Dealing with unwanted advice

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Something miraculous seems to happen when you get pregnant or adopt a new baby – especially if it is your first. Everyone around you – including total strangers – suddenly becomes an expert on child-rearing and those boundaries we have around personal space and polite interaction seem to erode. Sometimes it’s a one-off remark about how cold your baby’s hands look; other times it comes as a direct criticism of your parenting choices; it can even be just a certain raised-eyebrow look. Whatever the form, parenting advice (and disapproval) can be hard to ignore. Sometimes it is helpful to hear about others’ experiences and usually those little tips our mothers, mother-in-laws, friends, neighbours and strangers pass on are well-intention ed.
There are times though when the advice we get either goes against our better judgement as parents, or comes across as hurtful criticism. Sure, we should just let it slide off like water off a duck’s back, but, especially considering the fact that being a parent is a time when we tend to become our own worst critic, unsolicited advice can really get under your skin.

Here are some tips on how to handle unwanted advice:

Consider the source. Ask yourself “Does this person giving the advice represent the kind of parent I want to be? Do they have the kind of relationship with their children I would like to have?” If the answer to these questions is no, this is a source of advice you might want to ignore. Don’t feel pressured to defer to advice of others out of a sense of obligation. If it goes against your better judgment, don’t do it.

Smile and say thank you. Say “Thank you for that advice. I’m really glad it worked for you. I/We have decided to try it this way.” Or “Hmm, that’s an interesting idea. I’ll talk it over with my partner/doctor.” Or  if the person giving advice is a stranger or someone who lives far away, it’s probably easier to just say “thank you” and continue doing things the way that works for you.

Defer to the experts. Often people from older generations want to tell us about how things were done when they were raising their own children. Going against this advice can across as a criticism of how they parented. Recommendations about things such as sleep, feeding solids, breastfeeding, and keeping babies warm have changed a lot over the last generation. Saying something like, “Oh really, you started feeding your baby solids at six weeks? That’s interesting. My doctor has suggested we wait until six months, so that’s what we are going to do” takes the judgement away from you and suggests you are just following medical advice.

Be honest if your feelings are hurt. If it is a close friend, sibling or parent who is providing advice that is coming across as criticism, it might be worth having a frank talk with them about the way you are feeling. Rude or undermining comments are not helpful for any parent, and you have a right to stand up for yourself. A simple, “I know you’re trying to help, but I am feeling hurt by the criticism. It would be great if you could respect the decisions we are making.” should be enough to at least make the other person think about the way they are offering advice.

Explain your need to vent. Sometimes when other people hear us talking about the things we find challenging in life, they hear it as a request for advice. It’s ok to say, “I really just need to vent right now. I know there is no simple answer and we will figure out a way that works for us. It would be great if you could just listen.”

Use humour. A humourous reply is usually enough to stop unwanted advice in its tracks. When someone makes a comment about the food on your toddler’s face – it usually sounds something like “Oh, did Mommy/Daddy forget to wipe your face?” Come back with, “Yeah she usually gets hungry later in the afternoon, so we thought we’d save some for later.”

Choose your battles. Sometimes it’s easier to just go along with the advice of a well-meaning relative or friend than to bring tension into the relationship. If your mother-in-law insists that your baby needs to wear socks in the house in the summer, it won’t hurt to just slide a pair on and take them off again when she leaves. Also, if we get our backs up and become defensive every time someone offers advice, we might miss some little gems. There is a lot we can learn from the experiences of others.