Have you ever been in a situation where you were given advice, but all you heard was judgement? When you got home later, you thought of all the things that you could have said in reply. I had moments like this constantly for the first few months of Ollie’s life. I was often left feeling frustrated since I hadn’t been able to express how I really felt. We have all experienced this….. Right?
I can say NOW without a shadow of a doubt that 99.9% of the advice others were giving to me about my parenting choices came from a kind and loving place. At the time though, these ‘helpful and concerned’ comments all felt like serious judgement. It might sound crazy, but in the haze of constant sleep deprivation, not having the foggiest idea of what I was doing and having a husband who often works away it seemed like my skills as a mother were being called into question. That was my perceived reality.
The hot topic was how and where Ollie slept. You see my blue-eyed angel had pretty unfortunate wind for the first few months of his life. I’m not saying that it was reflux bad, but for us it was certainly bad enough (translation: saying that it was very unpleasant to live in our house would be an understatement). Aaron and I tried absolutely EVERYTHING to help, we went to our family doctor, cleaned out multiple chemists and natural therapy stores in town and even had a friend send her sworn remedy from across the state. Unfortunately, (for all of us) nothing seemed to help much.
Due to his wind pains, sleeping in his cot during the day was a challenge for Ollie. If he did fall asleep in his bed, it would be a short reprieve of 10 – 15 minutes at most. Eventually, I resorted to gently bouncing on the gym ball while holding him close to my chest. This is something that I did frequently while I was pregnant so I deduced that he recognised the motion and found it soothing. Once he was asleep, I would sit against a mountain of pillows and hold him as he slept. Even in my state of exhaustion I rarely succeeded in napping myself. I would amuse myself by watching ‘high quality’ *cough* reality *cough* TV shows (such as: Keeping Up With The Kardashians, True Tori or America’s Hardest Prisons).
Holding him while he slept wasn’t an ideal long-term solution, but to me, it was a victory on a couple of levels.
Victory 1: Ollie was resting more and therefore wasn’t so upset. Since he was now sleeping during the day, this meant he was having a better quality of rest at night. As bothersome as I’ve always found hearing it, the saying “sleep promotes sleep” really is true. Damnit!
Victory 2: I wasn’t feeling 100% like a big fat failure (maybe just 85-90% on some days) because I was able to soothe my bub enough that he could rest.
To a number of people close to me, this was not a practice they deemed to be acceptable. For those with children, it wasn’t what they had done. For those who didn’t have children, it wasn’t what they planned to do. Receiving parenting advice from a person without children was particularly frustrating for me as there’s nothing quite like getting advice from someone with no experience. This was yet another time (that list is getting mighty long) I wish I could have gone back and told “Pre-Ollie” Carla to keep her parenting advice to herself.
I’ve lost count of all of the concerned words that were delivered to me during those couple of months. The thing is, I already felt as though I was doing a crap job because my baby was crying A LOT (sometimes it felt like he was crying every minute that he wasn’t asleep). Combine this with often being alone due to Aaron’s work and my uncertainty about leaving the house with an upset baby. The addition of being told, “Don’t make a habit of that”, “You’ll spoil him if you hold him all the time”, “You are making a rod for your own back,” “Don’t you want to be able to put him down?” “Just put him down and let him cry. He will learn” really didn’t help.
Whenever I felt as though I got the hang of something, my gorgeous ginger fox would move the goal post on me. As is the way with all babies (or so I’ve heard).
The shift in my frustration and self judgement occurred when Ollie was around 4 months old. A very special person expressed concern for me, because while Ollie was getting some day time rest, I wasn’t. For the first time, I was able to hear her concerns and not feel instantly judged. She wasn’t saying that I was a bad mother! I explained that I was doing the best that I could at that time. I told her that many people had voiced their concern to me, but that upon being spoken to, I just felt worse. On an intellectual level I understood their intentions, however on an emotional level I couldn’t help but feel judged. This exchange was a real turning point for me.
There is a list of things that I would go back in time and tell my younger self and it seems to be constantly growing. These days if a friend talks to me about their struggles, especially those related to being a parent, I try not to offer advice unless it has been asked for.
I realise that we all do things differently and that’s okay. In terms of knowing how to respond in a situation that feels confronting, I’m still working on being able to consistently respond in a way which is reasonable, if at all. I consider myself a work in progress, no judgement required.