Giving and receiving advice as new parents

Carlotta Cerri

Oliver & nonna Savina

Today is one of those days when I can’t possibly pick a subject: a million and one posts are going through my mind (pregnancy hormones at work?) and I’d like to write about all of them at the same time. Well, that’s not going to work.


I’m now going to collect myself and I’ll tell you about a gorgeous sentence I stumbled upon a few days ago on a post written by Jason Fried:

Advice is like fruit: it's best when it's fresh.

It made me think about giving (and receiving) advice as new parents, and the reason why this sentence really agreed with me and my way of thinking is because of something that my mum told me when she was here visiting for two weeks (which, by the way, was great in order to go out for dinner a few nights with Alex… The couple really needed it!).

She said, “It’s like your and Alex’s word is the Bible”. That was her way of saying that we never follow her (or my dad’s) advice. Truth is, she’s partly right.

You see, since the very beginning of this journey called parenting, Alex and I have wanted to do things our way. What was our way? Well, we didn’t know yet, but we were very determined to find out, making mistakes and correcting them, but staying true to ourselves.

In order for you to understand where I’m going, I’ll tell you a quick anecdote: when Oliver was just a few days old, my mum and dad (who were here to meet their first grandson) insisted on us putting cream on his butt. As there’s nine years between me and my sister, I perfectly knew what they meant: I remember how my sister’s butt (sorry Cri, it’s relevant to the point) was always completely white, covered in Fissan cream.

Well, Alex and I didn’t want that. We are that kind of weird parents who never ever used any chemicals (creams, oils) or medicine on Oliver, at least not in the first year of his life—we continue on that line, but we’re more flexible now. As in everything else, we simply think the more natural, the better.

Despite letting my parents know, the third day they got home with a pack of cream from the pharmacy. We never used it, and when Oliver’s butt became all red in an uncomfortable way, we went to the pharmacy ourselves and bought the most natural cream they had (we chose the Nappy Cream by German Weleda).

I’m sure my parents thought we didn’t appreciate their help or didn’t want their advice.

Well, that’s not true. Back than, on our third day of being parents, we still didn’t know we wanted a natural cream for Oliver’s butt. Actually, we thought we didn’t need a cream at all—that’s why we didn’t use the one they had bought—and had to compromise as we went on. So in a way we did follow their advice, we just had to come to our own conclusion in our own time.

This is to say, we do value their experience, we like listening to the way they did things, and even when it looks like I don’t—because I have already made up my mind—I listen. I listened when they told me to give him medicine to lower his 39.5°C fever, I listened when they told me not to take him up every time he cries if we don’t want to spoil him, I listened when they told me to put new clothes on a few-day-old Oliver without washing them first (we did it once as it was an emergency and never again). I listened. We listened, but then we did what we thought was right for us and for him, which just happened to be different from what they recommended.

Advice is about experience, isn’t it? That’s probably why older people feel they have more to give and that, because of that hierarchy that naturally arises, younger people should listen to them.

But I believe that the experience of 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 80 years stands on his own and it’s not really comparable. My life experience in my 30 years of life is clearly going to be less than my mum’s experience of 55. But that doesn’t mean that her experience will surely help me tackle my own challenges or raise my own children: we’re different people, raised in different ways, grown up in different times, and my choices of life and point of views couldn’t be more different from hers.

What I’m saying is, re new parents often underestimate our potential and think that somebody who’s already gone through it will know better. That’s not always true.

Things have changed a great deal since our parents were parents of a baby/toddler. Nowadays, there are so many courses for parents, to empower them, to give them the tools they need to make decisions based on their values and beliefs, instead of blindly follow obsolete guidelines and listen to authorities that are not up to date.

Parents can now be less and less naive; thanks to the internet, they have all the knowledge they need at their fingertips to make their own decisions and be their own parents. You may argue the internet is full of misleading information which is not always good and right, and I fully agree with you, but I came to believe that too much information is better than no information at all: you just have to learn to make a selection based on your principles and values.

Like that time when the paediatrician wanted to give Oliver a urine test using a catheter up his penis, claiming a plastic bag wasn’t reliable enough: because I had researched on the internet, I insisted they used the plastic bag and only in case of a positive result, we could go on using the more invasive (and way more painful) catheter. They looked at me like I was a lunatic, one of those cuckoo mums who think they always know best. Well, the results came back negative and there was no need for further (painful) tests.

Now, I’m not saying I don’t want my parents to advise us. All I’m asking is they accept that we might not take it, and despite their 30 year experience as parents, we might choose to follow our friend’s advice who’s got an 18-month-old son and just went through the phase we’re about to live with Oliver.

Because advice is welcome in any shape, color, hierarchy and language, but it is, indeed, best fresh.

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