Please, Tell Me How to Parent My Child

Dating & Marriage

Please, Tell Me How to Parents My Child

“How far along are you?”

The woman in line next to me was asking, glancing from my heels to my laptop to the stomach rounding beneath my business casual.

“Eight months.” I smiled.

Another woman turned around. “Girl, you’re about to pop! Don’t you have that baby on this plane!”  But the first woman looked more concerned than amused.

“You don’t look big enough to be eight months pregnant.”

And so it began. Before my daughter was even born strangers counseled me on pregnancy, birth, and child rearing, no two pieces of advice the same. To some I was too big. To others I was too small. I was nuts for choosing a natural birth and selfish when I stopped breastfeeding. I was cruel for sleep training my six-week-old, then envied when she slept through the night. The deluge of input hasn’t stopped since the day I announced my pregnancy.

I’m supposed to be offended. I’m supposed to write an open letter with some “empowering” verbiage, telling people to mind their own {expletive} business. Because that’s what moms do these days – tell people to buzz off, get a life, and quit telling other people how to live theirs.

“Don’t tell ME how to parent my child!” They rage with Facebook fury. To offer unsolicited advice is – I’ve learned – the unforgivable sin.

But please, tell me how to parent my child. You see, I’ve never done it before.

I’ve read the books, and I’ll keep reading them. I know what I hope to be for my daughter and every day I do my best to get there. But I don’t have it figured out. I’m a first-timer, a newbie – and I’m learning. So when a seasoned mom comes up to me in the grocery store and tells me, “You should feed her beets! My babies loved beets.” I smile and thank her, because she’s been where I am – and I can learn.

Millennial moms are cheating themselves.  We think because we have access to Google, BabyCenter, and a pediatrician we’ve got it all figured out. We read every review for Bumbo and Boppy but can’t handle advice from a stranger. We can’t filter truth from fiction, can’t listen without taking offense, and can’t have a gracious conversation with someone who might just want to feel needed for a change. 

Just because someone tells me how to parent doesn’t mean I have to do it their way. But it can’t hurt to listen, because I’ve never done this before. I’d rather have too much advice than too little. I’d rather have too much information and choose what I need. I’d rather be surrounded by people who care about me and my baby than do this motherhood thing in isolation.

Not every stranger knows what she’s talking about. Not every person was a great parent. But taking advice isn’t so much about us as it is about the person from whom we take it. I want my daughter to know that people have value. I want my daughter to appreciate community. I want her to respect her elders and cultivate a teachable heart.

How can I expect that from her if I don’t expect that from myself?

When the woman with bad breath reaches for my baby in the produce aisle, I don’t scowl and walk away. I can see the memories etched in the wrinkles on her face and the glow of remembrance in her eyes and I wait. I wait for the story about her daughter – because it will come. She tells me how to parent my child and I’m not offended. I can learn.

My generation is lonely. Moms in general get lonely, but I think my generation is lonelier than ever. Our community is virtual and competitive. Our reality is isolated and withdrawn. What to Expect in the First Year is enough for us; why listen to the middle-aged mom in Aisle 6? Why entertain these “nosy” strangers who just want to give advice?

Because maybe – just maybe – they’ve lived a little longer

Maybe they know something of value.

Maybe we can learn.

The advice isn’t going to stop. Some people will applaud my parenting and others will judge it. They’ll condemn my choices or celebrate them. I’m sure I’ll be told I’m too harsh or too easy; too bad or too good. But that’s to be expected – I’ve never done this before.

Motherhood is a journey, and we need people around us as we walk this road. We need people to care. When we hold everyone at arm’s length, taking offense at the slightest comment on our choices, we’re cheating ourselves. We’re missing out on the richness of human existence. You can’t have the good without the bad; people will care about our parenting for both right and wrong reasons. But they care, and that means something.

So please, tell me how to parent my child. I’ve never done this before.


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