I Love My Kid, But… is Refinery29 and Red Baron's exploration of the honest, often unspoken, realities and challenges that come along with parenthood.
I remember sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, my newborn clutched to my chest and my face a haggard sight, reflecting some mix of being completely enamored with my child and having barely slept since her birth. A lady beside me must have known the look in my eyes, as she chuckled, leaned over, and pointed at me, before saying “sleep when the baby sleeps.” I smiled politely. Then, the woman to my other side chimed in, “Have you tried co-sleeping?” Before I knew it, the small collection of people in the waiting room starting having a mini conference about sleep training, establishing routines, crying-it-out, and the now incredibly outdated practice of putting brandy in bottles. I was the subject of the conversation and yet barely participated in it. The whole experience was overwhelming.
If you’ve met a parent, chances are you’ve met a person who is no stranger to unsolicited advice. It’s typically accepted that you shouldn’t go poking your nose into the business of other people, however, when it comes to parents, most people forget their social graces and let loose with a flood of “what you should be doing is” and “well, we did this." Having children invites unprecedented amounts of love into your heart. But it also seems to invite everyone you've had even the most passing interaction with to chip in their two cents on anything, be it food, clothing, or life choices. That’s parenthood, baby!
Parenting advice can come from anywhere and everywhere. On the street, at playgroup, even from your own spouse! Sometimes it’s relevant, and sometimes it’s ill-timed. If I had a dollar for every person who advised that my baby should be wearing a hat immediately after he threw it off his adorable little head, I would have enough to pay everyone to leave me alone forever. The comments you get range from trite (“sleep when the baby sleeps”) to tactless (anything that pits breast milk against formula), creating a labyrinth of information to wade through. If a parent asks for support or advice, that’s one thing; the trouble comes when you’re just trying to go about your own business while getting barraged on all sides from a chorus of unwelcome voices. Not to mention, it contributes to the internal pressure that parents already feel, adding another layer of stress onto the already difficult aspects of parenting.
If I had a dollar for every person who advised that my baby should be wearing a hat immediately after he'd thrown it off his head, I would have enough to pay everyone to leave me alone forever.
The flood of unsolicited advice is strongest in the early years of parenthood. Whether you have one child or five, the onslaught of comments, concerns, and prodding suggestions doesn’t get any easier to manage. Rarely a day passes by that you’re not confronted with somebody's opinion of what you ought to be doing, what you could be doing better, or what you’re definitely doing wrong. And this isn’t only tied to social interactions in person. You can’t even seem to scroll the internet these days without some article telling you the “6 Common Things You’re Doing Wrong As A Parent,” chronicling the myriad of ways that you are most likely screwing this whole thing up. Better hope you have some money squirreled away for therapy, because according to this listicle I found on Facebook, your kids are gonna need it!
On the surface, this may seem like a superficial problem, easily solved with the development of thick skin and the ability to tune out the opinions of others. The truth is, the issue can be more complex when you factor in advice given by those who love and invest in your family, as opposed to the musings of the odd stranger on the street. While the nod and smile, followed by a curt thank you, is acceptable for soothing the nerves of an acquaintance butting into your parenting, it simply won’t do when it comes to someone with more intimate access to your everyday life. A well-meaning parent or in-law may be able to see their advice went unheeded, making for an awkward discussion about respecting boundaries.
Ultimately, on the scale of problems and stressors you can encounter as a parent, you’d be lucky if a wave of input is the worst of your problems. And however frustrating this nonstop advice can be, the truth of the matter is that it's all driven by genuine love and concern for the best interests of both the parents and the child. People instinctively want to look out for the health of babies and to share their secrets with mothers in hope of helping them find a bit of peace — or a little extra sleep. Perhaps a subtle way to revolt against the noise would be to direct the conversation towards some of the wins you've experienced as a parent — countering the advice with stories and triumphs of your own in an attempt to flip the script. You might be surprised by just how fast people are willing to cheer for you, too.