Unsolicited Parenting Advice: When enough is enough!

I think it’s safe to say that friends, family members, other moms, and everyone else under the sun have given most new moms their fair share of advice. We’ve all been very kindly reminded that the baby needs to wear socks, or a hat, or that pacifiers are bad, or that putting your baby down asleep will never teach her to put herself to sleep... After awhile, it’s exhausting! I’m pretty sure that my daughter does NOT need socks and that she will eventually learn to fall asleep on her own, despite me going against all judgment that nursing her to sleep will ruin her “sleep skills.”

All if this advice can be very overwhelming to new moms and sometimes it feels like we are actually going crazy trying to assimilate it all this “kindly” advice into our ever-growing list of “shoulds” and “musts.”

Sometimes we solicit a request for advice from family and close friends, but often times we do not. We frequently find ourselves in the position of wanting to accept the advice so as to not hurt feelings, but knowing the advice given does not sit well with our parenting style and is not something we plan to use. What can be even more problematic for new moms who already have a challenging time navigating this new world of parenting, is trying to decide if the information offered is something that we should be taking note of. Often times this creates more anxiety in those who are already experiencing postpartum anxiety symptoms, and can make a simple gesture of advice turn into a massive headache.

So how is it that we actually deal with this dilemma? On the one hand you want to be polite and thankful to those offering advice. But on the other hand, you don’t want to accept advice that was either not solicited or is not line with your parenting style.

One thing I always remind my clients is to have an open mind so that you are able to catch any potential diamonds in the rough hidden amongst the bad advice. This way you can recognize helpful suggestions and file them away in that “mommy” part of your brain. Parenting styles are different for everyone and occasionally we may find there is a trick from another parenting style that we can seamlessly integrate into our own, perhaps addressing a problem area that we just could not seem to figure out. Who knows, their crazy suggestion might actually be worthwhile.

Some reasons why unsolicited parenting advice is offered are genuine concern, love, and safety regarding the baby. We all have our own opinions on what safety precautions we need to take with our particular child and sometimes we forget that what one child needs another may not. For example, I was out walking my daughter here in SWFL (in August!) when I was very kindly reminded to put socks on my daughter by an elderly neighbor. I was a little taken back, seeing as I didn’t solicit the advice nor does it seem plausible in the dead of summer to put socks on a baby while walking outside. In my therapist brain I decided that, seeing as she was from the North, this was likely out of habit and something she was constantly reminded of herself as a new mom years back.

Here are some more common reasons why unsolicited advice is offered:

1.     It’s because they love you

2.     The safety of the baby

3.     Their own anxieties regarding parenting

4.     Mistakes they made with their children

5.     Projection of their own feelings on you and/or your child

6.     They are just little nosey-pants who can’t keep their thoughts to themselves (this one is what I think of every time… 

So, how do we go about responding to these gracious advice givers in our lives? Well, to start, we should remember that flashing them our biggest grin is probably our best weapon. “Killing them with kindness” is not just an old phrase but actually a great defense mechanism to use with others. This is great to use, even if you don’t verbally respond to them, because a quick glance up at them with a smile and then looking busily back at the baby is clear non-verbal body language for “buzz off, I don’t have time for this right now.” However, if you’re like me, and you are not sure what to say in these situations but you feel like you need to respond in a polite way, here are some helpful ways to respond:

1.     That’s great! We’ll check that with the doctor, thanks!

2.     Thanks so much, we will consider that.

3.     Thank you for your concern, maybe this will come in handy next time!

4.     Great advice, thanks!

5.     We don’t usually do that with (fill in baby’s name here), but thanks for the advice.

6.     Wish that one worked for us, hopefully we’ll find a trick to manage (fill in behavior here) soon!

One of these responses is bound to work in just about all the situations you may encounter. Try them out and have a couple handy so that the next time you get that unsolicited parenting advice you are able to respond to them quickly and firmly. Remember to have confidence in your own judgment. After all, trust that you know what is best for your baby and no one knows that little one better than you.

For more information on parenting and maternal mental health, check out my blog!