Unsolicited parenting advice is exhausting. We’re all recipients of it and, if we’re being honest, most of us dish it out occasionally. Simply being pregnant is an open invitation for unsolicited parenting advice. Have small children? You can bet strangers have advice for you. Have older children? More advice. Unsolicited parenting advice is inescapable and irritating, but is it always bad?Diplomat Training 101
I remember planning for my first baby. We attended childbirth classes, researched car seats, and learned all about best practices for babies. Friends and family mostly stuck to my baby registry, but some did their own thing. Nearly everyone dispensed advice with ease and conflicting advice at that.
Pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting all unexpectedly became Diplomat Training 101. I couldn’t wear my baby in a sling without comments. Posting a picture of a child in their car seat became a minefield of advice. When I made one choice, people warned me against it. When I changed my mind, people looked at me with self-satisfied “I told you sos” in their eyes. And the unsolicited advice keeps coming as the children grow.
The Soldier Appears
Sometimes I want to put my hands over my ears and loudly shout, “Blah! Blah! Blah!” to drown out the noise. I get defensive. I rage in like-minded groups. I long to throw diplomacy out the window. I become deaf to all advice, determined not to be criticized, judged, or wrong. Except it turns out that being a warrior is actually more exhausting than being a diplomat.
So, I asked myself, “Is all unsolicited parenting advice bad?” The delivery often leaves something to be desired, but that doesn’t make it worthless. Advice-giving is often a simple form of connecting with others. I think parents often give advice to pay-it-forward to other parents. Unsolicited parenting advice can be a gesture of community in a disconnected world.
Unsolicited parenting advice can be a gesture of community in a disconnected world.
What do we do with the paradox that is unsolicited parenting advice? Before we react with frustration or defense, let’s give ourselves and the advice-givers the benefit of the doubt. You might respond by saying to yourself:
- I’m a pioneer. People are suspicious about the unfamiliar and new, especially if they think the old method isn’t broken. Being a parenting pioneer will open you up to curiosity and make people uncomfortable. They might respond with questions or correct or offer alternate advice. Think of this as your opportunity to be an ambassador for cloth diapering, babywearing, baby-led-weaning, extended backward facing, whatever you’re pioneering for your generation.
- They’re a pioneer. Someone leads the way with every generation. Maybe the advice-giver marched to the beat of her own drum and wants to encourage you to do the same. Maybe she pushed for acceptance of a parenting practice and doesn’t realize she’s still campaigning for it at your expense. Perhaps you can connect by saying, “It sounds like you really did your own thing as a parent. I can really relate to that.”
- This might save me time, money, or energy. Ok, I confess. I sometimes spot bewildered looking pregnant women in the baby gear aisle and give unsolicited advice to help them skip unnecessary gear. If I see an exhausted looking mama with a baby on her hip, I might bring up baby carriers. Having twins? This seems like a good time to mention the cost savings of cloth diapers. When you’re tired or overwhelmed or just doing your own confident thing, this can be annoying, but it might be a way to let someone else pay-it-forward today.
- Advice isn’t always criticism. It’s natural to be sensitive when it feels like you’re parenting in a petri dish. Sure, some people are straight up telling you you’re doing it wrong, but they are in the minority. Advice is often expressions of, “I’ve been there before” or “Have you tried this?” or “I remember those days” or “I want to be a helper.” Seeing advice this way can help us redirect the conversation to comfortable territory and make connections, rather than becoming defensive.
- I’ve got this. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve smiled and moved on. No need to respond or engage, whether we’re talking about a stranger, friend, or mother-in-law. Sometimes a firm “I appreciate your advice. I’ve got this.” or “You’ve shared that a few times now. I want you to know that I took your advice into consideration.” are necessary. Carrying around anger, resentment, and doubt are not.
What is your “favorite” piece of parenting advice? Mine is the classic, “Enjoy every moment. They don’t last.”