There is only one thing we can be certain of when we start a family: we’re about to be inundated with advice. Advice we never asked for, advice we don’t need.
It’s well meaning most of the time - well meaning, but ultimately painful. People really do want to help you and share their treasured gems of advice. Some of the advice can be awkwardly insistent (hello friends), horrendously wrong (hello grandparents) or just completely insane (hello random people on the internet). We get it from everywhere.
Then there are those people who are somehow completely certain every person in the world would be infinitely happier and better if everyone followed their advice. In their mind, their advice is practical, intelligent and kind – to others it comes across as ludicrous, rude and often completely untroubled the presence of research, intelligence or even logic.
Given we’ve managed to shamble through life with a modicum of success up to the point of becoming parents, it’s always a shock to be the focus of such unrelenting advice. If it takes a village to raise a child, the village are going to give you a 45 minute presentation on why they believe teething doesn’t exist, whether you want it or not.
There’s a temptation to let fly with a definitive smackdown because, goddammit, these people generally say goodbye to the right to be treated with civility when they share their ‘advice’. Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple and different cases require different approaches.
How to cope with unwanted advice … when it’s polite
Get some perspective
Though it may not feel like it, people generally aren’t judging you when they try to offer advice. Sometimes their tips are nothing more than them trying to lighten the load, and because they think you share similar parenting styles.
Occasionally there is a gem to be found, and a different perspective can be useful, if offered in a polite way. No one is perfect, and that includes both you and the advice-giver. This is my hardest one – I personally hear klaxons whenever someone starts to give me advice in a conversation based on 10 minutes’ observation.
Calmly ask questions and assess
If someone’s prepared to give unwanted advice and it’s polite, it’s fair to assume they’re also receptive to polite questions and assessment. If they’ve based their views on one child or, my personal favourite, unnamed studies, they may not know what they’re talking about. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to learn how they formed their opinions, and don’t be afraid to let them know if you agree or disagree. A bit of back and forth doesn’t necessarily mean confrontation or a fight. Plus, that conversation will either help you find middle ground or at least explore a new idea.
Know yourself, know your baby
Who has sat up with your child at night, soothed them when they hurt, and learnt all the shortcuts to make them happy and content? It’s you. You put in that hard work and you know your child well. You may not know everything about parenting but you do know your child better than anyone else. Feel confident in that knowledge whenever someone tries to tell you otherwise.
How to cope with unwanted advice … when it’s rude
Is it worth it?
Some people are just not worth engaging in a debate. If Great Aunt Deirdre has a tenuous relationship with tact, reality and medical science, but really wants you to put socks on a toddler who refuses to wear them, it’s best to smile, nod and pray for temporary deafness. Engaging in a debate is useless and will rile everyone up – including you.
It’s all in the delivery
Never underestimate how “yes, thank you” can end a conversation topic. Other variations include “we’re happy with this approach” or, my personal favourite, the passive-aggressive “I’m so happy you had the pregnancy/parenting experience you wanted”. Be politely firm in your reply and people won’t offer advice again.
Laugh at them
I once received some highly charged advice from a woman on how my then six-year-old should walk on the footpath. The (obviously very important) woman didn’t know how to cope when the six-year-old and I started laughing at her uproariously.
Give them advice back
This is to be used when you’re feeling insulted, annoyed and in a bridge burning mood. Two friends swear by interrupting the advice giver and offering them even more private and intrusive advice, possibly on their sex life. It’s amazing how many conversations end with the introduction of the phrase “reverse cowgirl”.
And finally …
Don’t be ‘that’ person
You know what it’s like to be on the end of unwanted advice, so unless someone’s asking you specifically for advice, zip it. Remember that even when a friend complains about some parenting or child-related matter, they don’t need you to fix it. Your strength is as a friend and a listener.
A bit of friendly parenting advice can be incredibly helpful. Though the majority of us are muddling through parenting to a large degree, it does take concerted effort to be a bad parent, so don’t be worried if someone does try to give you advice. Unfortunately, as with most things in life, these sorts of conversations are subject to the whims of personality and social skills.
Be open, honest and sympathetic but remember who knows your child best: you.