The other day I was sitting at a restaurant bottle feeding Ben, when a woman approached me and asked me why I wasn't breastfeeding him. Despite my knowing that the question was inappropriate and all the possible reasons why a person would or could not breastfeed, I was in shock, and I stumbled to answer, "Uhhh, this is breastmilk... errr, I do breastfeed, I am trying to breastfeed!" And she proceeded to tell me how good breastfeeding was for her, and how she breastfed all of her own kids.
I don't doubt that the woman had the best intentions. I think most people offering unsolicited advice normally do, but that is besides the point. The point is how its received. It is hard for the person getting the advice not to interpret advice as criticism. In that moment in the restaurant, I took that woman to be telling me that I should be breastfeeding and was doing something wrong by bottle feeding. As new parents, Dave and I have been given a plethora of conflicting advice: breastfeeding will make your baby smarter and healthier, breastfeeding is overrated, let your kid cry a bit and soothe himself if you don't he will be needy, never let your baby cry it will cause permanent emotional damage, co-sleep, don't co-sleep because it will cause attachment, use a pacifier, don't use a pacifier - it will ruin your baby's teeth, use a swaddle, swaddles will ruin your baby's hips, so on and so forth. You get it. Every decision we have made has been with full knowledge of its supposed risks, and none has been with any level of confidence. I truly believe that our experience is one that is common to almost all new parents, and so giving unsolicited advice is actually providing criticism at a time when what is most needed is encouragement.
While I was pregnant I read blog entries on Cup of Jo and Kveller about how nice it feels to have someone tell you that you are a good mom. At the time I didn't quite get just how true that would be. The truth is, whatever advice you are about to give, rest assured, they have heard it. Trust me. So from now on, whenever I get the inclination to offer up some of my expert advice (we are all guilty), I will hold that thought and instead say, "You are a good mom (or dad)". I am sure that both of us will be better off for it.