Dear New Mom,
If you are anything like me, you walked out of the hospital with your newborn child and wondered why trained medical professionals were letting you leave with a tiny human being whose very survival depended on you.
I’m guessing you’ve already been given a ton of advice on how to feed your baby, how long is too long to let junior cry, and the wisdom of using a pacifier.
Have no fear, I’m not going to add to this chorus.
No, dear new mom, my message is very simple: No matter what you do with your child, you will be judged by somebody, somewhere. Do your best to ignore it. Focus on the things that give you peace and comfort and trust that over time, you’ll become the best judge of what you and your child need.
This can sometimes be easier said than done because some of the people who give advice the most frequently will be your closest relatives.
If your family of origin is anything like mine, where everybody is in everyone’s else’s business, it might not come as a huge shock that your mom, dad, sisters, brothers and third cousin twice removed will want a say in the way you raise your child.
But I was pretty shocked to find that there were a ton of perfect strangers who also enjoyed weighing in. Sometimes it was these voices that had me doubting my own instincts the most.
When our first child was born 18 years ago, I was thrilled. My husband and I went through the pain of four miscarriages before Tom was born. When at 33, I finally held my newborn son, I couldn’t wait to do all the things I had been dreaming about for years. I felt as if I had finally been given admission to this secret club.
Joe and I had recently moved from an apartment in Manhattan to a house in Queens. I had left my job to be home full time with my baby. As happy and grateful that I was to have this new life, it was a huge adjustment. And a lot lonelier than I expected.
In an attempt to meet new moms and just get out of the house, I made sure my son and I had plans every day, even if all we managed to do was go for a walk around the block.
Unless it was raining, snowing, or 10 below, I bundled Tom up and either put him in a front pack, or in his carriage and we would walk the streets of our neighborhood. Often we would stop to get a coffee, (for me, not him) or stop in the market, park, or library.
Many times as we were walking, a car would pull up, the window would roll down, and the driver, most often a woman with older children, would tell me something I was doing wrong with my son.
People told me it was too hot or cold to be wearing him in a front pack, I often was scolded for letting him wear no socks, or no hat.
Once when he was about four months old, I put him in a baby swing, (carefully holding him the whole time). A dad who was walking by with his kids stopped to tell me that he thought my son was too young to do this.
I sort of got used to it and would just smile and thank them for their concern. Even if I was having a moment of doubt, I would be dammed if I let them know it. I would just come home and cry to one of my friends or my mom.
As Tom got older, and we added two more children to the mix, the questions and comments continued.
That may be why when I started to go on social media seven years ago, I wasn’t entirely shocked that people had no problem sharing their opinions online.
If people I didn’t even know had no hesitation telling me to my very pregnant face that I had no right having a third child since I had a boy and a girl, someone who could hide behind a computer would surely have no qualms about letting their feelings be known whether or not I’m a good mom because I let my kids occasionally have fast food.
As much as I sometimes wish I had Facebook pictures and posts of my days with babies and toddlers to look back on, I’m somewhat grateful that I only had to deal with parental judgment whenever we ventured outside the house.
After 18 years of motherhood, 12 as the mom of three, I still haven’t really figured out why people feel that a mother with a child is fair game for a host of “helpful advice.”
But if I’ve learned anything in my time in the mom trenches, it’s that there’s always somebody who’s ready with an unsolicited opinion.
This is when a group of trusted mom friends becomes so important. I’m grateful for the women who over cold coffee, screaming toddlers, and nursing babies shared their parenting mistakes and lessons learned with me. I found them to be the perfect antidote to the sometimes very loud choruses of, “you should do this, and you shouldn’t do that.”
Wishing you much joy and at least a little sleep.
A mom who has been there
This piece was first published on Kathy’s site, My Dishwasher’s Possessed!