‘I know she means well, but she’s driving me crazy,’ a friend said recently about her mother. The friend just had her first baby – the first grandchild too – and her mother was being wonderful; cooking, cleaning, constantly offering help. Unfortunately, she was also constantly offering advice, mostly of the ‘you should…’ kind. ‘You should bath her before the evening feed.’ ‘You should supplement with a bottle at night.’ ‘You should put her down for a nap when she’s still awake, not rock her to sleep.’
Sometimes it was ‘you shouldn’t…’ just for a change. ‘You shouldn’t feed her so much. I’m sure she can’t be hungry’. ‘You shouldn’t use that detergent, it’s too harsh for her skin.’
‘I know she’s trying to help, but she just makes me feel I’m doing everything wrong,’ the friend, close to tears, eventually said.
And that of course is the problem. The endless advice is confusing, often contradictory, and ultimately it leaves mothers thinking that they are messing up if they aren’t doing exactly what they are told.
For most of us, we have never wanted anything as much as we want to be good mothers to our babies. All the things we thought we wanted to be good at – tennis, spreadsheets, working the latest catwalk trends – pale into insignificance in comparison. The issue isn’t what, its how. And so, in our eagerness, we blow now one way, now another, depending on which childcare experts (and in our new-found ignorance, even the lady in the post-office is suddenly an expert, simply by dint of having older children) we are listening to or reading at the time. We follow each ‘you should…’ until a new and better one comes along. Or until we finally wise up to the fact that actually – we know best what works for our children, in our lives.
We know whether it is possible to be child-led in all things, like the attachment parenting people tell us, or if there are other children, other commitments that must limit this. We know whether we are the type to enjoy a strict routine, or if we would prefer, be better able, to float a little freer. We are the measure of our own lives, our own circumstances. And the sooner we realise this, the happier we will be.
The problem with the endless chorus of ‘you should…’ from the people and books around us, is that it drowns out our own inner voices. And these voices, at first anyway, are very quiet, for most of us. It takes a while to settle into the role of mother, and work out that we are ok at it. Let alone, we will find our own paths to happiness with our children, who may not be like your sister’s children, or the children that guy in the parenting book describes, but who are our reality, just as we are theirs.
So let’s support moms by encouraging that inner voice. By telling them they’re great, rather than constantly telling them what they ‘should’ be doing.
Image 1 - Kiss the Groom
Image 2 – Pinterest