Parenting Choices: Making Decisions, Backing Them Up, and Dealing With Bad Advicec

December 11, 2010

Trying to weed through all the “rights” and “wrongs” sure is fun as a new mother.

What bad, unhelpful, or other advice have you dealt with before? Has anyone been pushy about it?

I follow a lot of the “attachment parenting” ideas (we co-sleep, breastfeed, babywear, etc.). I’ve gotten a lot of advice about letting my son cry it out, how I should give him baby cereal in a bottle so he’ll sleep through the night, and how he doesn’t need to breastfeed much longer. I frequently have people tell me that I’m spoiling my son, who is not even 5 months old, because I use a baby carrier or hold him a lot (I must say I get a ton of positive comments when I wear him out in public, though I imagine that may change as he gets older). People roll their eyes at my son’s amber teething necklace. Some people think I’m crazy for cloth diapering; my mom, sister, and grandma think it’s cool, but I’m pretty sure most of my family think I’m coo-coo for doing it.

Pretty much anytime I do something that isn’t the most convenient option for me or other people (my baby excluded) then I get some sort of unsolicited advice or a tisk-tisk from somebody.

Luckily, I am growing some thick skin and am getting better at standing up for myself. That was an aspect of motherhood that I didn’t expect: I am more confident in dealing with other people. I try to be polite, but I went from being someone who was fairly timid in public to someone who feels like I could go off on a total stranger if they say something rude to me. I’m firmer in dealing with my family. Sometimes I brush things off, but other times I stand my ground and speak up.

I’m proud of myself for following my instincts as a mother. I listen to advice and then I roll it around in my head for awhile before I take it (or not). I have good instincts. My son is happy and healthy and I know I’m doing a good job with him. But it can take courage to stand up for my decisions, especially when someone is being pushy about it. I try not to adopt a “holier than thou” attitude about these choices (and hey, I’m not perfect and I still have a lot to learn, and different things work for different people). But when it comes down to it, sometimes you just have to say, “Thanks for your concern, but this is what is best for my family.” And, if I’m struggling with an issue, I try not to be too bull-headed and am learning to ask for input or advice when I need it.

How do you deal with criticism about your parenting style? I’d love to hear from other parents on this one.

For me, it really depends on the parenting issue and who is criticizing or questioning me. What has helped me is to remain calm and remember WHY it is that I’m making these choices… strong convictions help me stay firm, back myself up, and respond properly.

Sometimes I respond with humor and sarcasm. “Are you going to carry him in that thing forever?” “Yes, I can’t wait to bring him to his dorm room in this.”

Sometimes I use my doctor, especially with health-related matters. “No, he’s not starting solids yet. My doctor and I have discussed this and we both feel it’s in his best interest to wait.” Bringing your child’s doctor into the picture can sometimes shut up someone who is a know-it-all and won’t stop pressing the issue. Perhaps it assures them that you have a professional overseeing your parenting, to make sure you don’t mess up your child?

Sometimes, I just have to be firm. “I make choices based on what I think is right for him and our family, not what is easiest and most convenient for me.” (Though sometimes I think people are a little nutty for thinking that some of my choices are more difficult… wearing my son while we shop, for example, is sooooo much easier for me under most circumstances, and has prevented more than one meltdown. And co-sleeping when you’re breastfeeding? Or with a teething baby? I get so much more sleep this way!)

Sometimes I just skirt the issue. “I appreciate your input but I’m his mother and you have to trust me that I’m making the right choice.”

Sometimes I use statistics or try to educate. “Actually, cloth diapering has come a long way and it’s so much easier than I ever imagined. Not only that, but I don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on something that gets thrown away. Here, let me show your our diapers…” or “Actually, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children breastfeed for at least one year, and the World Health Organization recommends two.” Things like that… it helps to know a few random statistics or use reputable sources that you can back yourself up with. I’ve had a few people argue with me about putting babies to sleep on their backs (because they might spit up and choke, and they were told to put their children on their bellies when they were babies) and they were really surprised when I told them that, following the “Back to Sleep” campaign in the 1990s, the incidence of SIDS has been reduced by over 50%.

And, sometimes, I listen to the advice and wonder if maybe they are right and I am wrong. Or, at least consider the advice and figure out whether it’s worth trying. We can learn things from other mothers. We can learn things from other fathers. We can learn things from people that do things differently than we do, even if sometimes we learn what it is that we don’t want to do.

So, yeah. Sometimes I just want to tell people to STFU, but other times I think it’s better to educate or explain more seriously in order to give my choices more credibility and to help people understand why I make certain decisions. It really depends on the situation, though I won’t be surprised if some day a stranger says something to me when I’m already cranky and I tell them that I never asked for their @#*$ing opinion. In the end, I keep in mind that it’s just one person’s opinion, and what really matters is that I’m doing the best thing for my son based on our own family’s values and what’s best for us.

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10 Responses to “Parenting Choices: Making Decisions, Backing Them Up, and Dealing With Bad Advicec”

  1. I may need a lobotomy because I do not handle idiots well. And a few have already gotten an earful. I don’t forsee public commentary on my life/parenting ever ending well for the person who is stupid enough to make comments.

    • Yeah, it can be tough. You get a lot of practice while you’re pregnant, since that seems to be the green light for people to comment on your body, your weight, your birth choices, your name choices, how you plan on raising your child, the color paint you pick for the nursery, everything you plan to buy, etc.

