teeth, grin, and pretend that what you’re saying is useful – when really I’m wishing you would leave me alone so I can tend to my squirming, squawking but still very adorable baby boy.
Now, even though you didn’t ask, I’m going to give you some advice. If you see me or another mom with a crying baby in her arms, hold back from giving advice. Instead, tell us that our babies are lovely. Wish for us that we’re getting enough sleep, and maybe even offer to help out in some small way. Then I’ll happily show you how Charlie beams a beautiful little smile when I make a duck-like sound into his belly, and if you want, you can even hold him. All you need do is give me the benefit of the doubt that I know what I’m doing. That’s more helpful than any advice you could ever give.