A truth about becoming a parent is that people…other people will give you advice.
Sometimes you will hunt for that advice. Sometimes you will seek out experts for much needed advice. Other times you will get completely unsolicited advice from strangers.
Sometimes it’s helpful and other times …not so much.
Like the day a helpful stranger advised me in the park that my infant needed a hat, socks and a blanket while outside on a sunny, hot, humid South Florida day. Well meaning perhaps but not helpful.
This is the story of an unexpected bit of helpful parenting advice that I’ve held onto for years.
My daughter graduates from high school this year and that is a milestone. Perhaps that’s why this memory popped into my head.
It’s one of the oldest jokes in the world because it’s hilarious but new babies do not come with instruction manuals.
When my first baby was a newborn I stressed a lot about doing things correctly. I think that’s pretty common.
Backing up a little bit – It is my nature to try to study and learn as much as I can before I do new things. When I was about 5 months pregnant, a long time girlfriend of mine actually sent me a note that said, “Amy, stop reading parenting books – they’ll just give you more to worry about.”
She knows me well – I had a stack of books at home that I had already read and my list of worries about what could go wrong … was long.
Even though I was already a stepmom to two wonderful kids – the role of mom to newborn was a big shocker. I had not been around when my step-kids were babies so it was all new to me.
Babies are both strong and delicate. Interestingly, that describes me as a newborn mom as well.
In search of support I had found a mom and baby group at a nearby hospital. It met weekly or maybe every other week under the guidance of a wonderful and loving nurse named Faith. That group was amazingly helpful but my first trip to this group was super stressful.
Getting out of the house by yourself with a new baby is an act of planning on par with launching a rocket into space.
Honestly, if you’ve not done it you may think this is an extreme exaggeration. If you have done it you know that of course it’s an exaggeration. BUT… only slightly so.
New babies are either sleeping, eating or crying and none of those statuses matches easily with getting them into or out of a car to go to a meeting.
Also, in what is one of the modern rules of physics transporting a 8 or 9 pound newborn baby requires a crazy amount of equipment in bags and strollers and packs and …just so much stuff.
This trip to the mom group might have been my very first solo trip with the baby.
I got up.
I got dressed in my ill-fitting post-baby clothes.
I got the baby dressed in an adorable baby outfit.
I got us both in the car which at first feels like it requires a mechanical engineering degree.
I got us to the location without crashing the car because I was trying to look at the baby when I needed to be looking where I was going.
I found a parking space in the garage.
I got the baby out of the car and was waiting for the elevator in the garage and of course my baby started crying and I got very nervous and started sweating.
Sweating right after you’ve had a baby is a full body event. I’m not normally a big heavy sweater but I remember this surprising defiant act of my body – moisture just weeps out of your entire body. So in addition to feeling overwhelmingly anxious I was also very self-conscious of my appearance.
There were two other people nearby waiting to get in the elevator. A well-dressed, silver-haired woman who generally reminded me of my mom’s mom. My grandmother was pretty much the boss of that family. And a janitor dressed in a work uniform and with I think a broom, and other work stuff.
The elevator doors opened.
We all got in.
Once inside this tiny echo chamber… to me my baby’s cries seemed deafening, urgent bordering on an emergency.
I started to unbuckle my baby to pick her up. And the silver-haired woman chastised me by saying, “Oh, you don’t want to do that. If you pick up your baby every time they cry they’ll never stop.”
I can still hear her voice.
She was confident with what she was saying.
I was not confident at all in my role as new mom. I stopped what I was doing. My baby kept crying – I kept sweating and feeling like a very bad mom.
I was a new mom and this was somebody older than me. I should listen, right?
These are the rules. Listen to your elders.
I remember that the elevator ride seemed endless. Looking back about 17 years I can see that it was short. It’s a small garage – maybe 4 floors – so this all happened in maybe 2 minutes.
The janitor was behind me. He cleared his throat and gently tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and he said softly, “You go ahead and love that baby how you feel is right. You can’t love your baby too much.” And he smiled. Also, unsolicited advice from a total stranger. But… this felt better.
I picked my baby up. She settled on my shoulder and quieted down. She did that sort of snorting and hiccuping thing that babies do right after they cry hard while they catch their breath. I let out a breath that I’d been holding deep inside.
I felt like got a “look” from the older lady as she walked purposefully out of the elevator leaving me with my newborn — and all the stuff I was trying to lug around. Maybe that was in my imagination.
The janitor parked his work stuff and held the elevator door and helped me manage the stroller and holding the baby and all the baby bags and stuff all the way to my meeting. We talked as we walked and the only thing I remember is that he did have a bunch of kids and grandkids of his own.
I could not be more thankful to that man who helped me on that day. I don’t know his name and I don’t think I ever saw him again. But, he gave me what became one of the cornerstones of how I have tried to choose to parent.
This is not the only time I’ve gotten great advice from people along the way – or the only time I’ve been thankful beyond words for the help of a stranger with my young kids.
I’m not a perfect parent …definitely not. Nope. No. Not perfect. I have many many embarrassing stories of my parenting imperfection.
I do love my kids a lot.
When given a choice I try to choose the things that feel like love to me. Because like that wise man once said, you can’t love your babies too much.
Figuring out what’s right and wrong as a parent feels like it is a very tough thing.
Following what feels like love to me and learning to trust that as a guide has been helpful to me in some tough spots.
It doesn’t mean that I always do what my kids want.
It doesn’t mean I always make the best parenting choices.
It doesn’t mean that people stopped giving me advice that I didn’t ask for.
It definitely doesn’t mean that other parents agree with my decisions.
It does usually mean I’m more comfortable and empowered with my choices because I know why I make them.
I love this tool because this is a tool that I already had within me. I didn’t have to learn anything new. I just needed to listen to something I already had inside me.
I’m so very thankful for that parenting lesson in a very unexpected place and from what at the time seemed like the unexpected source.
Who am I to give parenting advice? Just an imperfect parent. Who is anybody to give advice?
In fact, sometimes I’m very sceptical of people who say that they are parenting experts. On the other hand I’ve gotten some very good advice from parenting experts. I’m telling … this parenting gig is tough.
People tell you before you have babies that it’s a job that never ends. For me I don’t think there was any way for me to understand that until I got fully into it.
I was thankful when somebody shared this with me so I share it with you.
You may not have kids at home or at all.
But kids or not we all have tough decisions to make.
Figuring out what works for each of us to make intentional decisions that we can each live with. That’s a pretty good skill to have.
Teenagers are a whole new thing. Loving them while they become adults is a whole new sleepless adventure.
If you find this article at a time when it helps you – then it will be worthwhile that I wrote it.
Thanks for reading.