      I try not to be too defensive or take anything to heart. Sometimes people are really misinformed, sometimes people are selfish, sometimes people think they’re actually being helpful, and sometimes people are giving advice that really did work for them. That’s why I try to determine my reactions based on who it is and what they’re talking about. Like the weird man in line at the muffin shop who told me to give him goat’s milk “when he’s colicky.” Those are times when you just smile and nod! haha

      • I really appreciated the pregnancy/baby advice I got from the husband of one of my parent’s friends the other night at dinner. Especially because his son is a crack head alcoholic who endangers the welfare of his child on a daily basis. Yeah thanks, I will make sure to do the opposite of what you say. 😉

  2. mamalooma said

    I felt a lot more defensive when I first became a parent. Although I felt secure in what we were doing, I felt like I had teach people about it. Maybe it was insecurity as I fumbled along, I don’t know. Also, on some of the things (like cloth diapers, as you read lately) I’ve gotten more lax on – not forcing myself to make life more chaotic for myself if it’s entering a more chaotic time. But that’s just diapers, I’m not going to switch direction on Ferber-izing any time soon!

    I feel there’s a lot of truth that people are defensive about their own choices. Still it’s hard to keep my mouth shut when people feel free to tell me cosleeping is putting my child in danger, but I can’t tell them that Ferber-izing is putting their child in danger. It’s much easier culturally to rag on “AP/crunchy” moms, but so much of it is just such transparent b.s. from people who don’t get how wonderful aspects of it are, and how instinctual and freeing it feels to follow one’s heart as a parent instead of forcing “independence” on a 4 week old while mom hides from baby’s cries in the basement (a friend of mine told me this. I seriously almost barfed, for real.)

    That said, things like I decided I was an expert on, like “how I will parent an AP toddler” when Finn was like 5 weeks old, make me laugh so hard that tears roll down my face now. Still, many nights I lay with him as he goes to sleep, and after engaging in power struggles and peeling him off Greta all day, it’s nice to snuggle and reconnect with him as my baby boy. To think I would have missed that if I were just like “Go to bed, cry all night, I don’t care.” is so sad to me. It’s a gift for both of us, and makes up for the 90 times per day he frustrates the heck outta me.

    I think everyone feels a bit insecure at times as a parent. There’s been times when I’ve been like, “F yeah! We rule.” and other times I just kind of slink away playdates. I try not to be a hater, but I also try not to internalize the hate and take it personally. It’s a hard game though. For sure.

    • There’s a book out there called “I Was a Really Good Mom Until I Had Kids.” 🙂

      I think you’re right, flexibility is important. I loved your recent blog post because sometimes we need a break, too. So yes, there are times when I put my son in his bouncy seat or activity center so I can drink a cup of coffee or vacuum the house. If I want to drink a Coke then I will. Just because I plan on making his baby food doesn’t mean I won’t give him something from a box once in awhile, or he won’t get an occasional Happy Meal when he’s five.

      I am working on being less defensive. I don’t always have to defend every choice I make just because someone questions it. I do like to educate when possible, but sometimes you just have to pick your battles. I’m not going to argue babywearing with my grandma, you know?

      Did you read Erica Jong’s column about attachment parenting and how it’s a prison for the modern mother?

      http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704462704575590603553674296.html

      That’s a blog post for another day, of course. 😉 But I remember reading it and kept thinking… I don’t do these things because I feel guilty. I don’t feel imprisoned. Can it be horribly inconvenient? Of course. But who has children and expects life to be convenient. And yes, I absolutely WOULD feel guilty if I let my son cry it out, or didn’t keep him close, or didn’t do these things that feel so natural to me as his mother… because I feel like I am responding to this child’s needs. While we do need to cut ourselves a break once in awhile, it doesn’t mean that we are imprisoned by cloth diapering or making our own baby food (unless we let it get that way… as you say, if you want to go to disposables for awhile, great, that’s preventing that aspect from becoming unwielding).

      She wraps up the article by saying, “Do the best you can.” Well, that’s what I’m doing.

    • Oh, I forget to comment on what you said about how you “felt a lot more defensive when [you] first became a parent.” I’ve noticed that I’m much less defensive now, too, about a lot of stuff. And even moreso from when I was pregnant (my mother and I did NOT get along very well! haha). I feel like I’m more confident now than I was (maybe because I’m getting the hang of this whole baby thing?) and I’d be a lot more likely to put a stranger in his or her place if they said something rude to me NOW vs. when I first had him. But at the same time, I feel even stronger about my choices now so I don’t feel the need so much to prove myself.

    • My apologies if I’m making no sense… I’m hungry and have been dealing with a teething baby who suddenly doesn’t want to nap or eat an entire meal. 😉

  3. kloppenmum said

    I had similar comments… still do with our almost nine year old still bed-sharing and our middle boy feeding until he was nearly four. In the end, I realised that their comments were about them and not me. I don’t say anything if I can help it – nothing I say will change their minds.But what is really interesting now is that people are starting to notice how much calmer, more mature, more self-assured our children are than the average modern child. And that is enough.

    • “In the end, I realised that their comments were about them and not me.”

      This is so true about so many parenting issues. I’ve noticed it a lot with breastfeeding, and I think the some of the issues with extended breastfeeding and nursing toddlers and whatnot comes from the over-sexualization of breasts. People are uncomfortable because, to many people, breasts are not something to nourish children with. They see breasts as a sexual object… some people are even uncomfortable with someone breastfeeding an infant. I’ve heard some awkward comments and jokes from people as a result of this. I see it as their issues, not mine, since they cannot separate the breast as a food source from the breast as a sexual source.

      Thanks for commenting. 🙂 I love hearing feedback from others, it helps shape my own opinions and reactions and I like to think about things from different angles (especially as a new mother).

  4. kloppenmum said

    The sexualisation of breasts is exactly the problem. And also the expectation that a 17 year old has the ‘perfect’ breasts. All the best.

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