A dear friend recently wrote to me asking what I do about all of the advice and opinions people inevitably give when they see you with young children. She is a single mom dedicating her life to her sweet child, and everyone “shoving their oar in”, as it were, is distracting her from her main purpose: caring for her child the best way she can. Not to mention, too many people rowing the boat in different directions will only serve to make sure the boat isn’t going anywhere. (Hey! That must be the purpose of the metaphor!)
Motherhood is a unique experience in many ways, and one of those ways is that strangers and loved ones alike see you with your small children and see it as an opportunity to share their opinions on family life with you. Why is that? We don’t see people with white lab coats on as an invitation to share our medical knowledge with them, or see people getting out of cars as an invitation to share our driving experiences, or people walking dogs as an invitation to talk about our experiences with dog training. It is a strange compulsion, but it exists, so we must deal with it. Some people are well meaning, some are busybodies, and some are just plain critical.
I don’t experience this as much now that I have three under three (I suppose people assume that I am just plain crazy and might do something unpredictable if they try to speak with me), but I still experience it from time to time. “You plan on homeschooling if you can’t afford private?! But they will be so far behind the other kids!” (That one is just plain insulting. I have a law degree. I think in this online age I can figure out how to adequately educate my children.) “How are they going to be socialized if they aren’t in preschool?” (If by “socialized,” you mean constantly sick and fighting with stranger’s children over toys, she can catch illnesses and fight with her sister here at home. And we can’t afford it, so stop rubbing it in!) And, of course, every time I have announced a pregnancy there is always the tepid responses when a simple “congratulations” would do. And last but not least, the aghast look my pill peddling gyno gives me every time I refuse the opportunity to imbibe a Group 1 carcinogen in exchange for (probably) not getting pregnant. Um, pass. To me, the worst case scenario of NFP (namely, a baby) is infinitely preferable to the worst case scenario of hormonal contraception (namely, breast cancer).
On second thought, I guess I do get it a lot. But it doesn’t bother me. Here is the thing, if you are seeking universal human approval, you are doomed to be constantly miserable. You are never going to please everybody. (If you don’t believe me, just check out the comments section of any popular blog post.) There will always be someone who disapproves of something you are doing, loved ones and strangers alike. That is ok. You should politely thank everyone for their opinions and advice, follow the advice you think is helpful, and ignore the heck out of the rest. If a friend or family member notices you are not following their advice, politely remind them that ultimately your family life is your obligation, and you are going to conduct yourself as you see fit. I find I can usually find a nugget of useful information in what other people say. I can make use of any resources at my disposal to make sure my children are receiving a superb education at home, try and organize play dates and educational activities for my preschoolers, and try and make healthy family sizing decisions.
But at the end of the day, no one on Earth knows more about your children than you. Take courage in that fact and trust your instincts, mama. They won’t lead you astray. (Besides, too many cooks spoil the broth.)