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Mom's-Eye View: Help (Not) Wanted

During my first pregnancy, I was a magnet for unsolicited advice. "Make sure you don't change the kitty litter," I heard over and over, even from people who knew we didn't have a cat. "You're not drinking too much coffee, are you?" asked others, who soon learned that the mere mention of coffee could make me sick.

It didn't get any better after my baby was born. "What, no sweater?!" a neighbor gasped over my 7-month-old on an 80-degree July day. By my daughter's first birthday, I had heard at least a dozen ways to get her to sleep through the night, cure her gas, and teach her to walk. It didn't seem to matter that I hadn't asked.

I hated all the advice. They mean well, I reminded myself, but it didn't do any good. Although most of the tips I received were either outdated or something I already knew, it made me feel as though everyone thought I was either a bad mom or just plain stupid. "I'll never tell someone what she should and shouldn't do," I vowed.

And I didn't... until my firstborn was 4 and I was pregnant with my second (and, annoyingly, still on the receiving end of advice on how to quell my daughter's whining, ease my indigestion, and prepare for life with two kids). That's when my sister-in-law announced her first pregnancy.

As soon as I finished congratulating Terri and her husband, the first thing out of my mouth was, "If you eat crackers or something in the morning but still feel nauseous, try waiting an hour after you get up and then eating."

"I haven't had any morning sickness—" Terri began, but I cut her off.

"Oh, and ask for chewable prenatal vitamins. I gagged trying to swallow those other ones."

"I'm swallowing the vitamins fine," she said. "Everything's going well."

"That's great," I said with a big smile. But I couldn't help thinking, Sure, everything's going well now; just wait for the leg cramps, heartburn, and colic. I'd been through all of it; I knew. And I was suddenly determined to share my knowledge.

As Terri's pregnancy progressed, I found myself spewing theories, statistics, and advice every time I talked to her—from the amount of water she should drink each day, to what baby gear she wouldn't be able to live without, to how to function on two hours of sleep. Each time, she smiled and told me not to worry.

Then one day I was yammering on about car-seat installation when I glanced over at Terri and saw it: the eye roll. It looked familiar. Wait a minute, I thought. That's what I do when I'm sick of listening! I decided to stop giving her advice.

But I couldn't. I've put in all these years as a mom, I rationalized. It's different when it comes from me—I actually know what I'm talking about.

To avoid getting on her nerves, I started passing my advice through a third party. When I wanted to tell Terri that The Partridge Family's Greatest Hits CD was a surefire crying soother, I simply mentioned it to her big brother—my husband. Then I'd pretend I didn't hear him dialing the phone.

This went on for a while. But one day, I was talking to Terri when she started to complain about Jack's advice. "I know he means well," she sighed.

He means well, I thought to myself. I mean well. Everyone who gives me advice means well.

I remembered how I used to cross the street to avoid running into all those well-meaning people. I remembered how I felt like they thought I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't want Terri to feel the same way—like she wasn't a good mom. It's not bad enough that I've turned into one of those people, I scolded myself, but I've turned my husband into one, too. This time, when I promised not to give any more unsolicited advice, I stuck with it, even though it meant biting my tongue until it hurt.

The funny thing is that after I stopped giving advice, Terri started asking for it. During her first months of motherhood, she asked me about diaper rashes and runny noses, solid foods and bedtime routines. I loved being the one she called and I loved even more that I wasn't forcing my advice on her.

And then it happened: Almost a year after her daughter was born, Terri was telling me about a friend of hers who had a sleepless 4-month-old baby... and all the advice she had given as an experienced mom. As I listened to her theories, I smiled and sent her friend a subliminal message: It's okay. She means well.

Carol Sjostrom Miller is a mom of two in New Jersey.

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