If there’s one thing everyone has an opinion on, it’s parenting. It doesn’t matter whether it’s breastfeeding, sleep strategies, weaning, development, schooling, haircuts, or even bedroom decoration, there are contrasting views on every aspect of raising tiny humans. Sometimes advice from other parents can be golden – the hints and tips that make the struggles of parenthood more manageable. But sometimes dealing with unsolicited parenting advice can be a minefield. How do we manage advice when it becomes unhelpful?
We’ve all been there. Somehow it seems that when you have a baby, your decisions become public property – something for everyone to cast their opinions on. Whether it’s a stranger telling you that the banana you’re feeding your child has too much sugar in it, someone commenting that your sockless baby will catch their death when it’s 30ºc outside or rolled eyes and silent sighs about your call to opt for reusable nappies or enrol your little one in an art class, everyone has *thoughts* about how we raise our children. As soon as we have kids, we have to become experts in dealing with unsolicited advice. Whatever the advice, and however well intended it is, it’s your baby, and you have the right to raise it however you see fit. So here are our favourite ways to deal with unsolicited parenting advice, without making any enemies.
Remember that song “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” by Baz Luhrman? There’s a line in it that nails what it’s like to deal with unsolicited advice. Baz (we’re on first name terms) says: “Be careful whose advice you buy but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth”.
This is a good thing to remember when you’re getting unsolicited parenting advice. More often than not, those who are providing it, think they’re helping. So while our natural instinct is to be defensive when we think someone is judging us, listening first can be useful. Take a deep breath and listen to the person who’s giving you the advice, even if you plan on pretending you never heard them. Even though they may be interfering busybodies, there’s still a chance you might learn something. Keep an open mind.
Pick your battles
Choosing to ignore a stranger in the supermarket who tells you your kid should be wearing a hat when they’re out and about is quite different to ignoring your Mum if she’s insisting your baby should be wearing a hat when you go out to the park. When it comes to things that won’t have any long-term impacts on the health or wellbeing of your baby, there’s no harm in giving in here and there, especially if giving in means protecting a relationship.
When it comes to bigger issues though, it’s important to stand your ground. Ultimately, as long as your child is happy and healthy, how you raise them is down to you and your co-parent. Anyone else’s thoughts are moot. Much like you pick your battles when you’re negotiating with your kids, do the same when it comes to navigating unsolicited parenting advice. Wearing a hat to the park. Fine to be flexible. How, what and when they eat – your call.
Have confidence in your choices
When you’re getting opinions from every corner, it can be really tricky to trust yourself. But one of the best ways to deal with unsolicited parenting advice is to have confidence in your choices. You are making the decisions you are making about how to raise your child for a reason. Maybe it’s because they align with your values, or perhaps it’s because you’ve done thorough research that’s led you to believe this is the most effective way to raise a healthy, happy kid. Probably it’s a combination of the two. But whatever your reasons for choosing to do what you’re doing, you’ve made a choice and you deserve to stick to it.
It’s so easy to be overwhelmed by other people’s opinions, especially in the early days of parenthood when everything feels chaotic and confusing. But stick to your guns. When someone asks you a question laden with judgement like “are you still breastfeeding?” or “are you sure they should be eating that?”, answer with an emphatic and confident “yes!” like you’ve just been asked if the British weather is frequently unpredictable.
Having research on hand is one of the best ways to deal with unsolicited parenting advice. If you know your stuff about the things your brother or Auntie Susan keep getting at you about, you can clap back with science and data that it’s difficult to argue with. If they’re questioning why you’re feeding your baby again when she was only on your boob an hour ago, you can explain that breastfed babies are able to digest breast milk so incredibly fast because it is perfectly designed for them so they need to eat more often than an average formula-fed baby.
Again, this is about confidence and arming yourself with the knowledge to back up your decisions. Most people are less likely to argue when you present them with hard facts and evidence. It shows them you know your stuff and reminds them you’re the boss.
Be firm with your responses
Sometimes, you just have to pull some firm but fair responses out of the bag to deflect unwanted advice. You know, the sort of advice that you’re never going to take because it goes so far against your grain. Here are some of our favourites:
“Thanks – but I’ve got it covered” – Simple and straightforward. Lets the person know they’re being heard and they’re appreciated, but also, you’re in control.
“I’ll give that the consideration it deserves” – the advice giver can make of this what they will. They might think “lovely! They’ll give it lots of consideration because it deserves plenty!” while you’re thinking “I’ll give this zero consideration because it deserves absolutely none”. Everyone’s a winner
“This is what works for us” – can also be alternated with “We’re happy with how we’re doing things”. It reminds whoever you’re talking to that, ultimately, how you run your life and raise your kids is down to you and you alone.
“We’re only taking advice on this from a doctor” – if someone’s trying to give you advice on a medical issue (and they so often do, even if they have zero medical experience!), use your doctor’s decades of experience as a buffer. That way unless they have the degree and the job title to back up what they’re saying, you’re politely telling them to step off.
“Would you like a coffee?” – If in doubt, change the subject.
“Yes, I heard they used to give that advice” – A slightly savage comeback for the older generation. Use this one with caution because it can cause burns. But it does remind those older friends/family members/strangers that just because they smacked bums and rubbed whiskey on kids gums when they were teething back in the day, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a terrible idea.
Remember you’re the boss
There’s nothing wrong with seeking out advice and support from others who have been there, nor is there anything wrong with taking advice that may come from unsuspecting sources. But remember that you’re the boss. When it comes to ways to deal with unsolicited parenting advice, remembering you’re the boss is crucial.
You’ve got this.