Please, give me parenting advice

Unsolicited parenting tips have made me a better mother

Newborn baby.
(Image credit: Cavan Social / Alamy Stock Photo)

I love when people give me unsolicited parenting advice. Honestly.

I'm talking family, friends, and, yes, even strangers. Because you know what? I'm still pretty new at this whole parenting thing. I'm winging it, really, and I want as much educated advice as possible. I know some parents hate unsolicited parenting advice, and that's fair enough. But I've learned so much from other mothers, fathers, and people on the street who "butted in," and I'm so glad that they did.

Why am I so open to this otherwise frowned-upon behavior? I have a pair of nail clippers to thank. That's right, teeny-tiny nail clippers, which I was using to trim my wailing newborn's even tinier fingernails. I grew more frustrated by the second as he resisted and squirmed. My mother-in-law chimed in. "Just bite them," she said.

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I was confused. The nail clippers had been listed under "baby essentials" on the website where I registered! Surely they were necessary. Maybe I was just doing it wrong? But she repeated her statement with confidence, something I noticed I had been desperately lacking ever since giving birth. So, I did as she suggested. I bit my son's nails. They were softer than I realized and came off instantly, and the whole process didn't terrify my son (or me!) like the elaborate and strange silver contraption did.

As time went on, the advice kept rolling in. "Turn on the vacuum cleaner if you want the baby to sleep," a friend insisted, explaining that the loud white noise simulates the womb and comforts newborns. I didn't end up going that far, but I did discover that standing near a running washing machine got the job done using the same principles.

"Don't get that one," a store clerk chided as I picked up a floral-patterned diaper bag. "Your husband will never want to carry it, so you'll be stuck with it all the time. Get something neutral. And make it black or blue." I did, and she was right.

Taking parenting advice from others can not only provide a number of handy tips, but it also absolves us of our sometimes self-destructive determination to be perfect parents at all costs. A surprising amount of the advice I've received has been centered on the idea of giving me permission to be a "bad mom."

For example, while books and internet forums told me I should never, ever let my newborn cry, my own mother warned me that there would be days when I needed to put my crying baby down for long enough to take a deep breath and regain my sanity. And she was right.

While every maternal bone in my body told me that I should be with my baby every second of every day, the sage words of others reminded me that I was allowed — and encouraged — to take some time for myself, even if that meant just a walk around the block while a friend, family member, or neighbor held the baby.

I worried asking for help would be an indication of failure, but I soon realized that asking for help was the only way I would survive.

Sometimes the advice came from friends. Sometimes it came from family. Sometimes it came from the friendly lady at the grocery store, or the person next to me on the subway. All of it was unsolicited, and all of it was desperately needed.

Of course, not all advice is good advice. Believe me, I've heard my fair share of eyebrow-raising and even rage-inducing suggestions. No, I don't think dressing my baby boy in yellow is insufficiently masculine. Nope, those weird scaly patches on my baby's head are actually just cradle cap — he does not have a contagious disease, thank you very much.

Sometimes, even good advice is advice that I simply don't want to take. Yes, I know he should be wearing a hat, but he has already thrown it off 12 times this morning and I am frankly just tired of picking it up and putting it on when I know it's futile. But hey, tell me anyway. Because here's the thing: I'd rather roll my eyes at 10 strangers and get helpful advice from the 11th than miss out on a golden nugget that will help me get through the dog days of parenting.

So, bring on the tips. Don't censor yourself. I worry that the more we deride well-meaning individuals who are only trying to help, the more those people will hesitate to jump in and share their valuable thoughts, stories, and knowledge with the rest of us newbies.

Little by little, I'm starting to acquire a knowledge bank of my own. And since I love unsolicited parenting advice so much, I'll give you some of my own: Grocery delivery is your best friend after giving birth. So is dry shampoo.

My other piece of advice? Don't wait for unsolicited advice to come to you. Go out and look for it. Ask everyone you know who ever raised a child to tell you what they wished they'd known before giving birth. If it rings true, write it down. If it doesn't, thank them, smile, and move on.

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