Relatives can be wonderful when you’re a new parent because they’re eager to help you out. They might cook for you or provide you with food, do chores and best of all they’ll take baby off your hands for free (or for very little). However, there’s a dark side to family support—they can be overzealous and always have something to say. They might nag you about how you should be raising your child, and generally bring their negativity and insecurities into your space. All of the above can make you second-guess everything you do and chip away at your sanity, but reminding yourself that intuition is real and effective can help you stay sane.
I am currently in mental recovery from two different, yet significant, experiences that almost pushed me to snapping. Both relatives will remain nameless, but the fact that they are close hurt more.
The first incident dealt with a relative who thinks that my daughter is too small (by her standards). I had to deal with a few days of passive aggressive behavior suggesting that I don’t feed her enough. That behavior entailed suggesting that I give her solid food even though she’s too young for solids (as per myself, and pediatric guidelines). When I balked at that idea, I was met with the classic response that people who have raised children love to give you, “Well, I did [insert xyz] with you and you’re still alive.” That’s good to know, but research changes and I’m not feeding my child solid food until she is 6-months-old or otherwise instructed by her pediatrician so I stood my ground. Seasoned parents obviously know a lot of about raising children, but they’re not doctors. Just because a method doesn’t kill someone doesn’t mean it did no harm and frankly, research changes because children are individuals and should be treated as such. Doctors aren’t the end all either, so it’s important to go with what you feel is right too. My daughter is small because she’s petite. I have discussed her weight with her pediatrician—who isn’t concerned as long as she gains a certain amount per appointment, and I can live with that. Our solution is simply to feed her a certain amount more frequently. I explained this to said relative during a discussion about the fact that they felt that I wasn’t putting enough milk in my daughter’s bottles, and the push back and judgment I got from them made me snap, “I’m not starving my child!” In their world, overfeeding is best and all babies should be chunky. However, if my daughter were really chunky then the problem would be that I’m feeding her too much and I’d be nagged about that so it’s not really a winnable situation because people always have something to say.
The next incident involved a relative asking me if I combed my daughter’s hair. The implication was that her hair was messy. It didn’t, but you know how damaged black folks are about the hair that grows out of their heads, right? That manifests itself in comments like the aforementioned, primarily if the child’s hair isn’t a straight texture. For the record, I did comb her hair that day—and comb it as I see fit—and it looked fine. My baby has a curly Afro, so someone who has a problem with Afros, without the adornment of bands, bows and barrettes, would never be satisfied anyway. My answer in that situation was simply, “Yes, I combed her hair.” Out of respect for that person, I remained calm and did not add what I really wanted to say in my reply, which was, “What do you want me to do give a three-month-old a perm or a weave?” but I was close and made a mental note not to allow that person, or anyone, really, to impart that type of negative thinking on to my child—but I’m human and did second guess my parenting. You are still fragile and vulnerable when you are only a few months in as a new mom, but having a network of women in the same situation is helpful. I shared my grievances with other new moms and discovered that they have been experiencing the same thing.
Unfortunately, unsolicited judgment, opinions and advice come with the territory. You can shut sometimes well-meaning people down as much as you’d like (whether it’s checking them verbally, or even taking a brake from them) but the behavior may never stop, yet the lesson in all of this is, people will always have something to say no matter what, especially if you don’t do things the way they think they should be done. That is an annoying part of human nature, but take solace in knowing that parenting is freestyling. Some things work, some things don’t, and sometimes you just have to make the discovery of what may or may not work in hindsight (as long as it’s safe and rational decisions) because no one knows what’s better for your child than you do. Barring anything egregious along the lines of abuse, chances are, you got this, mommy, but stay on top of your sanity even if it means checking the ones you loved most. A sane mom is a happy mom, and a happy mom is a good mom.