From the moment your baby bump starts to show until your teenagers shouts, “I hate you!” as she runs away from the car, others are likely to provide unsolicited advice or comment on your parenting strategies.
Whether the advice comes from a stranger, friend or your mother, it can trigger negative self-talk, undermine confidence and stir emotions that bring us down. It is important to take what is helpful, if there is anything, from the unwanted comments, restore your parenting confidence with positive self-talk and carry on bravely.
The motivation for unsolicited advice is interesting. Some people are genuinely concerned with helping, whereas some might be attempting to steal power from you by asserting a false parenting superiority.
As author Rebecca Eckler shared in her book, The Mommy Mob, women can try to feed their insecurities by being very hard on others. When it feels like another parent is trying to take rather than be giving, do your best to not let that bother you. Really, don’t. That person’s inability to be friendly or helpful communicates her weaknesses, pain or lack of information.
Unwanted parenting advice can come in many forms. Some commenters are direct in their suggestions like, “She’s too skinny. Give her solids already,” but often it’s the scowls or passive aggressive comments like, “Aw, is your little one tired?” that feel most frustrating.
The comments I found the most difficult to handle were around the topic of discipline. On more than one occasion, a (well-meaning) person of grand-parenting age has suggested that kids need “a good lickin’,” or that my “lax parenting” was causing my child’s outbursts.
The worst for me is when I hear, “That child just needs a good smack.” Older adults usually justify their suggestions with something like, “I had three kids—spanked them all and they turned out just fine.” I responded to that often-heard statement by writing this article for YummyMummyClub and this one for The Atlantic.
There are two aspects to handling these types of comments: the first is to address the person offering the advice kindly and the second is to talk yourself through your triggers.
Think of a response you can use anytime to help you through moments when your kids are melting down and others are either giving you the hairy eyeball or unwanted suggestions. The thing that gets people to stop offering unwanted advice the most is when they feel heard. Find a way to acknowledge the comment and verbally or nonverbally respond in a way that isn’t shaming (to prevent that person from getting defensive and keeping at it).
Here are some suggestions for gently responding to unwanted advice.
Start by smiling, then try one of these that suits your personality:
Look at the person giving you the suggestion, smile, nod, and then continue attending to your child without saying anything.
“Thank you for your concern.”
“I’ll discuss that with our family doctor/pediatrician.”
Use humour: Say, “This is nothing compared to yesterday!” or
“Whew! Anyone want to take over? I’ll come pick them up at 5.”
“Thanks for letting me know how you do things. I’ll consider that.”
“I’ll talk about that with my partner/ husband and we’ll make a game plan.”
Ask a question: “I wonder what the down-sides of doing that might be?”
“I’m glad that worked for you, but I prefer _____”
Be honest. Share your parenting goals and discuss if the advice is in alignment with those goals.
Hear her out. When your mother or mother-in-law offers advice, ensure that she feels heard. Allow her to speak without interruption, even if you do not agree with her suggestions.
Validate her. Try saying something like, “I can see why you did that” or “I can see why you think that might work.”
Assume good intentions. Before your negative self-talk can get you upset, talk yourself down—remind yourself that your mother/in-law loves you and is providing the advice because she likely thinks it will help reduce your stress.
Thank her for thinking of you. You can remind her that if you do have questions, you will be sure to ask her in the future.
Be honest and explain your decisions. Prevent resentment or tension by discussing why you are choosing certain parenting strategies. I say this to explain the difference in parenting these days, “Yes. Parenting today is certainly different than it was in your day. We have so much more information about child development, safety and nutrition now than you did. I know you did your best with the information available at the time.” Keeping her in the loop about up-to-date health and safety guidelines and parenting research is a great way to slow the flow of unsolicited advice. She will see you are taking your parenting role seriously.
For mother-in-laws, make sure to have conversations with your partner to ensure you are on the same parenting page, and that she is aware you two are a parenting team.
You are the expert of your child. Use parenting information or advice if it resonates with you and feels right. Even if a suggestion seems good to you, but crashes and burns when you try it, that experience is a good teacher. Now you know how to adapt your parenting to fit the outcome of that attempt.
Invite your friend, relative or mother/ in-law over to my Facebook page, where I post free (as evidence-based as we can get) parenting information. The parents on my page are so supportive and help each other.