Mothering Advice: Take What Works for You and Leave the Rest
By Jean Merrill, Maryland


If you have attended La Leche League Series Meetings, you might have heard the phrase, “Take the mothering advice that works for you and leave the rest.” While these 12 little words might seem insignificant, they are actually profound building blocks to empower mothers. Sometimes a simple sentence means so much.

It may have happened to many of us. When we struggle in a difficult mothering moment or when we feel the most vulnerable, those around us want to help fix the situation and offer advice. Those well-intended “helping” messages smoothly slip out from an elderly woman in the grocery store, when chatting with a neighbor, or from a health care provider. No matter how well meaning or how effective the informational nugget was for the advice giver, sometimes these suggestions can feel steeped in judgment and undermine your own mothering instincts. This can especially be true when advice is passed along from those whom we love most: our family members and friends. It can feel hurtful when those we trust most think that we should be doing things differently.

Let’s examine the pivotal word here: advice. Enter this word in an online search engine and you’ll see that “advice” is defined as “guidance or recommendations concerning prudent future action, typically given by someone regarded as knowledgeable or authoritative.” Herein lies the problem. The only expert in the needs of your baby and family is you. Yes, you read that correctly. You are the expert. Isn’t that refreshing to hear when mothering sometimes feels undervalued in our society? Nobody is as knowledgeable and authoritative about your baby’s subtle cues and signals, and nobody else is an authority on the inner-workings of your family dynamics.

Ladies, the advice is going to come whether it is welcome or not. Listen carefully even if it goes against the grain of your mothering style. You can even be grateful for the intention of the advice giver, who most likely does want to help. If you are armed with the power to decide what works for your family, it doesn’t have to feel judgmental. You are the judge of what is and isn’t helpful to you. Take the good suggestions and leave the rest. You are the mother and you are the expert. You get to choose.

When mothering input resonates with you and feels right for your family, it can feel like one of Oprah’s famous “aha moments.” These occasions are rare and wonderful. Snatch them up! Internalize the suggestion, try it on for size, and feel free to amend it to fit your family. You have the authority and wisdom to nip and tuck in order to evolve your own mothering choices.

If part of something you hear sounds like it might work for your family, simply slice out what you like and walk away from the scraps. Leave the unhelpful tips hanging in the air like a dialogue bubble from a comic book.

Responding to critical advice and getting yourself out of an awkward conversation can be tricky. Your reply ideally will acknowledge the input firmly and without judgment, while also allowing you to set a personal boundary. Having a quick statement in your back pocket might help if a situation gets sticky. Try something like, “Thanks, but this is what is working for our family right now,” followed by a quick change of topic.

Mothering is a hard and important job. Let’s face it. Sometimes we can take all the help we can get. Take the good bits and pieces, take the encouragement, and, with a confident smile and a nod, leave the rest.