How to handle a baby (and a pushy relative)

Mia with Coco as a baby


When you have a baby, your relationship with your relatives changes.

Particularly the older female ones.

If you are lucky enough to have your mother and your partner’s mother in your life, they can be a huge source of support, comfort and reassurance.

Because those ladies? They’ve done this baby thing before. At least once each.

However it doesn’t always turn out like this.

Having spent many years comparing notes with girlfriends, it turns out I got incredibly lucky.

While many new mothers complain of older relatives insisting they KNOW how to do everything best (feeding, changing, settling etc, my Mum could barely remember having a baby.

She wasn’t even 100% on which way was up so she deferred to whatever I wanted to do and took to the role of my #1 cheerleader, boosting my non-existent confidence as a new mother. And my mother-in-law was just as supportive of whatever I wanted to do – even when it was plainly obvious that I hadn’t a clue.

But even though some things about babycare haven’t changed over the years since your own parents had kids, (they’re still best when held upright, not upside down) others HAVE.

A generation ago, mothers were encouraged to give babies bottles of sugar water. Or a nip of brandy in their milk to ‘help them sleep’. Babies were placed on their stomachs to sleep (with the view that this would stop them choking if they vomitted). And child restraints in cars were pretty much just stick-a-seatbelt-around-a-basket. Or hold the baby in the backseat. Hell, my mum was encouraged BY HER DOCTOR to smoke in the later stages of pregnancy so she wouldn’t gain weight.

Thanks to research, advice about how best to take care of babies is regularly evolving. For example, when I had my first child 15 years ago, you were told to introduce solids at 4 months. When I had my second child 7 years ago, it was 6 months. And by the time my third came along 4 years ago, it was back to 4 months.

When I was a baby, my Mum tells me you introduced solids at 6 weeks.

Here’s the lighter side of babycare Dos and Don’ts from; some diagrams to show just how to handle a baby…

But on the serious side, it can be a source of extreme angst, conflict and frustration for many new parents who have to contend with bossy older relatives insisting they KNOW how to do something the right way and that they way you’re doing it is in fact wrong.

‘Well, that’s not how we did it in my day…’ is a common refrain. As if somehow, it’s these new-fangled ideas about how to bring up a baby safely and healthily are confected nonsense.

Via parenting author and editor of the Parenting Wellbeing site Jodi Benveniste:

Parent Wellbeing editor Jodi Benveniste

Family and friends are often a trusted source of parenting info. They can provide practical and emotional support and offer relief, advice and reassurance.

But not always. I’ve heard many stories of mums feeling judged or criticised by their mothers or mother-in-laws. Parenting times have changed. Some would say for the better, and some would argue a return to the ‘good old days’ is far superior to the riff raff kids modern-day parents are raising. Regardless, there have been some changes…

1. Baby’s sleep

There are lots of different baby sleep methods, including Mia’s favourite The Gift of Sleep. But with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, guidelines about safe sleeping have changed. Instead of tucking baby into bed on their side or tummy with bunny rug, teddy bear and cot bumper, it’s now recommended that babies sleep on their back from birth without any extras in the cot. Since then, SIDS rates have decreased.

2. Baby’s food

A generation ago, bottle feeding was the norm. But then research into the value of breast milk has seen breastfeeding rates increase. As for introducing solids, when grandpa tries to feed hot chips to your 2 month old, that maybe because solids were once introduced much earlier. Now the recommended age is closer to 6 months.

3. Discipline

In previous generations, kids were raised to fear their parents, be seen not heard, and were the subject of rather stern discipline. Smacking and other forms of punishment, including the cane at school, were the norm. But these days, other approaches are seen as more effective at teaching our kids boundaries, appropriate behaviour, and life lessons.

4. Car safety

In earlier generations, babies were popped onto the back seat of the car in their bassinet. Yes, free floating in the back seat around every bend and over every bump! It’s unheard of, not to mention, illegal now. Instead, we get safety accredited capsules and car seats properly installed, not just for babies but for kids until they’re seven. Much, much safer.

There have been many other changes too. But some things have not changed:

5. Kids need love

The best thing we can offer our kids is our love, affection and attention. Kids thrive when they receive all three.

6. Raising kids is a learning experience

We don’t get it right every day. But we keep trying and we keep learning.

7. There’s no one right way to raise kids

You can create a parenting approach that suits you and your family. That involves understanding what’s important to you, learning a bit about how children develop so you’ve got realistic expectations of your child’s behaviour, and filtering all the advice. By all means, try the techniques that worked for your mum, but don’t feel like you’ve got to take on everything just because ‘it worked in their day’. Find your way.

Jodie Benveniste is a psychologist, parenting author, and the director of Parent Wellbeing. Her book and program, The Parent Manifesto, help parents create their own parenting approach. You can read more here.

If you have kids, have you ever experienced a change in parenting advice? Has it ever caused conflict? How did you deal?