“Let them cry it out” was the number 1 piece of advice offered to mothers which often had both parties crying in the wee hours of the morning. Mums also couldn’t win when it came to advice on naps – too many and it was their fault that their little ones didn’t sleep through the night, too few and they were also to blame. Where babies slept and whether they got given a dummy were also up for public debate.
Unsurprisingly mums also came under fire with lots of advice on how they fed their little ones and it could really knock their confidence and motivation. Decisions on whether to choose breast or bottle were disputed and aspersions cast about where, when and how feeding was done. Outsiders had a lot to say about how hungry other peoples’ babies were and their concerns about the impact this would have on their sleep and development.
And post-weaning the opinions kept on coming. Was the food homemade? Organic? Did mothers pander to tiny appetites or did they lay down the law?
The generation gap was never more visible than when it came to advice on discipline. Smacking was up for discussion as was the degree to which children should be seen and heard. There was vastly different advice on how to deal with tantrums both at home and in public (“Ignore them and they will get bored” versus “don’t let them make a scene”). Some mums were told by well-meaning bystanders that a routine would be the answer to all their problems and that at all times it was important to remain calm. It’s a nice idea…
Sleep when they sleep! “I’ll do the cleaning when the baby cleans too, shall I?” was the common refrain of new mums, as they watched for a sign that their 2 month old might soon take the dog for a walk and renew the house insurance. With sleep-deprivation a common complaint of mums at all stages of their parenting journeys, this was one that definitely led to increased levels of despair.
The motherhood journey, whilst wonderful, is just that – an adventure with different challenges along the way. “Things will get easier” and “they’ll grow out it” brewed up a fear in mums of young kids that they were wishing away the early days or relying on milestones, especially in the area of sleep, that might not be forthcoming. One mum reported receiving the ominous news as a new mother, “It’s like a wheelbarrow – all in front of you”, a piece of advice which I’m sure was a great source of comfort to her during her continuous months of broken sleep.
Meanwhile mums of grown-up children struggled to believe that things were any easier as they watched their “babies” heading into the world to make their own mistakes and felt none of the promised release from responsibility or concern.
Spoiling babies by holding them too often and mothers making rods for their own backs by doing so were very common themes in our survey. Teaching a baby to be content when not being held, some advice-givers argued, was key to getting housework done and having a moment to yourself in the early days of motherhood. All of our mums who were given this advice felt that their baby emerged unscathed from being cuddled and that they are glad that they took advantage of these special times.
Whether they're asked or not, lots of people are keen to advise mothers.
<< Click through the pictures above>>
The "Thoroughly Modern Mummy" survey was carried out to get insights into what it’s like to be a mummy in Northern Ireland in 2017, in association with Belfast's luxurious Fitzwilliam Hotel.
Read more: Mother's Day: What Northern Ireland mums wish someone had told them about parenthood - and the best advice from their mums
And it seems, whatever the age of your child, almost all of you told us that you have received a vast array of "mostly unsolicited" advice on motherhood and, although well-intended, it often left you feeling like a failure when you were at you most vulnerable and sleep-deprived.
Many of your spoke of the frankly terrifying old wives’ tales that people swore by and about the constant battle to balance what you read in books and online with your instincts as a mother.
The general consensus was that no-one knows a child like their parents and that following instincts and accounting for little ones’ personalities needed to take priority above all else.