New motherhood is a time of radical change. From a changing body to a changing list of responsibilities to a changing sleep schedule, successfully navigating this time is about being flexible and accepting change. It’s natural to overcome the challenges that accompany this change by reaching out to peers, parents, friends and even neighbors for advice and insight. In fact, your situation is normalized when you can talk openly about the uncertainty that is characteristic of new motherhood. However, what happens when you are faced with a great deal of unwanted advice? As these conversations unfold, it’s not uncommon to be inundated by too much advice, or advice from individuals you’d rather not hear from.
Here are four helpful strategies to overcome an environment of unwanted advice as a new mother, without offending those around you.
Practice Visualization Techniques
Not only a postpartum technique but also helpful during pregnancy, visualization a form of “emotional protection” around you can be a powerful technique to protect your energy when unwanted advice is abundant. Others will project their own challenges on you when discussing new motherhood and this visualization technique can help provide distance and an emotional barrier.
A common practice used by my clients is visualizing a bubble around themselves or even a tight sleeping bag that can be zipped snuggly around them. When using this visualization, imagine the unwanted advice bouncing off the bubble or being impermeable to the sleeping bag. When you feel bombarded with messages, this practice can prevent those messages from influencing you, especially if you know those messages and bits of unwanted advice won’t serve you and could even lead to self-doubt, shame, anxiety and depression as a new mom.
Consider Intentions and Source
In my practice, oftentimes unwanted advice comes from a new mother’s own mother or mother-in-law. The advice is often problematic because these women grew up in a different time with different definitions of success. For instance, if your mother raised you in the 1980’s, chances are that canned food and microwave meals were far more trendy than organic produce. Fast-forward to today, and science has taught us about the importance of reducing additives and chemicals in children’s food. The advice your mother gives you about simplifying life for your young child with convenience foods might not align with the current pediatric recommendations, but that strategy might have work for her when she was a new mother decades ago.
As unwanted as the advice may be, consider the intention, which is your mother’s desire to give you tools that might help you overcome challenges of limited time and resources. From her perspective, this might appear to be a “pay it forward” moment in which she can share “wisdom”. Although it might feel to you that your mother is giving you dated advice and being pushy, take a moment to consider her intentions and it might be easier to be patient with her during this time. Saying “no thank you” when this advice is pushed on you can be an act of self-care.
So often, the act of giving advice is affirming to the one sharing it. It might help him or her work through his or her own challenges and provide a feeling that others can learn from one’s previous mistakes. When you can identify these scenarios of projection, sometimes it’s best to simply respond with gratitude by listening and thanking your friend for sharing.
Breastfeeding is a topic that comes up often as challenging for new mothers. Perhaps your friend also found it challenging and eventually decided to formula feed instead. While there is no right or wrong choice, your friend may feel compelled to share her experience of how wonderful formula feeding was as a way to almost rationalize her decision, while trying to convince you to do the same. While that decision may have been right for her and her family, it may not be the right one for your situation. In these moments, accepting and thanking your friend for her advice and then pivoting to a new topic is a helpful strategy.
Set And Reaffirm Boundaries
If unwanted advice is creating a lot of stress and anxiety in your life, and even cultivating an environment in which you find yourself avoiding certain individuals, it might be necessary to set boundaries in these scenarios. For instance, if your work colleagues are giving you daily advice about raising your new baby, it’s not out of line to ask them to refrain from unwanted advice during the workday. You might phrase this as “Balancing work and life as a new mom has been challenging and when I am at work, it helps me to focus on work rather than thinking about my new baby”. It’s essential to initially set these verbal boundaries, and then reaffirm them if they are not honored.
If unwanted advice continues, circle back with your colleagues and remind them that separating work and personal life helps you focus on what is important professionally when you are in the office. You can even make light of it, reminding them that you are up all night with your new baby, and work is a nice break from the demands of new motherhood, so you want to focus on work when you have the opportunity.
At Center for Shared Insight, we specialize in working with new moms during the initial periods of change. It’s during this time of transition that moms often need the most support and therefore seek out the advice of others. However, that advice isn’t guaranteed to serve you and support the vision you have for your new family. Having a more neutral support system by working with a therapist can help you make the four strategies above become a reality, and sort the helpful advice from the less-meaningful noise.
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