Having a baby is an exciting — and tiring — time. But this joyful period can be made more complicated by one thing — other people’s opinions.
You want to co-sleep with your baby, but your partner does not.
You want to bottle-feed, but your nan says you should breastfeed.
It’s enough to drive any new mum potty.
So why is it that so many friends, relatives and even strangers can have such strong opinions on how you raise your child?
Psychologist Dr Angharad Rudkin, says: ‘When it comes to parenting, we all have opinions and these are based on personal preferences, as well as the trends that were around when we were parenting.
‘People believe they are being helpful offering opinions, advice and their own experiences of being parents, but mums and dads are particularly sensitive to criticism, especially in the early days. They are doing a job they’ve had no training for, and haven’t got the manual for, so will have a heightened awareness of doing things right or wrong.
‘Advice, though well-meaning, can be interpreted quickly and easily as criticism.’
The difficulty is that there’s a fine line between smiling and nodding and disagreeing with this advice —and disagreeing so much that it causes friction.
So how can a parent deal with other people’s interference sensitively? Particularly if it’s about emotive topics such as breast versus bottle or deciding whether or not to leave a child to ‘cry it out’?
Dr Rudkin says: ‘Parents need to feel confident in doing things their own way, without feeling as if they have to justify their choices. Acknowledging the meaning behind the comment helps the other person feel less dismissed.
‘So, for example, saying: “I know you’re trying to help, and I am sure I will be just the same when I am a granny, but things have changed a bit and I really want to try doing it this way”.’
That is all very well if you find a relative has conflicting views with you — at least you can avoid them occasionally. But what if the person who disagrees on your style of parenting is your partner?
What if you want to do things a certain way but your partner thinks the opposite? Should one party back down to keep the peace?
Dr Rudkin says this is where compromise is key.
She says: ‘Parenting is best done as a team. As in all teams, each person brings different skills to the mix. Acknowledging and valuing both the mum and dad’s strengths will help keep both involved and confident.
‘Sadly, it is all too common for dads to feel less good at parenting than mums, so they take a back seat, meaning that they will never have the chance to build up their confidence.’
So if you and your partner are arguing over your child-rearing choices, what can you do?
‘Agree to listen to one another,’ says Dr Rudkin. ‘Acknowledge that different viewpoints will come from different experiences, and then try to figure out a compromise. If this isn’t possible, give both ways a chance to see which works well.
‘If the disagreements continue and it feels as if there is something at the core that hasn’t been resolved (resentment, jealousy, etc) it may well be worth having a third person involved, such as a counsellor, to create a safe space to talk openly.’
Edited by Julie Cook
‘No one agreed with my choices’
When I had my first baby, Niska, now two, I was certain I wanted to breastfeed, and that I wanted to co-sleep.
Within weeks of her being born, it felt like everyone had an opinion.
If Niska seemed agitated after breastfeeding, my nan would say I should ‘give her a bottle with a Farley’s rusk in it.’
And when I told friends and relatives I was co-sleeping, some said I was risking cot death.
I even disagreed with my partner, Niska’s dad, over wanting to use a baby sling. I backed down on that as he was simply worried I might fall and hurt myself and the baby.
In time I had a second child, Austin.
Again, relatives have made it obvious they don’t agree with some of my parenting choices. But this time round, I’ve decided to just smile and nod.
It seems being a mum means a lot of people have opinions — and it’s nice that they care — but I’ve learnt to do what feels right for me and my family.
From Kerry Potter, 35, of Portsmouth, Hants