By Meg Gemelli, Crosswalk.com
Everybody seems to have an opinion for new parents. Soon, feats of superhuman compassion will be required of them—running on nothing more than a little sleep, a few kindly donated meals, and a limited amount of time away from work.
With each new parenting generation, similar struggles remain. However, the newest crop deals with pressures unknown to those who’ve come before. Not convinced? Simply consider our modern safety standards, and the endless product reviews and recalls we sift through.
New contraptions hit store shelves daily, and bloggers blast the web with trending “life hacks.” Both vetted and self-proclaimed parenting gurus infiltrate email inboxes, and celebrities stare back at us from shelves in the checkout area. “How I Lost the Baby Weight in Just Six Weeks!” The sheer magnitude of public opinion is unprecedented.
How does a couple forge their own way as they raise up pint-sized gifts from God? There will be words of wisdom they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. But a family’s sense of success will be subjective, a culmination of choices based on the best information they have at any given moment.
Here are 10 bad pieces of advice new parents have heard but shouldn’t follow:
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1. "Baptize the baby at..."
The religious conversation. We held no punches with this one, since the majority of new parents struggle with the issue well before their little ones make their way into the world.
Don’t cause a fuss. Baptize your little one at (such and such) church so your families will be happy. It doesn’t matter where it happens anyway, as long as it’s Christian.
If you agree with the statement above, no problem. The dedication or baptism will be a cinch in your case. But for many parents, there are other factors they need to consider. Take for instance a few common questions that couples ask:
- Is infant baptism biblical?
- What’s the difference between baptism and dedication?
- How will our parents’ beliefs influence our decisions raising kids?
- Is this the church we’ll raise our family in? What do they believe?
Well-meaning friends and family wish peaceful transitions for their new-parent friends, but making rash decisions to avoid family conflict isn’t a great way to go about it. New parents can’t please everybody, and it’s likely the most important lesson they’ll learn. Caving to family pressure will only built resentment, but clear communication lays a foundation for lifelong growth and understanding.
Better advice: “Prayerfully consider your decision to dedicate or baptize. As leaders of your family, you answer directly to God when it comes to raising kids in the faith.”
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2. "Invite your family to come right away so that you'll have 'help.'"
It’s a truthful sentiment among new parents: Not all family members are meant to crash the new-baby scene from day one.
As a new mother explained it, “I was exhausted from the whole birth experience. Then, I had trouble breastfeeding. I obviously had to take care of the baby… but also felt like I was supposed to entertain everybody who came to visit us. I cleaned, cooked, and still had to keep up the house. I was angry. Mostly let down. And I couldn’t figure out how anybody could see our time together as ‘helpful.’”
Better Advice: “We understand that you don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but some births are harder than others. Each recovery is unique. Communicate your needs kindly, yet clearly. It’s okay if you need some time alone before family arrives. And it’s okay to decide who needs to be by your side (or not) from the very beginning.”
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3. "Don't hold the baby too long. He or she will be spoiled."
We won’t spend much time on this one, since our understanding of child development has come so far. Because the brains of infants aren’t advanced enough to understand behavior manipulation, their cries are used solely for the purpose of communicating needs: hunger, physical touch, pain relief, temperature discomfort, a wet bottom, and fatigue.
As a matter of fact, babies who don’t receive enough physical touch suffer from underdeveloped brains, diminished emotional maturity, and higher rates of mental health diagnoses. Hopefully this one can be laid to rest.
Better Advice: “Trust your natural instincts as parents. When your heart and mind tell you that you need to comfort your little one, believe that God has adequately equipped you to answer the call.”
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4. "Get used to not having sex. It'll never be as good as it used to be."
There are definite challenges to intimacy when new babies arrive. Physically, mothers have to recover. Couples also function on little sleep, and patience and empathy dwindle. In addition, new responsibilities make for distracted partners.
But as with all chapters in life, new-parenthood is a season. A truer statement: “Sex will be as regular and enjoyable as you decide to make it.” Advice-givers who feel it necessary to “warn” new parents about intimacy struggles reveal more about their own relationships than what they could ever predict for their friends.
Better Advice: “You won’t always feel motivated to connect, but content children begin with content parents. Your kids will leave home someday, so at every stage, put your spouse first.”
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5. "Give your baby the bottle so others can feed him."
It’s hard to imagine people saying this in Bible times. Today, family members can feed a newborn because of the development of formula and our modern ability to pump breast milk. But in past generations, struggling mothers relied on wet-nurses to provide adequate nutrition to their babies.
While some moms find comfort in choosing when and where they feed their little ones, others experience anxiety. Hormones affect feelings of well-being when women are separated from their newborns. Also, milk production causes discomfort unless it’s expelled regularly.
