Unsolicited Advice: the Good, the Bad, and the Downright Barmy

Be prepared to share your sketchbook

Be prepared to share your sketchbook

I often think how lucky I am to be a mum in the internet age. I am at home with the kids, yet I have a brilliant way of connecting with the outside world, which comes out of a box in our cloakroom. I have a fantastic resource for researching parenting topics I want to learn more about. I have a community of people doing exactly what I am doing with their daily lives who can offer insights and support. I can stay in touch with family and friends and share a virtual space with them, even when it’s not possible to see them in a physical location. Yes, it’s a wonderful time to be a mum at home.

However, there are so many resources that you can feel overwhelmed. There are lots of parenting choices and often one piece of advice is not the right fit for everyone. A sort of ‘advice fatigue’ kicks in. I made a list of old advisory chestnuts, which I have been handed time and again. Here is what I think of them:

Sleep when your baby sleeps

Probably some of the most wonderful advice ever given to a new parent. I never regret prioritising sleep during baby naps, because I need it and there are not many opportunities to crash out. I realised by baby number 2 that no matter how much washing up and clearing out there was to be done, I would still get the stuff that was truly important squared away after my nap. I also realised that showering and washing up are easy enough to do with a lively baby along for the ride, as long as you don’t mind interacting with them at the same time and giving them some bubbles to examine. I would say that an even better piece of advice is ‘When baby sleeps, do things you cannot do while taking care of an awake baby‘. On some days this is napping, on others it is writing, or have a few quiet minutes with a nice cup of tea and a book.

Enjoy your baby

My kids bring me more joy and satisfaction than I can express. However, there is a certain amount of pressure to only be positive about babies. I challenge anyone to always enjoy round the clock baby care. Especially when the wee sunbeam is going through a fussy phase or teething. After all, everyone is entitled to think selfish thoughts. It is ok to grieve for things you left behind in your life as a childless person too. I miss getting dressed without considering how to breastfeed in my ensemble or whether my accessories will get tangled up with busy little hands. I miss being able to travel at the drop of a hat, and being master of my own free time. I miss hanging out with just my husband. I miss being alone.

I have found that being a parent is absolutely worth the sacrifices, and I love my kids so much, but this advice misses the mark. A more useful thing to say would be ‘Be grateful for the love and joy you and your baby share‘. I don’t believe having the odd negative thought makes you a bad parent.

Remember that you’ll miss this when they’re bigger

Yes, it’s true. I absolutely will miss many things about the nursery phase when my kids are older. I will not miss potties or spit up or tantrums. Probably. Anyway, this is a moot point, because it doesn’t make life easier when your kid is staging a car seat rebellion, or screaming at you because you gave them a blue bowl for their cereal instead of a red one, or you have not had more than 45 minutes unbroken sleep. A better piece of advice is ‘Take a step back and realise what a marvellous job you are doing in the face of adversity.’ Really

Talk to your baby

From the first time my babies looked up at me and said ‘aaah gooo’ I was hooked. Babies clearly enjoy being talked to, are uncritical of content, and will remember none of this chat. Happy days. You can go with ‘who’s a cheeky chops? who’s a sweetheart?’, recite poetry, go through the shopping list. If baby feels like it, they will listen and make some sort of contribution. Babies and parents are all different though and I’m sure some crave more conversation than others. There are also the ups and downs of daily life to consider: some moments leave you rabbiting on, and others find you taciturn. I think it’s useful to remember that parents don’t need to entertain babies with their observations and witticisms all the time. Indeed, unless this is really what comes naturally, silence can surely be golden. I think a better piece of advice would be ‘Be a good companion to your baby’. This means being sensitive to your baby and trying to respect their need for talk or quiet when you spend time with them. Perhaps one day the kids will learn to do this too. I remain hopeful.

Let your baby cry

There are two situations in which I have been advised to let my baby cry alone in a cot. When they were hungry outside of meal time and when they were tired. As far as baby advice topics go, the leave to cry or not debate has teeth. Big fangs in fact. I know there is a lot of variation in what parents want to do, feel they need to do, with their child. As a breastfeeding mother, and having seen the evidence to support demand feeding, collated here by Kellymom for example, I always feed when baby shows signs of hunger. Personally, I am also fine with them using the breast for comfort and have never had problems as a result of this. I have preferred not to use ferberizing or cry it out sleep training  techniques, and have not regretted this choice. So, I have never found this advice super useful in the above situations. However, I have had to let my baby cry a times because that is what they needed to do to let off steam, or because I was driving down the motorway and couldn’t stop. Hearing your baby cry is upsetting and stressful,  but trying to be a reassuring presence to my little foghorn, and not getting too wound up seems a helpful thing to do for us both. I think an important piece of advice is ‘Accept that your baby will cry sometimes, and all you can do is be there for them in words or in gestures.’ Crying is not always a problem to be solved, such as hunger or discomfort. As grown ups do, sometimes they just need a good cry and a warm shoulder to wipe their nose on.

Don’t let your baby wrap you around their little finger

From the moment we are born, we seek to make other people do what we want. First we learn to do it by crying, then we learn to laugh, and eventually we move on to things like stomping, wheedling, and bribing. This is part of our basic survival as a pack animal. Having their needs met does not spoil a baby, nor does it make a mug of a parent. Neither should we worry about trying to give babies what they want as long as it is a reasonable and harmless desire. I am not advocating handing them forks to stick in plug sockets here. In my book, meeting needs and respecting wants, even if we cannot always fulfil them, is the foundation of a good relationship, not a manipulation. The trouble is babies are very demanding, and it is hard for one person to be equal to a baby’s needs and wants. This is the time to call in back up. For instance, my son was going through separation anxiety at around 11 months and would cry throughout the night summoning me to his room and refusing to settle. After this got too much, I woke husband and asked him to go in. He climbed into the cot with Sam, gave him a cuddle for a bit, withdrew, and peace reigned supreme until morning. Magic. The moral of the story is ‘Recognise when you need back up and don’t be afraid to ask for it‘.

Give your baby a routine

As a one time teacher of English to younger learners, I have witnessed the stabilising effect of routines on clusters of tiny hooligans. So, though parenting is not teaching, I can really see the point in this advice. However, in my experience, most people have a routine without having to impose one. I get up at a similar time every day. Rarely do I eat lunch before breakfast. I am usually more active in the morning, when I feel fresher. I accept that some babies might benefit from a greater degree of routine than others, but experience suggests that they are content to accompany their parents on their daily trajectory, provided they get to feed, sleep, play, and interact, as often as they need to. As they get older, a separate bedtime routine seems a good idea, assuming that you decide they should enter sleep in their own space at an appointed juncture. This is not a necessity, but a choice, which may not be appropriate for every family, as discussed in this excellent blog post by Lulastic and the Hippy Shake. I am sitting here typing during the peaceful interval between my kids’ bedtime and my own. For us, the bedtime routine is an important part of our evenings with the children. It works for us as a way of getting everyone into pjs and having some calm one-to-one story-reading with each kid. So, I would say ‘Find room for your baby in the rhythm of your days, and set routines as necessary for your family’. After all, routines can help parents to keep track of what they need to do, and can help kids feel more secure. At best, they can become treasured family rituals, but only if they are well-suited to the individuals in question.

I imagine that for every generation of parents there are some tried and trite pearls of wisdom. It is up to us to call them into question! The cycle is sure to repeat itself further down the line. Today’s blogger is tomorrow’s eccentric loudmouth.

Did I miss anything? Is there some advice that you are sick of hearing? Please feel free to vent, share, debate. Whatever floats your boat.

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