The good thing about having your second baby is that the quantity of unsolicited advice you get goes down substantially. It doesn’t disappear completely though. It can be hard to parse it all out and know which bits are good and which are… less so. And of course, if you lean to the attachment end of the parenting spectrum, a lot of it is just plain angering.
In the last 2 years (and more, since the tips started flooding in before Little Man’s birth) I’ve found it really helpful to think things through with a few simple mental hacks. I’ve also found these really helpful as a way of explaining to other people why I do or don’t do certain things. It makes the subject tangible to people who often simply haven’t thought it through, and it adds a bit of levity to discussions that can very easily become tense.
1. What would a cavemother do?
Here’s something to keep in mind: babies don’t know it’s the 21st century, they think it’s still the stone age. The primal instincts babies follow are certainly not always convenient in a modern world, but they serve a very important purpose and for the most part you’ll save yourself a lot of stress if you use modern tools to meet those instinctual needs, rather than to try to suppress them. So, when given a piece of baby advice, simply ask yourself ‘what would a cavemother do’. The answer to that question is going to paint a really clear picture for you of what your baby needs, biologically speaking. The only thing you ‘need‘ to do, then, is find the best way for you to approximate the cavemother’s response and still get your laundry done.
2. As to big people, so to little people.
Another astonishing fact: babies are actually people! What does that mean? It means that aside form certain biological norms (eg every person – big or small – eats, sleeps and poops) each little person is as different from the rest as each big person is. And little peoples’ needs are not, as a group, so vastly different from big peoples’ needs. If you remember this, then babies don’t seem like such a mystery. Simply ask if a generalization or rule about babies would hold true for full sized people. If not, then it’s probably not such a great rule for the little ones either.
3. The Granny Test.
I’ve talked about this before, in relation to nighttime needs, but it’s a good overall test. If you replace the word ‘baby’ in any baby advice with ‘sick Granny’, how would you feel about following that advice? What would be the outcome of following the advice? A healthier Granny? A closer relationship between you and your Granny? If yes, then it’s good advice. If no, then… you get the picture.
So, let’s run a couple of examples of baby advice I’ve heard (yet again) in the short days since Lady Fair was born through the checks and see what we come up with.
“Babies get all they need (from the breast) in the first 10 minutes”
What would a cavemama have to say about that? I think she’d probably say ‘what’s 10 minutes’? Cavemothers likely had a pretty good sense of time, but they weren’t sporting a Timex on their wrist. They likely would have decided the baby was done eating when it was… well, done eating, and minutes shminutes. So our advice failed the first test.
What if we applied this rule to fully grown people? If you sat 10 (or 1000) adults down with 10 different meals (remember, each baby is eating from a different breast), how likely is it that they would all take their last mouthful at exactly the same time? Um, I think that number is approaching zero. We’ll call this one a fail too.
As for the Granny Test, how likely would you be to pull Granny’s half-finished plate away after an arbitrarily determined amount of time and tell her she got all she needed? Especially if you started timing from the arrival of the appetizers (the non-breast equivalent of the first let down, for moms who have several) instead of the entree? Fail, fail, fail.
I think we can safely say this bit of wisdom, which was given my mother by her doctor when she had me and eagerly handed down when Little Man came and now again with Lady Fair, is a dud.
“Sleeping with your baby is a bad habit.”
What would a cavemother do? Well, not only did cavemama not have an AngelCare monitor at her disposal to make sure the baby is still breathing in the nursery cave, she also had large nocturnal carnivores to deal with. If she had to weigh the theoretical possibility of overly attached offspring against the less theoretical possibility of tiger-mauled offspring, I’m thinking she’d go with door number one.
As to big people, so to little people. This one is a bit harder to gauge because the parent-infant relationship doesn’t really have an adult-only equivalent, given that infants are sexually immature. Let’s look at an adult child and his/her parent, and leave sexual propriety out of it as much as possible. If you are contemplating bedsharing with your mom, you’re probably going to base your decision on things like does she already live in your house (probably not), do either of you have romantic partners you’d rather sleep with (probably yes), do either of you fart or snore incessantly in your sleep keeping the other up (maybe, maybe not)? ‘Bad habit’ probably isn’t the first reason you would think of for not bedsharing with mom, so it probably shouldn’t be the sole reason you don’t bedshare with baby.
The Granny Test. This runs along the same lines of our previous test, but with one better similarity to babies – the Granny in our test is physically incapable of meeting her own needs, whether it’s day or night. This is pretty much the same deal as a baby. If Granny’s needs at night included temperature regulation, apnea (i.e. SIDS) prevention, reduction of brain-damaging stress hormones and frequent nourishment, would ‘bad habit’ really be the deciding factor in how to care for her?
This one goes down the tubes too.
“At 6 months, babies should be introduced to iron-fortified rice cereal.”
Our cavemema’s idea of rice cereal would be grass seeds pounded between rocks. And iron-fortification? Maybe she could prop up a pile of the seeds with some pieces of flint… Really this test shows us that not only do babies not need wallpaper paste, they don’t need pureed food at all, since it was impossible to even create such food until the release of the electric blender in the 1930’s. Cavemama would have waited until baby could wrangle a piece of food into its mouth on its own. She might have chewed it up a bit first, but nothing more complicated than that.
Ah, the big people. When, in the age of low-carb diets, did you last see an adult sit down with a bowl of processed starch and iron filings and pat themselves on the back for their nutritionally superior meal? ‘Nuff said.
As for our Granny… When, in the age of low-carb diets, did you last see a nursing home serve bowls of processed starch and iron filings and pat themselves on the back for their nutritionally superior meal? Thought so. As an added question – if your Granny’s nursing home was indeed feeding her this stuff, how long would you leave her there?
Obviously, these examples are pretty clear-cut. They all fail all of the tests. Parenting is rarely this straightforward, though, and there are a lot of times when you have to make much more difficult decisions, but if nothing else, these will lend hours of amusement to your decision-making tasks.