Owning Your Confidence as New Parents When Others Have Opinions
Last week on the blog, I talked to you about managing outside expectations on your family for the holiday season. If you’re wanting a quieter, simpler, more peaceful holiday season without the rushing around from this party to that dinner… First of all, I don’t blame you.
Doing all that with a brand-new baby or even a toddler can sometimes just be way too much. Especially if you’re only doing it because you feel like it’s expected of you.
But also, I do realize that telling you to set those boundaries with friends and family is kind of easy for me to say. I’m not the one that has to look them in the face and say it for you. So, I understand the anxiety that comes along with that.
Often times it’s because we don’t want to let people down. This rushing around and participating in every tradition is just what we’ve always done, right? Why would anyone expect us to stop now? Especially now that you have a little one that people love to gush over.
But, sometimes it’s because we feel like we can’t be ourselves as parents around others. Sometimes it’s the unsolicited parenting advice that our elders give or the judgemental looks from other moms we just don’t want to deal with.
Whether we’re comfortable with confronting that or not, I think it’s safe to say that nobody really enjoys dealing with it. And every parent--I think moms especially--encounters it at least once or twice.
So, with Thanksgiving and the Holiday season right here knocking on our door, I thought it would be a good idea to cover both so that you can feel more prepared and at ease. And really, the approach is basically the same.
Owning Your Confidence to Set Your Boundaries
Going anywhere with a baby isn’t as simple as it was when it was just you and your partner. Even just loading up the car can be exhausting. Then you also have to consider travel time, the weather, sleep and feeding schedules…. And what about you? Will you even be able to enjoy that holiday dinner or that office party if you have your baby with you? Can you be present for your baby AND everyone else? Some moms crave the socialization and, if you’re that kind of mom, then that’s great! But, I know for many moms, being at big social events can feel like “Why did I even bother? I feel like I was either changing diapers or trying to keep the baby from tugging my hair the whole time and I missed out on most of the conversation.”
It’s not wrong to want to do less or to feel like you can’t be as present as you would want to be. Do what’s right for you in this season of your family’s life. That’s what’s most important, not others’ expectations. And know that you can always do differently next year or the year after that.
Figure out in advance which events you want to opt-out of and what you want to make yourself available for.
Like I mentioned in last week’s post, it’s so important for you and your partner to be on the same page. You two are a team, and it’s so much easier to deal with those tough conversations if you know your partner will back you up. (If these conversations are a struggle for you and your partner, let's chat and see if we can figure out some new approaches together.)
If you know you need to opt-out of a holiday event and you’re afraid you’re going to meet some resistance from the person you need to talk to about it, it can be beneficial to brainstorm with your partner a little about how you think this person might respond.
Knowing on some level how they might react can help you to feel calmer and more prepared in navigating that conversation.
Have a short, direct comment already in mind for when you talk to that person, to state what you can and cannot do.
It’s better to keep it short and sweet so that your confidence doesn’t waver.
And be prepared with something else you can offer as an alternative, if necessary.
For example, you might say, “No, we’re going to have to opt out this year because we’re trying to do less and just enjoy our time with the new baby. The traveling with a new baby is really hard on us. But, we can meet up at _______ time instead.”
Or, you could say “No, this is the time we have available: We can come over at this time or this other time, but that’s really all we have to work with that day.”
Or, “We’ve decided to stay in this year, but you’re welcome to come to our house instead. Mondays and Fridays are best for us.”
Or, “We won’t be able to make it to your party this year. But, we’ll see you at the family Christmas dinner, right?”
Then leave it to them to decide to take you up on that alternative or not. It doesn’t have to be you that bends. (You have small children. That can trump a lot of excuses, don’t forget.)
Dealing with Unsolicited Advice
This can sometimes be one of the most frustrating things about being a new parent. The unsolicited advice or judgmental comments from family members or strangers about what we’re doing wrong or how we should be doing things instead.
I think that dealing with this kind of thing from strangers is one thing--in some ways easier to brush off, and sometimes even more hurtful. But, to get it from family (I hear about this happening most often from clients’ own moms or mothers-in-law), it can be a totally different dynamic.
At times, it can feel very delicate because you care about this person and/or are at least bound to them in some way. And at other times, it can cause us to play out old family dynamics, leaving us feeling like we’re being treated like a rebellious child.
Often, the best ways to treat these situations is ultimately about setting the right boundaries and keeping your language short, gentle, but firm.
And, thanking them for their concern can lighten the mood or dissipate any potential drama.
You might say: “Thank you, but this is what we’re wanting to do right now.”
It can be as simple as that.
Or, sometimes (depending on the advice) it’s easier to qualify your statement with the mentioning of a doctor.
You could say, “This is how our pediatrician recommended we do it, but thank you for your advice.”
And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I really can’t stress enough the importance of communicating with your partner so you both can be on the same page. I’ve heard of instances where one partner has said, “Well, I don’t care so much, but it’s really important to Catherine, so…” Don’t do that.
Not only does this invite the advising person to keep at it in order to sway at least one of the parents, it can also feel very hurtful to the parent who isn’t being backed up or validated.
So, please do make sure you discuss these things with your partner and get on board with each other on how to respond to these things and to handle them as a team. Because “No, we discussed it and this is how we want to do it.” is a much more confident and impermeable response than the divide-and-conquer invitation I mentioned above.
You can also highlight that what you’re doing seems to be working for you or that you’re really going for consistency in your method. These can be strong, yet gentle ways that assert your confidence as new parents.
And lastly, keep at it. Don’t be surprised if you have to say it a few times over before the advisor finally gets it.
Stand strong in your choices. You and your partner know best.
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