Homeschooling: It's not what we do, it's how we live.

Experts and Their Assorted Opinions

If there’s one thing I have learned since becoming a parent, it is that everyone, including those who have never met your kids and those who have zero experience with children, period, seems to think that they are child-rearing experts and that despite the fact that you never once asked for their opinions, feel the need to share it with you – and then have the nerve to be annoyed at you for disregarding their advice. It’s even worse when said would-be advisor actually does have a little bit of knowledge or experience – as if that somehow makes them the expert on this situation or on your child and requires you to be grateful to be on the receiving end of such gems of parental wisdom. Strangely enough, this isn’t a phenomenon limited to new parents. Take a hungry or over-tired 7-year-old child out in public and see how much ‘helpful’ advice you get, or tell someone about the experience and see how you ‘should have’ handled it.

Meet the REAL Experts: We call them “Parents”

If there is one thing that I want to say, one message that I want to get out into the world, it is this:

Parents, please remember that YOU are the expert on your child!

No one is more uniquely qualified to handle your child better than you are. In saying that, even the terminally argumentative can surely figure out that I am automatically disqualifying anyone who doesn’t like their kids or kids in general, is a selfish or immature parent (or is otherwise incapable of putting the needs of someone else, whom they’re entirely responsible for, ahead of their own), or who has been declared unfit or had their parental rights stripped, from inclusion that statement. If that’s not you, then you’re already aware that every decision regarding your child’s care and upbringing must be made with your child’s needs in mind – and no one knows more about your kiddo and how his or her needs might best be met than you do[1].

The problem in our society is that we forget that. Much like when we’re pregnant and at the OB’s office we mysteriously forget that the last 30 years living inside said body pretty much makes you the expert on anything that happens with or to that body the moment that the OB tells you whats best rather than offering an opinion on what might be a possible course of action or treatment and letting us decide (but that’s another issue).

When it comes to our kids though, as new parents we’re often looked upon with condescension – like somehow we’re not capable of deciding a course of action. We forget that by the end of the first day, a new mom has had more hands-on time with her babe than anyone else (excluding NICU families here – but you get the point). In most cases, that, added with the biological imperative that parents have to protect their young gives the new parent a distinct edge that cannot be duplicated.

I’m not saying that new parents shouldn’t ask for or listen to advice or support – far from it! Even the most experienced mama benefits from having a helping hand in the first few weeks. My point here is that we should take note of who we’re asking for advice and support, what their qualifications for giving advice are, and why they’re giving it; what their motivation in advocating that course of action is.

Just recently, I’ve spoken with 2 new moms, one who was using Babywise as a guide, and one with a ‘helpful’ MIL who probably meant to be but in reality was anything but. In both cases, the mom in question’s natural instincts were intruded upon to the point that she really couldn’t tell which way they were pointing her. I sincerely hope that both of those moms ended their conversations with me feeling more in control of their own mothering. One thing that my business partner and I tell our clients is that when seeking mothering advice, find someone who is the mom she wants to be, or one who has the kind relationship with her kids that she wants to have and ask that mom for advice. Or at the very least, ask that mom for book or website recommendations. Asking someone who is not doing what you want to do, or isn’t selling what you want to buy is just going to end in frustration and possibly hurt feelings.

It seems that asking friends or family would be a good idea, and it certainly can be – but not always. Your mother, sister, aunt and all love you and want only the best for you and your child, but often their advice comes from a desire to validate their own choices, regardless of whether they’re actually happy with the choices they made. That sounds harsh to say, but it’s true. Our choices are validated when others follow suit. When we make different choices than our mother or mother-in-law did, effectively, we’re saying that her was is/was wrong and that she wasn’t /isn’t a good mother. It’s not something many will verbalize, but unconsciously it’s there and often causes conflict. If that’s the case, reassurance and validation can go a long way towards mending that relationship without compromising on the things you believe are best for your child.

Something else to consider is the timeline. Information changes! What was commonly done 10, 15 and 20 years ago is contraindicated today. Sleep training with the ‘Ferber Method‘ is still touted as the way to go, but many don’t realize that Dr. Richard Ferber recanted his advice on sleep training and actually recommends the exact opposite of what he once promoted. Even this notorious ‘expert’ now bows to the superior wisdom of the parent on the subject of ‘what is best’ for their own families. Putting cereal in baby’s bottle at days or weeks old was commonplace is now widely regarded as dangerous, yet many grandmas (and pedi’s here in Southeast Texas!!)  still tell new moms to do just that ‘to help baby sleep’.

We tend to forget the value in ‘been there, done that’ advice. Take a moment to examine the issue you’re having and seek advice from those who have experienced what you’re dealing with and most importantly, have solved the issue in a way that is compatible with your personal philosophy or parenting goals. There are moms groups like La Leche Leagueand Attachment Parenting International support groups that specialize in supporting parents and making sure that the advice shared among the parents in their groups is factual, effective and research-based.

