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“Mother knows best” is a pop and jazz ballad featuring in the 2010 Disney animation Tangled where the film’s villain, the wicked witch, Mother Gothel resorts to fear-mongering to caution her ward, Rapunzel, against the wicked ways of the world outside the safety of their tower. The evil world painted by Mother Gothel in her song has ruffians, thugs, poison ivy, quicksand, cannibals, snakes, the plague, large bugs and men with pointed teeth and she proclaims confidently to Rapunzel that only she knows what is best for her child. Notwithstanding the fact that she is the villain in the movie - her sole motive behind chiding Rapunzel is to prevent her from exploring what is outside her confined, solitary life to continue reaping the youth imparting and healing benefits of Rapunzel’s magical hair - mother does indeed know best. Contrary to what Gothel says though, in today’s world, full of much the same vices or probably even more, than the fictional one in the song, it is amazing to see that very few respect the fact that every mother knows what is best for her child. It is amusing to note then how everything from a runny nose to a play area squabble deserves attention, expert advice and action from everyone other than the patient and the rather helpless onlooker that is the child’s mother.
I have often been at the receiving end of this advice charade, from extremely unexpected quarters, nonetheless. The most common advice people dole out generously is about the choice of pediatric healthcare products which I believe is best left to a pediatrician’s discretion. I have been advised about the best brand of sunscreen to use when my baby goes swimming to the best Ayurvedic preparation to be used prophylactically for preventing a cold. Somehow, not having heeded to the multiple times that I have been advised to shave my baby’s head or pierce her ears before a certain age makes me almost feel liberated in some way. How important can a piece of jewelry dangling from her ear be for a three year old? It is as good as any other toy that belongs to her notwithstanding the fact that these ear embellishments often get entangled somewhere causing great physical discomfort. The advice-farers in the audience will argue “Why don’t you make her wear a tiny golden (nothing less works) stud.” But I am steadfast in my resolve on this one (makes me sound rather rebellious a parent) – “No ornaments please, whether they dangle or not I am not getting one for my daughter.” The best (read unwanted) suggestions mothers get are when the child is misbehaving or when there is a tiff amongst the little ones that needs resolving. Complete strangers swoop in with anger management exercises for your baby, time-out/naughty corner routines they successfully followed and how rewarding good behavior helps. Listening to these people often makes me wonder if they are formulating a corporate motivation program or dealing with a pre-schooler.
Of course some of these suggestions are to help young mothers. Advice about the right things to do while breastfeeding, help with bathing infants, consoling them when they are crying out loud and are too tiny to express the cause of discomfort, sharing the mother’s load by taking the baby off her hands when she is exhausted are all welcome moves. However, often these pearls of wisdom that get bestowed upon unsuspecting mothers are totally irrelevant to the physical and mental well-being and development of the child. Mothers are already burdened by the often self-inflicted guilt that is a consequence of second guessing their decisions and actions when it comes to their children. They are continually searching for information and advice which is readily available these days on parenting platforms. This exercise keeps them very well informed; sometimes well in advance of the imminent changes in their baby’s nutritional demands, growth spurts and behavioral and emotional upheavals. Hence, when a stranger volunteers advice that does not befit the situation at hand mothers are bound to feel annoyed.
I have conditioned myself to ward off most of this unsolicited advice by calmly saying “I will get this checked with my pediatrician”. Occasionally, the situation demands a more verbose approach - like when a mere acquaintance frivolously comments “You don’t give her calcium?” when you request her daughter to be careful with your daughter’s hand as she has suffered from nursemaid’s elbow earlier. I had to put all my social skills to test to bring myself to talk to her and inform her that a nursemaid’s elbow is a dislocation of the elbow joint that can occur due to a sudden pull on the forearm and can affect any child until seven years of age whether they are ‘calcium-supplemented’ or not.
After all why are people so forthcoming when it comes to baby care wisdom; perhaps, because they care? This could indeed be true as most of their comments and suggestions appear well-intentioned. But they must realize that babies are the most wonderful inconvenience mothers love to suffer. They are inherently equipped to excel at child rearing. The ability to adequately sense and respond to their child’s emotional and physical needs is hardwired in every mother. Ever heard of mother’s intuition people? Just step back then coz MOTHER KNOWS BEST!