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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What Not to Say to New Moms

me expecting the twins 7/04
Never, under any circumstances, should you give a parent unsolicited advice. It's one of the quickest ways to lose friends. Unfortunately I speak from experience.
It's a fine line for a Parent Educator like me. I have access to a wealth of information about parenting and instead of being a perceived as a helpful characteristic it often offends new moms who tend to steer clear of me. Which is sad because I like babies and their new mommies.
Instead, what I've learned is that parents really like to hear how cute their baby is. Often mom will put more time and consideration into what baby will wear to the grocery store than she will with her own outfit. So admiring a baby's cute cheeks, hat or shoes is a very acceptable and desirable form of attention.
Any other observations, especially if they even hint of a condescending nature, are highly offensive to the new parent. One should avoid passive aggressive comments at all costs (unless of course you are trying to be obnoxious) because moms can smell a judgmental rat a mile away. She doesn’t want you to tell her how your baby slept all through the night from the first day you brought him home, which infers she must be doing something wrong if her baby is not.
You need to know this should you insist on striking up a conversation with a new mother. She is probably hoping you’ll just keep walking on by. Instead she’ll brace herself for the unwarranted barrage of opinions she expects you’re about to drop on her.
After all, new mothers work very hard at making sure they never appear as inadequate as they most certainly feel.
As if struggling as a new parent is news to any of us who have been-there-done-that.
Right? Every parent at some point in his or her child’s life, and to some degree, has experienced a complete and utter feeling of helplessness. They have no idea what to do. They have no idea if what they're doing is right and they wonder if they are royally screwing up their kid for life.
This is parenting; a fly by the night, hoping you get it right while bracing yourself for inevitable seismic shifts that leave you feeling inept, exhausted and discouraged.
Most of us have no one to turn to during this dark night of the soul and we end up feeling very alone in the journey.
And that is where my heart breaks. I believe we would find the uniting bonds of motherhood are deep and significant if we could ever get past our disposition to judge.
As I've gathered women together for over thirteen years in playgroups, lapsits and parenting classes I've witnessed every single mother perform a silent evaluation. That’s the moment when moms do a quick assessment of the room and judge how they’re doing based on what they see. Is there another woman thinner than us? Does her baby talk more? Is her child potty trained? Does she have to read 5 books and dance a jig in order to get her child in bed?
In an instant we will rank ourselves based on what we observe. How dangerous! Oh how I could I wish I could host blindfolded playgroups. I imagine without our sight, using only our voice and our stories, we'd be able to unite and form an army of women who would rally around the exhausted, lift up the overwhelmed and support the hurting.
This, I believe, is the lost treasure of the parenthood. So if I’ve ever offered unsolicited advice or appeared superior-ly knowledgeable with my words, it's only because my experience convinces me that deep down mothers need each other more than they need to appear that they don't.
Remember the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child”? We've often believed that to mean that the child needs the community to grow up well but what if it’s the mother that needs a tribe too? Imagine if a village supported the mother how strong and equipped she would be as a parent, in turn raising a wonderfully, vibrant, thriving child!
I believe if we mothers could come together, rather than judge others away, we could build a safe place where the joys and challenges of parenting are equally celebrated and alleviated. Why? Because I'm the mom and I said so! That's why!
(This article appears as a part of my weekly Practical Parenting series for The Daily Review Atlas) Stephanie is a mother of 5 children and a Parent Educator for the Monmouth-Roseville School District. She is now taking appointments for a Preschool Screening this Friday, March 30, 2012 at Lincoln Early Childhood School for all parents who are interested in sending their 3 or 4 year old to preschool next fall. Call 734-2222 or email ssikorski@mr238.orgfor information.

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