New mum: you ARE doing it “right”

Parenting - no right wayI’ve lost count of how many pieces of advice I was given when I was pregnant. Eat this, don’t eat that, do this exercise, you shouldn’t over-exert yourself, have a birth like this, definitely don’t do labour like that… the pearls of wisdom came at a constant trickle, refusing to ebb.

And then I had my baby and that stream turned into a tidal wave.

From sleep positions to breastfeeding positions, the merits of the bottle to the best babygrows, my head was left spinning from the barrage of well-meant opinions sent my way. Whether it was an old lady in the street or the person taking my cash at the supermarket, everyone seemed to have something to offer me. It was like I was walking round with a huge placard above my head saying, “I AM A NEW MUM AND I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING, PLEASE HELP ME”.

Except I wasn’t carrying a placard. And I didn’t have no idea – not at first anyway. Before I even welcomed my baby into the world, I had one clear plan for how I was going to do things: I was going to trust my instincts and do what felt right at the time. And if I had no instinct then I was going to be open-minded and, again, do what felt right at the time.

But then I started listening to the advice. Maybe I SHOULDN’T pick her up straight away if she’s crying? Maybe I should have picked her up sooner just then? Should I leave her for a bit longer? I should have gone to her more quickly!

I started reading a couple of baby books that I’d stoically avoided during pregnancy. I tried to implement a routine and spent about three days panicking that I’d missed a secret baby signal and got the whole procedure wrong.

I bought a woven sling, determined to carry my baby around all day and not put her down, afraid she wouldn’t bond with me if she was left in her moses basket for a few minutes. And then someone told me that could lead to “bad habits” so I started wheeling her around in a pram. For about three weeks, I swung from one approach to another, listening with attention to every slice of advice that was slung at me. I read forums online, I lapped up the nuggets of wisdom Facebook had to offer me, I even started to soak up the words of strangers in the street.

And then I spoke to my dad. He’s wise, my dad. “The thing is with being a parent,” he told me, “Is that you can only do what feels natural to you. And what feels natural is bound to be what is right, for you. There’s no ‘right’ way you know, only the way that is right for you.”

It all slotted into place then. Finally, with a daughter aged 3 months old I felt ready to turn a deaf ear to the advice I didn’t ask for. Of course there are always moments when it’s good to thrash out a problem with someone who’s been there and done that, but if you’re perfectly happy with what you’re doing and you see no problem in the first place then that “advice” just becomes a confidence breaker.

Sometimes you have to make your own mistakes and work out your own path. Sometimes, you have to accept that what works for one baby won’t work for another. Sometimes you have to step back and see that what makes one mum happy will make another miserable.

I spent the day with a new mum today. She is amazing and doing an incredible job. How do I know that? Because I can see with my own two eyes that she loves her baby and also has a whole lot of common sense. And when it comes to being a parent, love and common sense go a very long way.

Comments

  1. says

    Soooooooooooooooooo true!!!!!! I was mess the first few weeks because of the amount of advice I was getting. It took me ages to block it all out and have a bit of confidence in my own judgement.

    • says

      It doesn’t help that the advice is often conflicting. When you’re tired, emotional and getting to grips with a HUGE change in your life it can be difficult to work out which bits of advice you want to hold onto and which to discard. I hope if we have another baby one day that I’ll be able to keep a level head and trust myself and my baby to muddle on through and only listen to the advice that I seek (or that rings true).

  2. says

    well said and now that I am on my second baby I know how important my instincts are! I know also how different two babies can be as what worked on my first definitely doesn’t on my second! I hope you passed all this wisdom onto the new mum! x

  3. says

    I have had the best results when I have just followed my instincts. There is nobody out there who knows my son better than I. Over time, I have gained the confidence to trust in my own abilities as a mum. I still do not always get it right (had a BIG parenting fail tonight but will hopefully learn from it!) but I love my boy and he is a happy soul.
    It’ll all work out in the end. I just have to trust in myself more.

