Like it or hate it, it’s here to stay, says Kelly Ang.
As a first-time time mom, unsolicited advice was and is still one of those things that you learn to deal with, but still annoys you every once in a while. Nothing brings it on more quickly than being a relatively young first-time mom, and nothing – not even proper knowledge based on researched facts or medical proof – keeps it completely away.
Before I gave birth on New Year’s Eve, I thought I knew exactly what to expect when my baby arrived. I had gone for a pre-natal class – six hours every Sunday for a month – which had taught me everything I thought I needed to know: giving birth completely naturally with no drugs or painkillers (“The trick is to breathe the baby out, not push!”); how important it was to just keep latching to establish my supply; how to miraculously calm a screaming baby simply by pulling his arms tight to his chest to “make him feel safe and secure”, etc. Armed with all I had learnt, I was sure I did not want or need any additional advice.
Needless to say, it didn’t quite go as planned. I did not have the natural, calm, drug-free birth I had prepared for. I had ended up giving birth via emergency Caesarean section, in fact. Breastfeeding-wise, I had no issues with supply, but latching the baby on successfully seemed to be like reaching for that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. As for baby care, this is where I really began to feel inadequate. Baby did not seem to want me to carry him. I had wanted to room-in with my baby throughout my hospital stay, but when he was crying inconsolably at 3am in the morning the first night I spent in hospital, I was shattered. To add salt to the injury, baby only seemed to cry when I carried him or when my husband and I were alone with him. Pulling his arms to his chest did not work. When my parents, in-laws and even friends came to visit, baby G was on his best behaviour. All it took was a cuddle from them to soothe him.
Coming home from the hospital, everyone suddenly seemed to become baby experts. It probably did not help that I am, firstly, not the maternal sort; and secondly, have never carried or even touched a baby prior to handling my own newborn. All this invited torrents of unsolicited advice from everyone; from my in-laws whom I live with, to waitresses at restaurants and even the owner of the coffee stall at the market.
Baby cries. I have been told to let him just cry it out as picking him up when he cries would only spoil him (nope, I totally do not subscribe to that school of thought – how can you spoil a newborn with cuddles??); that it could be something bad I ate that passed to him through my breast milk (this just made me rack my brains frantically, trying to recollect what the heck it was I ate – to no avail); that it could be colic (for the record, “colic” is uncontrollable crying for more than three hours in a row on three or more days a week for at least three weeks); that I should just let so-and-so carry him instead because she knows better (just three words: what on earth). I carry him out, strapped on to me in the baby carrier. I have been told I should turn him around, Baby Bjorn-style, so that he can see more of the world (this is bad on so many levels – overstimulation, bad for baby’s spine, bad for mommy’s back…); that he hates being strapped down (says who?); that I should push him in his stroller (have you tried going up the bus juggling a wriggling baby, your shopping bags, and having to fold your stroller up, all at once?). You get the picture.
I hated it. I resented all the advice I was getting. I thought it was an insult to me as a mother, and I took it very personally. I saw it all from the perspective of “So you think I don’t know what I’m doing??” and got really pissed off. I ranted to my husband about how slighted I felt, how all this “help” was making me question my adequacy as a new mom and feeling like I was coming up short, too short.
I wish I could say that the advice stopped coming when I decided to quit my full-time job to spend more time at home taking care of baby G. But although I couldn’t stop the deluge of advice (which still, to be honest, irritates me to this day sometimes), what changed was my perspective. In the days and weeks to come since I became a mom, I began to appreciate how much I really did not know. And although I am loathe to admit it, there are times when I probably could be a better mom. For example, I did not know how to bathe the baby. Yes, even though I had learnt this in pre-natal class. But, when the baby came home, my mother-in-law’s advice and help in bathing the baby in the initial days was a God-sent even though, yes, it was unsolicited. My baby also loves to be hugged tight to sleep (which baby doesn’t, really?) and I initially did not want to admit that my mother-in-law was right about that. But really, what is there to be gained by insisting on doing things my way when it is not to the baby’s benefit? Insisting on not listening to such advice would be to prove a point to somebody – but when you think about it, to whom, really?
I have come to see unsolicited advice as a necessary irritation. You may not agree with me and, in fact, many will probably not. “Just ignore it all!” or “Tell those people to shut it, thank you very much” may even be your (rather unsolicited) advice to me. I will always do what I believe is best for my baby, yes. But my baby is a person too, and as people, we never live in isolation. As much as I want to bring my baby up in a world where nothing else matters except mommy and daddy’s love and baby’s happiness – there is no such thing. We need to negotiate the web of human relationships, learn (albeit selectively in my perspective) from others who have gone before us, and come out from it all with no regrets about how we have behaved in the face of what we do not agree with. My baby needs to understand all this one day too, that it is never always as simple as “my way or the highway” or that “I know better than everyone else” is never true. Learning to accept and deflect unsolicited advice graciously is a necessity that being a mom has taught me and something my baby will need to learn as he grows up. I am pretty sure there will still be plenty of people eager to dispense nuggets of advice ten, twenty, thirty years down the road. I sure hope that by then, I also learn how to keep unwanted advice to myself.
About the author: Kelly is a first-time mom who has found her life completely changed by motherhood. Although never the maternal sort, she left her full-time job in corporate communications to bring up her baby. She is now a full-time mom and part-time writer, working whenever her son is sleeping or being cooed at by his doting grandparents. When she still has any time left over, she enjoys reading, experimenting in the kitchen and shopping. She occasionally blogs here.