Tuesday, January 5

your opinion is irrelevant

A collection of things I've been told, directly or implied, as a parent.... so far. Mostly in regards to my parenting, occassionally directed at me but including all parents.

You're too lenient.
You're quite firm.
You're over-protective.
Aren't you going to hold her hand?
I would never let my children hurt themselves like that.
You let her crawl on the [public] floor?!
Start her on solids early, it gets you more time for yourself.
You're a great mother.
You're an inferior mother as you don't breastfeed.
Don't make it a big deal, just give her a bottle.
I don't really get parents that keep their children wrapped up at home. I dont think this is good for the child.
She definitely needs her quiet doesn't she, lucky she doesn't have a mother big on socialising.
Every child should have a naughty step.
She should be eating more.
Kids should be allowed to run wild.
You can't have kids running wild.
You should push her to sleep earlier.
You should push her to eat more.
It's unhealthy for a mother to spend all day with her child.
Sometimes I wish I could be a mother like you, and want to spend all day with my kids.
I think you're right to not vaccinate.
You're putting your child at risk by not vaccinating.
Don't you think she'll be lonely as an only child?
It's so much easier with just one.
I'm in awe that you've done this alone.
You have it easy with a girl.
Toddlers need to socialise with their peers.
Children need to get ill.
You're soft.
You let her tantrum?
You don't stop her crying?
She's not warm enough.
She's old enough to sleep on her own isn't she?
She can eat chunks of apple.
Let her say rude things, it's funny.
She'll be alright.
She's not distressed.
I'm so impressed at how you anticipate her needs.
Children need to be taught respect.
Children need to be punished.
You must get more time on your own.
Children need a little [white] sugar.
Get her used to noise, then she won't mind it.
I wish I was as mindful as you.
You're so relaxed as a parent.
Don't you think you can over-analyse things?
I think you worry too much.
You have to trust people [with her, and without my presence].
You can't trust others [as above].
Various anti-homeschooling ones.
A few  pro-homeschooling ones, made with the idea that there's solidarity in putting down schoolers.
I love how much you respect her, I need to learn that more with my kids.
You let her choose when to go to bed?!
Just use whatever DVD gets you the most peace.

The assumptions made:

- that I haven't already considered all the possibilites/choices.
- that I don't know my own child.
- that I don't know my own needs.
- that they know the full situation.
- that what's worked for them must work for everyone else.
- that I require their approval.
- that their opinions are universal truths.

Some are arrogant (and ignorant), most are well-meaning, but almost all believe they're right.



I'm an opinionated person myself, so I'm not annoyed by the opinions, or by the person's need to express them to me. Mostly I've chuckled at how strongly people feel and at their need to save me or my child from myself. Opinions are relative, subjective, and varied. I shrug and smile.
{I do examine thoughtful opinions. I'm not including here ideas shared during thoughtful discussions with other mothers or when I ask for an opinion.}

The thing that bugs me, is the person's belief that their opinion is right for everyone, and that their opinion, about my child, comes before my own. I mean, so many people actually feel this way. I know of two (childless) friends who have been offended because I told them (kindly) that their (strongly expressed) opinion was not relevant to my parenting, but will only be relevant to their children. I make no apologies. I'm more interested in protecting the sanctity of every parent-child relationship than hurting the feelings of the misguided.

Possibly worse, is that most of the opinions come from those who are parents themselves, and would likely feel threatened if their own practices were questioned. Thinking like this, however well-meant the expression, smacks of intolerance. And it's un-sympathetic to the parent. It always makes me think of other mothers, ones who might not be as detached about these things as I am, and feel hurt, confused, undermined, or worse.

The dynamics of the relationship between a parent and child is unique, a wonder, magical. No one can know it, not even another mother, you can only experience it. Allowing ourselves to become upset at external opinions, or to second guess our intuitive choices, and even to require approval to feel better about our choices, chips away at that precious gift.

And if you're the one giving the opinion, consider whether all you might be really doing is aiding a mother with that hurtful process. Do you really need to contradict, or even question? Respectfully, your opinion is irrelevant.

It's difficult enough navigating this mothering journey. There are infinite legitimate routes. I can only be on one at any given time. I choose the intuitive road.

40 comments:

  1. Amen sista!!
    Very well said!
    I've gotten it all from "co-sleeping will make her insecure" to "you better let her have white refined sugar or she'll freak out the first time she goes to another kid's birthday party and eats cake".
    And then there's the infamous "mix pablum in her bottle - she'll sleep through the night".
    Sheesh!!
    Well meaning people & their stupid suggestions (from experience?), are the worst. Don't they know we are entitled to our own personal parenting experience, that we know our children better than anyone? And that we love them more than anyone else ever could?!
    Drives me crazy sometimes!

