You can't have a series like this without a post like this...
I think I've been in 'fight or flight mode' right from when Duncan and I started wedding planning. That was five years ago. Back then, I was very naive when I thought people would just come alongside us and support us in the decisions we made. This post proved how wrong I was.
Ever since then my hackles have been up. I've been bracing myself for the day we might start a family and then the criticism would increase no end. I know it's not good to constantly be ready to 'fight back', but that's how I've felt.
I've been quite pleasantly surprised during this pregnancy. Most people have been very good. In fact, I'd say 90% have been supportive. The big opinionated people mostly bothered me BEFORE I was pregnant ("When you have kids you need to do this..."). But ever since we announced a little person was on the way, most of them have shut up. Most of them.
I think the ranting, the putdowns, and the criticism from mum to mum happens because many of them are terrified they are doing the wrong thing. If they can convince someone else they need to do it THEIR way, then they feel better about the decisions they've made. Although a crude book in places, Up the Duff by Kaz Cooke sums it up so well:
When people give you that firm advice - 'You must have a nanny', 'You must always look after the baby yourself', 'Men can't look after babies', 'You must use disposable nappies' - remember it's about them, not you. They're usually just telling you what THEY did and insisting you do it the same way because it will make them feel better. (page 178)
The first 'divisive' thing I noticed when I became pregnant was the allowed/not allowed list of foods for pregnant women. There is a lot of unhelpful advice out there, such as You need to eat a balanced diet with lots of vegies otherwise it will be bad for your baby. Ummm, but what if you're really sick or completely turned off vegies like I was? I started avoiding the internet because of the guilt trips. The best advice I received: Sure, try to eat a healthy and balanced diet, but if you're sick, just eat what you can stomach. Ahhh I love rational people. There are a lot of crackpots out there who don't seem to know the meaning of the phrase 'extenuating circumstances'.
Friends can also be unhelpful when it comes to food. Some seem to have developed a kind of 'eating Bible' where they've ruled out foods that even doctors say are ok. Others said to me, "Oh I just eat everything. Don't worry about the no processed meats or soft cheese rules. Here, have some salami and some brie." Now, what people decide is up to them. I don't want to push my eating habits onto anyone, and I really, really dislike it when other people do it to me. I have decided in good conscience with the information available to me what I should and shouldn't eat. I don't want people pressuring me to eat things which my doctor said it is best not to. I was so bewildered by all the conflicting opinions that I just asked my obstetrician. I chose to listen to him. That's not to say doctors can never be wrong, but I trust him more than I do some crank on the internet.
Next to some mums I feel like a fusspot, but around others I feel like a dirty urchin because I'm not using hand steriliser fifty times per day and have my cat inside. I had one person tell me I should be finishing work earlier than I plan to (my last day is the 5th December), while someone else told me she played hockey while she was pregnant.
Other 'advice' we've received is that we MUST do Babywise because any other parenting method (i.e. attachment parenting) is bad, bad, BAD. Again...unhelpful. We got given a copy of the Babywise book and the first few pages made me want to throw it against the wall in disgust. Not because of the method it advocates, but because of the way it's written. It totally criticises and puts down parents who choose any other method. I might not agree with the parenting methods of some of my friends, but I dislike a book that is so harsh. I don't think there's any real right or wrong there.
I think that is the problem I have with some of the advice and opinions that have come our way. It's not that I necessarily disagree with what they're saying...it's their tone that irritates me more than anything. People who are in my face saying a disputable matter is gospel truth immediately get my back up.
I've had people tell me nothing but negative stuff (which makes me wonder why they had more than one kid), and people who are slaves to superstition (one person told me that because I was craving pies and chips that my child will grow up to be unhealthy and won't eat their vegetables). But most people have just been really nice. I'm trying to focus on them and not the negative nannies. One lovely young mum at my church encouraged me to enjoy sleeping in while I can, and not to let anyone else make me feel guilty about it.
I'm also trying to make an effort not to instantly assume that because someone is asking my opinion or plans, then it's because they're going to jump down my throat with criticism. Duncan and I were at a secondhand baby market in Perth and were looking at secondhand prams. I heard a voice behind me say, "Why are you looking at that one?" I assumed it was someone about to give me a lecture on how terrible the pram was when I turned around and found myself face-to-face with a pregnant woman about a similar age to myself. When I saw her face I realised she was as bewildered by the array of choice as we were. She was clearly not criticising, but wanting some help and reassurance. We gently explained to her that there is no right or wrong choice, but different people prefer different products because of their lifestyle etc (we were looking at that particular pram because we are on a farm and it was supposed to go well on gravel). We instantly saw relief flood over her face.
The closer we get to our baby's birth, the more I'm convinced at how many disputable matters there are and that there are no real rights or wrongs. One thing that works well for one family will not work well for another. Some of the decisions Duncan and I have made are because our circumstances are very different to some of our friends (we live on a farm, I have a bad back so I can't deal with a massive pram, we don't have a large income like some of our friends so we're getting some secondhand stuff, can't use only cloth nappies because sometimes the electricity (and water) randomly goes out and we can't do any washing etc).
The ladies at GirlTalk wrote a fantastic post quite a few years back called Just A Suggestion. Here's a quote from it:
And we tend to travel in packs. Wherever we are or wherever we go in life, we find these kindred spirits—women who feel as strongly about our cause as we do—and we become fast friends. Pity the poor woman whose opinion differs from ours, or worse yet, hasn’t formed an opinion. She doesn’t stand a chance against “Super-Lawyer-Women.”
For in the kingdom of God there shouldn’t be the Whole Foods clique and the McDonalds crowd or the La Leche playgroup and the Enfamil playgroup, or the homeschooling moms versus the public-school moms.
There should just be the church. United by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Read the rest here.
Here's to growing a really thick hide for the rest of my life. ;)