Letter to the Woman who Has All the Answers

I recently ran into an old friend who is now trying to conceive her first child. After gushing over my beautiful baby, she began asking questions about my favorite baby products and sharing some of her concerns about becoming a mother. For the first time ever, I found myself doling out parenting advice. I felt pretty well qualified to do so, considering the high volume of tips and stories I’ve heard over the past year and a half since discovering I was pregnant. I’d received a good deal helpful pointers, along with a few completely absurd suggestions, and I felt honored to sift through it all and offer my friend the best pearls of wisdom I’d encountered. I also had some original advice for her–things that never would have crossed my mind before having a baby (things like “remove baby’s socks before changing a poopy diaper”).

I couldn’t believe how much I had to say about parenting, considering I haven’t even held this position for a full year yet. I’m not typically one to tell others what to do. In my defense though, she was asking me questions–I didn’t just see her and feel an overwhelming compulsion to enlighten her on all things mommyhood. But our encounter helped me to understand how our parents’ generation feels. It’s so rewarding to offer good advice about a worthwhile endeavor–to feel like you’ve helped someone succeed at what might just be her highest calling in life. No wonder everyone wants to tell me how to raise my child!

Advice has its place though, and I personally believe that place is in the written word. People with a lot of advice to give should offer it in blog form, or book form, so that those who are seeking answers can easily find it, but those who are doing just fine can easily ignore it. Notice how I’m not standing over your shoulder as you read this post, asking why you haven’t taken my advice about the best baby products to buy.

I’m finding there might be a place for parenting advice in my blog after all–because while I’m not an expert, it’ll give me an outlet to share the things I *think * I’ve figured out, so I don’t turn into one of those delightful older women who can spot a pregnant woman or new mom from 500 feet away and who makes a beeline to her with some deep and meaningful anecdote. For my first advice post, I’m going to write a letter filled with invaluable advice and address it to…myself.

I’m sure as I get older, I’m sure I’ll compile a wealth of parenting knowledge and feel the overwhelming urge to share that hard-earned wisdom with others. And human history suggests I will also forget how it feels to be a new mom–unfamiliar with child psychology but still intelligent nonetheless. Filled with questions about what works, desperate for validation that I’m doing this right, and intuitively aware of what my baby needs on the most basic level. Sleep deprived, frazzled, and fed up with judgemental, know-it-all women who question my every move. I want to remember what this season in life is like, so that I can be a helpful, encouraging to the next generation of mothers. If you’re feeling bold, you might forward this to the ‘Voice of Reason’ in your own life.

To the More Seasoned Dijon:

First of all, kudos and congratulations on successfully raised at least one child. Without formal training of any kind, you managed to carry and nurture a baby as she grew from a single cell into a beautiful, perfect newborn. Remember all the advice you heard while you were pregnant? The rather large woman got into the elevator with you on the third floor, only to get off on the fourth floor, but she still found the time to ask why you hadn’t taken the stairs for exercise? The guest at your baby shower who disregarded your registry and bought you formula, saying you would never stick with breastfeeding? Your aunt, who thought the idea of a gender-reveal party was ridiculous, and told you too many sonograms would cause your baby to be deformed? Remember how your grandmother said you MUST have a natural birth, but your mother-in-law said you’d never make it without the epidural? Oh, and all those horrible, graphic birth stories that had you expecting labor to be 1000 times worse than it actually was. You once told yourself you would never be one of those women.

Then you brought home your little bundle of joy, and you had no idea what to do with her. But in the first few days, the two of you got to know each other, and you started to pick up on her little cues. The best thing anyone ever said to you was, “Nobody knows her better than you do. ” Actually, the BEST thing anyone ever said was, “Here’s a homemade dinner, let me wash that pile of dishes for you”, but the line about knowing your baby best was a very close second. Remember how much better that felt than, “that Rock ‘N Play can’t be as comfortable as the crib”? “What do you mean she’s not sleeping through the night? You must not be producing enough milk!” Oh and at the grocery store, remember the time one old woman said, “Poor baby, she should have a hat on–it’s too cold in here!” and then, in the very next aisle, another lady said, “Oh no, she’s too hot in that sweater, Mom.” You wondered whether there was some secret contest going on, and the elderly woman who doled out the most advice to new mothers would win an all expenses paid trip to Epcot. You vowed to pay for your own vacations during retirement and to give the new moms a break.

If you can’t help yourself and you just have to say something, at least choose your words carefully. New motherhood is an emotional roller coaster anyway, and the last thing anyone wants to hear is that she’s doing wrong by her baby. Ask yourself, ”is this child’s life or health in danger’? In improperly installed car seat is something to speak up about. A bedtime that seems senselessly late to you is not. Also consider whether the parent is already aware of what you’re about to say. If you spot a mother applying cream to her baby’s diaper rash, there is no need to say, “Oh, no (baby’s name), what happened?! Somebody needs to change your diaper more!” That’s passive aggressive. Besides, remember how your newborn actually developed a slight a rash from excessive diaper changes. Lastly, consider whether your advice is likely to be well received. If a mother is asking questions, or even complaining that something she’s trying hasn’t worked, feel free to advise her, but try to do it in a tactful way. Do not hint around to determine where the baby sleeps, then confront the mother by saying “She should be in her own crib by now! I sleep trained my baby at three months with (insert long antiquated method here)”.

Instead of trying to help with your words, offer to hold the baby while mom takes a nap or a shower. This is especially helpful after the family has been at home for a week or two. Find something, anything, that the new mother is doing right and compliment her on it. Not only will this give her a boost of confidence just when she needs it most, it will let her know you aren’t out to criticize just for the sake of criticizing. She’ll be much more inclined to listen to your advice when you offer it, and she may even ask for your opinions!

Be patient, Future Me, and try to keep an open mind. Remember that safety standards and nutritional recommendations are changing all the time. Just because something worked wonderfully for you, doesn’t mean it’s the right way, or the only way. All babies are different, and just as nobody knows your child like you do, you don’t know another mom’s baby quite like she does. It’ll be tough at times, watching your daughter struggle with situations you’ve figured out years ago, but remember how you grew into the competent, self-assured mother you are today. You didn’t get here by having all the answers handed to you. It was a journey you traveled with your husband and child(ren), learning from your mistakes and figuring out the exact patterns that worked best for you. Your role now is to support your daughter in her own journey, as a caring friend who has traveled a similar path. You are neither her chauffeur nor her personal GPS unit.

You’ll probably look back on this letter and think you were silly in your twenties–naive about a grandmother’s point of view, and I admit that’s true. Having never been a grandparent, I don’t entirely understand your perspective. But years from now, when your daughter hands you this letter you’d forgotten all about, you’ll have the best of both worlds. You’ll be able to consider both viewpoints at the same time, and determine how best to conduct your affairs.

I’m off to cuddle with your baby now, and to wonder if one day, she just might thank me for writing this.