When you’re a new parent, there are certain things you’ll never have enough of. Sleep. Money. Clothes that don’t have vomit on the shoulder. But one thing you definitely won’t be short of is opinions about how you should raise your child. Absolutely everyone has a piece of advice for new parents.
Your baby arrives and suddenly you find yourself living in a world of self-appointed experts. Friends, relatives, strangers on the bus; they all have a priceless nugget of wisdom that they just have to share with you. Perhaps the only way you will ever get more offers of help is to walk into a pub full of middle-aged men and announce loudly that you intend to drive a long way, but you’re unsure which route to take.
I was, however, given one piece of advice that I took to heart and have followed ever since. It is the only piece of advice I offer to new parents as it’s brilliantly simple but incredibly useful. Not only that, it works for everything, not just parenting.
What is this miraculous piece of advice? It’s this: Ignore all unsolicited advice.
Yes, I’m aware of the irony in giving people unsolicited advice telling them not to accept it. But once you’ve finished reading this piece, if you decide to ignore my advice, then that’s great. I honestly won’t be offended. But I should probably explain why I would tell you to ignore people who are trying to help you.
Not all advice is good advice
Parenting has changed a lot over the past few years, and advice given to new parents thirty years ago may not be useful now. When my younger brother was born, my mum was told he should be put to sleep on his front; we now know that was a very bad idea. That may be an extreme example but there are lots of things that your parents or the nice old lady in the cafe did, which would not be advised now.
I’m not just saying that you shouldn’t take advice from older people, either. Plenty of people with young children have very funny ideas about how to raise them. As parents, we have a tendency to think that because something works for us now, that must mean that it’s a good thing. These little victories make us feel like better parents, and by telling other people about the ways we’ve solved parenting problems we can convince ourselves that we’re doing well at it. Giving advice to other parents makes us feel like the experts we wish we were.
What this means for you as a new parent is that the advice you receive is rarely the distillation of a higher wisdom, refined through scientific analysis and reflection. It’s more likely the one thing that stopped their child crying, out of the random assortment of things they could think of at 3 am. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, of course, but it’s worth keeping in mind.
Too much advice can be worse than none at all
While writing this, I did a Google search for ‘advice for new parents’. It returned over 422 million results. And you can bet that about half of those are directly contradicting the other half.
The thing is, the more advice you receive the more confusing it can be. One person will tell you that you should definitely co-sleep, another will tell you that if you do your child will still be in your bed at the age of 40. It’s simply not possible for any parents to heed all of the advice they’re given, and trying to may just make you worry more. Believe me, the last thing you need is anything that will increase your doubts about your parenting abilities. But if you choose to ignore all unsolicited advice, you can cut down the number of differing opinions that you’re trying to reconcile and make your life that bit easier in the process.
Even the best advice may not work for you
This is a big one. Sometimes you’ll be given a piece of advice that sounds great. It fits with the way you want to raise your child, and you’ve seen that it can have great results. But when you actually try it, you find that it just doesn’t work for you. There may be practical limitations that mean it doesn’t fit with your routine or home environment, or it may be that your child just doesn’t respond to it.
Either way, sometimes you have to let go of something that you really wish you could use. This can be hard, especially when you’ve invested time, money and/or hope into an idea. However, it’s much better to move on than to keep going at something that isn’t serving you. You can always come back to it in a few weeks or months when the circumstances and results may be different.
Why is solicited advice any better?
By now you will probably have noticed that the points above don’t just relate to the unsolicited advice that parents receive – they apply equally to advice that we have actively sought out. So why is that any better?
The actual piece of advice that you receive from someone you have approached for help may not be any better. You still shouldn’t feel that you necessarily have to take it. But when asking for advice, the chances are you will have considered who to ask. It may be someone that you know shares a general attitude to life, or another parent who is bringing their children up in a way that you like.
You might not even ask an actual person; there may be particular writers or online sources that you trust, and who you will tend to look up when you need some help. In short, you shouldn’t treat it differently from anything else: if you wouldn’t accept a restaurant recommendation or fashion advice from just anyone, don’t do it for parenting advice.
Should I really just ignore the advice?
I’ll be honest, saying that you should ignore all unsolicited parenting advice is probably a bit hard-line. If someone gives you a great idea that you think would work for you, by all means, give it a go. Or if you’ve tried everything else and are getting desperate, the tip from the guy at work might help.
But if you work on the assumption that you’ll ask for – and accept – help as and when you need it, you can avoid a lot of confusion and worry about whether you’re doing the right thing. The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to take all advice, no matter how well meant. If you’re not looking for help, there’s no reason to accept it. If you are, get it from a source that you trust.
When you’re a new parent and feeling a bit lost, it can seem like everyone else knows more than you. So when people start dispensing wisdom it’s easy to think that they must know best. But just remember that you can be choosy about the advice you accept. Trust your instincts, and if something doesn’t feel quite right just smile, nod, thank the person and move on.
And if that means ignoring everything you’ve just read, then I’m happy with that.