The unsolicited advice you receive as a new parent hits from all angles – all the time – over and over again. It’s nothing new, really. Just one of those bothersome irks that goes with the territory. Until mothers learn effective ways to buffer it, they remain stuck listening to Aunt Betty, or the cashier at the grocery store, telling them why exactly their child is not dressed appropriately, and how their baby is obviously strapped into the pram wrong. You smile sweetly, but you learn pretty quickly how to say, “Ah lady? Thanks but I got this.”
A few of my personal gems was the time a drug dealer trying to sell me pot at 11 a.m. one Monday morning thought it her duty to express concerns that my child was under dressed for the current weather. I told you about her, right? And another time I received concerns about teaching my daughter the word ‘coffee’, like I was scorching the purity of her childhood, exposing her to a culture and substance as wretched as crack cocaine.
It’s a minefield, the advice-giving, something I promised myself I would never do, and although I look with compassion at the intentions behind the advice-givers, I can’t help but think it’s a touch arrogant, and largely unhelpful. I’ve slipped up a few times since, giving advice when it wasn’t asked for, telling a sister how it is, overlooking her good and fine wisdom, and I’ve instantly regretted it because if I am honest with myself, it came from a place of wanting to prove how much I knew, instead of letting a sister have her turn.
So now. Now I’m somewhere halfway: still quite a novice, still receiving unsolicited advice every now and again from people who assume I need it. But in many ways, I feel like an old-hand at all this babies stuff. You learn one baby and you’re at ease with them all. I was the first of many friends to have children and it’s only now I’m learning how it is we watch others embark on the ride. To watch them giddy with anticipation and fear and doubt and excitement, fighting the urge to give advice, to over share, to trivialize, to dismiss, to take over. Finding how it is we give validation rather than opinion, casseroles instead of tips.
One of my pregnant friends recently told me about a breastfeeding demonstration in one of her prenatal classes and I watched as her jaw dropped open rehashing the confrontation of it all.
I had to physically fight the urge to say Oh God, honey that’s nothing. If you think that’s confronting, you’ve got another thing coming.
Because that’s the kind of shitty remark I despised when I was full to the brim of all this newness. And the thing is, it’s not nothing. To that person, it’s something. And if I rewind right back, ignoring what I know now, I too felt the same at my breastfeeding classes, overwhelmed with the rawness of it all. I came home and cried into my pillow, completely taken over by the shock of having to share my body on such a primal level and the sobering, sacrificial responsibility of what it means to be somebody’s mother.
Now, of course, knowing what I do, I see that an exposed breast is probably the least confronting thing about motherhood. But nobody likes a know-it-all, much less getting their wits scared out of them. And it’s not all that helpful, anyway, to tell them so.
What’s helpful is feeling validated. What’s helpful is getting out of ours shoes and into someone else’s. What’s helpful is good old-fashioned solidarity, so when a sister falls in trenches she has no comprehension of now, she can be helped out, one lasagna at a time.
So, as someone who’s been there and done that, I’m learning (failing sometimes, but learning!) to try really hard to shut the hell up, to let a sister have her time, to hover in the wings, to offer a soft place to land should she fall, or – if she is soaring high – to fly right alongside her, united by the wild love we feel for our children, and what a blessing it is, simply to be somebody’s mother.
Here’s to new life.
A great, big happy Monday to you.
And Friday’s Photo Dump because, well, I forgot! (@theredtent on Instagram if you care to follow the feed.)
Y’all come back now!