While we associate feeding as an act of love, it’s not always best for mom or baby. We shouldn’t assume that it’s our right to meet the nutritional needs of a newborn just because we enjoy doing it.
Better Advice: “People will offer to help in their own ways, either because they enjoy it or because they think it’s what you need. Speak up about the support you crave. Perhaps feeding the baby isn’t the most beneficial act of service they could provide.”
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6. "Don't co-sleep. Do co-sleep. Use their crib. Or not."
My husband and I didn’t co-sleep. With our first baby, I crashed on the couch while he tried to steal a wink for his next day at work. Our son slept in his crib and I was up and down with him multiple times a night.
By the time our second son was born, we’d moved into a new house. At first, he slept in a bassinet in our bedroom with me, and my husband rested just as soundly in the guest room. Both ways were fine, and each scenario came with its own set of benefits and challenges.
No-one can predict how well the sleep situation is going to go, but most people can agree on this: there are few teenagers (if any) who still want to sleep in their parents’ bedroom.
Better Advice: “While both rest and bonding with your kids is important, so is your connection as a couple. Whatever decision you make, be sure to prioritize alone time with one another. Your parenting plan is bound to change over the years, but your marriage is the foundation.”
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7. "Go back to work right away so you don't lose your job. Don't go back to work or you'll lose your kids."
Do you know what’s worse than a parent who’s not sure if they’ve made the right decision? It’s a parent who’s absolutely certain they’re miserable because they chose a path better suited for somebody else’s family.
When it comes to work, there’s no right or wrong answer besides functioning outside the will of God. This one’s between a parent, his or her spouse, and Him. There are great examples of working men and women throughout the Bible, right alongside those celebrated for their epic parenthood status.
Better Advice: “Choose how you’ll spend time wisely. There are blessings and consequences for every path we choose in life, but God will guide you at every turn, providing you peace with every ‘right’ decision.”
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8. "Sleep when the baby sleeps."
It’s a common sense piece of advice, and honestly, not so farfetched. Some days, it’s all a parent can do not to pass out with exhaustion when the kids do.
That being said, some new parents report being “sent to their rooms” to rest by well-meaning family members. But anxiety from not accomplishing important daytime tasks can be just as problematic as feeling tired. New parents are going to feel “off,” even if they do try to sleep when the baby does. The balance will always be a work in progress.
Better Advice: “Sleep when you can and ask for help when you need it. Exercise, social interaction, hobbies, and feeling productive outside of the role as ‘parent’ is important too.”
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9. "Don't let the baby dictate your schedule..."
Wake the baby up to eat, play, travel, etc. Go on with your life like normal so that you don’t get too used to being at home all the time.
This one hits close to home; how about you? In fact, a dear friend of mine lives by these words. The most social person I’ve ever known, her kids travel with her all the time. The mantra works for her because it had to. But personally, I was ready to slow down and revel in my newfound motherhood. I loved having a reason to cuddle and sensed, as many of us do, that activity would find its way back into our lives all too soon.
To the new parent struggling to “not let the baby dictate your schedule,” take a deep breath. Kids are going to change your entire life, schedule included. It’s okay to cancel an event for the sake of a good nap and some down time. This is an issue of expectations. What will yours be?
Better Advice: “Allow your baby to be a baby, and yourself the time and grace to fully experience life as a new parent. You’ll miss events, but there are others you’ll make provisions for. Don’t be surprised if your priorities change, or if you say ‘yes’ less often. Babies have a way of changing the heart’s desire.”
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10. "Have another baby right away so they'll be close. Don't wait too long."
Sadly, many of us have been pressured to have another child too soon. We’re made to fear. We worry that our kids won’t play well together or that we’ll sacrifice their chance at a lifelong friendship if we wait too long. In addition, the implication that we’ll be “old parents” weighs heavy on our minds.
I have a brother and sisters who are 4, 6, 20, and 22 years my junior, and I maintain a unique relationship with every one them. Each bond brings out a unique part of who I am. Is it nice to have common interests? Sure! But just because siblings are close in age, doesn’t guarantee that they will.
Better Advice: “Pray. Don’t expand your family until you have peace about doing so. You’ll know when the time is right.”
Maybe you read the list and thought, “Some of this advice was golden, not bad!” If that’s the case, I simply point to the beautiful truth of our unique creation. We’re different, and yet, connected by the love of our amazing Creator. A little grace (and a whole lot of service) to one another does a new parent’s heart good.
Meg Gemelli is a Marriage and Family Therapist. Earns Crossfit participation trophies. Disaster cook. Thankful wife to Pete. Boy mom. Faith over fear all day long. For more on relationships, join Meg at www.theMakingofaMarriage.com.
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