Every parent has experienced it. That moment when someone else — usually with the best of intentions — offers their field-proven advice on how to raise your children. Whether it’s about breastfeeding (or not), sleep training (or not), or even what your child wears (or not?), there will always be someone to offer their sage wisdom on parenting — like it or not.
I struggle with this. A lot. I guess that’s what happens when you combine fierce independence with shaky (at best) self-confidence. It’s hard not to interpret others’ suggestions and opinions as criticism, especially when you’re not feeling 100% confident in your parenting (and who does, really?). It’s a rite of passage. We all know this uninvited advice is coming — it’s just part of parenting. And when it does, you just nod politely and try to keep hidden any impact to your confidence. Maybe you’ll even toss in an occasional, “Well, we’re doing what is best for our family thankyouverymuch” if you’re feeling snarky.
But then it happens: Your friend/sister/neighbor/whoever finds out she’s pregnant, and you SO BADLY want to share with her all the things you learned the hard way in your journey as a new parent. And she HAS to know about all the products you wish you’d known about sooner. I mean, why wouldn’t she want to know all those things — it takes a village, right? Whoa. Slow down.
When a friend finds out she’s pregnant, it reminds me of my pregnancy. When I talk to a mom with a newborn, it reminds me of when my son was a newborn. These are happy times to look back on, even if it didn’t always feel that way in the moment. And who doesn’t want to share a parenting victory or an “I figured it out” moment that we feel especially proud of? As moms, it’s often hard for us to talk about ourselves, our victories, and our struggles. Relating to other moms, especially in those vulnerable first few years of parenthood, is challenging. We know we’re all connected by many common experiences, but it often feels self-indulgent to talk about our own experiences.
So we give advice. Make suggestions. Retell the story of our lessons learned.
And just like that, we become the unsolicited advice-givers who previously haunted us.
Maybe you can see where I’m going with this.
When parents offer this kind of unsolicited advice to other parents, it often comes from a place of wanting to relate their experience, relive a happy memory, or just to talk about themselves for a moment. Somehow, framing our experience as a suggestion or assistance makes us feel more polite than if we were to just openly talk about ourselves and our own experiences.
This isn’t so in every case, but I encourage you to think about this kind of advice in a different way. Consider, for a minute, that these impromptu advisors may just want to share their experience as a way of processing a challenging time, revisiting a happy memory, or simply sharing a win. This reframing can keep these conversations from feeling intrusive or condescending — and can save you the trouble of crafting a scripted explanation of the reasoning behind every decision you’ve ever made as a parent.
Responding with interest in their experience can shift the focus to their story. And who knows? Maybe you’ll learn something.