The old lady at the playground “doesn’t want to butt in” but Bina really should be wearing shoes. and she shouldn’t be wearing a necklace. and what’s with Bina’s pants? As I’m about to start explaining EC, she tells me about her 46 grandchildren and 20 greatgrandchildren and how her children always realize she’s right about everything in the end. Then she tells me a little about her time in the holocaust, my inner voice starts, “oh gosh, I’m a snotnose first-time mother, I need to learn from my elders more often…” and at the same time, “HEY lady get that sugar cereal out of bina’s face!”
We have authors, grandmas, doctors, lawyers, hippies, dancers, preachers, teachers… So how do we make sense of their conflicting expert advice? It would be nice if we could just say “go with your gut” but it can’t be the full answer – our guts have been formed by slick ad campaigns, mass media, and status quo since the day we were born. I’d say just go with the wisdom passed down from generation to generation, but occasionally this wisdom skips a generation (as when our grandmothers lost valuable tips about breastfeeding because in their day doctors said formula feeding was best). Our guts tend to change a little once we become parents and start doing things we thought we’d never be the type to do… so sometimes it’s worth learning a little before we go with our prejudiced gut.
Once we open to advice without putting it on a pedestal, we want to find our own organizing philosophy – for me that philosophy tends toward attachment parenting and for you it may be what your parents always taught you, or “what would Ghandi do?” or something else. If someone suggests you go to a sleep expert, find out whether that expert comes from the baby training camp or the nighttime parenting camp, so you can decide if it’s consistent with your general way of doing things. If someone suggests a nutritionist, find out if they are calorie-counters or holistic health counselors (or just think what Dad/Gandhi/AP friends would say about this person’s advice).
It can also be helpful to look at some research, or if we don’t have access/time/interest, at least question whether our experts are keeping up with the research in their field. And ask your expert to tailor their opinion to you. Tell them where you are coming from to see if they have had any experience with people who share your preferences. We all know the feeling of clamming up because we think the person we’re talking to will disagree – we can we work instead on sharing what we think in non-confrontational ways to both learn and share (and share the park space).
Different experts have different priorities, let alone that they are human just like the rest of us and sometimes are mistaken. Your physical therapist wants you to avoid carrying your baby around in the car seat for extended periods because they see too many flat-headed babies and mother’s with wrist, shoulder and neck injuries – your babywearing advocate may focus more on the bonding that comes from frequently using a carrier. An animal rights activist has different reasons for being vegetarian than a nutritionist. A golfer and a landscaper are both experts in grass, but what they classify as perfect grass are probably very different.
“My parents did X, and I turned out ok…”
“We’re all doomed anyway, last week they said butter is bad, now margarine is bad – everything we do turns out that it was wrong!”
We’ve all heard these and similar comments, and they’re ok for avoiding “expert” advice that we don’t want or need, but can also be very reductionist.
Did X help you in any way, or did you turn out ok in spite of it? If you did turn out ok, would someone else have been so lucky? And quite frankly, DID you really turn out ok? We live in a society where chronic physical and emotional stress is the norm. Some of the things we think are fine because they are common may actually deserve a second thought. It is ok to make peace with some questionable choices that were made in our own childhoods, or the choices we make with our children, because we live in a non-perfect world and because we are resilient.
You may switch teams on your journey, or find there are many right ways, but at least you don’t loose confidence in the face of every conflicting opinion. Which is a way to return to our guts – once we have learned a bit, it becomes easier again to make fast judgments that are a little more in line with who we are, and who we want to be. That’s my expert opinion anyway.