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Have you tried?: On the nightmare of stupid unsolicited advice

Almost every sleep-deprived parent is used to the ‘smile and nod’ when they’re given unsolicited advice. Linda Jane Keegan is over it. Here she tells us why.

Sometimes I can’t tell if I’m just being overly sensitive to idle parenting-related chitchat or if people really are subtly pushing unsolicited advice. It feels like as parents we are constantly told what we are supposed to do and reminded of parenting goals we are supposed to aspire to. I often feel as though people are judging me and other mothers. Maybe they are. Maybe they aren’t. Certainly there are people who are Just Trying To Help.

But the advice we didn’t ask for comes veiled by questions, as if the questioner is mining for information, eager to impart their wisdom upon you and show you the error of your ways.

This got me thinking about the questions I loathe the most. The questions that almost always are followed with unsolicited advice.

Questions like “Does your baby sleep through the night?”

Hahahahaha. Not even close. Or yes, but he also feeds between three and a million times a night. Worse I think is the slight variation: “Does your baby sleep through the night yet?” As if eight hours or more of continuous sleeping is something that all babies will (and must) achieve immediately after birth. As if it is somehow the pinnacle of successful parenting. Sure, some babies might do this sometimes, all the time, or that one time, but: DEFINITELY NOT ALL BABIES. I would suspect not even most babies.

Why must this myth continue to be perpetuated? Besides, between my partner’s insomnia and my lifetime of waking in the night to pee, the idea that we could breed a child that doesn’t surface during the night seems absurd if not totally unfair.

Then there’s always the ever well-meaning “Have you tried…?”

Have you tried fucking off?

I just want to exist with the way I parent and for people to just understand/sympathise/buy me chocolates, instead of offering solutions as if I have never thought of them myself or in fact even thought that there was a problem that needed solving in the first place.

Yes, wearing my child in a wrap for naps can be hard, but I don’t see it as a problem. Parenting is hard and in this particular difficulty (getting my baby to sleep during the day), I choose my child going to sleep in a way that involves the least amount of whining and the most amount of continuous sleep.

That’s what works for us. It’s also what we want to do. And it is what keeps us the most sane. So we don’t need advice.

And when this response runs through my head I feel a bit guilty for being so internally rude. Because suggestions, no matter how subtle or blunt, come from a good place. Maybe I am too sensitive to advice and advice disguised as conversation. Maybe I’m too sensitive to people just saying what they did or do with their baby.

I think it depends a lot on who it’s coming from and, largely, what sort of mood I’m in. Of course it’s totally unfair to expect people to know what sort of mood I’m in. But I think what gets to me the most is that there’s always an underlying assumption that you don’t want to do be doing what you’re doing.

When it comes to sleep, this is really common. Of course nobody wants to wake up a billion times a night to tend to their child. But a lot of parents are happy with the method they’ve chosen to handle sleep and they just want to do what feels right when their child does wake often.

Sometimes it’s not questions, but statements that essentially translate to: ‘I know you spend pretty much 24 hours a day with your child but it’s your first baby so you probably don’t really know what you’re doing.’ Assertions like “he can’t be hungry” or “he’s definitely teething.”

Our baby, now nearly nine months old and with zero teeth, has been “definitely teething” for at least five months. No chompers on this guy and just as well because I bet he’d chomp the shit out of me.

In the end I’m sure others will say I’m just being too sensitive to it all.

I can only say that when my baby was born there was no one empowering me to do what felt right to me. Maybe I’m just exhausted and grumpy (not maybe, definitely). Maybe I should just take it all in my stride (after all, the best two pieces of advice I got were “never take advice from anyone who only has one kid”, and “ignore everyone’s advice”) but there’s really only so much nodding and smiling a sleep-deprived parent can do.

And I’m done with it.

Linda Jane Keegan is currently preoccupied with parenting, ecology, and exploring the outdoors. She has been known to subsist on chocolate biscuits, hike long distances, and correct punctuation on billboards. And sometimes, she writes.

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