    Yay for you....great post and beautiful pic!!

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  2. People always tend to tell *others* how to live their lives, how to raise their kids when, in fact, they need to look at their own lives.

    What amazes me is when those who never had children - have a lot to say about raising children - live and let live.

    Great post!

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  3. Yes! I am one of those people who struggle with thinking about what other people think of me. But parenting has taught me that it really doesn't matter because I'm doing what is best for my family -- my children. And I have spent the most time with my children, so I consider myself an expert in Gabe and Ethan. Will I make mistakes? Yup? But would others? You bet. My way isn't perfect, but I know God gave me this mother's intuition for a reason.
    This post will give my mind lots to munch on today. Thank you.

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  4. I was lucky/stubborn/worked hard enough to breastfeed until my son was 2.5 years old. He was discovered to have a low tolerance of dairy at 15 months, meaning that mummy-milk was what there was. For a while, it was all there was, which was hard work.

    However, the assumption from the bottle mums is that I will look down on them because I still have a booby baby.

    The assumption from the bf-ing mums is that I am "one of them" and will agree with everything they say.

    The idea that this is *one* part of our life, that this is what he and I think is best for him, and that whilst it's not that I don't care about your child, but what you do is up to you, appears to be a really strange concept for some people.

    You do your thing honey, you're great.

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  5. It's exhausting simply reading that list!

    I guess it goes to show that parenting intuitively can get you cast as neglectful and over-protective in a single day. Perhaps this is what will always happen when you don't believe that children (and parents, for that matter) should be forced into the "average" mould, but instead that their individuality and quirks should be allowed to flourish.

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  6. Yes to the intuitive road. This is why I seldom align myself with AP parents even though by definition I agree will all tenets...but not all the time/for all children. I can only know my own. I try to give the opinion-givers a break, because I was once one of them (but I kept my thoughts to myself!) The best eye opening advice I got from my mom was to ignore all of the advice beginning with the moment you begin to show.

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  7. BSM - "you better let her have white refined sugar or she'll freak out the first time she goes to another kid's birthday party and eats cake"
    Hilarious. You gotta love the logic.

    Dreamwriter - I've been childless longer than being a mother, and I know what it's like to have opinions and have parents dismiss you because you aren't one yourself. So I'm not against opinions from non-parents. You don't need to have been crazy to be an effective psychiatrist. :)
    However, one's view on things can change dramatically when you have your own. And some of the opinions shared with me by non-parents have been pretty pushy and arrogant.

    HFW - Of course you're the expert! And you're right, others will make mistakes too.

    s'me - Yes, that's the irony isn't it? Both sides make assumptions and often miscalculate.

    RP - "Perhaps this is what will always happen when you don't believe that children (and parents, for that matter) should be forced into the "average" mould"
    Agreed. And that 'mould could come from the mainstream or the alternative parenting sectors.

    cypress sun - Yes, I find it increasingly harder to make any claims to specific parenting styles. I dropped the AP label a while ago, although, like you, agree and do most of it anyway.
    "from my mom was to ignore all of the advice beginning with the moment you begin to show."
    Way to go mom! lol Love it.

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  8. I love this post! I was just thinking how strange it was that half the time I hear that I'm too lenient of a mother and the other half that I'm too strict. Lately people around me seem to have strong opinions about what me or someone else does...which is fine...but they also feel the need to push their opinions, which is not right. I totally agree with you that people's opinions are only relevant to their own parenting, not anyone else's.

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  9. I'm giggling (with a slight hint of hysteria) at what the general public opinion would be of the fact that following the last tirade we sat down and had ice cream together...;)

    yes, yes and YES to intuitive mothering...and strength and support to our sisters while they find their way there...

    enjoyed this, just now...;)

    xo

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  10. As a teacher, I would always tell the parents that they were the expert on their child and so I had to listen to them. Then we would come to a solution, which included the child's input as well...

    Sometimes an outsider can bring fresh eyes to a situation, but unless a deeply intuitive person, no one knows the dynamics better than those in the family.

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  11. Errr, feeling a little uncomfortable here given the email exchange we've had today. Is this a complete coincidence? I hope I haven't been opiniated! Respectfully, my opinion could be irrelevant! X

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  12. What do they say?

    "Opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one and only your own doesn't stink."

    ;)

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  13. Loved this post! I'm all for intuitive parenting.

    As someone who falls somewhere between what society classes as mainstream and alternative parenting, I often get it from both sides, which is a pain in the neck if ever there was one. I choose not to call our parenting style either. We do what's right for us and know that's all we can do. Still finding it a challenge not to let it bother me though.

