It feels like as soon as you get pregnant you are bombarded with questions. Are you getting an epidural? Will you breastfeed? Do you believe in co-sleeping? Are you going back to work? When? Have you baby proofed yet? What kind of car seat are you buying?
Then, when you have the baby, more questions arrive. How far are you going to space your children apart? Are you trying now? Do you want a girl or a boy next? Are you teaching your baby sign language? Are you teaching your baby Spanish? Why doesn’t your baby walk yet? How many words can they say?
This is all during a time when your brain doesn’t function the way it used to (before it was full of doctor’s appointments, running on no sleep, and so on). All of the outside input can be overwhelming.
But what did I do as soon as my sister-in-law announced she was pregnant? I offered her all the advice. Like, all of it. I just wanted to tell her every little thing and welcome her to mom life. I wanted to pass on my research, field experience (a.k.a moming), and funny anecdotes. There is power in women sharing their stories and knowledge with each other.
In the back of my mind though, I’m always worried I’ll be labeled a “judgy mom.” You know, one of those moms who thinks she knows everything and looks down on anyone who doesn’t conform to her parenting style. One of those moms who is half-stereotype.
Having been on both sides of the equation (the mom receiving advice, and the mom offering it), I can say that even though I was overwhelmed by the questions and stories of other parents, I benefited from them. There were some questions about motherhood that I actively sought answers to, but there was also plenty of information that I didn’t know I needed to know. This is the kind of information that comes up in conversation. If parents let the fear of judgment (or the fear of being labeled “judgy”) prevent them from having real conversations, then we all miss out on the opportunity to learn from each other.
Parenting is hard enough without having to go it alone.
Here are some things to keep in mind in order to engage in productive conversations about parenthood (Note: I’ve learned about a few of these by doing the opposite. Sometimes my foot goes directly in my mouth.):
•When you are sharing personal stories/anecdotes, always ground them in the context of your lived experience, and don’t posit them as universal lessons.
•Think about your tone and body language, and notice the tone/body language of the person you are talking to (it’s always better to talk face-to-face). If you are talking online, be even more careful and clear with your word choice.
•Share research you’ve done without making sweeping generalizations (You could say, “Breastfed babies are less likely to get colds and pneumonia,” but not “You have to breastfeed or your baby won’t be healthy.”)
•Ask the other person what they are excited about for the future, so the conversation isn’t all warnings/advice
•Always try to help other parents be more confident. We should build each other up! Share something they do that you admire.
•Be sensitive and practice empathy. You might not know if a couple has experienced infertility, miscarriage, or the loss of a child. Try not to make assumptions (like assuming that a couple can have more children) and then ask questions based on those assumptions.
•Don’t be too hard on yourself. We all mess up. If you think you came off “judgy” in a conversation, check in with the other person and clarify your intentions.