I’ll always remember the night we brought our son home from the birth center. We had left while I was in the throes of labor, and came back with a wee baby in a car seat. The transition was jolting.
We could not believe it when our midwife sent us home unsupervised with a new person all to ourselves. Sure, he’d been with us for nine months before that, but he’d been safe with me, not out in the cold, cruel world. Immediately, we had to make decisions for him: vitamin K shot or not, back or tummy sleep, co-sleeping or bassinet . . . and the list kept getting longer and longer.
As a young expectant mother, living in the Information Age, I had spent months researching every little detail in my plan for his future. On top of that, as the oldest of nine, I’ve been around babies most of my life. But having full responsibility of my own child was disorienting.
And then came the mommy advice.
Welcome to Mommyhood
Parenting advice is a tale as old as time, particularly for new moms. This truth has become glaringly apparent to me since moving to my husband’s Mississippi hometown six weeks after our son was born. In a town of less than nine hundred people, about twenty-five of us are somehow related.
As you can imagine, the mom advice flows freely from these Southern ladies, and if I was ever overly sensitive about listening to counsel on how to raise my son, two and a half months of Mississippi living has beat it out of me — especially since my particular bents on birthing, breastfeeding, and vaccinating aren’t too common around these parts.
However, young moms have a whole new ballgame of motherly critique to weather. I know my husband’s family loves me and adores our son. That knowledge helps me filter their words of wisdom and opinion. This may or may not be true of the barrage of online counselors who are all too happy to comment on an Instagram picture, Facebook status, or tweet.
In this day and age, new moms are inundated with advice that, although it may be well meaning, tends to sound like a constant drumbeat of everything that we’re doing wrong. From circumcision to sleep training, to carseat protocol, to teething necklaces, and everything in between, everybody’s got an opinion, and it seems like everyone is sharing it. In my short stint of motherhood, and from asking older, wiser mothers around me, I’m learning to manage the bombardment by remembering three things.
1. The Child Is Yours
After the initial shock of bringing our baby home and caring for him by ourselves, my husband and I quickly realized that we could not count exclusively on other people’s advice. It was often conflicting and sometimes self-motivated. What worked for other people’s babies was sometimes not the best for our son. What gave other parents peace of mind was sometimes not best for our personalities or philosophies.
Ephesians 6:1–4 makes it clear that children are, first and foremost (in an earthly sense), their parents’ responsibilities. So while advice was welcomed, and often helpful, it did not have the final say in what we did for the health and happiness of our son. We did. God has called me to partner with my husband in this parenting journey (Ephesians 5:22), not the most popular mommy blogger on the scene.
2. The Community Is Yours
With that said, as believers, we are called to live in community with our brothers and sisters in Christ. So even though we could turn off social media altogether, we still live in community with a lot of advisors.
And that’s okay.
In true 1 Corinthians 13 fashion, love should guide and guard both our giving and receiving of advice. If a Titus 2 mom speaks worthwhile advice in a condescending way, it may go unheard (like a clanging gong). If the hearer of that advice can recognize that it comes from a kind heart — however clumsily it was spoken — it may still prove fruitful (believing the best). If fellow moms on the journey are sanctimoniously handing out advice just to be superior to their peers, it will show (rejoicing in wrongdoing; being prideful or boastful). However, if we’re seeing each other as sisters in this journey, and wanting to help one another along for God’s glory, that will show up too (in patience and kindness).
So many of us are missing out on fruitful community because we don’t know how to give advice without harping and nagging, and because we don’t know how to take advice with humility and love.
3. We Are God’s
I was the firstborn of two inexperienced college newlyweds. My youngest sibling is twenty-three years younger than I am, and the parenting advice has changed more than twenty-three times since my parents brought me home. Yes, some of those things have changed due to helpful, life-saving, and life-enriching research, and we would do well to heed them. But also, yes, I’m still alive to tell the tale. God was faithful to preserve me through those tenuous infant years.
The reality is our son is not really ours after all, but God’s.
God has been faithful to preserve my mother through almost three decades of parenthood, and the barrage of advice and judgment that it has brought. As I begin my own journey, I’m hoping for some Titus 2 mamas who treat me like a reasonable adult and not an idiot; a few likeminded mommy friends who want to see me succeed, not angling to feel superior to me as they count all of my failings; a patient husband who can disciple me through twenty-first-century mommy guilt; and above all, my merciful God’s hand of protection over me and my imperfect parenting.