Advice is for suckers

I’m going to give you the most important piece of parenting advice you’re ever going to get:

Don’t listen to parenting advice.

At best, what you’re getting is someone’s own personal experience with a very limited number of children in a closed set of circumstances that you cannot possibly replicate exactly. At worst, they’re suggesting your dip your kid’s binky in Jack Daniels to deal with teething pain. True story.

Of course, no mother ever in the history of the world has managed to have a baby without getting some advice, whether she asked for it or not. For the most part, it’s all really well-meaning and kindly and just a way moms connect to other moms. It’s practically an automatic response, just like saying “Fine” when someone asks “How are you?” Someone holding a baby says “Jeeze, these diapers I’m using keep leaking” and BAM! I’m spewing word vomit about brands and sizes and cloth diapers versus disposables all over their face. I am totally guilty of the unwanted advice attack, even as I tell myself to stop.

The trouble is, it’s so damn easy to mistake advice for guidelines and guidelines for rules and as soon as something starts feeling like a rule the mommy guilt kicks in when you break them. When you’re exhausted and bleary-eyed and someone at playgroup says “You should put the baby to sleep in the crib so he gets used to it right away. That’s why my kids are such great sleepers!” suddenly everything you’ve been doing is wrong and those naps the baby’s been taking in your lap have doomed you to never sleeping through the night again. You’re a terrible mother!

Or when you mention in passing that you’re not really sure what you’re supposed to be doing with your infant all day long. I mean…she just lies there. Sometimes she smiles, but since she can’t even get her own hand in her mouth yet it seems a little early for baby signs or story time at the library. “Swim lessons!” says one mom. “Kindermusik!” says another. “Read her War and Peace!” says another mom, “Even though she can’t understand it it’s never to early to start the classics!” And then there you are, suddenly doubting the happy cooing and peek-a-boo games you’ve been playing aren’t doing enough to enrich your baby’s teeny tiny mind and she’s somehow falling behind the other babies before she can even hold her head up. Terrible mother!

Even really benign comments, like “I always put on make-up in the morning, no matter how busy my day is. It’s important to me to make the effort” can sound like “Look at you, you slob! I am judging your unwashed hair and pony tail and yoga pants! Obviously you’re just too lazy to make an effort!” especially to a new mom. Hell, you don’t even have to be a new mom, since every single stage of motherhood is challenging, every single time. A sleepless toddler thanks to his new big-boy bed is just as exhausting as a colicky newborn. An infant having trouble nursing is just as stressful as a 2 year old who won’t eat anything besides Goldfish. We’re all scared of making mistakes, all unsure about some of our choices, all blaming ourselves for every cough and sneeze and bump and bruise, so we turn to those around us, desperate for that one mommy secret everyone but you must know. But when well-meaning advice makes us feel even worse it is no longer helpful. You are the parent, you get to make the decisions, even if it is the total opposite of what your best mommy friend told you worked for her.

Of course, some advice is good. I want to kiss the person who suggested stickers as toddler entertainment right on their mouth. I’ve gotten great advice when it comes to breastfeeding from my (now defunct) nursing moms support group. And the internet has helped me in countless ways when I needed to connect and get a new perspective on what’s going on with my crazy toddler.

But in the end, don’t let anyone’s advice get in the way of your happiness.

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11 Responses to “Advice is for suckers”

  1. Cheri says:

    I just had a new mom (3 week old babe) as if it was really a good idea to let her NEWBORN cry it out as her LC suggested! It made me think about the things I had suggested to her!

  2. Amanda says:

    Because this baby is my first, I have the luxury of just sitting with her chatting/nursing/napping for hours at a stretch. It’s really only fairly recently (she’s almost 4 months now) that she was interested in much beyond looking at things, mostly me. We started with a play mat when she was around 6-8 weeks old, and recently with an exersaucer, but for a long time she just really wanted to coo and snuggle and nurse (and nurse and nurse).

    I have friends who talked about reading books and doing tummy time with their 2-day-old babies, but that was just not our thing. Alice and I spent weeks just relaxing and enjoying each other, and I’m pretty sure she won’t be scarred for life by that.

  3. Tess says:

    I needed that reminder today. Thank you.

  4. Natalie says:

    I kept nodding my head the entire time I read this. I always try to give the following advice when someone tells me they are pregnant for the first time: Don’t take anyone’s advice. As well meaning as it is, I’ve gotten more than my fair share of “I wouldn’t let my 2 year old throw a tantrum! You’ve got to show them who is boss.” (family) or “I can’t believe you didn’t do a mommy&me/gymboree/fancypants class when your kids were newborns! It is so good for their cognitive development!”

    I do appreciate the advice I seek out, but I take it at face value and try to figure out where I stand in regards to it. I am starting to find my place as a mother and it can be hard no matter what stage of motherhood you are in, when someone comes along and says she is doing something you never considered. “Why didn’t I think of that???” I have said on more than one occasion.

    Being a GOOD mom is really hard, ya’ll.

  5. Kimberly says:

    Thank you (and Baby O napping in my lap right now thanks you too)

  6. bellegourmande says:

    Dear Suzanne,

    I love you.

    This is exactly what I tell new moms as well, if they ask. You’ve gotta do what’s right for your family. Also, as long as Caroline’s happy doing what y’all are currently doing, why change it?

    Thanks for writing this post,


  7. flora says:

    I suspect that advice, especially about a topic that is as universal as parenting, is as much for the advice giver as it is the advice receiver. When advice is accepted and followed, it’s sort of like saying “you’re a good mom and since i think so I’m going to do what you do.” Likewise when it’s rejected the advice giver hears “you’re a bad mom, how could you do something like that?” Sometimes I think people are sheep and need to feel validated by others through action. But this can also apply to fashion trends, music taste and sports teams.

  8. While I agree with you completely, I gladly take handy tips because I am a moron and never spent anytime with children. Like how I didn’t figure out that Spencer could color at the table in his high chair until a month ago. Or bubbles. Or stickers.

  9. K says:

    Could not agree more, it’s amazing how advice can make us worry about the choices we make, it would be easier if we supported one another. Love this post!


  10. Julie S. says:

    This post really, really resonates with me. We should support one other, not try to one up the other. And I will give others advice when I am asked, but I really try to not. It’s tough! You want to help based on your experience but sometimes, it gets taken the wrong way.

  11. andrea says:

    You gotta love hating advice. I mean, more often than not, you *ask* for it (and by YOU I mean us, parents) and then roll your eyes when you get it. I think, among other things, it’s not just what I’m are told, but how I’m told that sinks my boat (that make sense?). Loved this post.

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