Oh parenting advice. Moms and dads – we’ve all been there. When a person tells you how they think you should raise your child. “You need to let them cry it out.” “You’re holding the baby too much.” “They’re too old to be breastfeeding” “You should spank them for that.” I could go on but I won’t. Sometimes it’s genuinely helpful advice. Lots of times people are coming from a good place and want to help you when they say these things. Maybe you took their words into consideration and turns out they were right. Maybe you ignored it. Or maybe it offended you, made you think they were judging you for your parenting choices, and it made you really mad. Usually the best response is simply to nod and say thank you, and then just do what works for you and your family.
Regardless, are you in the position where you may be giving parenting advice to someone? Perhaps your sister is having a baby, or you ran across a mom who looked like she could use some helpful words at the grocery store. Before you open your mouth, here are a few factors to consider:
1) Do you have children of your own? Just because you have nannied, are a teacher, or have nieces and nephews, does not give you any parenting expertise whatsoever. Would you hire me to be your brain surgeon? Hopefully not. And that’s how qualified you are to offer parenting advice or opinions when you haven’t been there. Sorry, we love non-parents too, but it’s one of those things you just can’t understand until you go through it yourself.
2) Have you recently had children? If you haven’t had kids in a long time, things have changed, and pretty drastically. Medical opinions on all aspects of parenting seem to change almost daily. And, no offence, but young parents are probably going to trust what their pediatrician says over someone who is not their pediatrician. So no, I don’t think I’m going to soak a rag in rum and put it in my baby’s mouth when their teething, but thanks!
3) Do you perceive the parent to be doing something wrong? My child doesn’t need a jacket and isn’t cold. Okay sometimes they might be, but I know it and I’m on it. Lots of times my kids just need to get from my car to inside Chick-Fil-A and it’s 60 degrees out. I think they’ll be okay. My point is, if you see a parent with a child and you think that child could use something just remember that the parent is probably aware and working on it, or knows that they’ll be okay without it and just trying to hold themselves together that day. They probably don’t need you pointing out something they forgot.
4) How well do you know the parent you are considering giving unsolicited parenting advice to? Are they a stranger? An acquaintance? If yes then just stop there. You don’t know their situation. Are they a close friend or family member? Then it some cases it might actually be okay. Use common sense of whether you think it will actually help them and is needed, or whether it’s going to bother the parent and is really you just trying to impose your beliefs on them.
5) Have they asked for your advice? If yes then it’s fair game. If no, you should probably hold your tongue.
Remember, there are many different ways to be a good parent. There is no mathematical equation for raising kids that a parent must stick to in order to be a good mom or dad. Good moms and dads come in all shapes and sizes – there are ones that breastfeed, formula feed, follow attachment parenting, let their children cry it out, let their children watch TV, don’t have a TV in their home, etc. What you did with your kids may have worked great for you and not work great for someone else.
Parenthood is hard, even on its best days, and most of us are struggling just to do the best we can. So maybe instead of saying anything at all offer to help the mom or dad you see struggling, or just give them a smile and move on. Be sensitive, be kind, and try not to judge the mom you see with a newborn and a screaming almost two year old at Target. Because that mom is probably me. And also because it’s the right thing to do.