Being Gentle on New Parents

Being Gentle on New ParentsIn June, on Father’s Day, a picture of a beaming father snuggling his young daughter appeared on Instagram. His face is full of joy and pride. It’s a beautiful photo. Unfortunately, the father happened to be incorrectly, and potentially dangerously, using a baby carrier. More unfortunately, the father happened to
be the rather well known actor, Ryan Reynolds.

Internet users were quick to point out how he was misusing the carrier and was potentially placing his daughter in danger. They were quick to offer advice on how he should properly position his daughter. They were quick to yell, quick to berate, quick to tell this perfect stranger how badly he was parenting and how he should be doing it instead.

Now, I’m not a famous person. I don’t have the thick skin that I hope they do. (By the way, his response was perfect.) But I’ve seen this reaction, time and time again, aimed at everyday moms and dads, and I can tell you that it’s enough to make the average person cry. Car seats, baby carriers, diapers, feeding, travel, sleep…everyone has an opinion and many are just waiting to aim theirs squarely at you. As a new parent you’re bumbling, you’re stumbling; you just want a little reassurance and a high five. Turn to the Internet, though, and what you’re likely to find is many people who just want to point out that you’re doing it all wrong. Not exactly the welcome to the online parenting 
community that we’d like, right?

So, can we all just step back a minute? Can we think back to a time when we didn’t have the Internet to make us think we know it all? Can you remember a time when maybe you didn’t use that baby carrier just the right way until a friend stepped in to help you adjust? Can you think of a time when you didn’t read every manual that came with every baby item before you first used it? Can you think of a time when you didn’t have a clue about what you were doing but you still found a way and were proud as heck that you and baby were surviving? I certainly can. Every time I write one of these blogs, I scrutinize every photo I submit just to make sure I’m not displaying to the world some gaff that I, as a brand-new, sleep deprived mother did not know I was committing.

So the next time you come across a photo on the Internet that makes you want to speak up, stop and try this first:

  1. Read the comments. Please, take just a minute to read the comments that others have already left. Has the same bit of information that you would like to impart already been left by 59 other commenters? Repeating what’s already been said simply makes well-intentioned advice seem like an assault.
  2. Assess the situation. Is the offense a matter of safety, or simply a matter of parenting differences? Did the original poster ask for opinions or help? If they didn’t, and if the situation is more about parenting styles, then just keep scrolling.
  3. Private Message. If the advice you wish to give is not already provided, or if you feel that you can offer more in depth detail or support, go ahead and send the mom or dad a private message if possible. If you’re telling someone that they’re doing it wrong, even if you simply intend to gently help them correct a safety issue, you’re better off doing it privately.
  4. Comment gently. Sometimes a private message is not always possible. If you’ve read the comments (or are the first commenter) and what you’d like to share hasn’t already been stated, proceed gently. Compliment the intention, even if the execution wasn’t flawless. Assume people honestly don’t know that they’re doing something unsafe. Something like “I LOVE seeing babywearing daddies! Isn’t it great to keep baby close? I happen to have the same carrier and know they can be tricky at first, so could I offer a tip? In this carrier, baby needs to have her legs above the waistband…” would have been a great way to approach the issue seen in the photo.

The Internet can be a fantastic place, full of information, entertainment, and social engagement. Unfortunately, the Internet can also be harsh, cold, and cruel. The distance between our fingers and the words that appear on the screen seems vast. The security of anonymity can lead us to say things to others that we may never say in person. So, type with care. Embrace those new moms and dads, make them feel welcome. Help them find secure footing in their rocky new world. Be kind.

 Kate Cunha lives in the Pacific NW with her husband and daughter. She is quite sure she doesn’t get it right all of the time.

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One Response to “Being Gentle on New Parents”

  1. Kelsie says:

    I love this so much. Thank you for saying this. I really hope it opens people’s eyes to the fact that they didn’t always have it all together themselves at one point either. With years of experience under your belt as a parent, you can be really helpful to someone who wants and needs your advice, if they ask. Otherwise, it comes off like an insult against your judgement and intentions as a parent, when most parents really are just trying to do what’s best for our children while wading through loads of strong opinions and conflicting information. I also understand it being difficult not to speak up sometimes because we care about kids, all kids and want what’s best for them, but sometimes you just have to relax and ask yourself is this really that big of a deal? Is this kid going to be okay? Most of the time when it comes to something you want to comment on, yes, this child will be fine, so is it worth hurting their parent(s) by speaking up on it? Is there a way to say it that isn’t completely judgmental and awful? Think of how you’d feel.