Annie from PhD in Parenting posted this question today on her blog. I was going to comment there, but realized that my response was going to be epic. So I thought it was better to just write my own post. Annie’s question is, essentially, what should we tell new/expectant parents and what should we let them figure out on their own.
Here is my list of what I would tell any new/expectant parent who asked for my advice/thoughts:
1) Be confidence and trust your instinct
This is a tall order. Being a new parent shook my confidence and self esteem to the core. I went from being great at my job to feeling like nothing I did was right. I would second guess myself all the time. So I am not suggesting that this piece of advice is easy to do, but I would still suggest that it is worth saying to a expectant Mom. Trusting your instinct and having confidence in your decisions will make a big difference. Not only will you feel better, but it will help your baby(ies) relax. Which brings us to #2.
2) Try to stay calm and confident.
Again, an other tall order. You won’t always be able to. Don’t feel guilty if you get frustrated, upset or sad. But, if you can try to stay calm, baby will sense that and it does help them stay calm. Especially during crying spells. The more worked up you get because you don’t know how to stop them from crying, the more baby senses you getting worked up, perceives that as something is wrong and then cry’s more. If you have attended to your babies needs and they are still crying, relax and accept that babies cry. The talent of staying calm will come in even more handy when baby is a toddler. Trust me.
3) Don’t feel isolated- reach out
I can’t tell you how many times I felt like I was along in how I felt or what I was struggling with. But with just about any struggle, challenge or feeling, someone else has gone through it. Reach out to family and friends and share how you feel. Chances are they know exactly how you feel and can empathize. If you have a really unique situation, there is good support to be found online, so long as your are careful and find a supportive community to engage with. Which brings us to point number 4.
3) Take the advice of strangers, online or offline, with a HUGE grain of salt
Strangers don’t know you and they don’t know your kid, so don’t let anything any stranger says make you feel bad, guilty or wrong. Online in particular, is full of people with opinions across the whole spectrum of just about any parenting issue. For any decision you make you can find someone who is going to suggest that what you did is wrong. So while online support can be helpful, be wary. If you are reading something and it makes you feel bad, guilty or like you are ‘messing’ up your child: stop reading. Even if the advice may be the right advice for you, try to find it in a form that makes you feel supported, relieved and heard. If you feel, deep down, that you are doing the right thing, don’t let someone else make you feel bad or feel like you need to justify yourself.
4) Be wary of ‘theory’ parenting
Parenting theories can be helpful, they give you a general philosophy to follow and some methods to try. But no parenting theory is one size fits all. If there was a perfect way to parent which worked for every baby and every family in every social/economic/geographical/cultural circumstance, we would all be doing in by now. The truth is, not matter what any theory has to say, there is more then one way to raise a intelligent, caring and confident child. On that note:
5) Don’t try and make a round peg fit a square hole
Let’s say you follow parenting philosophy X which says the best way to put baby to sleep is Y. You think philosophy X is the one most suited to you (and your partners) believes and values. So you try baby sleep method Y. You try. You really really try. Over and over again. You were calm and confident in your decision and tried again. And it doesn’t work. What do you do? Stop. Try something else and don’t feel bad or guilty. If Y doesn’t work for your kid, Y doesn’t work for your kid. Again, there in no one size fits all parenting method. You got to go with what works for your kid.
6) Remember your bag of tricks and rotate often.
I felt, on numerous occasions, that I was doomed to learn the same lesson over and over again. I would figure out this great trick that worked wonders. Like a song that A really liked and calmed her down. Then it would stop working. Then a couple weeks later when I was at my wits end I would remember said trick again and PRESTO it would work. The thing is that babies change really really quickly. So mix up your tricks and re-use often. For the first year of A’s life we rotated regularly through various methods for moving her around outside or out and about. We had 3 kinds of baby carriers and a stroller. It seemed like every couple of weeks one method would work better then an other. One week she would scream if put in a stroller and the next week it was her favorite place in the world. They change. Go with it.
So, as you can see, my general philosophy when it comes to advice is not so much to give advice on which way to go on specific decisions. (Although I do have some opinions on particularly decisions. If someone asked me my thoughts, or I feel like rambling about them here, then I will share those opinions.) But in general, I think the best advice we can offer new/expectant parents is how to approach the challenges. Because the actual choices they make should be based on their circumstance and their child, not my advice.