When I became pregnant with my first child, I was desperate for advice on how to be a good mother. I read tons of parenting blogs and read What To Expect When You’re Expecting as if it were the Bible. My need for guidance must have been evident on my face, because family, friends and strangers alike came out of the woodwork to share their unsolicited parenting advice with me. In fact, even once my desire for more parenting information waned, people still really seemed to enjoy imparting their sometimes unconventional wisdom about how I should be raising my offspring.
Suffice to say, I’ve received a lot of advice on how to parent over the past seven years and three kids. Some of it — like hide yourself some nice chocolate somewhere the kids will never think to look — has been excellent and lifesaving. Other bits of advice? Not so much.
Here are the worst parenting advice I’ve ever received (some tested, some not):
1. Sleep when the baby sleeps. Everyone gives this advice. Even my friends who don’t have kids gave me this advice. It’s the oldest one in the book. It’s also utter rubbish. Newborns sleep 16-17 hours a day, and while you’re definitely going to want to get in on some of those snuggly naps with your baby, you’re also going to want to shower and eat and clean up a little and read things on the internet so you feel like a human again. Luckily, there is time for both, so don’t feel guilty if you aren’t sleeping every time your little one snoozes. You need time for you, too.
2. Put whiskey on the gums to sooth a teething baby. I mostly got this advice with a bit of a chuckle, but one woman, upon noticing my unhappy teething baby in a mall, was very, VERY adamant about this. It would solve all my troubles, she assured me. He would sleep (drunkenly) through the night. She had done it with all of her children, and I would be a fool if I didn’t follow her advice. I suppose I am a fool, since I didn’t take her suggestion– though I can’t say it wasn’t tempting during some nights of teething agony.
3. Let them cry it out. There are plenty of moms out there who swear by the cry it out method of sleep training, and I’m not knocking their choice at all, but taking this advice was one of the worst parenting decisions I ever made. My mom convinced me to try the cry it out method with my son, and because I was unable to stick to it, it actually made my son’s sleep habits worse. I simply couldn’t handle the crying (and man, my kid could cry for upwards of two hours before I’d give in) or the guilt.
4. Enjoy them while they’re little/You’ll miss this age when they’re older. This is another one of those pieces of advice that’s handed out over and over again by the older and wiser mothers and grandmothers. Most often, I’ve received this advice while one of my kids is throwing a very public tantrum. Hearing that we should savor every moment simply piles on the guilt atop an already crappy situation, and makes me panic that I’m not enjoying my kids enough in the middle of their monstrous behavior. Over the years I’ve adopted a different sort of philosophy on small children: enjoy them when you can, survive them when you can’t.
5. Spank that kid! This is generally advice given by older relatives who can’t seem to wrap their minds around not hitting a tantrumming child. It doesn’t matter how much empirical research on the detrimental effects of spanking has come out in recent years, spanking continues to be a piece of generational advice that puts moms like me in a very uncomfortable situation.
The truth is, moms are always going to get unsolicited advice on how we should parent. Whether it’s age old adages like “sleep when the baby sleeps” or overconfident advice from childless peers, the most important thing to remember is that you don’t need to take anyone’s advice too seriously (except maybe your pediatrician’s). You get to decide what works best for your family, and you’re not failing by not following everyone else’s “rules.”