Friday, March 5, 2010

Don't Tell Mothers How To Parent

My 7-month-old daughter is watching The Ellen Show as I type this. Feel the urge to tell me how horrible I am for letting her watch TV? Want to quote studies that say she'll become a serial killer if I don't shut the television off right now? Don't. I don't care if you're right. All I know is that I've been a parent for less than a year and I've already read and heard enough advice telling me that no matter what I'm doing I'm RUINING THE BABY that I'm about ready to ship the kid off to Angelina Jolie to see if she can do any better.

It started the day my daughter was born, with the pacifier vs. no pacifier debate. Some people told me to give her the pacifier to keep her from sucking her thumb and that it was the best way to calm her at night. Then other people told me that it would be a nightmare to get the pacifier away from her and it could mess up her language development if she insisted on having it in her mouth all the time. I had no idea what to do. Luckily, the baby was born with a definite opinion on the subject and spit out every pacifier we gave her. She chews on her fingers now, and if anyone else tells me that it'll be hell to get her to stop sucking her thumb, I may start throwing punches.

After the pacifier problem, I decided to stop reading baby advice. Well, I check for specific questions questions that come up--what's that rash, what are good games for her age, is she hitting her developmental milestones--but for aspects of parenting that are more nebulous, like sleep schedules, nursing, and independent playtime, I just make it up as I go along, since it became clear that's all the "experts" are doing.

But don't tell anyone that I parent through gut instinct. I have learned that family members, friends, aquantainces, the entire internet, and random people on the bus have very concrete child-rearing philosophies and if you deviate from the path in any way, they are morally obligated to tell you exactly how you're RUINING THE BABY. I don't know quite when or how it happened, but there's a general assumption these days that mothers have no goddamn clue what they're doing and need your help whether they want it or not. But you know what, strange lady on the street? You really don't need to ask me why my daughter isn't wearing mittens. She's not wearing mittens because her hands aren't cold. Know how I know? Because I'm her mother and I checked.

I know it's tempting, especially when you're around examples of truly shitty parenting, like the woman I saw who teased her daughter until she cried, then yelled at her for crying. Well, that wasn't so much an urge to give advice as an urge to grab the poor child and make a run for it, but that's not the point. The point is: it is not your job to be the parenting police. If you don't feed, clothe, love, and discipline a child, you don't get to have an opinion about how she's raised. Fair? Maybe not, but one of the very first things a parent has to teach a child is that life's not fair.

So the next time you open your mouth to tell a new mother that you read a report that said that unless she breastfeeds for at least a year, her child is at risk for lungworm? Stop, think about how you'd feel if the whole damn planet was trying to tell you how to do your job, and don't say a word.

1 comment:

  1. Cheers to that, new mama! I was inspired to continue with my not-freaking-out parenting style after listening to a story on NPR about free-range parenting. Interesting blog on that one as well;