I am ashamed to admit it, but I am guilty of momsplaining.
What is momsplaining? Well, you’ve no doubt heard of mansplaining: “The tendency of some men to mistakenly believe that they automatically know more about any given topic than does a woman and who, consequently, proceed to explain to her- correctly or not- things that she already knows.” (with thanks to urbandictionary.com).
Well, I’ve done something infinitely worse, and I’m not proud of it.
Urban dictionary hasn’t recognized or defined momsplaining yet, so allow me:
Momsplaining is the tendency of some experienced mothers* to climb on their soapboxes and try to sell their particular parenting paradigms to new parents, whether their prospective audience wants them to or not, in the mistaken belief that their advice is both special and relevant.
Have you ever done this? Or, worse, have you ever been momsplained to?
If you’ve ever been a part of a parenting support group, you may have experienced momsplaining. I sure did. I spent my first few weeks as a new mother taking part in weekly meetings for breastfeeding support, sponsored by the hospital in which I gave birth. What I remember most about these meetings is the noise. Everyone couldn’t wait to share a birthing story, an impassioned plea about your diaper choice, guidelines on how and when to wean, why you should or shouldn’t do immunizations. There were so many zealots selling their beliefs regarding parenthood that it turned ugly sometimes, when one faction disagreed vehemently with another. I literally couldn’t get in a word edge-wise, not that I had much to say. I just remember being pummeled by comments and advice. When I quit the group after the first 6 weeks of being a new parent, I began unraveling how *I* actually wanted to parent my daughter. I had a lot to figure out, and very few role models or friends who could act as a sounding board.
I did figure things out. And a lot of research and thought went into how I and my partner do this parenting thing. Three kids later, we’ve had a lot of practice with The Method that works for us and our family. We are professionals. Or so we think.
But we are only professionals in our own little universe. Our experience is limited to this household, these children, this set of choices, this dynamic we’ve agreed upon and that works only for us. Outside of our house, we know nothing of parenting other people’s children. And neither do you.
Oh, we parents have stories. We certainly have opinions. And those views really do have value. I, personally, believe in the sharing of stories and advice. That’s one of the reasons I have a blog. But you can choose to visit mothermirth.com. You can exit by clicking that “x” in the corner. You can lose interest early on in my articles. You probably do. Hell, I probably just lost half of my readers in that last paragraph.
But some of you stick around. And for you, I have some very sage advice: Keep your parenting advice to yourself.
Parents are eager to tell their stories, to share that wealth of knowledge they’ve accumulated through sweat and tears and random infant fluids and insomnia. In that desire to help, they sometimes overstep their boundaries. I truly believe they mean well! I know I did! But just because you mean well doesn’t give you the right to cram your unsolicited advice down someone else’s throat.
If I had a quarter for all the times I received well-meaning advice from someone who just wanted to help, well, I’d have enough for a large number of Starbucks Triple Mocha Lattes. With whipped cream. Approximately.
Recently, I’m the one who thought she was “making a difference.” An occasion presented itself to “help” a friend, and I jumped in way too fast–before really considering my actions–with my two cents’ worth of advice. Actually, I gave more than my two cents. I unloaded a wealth of unasked-for parenting advice that was overwhelming, presumptuous, and, quite honestly, thoughtless. I totally won the fail trophy.
When my friend turned on the righteous firehose of anger, and pointed it my way in a stream of coherent-yet-unbridled criticism of my actions, I was appropriately doused in shame. I took a long, hard look at my communication to her, and I was embarrassed. I know my friend is intelligent, well read, and infinitely capable. And she doesn’t need me or anyone to give her unsolicited parenting advice. I learned my lesson, and it stings. A lot. I think I’m a better person for it. I learned an important lesson in how to be a better friend to my new-parent friends.
And I am now a reformed momsplainer.
So here is my best advice to all of you experienced parents: As your friends start having babies, you are going to feel compelled to want to help them. Here’s what you do. Offer to watch their little one while they go for a haircut. Offer to bring over some food. Do something thoughtful. Do NOT offer suggestions unasked, because you are denying them the very real-world experience of gaining wisdom by figuring it out for themselves! And then you, too, will be hereafter known as the insufferable know-it-all. But if they do ask you for advice, be very careful about the words you use. Keep your suggestions simple and without bias. Share your stories when asked, but know that it’s so easy to slip into momsplaining. Remember that there’s a crucial difference between sharing knowledge when asked to, and bashing someone over the head with your beliefs.
Your friends trust you to be there if she/he/they need you. And I hope that you are needed. That means you get to be the lucky human who is on the support crew for a new, beautiful family, and your job is simply to be awesome.
So. Don’t screw it up. Just. Be. Awesome.*I’m calling this “momsplaining” but it could just as easily be “dadsplaining” or “un-gendered parental-type-person ‘splaining.”