On unsolicited parenting advice

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Diane Cassells

Parenting advice - those crispy little nuggets that arrive in your life, from the moment you express a desire to become a parent and do not stop. Ever.

I always feel that it gets flung, most regularly, at new or soon-to-be parents. An entire industry exists that focuses on the baby days, and it’s no surprise to me that many folks feel overwhelmed by the sheer intensity of the immense knowledge base that’s out there. It is the worst, however, when it’s unsolicited.

I remember, very well, being heavily pregnant and in a hardware store one afternoon – we moved house 3 weeks before I gave birth – I wasn’t very sane at the time. A woman I wouldn’t know from a block of cheese, walked up to me, lifted my shirt up, rubbed my belly and said: “You should drink castor oil. It’ll be good for the baby. Also, are you still having sex? If you’re having sex, you should only be doing it on all fours now, otherwise you’ll hurt the baby”.

Have you ever? I remember being so shocked, that I forgot to be livid. I gulped, stared at her as she wandered off and hotfooted (well, no, actually, slow plodded) my way out of the store. I immediately started crying – what gave this woman the right to touch me, tell me things and speak with me of things so private I probably would have reserved that level of conversation for my very closest friends and, perhaps, my own mother?

I realise, to some extent, and with the years of hindsight behind me, that she was probably only trying to help, but that “help” was both unwanted and particularly unnecessary. Had I been standing in the hardware store, crying over my cankles, then, perhaps I’d have listened to her tell me about her home remedy for swollen feet.

The unsolicited advice does not stop, as your children grow up. But I have learnt one thing – to be selective and to remember that, ultimately, I am the one parenting my unique, wonderful child, and not some random nutcase in the hardware store.

When my daughter was an infant, I had to lean on sources other than my own parents, for advice. My dad was in his final stages of cancer and my mom was mainly consumed by caring for him. At the time, I felt like I was the only one of my friends who had a child so, for a large part of it, I felt like I was going it alone and relying entirely on instinct and what I read on parenting forums (a sometimes wonderful, sometimes horrible, source of information!).

So, I turned to my magnificent “outlaw”, my child’s grandmother. Luckily for me, she’s known me since I too was an infant, so it was easy to confide in her and, having raised four beautiful sons herself, she was an incredible leaning post for me at that time. I will never be able to thank her enough for every time she has supported me, loved me, commended me and offered me her thoughts on raising my daughter. I am, forever, indebted to her, for being my trusted source of advice at a time when I felt like I didn’t which end of the yelping infant the nappy went on.

Nowadays, friends who have their own children surround me. They’ve asked me questions and turned to me when they need advice. Most of all, I try my best to never, ever assume anything of them, and to always reiterate that, in parenting, a parent knows best (and your doctor immediately thereafter).

The one thing I always say to new parents when they feel bombarded by information is: choose one source you trust, and turn to it when you need.

Whether that is a friend, a parent, a baby group, a publication or a forum, it does not matter. Most of all, when you feel like you’re being attacked by a random person in a hardware store, smile, walk away and be grateful she didn’t give your boobs a squeeze at the same time ;-)

What's the worst piece of unsolicited parenting advice you've got?

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