Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Mum knows ... best?

There are many people keen to give advice to first-time mums, whether it's taken in the manner it was intended is another story. File photo / Russell Smith
There are many people keen to give advice to first-time mums, whether it's taken in the manner it was intended is another story. File photo / Russell Smith

There is a strange paradox going on with modern women. They buy advice and self-help books as if they are going out of fashion, and yet they bridle when anyone offers them any actual, real-world, on-the-spot advice.

I have noticed in particular that women becoming mothers in their 30s are quite possibly the worst, because they are not used to asking for help from anyone and are simply not accustomed to - for example - older mothers, aunties and other friendly neighbourhood busy-bodies offering up advice on anything related to raising loin fruit.

Now perhaps this is fair to some extent. Following my own mother's advice would have led to me to add cereal to a baby's bottle at 3 weeks, for example, and quit breastfeeding as soon as possible. It didn't kill me, so yes my children still would have survived on her regime, but I'd like to think medical science has had something to offer new mums in the years between 1972 and today.

Regardless of her wise and/or loopy advice, however, I can never imagine telling my mother to naff off, as some women claim to, or to bark defensively at anyone who dares try and help, even when their advice does not accord with mine.

After all, if a woman has raised children even semi-successfully she must have some idea of things that work and those that don't. And a simple smile, all the while thinking, "I'd rather drink paint stripper than try that", is usually all that's required.

I hear many tales of women who hate Plunket nurses, for example, when the nurses had the temerity to suggest one thing or another to a woman already doubting her own methods. Nurse says something well meaning but perhaps not as softly as she could, woman, frazzled, gets her back up, and an otherwise worthwhile relationship breaks right down. Which is a real shame, because it is a doubly precious resource for women who may not have their mothers or sisters nearby.

Of course it's not just Plunket nurses who offer advice. I remember distinctly holding a new mums group at my house and hearing the tales of women with two-month-olds talking about getting their children into a routine.

I said, thinking I was being helpful, 'I don't reckon there's any such thing as a routine, at least up til six months'.

The advice, which I would have found comforting as a first time mum, was discarded without hesitation.

"Oh, my Luke [made up name] gets up every morning at 6am, and goes back to sleep at 10. He's done it for weeks now - he's definitely into a routine".

Um, until his first tooth comes. Or he gets a bout of colic, or a cold.

My sister, who's youngest child is seven months old, has had a similar experience of the well-to-do 30s mother recently.

She took her baby along to a music group which was really aimed at children between 1.5 and three years old, but there were plenty under a year there, perhaps enjoying the tune but showing few other signs of music appreciation, while mothers sang their hearts out, clapped their hands, and generally performed the clown routine, having never met a class they didn't want to be top of.

"One of the mothers there just spent the whole time grappling with her child. She had woken him to get there, walked for 40 minutes in a hurry and then he kept crying and giving gyp the whole time," she wrote to me afterwards.

After class, my sister visited the home of a particularly anxious first time mum nearing 40. Every time the child was put down he would cry piteously, and the woman apparently would sprint from one end of the house to the other to fuss over him. And yes, that is a natural response, especially the first time 'round.

But when she told my sister that her baby only slept 30 minutes a day, my sister - very politely, again, trying to be helpful - suggested the woman leave the child a little to let him get settled alone. (Inside she was screaming, "leave the bloody kid alone and stop giving yourself an aneurysm!")

She was greeted with a look that one might have given Pol Pot if he'd been stumbled across after reading a potted history of Cambodia.

Yes, we are most of us anxious first-time mothers to some degree, and the whole sleeping/eating/diapering thing really throws many of us for a loop. But our second babies are usually more relaxed, and it's for good reason. We don't have the time and energy to monitor their every inhalation, and we throw out the rule books.

But whether trying to communicate that to a first time mum will meet with any success, ever, remains a complete unknown.

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Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

Read more by Dita De Boni

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