Parenting advice is everywhere. I can’t be online for ten minutes without seeing lists upon lists upon lists of what I must do, or should never say, or can’t live without. No one ever considers the possibility that what worked for them might not work for me. It’s never here are 5 things I’m glad I did, it’s 5 things you must do before having a baby.
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of these posts have great suggestions. And I understand the desire for a catchy title that will pull in a lot of views. But I can’t help but feel irritated when I read something on 7 things to never say to new moms that I actually enjoyed hearing. I once stumbled upon a blog where a mother cautioned her readers to “Never say ‘let me know if there’s anything I can do to help’” because a new mom isn’t going to have time to delegate. OK, so there’s some truth to that. But I loved knowing that so many of my friends were willing to make themselves available to me. I didn’t actually need anything from them, I just liked knowing they were there should something come up. I may be alone in that feeling, and I don’t expect anyone to intuit how I feel about something, but that’s the point. These lists suggest that there’s only one right way to experience these life events and it’s just not so.
Sure, there are certain things that are universally agreed upon (never ask a pregnant woman if she’s having twins), but for the most part, what bothers one person might not bother another. Families who have children with special needs, or have adopted children, or who have gone through the agonizing loss of miscarriage or infant death are all going to experience these events differently. There is no right way to proceed when approaching these situations, other than to try and be as sensitive to the needs of our friends as possible. Many people who have been through similar situations may agree on a lot of the items presented in these pieces, but there is still something misleading about presenting it as though they are rules.
When it comes to parenting, these lists make me even less sense. More and more we are seeing that families are made of all shapes and sizes. We are different races and religions. We are heterosexual couples and same-sex couples and single parents. We are stay-at-home moms and CEOs. We are wealthy and we are living in poverty. We are biological and we are adopted. We are younger and we are older. There is nothing uniform about families, so why are we so insistent on presenting bullet points to mothers about what they must or mustn’t do to be successful? Why do we think that our experiences apply to everyone around us? It’s a toxic outlook and one that parents feel at all times. Other parents watching them, judging them, thinking how they would do things differently.
The way I see it, the only thing a mother needs to do to be successful is confidence. She has to believe in the choices she’s making. It doesn’t matter if anyone else is making those choices, or if she’s the first to try. It doesn’t matter if people tell her she’s making a mistake and that she’s going to regret it later. We moms need to rely on our instincts and our knowledge of our own children. We need to empower ourselves to make the decisions for our families without feeling pressure from the parents around us. We need to allow for the possibility that we don’t know what is best for the families around us. Sharing our own experiences can extremely valuable, but we have to stop suggesting that everything in motherhood is universal. It is not.