A good friend and her family recently adopted a dog, their first. When she came over to introduce us, I was so happy for her I could burst. I love dogs. I've had dogs for many years. As we stood there watching the "baby" frolic in the yard, I said, "If you need anything, let me know. I don't know much, but I know dogs."
Next thing I knew, my mouth completely disengaged from my brain.
"What are you going to feed her?" I said. "You know you need the good stuff, right? It's better for her digestion and coat and joints and just all the way around. What about bowls? Do you have bowls? Are you going to get her a bed? How about a crate? Did you find out if she was crated in the past? She's got dandruff; throw a fish oil pill in her food each day. Can I check her ears? Don't use a Q-tip to clean them; use a cotton ball. What about leash walking? Invisible fence? Do you have chew toys and reward treats? Do you want me to move in with you until you're all settled?"
Yes, that last one was an exaggeration... but the rest of it was pretty close to accurate. Suddenly I noticed that Charlotte's eyes had glazed over, barely concealing what can only be described as a look of panic amply mixed with annoyance.
"Okay, well, thanks!" she said, fleeing to her car. "Off to the pet store! I think I've got it from here!"
After she left I thought, what the heck is wrong with me? Why would I just spew out unsolicited advice like that? Then I realized why, and I realized it's the same reason people offer unsolicited advice to new mothers: because if we've had babies -- the same as when we've had dogs -- then having babies is something we know. If we've already been there and done that, then chances are good we've made a few mistakes along the way, learned a few lessons the hard way, and we'd would like to make the road easier for someone else.
So for new moms and moms-to-be, I would offer this piece of unsolicited advice (and it is not, as my mother suggested, to get a crate): please try to accept it in the spirit in which it is offered. Oh, sure, some people share their stories just to hear themselves talk, or to play the infamous and irritating "I can top that" game -- always a favorite around labor and delivery -- but most often, parenting advice is delivered with more of a "It worked for me!" touch.
And if you haven't found out yet, people dispense advice in all areas of the baby-having and child-rearing universe. From the best (or worst) diapers (usually accompanied by a funny/gross story), how to help teething pain, and natural remedies for various ailments such as reflux and gas, to the best places to shop for clothes, the best clothes to shop for, and how to interview a pediatrician, parents have been there.
What about delivery advice? Nursing? Circumcision? Opinions around these subjects are often underscored by a certain passion, which a new mother or mother-to-be may not share; always remember you're perfectly within reason to either nod politely and walk away or simply say, "Thanks, but I'm not comfortable discussing my son's penis with a stranger." That'll usually end the discussion.
Behavior issues, milestone deadlines, feeding suggestions, sleep problems... all babies are different, but many share shockingly similar paths, and those similar paths are what compel people -- oh, fine -- compel me to offer unsolicited advice. While such advice sometimes is annoying, other times it can be a sanity-saver. When my daughter started having tantrums over socks with seamed toes, a friend suggested a brand that made seamless. I didn't even know they existed.
Although it may not seem so -- and at times in fact is not so! -- when we offer advice, we really are trying to help, and maybe to relive our children's infancy a little in the process. When we see a new mom, we get to remember our own kids at that age, and what we went through, and what really did work for us. It's what we know. So don't be afraid to ask.
And if you are, that's okay too. We'll tell you anyway.