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  14. can relate to carin's comment, i often feel like i am between two (or more!) parenting worlds, and get it from all sides...on the plus side, i think parenting is a great humility developer, as any time I think I've got it wired or figured things out, my kids change...that's gradually undermined any sense I might have had about what is right for others....

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  15. I loved it Mon!
    I should print your last two paragraphs and take them with me all the time, jejeje, cause i do feel the pressure more often than i would like to and because i agree with you when you say that each mother and child relationship is unique.
    Thanks four this!
    PD. I couldn´t stop laughing at the funny and right comment made by Organic Sister, hahahahahaha!

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  16. oooh, I could add to this list.
    Have lately been getting annoyed especially with the comments about socialisation and homeschooling. Toddlers + socialisation? wtf? So funny how most opinions are blind opinions, no one really does the study. As if opinions are meaningful just because they exist, lol, the opinion makers rarely seem to really think about them or see what they mean in a real life context. (am thinking about all the ideas surrounding socialisation here).

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  17. Bravo! I like to think of my one on one time with my children as my regeneration moment to feel what is right for that particular child at that moment. Go with my gut, as I always say. Books, experts, well-meaning bystanders really don't fit into that moment of connection. I don't want to let others' opinions drown out what I'm really hearing within about what I need to do for my child. I hate when people question about where my child is at with regard to a developmental milestone. My child is fine. He or she will blossom in their own time.

    Thanks for these words, Mon.

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  18. Ahh, yes...

    Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

    I will admit to thinking the grass is greener with girls, considering how rough and tumble my boy is. I know better than this, I was about as tomboy as tomboy can come, and am very lucky to have made it through my wilder days in one piece. Will have to work on that, Mon.

    I have vowed this year to let go of the labels and the standards they set. I cannot be a completely brilliantly unschooling, one hundred percent organically living, creative and crafty, while maintaining utter Zen, mama. Just can't. I tried last year and my eyebrows fell out. Well, not really, but I am sure they would.

    Wonder what would happen should we resort to sticking our fingers in our ears and humming LA LA LA loudly as soon as someone tries to criticize/offer advice? Just a thought....

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  19. I was just thinking about this very topic right before I got on my computer...seems like that happens a lot to me...

    Anyway, I was thinking about how I've been able to avoid a lot of unwanted comments by explaining how and why I parent the way I do. The worst offender is my MIL, though, who apparently is so full of opinion that she can't seem to help herself.

    Being connected with other mindful mothers has helped me to not feel hurt by unwanted opinions. In the groups of mothers I spend time with, we all do things a little differently, and everyone is respectful of the differences, which is so refreshing.

    I can't say I never judge, though I think I did the most judging while I was childless! But I generally would give the parents the benefit of the doubt. I try to assume that parents are trying to do what they believe is best for their child. While I strongly disagree with certain practices (hitting, being disrespectful, and the like), I believe it's possible to judge the practice without judging the parent.

    As far as sharing my opinion with an unsuspecting parent...I do it oh, so carefully, if I feel it may uplift them. I once made a comment that was meant to explain my point of view on a certain topic, and I accidentally hurt the mother's feelings, and to this day I wish I could take it back.

    I don't think it's wrong to keep our opinions to ourselves, else how would we learn from each other? I think one of the safest ways to share, though, is in the context of what WE are doing, not what someone else is doing. In other words, NOT giving unsolicited advice, and not criticizing.

    I still think of a comment one mother made about training her baby to sleep when I mentioned that ours sleeps with us. To this day, whenever I see her, I wonder if she still thinks she does it better than me! *chuckle* I don't care! I've been pretty patient about it all, though, since I understand where they are coming from (a benefit of being imperfect myself).

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  20. Hi everyone, such funny and thoughtful comments.

    Den - LOL. I think that 95% of people that know me would, on reading this think it had to do with them. Because almost EVERYONE gives their opinion. Although some would of course spot their actual statements up there.

    Cam said it with, "Damned if you do, damned if you don't."
    Yeah Cam, I have an Aries girl who is ALL physical! And I've seen plenty of quiet sensitive boys. And then there's puberty......

    Lisa (denwild) - sharing is, as far as I'm concerned only ever really has a chance to be helpful, if it's done during a conversation in parenting. If another mother is anxious about a certain area and is chatting to me, then I'll likely give my opinion. Doesn't guarantee no hurt feelings even then!
    It's the fact that people feel the need to give an opinion, when it hasn't been asked for, when you're not in discussion about your kids, etc, because what they're saying is - I know better and I have to put you right.

