One of the most difficult things we’ve experienced so far about being a new parent – despite battling reflux – has been the near constant unsolicited advice. This is not to be confused with resource sharing from veteran parents when asked for help, though sometimes there’s some grey area between these things when a new parent’s venting is interpreted as a request for help. It’s also differentiated from comments such as, “This is what worked for us.” “I” statements are so very different from “you.”
In my previous update, I referenced a common theme of unsolicited advice we’ve received: that we should change formulas to a dairy-free variety. Again, some parents have said, “We had similar symptoms and eventually discovered that our little one had a dairy sensitivity, so we switched,” and that’s so different. I mean, flat-out, judgment laced, “Why haven’t you tried another type of formula?” as though it would be the simplest thing in the world and is clearly our fault for having not yet solved the problem of reflux.
It is especially annoying when this judgy, unsolicited advice comes from people who haven’t parented a newborn in several decades. It’s also hurtful when these people are family members, which, in turn, reopens any sort of outstanding wounds from familial baggage. This was very much the case when we recently visited my parents.
To give a little context, it is important to note that my parents are kind of anti-medicine. In order for the use of medicine to be considered valid and appropriate in their minds, it must be some sort of very grave or emergent diagnosis, in which case, it must be swiftly handled so someone can move on with their lives (read: without medication). For the majority of their lives, my parents have not taken any sort of medication, and when they have, it’s been for very short periods of time. They visit doctors regularly and believe very strongly in preventative health, but will judge the dickens out of someone they think is “resorting” to medicine when they don’t think it’s necessary.
My parents also have a really messed up relationship with food. They rarely eat, sans a small breakfast and a large, late dinner. Sometimes they have a snack during the middle of the day. In keeping with their judgment of others who do not share these practices, anyone who eats differently or more frequently in their presence is the subject of their scorn. Throughout my entire life, being a larger kid, then teen, then adult, my parents have judged me for my weight and have attempted to police the frequency and contents of my meals.
I’m not sure why I thought this, but, before I became a mom, I had assumed that their prejudices related to food and medicine would only extend to their daughter and the rest of the world, and not bleed onto their perfect, few week old only grandchild. Clearly, that was delusional.
During our visit, I kept hearing little barbs about the frequency of his meals:
- “Again?! Didn’t he JUST eat?!”
- “I swear, we didn’t feed YOU this much.”
- [While E was rooting and starting to fuss] “I don’t think he’s hungry ag-aaaaain! He’s probably just bored.”
I did my best to keep my cool and diplomatically educate them as much as possible, but I really wanted to just scream, “YES! He’s hungry again! I’m his mom and know all of the hunger signs and patterns for my child. If you didn’t feed me ‘this much,’ it probably explains a lot about why you just said that I used to cry all the time.”
I had previously explained the laundry list of E’s reflux symptoms and told them all about our reasoning for advocating that the pediatrician prescribe medication for him. During dinner on our last night there, I had to leave the dinner table to administer his evening dose of medication. When I announced the reason for my departure, my father made some judgy statement along the lines of, “Meds?! Who puts such a tiny baby on MEDS?!” as though it was the first time he had heard about it and clearly didn’t approve. I continued to administer the medication and when I had completed, even though the conversation had already moved onto other topics, I brought the subject back up. I said, “I told you all of the reasons why this child is on medication and i don’t appreciate you questioning my parental decisions on the matter.” He made another comment about whether or not it was really necessary, and I said, “If you’d watched your baby writhing in pain for days in a row and changed multiple outfits each day because of projectile vomiting, you’d make the same decision.”
I was infuriated by their questions, unsolicited advice and judgment of our decisions, and was very glad that we were leaving that very next morning. When texting back and forth with a very dear friend about the problems with my folks, I told her that the experience was extraordinarily triggering to me, given past conflict with my parents about these very matters. I also told her that, in advocating for our little one, it felt like I was also standing up for the little C inside me.
Important note: Baby E ate twice during the time I was drafting this post. Yes, Mom and Dad, TWICE.