    I read this once in a famous article by Mary Schmich in the Chicago Tribune:

    “Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”

  4. says

    It took me a loooong time to accept being a mum meant following my own instincts and feelings. My husband threw all the books away after a while as he was so fed up with me! I was such a stressed out new mum that now I look back I realise how much of the joys of the baby days I missed out on!

    • says

      It’s a shame isn’t it? I thought, at the time, that I was pretty chilled out. But, looking back, I can remember lots of angst and Googling and stressing about various choices I was making. I suppose it’s all part of being a parent, but I’m sure the conflicting advice that’s often thrown at us (however well meant) doesn’t always help.

  5. steve (new dad) says

    Well said. Sometimes you don’t have a clue, but you work it out in the end. Being a new dad I feel people assume I am clueless, but common sense and love and hugs go a long way. My 5 month old is a smily happy young lady so it must be working.

    • says

      Sounds to me like you’ve got it down to a tee. I imagine it’s just as tough for new dads as new mums, if not more so in some ways. You’re right though, all we can do is our best and hope that love and common sense prevail!

  6. says

    Wise man your dad! And so true, all of this. There’s so much ‘pressure’ or it certainly feels like that to define yourself by your parenting choices and it’s so easy to wonder if you’re doing it right. I wish there was a way to imbibe all new mums with the knowledge if it feels right for you, it is right for you.

  7. says

    For me, advice has been welcome when it rang true with my instincts and inwardly laughed at when it hasn’t. I do find I’m open to advice now, especially since parenting a toddler is so tricky! However, I’ve grown enough to carefully decipher which sources I’ll ask for advice and how to evaluate that advice. As a new mum you’re so fragile though. You haven’t yet learned to trust yourself and trust your baby.

    • says

      This is so true. It’s a time when we are finding our own way (although now I admit I’m still finding mine and my daughter will turn three at the end of June!), so it can be confusing to hear all the conflicting advice and pick out the bits that we want to listen to.

  8. Kate says

    I remember being cornered by a complete stranger when Isabel was tiny…….she wanted to “Advise” me that Breast feeding was best for my baby and that I was “clearly lazy and not prepared to put in the effort” because I was bottle feeding her!! She turned and walked away before I could tell her my Baby had a cleft palate and was, therefore, UNABLE to breastfeed!! I cried for about an hour after that – sometimes people are too quick to judge and dish out advice whether you’ve asked for it or not……

  9. says

    Kudos to your Dad! I had no clue and no internet when baby number one arrived, so I read my handful of baby books very closely, but if the advice didn’t work I just stopped following it. The advice I liked best was from Paula Yates, who said that babies should be fun, and I tried to make it that way for everyone :)

  10. says

    This is definitely true, as a new mum I felt overwhelmed by the advice I was given, often very conflicting, from health visitors, professionals, family, friends, strangers and online. Now, 10 weeks in to my second baby, I have found that the best thing to do is to trust my own instincts.

  11. says

    SUCH a lovely post. When I first had my daughter I was all alone in the UK (apart from a very busy-at-work husband) and sort of felt sorry for myself in that, but I also didn’t have a lot of people around telling me THEIR version of how it should be done! I love how you finished this, with how you knew the new mum was doing a great job x

  12. says

    I’ve emailed this post to so many friends since you published it. It’s absolutely spot on, and provides the reassurance that I think so many new mums need. I think it much be so much easier to trust your instincts second time round, when you’ve already proved to yourself once that you can do it!

    I had a great friend staying last weekend, who is a relatively new mum, and it was a real joy to watch her parenting. She may not do everything the way that I would do it myself, but she does it in the way that is best for her and her family, and the result is a really happy and contented little girl, who was a pleasure to spend time with.

  13. says

    I really enjoyed this post. I was so insecure when I had my first. In spite of the fact as a first one and eldest cousin, I helped look after quite a few kids in my time. I would have been willing to listen to almost anytime, I felt like everyone knew more than me about my child. He’s now 2 1/2 years old and most days I feel like I’m doing ok until he has a tantrum and I lose my patience and snap. I feel guilty after.

    I like what you dad said, makes perfect sense and certainly makes me feel better about things :0) Thanks for sharing

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