What it is about our parenting choices that brings on unwanted advice?
A Winnipeg public health nurse was the first person to ever make me feel ashamed about my parenting choices. She phoned me when our son was three weeks old, checking in to see how I was healing after an emergency C-section. My incision was healing fine, but I had another problem on my hand — literally. Days earlier I had accidentally severed a tendon in my hand (cutting into pan of brownies at midnight — but that’s another long story). I was trying to figure out how to keep my breastmilk supply up while I was fasting and I pumped my milk in preparation for tendon repair surgery. Exclusively pumping wasn’t an issue for us, since Isaac had taken better to bottle than breast and feeding him bottled breast milk since birth was working perfectly for us. My questions for the nurse were about how to store pumped milk. I hadn’t gotten very far into the problems we were facing when the nurse interrupted me.
“But why would you even pump in the first place?” the nurse asked. “Don’t you know that your baby could get nipple confusion? When you bottle feed, he doesn’t get the right combination of foremilk and hindmilk! I hope you’re not considering formula too!” she scolded.
Tears welled in my eyes as I looked over at my husband who was bottle feeding our baby. I then looked down at my useless hand, wrapped in a heavy plaster cast and in a sling. I hadn’t eaten a proper meal in days because the surgery date kept getting pushed back. I did have a case of formula. I figured that, all things considered, my husband and I were doing great — but having the nurse tell me that what we were doing was wrong made me feel guilty and ashamed. I can’t remember what I said to her in response, but I do remember hanging up the phone and feeling horribly alone. A stranger who had no true insight into my personal situation robbed me of my already shaky confidence — which was wrong.
Now, with a second child and a few more years of parenting under my belt, I’ve learned to trust my gut — but it doesn’t mean hearing my decisions get criticized is any easier (but ignoring the criticism does make it sting less). What I’ve also learned is that we all have different hopes and fears and traditions and cultures that hardwire us to raise our kids the way we see fit. For example, baby-wearing, co-sleeping and breastfeeding long past infancy might seem extreme to some parents, but for a hardline attachment parent advocate, I may not be seen as doing enough.
What I think is amazing about the parenting experience is that we are all so different and, instead of dividing ourselves into separate categories, those differences should bring us together. In my case of learning how to bottle feed our son, I asked my sister-in-law for advice, because she had raised her perfectly healthy and thriving son on formula (she had the best tips for heating and cleaning bottles).
So please, the next time you’re tempted to tell another parent that their approach is wrong simply based on the fact that it’s different than how you chose to raise your child, remember the old etiquette adage — if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.