On the 4th of November, 2019, an open letter shot like a fireball from space and fell on online spaces, thoroughly berating a specific group: that of people who keep telling moms how to “mom”. The open letter penned by a clearly irked mother, Amanda Marcotte, was published on Manifest-Station.
“I don’t care if you’re my daughters [sic] dad, her grandmother, her aunt, or a concerned fellow parent – you do NOT get to tell me how to parent my child,” wrote Amanda.
However, it appears that the culture of dictating and offering unsolicited advice to mothers on how they should raise their kids is deeply ingrained. Maybe it needs another perspective from another mother who has had it up to her neck. This time, a young Kenyan mother, Sharon Gwada.
Sharon Gwada strikes out with a perspective piece that draws from her parenting experience. Why should you not tell someone how to mother, even if you are a mother yourself?
Pregnancy, childbirth, miscarriages, and even motherhood are not light topics. They are personal journeys, and therefore people should refrain from giving unsolicited advice to anyone who is going or has gone through the same. Women who have had these experiences—people serving them opinions on how to bring up their kids—should be at the forefront of letting people know it is not right.
You see, regardless of the relations you have to a mother, she will always have asymmetric information, in that, as the wearer of the shoe, only she can tell where it pinches.
She is not exclusively breastfeeding her under six months baby? Don’t ask why and don’t start shoving health benefits down her throat. Believe me, she is aware! Think she has not dressed her child warm enough? Let her be. Is she still giving her one-year-old blended foods as opposed to solids? Maybe her child has gag reflex.
Unless she offers or asks, don’t give.
You may wonder; why should we not inundate mothers with unsolicited advice?
The way our grandparents raised our parents, the way our parents raised us, and the way we will raise our children; differ enormously. This is largely contributed by the time factor. Times are changing. New technology arises every day, and even if we wanted to duplicate old techniques, it would be difficult. Some things have remained the same but we can’t turn a blind eye to change that has been inevitable.
For example, growing up, our parents used to make porridge with milk. Further research has since discovered that the calcium in milk will prevent the iron in porridge from being absorbed. It is not advised, but it is also not hazardous enough to cause complications, hence some women still do it.
Medical and baby advice is constantly changing and there would be no point in doing things the old ways when we clearly have new and better ways of doing them.
Children are different
There are no two children who are alike. Whether born of the same folks, born in the same hospital, same bed, by the expert hands of the same doctors, at the same time; no two children are the same. Not even identical twins. So what makes you think they require the same manual to be raised?
Regular mothers, especially, are fond of telling new mothers the dos and don’ts of motherhood. “I did this and that with my child and it worked so you should do the same, too.” No. In as much as it might work, what if they want to try something else? Most women, believe me, from the time they get pregnant, know the kind of mothers they want to become. They might be novices and not know every page from the book of motherhood, but it’s upon them to know which road to follow and which to avoid.
Besides that, growth also differs from child to child. Some grow teeth at the age of four months while for others it may take even up to two years. Some crawl from six months, while others may skip or use different methods of movement like rolling or dragging on their buttocks.
If you have to help where you haven't been asked, because I understand some people need help, do it in a non-condescending manner. And if they ask, give and go. Don’t wait to check if they followed or get mad if they don’t.
Mothers do their best even if it is not evident
Motherhood is one of the most overworked and underpaid jobs one can ever get to do. From the start, you are sleep-deprived, then you have to get used to the new addition of a little human depending on you. There is constant disruption from your daily routine, among other challenges.
Before I became a mum, I used to meet parents with not-so-well-dressed children or children with unkempt hair and wondered what kind of parents they were. I thought that some of the kids were too pampered or their parents were too harsh on them.
Motherhood has since taught me otherwise. Kids get to a certain age where they want to do things and just be themselves, and some parents allow this and watch with love.
Being with child means something will have to give. If you want to go out at night or someplace not conducive for children, then you have to pay someone to babysit. And please, it does not help to keep asking someone where their child is or who is watching over them.
So, if you meet a mum and feel like letting something off your chest, just tell her she’s doing a great job because it would only be fair to let them raise their children however they deem fit.
On the contrary, not all mothers get a green light to raise children as they consider appropriate. There have been cases where mothers have been reported to be doing the bare minimum when it comes to the welfare of their children.
A few weeks ago, my neighbour locked her seven-year-old out and went to party. Past midnight, she still hadn’t returned. The child, who had no warm clothing despite an extremely cold night, sat on the neighbour’s balcony and kept checking if her mother was on the way. Neighbours were afraid of taking her in because this had happened before and the mother threw a tantrum when good samaritans helped the child.
In such cases, while a polite talk over coffee might be a good start, such women should be cautioned and even reported to authorities. They might have given birth, but it takes a village to raise a child.
The writer blogs at Hub of Creative Non-fiction