The best way to give parenting advice….DON’T. Okay, that’s not entirely true, I should say don’t give unsolicited parenting advice. Otherwise this would be a very short (possibly better?) blog post. I don’t think there’s a person over 20 who hasn’t weighed in with a little unwanted parenting advice at one point or another. And I’m no exception, I’m sure, but as a parent I’ve got to say it’s annoying as hell to get. So I want to lay down some ground rules for how and when it’s appropriate to give parenting advice. Most of this can be applied to any advice but parenting can be a particularly touchy subject.
First off to the advice givers, I know you’re trying to be helpful. I know it’s frustrating to watch patents make, what you view, as mistakes. I can’t tell you how many times I have bit my tongue (or I guess typing finger) after seeing adorable “baby’s first solids” pictures on Facebook featuring babies way too young for solids or eating in an unsafe reclined position. Or many other things that make my mommy self cringe. But I keep quiet. Sure, I may post a general article on my newsfeed about the appropriate pediatrician recommended time to start solids but I try (with all my might) to not single out parents for a lecture. Because I hate when people pull that crap with me. I think that’s the difference between advocating for parenting methods you agree with and giving unwanted advice.
What it boils down to is that every family is different and each parent must decide the best way to raise their own kids. Just because something works for you or you read it works or it worked for your cousin’s, friend’s, sister’s, fiancé’s, mother, does not mean it is right for every family! If you’re a seasoned parent (parent of older or already grown kids) your advice to new parents can be so valuable but remember, safety guidelines and recommendations may have changed since your kids were itty bitty. If you’re on the receiving end of the offending advice, I’ve found smiling and nodding to be a tried and true response.
How do you know advice is wanted? Is the person who’s talking about their child happy with what is happening? Do they use the word “help”? Are they flat-out asking for advice? Unless it’s pretty obvious the parent is asking for advice in person or online, it’s probably best to keep your trap shut. Of course there at times when the tone of the conversation, especially in person, implies the parent is not adverse to some friendly advice. It’s also surprisingly possible to have a friendly non-judgmental conversation about your different parenting styles with another parent.
If advice seems welcome here’s how to give it. Avoid saying things like “you need…” and “you have to…” and “you can’t…” And instead say things like “we had that problem and here’s what worked for us…” Or “I read an article about that and here’s what it recommended…” You get the point (I hope), always make a suggestion and not a command. So, frustrated mom says “I don’t know what to do, I’m so exhausted! I just can’t get little Timmy to sleep at night.” You might say “That happened to us with Sam at that age, I know how difficult it can be. The Wonderful, Magic Sleep Method (not real) worked for us. I’d be happy to give you more information about it or lend you the book if it sounds like something you might like to try.” Notice how you didn’t say anything condescending about her parenting or blame her for the problem? (Of course if there’s a situation where you have serious concerns about a child’s safety and welfare, different steps may need to be taken).
If you are a person who does not have children and does not have a Masters in child development or some other child related expertise, parents generally don’t want to get advice from you. Sorry, but it’s true. That’s not to say a person without children can never, ever give some parenting advice, occasionally it might be useful but tread lightly, very lightly. It’s not that your friends who are parents don’t value your friendship and opinion but would a football player ask advice from someone who’s never played football? Experience counts, even in parenting. Also, every parent knows, as soon as you hold that little newborn bundle of joy, your world changes in ways you never imagined possible. And it continues, the discipline method you were sure you would use for a toddler may just melt away as you get to know YOUR toddler instead of just A toddler. I was planning on having Miss Independent weaned by a year but as I learned more and experienced our own relationship, that changed and we nursed many months past the one year mark. Those of you who don’t have kids yet might be surprised by how quickly that parent you gave a smug, judgmental smirk to the other day can become yourself. (Keep telling yourself your kids will be different). You really can’t know exactly what kind of parent you’ll be until you’re living it. That being said sometimes a non-parent has experienced something with a child they’re close to or heard something from a family member or read something that’s useful to a parent friend’s situation. It’s okay to put that useful tidbit out there if you use extreme tact and caution. You probably want to start with something like “I haven’t been there so I can’t know exactly what you’re going through but this article I read (or whatever) might be helpful to you.” Definitely don’t say something like “Well, my sisters baby never cries because she…” At least not unless you want to get smacked.
I’ve noticed a lot of very nice, well-meaning people can end up alienating friends with bossy advice. If you think that might be you, please remember, your way may be the best way for you but that doesn’t mean it’s the best way for everyone. And if you put someone on the defensive straight away, they’re probably not going to listen to a word you say. I’m sure some who know me will read this and remember less than tactful advice I’ve given them and I’m sorry for those times. Everyone slips up and says something they shouldn’t have sometimes but I think being mindful of those times can make them less frequent. I have to give a shout out to the play group we’re in, I always feel comfortable talking openly about any parenting subject without feeling judged for my choices. And I never see a hint of those mommy wars everyone’s always talking about with them. (I can say that of most my other friends as well). All parents make mistakes, so please don’t be harsh on those parents that make different mistakes than you do. We’re all trying to raise our children the best way we know how and building each other up rather than tearing each other down is definitely the way to go. If someone wants your opinion, they’ll probably ask for it, otherwise silence is golden.