The pregnancy struggle is real. Doctors, books, and apps prepare us for the aches, the weight gain, the stretch marks, but fail to warn us about one of the sneakiest struggles as a new mom, unsolicited advice.
“Oh man, you think you’re tired now. Just wait till the baby is born.”
“Let me tell you, giving birth was just awful. So, what happened to me was…”
“Just wait until….”
“You know, you really should…”
Well-meaning friends, family, Instagram influencers, and even strangers chime in with advice on how pregnancy and child-rearing should be handled. We mothers are tasked with protecting ourselves and our children from unsolicited advice and comparison, learning to appreciate the good while protecting against the unhealthy.
Balance Advice with Factual Information
Knowledge is power, so be informed. The more we equip ourselves with knowledge about our choices as mothers, the easier it is to weed out unhealthy advice. Running into a mom with her 11-month-old, beautifully enduring a flight from San Francisco to Tel Aviv, I knew I wanted whatever advice she had! I requested all the tips on how wonderfully she was handling the flight with her little guy. Eager to share her knowledge, she made a lengthy book list and recommended some podcasts she’d found helpful. We ask directions from someone who knows where we want to go, right?
I bought the books, devouring the statistics as they cut through cultural norms and old wives’ tales to actual medical advice about the first five years of a baby’s life. As a first-time pregnant mom, I had no idea how helpful these books would be when the “advice” started coming.
Well-meaning moms told me how I should do this, do that, do the next thing. A lot of the suggestions included the dangers of not following the advice. It was eye-opening, realizing how the books explained different countries’ pre and postnatal care traditions, and how these well-meaning moms were literally living up to their regional norms.
While I appreciated their intent and tried to listen for helpful knowledge, I was thankful I’d already decided specific things about my baby’s care before being inundated with opinions. Knowledge is power, so why wouldn’t I equip myself to be the strongest momma possible?
4 Ways to Set Boundaries As a New Mom
1. Manage anxieties. Be it anecdotes from a friend, family member, or the internet, we need to recognize where these stories end and ours begin. It’s crucial to exercise empathy with others about their painful experiences without internalizing it ourselves. Strengthening our empathy takes work. It takes extra work for an exhausted new mommy. Empathy is like trying on clothes, taking the other person’s emotions, and slipping them on like a sweater to understand what they’re feeling. After empathizing with them, we return the sweater, recognizing it’s not ours, and move on with the current reality.
Same strategy goes for the internet. Just because it happened to someone online does not mean it will happen us. Scrolling my favorite pregnancy app about my latest symptom, I scared myself into believing I had ectopic pregnancy symptoms. Eventually, in front of my doctor, I explained the fear. More than willing to check me out, he consoled me by saying lot of OB/GYN doctors would never see one of these pregnancies in their entire lifetime of practice.
“The internet gives us so much information, it can make things seem more common than they really are.”
I was fine but started thinking about the information-saturated era where we live. We must recognize everyone’s story is different, every pregnancy is different. Appreciate where people are coming from and why, without internalizing their story.
2. Boundary set with others and yourself. Protecting ourselves and our babies from unhelpful advice includes being selective with our friendships and the way we spend our time. The internet is one of the greatest allies or enemies, useful for good like researching the most nutritious pregnancy diet, future foods for baby, and ways to boost brain development. It’s also a portal to endless toxic information. After my scare at the doctor, I decided I would give myself the “gift of no,” and refuse to obsess over my fears when I could call a professional or simply move on with my day.
In the same way, I gave myself the gift of “no” by decreasing contact with people who increase my stress levels. Some friends were pregnant at the same time, bringing us closer together. It took me a few interactions to realize their anxieties were rubbing off on me. I realized we could only interact when in a safe mental headspace. We shouldn’t be fueling one another’s fears. Distancing myself from the world-link that is a smartphone, I made a point to only answer texts and calls after I’d been grounded through meditation and prayer and felt I was in a solid mental space to be available.
Boundary setting takes energy, but so does suffering through an unhealthy situation. You get to decide which way you would rather expend your energy. We choose between suffering in silence through frustrating situations or speaking up in a way someone else can understand your narrative. The other person’s response is purely their choice but illustrates whether this is a person who truly cares for your situation or someone from whom you need distance.
Set boundaries when needed. There were times the anecdotes were so heavy and overbearing, I felt my baby kicking as he sensed Mommy getting more stressed out. What a perfect time to draw a line to protect my child and myself.
3. Be honest. Sometimes when advocating for yourself and your baby, it is best to directly address issues with honesty in love. Many of my friends shared stories about their first weeks of postpartum recovery, with well-meaning relatives swinging by to enjoy the baby.
My friends revealed the friendly visits were still harmful to the new family as they tried getting the baby on a schedule. One girlfriend’s well-meaning in-laws wanted to start dinner right at baby’s bedtime. Another family wanted the baby to take formula despite Mommy’s desire to exclusively breastfeed. It got me thinking there is no shame in direct honesty when it comes to the advocation of your child.
As the primary caregiver and the person with direct physical connection of nine months to this baby, we are the experts and the “shot callers.” No amount of “mom guilt” or sensing someone’s “well-meaning intentions” is worth something we’ve decided is detrimental to our baby. At the end of the day, as the mommy still caring for baby when the visitors leave, we get to decide how things are done. Guilt free. Advocation might not be easy. But worth it? 100 percent.
4. Trust God. The best way to inoculate ourselves against the anxieties of unsolicited advice is by entrusting our babies to God. Scary stories leave us feeling powerless and defeated before we’ve even begun to fight.
Realistically, any control we have in our circumstances is an illusion. We’re all human beings with limitations, but we have a God who is limitless. Blocking our maddening anxieties around our new baby by reiterating God’s truth to ourselves, we can trust God chose us specifically to be entrusted with this little one for a season. He chose to bring my son to earth and will orchestrate his life. I’m a steward of the little man, a temporary caregiver, but he is God’s son before he was mine. He loves my son more than I ever could. It’s tough to dwell in this space at times, but I always must return for my own sanity.
At the end of the day, we’re meeting a whole new person: ourselves. We can accept the loving advice of the people around us and release toxic suggestions hurting us. When the internet makes other mommies look better, comparison steals our joy, or stories pile on our anxieties, we can remind ourselves: We showed up for the past nine months to give our babies the best—why would we stop now?
Looking for more encouragement, mama? We recommend this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life: Stop the Mommy Wars: Every Mom Is Doing Something Right – 045