Monday, June 27, 2011

Dealing With Unsolicited Parenting Advice

Warning: This post contains language that could be construed as advice. Proceed with caution.

If you are a parent and you spend any time in public, you have probably been on the receiving end of some unsolicited advice. I have run into two general types so far:

The "Oh-So-Obvious" Advice
You're at the grocery store with your infant. You make all the way to the checkout counter without a hitch, when the little one gets upset. You're trying to comfort her while hurrying to unload the cart so you can get out of there as quickly as possible with your food. And that's when it happens. The person on line in front of you says something like: She's probably hungry.

The "You're-Doing-It-Wrong" Advice
You get into a casual conversation with someone and it comes up that you and your kids sleep in the same bed at night, and you aren't complaining about it. The person warns you that your kids will never learn to sleep on their own if you don't push into a separate room as soon as possible. And then offers advice on the most efficient way to train them out of your bed.

How do you react? I used to get offended and annoyed. I took it personally, like the other person thought I was so incompetent that I hadn't thought about feeding my crying baby. Or I took it as an attack on my parenting. But now I know better. Here is what I do about unsolicited advice:

Assume the best possible intentions. I assume the giver of advice is trying to help me, instead of trying to make me feel bad. Probably offering what worked for her or someone she knew. Even if it seems obvious or it's advice I don't agree with, thinking about this changes my thoughts from annoyed to grateful. I can see that most people mean well. 

Don't take it personally. The giver of advice only has limited knowledge of me and my situation. He only knows what I project. I can't possibly take it as a personal attack if I remember that someone doesn't know me personally.

Listen. Really. Maybe I can learn something. Even if it's what not to do.

Respond kindly. For "Oh-So-Obvious" advice, a simple and genuine Thank you will do the trick. I can be genuinely thankful for the person's attempt to help, even if it isn't that helpful.

For "You're-Doing-It-Wrong" advice, I must remember that I don't need to argue just because I disagree. I don't need to defend my position. On line at the grocery store, I know the interaction will be short. So to end the conversation quickly, I say something like Thank you, I will think about that. Or That's an idea! I hadn't thought about it that way before. If I'm on an airplane or at the playground, likely to be conversing with the person for a while, I turn the conversation around with something like Interesting! Is that what you did? How did that go for you? I find people usually don't mind talking about themselves, and I can avoid talking about me.

Reflect. All advice can be thoughtfully considered. Am I ruining my kids by letting them sleep in our bed? I don't think so. But I should be able to ask myself the question without being afraid of what the answer might be. In fact, I am no longer threatened by people who disagree with me. If I still believe in my way after considering alternatives, then it makes me more confident. But I am open to the possibility that I might change my mind about something, as I have done in the past.

What's your best (or worst) unsolicited advice story?