I recently visited one of our former babysitters who welcomed her second son. I made a point to wait a few weeks after she gave birth to visit. I waited because I remember when both of my sons were born the first weeks were a blur. I barely remembered who came and went and struggled to keep up my personal hygiene. I imagine I wasn’t very good company for anyone who visited. Also, after that initial flurry of visitors, especially if you are a stay at home parent, the days become long without adult interaction. These are factors to consider when visiting a new mom. Give them some time, bring them some lunch and give them some much needed conversation.
The visit was everything I hoped it would be. This new mom was far enough removed from giving birth and somewhat rested that we had a lengthy and enjoyable conversation about everything under the sun. The new baby also happened to be a delight. He is one of those rare newborns that sleeps easily at night for considerable stretches with a laid-back demeanor during daylight hours to boot. He made me feel like I was an awesome baby whisperer when really, that’s who he is…easy.
During the course of my visit, I made sure that I didn’t offer any advice about anything. If I was asked directly about something newborn or parenting related, I was happy to share my experience. I was careful to keep opinions to myself. Inevitably after some time, the topic of breastfeeding arose. I said it was a very personal decision, that every mom, baby and situation were different, and only a mom could know what is the best decision regarding breastfeeding for her and her baby. I shared some of the factors that went in to my breastfeeding decisions and how I wished I hadn’t been so hard on myself. It was different with each of my boys and I did the best I could at the time.
Then, the conversation turned to the often inevitable and harsh judgment mothers face from the parenting community and the world at large. I told her that there are two types of parents. The first type are open, empathic and quick to offer support. These parents sometimes worry they aren’t always making the right choices but are able to see the bigger picture. They know that as they and their babies change and grow, they will adapt and keep moving forward. These are the best kinds of people to include in your support network. The second type of parents are in a constant state of fear and often don’t trust their abilities to adapt over time. This fear comes across as negative judgments about what they think you should or shouldn’t be doing. If you find yourself in a situation where you feel criticized or judged, it is a natural response to want to defend your position or feel bad about the choices you have made. Maybe you won’t recognize right then in the moment that you are being unfairly backed into a corner and you may respond with your own fear and anger. That is okay. Emotions get the best of all of us. If you can look at the person who has criticized you as someone who is scared and uncertain, it might help you dig down deep for some empathy. Or, it might not and you may need to limit your interactions with them. That is okay, too. Putting up good boundaries with people who aren’t lifting you up is a cornerstone of a happy and healthy life. After all, a happy kid begins with having a happy parent. If all else fails, give your baby a bath. There’s something about the scent of a freshly bathed babe that reminds you all will be well. I know you can do this.
Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent