New parents seem to act as magnets for advice and criticism! Friends, relatives, medical professionals and even strangers seem to all want to "contribute" and it can be very hard to cope with. When parents choose a parenting style that is quite different from the norm where they live (or amongst their family), this unwanted advice and outright criticism can be overwhelming. The aim of this article is to provide some suggestions on how to understand and best deal with this situation.
It can be quite helpful in coping with unwanted advice if we are able to understand (or at least try to), why our families and friends are bombarding us with this information. There are several main reasons why those who love us might be interested in "butting in," although of course every situation is unique.
One reason can be genuine concern for the baby and/or the parents. If Grandma, for example, was brought up to believe that formula is the best thing for babies, that it is important to know exactly how much he is ingesting at each feed, that he must be fed by the clock and should be starting solids at two months of age, then the attachment parenting way of nursing truly on cue, often until the child is several years old, might seem very worrying. Auntie Mary might have read somewhere that co-sleeping is dangerous to the baby, that it ruins your sex life, and she might see you looking tired and feel you are not looking after yourself properly.
There are various ways of dealing with this. If you feel that the person might be amenable to learning a bit about why you have chosen to breastfeed/co-sleep and so on, then this could be a great opportunity for a bit of gentle "education." It is not hard at all to find information about the benefits of nursing on cue, delaying solids, co-sleeping (as well as information about the safety aspects) - our Breastfeeding and Attachment Parenting cubbies are a great place to start! If, on the other hand, you think that the person is not open to challenging these long-held beliefs, you are perfectly at liberty to smile, thank them for their concern, and let them know that you and your child are actually very happy with the way things are. Sometimes it might help to sit down with them and to ask if they can try to respect your choices even though they might differ from those they might make themselves.
Remember that it is not your job to convince everyone else that you are making good choices! It would be nice to have the approval of those we care about, but in reality, as long as we and our children are happy with our choices, that is all that matters. A great deal of energy can be wasted in trying to justify your every move - why not use that energy in enjoying your child?
Attack as a means of defence
One other main reason that APers might be on the receiving end of such advice is that the person is feeling threatened, offended, or even perhaps in some cases a little guilty. It is important to realise that parents, no matter what their style, are bound to experience regret. No one is perfect - we all make mistakes and with the benefit of that annoying 20/20 hindsight, every parent will no doubt find issues that they feel bad about. The tricky thing about attachment parenting is that the principal beliefs and behaviours that are its foundation also tend to be those matters which engender the most sensitivity, regret and yes, even guilt.
Breastfeeding, for example, is an extremely delicate issue: many APers will have relatives or friends who did not breastfeed and who still feel quite emotional about the subject. Especially if a woman desperately wanted to breastfeed but was unable to for some reason (often lack of support, poor information and so on - and remember that the way mothers were told to breastfeed when we were babies was almost a recipe for disaster), it can be very painful for her years later. The fact that you are breastfeeding successfully, perhaps despite many obstacles, can make this pain even worse.
Sleep training is another highly volatile issue! Often parents who have left their babies to cry-it-out in some form or another will be super-sensitive about it, even though of course at the time they were doing what they believed to be the right thing. Harping on your views about CIO is not at all helpful in such situations (to put it mildly). Ideally all parents will feel secure enough in themselves and their decisions that nothing anyone else says about it will matter, but we all know that if something is a touchy issue, it can be especially painful to have it raised. Even if you are careful not to mention your strong anti-CIO views, the fact that you are not doing it with your own child can in itself be enough to make someone who has done it feel unhappy. For instance, if your mother-in-law left her own children to cry-it-out 30 years ago and has told herself all along that she HAD to do it, then she might feel some subconscious need for you to do the same thing with your children. The fact that you are adamant you will NOT do so could make her question her own painful decisions all those years ago.
This is not to say that we need to either stop being AP, nor to try to hide the fact that we are nursing and co-sleeping with our two-year-old! It just means that the more sensitive we are to the feelings this might evoke in others, the less likely we are to be the recipient of criticism. It is human nature that when we feel attacked we often want to attack back. The alternative might be too painful. Things need to be handled very carefully - let's face it, we would feel hurt if one day our children were making parenting choices that were very different from the way we parent them. In some ways it would feel like a slap in the face - "Do they think we did everything 'wrong'?"
I think the key to coping with and hopefully minimising criticism here is sensitivity. Taking care with how (and with whom) you talk about the "touchy" issues can make a big difference. The old faithful "smile and nod" technique can work well too when the advice keeps on coming.
Everyone can benefit from support of course, but it doesn't necessarily have to come from those in your own family or amongst your friends. Many parents enjoy attending meetings such as La Leche League (which isn't strictly AP of course but does have many members who are), or even starting up their own group.
Probably the most important thing to remember though when trying to cope with criticism is that YOU are your child's parent and therefore YOU are the one who needs to be happy with your choices. Whether you have the support or approval of others is not the important issue. You owe it to yourself and your child to do what you believe is right for your particular circumstances and ultimately what others think is not relevant.