A mum-to-be has the internet divided after confessing that her friend’s unsolicited parenting advice is starting to get on her nerves. As the mum explained in a letter to Slate’s Care and Feeding advice column, her friend has been trying to teach her the “dos and don’ts” of parenting before her new baby arrives, but it’s been slightly awkward, considering the friend has never actually given birth herself. As the stepmum to a teenager, the friend has certainly done some mothering — but is she really in a position to be doling out parenting advice? The letter writer is not so sure, and it seems from the comments, people are split.
In her letter, the anonymous letter writer explains that her friend Nicole has been a stepmum for the last seven years.
Her husband, Joe, has had custody of his now-13-year-old boy for the duration of their marriage, which means he stays with them the majority of the time. In those years, Nicole has really “taken” to step-parenting, the letter writer shared, but she still doesn’t think that means she’s been in the same boat.
“I am expecting my first child, and Nicole keeps equating my motherhood with being a stepmum,” the woman wrote. “She keeps trying to give me advice and platitudes about parenthood. Nicole has a lot of experience, but I don’t think our situations are the same.
“I’m getting ready to bring a baby from my body into the world, which is something she hasn’t experienced,” she added. “While she stepped up to stepparent, and is doing great at it, I don’t think it is the same as being a birth mother.”
The letter writer tried to further justify her cause by saying that other friends in their circle were also annoyed by the stepmum’s advice.
“The problem is that Nicole can be really touchy and temperamental,” she explained, “so while I would love to politely tell her to back off with the mum platitudes, I instead just distance myself. What can I do?”
Hmm … the thing is, some people thought the letter writer was the one in the wrong.
There are lots of ways to be a mother, they argued, and it sounded to them like the writer was being mighty judgmental. As one woman commented:
“[The letter writer] ought to be careful if she’s going to make distinctions like this about who is or who isn’t a ‘real’ mum. I’m sure she would be very upset if someone were to tell her that her c-section (planned or otherwise) means she didn’t really deliver her child, or that the use of an epidural, Pitocyn, etc. means she didn’t give birth the right way. Or she’s not really a mum if she doesn’t breastfeed exclusively for a year. There’s quite enough judginess to go around for her too.”
“Some people just like to give advice,” another commenter wrote. “This has nothing to do with her being a stepmum. I just listened and ignored it. If you want to keep this woman as a friend, you can do likewise.”
The commented added that she knew from experience that “bringing a baby into the world with my own body did not give me any more parenting qualities than those who adopted their children or had stepchildren” and that “all parenting experience is valuable.”
A third person put it a bit more bluntly: “You are acting like a terrible friend. I’d personally explore why this bothers you so much.”
Other people thought the mum-to-be had a point.
“There is a huge difference in the motherhood experience of starting from gestation and starting LONG after the baby/infant/toddler stage,” one person argued. “This isn’t about thinking she is unique its more about the fact that those two distinct experiences are unique to each other.”
“The fact is motherhood via adoption, fostering, or being a step-parent is different from ‘natural birth’ and motherhood (natural is in quotations bc of assisted reproduction nowadays) in many aspects,” another person wrote.
But columnist Rumaan Alam, who responded to the woman’s plea for help, was pretty certain: The letter writer was dead w-r-o-n-g.
In his response, Alam told the letter writer that she needed to take a good, long look in the mirror.
“I’ve read and reread your letter so many times,” Alam wrote. “I wonder whether or not you have?”
“My advice: You’ve written this letter and gotten something off your chest,” he continued. “Now let the matter go.”
Alam added that maybe it would be better to never mention this to the friend. “Don’t think this way anymore,” the columnist advised. “Maybe someday, after you ‘bring a baby from your body into the world,’ you’ll have the perspective to realize that you’re not being a very generous friend to someone you’ve known for most of your life.”
(That’s certainly a fair note.)
“Maybe you’ll chuckle at what a know-it-all you were, certain that a mere stepmum would have nothing to teach you about being a mum,” he continued. “Maybe you’ll be sheepish about the irony in asserting that your friend is ‘touchy and temperamental’ when you’ve written this very touchy letter.”
(Hmmm … also fair.)
Alam concluded that he hoped that this wouldn’t be the case. “If none of that comes to pass, for Nicole’s sake, I hope she decides she doesn’t want to be a mere ‘extra aunt’ to your child and finds some more respectful friends.”
This article was first published on CafeMom and was republished here with permission.