My Mother-in-Law’s Anti-Advice Could Have Prevented My Depression
Months leading up to the birth of my son Nate, I was in “consumption” mode. I read every book I could find on parenting and fatherhood. I read articles about brain development for babies and watched Netflix’s TV show, Babies. I asked for advice from every parent I knew.
“I only want one child, so I don’t want to screw anything up,” was my thinking.
Well, guess what? I screwed up anyway! I’d even argue that I screwed up more because I was more “informed”.
But I’m jumping ahead…
Three months before Nate’s birth, I took note of every piece of advice I could get my hands on, especially from parents in my entourage. Sadly, none of it applied in our case. That’s the thing with babies — not a single one is the same. There’s no such thing as an average baby.
The same is true in adulthood, that’s why I’m not reading much life advice anymore. Your context is different from mine, and so everything I say you “should” do is irrelevant. I don’t know you. Only you truly know yourself.
The best piece of advice I received
As I gathered advice all over, one piece of advice truly stood out, and it was from my mother-in-law. While others were quick to spit out every idea that came to mind, she said a single sentence. It was the shortest discussion I’ve had about the topic by a wide margin.
Here’s what she said:
“My advice: don’t listen to anyone’s advice, including this advice.” — V.
When she said that, I dismissed it. I disagreed with her. I wanted to know everything so that I could make informed decisions and avoid mistakes. If you’ve watched The Good Place on Netflix, I was Chidi through and through. Better to learn from someone’s mistakes than your own, right?
Everybody is different
In hindsight, nothing could have prepared me for what was to come with my son. He was healthy but had all the little issues in the book. Colics, reflux, tongue-ties, food intolerance, you name it.
For the first two months of his life, screaming was routine. The ever-optimistic Danny fell into postpartum depression; something many think only applies to women.
People told me I’d love parenthood. For me it was hell. Not because I didn’t like my baby, but because my baby was in pain and no one could figure out why.
All the advice I got was immediately overruled by the fact that my baby was different… But that’s the thing, all babies are different. Every single human being is different.
When you take advice from others, you only take the result, not the context. Every piece of advice out of context is bad advice. And context, my friend, is no simple matter.
“Context” is why my mother-in-law’s advice was the best. As a professional social worker with over 30 years of experience, she has seen her fair share of bad advice. She works on a wide variety of cases, and you guessed it, all different.
The only pattern she knows for certain exists is that, when it comes to people, no two problems are ever the same. My problem isn’t the same as your problem, even if it is.
She knew that full well, based on her extensive experience in the field of social work. She solves issues with tough family situations daily. That’s her life’s work.
She was right from the start and I wish I had listened to her advice before.
Why all advice is bad advice
I mentioned my son above. You may have a baby who had the same problem, but what are the chances that you live in Montreal, one of the parents runs two businesses, the other is an overachiever and perfectionist, you are minimalists, have travelled all over the world, have family living an hour away, etc.
You get the point. No two contexts are ever the same!
I could ask a million questions here, and the chances of stumbling upon a single other person who is in the same or very similar situation are close to zero.
When you gather advice from all over the place, you give yourself too many options that likely don’t apply to you. You create a bank of advice that technically works, and then you feel bad when it doesn’t work for you.
You feel like you’re doing everything right, but beat yourself up when it doesn’t go according to what others said. How couldn’t you? Others said it worked, so it has to work, right?
As an example, we were fully aware of the benefits of breastfeeding before Nate was born. We wanted to do it exclusively for six months, as recommended by Public Health Canada. Every mom group promotes it, so it has to work, right?
It turns out, the “most natural” thing in the world is damn complicated. For us, it “worked” for two months, but it came with a lot of adversity. People were quick to give advice, none of which worked. Nate simply couldn’t do it. His intolerances, reflux, and tongue-ties made it near-impossible.
Listening to all the advice led both my wife and me to depression.
But surely you’ve experienced something similar, right? You took advice, implemented it, failed, and felt like you just weren’t good enough? That’s the negative power of taking advice from others.
In the end, we started trusting our gut feeling more and we feel much better since. We might not do what everyone claims is right, but you know what, we do what’s right for our son and our context. That, my friend, is what matters!
Trust yourself more. In anything you do. Believe that it’s in your power to own the moment. Scratch that, know that it’s in your power, because, it really is.
You don’t need my advice. You don’t need anyone’s advice. But still, take my mother-in-law’s anti-advice, it’s likely the best advice you’ll read today.
You can do this!
For more inspiration, check out dannyforest.com.