Take breastfeeding, for example. Many new moms seek breastfeeding management advice from their pediatrician. On the surface, that seems to be a good idea, but look closer and you’ll find that there are much better sources of information. Pediatricians are generally not specifically educated in the normal course of breastfeeding. They’re trained to look for pathology – medical problems that need medical solutions. If your baby is not gaining weight, then their first course of action is often to supplement with formula, whereas a lactation consultant –  someone who is specifically educated in breastfeeding management – knows that formula supplementation is a slippery slope that often has detrimental effects on breastfeeding. An LC knows that there are steps to be taken that are better at solving weight gain issues that will preserve the breastfeeding relationship and will support you as you take them. Bad information from ill-informed, uneducated or out-dated sources leads to adverse affects on your milk supply, which can (has and does!) lead to mom feeling like she failed at breastfeeding, which can lead to depression[2].

Another source of bad breastfeeding information is relatives and friends who either did not breastfeed or did not breastfeed successfully. Women who, in many cases, also got bad information from their pediatricians or friends and relatives. Having such ‘helpful’ expressions of doubts and constant second guessing only erodes mom’s confidence and ability to be effective at instinctively navigating her way through nurturing her babe. Worse, passing on bad information only perpetuates the cycle of failed breastfeeding attempts. In the age in information, it’s easy to find credible information online that addresses most topics, but we need confidence in ourselves to be able to overlook face to face instruction and go with something as impersonal as a website or article.

That’s just one example – where the baby is born, where the baby sleeps, how often baby is to be held, how the baby is diapered, whether the baby is vaccinated or not – it seems that each and every aspect of parenting is up for challenge by someone. As support people, we need to be aware of the things we say to new moms and dads. Sharing our negative or horrible experiences with pregnant and new parents is virtually always detrimental. What new parents need is encouragement to do research – read, ask questions, attend support groups – gather information! There’s an adage about ‘when you know better, you do better’. That’s the position that many of us ‘experienced’ moms find ourselves in – having a wealth of knowledge and experience and knowing how it feels to learn something years later that would have made a difference in the choices we made. It’s tough to see someone making the wrong choices, but who is to say what’s right or wrong?

We need to encourage the new parents in our lives to trust themselves – trust that they can make good decisions – and then we need to step back and trust in their ability to do right for their own families. After all, they’re the ones who have to live with the choices they make. If the baby sleeps in their bed, then trust that they have a good reason for doing so, and let them do it. If they nurse the baby every hour, trust that they’ve done the research on how breastfeeding works and that they know their baby best and can accurately determine when the best time to feed the baby is.

As mothers and fathers, we need to learn to be more proactive when learning about the options we have, and to be more assertive when it comes to advocating for what we feel is on our kids’ best interest. We also need to learn to listen to what the doctor/therapist/neighbor/mother in law says and take that into consideration, but ultimately one of the perks of being The Mama [3] is that you get to make the decision. Let’s make sure they’re good ones.



[1] I have found that many disagreements regarding parenting issues come when one parent (the primary caregiver) wants to do one thing and the other parent (often the ‘breadwinner’) wants to do something else. Most often, that dynamic is mom-at-home, dad-at-word so for the purposes of this illustration, that’s the dynamic I’m using. If your sitch is different, then replace pronouns or monikers as needed so that the shoe fits.

If communication or disagreement with your bread-winning hubby or partner is an issue, then the analogy of ‘mothering is my JOB, just like XYZ is your job. I take it as seriously as you take your job, by reading, looking up information, consulting with professionals and peers in my profession (i.e.: other mothers) and continually endeavoring to do my job better – just like you do. As the primary caregiver, this is the course of action I feel is best based on my ‘training’.‘ may work – with tweaks and expansion as required by your family’s dynamic.

[2] I went looking for articles to back that statement up and found mostly articles that dealt with a mom suffering with PDD or clinical depression who is also breastfeeding and the guilt associated with stopping nursing. I probably could find other material, but I am satisfied just speaking from experience – I have personally worked with mothers who suffered an onset of depression (both diagnosed and treated and who went undiagnosed) after they ‘failed’ at breastfeeding. I use the term ‘failed’ very loosely here as in most of those cases, it was a lack of good information and mis-treatment of a breastfeeding management issue by what should have been a trusted professional (i.e.: pediatrician, OB, L&D nurse or nursery nurse) that was a direct result of the ‘failure’. They were cases of the medical system failing the mother by not providing adequate resources for the health and benefit of their clients, yet most mothers will not see it that way. They internalize it as a personal failure – which can and does lead to depression and long-term negative impact on the woman as a mother.

[3] or The Papa, or whatever your chosen role and honorific {wink}


One response

  1. Pingback: The CRC vs. Parental Rights « This Adventure Life

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