This one goes out to all of you caring, lovely, knowledgeable people who want nothing more than to ease the path ahead for the mother and baby in front of you at any given moment.
For the well-intentioned among us, the people who have a few years or decades on their parenting resume, I have one simple request: be who you needed when you were a new parent.
Take a second to think about who that would have been.
It probably was not someone who told you your baby needed a hat on.
It probably was not someone who insinuated you were inadequately feeding your baby.
It probably was not someone who told you that you were doing irreparable harm to your baby by sleep training and/or not sleep training.
It probably was not someone who violated you or your baby’s personal space without permission.
It definitely was not someone who couldn’t take the hint that your breasts, your sleeping arrangements, your plans for future babies, and/or your decisions about work and childcare weren’t matters open to public comment.
Here’s the thing: I know most people mean well; that they are just trying to help. I also know that most of us want to believe that the choices we have made in our own parenting histories were the right ones. When our brains receive any information that contradicts beliefs we hold about anything, we have two choices: one, we alter our beliefs to accommodate this new information, or two, we find a reason to discount this information.
So when we have a belief about something like helping our babies and ourselves get the rest or nutrition they need, we want to believe that the choices we made were the right ones, even five, ten, or twenty years later. And you know what? They probably were. For our particular babies, in that particular moment in our parenting lives and in the lives of our families, they probably were the right choices.
People make the best decisions they can with the information they have at the time.
Even new parents. Especially new parents. I cannot overstate to you the extent to which new parents take in all the information with the goal of making the best decision they can.
They have thought about how to dress their baby that day.
They have consulted books and the internet and their pediatrician and experts about feeding their baby.
They have learned their baby’s cues and gone through wakeful nights and altered routines to help everyone get the sleep they need.
They have struggled with the risks versus benefits of getting out of the house with their baby on the day you encounter them, so for the love of all that is holy please don’t touch their baby’s tiny hands with your questionably germ infested hands and make them regret this Target run.
They have worked each day to master breastfeeding, regaining their equilibrium in their relationship with their partner, thinking about if they could ever do it all again, and adjusting to life as a stay at home or working parent with all that comes along with it.
Trust me, they have Googled it.
This doesn’t mean that if their choices are different from yours that they are wrong. It doesn’t mean you are wrong. It does mean that you might want to take a moment to adjust your belief that there is One True Way to do any of it. It’s also important to remember that best practices change over time. When we know better, we do better. Parents are advised to give Vitamin D now instead of iron supplements. They keep their kids rear facing in car seats for longer because research shows us it’s safer, not because they want to be difficult or make you feel bad that you did it differently years ago. They now know that sometimes “colic” is a food sensitivity and make choices accordingly, so please don’t dismiss the way they have learned to accommodate their baby’s needs.
Be who you needed when you were a new parent.
Tell them their baby is gorgeous. Tell them they look wonderful. Tell them you know how much it can take to get out of the house, and that you are rooting for them.
Go ahead and ask your new mom coworker how introducing solid foods is going, and then just listen. If she says she is looking for new recipes to try, feel free to send her that helpful website. If she started with a different food than you did, or later or earlier than you did, but it seems to be going well based on how she is talking about it – trust her.
If you have a new parent in your life who seems to be struggling, ask how you can help. Share resources if appropriate. Listen. Remember the time in your early days of parenting when you didn’t have all the answers, and tell them about your own uncertainty so they don’t feel alone. Commiserate. And listen some more.
If we want new parents to feel comfortable asking for help when they need it, we need to be better at giving help when it’s needed. Let’s all try to be better at honoring their journey instead of just justifying our own.