There is something about pregnancy and parenting that unleashes a torrent of unsolicited advice from all around, says Lizzie Catt. For me, it started at the chemist, long before I’d even managed to get knocked up. Planning to come off the pill soon, I decided to pick up some folic acid along with the painkillers I needed for a wretched hangover. ‘You can’t have ibuprofen!’ scolded the shop assistant crossly, ogling the contents of my basket and pointing in outrage at my (wine-filled) stomach. ‘It’s bad for Baby!’
‘If there’s a chance you’re pregnant, you shouldn’t have ibuprofen,’ would have been more appropriate and less, well, humongously patronising, though I didn’t say anything – how can you, when people are only trying to help? But several years and a deluge of over-the-top, uninvited and just plain bonkers parenting advice later, I have some strategies in place…
Random advice comes from both well-meaning and well mean strangers. Sometimes, it’s a tut of, “That baby needs winding,” from a granny in the doctors’ waiting room as you struggle with a fever-struck bub. Other times, it’s an unprovoked 15 minute monologue from some woman at soft play about how your tear-splattered, screaming toddler would stop having tantrums if you taught him Makaton, as you edge out of the door to take him home for the nap he desperately needs.
The strategy: Create a cloud of bafflement and use the confusion to escape. ‘He’s not screaming, he’s communicating – we had him through a pioneering form of IVF using seagull DNA – byeeee!’
This is the trickiest area to deal with. Some advice will be gold and some will be claptrap. To make things more complicated, your family are the ones it’s safest to lash out at while you’re tired and grisly, when great advice can seem like… well, meddling. The flashpoint here is often the generation gap: “Well, WE weaned you at four months/slept you on your front/gave you honey/left you at the end of the garden/never had you in our room/scrubbed our own nappies/didn’t go back to work/gave you a good smack if you were naughty/let you walk to school on your own… and YOU turned out fine!”
The strategy: Not doing things the way they used to be done may come over as a criticism, so blame the health visitor, point out the relevant page on the NHS website, smile politely and try a little hypnobirthing breathing while you wait for the grumbling to subside.
Friends are usually full of terrific advice, but just as with family, things can get awkward if what worked for them doesn’t work for you. Just because their little one slipped into a blissful eight-hour slumber the second they clapped eyes on Ewan The Dream Sheep, goes into raptures over Night Garden or gobbles up all their food when it’s dipped in apple sauce, doesn’t mean yours will.
The strategy: Honesty. Good friends won’t be offended if you tried their trick and it failed, or you haven’t actually made it to the shop to buy the miracle nappy rash cream because you’re in the midst of teething hell, and they might even turn up with a packet of biscuits.
Sharing cute pics and funny moments on social media means that all your social media chums get to watch your little ones growing up, which is pretty magic when meeting up in real life is so hard. It’s also a great place for crowd-sourcing parenting strategies – just bear in mind that some of the advice proffered will be totally bananas.
Strategy: Cheery gratitude. Pressing the ‘like’ button and popping in a grinning emoji won’t kill you, will it? Unlike trying to fend off a fever with a herbal compress, as suggested by your former zumba teacher. Nooooo thank you, Barbara.