As moms, we get lots of advice. Some because we ask for it, but most is unsolicited. I’ll never forget the most useless parenting advice I received. My husband and I were flying with our then 8-month old twins from Texas to Wisconsin. No matter what we did, we couldn’t console them for about half of the two-hour flight (which felt like an eternity). They wouldn’t nurse, they wouldn’t take a bottle, they wouldn’t fall asleep. Despite our 1000 ways of trying to distract them, they wouldn’t take the bait. Many people looked at us with understanding, others with pity. But some were just getting mad. We were trying one gentleman’s patience in particular. I could see his frustration growing with each passing minute. He’d look back at us, take a deep breath and resist the urge to roll his eyes. With exaggerated exhales he’d shift positions in his seat way more often than any normal human being would deem necessary. Finally, he looked back at us with a scowl and stated, “Maybe you need to change their diapers.” “Thank you genius,” I wanted to answer, “I never would have thought of that.”
While most advice isn’t that condescending, looking back I believe that, more often than not, I knew more than the well-meaning person passing along his or her wisdom. It’s not because I’m more educated than them, nor because I’m smarter than them. It’s largely because I am the parent of the child they are giving advice about — not them. So when I say “Momma knows best,” I’m not saying your momma or the momma down the street knows best. I mean you — you know what’s best for your child.
Don’t get me wrong, other moms are invaluable sources of information and support. I don’t know how I would have made it through the first few years of motherhood without my mom friends. I was involved in a twins club, community moms’ club and a moms’ Bible study through my church. I learned a mountain of good stuff from them and received even more encouragement (still do). I don’t now that I would have maintained my sanity without them — and I’m only half kidding.
Those moms, and the boys’ pediatrician, preschool teacher, random people everywhere … gave me advice. It’s like people can sniff out a first-time-mom. The anxiety, the self-doubt — it must seep from our pores begging people to swarm to the rescue. And the advice in-and-of itself isn’t the problem. It’s what I chose to do with it that became the issue. When given advice we have three options: 1) to disregard it, 2) apply it, or 3) take pieces that fit and use them. We make the choice after evaluating the advice. We can do this by asking these questions: 1) does it fit my value system, 2) does it fit my child, and 3) does it fit my family.
In those first few years, when I struggled with something (like nursing, sleep “training,” transitioning to solid foods, dealing with disobedience, etc.), I doubted myself. Maybe I don’t know what I’m doing after all. Maybe I’ll never know what I’m doing. Maybe I’m going to totally screw up my kids. It is during these times of self doubt when I lose the ability to critically evaluate advice. It is during these times when I’m susceptible to throwing my own intuition out the window and grasping on to the tips and tactics offered by others. So I’d apply the advice even though I knew deep down it didn’t fit. The suggestion didn’t fit my child, my family or both.
But, as my kids got older, I trusted myself more and I learned to trust them. Now that I have a baby again, I’m trying to give myself credit for what I know. And really, it’s not that I know more now because I have older kids, it’s that I knew it to begin with – I just didn’t trust myself to know. Here are the top 5 things that I’m trying to remind myself about this time around – things that I know best.
1. If you think something is wrong, get it checked out. You spend more time with your child than anyone. You are best positioned to know if something is “off.” My stomach still turns when I think about the issue that taught me this lesson. My twins were 18-months old and Chase was still not sleeping through the night. On the “expert” advice of my pediatrician, I’d been trying to help him learn to sleep by crying it out. For months I’d been on a strict behavior modification system. I Ferberized, Baby Wised and otherwised to no avail. I knew something was wrong, but no one validated my intuition. I called the pediatrician in tears and she’d tell me to keep at it, that eventually he’ll give in. Finally, I took matters into my own hands and ordered a pediatric sleep textbook written for med students. My son fit all the criteria for obstructive sleep apnea. I researched a credible pediatric ENT and, low and behold, he was diagnosed with exactly what I suspected. After surgery to remove his enormous adenoids, he slept like, well, a baby.
2. If you think nothing’s wrong, wait a while and see. Conversely, if you think the issue is just a bump in the road, wait it out. The mom who tells you that you have to get that ear checked out because it might be an ear infection may have three kids with histories of chronic ear infections which only dissipated with tubes. Know that her advice is coming from her experience, which isn’t yours. Of course, get urgent issues looked at asap. But most things can wait a while. If your mom instinct is telling you to give it a while, that’s probably okay.
3. Yes, your baby will eventually learn to sleep — but you know the best way to teach him. Because my son had sleep issues, I feel like a walking encyclopedia on pediatric sleep. I read every popular book out there, and even dabbled in the medical literature. Believe me, there are as many “proven” ways to get your baby to sleep as Carter has pills. After helping three kids learn to sleep, I’ve concluded that not one way works for every child. And no one way will work for that one child at every stage. The best way to soothe your 12-week old baby to sleep could be very different than your approach with your 18-month old. And, while a approach may have the potential to work equally well with two different children, that approach may not fit the child’s families equally. So, solicit sleep tips from your mom friends and pediatrician, but don’t assume they are the best approach for you because they worked for others. Decide what works for you, your child and your family. Then be consistent and give it a chance to work. No approach will be successful if you only stick with it a few days or switch erratically between several approaches.
4. Yes, your child will eat, but you know what strategies to try. Eating issues are another way I learned to trust my instincts. To this day, one of my 8-year olds eats a very small variety of food. The issue started when transitioning from purees to solids. I suspected he had texture issues, but listened instead to the myriad of moms who insisted he’d eat eventually and to just be tough. Don’t make him separate meals, make him eat the dinner he refused in the morning for breakfast — that’ll teach him. And these tactics did eventually “teach” him to eat his food. But as he’s gotten old enough to talk to me about why he struggles to eat, my hypothesis has been confirmed. He has texture issues. He also can’t stand the smell of some foods. He knows he has to eat a small variety, so he’s developed coping mechanisms, like swallowing peas whole instead of chewing them. It pains me to see him struggle and it breaks my heart when he says, “Mom, I wish I didn’t have to eat food for energy.” If I would have listened to my intuition instead of doubting my God-given wisdom and gotten him the therapy he needed, he would probably struggle less with food today.
5. You know what’ll work for your family. This is the big one for me — the one against which I evaluate all advice that sounds good at the outset. What works great for your family might not work for mine simply because our families are different. I remember listening to the advice of a very wise, patient mother. Her solutions for various kid-centered issues sounded perfect. Then I started thinking about the logistics of applying them to my family, and I couldn’t figure out how she did it. I then learned she had one child. It then became clear. Her solutions worked like a charm for her situation because she could focus on that one child, but they had a rougher application for my family because I have three. So, after evaluating her solutions against my family situation, I decided to apply some of her advice and modify other aspects of it. Applying it carte blanche would have lead to frustration and failure I’m sure.
If you’re anything like me, when offered advice, you feel judged and have to fight off the “I’m not good enough” syndrome (but I’m prone to that, read this post if that resonates with you: [Momma You Matter] ). Especially when the tip is unsolicited, I feel like I must have “Crappy mom” pasted on my forehead. But I’ve learned that it’s within my control to feel this way or not. All advice comes from the giver’s experience, which is generally different from mine. And, at the end of the day, no one knows your child like you do. Sure, try on other’s tactics, but don’t force them to fit if they simply don’t. Trust yourself, Momma. And, for Pete’s sake, don’t judge the mom giving the advice. She really is trying to help. I’m pretty sure the guy on my flight to Wisconsin didn’t have kids, so I’m giving myself a pass on that one.