Parenting is amazing, but it is also amazingly hard. Do you know what makes it even harder? Unsolicited advice.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I’m not the only parent who feels this way. Whether the topic is potty training, picky eating, poor behavior at school, a rebellious teenager, child technology woes, etc., receiving unwanted input from every direction about how we could and should be raising our kids can cause feelings of inadequacy, frustration, and resentment to boil over.
Before we go further, please note that I don’t consider action concerning a child’s well-being to be unsolicited advice. If and when a situation calls for immediate action on behalf of a kid, please do what you have to do.
But good old-fashioned, strongly opinionated, unsolicited advice? That’s what this conversation is about.
No matter how kindly it is presented, unsolicited advice often sends the message that whatever it is we’re doing—it isn’t good enough. There’s no punch to a parent’s gut stronger than the one that makes us feel less than.
All of this said, I really do believe most people who offer advice are doing so from a genuinely good place. They are sincerely trying to be helpful and not meaning any harm.
So, for all of you well-meaning onlookers who may have the best of intentions but a poor delivery, this one is for you.
How to give unsolicited advice to a parent:
1. Don’t do it.
I’d like to make this sound more compassionate. I’d like to say there was an exception to this rule, but here’s the truth: when I say don’t give unsolicited advice to a parent, that’s exactly what I mean. There is no, “Except for when . . . ” in this equation. Advice should be given when asked for, and not otherwise. End of story.
2) Reach out to a struggling parent.
OK, that first one sounded harsh, so let me explain. I’m in no way suggesting that if you see a parent—whether a stranger, acquaintance, or friend—struggling, that you just walk on by. What I am saying, is that pointing out another parent’s struggles and telling them what to do about them is the equivalent of telling a woman that she seems to be in a bad mood… It just makes things worse.
When we’re in the trenches, we don’t need someone else’s finger to point it out. Trust me, no one is more aware of our struggles than we are.
When I’m wiping pee off of the floor for the third time in an hour because my son’s potty training isn’t going so well, the last thing I need to hear is something like, “You need to be more consistent,” or “My kid was potty trained in two days, because I . . . ”
Look, I get that you think you’re being helpful offering your sage advice, but all you’re really doing is making me feel like this already frustrating situation is directly correlated with a failure on my part. And quite frankly? That feeling sucks.
Instead, ask me how potty training is going. Tell me you know it can be a hard process and that you would be willing to share some things that worked for you, should I ever be interested in hearing them. Comment on the fact that even though things aren’t going to plan, you can see that I’m trying my hardest. Crack a joke with some good old-fashioned potty humor in it; make me laugh.
Then, bring me a glass of wine and a bottle of disinfectant.
3. When a parent does ask for advice, don’t present it in a condescending way.
I’d like to insert a big “PLEASE” on the front of this one. Trust me when I say that even solicited advice can go south really quickly. If I ask you for advice, it means I’m setting aside my pride and admitting I need help; that I don’t know it all. That’s a really hard thing for some of us to do. Please don’t make me regret my decision to ask for help. Offer your wisdom in a way that doesn’t say, “I’m better than you.”
Not sure where to start? Try these phrases:
- “I know your kid is different from mine, but one thing that worked for me was . . . ”
- “I read such-and-such on this topic; what are your thoughts on that approach?”
- “What all have you tried so far? If you’ll let me, I’d love to help you come up with a plan.”
Dear advice givers: What it all boils down to is this: I’ve only been at this whole parenting gig for the past two-and-a-half years. I know there are so many others out there who have much more experience than I do. I also know that oftentimes, I need that expertise in order to stay afloat. God knows my grandmothers have parenting know-how I can only dream of having someday. But, if I’m being honest, I’m also really determined to figure out for myself what works for me and my family. No matter how many great parenting role models I have in my life, I’m the only mom to my kids.
While I’m grateful for the knowledge of others who have gone before me, please let me ask for that advice myself—on my timing.
So, the next time you see a mama or daddy struggling, by all means—reach out. Be that hand up they so desperately need. But please, please be mindful of your delivery.
And that unsolicited advice? Toss it down the garbage disposal.