Receiving advice – whether it’s wanted or not – is just part of being a parent. It comes with the territory. All parents at some point both give and receive advice. New parents will most likely receive the bulk of the advice, while parents with any experience at all tend to want to give it. It’s like once you become a parent, you’ve been accepted into this secret club or community where you’re suddenly “in the know” about a lot of things (which is mostly true). But more often than not, it seems that parents receive more advice than they want or even need.
How do we deal with that, in a society where everyone’s opinion is treated as fact? How do we love others and value their thoughts while at the same time not be swayed by every piece of advice? How do we have patience to deal with being parents while at the same time being told how to do our job?
In this post we’ll look at 5 kinds of “advisers” and the why behind their advice, what sort of advice they tend to give, and how we should respond to it. First and foremost, I think it’s important to understand that generally speaking, those who give advice have your best interests at heart. Also, all givers of advice will not necessarily fall into one or more of these categories; this is just a way to think about where different kinds of advice might be coming from.
1. The Excited Parent
As I said earlier, parenting is like a club. Some parents are so excited to be a part of the club, excited to have all this new knowledge, and study their little baby like it’s their final exam. They can’t help but share what they’re experiencing and they want you to enjoy parenting the way that they do. All advice I gave during my baby’s first year probably came from this standpoint.
These parents are just so excited about their own baby, they will talk about what their child did that day for a long time without realizing that you weren’t ever listening. 😀 They don’t necessarily care if you take their input or not, they’re just verbally processing their experiences with you, though it sometimes may feel as though they’re acting superior because they’ve been a parent a few months longer than you have.
Be excited and rejoice with them that they found the secret (for now) for getting their child to sleep through the night. You don’t have to agree with the secret that they discovered or even try it out on your child if you don’t want to. Their feelings won’t be hurt, as long as you’re excited for what they’ve accomplished.
2. The Proud Parent
These tend to be parents with lots of kids, who may think that they know everything there is to know about children since they’ve had 7 of them. They treat their opinion as fact, and though it may be driven by experience, there is no guarantee that it will work for any and every child.
These parents want you to take their advice. They may consider themselves professionals on the subject of kids, and so if you don’t take their advice then you’re just being foolish. They have a different story or trick for every child, so their advice may be long-winded. Or, they may have something that worked for every single one of their children and so that is the only way you can do something.
When this kind of parent tells you that this technique worked for kids 4, 6, and 7 and that it should work for yours too, point out your own child’s uniqueness. Compliment this parent on their success or skill at parenting; that may be all they are looking for. Let them know that maybe you just want to figure it out on your own, and you’re okay with being immature and new to this whole parenting thing. One day you’ll get to where they are, but not if you don’t make some mistakes first.
3. The Sincere Parent
This kind of parent truly wants to help. They may not give advice during every stage, but some stages that were hard for them personally they will want to share their experiences with you. They generally understand that every child is different, so most importantly they want to empathize with you, though what they say may still come across as advice.
For this parent, sharing the experiences and stories is just as important as what they share. They want to build a relationship with you, to let you know that someone else has been where you’ve been. You can take or leave their advice; what’s most important is that you let them connect with you.
Embrace their stories and ask them questions. Connect with them parent-to-parent. They will appreciate your reciprocation.
4. The Seasoned Parent
These are the parents who had kids a long time ago. They also may treat their opinion as fact, but sometimes they just want to reminisce on the “good old days”. Their grandchildren remind them of their children, and you remind them of themselves, so if you’re not parenting the way that they did, then your children probably won’t turn out well (like theirs did).
This parent’s advice may be seasoned with experience, but like all good seasoning it must be taken with a grain (or two) of salt. Because they have so many stories they have accumulated over the years, they may not remember what they have shared with you and may repeat themselves. Since they have successfully completed numerous years of parenting, they consider themselves to be a storehouse of information, which is partially true. Seasoned parents must remember that parenting always looks different from generation to generation.
Ask them questions about how parenting was different for them than what it looks like now. This will help them remember that though some things never change, some aspects about parenting have changed since the last generation. Doctors are always changing procedures and protocols, and income and social status plays a huge part as well. If you seek to understand where their advice is coming from, you will be able to interpret it better and they may be less likely to force it upon you if they understand that you appreciate and value their input.
5. The Non-Parent
These “parents” are not actually parents. They might babysit occasionally, have a niece/nephew, or some pet that they consider to be their child. Taking care of a child every once in a while or taking care of a pet is not at all comparable to being a parent.
However, they may try to equalize the two. This also may be an attempt at connection. They may feel distanced from you because you’ve progressed to parenthood and they have not, and they want to keep that relationship and not be isolated.
Don’t be afraid to point out to them that being a parent is a huge change in your life. Subtly comment on how your life before kids was so much different than after having kids, and being a dog “parent” in no way prepares you for being a real parent. But, at the same time, bring up things that you still have in common. Change the subject to things you both still enjoy or do together. Keep your relationship with them strong, but don’t let them stay deluded either.
This is by no means a step-by-step guide to dealing with each and every scenario of unsolicited advice, but rather some general ways of approaching different kinds of advice. If you are struggling in dealing with repeated instances of unsolicited or forceful advice, seek wisdom and counsel. Relationships can be hard, and if someone doesn’t feel like you value their opinion it can get rough. Again, give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and acknowledge that most everyone has your best interests at heart, though it may not come across that way.