My brother and sister-in-law are about to have a baby, and it’s so exciting. Everyone is excited. I, personally, am so enjoying them discover parenthood… from the overkill of pregnancy tests to make sure it is indeed positive, to choosing a gynea, to the first scan, to their complete awe at seeing those four chambers of their baby’s heart beating so clearly on the ultrasound. It’s been so sweet reliving it through first time eyes again. Nostalgic and so special.
And all I want to do is give advice.
I’m a seasoned mom. I’ve been a mother for sixteen years, two months and seventeen days! I’ve done the baby thing three times for Pete’s sake! And then of course I’m a parent coach. Qualified completely, right? Who better to give advice!?
But I won’t. Not unless I’m asked. Because if I learnt anything at all, in all my years of being a mom, it’s that advice comes whether you invite it or not. And for new moms, it can be the most confounding part of becoming a mother.
I remember so clearly how some people would tell me to go by the baby’s schedule and demand feed. And others would absolutely swear by the dread of some future psychological damage that if you didn’t follow a strict routine you were going to end up with such problems down the line! I remember being strongly convinced by one person that co-sleeping was an evil thing to do and I would be making a rod for my own back should I dare venture down that dark road! And then hearing how well other babies and their mothers slept because they co-slept. I remember being lectured about what food to start them on when I start solids, and when exactly the best time for that was… and whether to vaccinate or not… breastfeed vs formula… learn to walk in shoes or barefoot… or potty train early or not… or smack or not… or use a walking ring or not… or start them in crèche before they were two or after three… or in summer versus winter… or government school or private… or monastic or co-ed… etc etc etc.
The list goes on and on. And the opinions get stronger and stronger. And the confusion, particularly in a “newborn” parent, gets completely overwhelming until you get to the point where you just collapse in a heap, feeling totally inadequate and like you don’t have a clue about what you are doing.
So I won’t give unsolicited advice. I have learnt that what works for me, may not necessarily work for others. I have learnt that people do what they need to do to survive. I have learnt that if someone needs advice or wants your opinion, they will ask me for it and I will gladly give them my 2c worth. But I have also learnt that maybe they just need to discuss, or have you simply be their sounding board and ultimately make up their own minds anyway.
But there is one thing I will say – perhaps the only advice I will give, and it’s the best advice I was ever given as a mom of a new baby. It was given to me when my second son was born, by a dear nurse in the hospital to whom I will forever be grateful for the peace her advice gave me. This is the advice I would like to give to all parents, especially those new ones.
Trust your gut. You are born with a natural instinct (maternal or paternal) that kicks in the minute you know you are about to be a parent. Trust that. Hold on to that. And when Aunty May tells you that giving her babies sugar water was the absolute trick to them sleeping through, or when Granny Phyllis tells you that the magic recipe that is unequivocally the answer to winds to never eat chocolate, or when your best friend (who doesn’t even have a baby yet!) tells you that you must never bounce a baby because it will cause him to be bowlegged, or when Grampa George tells you that you must never tickle a baby because it will make her a nervous child, this is what you do. You smile graciously and convincingly say these magical words, “Thank you! I will try that!”
Do you try that? Well that is entirely up to you. Your baby, your life, your rules. But what will happen, is that granny Phyllis will go on her merry way thinking she has helped you and that you are a good parent because you follow her wisdom, and Aunty May feels great because she has helped you too with your big issue, and Grampa George will feel he has saved your child from being a nervous wreck.
If, however, you utter a seemingly uncertain, “Are you sure that is a good idea?” to their well-meaning advice, you will find yourself faced with the determined convincing of mothers before you who swear by their tried and trusted own methods. And all this will do, is leave you not only frustrated, but unsure and filled with self-doubt.
Trust me on this. You know your baby better than anyone. You spend more time with your baby than anyone else. And you have maternal/paternal instinct that you need to learn to trust.
So that is my advice. Trust your gut. You’ve got this. And for the record, the god’s honest truth is that most of us are winging it, and just as surprised as the next person when something actually works. Truthfully, we all live by trial and error in this minefield that is parenting, trusting our own guts. Every. Single. Day.