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  21. This is one that came up so often with a member of my family: "you should be more consistent with the children" (i.e. have lots of rules that can't be adjusted to suit the situation), until one day I said: "I am consistent, I'm consistently flexible." I haven't heard that piece of advice since :)

    The thing is people mean well, they really think they're doing you a favour by giving you their parenting advice. It's just another way that we get to practice patience.

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  22. The thing that raised an ironic chuckle with me regarding your list (and in my own experience) is that each opinion contradicts the next - too soft, too disciplinarian; too protective, not protective enough etc etc. I did find it difficult not to take on board all the opinions, and still struggle with this but am increasingly ploughing my own farrow (helped it has to be said, by finding such inspirational mothers on the www) and trusting in my own instincts, and hey, my eldest has survived 6 years, so it can't all be bad! Love, love LOVE Tara's comment - am going to have to print that off and frame it.

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  23. great posts and love all the sharing! the worst for me is my own mother who used to always make me feel guilty about having a job outside of the home. i finally had to tell her that i was the parent of my child and it was up to me and my husband not her to decide what is best for our children. every parent/child relationship is different and very special and you must always be selective whose "advise" you follow. i had to break myself of the habit of dismissing new mother's, what seemed to me to be, illogical fears after the trauma with my son. i have learned NOT to offer advise on parenting unless its sought.

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  24. Great post! "Never say never," "Walk a mile in my shoes," "Whatever is best for my family" -- lots of little phrases I repeat over and over in my head with I'm getting the much dreaded unsolicited advice. Of course, on the outside I just do the "smile and nod."

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  25. What I would love to know is what advice you have solicited that has been helpful. I agree that you know your child best and you do what you think best at the time of that moment, but what about those times when you didn't know what to do and someone suggested something and you tried it and it worked? Something you thought, this is good, I'll do it again.

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  26. Wow! I haven't stopped by in 3 weeks as we've been and still are, out of town and away from normalcy. Funny I should happen upon this post, which has obviously ignited quite the firestorm.
    I'm guilty of expressing opinions and offering unsolicited advice. I honestly believe we all are in one way or another. But since becoming a Mom myself and receiving reams of "it", I have begun to be more mindful and have tried to mind my own business. I second Sarah's motion...would love to know if there's anything in particular you learned that you'd like to share.

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  27. great post - and great discussion!

    like others here, i fall into between the extremes - never have fully 'fit-in' with one distinct group - but then again - that pretty much describes my entire life LOL
    i try really hard to not offer unasked for opinions i've been dealt far too many unasked for attacks from people who are convinced they know more/better/wiser than i for my own family.

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  28. Hi Sarah - the thing is, my concern is not about useful or not useful advice. My post is really about the giving of advice. That a lot of it comes with arrogance and little compassion for the 'job' of mothering.

    On my list I have included conflicting advice, so whether it's right or wrong is irrelevant. The fact remains that a mother's self confidence is often undermined by those that feel they just HAVE to give the advice/opinion. With little consideration for how it might affect the mother. It's rarely solicited.
    How many actually think - I want so much to help this struggling mother who is in the middle of this crisis? Most seem to simply have the need to prove their own methods the best or the only way.

    Advice is most helpful when given with compassion and actual thought for what the mother is asking for at that moment. When you're standing in a queue and your child is tantruming and a stranger says - you should be firmer with him. Is that said out of loving support? phhht! I doubt it!
    And even if that piece of advice WERE applicable t your child, it remains that the giving of it is still an issue for me - lack of compassion.

    Like I mentioned, if I were sitting around chatting to other mothers and saying - I'm just not sure what to do about X - well, I'm opening myself up for opinions and advice. Very different to the first scenario.

    As to your question - I can't think of any advice that was ever useful to me. I've heard every piece of unsolicited advice about my girl's sleeping and her eating, and none were helpful because they had little relevance to my child's unique personality and situation. I've solicited almost no advice, I trust in my intuition or I will research a condition, behaviour, etc. But that's just me. I'm a loner.

    The sleeping advice that I HAVE solicited was helpful in one way - it made me feel that there were other mothers out there who understood, or at least sympathised and offered moral support.
    That's priceless. Worth many times more than even helpful advice.

    oops, I wrote a post within a post....

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  29. Jenn - was just thinking of you earlier and missing you!

    The greatest parenting bits I've learnt in the short 20+ months?

    Every child is unique, every parent-child relationship is unique, every family and personal circumstances are unique.
    Unconditional love makes every choice easy (or easier anyways).
    My intuitive feelings come before anyone else's advice, 'expert' or stranger or relative.

