In the very first days after my daughter was born, I clearly recall saying that a lovely and entirely unexpected byproduct of becoming a mum was the network of women which immediately sprang up around me. A friend described it perfectly – ‘it’s like we’ve joined a secret club’.
In those first magical and bewildering days, there is truly nothing quite like the unspoken understanding of a kindred woman. It is some of those very women who I now count amongst my closest friends – a few of whom I barely knew before my daughter arrived.
It’s also some of these very women who can begin to insidiously undermine your confidence in your child’s progression, your abilities as a parent – even your choices as a parent. I’m speaking out about this because over recent weeks the issue has become more and more blatant to me, and I don’t like it. If it’s not happening to me, then it’s happening to others in front of me. And if it’s not occurring to those I know and love, then you don’t have to travel beyond a parenting forum to find example after example after example of what I’m describing. And it sucks.
In the beginning, people are tripping over themselves to be involved and share their wisdom; and us inexpert, terrified new parents are only too pleased desperate to soak up every piece of well-meaning egocentric advice. In fairness, more often than not it is probably sound and well-intentioned guidance.
However, for us lucky new parents, our babies grow; and slowly it dawns upon us that our nurturing is allowing them to thrive – that we have successfully kept our offspring ALIVE. We begin to find a little confidence in our own abilities and come more and more to rely on that trusty ol’ pal of ours called common sense. Even more so – our instinct/gut/intuition.
Call it what you will, but that primal tigress that has lain dormant our whole lives suddenly stretches out her limbs and rears her head – and she is FIERCE. She knows what she is doing and she flourishes.
At this point, the tiniest little niggle (which incidentally, we all have. No baby is a robot, after all) and – evidently – those ‘allies’ cannot wait to jump on the bandwagon of telling you where you’ve gone wrong. I don’t get it and I don’t like it.
In my own experience, I am talking specifically about baby sleep patterns (and to a lesser extent breastfeeding, since the two often overlap). However, I have no doubt that these issues could routinely be extended to other parenting issues. In fact, just yesterday I saw it happen to somebody else regarding an entirely different situation.
Without getting into the whys and wherefores of baby sleep training (my baby has not long gone down, this means I have a finite amount of time available to write before she will be expecting her next feed), I have a few points to make:
1. Yes, their way is best. For THEIR family.
2. Unsolicited advice is not cool if it is simply an opportunity to brag about how little Archie is so precocious and perfect and twee.
3. Sharing ideas is not the same as sharing disapproval.
4. Times change. New research equals new guidelines and new official advice.
5. We all have different values, ergo different ways of doing things.
6. And finally, even if we share the same ideals and morals – we’re bringing up different babies who have different temperaments! Which means what works perfectly for them, may or may not work at all for you or your friend or your neighbour.
I find it beyond sad when somebody’s ego – or insecurities perhaps? – manifest as judgemental and hurtful comments and remarks on an alleged friend’s parenting methods. I see (and I know, I’ve been there) that every new mother is primed to be open and friendly and loyal and generous. It’s almost a free pass to meeting like-minded people with whom to forge deep connections and lasting friendships.
And then something goes wrong and over time, like a decaying fruit, the sourness creeps in.
It’s so unnecessary.
The great thing about fruit is that the old makes way for the new; where once was a rotten apple, with a little necessary pruning and cultivation, a new flower can bloom.
Essentially, this is a reminder of how awesome a network of mum friends can be.
We’re lucky enough to live in a free country, one that encourages us to embrace diversity. In all things – whether it be parenting or work, sexual orientation or planning your wedding – we should support each other. Whether your eccentric mum friend has literally become temporarily nocturnal, or your engaged friend plans to wear a tartan yellow wedding gown – would it be such a hardship to offer your blessing and your backing?
Let’s remember to build each other up and stop tearing each other down, eh?
In the comments below, please leave me an anecdote of how a mum friend has been awesome to you. This is not a space for negativity, I want optimism only please!