Parenting Issues: How to Take Advice

The first thing you learn as a new parent is that there are a million ways to parent “correctly”—or, the same thing but differently: there are a million ways to parent incorrectly. Pediatricians, nurses, your parents, parent friends, and even strangers and non-parents feel compelled to “help” you by sharing their hints and suggestions on how to parent. Often these “hints” will actually be vehemently argued dictates. Of course, these perspectives offered will inevitably conflict with one another.

For example, the question of breastfeeding (an early one to deal with for many new parents): If your partner doesn’t produce enough milk at first, you might panic. You both think breastfeeding is important and planned for it.

rio at park picnic w tie
In our case, baby turned out fine, see above arm rolls and fat cheeks and cuteness.

“You’re just going to have to use formula,” says one nurse.

“Don’t worry, you’ll start producing soon,” says another.

The lactation consultant explains that you must be completely comfortable and preferably upright in bed. The La Leche League book advises you lay on your side. Your partner’s mom thinks the baby isn’t “latching” well, while you’re worried your partner needs to sleep more (sleep is required to produce a good milk supply), but she can’t.

Don’t be paralyzed by this confusing cacophony of conflicting counsel. Keep doing something, and be open to changing what that something is until you find something that works, or until the problem morphs into a different one. You’ll have breastfeeding issues. Sleep issues. Relationship issues. Poop issues. Vaccination issues. And so on. By the time you figure out what works for you, the problem or your baby will have changed. So what good is advice anyway?

Advice gives you ideas and options. I never would have sleep trained at all if I didn’t have a stepmother who believed in it, and has (depending on how you look at it) the authority to know. I don’t think we would’ve stuck with co-sleeping for so long if we hadn’t had my mom and community resources that advocated it around us. In the end (well, I guess we’re in the middle, technically?) most babies turn out OK—or, the same thing but differently, they turn out equally fucked up, no matter how their parents dealt with many of these issues.

If you show your baby lots of love, and attend to their physical and emotional needs with overall consistency, you’ll be fine. That’s my theory and my hope. Evidence also backs this up: parents have less direct influence on their children than they or “we”[i] tend to think. So relax. Listen to the advice you get, but use it without attachment. Don’t take advice too seriously, even if you take the problems of new parenting seriously, and you may make your way through this difficult period.

If I’m wrong, sorry. But hey, I was only trying to offer helpful advice!

[1] Obviously, there is no single “we”, but middle-class US Americans seem culturally concerned with raising children “correctly”, as evidenced by the booms in child rearing books, “developmentally-appropriate” toys, and “hover-parenting”.