When I was expecting my first child, I prided myself on reading up on virtually everything baby-related under the son in the months before he was born. Breastfeeding, sleeping patterns, potential sicknesses, learning developments… I had all these covered.
But something my husband and I quickly learned in the first few days after our son’s birth was that dealing with all kinds of input from family and friends is something no pregnancy book or article can ever adequately prepare you for, especially for first-time parents!
It’s not even that I had particularly nosy or pushy relatives, or know-it-all friends. In fact, from the stories I heard from other new mums, I have come to realize I actually had it pretty good. But the fact still remains; out of goodwill and well-meaning intentions, people will still have an opinion, and many will still comment.
Some will only share their thoughts aloud – they don’t really care too much if you agree with them or follow their advice. Others will be more opinionated, and might come across quite strongly. And then there are those who don’t say it to your face directly, but go through various other channels, like giving suggestive gifts or talking to your mum. So what’s a new mummy supposed to do with all this often unwanted (although well-meaning) feedback?
Take a step back, then listen
First and truthfully, a lot of what you will hear may not be wrong. Even those so-called old wives tales do sometimes have a grain of truth in them, and you would be wise not to dismiss them prematurely. What stings most is when the suggestion is couched in a cloak of superiority, that the other has got it ‘right’ and you haven’t.
It’s only natural for you to feel indignant or angry in such situations, and to come back with a cutting retaliation, hide in the room, cry, or give the cold shoulder. But before lashing back in frustration and, if we are being honest here, some measure of pride, try to take a step back and listen.
Maybe they didn’t say it at the right time, or they said something completely opposite of you, or they weren’t supportive when they should have been, but that doesn’t mean you have to throw out the baby with the proverbial bathwater. For what it’s worth, consider what they have said. And if you don’t agree, firmly but tactfully state your preference.
Sometimes you might not even need to say anything in response, especially if the comments are related to something you should do or not do at a later time. Just a simple acknowledgment that you have heard the other person may be enough for that moment. Ultimately, a little bit of humility and grace goes a long way.
Stand firm in your beliefs and values
Secondly, it helps to really know why you believe what you believe. For example, if you think that breastfeeding baby is the best option, then know what the benefits are, be prepared for the potential setbacks along the way, and find out how you can tell if your baby is getting enough milk. That way, you’ll have an answer to give anyone who might think otherwise. Arming yourself with knowledge will give you and your husband a sense of peace and confidence in the choices you make.
Thirdly, how you answer someone can determine where the conversation (and relationship) goes from there. It’s great that you feel more certain of what you think, but be careful not to impose your opinions onto others. Simply state your reasons for what you believe, and leave it at that. Be gracious to allow the other person to disagree.
Handling future opinions
Lastly, how you respond to stressful situations, critical comments and unwanted advice at this early stage in the journey of parenthood will have implications for how you handle the continuing pressures of parenthood as your infant grows into a toddler, then a child, a teenager and a young adult. People’s opinions will always be there at every single stage. Choose to respond with grace, and to learn from the benefit of others’ experiences, where applicable.
You are your child’s mother
At the end of the day, always remember that you are your child’s mother. Everyone may have a say in how you raise your child, but ultimately, you are in charge of choosing what you feel is best for him or her. Choosing wisely requires great humility, openness and conviction. As said in the movie Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.” I couldn’t agree more.
By Dorothea Chow
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This article was first published in The New Age Parents online magazine Oct/Nov 2012 issue.