Advice · Family · Friendship · Strangers

Receiving Unsolicited Parenting Advice

When someone tries to give me parenting advice…

In general, my policy is to not give parenting advice. Unless I see an actual, urgent danger, I tend to follow Elon’s Law :

But your issue is about what to do when someone DOESN’T follow Elon’s law. Which I’m guessing happens to parents often. Possibly daily. And by everyone from the person walking by you on the sidewalk to your own mother. With that range come different response options. Let’s take a look.

Stranger
Did you child happen to act like a child in a public place? Because people will point that out to you real quick. As though you didn’t know that your child was losing their shit over the Wonder Woman stickers that they need right now. Perhaps this helpful stranger stopped in the aisle to say “You know, that kind of screaming is really not appropriate in public.” In those instances, you already need to figure out how what parenting method is appropriate for your child (Do you remove them? Let them cry it out? Take them to a more private location in the store to have a talk?).

But now you also must figure out how to avoid murdering this stranger whose head is so far up their ass that you’re shocked you can hear their voice.

Since you’re probably not going to see this person again in any meaningful way, I recommend simply looking them directly in the eye without saying a single word. Try for ‘annoyed’ with a hint of ‘you’re not worth it.’ And just keep it up until they stop talking, or you can walk away.

Novice

Advanced

If that doesn’t shut them up, you can respond with “I suppose that’s one way to look at it.” Not “thank you” (because you don’t need to thank someone for unnecessary, unsolicited advice). And certainly not “You’re right.” We don’t want to encourage this behavior.

Acquaintance
Your boss’s husband. Your child’s classmate’s mother. The woman in your book club who knows a friend of a friend. They all might have gems of wisdom (in their minds) but you have to be more savvy with this because you’ll run into them again. Also, there may be some power dynamics at play that you don’t want to disturb. So in this case, I think it’s diplomatic to employ something I first read about in “The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck.” I have some issues with the overall book (read my review of it here), but I do like her suggestion of chalking things up to a difference of opinion.

In this case, if your boss’s husband says “Suzy should really be wearing socks,” you can say “You know, we have to pick our battles, and in my opinion this one just isn’t worth the fight. Suzy doesn’t like wearing socks, so unless it gets below a certain temperature, I let her make that call. I know other folks do it differently. That’s okay with me!”

The busybody may offer up additional suggestions, trying to get you to see that it isn’t just a difference in opinion – that they are really right. I think it’s fine to just shrug and say “I appreciate that you see it differently.” Then change the subject. Ideally to focus on something they like about themselves, because someone who feels the need to offer their opinion to an acquaintance probably like attention.

Friends and Family
Friends without kids might make suggestions based on what they’ve seen other parents do that seems to work. Friends with kids might offer advice based on what worked for their child. Family members from the previous generation might think that if it worked for them in 1977, it should work for you in 2017. Unless they are total jerks (which, hopefully your friends aren’t since you chose them, but your family members might be), they mean well.

But that doesn’t change how obnoxious it can be to hear them tell you how you should parent your child. People have so many different opinions and experiences that it is beyond absurd to think that one way is going to work for literally every child. But since you have to (and want to) see these folks on a regular basis, you can’t tell them to go screw themselves, and you can’t really tell them to shut up.

Instead, I think you should employ the same tactics as with an acquaintance, but perhaps with a little softening. Maybe add in a “I value your opinion / experience” at the top, or “when it comes to [area they are actually an expert in] I will definitely be asking for your thoughts, but right now we’re going with no socks for Suzy.”

And then stop contributing to that conversation. If you’re in a group setting and they keep chatting with another friend or relative about the topic, browse the web on your phone. Look for an opening to change the subject. Or get up and go hang out with other folks at the gathering. You’ve made your point clear; it’s not open for discussion with you. If they want to keep debating the merits of the case of Barefoot vs. Socks, they should feel free, but you’re not going to be involved.

Alternatively, just teach your kid to do this on cue:

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