If you have a kid, you’ve received unasked for advice about how you’re raising them. I don’t know what it is about the existence of a small human (even when it’s still tucked safely in your body) that seems to invite commentary from the most random of places, but this is a phenomenon that exists. Not sure how to handle those comments? Here are my tips for dealing with unsolicited parenting advice.
So, I hate to ask, but did you actually listen to the advice before your brain kicked into “mind your own beeswax” mode? Because sometimes, that advice may be relevant and very important. Think about how many times you cringe inside when you see an infant carrier balanced on the seat of a shopping cart, or you see someone wearing a baby improperly, or you see a car seat being used unsafely. You probably wrestle with yourself about whether you should say something and how to say it, if you decide to speak up. You want that parent to know you’re not judging them, because you’ve been there yourself. And you hope they hear the advice with all the care you’re trying to offer. When you’re on the receiving end of unsolicited advice, assume goodwill on the part of the advisor. Pause for a moment and make sure that you’re not tuning out advice related to baby’s safety just because you didn’t know to ask for it.
Okay. You’ve gotten advice from a friend or family member that was both unwanted and not related to the kid’s safety. Now what? Particularly for first time (or rare) offenders, starting with a warm “Thank you!” is the way to go. Assuming you’re not wanting to alienate folks who could be potential babysitters, yes? Then follow up with:
“We’ll consider it.”
“I’ll be sure to share that with baby’s mother/father/etc.”
“We appreciate your concern.”
And a new favorite I found in an article on Web MD: “We know that advice was hard-earned through the years.”
This is all great, you say to me, but my real problem is those random strangers who feel compelled to tell me to put a hat on the baby (or take the sweater off the baby), or that my toddler shouldn’t have a pacifier, or that my young child’s snack is a gateway drug to childhood obesity. What about them? Again, remaining polite is important. Not because you “owe” the nosy strangers anything, but because politeness makes the world go ‘round—civilly, at least—and it’s never too early to set an example for your little one. Was the approach kind and natural, like another adult at the play place noticing Junior’s tantrum and offering advice? Try a small smile and a “Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.” Did a random stranger march up to you and point out that your child’s plastic toy was likely full of BPA and don’t you know that wooden toys or food grade silicone is the way to go? In this case, a small, tight smile and a clipped “Thank you” or “Mm-hmm” is enough.
I also found this phrasing the other day:
“How kind of you to take interest in my personal business.” (I love Miss Manners so much.)
Then there’s this one—also from Web MD—that’s great for when someone is advising you about formula feeding/using whiskey to soothe teething/giving an infant toys and blankets in the crib/developmental milestones/etc.: “We’ll be sure to talk to the pediatrician about that.” Did a random stranger march up to you while you were feeding the baby explaining that breastfeeding would give your kid mommy issues/formula feeding is basically child abuse in a bottle? Go for the blank face with raised eyebrows and a “Pardon me?” This type of politeness keeps you away from telling people off, while still allowing you to indicate your displeasure at the intrusion into your parenting.
I came across several articles which all point out that it’s easy enough to remain polite and simply thank the offender and move on. Sometimes, though, it just doesn’t feel like enough. Well, I love me some Miss Manners and this is a great time to take a page out of her book and introduce things like “icy formality” (Pardon me?) and what I like to call polite snark, which is all about your facial expression and tone. Think of all the ways you can say “How kind of you to take an interest in my personal business.”
Anyway, in a nutshell: The closer a person is to you, the more you should assume goodwill. You can even explain your choices if you want to, and help that person understand how you choose to parent. The further away from “close” that an advice-giver gets, the shorter your thanks can be. And regardless of how well you know someone, always pay attention to safety-related advice. Even if you don’t think the person is correct, it’s something you can research, or talk to your child’s health provider or another appropriate knowledge source (like an accredited babywearing educator) about.
What’s your best unsolicited advice story? Tell us in the comments!