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How To Handle Advice For New Parents

New parenthood often brings with it a certain vulnerability to advice and criticism. People who wouldn't consider commenting on your way of dress think nothing of telling you what they think about the way you are dressing your baby. Everyone - including strangers, friends who have no children and relatives who haven't spoken to you in years - somehow seem compelled to share their knowledge and expertise, or lack thereof.

The problem is that all this advice comes at a time when most new parents are unsure of themselves and how to handle their babies. Therefore some view advice as a declaration that they are not succeeding at parenthood. Because for many new parents having a baby represents the final step into adulthood, they especially resent any statements or actions they feel are indications that their parents or other relatives still view them as children.

Understand that the postpartum period is a time for learning. Through trial and error and using common sense you learn how to care for your child. Of course, reading interacting with other new parents, and listening to - although not always accepting - the advice of people you respect can give you insights into how to handle a situation; but in any new area, mistakes are made and should be expected. Advice does not necessarily mean that you have made a mistake, however; it only means that you are doing things differently from the advice giver.

Although you may not feel secure in the knowledge of your baby's habits and even your own needs during the first few weeks, this assurance will develop as you make the adjustments to new parenthood, as your baby becomes more predictable, and as you see yourself handling the child successfully. You are at least as intelligent and have at least as much common sense as all the people giving you advice, and while they may have more experience handling children, they have no knowledge of your particular child or your views and needs.

Your friends and relatives raised their children the way they chose to and you have the right to do the same. The fact that a particular cradle, for example, has rocked several generations in your family, does not obligate you to use it; nor are you obliged to dress your baby the way your mate's mother dressed him or feed your baby the way your mother fed you. You have the right to determine what is and is not appropriate for your child; and this includes returning or not using gifts that you feel are not to your taste.

You are the baby's parent - not the woman behind the counter in the drugstore, not your aunt down the block, not your mother or mother-in-law. All decisions you make regarding your baby's welfare are based on what you feel is best for him or her and you need not justify your decisions to anyone.

I don't mean to imply that new parenthood is a time for breaking off relationships, or of curtly informing people that their advice is unappreciated. Much good advice can be handed down from generation to generation, from peers who have been where you are now - all based on good old experience and trial and error. Hear it; learn from it - and that means learn what will be helpful for you and your baby and what will not necessarily be helpful or to your taste. You may be surprised at the gems of advice you can benefit from and be ever thankful for. However, all advice cannot possibly be taken, and the advice-givers must be made to understand this.

If you are confronted with people who persist in giving unsolicited advice, there are several strategies you can use to deal with it.

Perhaps the simplest thing to do is listen politely and ignore any advice that is not agreeable to you. This is the easiest way to handle strangers, acquaintances, and people who need never know you don't agree with them. You can even thank them for their concern and tell them you appreciate their help - this will make them feel good and you haven't lost a thing in the process. If you argue with such an individual, the result will be an exchange of bad feelings. You will rarely, if ever, see that person again, so why invite a confrontation?

If someone asks a question that you do not want to answer or you feel implies criticism (“How can you take the baby out on a terrible day like this!” or, “You're out without the baby? Where is he?!”), reply in a polite yet firm manner that lets the individual know you are not intimidated (“My pediatrician says taking the baby out during a snow storm is a great idea - it helps build stamina!” or, “The baby is home taking care of his father. Isn't it wonderful to have helpful children?”) Another strategy is to stare back wordlessly for several moments - implying you are shocked that someone could even think to ask that particular question in the first place.

Handling close friends and relatives requires a bit more tact - they are often in a position to know their advice is being ignored and may comment on that fact in addition to their original complaints. An effective way to phrase your response is “I know you believe that babies should be eating solid foods by three weeks, but I believe it's better to wait.” Said firmly, this carries a lot of weight because it breaks down the objection/advice to a question of beliefs that are open to varying interpretation, not a dispute over facts. It is also an assertion of you, the individual, the adult, the parent - with beliefs of your own. You can also “blame” things on your baby nurse or pediatrician, if you choose to: “This is the way my doctor told me to do it.” You can also attribute your decisions to articles you've read (very few relatives will question your source). You can even imply they are out of touch with current trends in baby care - “But it's the latest theory! You mean you didn't know?!”

If a situation develops where you absolutely must tell close relatives or friends that you don't want their advice, control, gifts, whatever - politely remind them that they had the freedom to choose their own path through new parenthood and you'd appreciate the same courtesy. Tell them that you appreciate their concern and understand that it comes out of love for you and your baby, but you are the baby's parent and the decisions are yours to make. If all else fails, you can simply resort to being straight, open, direct: “Thank you. But I'm going to do it my way.”

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