Beware the Parenting Police: How to Handle Unsolicited Advice
When my first child was born, it was weeks before I was brave enough to venture out alone with him. He spent hours each day crying for no apparent reason, and little I did worked to calm or appease him. I walked the floors with him into the wee hours of the night. I picked him up. I laid him down. I picked him up again. And still, he cried.
In desperation, I decided to go buy a book about parenting fussy babies. As I stood at the checkout counter of the bookstore fumbling with my purse, my fussy newborn, and a stroller I hadn’t quite mastered, a couple of older ladies stared at me disapprovingly, whispering among themselves. Finally, one spoke.
“Buying a parenting book?” she asked.
“Looks like you need it.”
As new parents, we are hit with a deluge of information about the way things “ought to be.” Your co-worker swore all three of her babies slept through the night by six weeks and yours will too if you’ll only let her “cry it out.” Your best friend felt breastfeeding was the highlight of her new mom experience and wrinkles her nose when you consider giving your baby formula. Random strangers in restaurants and stores have opinions about whether your child is too fat, too thin, too quiet, too fussy, too attached or not attached enough, and whether or not you should have permission to breastfeed in their presence.
Although some may masquerade in the guise of well-meaning friends and family, these people, referred to hereafter as the parenting police, can be harmful to your parental health.
Raising children is an inexact science, and the “rules” often change from one generation to the next. What was once accepted as standard practice, such as placing a baby on his tummy to sleep or giving solids before 4 months, is no longer advisable. If it’s been more than a few years since there was a baby in your family, don’t be surprised if you’re on the receiving end of some outdated information.
Christina Dicks remembers when her toddler Sam was born. “My mother-in-law had all these old fashioned ideas … Sam was colicky, and she insisted it was because he wasn’t getting enough milk from breastfeeding and wanted me to give him formula. Then she thought I was being overly protective by insisting he always ride in a car seat because none of her kids ever rode in a car seat and they never got hurt. I know she meant well, but her ideas were often wrong, and at worst, dangerous.”
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