    I've learnt this from being with my girl. :)

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  30. Love the way you expressed this. I have gotten tons off unwanted, negative even hateful things said to me due to my parenting.
    To the point my husbands family reported me to social services. On the grounds that "she breastfeeds, dosen't work, is an American (I live in Norway). Is this ok?"

    Thanks for posting this! :)

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  31. You know what I've come to realize? Parenting can be like religion and politics. People sometimes hold so firmly to their own beliefs that they sometimes forget that other people have their own beliefs, too, and that they are allowed to have their own beliefs without being criticized.

    There is one opinion you listed above that really jumped out at me though. "You're a great mother." I thought, well who wouldn't want to hear that? But then I realized that for some moms, they might react with "Well, you don't see me at home..." or something like that. If it were me, though, I'd take it as a compliment. They might not know everything I do as a mom, but they've seen something that's impressed them, and maybe somehow that something has inspired them? Don't know. That's just me. People can tell me I'm a great mother all they want! I don't need it to pump my ego, but it still feels good.

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  32. Just me - wow, that's quite bizarre!

    Lisa - absolutely like religion and politics, taboo! lol

    The things I listed aren't necessarily wrong or bad. I just wanted to show the contrast in opinions.
    However, as I mentioned, sometimes we look to others for approval on our parenting. When all that matters is what' going on between you and the child. When we look for external approval, we also become vulnerable to external criticism.

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  33. motherhood is fragile ground, and being the sensitive one, i'm sometimes affected more by implied judgment than spoken words. "how many minutes does he nurse at a time? hmmmm", "how many vaccines has he had?" blah..

    unless someone is directly telling me to spank, CIO, or do something else I'm completely opposed to, I try to come back with, "that's interesting. i'm glad it worked for you." what i've decided is that many are just interested in telling me exactly that - this will "work" (make my life easier), while i'm interested in a lot more.
    maybe people feel justified in dispensing parenting advice because they believe they are preventing the ills of society? if all these clueless parents just did X we wouldn't have all these XYZ problems!

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  34. "That's interesting. I'm glad it worked for you."

    I use that one too, and DO mean it, but am also making a point most of the time. ;)

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  36. I'm late as usual, but just wanted to say that I appreciated how you included conflicting advice to make your larger point.

    I can definitely see that along my parenting journey I have been developing more space... more space within myself to hold all the parts of myself and to hold others' experiences as well. When I first became a mother, I remember feeling so raw to the world and wanting to shield myself from others' opinions. Everything felt like an opinion and the simplest things seemed loaded. I didn't want to judge others, but I until I was more centered in myself, it was very hard for me not to feel repelled by the actions of others.

    As I've grown in my skin, I've grown more room, and more compassion. I agree with you, about the space from which information is shared... I think what makes "advice" so godawful to hear is because it is as if the other person were handing you a certain shape to fit into. On the other hand, support comes without a certain shape, with no requirements. Sometimes, I think, even a compassionate silent holding of another person's experience can be more powerful than saying anything.

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  37. Thank you Stacy for your lovely thoughts.
    For me, what I find troubling is less my or another mother experiencing hurt from the opinions, but rather the opinion giver feeling they have to give it, and the lack of compassion there. That's my issue really - be compassionate before opening your mouth.

    And yes, being strong within yourself does mean you can hold other people's experiences without feeling pressured to make them your own. As cypress sun and I say,
    "That's interesting. I'm glad it worked for you."

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  38. How funny I should come across this now (or maybe not!). Beanie is going through a stage of screaming tantrums at the merest thought of going back to her own bed when she wakes in teh night. My psychologist sister has told me that I have fostered this problem by co-sleeping her and that I have to push through the tantrums and insist that she go back to her own bed and learns to sleep alone. I'm all for her learning to sleep alone but I don't want to traumatise the poor child by forcing her to do it when she obviously has some need that needs to be met, even if i don't really want to meet it at 4am after 40 minutes of screaming. Anyway, I don't trust myself to know the right thing to do and I am in need of advice and help but I guess I'll know if the advice I receive will be relevant to my child and not simply a pat response that works on 'most' children. It was a timely reminder to trust my instincts and to not let other people's opinions of my child rearing get me down.

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  39. "I don't want to traumatise the poor child by forcing her to do it when she obviously has some need that needs to be met"
    :) sounds like you know exactly what needs doing.

    It's the over-abundance of opinion and advice that facillitates this disconnection from our intuition.

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  40. I had to come back to this discussion and am so glad I did, for this little gem:

    "It's the over-abundance of opinion and advice that facillitates this disconnection from our intuition."

    Thanks Mon.

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